Tuesday at work I tell everyone I see I’ve been to the Taj Mahal. I’ve been to the Taj Mahal! This is code for, “I’ve seen what you’ve seen there. I know the secret. I stood there. I felt it.” Everyone smiles at my news. Or maybe they’re just humoring me.
Shinjini says she’s surprised I went after the bombings on Saturday. I’m a little surprised too, but we hired a private car and steered clear of markets. I figured we’d be okay even if there were more attacks.
Amar says he went to Central Market on Sunday. This is the market also known as Lajput Nagar where I go to get my ten rupee earrings and hundred rupee kurtas. It is notoriously crowded and chaotic. If there’s a market where security is impossible, it is the Central Market where people smash on top of people on top of people. Amar says it was so quiet and so peaceful on Sunday. It’s hard to imagine it that way. “It was a best case scenario. I wish it could be like that all the time,” he smiles.
He says one of our editors and her husband were in CP when the bombs went off. They were parking their car. Debjani’s husband is a journalist and so wrote a first person account of the attack. Thankfully, they were far enough away so as not to be injured, but they heard the blast and saw the aftermath from their vantage point.
Yajnaseni says now it will be another six or eight months before we have to worry about bombs in Delhi again. Amar says it’s true. Everyone’s on high alert. Delhi is probably the safest place in India right now.
At lunch I ask Amar why these attacks happen. The terrorists are Islamic. They belong to a group calling itself Indian Mujahideen. Against whom do they have a beef? What are they hoping to accomplish?
“They are trying to punish us for our sins,” Amar says.
But who is “us” and what are the “sins”?
Amar is uncharacteristically silent in response to this question. It looks like he winces. I wonder if I’ve asked something I shouldn’t have. “It is like nine eleven,” he says, and I finally understand. There is no sense in it, no reason, not even any political objective. There is just tragically misguided, unthinking, unbridled anger. I understood, or I thought I did, why the US would raise the ire of people in countries that are not as privileged. We have so much wealth in our country and so much influence on the rest of the world, both good and bad. But India? There’s so much poverty here. Privilege can’t be the reason. It has to be something else. People are not religious enough, or too religious in the wrong way? Or maybe they’re still trying to target the section of the population that is middle class. It’s true that the bombs are not going off in the poorest places, in the villages and encampments. I give up. Terror is terror. It is never justified. There is no sense in trying to make sense of it. But if you can’t make sense of it, how do you counter it? You don’t. And the attacks go on and on.
After work, I decide to walk to the market and try a new salon I found called Girl Talk. It’s exclusively for women, the sign says. I dyed my hair a few days ago, and I figure a hot oil head massage will help the drying effects of the chemicals I used.
I walk around to the back of the market where the sign said the entrance would be. It’s dark and a little shifty. The entrance appears to be up a dimly lit staircase. I walk up a flight of stairs and see a door that has “Girl Talk” etched into the glass. I open the door and lean in. Several women look at me like I’m intruding. “Are you open?” I ask. They nod. There are no customers inside. Only women in black and white collared shirts. I step in. These are northeastern women. They look Chinese. Because I’m in a salon full of Chinese-looking women, I feel totally at home. I could be in the Coral Ridge Mall at Nails Plus.
I ask for a hot oil head massage. They tell me to change out of my shirt and put on a gown. I walk behind a curtain, change, and come back out to sit in the stylist’s chair. It occurs to me only after I’m indisposed in this fashion, getting hot oil smeared onto my scalp, that if I were a male pervert and I wanted to attack someone, I’d know exactly where to come: to the salon that has only ladies in it. I picture a creepy, leering, drunken Indian man staggering his way into the salon and I picture myself as Uma Thurman's character in Kill Bill, jumping into action with roundhouse kicks, protecting the comparatively short and tiny women in the salon. I could put my two months of Tae Kwon Do training to use in case of a situation such as this. Everything is fine, I decide.
This second hot oil head massage is lackluster. It’s all over in about fifteen minutes, and she doesn’t even leave the oil in my hair long enough for it to have any effect. Girl Talk, along with Verma’s, is a bust. It seems all the good salons are in the Malviya Nagar market by Susie’s place. I pay my four hundred rupees and walk out disappointed once again. For such a posh colony, they sure have stinky salons in their market.
I order a veggie burger and a rose milk soda to go at Kents. I also order a box of aloo tikka. I don’t want it for myself, but I figure I can share it with the dogs on the way home. When I run into Acha and offer her a bite, she actually acts afraid of the potato glob, kind of like me and the brown goo at the gurudwara. When will I learn that I can’t feed these dogs? They must be strict carnivores. They are the karmic balance for all the vegetarians in the vicinity.
As I round the corner, I notice that Mister Kandhari is sitting in his courtyard with his son. He asks me to come and sit. I tell him I’m just taking my dinner home with me. “One drink!” he exclaims. “One drink only. Then you can go.”
How can I refuse? I walk through the big metal gate, and Mister Kandhari’s son mixes some whiskey with a generous amount of water and a little ice. We talk about my trip to Armritsar. Mister Kandhari tells me I should talk to his friend, Mister Singh, tomorrow morning before nine o’clock. Mister Singh will fix the hotel reservation and the taxi cab for me. He will give me all the information I need. If I go looking for him and he’s not home, I should check here. That’s where he always is in the mornings, either at home or at Mister Kandhari’s house.
At the bottom of my drink, I bid my friendly neighbor a good evening and stroll home through the dark, hot night at the end of a thankfully safe and peaceful day in Delhi.