|present day preface- |
six years flew by while i lived in samta nagar. on the day that i moved in, my old friend from across the street in shashtri nagar had a major stroke and was confined to her bed for a year. though she was not comatose, she could neither move nor speak. she was brought to live across the street from me in samta nagar, where one of her daughters lived and took care of her until she died. i had two mini strokes and a cataract operation on both eyes. rasheed brought me the doctor’s report on his father one day, and i cried when i read it-two words told the story: cancer and metastasized. he wasnt much more than fifty years old. and a couple of months after i returned from my last trip to america, mummy became seriously ill. she seemed to be suddenly hit with so many grave problems, a kidney infection that wouldnt get cured, tb, and then cancer of the gall bladder. by then it was too late for any treatment had there been one to offer her.
often she was sick enough not to know quite where she was, but she always seemed to know me. she knew when i decided to leave the house and find another and was happy to hear that i would be only five minutes walking distance away. my new landlord was her oldest son’s best friend, and she had always been like a mother to him as well since his mother had died when he was very young. those two families used to live side by side in another part of the city before they built new homes where they now live.
i moved into my present home in october of 2012, and continued to go each afternoon to visit at mummy’s house daily. even now that she is no longer with us, i go and sit with papa. he is a remarkable man, who had a stroke some twenty years ago and is partially paralyzed on one side. he is now about ninety years old and finding it difficult to get around. when i first met him, he had friends who came to visit daily and they would sit out in the sun together in the morning, but now his friends are either dead or bedridden. after mummy’s death he felt very alone. his hearing is not good now and he isnt able to understand me either in english or hindi, so we can no longer speak, but he often will say little things that let me know he appreciates having my company. i remember when i first moved in there how we used to have such great conversations about everything in the world, well mostly about india, he is very fluent in english.
i love india because life here has so much more ‘life’ in it than anything i have known, but it has to have its opposite as well. i have seen more people i know well here die than i had seen in all my life in america before i came here. but what is life about if not happiness and tears?
now i can welcome you to my new home.
from an email written as a commentary on a set of pictures i had sent my friend in belgium:
The house itself has its main entrance on the side rather than the front facing the street, and that is where the faux brick wall (made out of cement) adds a decorative touch. The iron railings and gates and staircases are heavy duty and sturdy, not rickety like most things in india. It is a grand house really, 25 years old at least. A big cement wall around the patio and plenty of overhangs to keep rain from coming in the windows during the monsoon so windows can be left open. The windows themselves are made from real wood, and so much nicer than those aluminum sliding atrocities that a lot of houses have with the tracks that catch all sorts of debris that can never be removed.
My balcony, or gallery as it is called here, is on two sides, and the shot from the corner is looking towards the back of the house where Police Lines is, across from the nullah or drainage ditch, which is a real one made of concrete, though it is open. Yes, sometimes it smells, depends on the weather. It is the route for a lot of weddings and festival processions. I have ajwain, oregano, curry leaves and mint leaves. My basil died, i have to try that again. also had fennel growing for awhile but it also died. my most cherished plant is the peepul tree looking in the front window.
Looking out from the balcony towards the street you can see the new construction of garden type apartments in a rather big complex. Mostly in ratlam, apartments are just single buildings, this is the biggest group i have seen within the city limits. So glad i dont live in any of them!
There is an iron ladder fixed in place that goes to the roof where the water tank is, and i tried to go up there today but i am chicken. I had heard a loud noise on the roof and it sounded as though a huge piece of lumber had been thrown onto it. When i came back in the house i heard the monkeys, and that is what it was-they climb the trees near the house and jump onto the rooftops. They are large and probably nearly my weight-i think i have to remember to ask my landlord when he comes back if there is anything on the roof that they might have knocked over, or was it just them landing on the roof that sounded so horrible.
What to call the hall...the sitting room? Living room? I dont think it is a parlor. Isnt there a great room in england or california? Reception room...where i would receive someone if ever i chose to? No, actually it is the room i live in. I sleep and eat in this room and do my thinking, logistic and creative. The clothes i wear daily and the hair fixing tools and going out stuff like sun block and eyebrow pencil and comb are in here, as well as my purse and shoes. It is sort of a checkin and checkout room. I guess it would be the living room-boring name. This is a Great Room.
The office is also the dressing room in a way though i dont dress in there-it has my laundry, cosmetics, medical supplies, linens, clothes that are out of season, and of course the pani table which is just around the corner to the kitchen. Pani is official work in india-and hygiene as well as medicine is also official work, so i guess it is the office.
The playroom is for playing-also hobbies, and my special hobby of repairing and maintaining the household, along with the tools i have collected over the years. The harmonium is there and i like to think that some day music may come out of it in this house.
The kitchen is only for preparing and storing food and cleaning supplies. Laundry area is for laundry, bathroom for bathing, latrine for-latrining.
