Friday October 3
At work I finish chapter eight and take on chapter nine which seems less dense, less labyrinthine and less opaque. Work is hopeful.
I take a walk at lunchtime and notice a monkey on the wall by the tea stand. Since I’m all by myself and this monkey seems contented as he rips apart seed pods, I linger and watch him eat. It’s mesmerizing the way he uses his little fingers to split and peel the pods to get to the seeds. In just about a week my lunchtime walks will no longer hold the promise of monkey-watching. I figure I’d better take advantage while I can.
On my way back to the office, I notice two more monkeys shaking the tree above where the first monkey was eating. Three small children are pointing and laughing. There’s another monkey inside a building that’s under construction. I watch him inside the frame of the building, then a dog pops up from out of nowhere and barks at the monkey who is completely unaffected. As I walk down the street, there are more monkeys. Two of them peep into a large jug of water that someone’s left out in the road. Another one grabs the exhaust of a parked motorcycle. Another one hugs a large earthen pot. Two more shake a tree just out of reach of a barking dog. There is a veritable gang of monkeys in the industrial estate today. My lunchtime walk has turned into a safari. Suddenly the monkey that was on the second floor of the hollow building is in the tree right in front of me. It only took one lightning fast jump to get him there. I get a sense that a monkey attack doesn’t happen in slow motion and that it might not be so safe to be standing around gawking at the hoard. Reluctantly, I walk back to work, back to chapter nine.
After work, Jonaki and Shabnum and Soma are going shopping for their maids. They want to buy them saris for the upcoming holidays. Would I like to go with? It’s quite nearby. Of course. I never turn down a chance to shop, plus I told my coworker that I would buy her a sari if I got the opportunity. This may be it.
Shabnum rides with me and we meet up with Soma and Jonaki in the hot night air of the Madhu Vihar market. The first sari shop is too expensive. We try a second one where they are selling for as little as a hundred and thirty five rupees: that’s six yards of fabric for about three dollars. The sari I select for my coworker is not quite that cheap, but it’s still a steal. We part ways with our bargains in hand.
I walk back to Palminder’s car and climb in. He has found a food stand, thank goodness, so he won’t be pouty and hungry now that I’ve kept him an extra half hour. We pull away but are stopped a few hundred yards from our parking spot by two enormous, lumbering elephants festooned with shiny fabrics and tassels. Yes, traffic is stopped by elephants. This would never happen at home, I think to myself. The elephants slowly cross the road and the traffic picks up again, but we have to circle around. It seems that the elephants were the beginning on some parade. There are men with portable chandeliers and men with drums. There are marching bands and floats full of flowers and lights and people dressed up like Brahman the god with three heads and Hanuman the monkey god. Palminder tries to get out of the market before the parade heads us off, but traffic comes to a complete halt in front of us. We’ll just have to stay and watch the parade. There’s no choice. I laugh at the absurdity of it and apologize to Palminder. It looks like I’ll be keeping him tonight for a little longer than I planned.
Palminder and I get out of the car. Luckily, I have my camera with me. You never know when you’ll get stopped by elephants and a parade of lights, so it’s best to always be prepared.
“It’s so beautiful,” Palminder says as a giant pink head with a fairy coming out of it's mouth rolls towards us. The giant pink head and flaming lips and pointy ears look a little dastardly to me, but I suppose this is a cultural thing.
“Sikh people,” Palminder says when a marching band of men in turbans comes past. He actually seems to be enjoying himself. It’s nice to see.
The parade ends and we climb back into the car. He drives us through twisting streets full of shops. This is not the usual route home. I get to see a new part of Delhi tonight. It resembles Amritsar a bit, with the shops right up to the sides of the street. I miss Amritsar. There is a tear in my eye. This place is so vexing. There is garbage in the streets and so much poverty and at the same time it is so mind-bendingly rich in color and culture and faith and joyous celebration. America will seem so boring, I think. I realize tonight that I will miss India.