Hehehe-i just realized i have no bedroom, not even one!
You can see from looking out some of the windows why i feel like i live in a treehouse-it is a magical place with a special ambiance, and it feels like a real home, which no other place i have lived in yet has. here are some of the views i see: from the hall is what i see when i lay down for a nap in the afternoon, and from the playroom is what i would see if i wanted to see who was at my front door. The view from the office is looking down into the back garden area of my landlord, and the shot of monkeys on the roof was taken looking out of the window on the opposite side of the office. The view from the kitchen is a closeup of neem branches, sometimes with pigeons perching on them or chipmunks scampering across.
I dont know exactly when it began, or who started it, but some of the neighborhood children started saying ‘hello aunty!’ when they saw me every evening on the way to papa’s house, and again on the way back. They love to practice their English, so I have to tell them what is my name and where do I live and sometimes where I am going every time they see me. Once, one of them wanted to hug me, and before I knew it every single child on the street would put out their arms for a hug as well. They have gotten a little used to me by now but I still rarely get out of the house without having to stop and at least shake hands or wave to someone. The adults are quite amused by the whole thing, and some of them bring their littlest ones out of the house to say hello to. Since I am painfully shy, it helps me in getting to know people.
back to the present day, february 2017
it seems i make most of my moves around the month of october. if i am still here then, it will be five years i have lived in this home, and it is certainly my most favorite of all. the landlord lives here alone about half the time and during the other half he is with his family members in other cities. sometimes they come to ratlam to stay with him, so i now have another large extended family that claims me as their own ‘aunty’.
the house takes care of itself and i am in charge of the garden, which had diminished since the family home became unoccupied much of the time. i was happy to be able to help restore it after i got here and develop a new hobby. there is a lot more work for me to do than i had before with the size of the house and the gallery, the garden, and i even go up onto the roof and sweep the leaves that fall from the neem trees that surround us. i am most happy when i am working and physical work is the best.
of course i have made a lot of changes since i got here, painted the whole place, and as my own natural self (i hope) gradually came out i was able to reflect it in my decorating. it is my refuge, my citadel. i call it my treehouse because most of what i see when i look out the windows are the branches of neem trees, with their shapes twisted into fantastic patterns as though painted by a landscape artist with a macabre sense of beauty. they are situated on two sides of the house and so large that they reach out towards each other and seem to encircle me in a protective embrace.
when i first saw the house i turned it down because it didnt have an indian toilet, and i felt i couldnt get along without one. but i was in a hurry to move, and nothing else anywhere near as good turned up, so i decided i would manage somehow. also i was a little worried about the steps, i had never lived upstairs, and wasnt sure i would be able to manage that either. it was a little difficult at first, but after about a year i found i was stronger and healthier than i had been ever in all the time i was in india, as well as happier.
going back and rereading these entries has shown me that i have been drawn towards life in a village for a long time, and a village in the hills may be a good idea. it pains me to see the changes taking place around me and within me. because of the increase in traffic, i have to wait too long just to cross the street, and the sound of the pressure horns nearly knocks me down. last summer it was the hottest ever on record and i dont know how long i would be able to tolerate that.
my health is now faltering and it will be a struggle to maintain. i will not be able to do the kind or amount of work i was able to, and what i can do will take me longer and cause me to need to rest afterwards, now that my lungs are impaired. i most likely will not be able to do the kind of walking i used to-as much as eight kilometres at a time-due to the arthritis.
what kind of a life can i look forward to? i think i would do a lot more of just sitting and watching the animals, i.e. goats, donkeys. whatever kind of work i can manage i will do, and perhaps have more time to spend in cyberspace, with which i would complement my social life and satisfy my appetite for intellectual stimulation which is impossible for me to do in any language other than english. and i can spend time with people who are lonely, who are worse off than i am as far as mobility, people who have been forgotten. no one wants to admit this happens, but the fact is a household has to be run and often there is not enough time to sit with a member who is ill or bedridden, or any way to include them in what is going on around them. even though i cant talk hindi fluently, i believe it would be meaningful to some people just not to be alone for awhile.
what kind of a home would i have? one that doesnt require any work or maintenance...like a village house i guess. i like to live alone, and i can find a one room house i suppose. i dont know what the future holds for me, that is what i am going to start thinking about now. in march i will be spending two weeks in chandigarh and himachal pradesh to see what village life is like there. i dont think i would be making this move for a year or two, so i have lots of time to decide what will suit me best. one thing is certain, that as long as papa is alive i couldnt think of moving. he expects me every day after the call to third prayer.
i have related only some of my expat life in detail, but so much more has actually happened that i could never write down. i have to keep some things to myself, but i can assure you that my life in india was often upsetting and there were many adjustments that had to be made, mostly in my nature. but all of them were for my own growth and improvement and i feel i am a much better person for having made the move to india than i could ever have become staying where i was. i consider myself truly fortunate to have been able to live in india.