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Journalist: salima
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Start Date: Jan 27th, 2017
Last Update: Apr 5th, 2017
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Description: retired expat living in india

chapter 16-the paschim express
Date Posted: Apr 5th, 2017 at 21:49 - Comments (2)
this is the first time in seven years that i have been on an indian train. i would say they have changed somewhat, from the viewpoint of the sleeper car, but not a whole lot.

it is a long, long train and a long, long route. when i got on at ratlam, i wasnt able to count all the shoes on the floor, or see who may have been on the top sleeping, but there were already at least six people in the ‘cabin’ where i belonged. they were all young people, except one middle aged woman on the lower berth across from mine. it was 10 pm, but they didnt look like they were thinking of going to sleep anywhere in the near future. when i first got on, the woman seemed to be sleeping, but somehow got caught up with one of the young fellows and was going through the routine information that has to be established before a conversation could begin.

ultimately they ran out of talking, and put up the middle berths and i could lay down. during the whole night i wasnt able to find a comfortable position, though i moved two pieces of my luggage everywhich way as well as i did myself, and the third piece being used as a pillow, while keeping an eye and one hand on my purse and shoes. i always bring a plastic bag to put my shoes into and keep them next to me when i sleep to avoid having to rummage around on the floor trying to find them when i need them. i never did find any way to sleep. people were stirring about 6 am, and i assumed they were going to wake up, so i got my hair back together and sat for awhile on the lower berth with my back doubled over. the woman seemed to be getting ready to get off the train and then disappeared, but after some time i realized that indeed i was the only one awake.

however, i was able to have my tea and coffee, and eventually they did get up. i noticed the woman was certainly gone. there were still more than six people, but some had paired off and doubled up. ahem. eventually, once everyone decided it was time to start the day, i realized there were three couples and a couple of leftovers. they were nice and liked to sing, which entertained me for some time. i began talking to one of the boys and didnt mind explaining why i was in india and why i left america. they asked me something about trump, and i said ...well i made some gestures, a major thumbs down, and i said, ‘now india and america are in the same position politically’. one of the boys thought about that a little and then started laughing a lot. we also exchanged some thoughts on the culture, value and lifestyle difference. having them there made the time pass a lot more quickly.

as i was coming back from the restroom, one of the couples was sitting where i had been and was eating, and said they would only be five minutes, but i said if no one minds i would like to go up on the top berth and sleep, so they were happy to take their things down and put mine up and said they would wake me up when we got to chandigarh. it was about noon then, and i was half awake and half asleep for awhile, and i heard one of the boys answer another, ‘no, not american-indian.’ and i fell asleep happy, hoping he was meaning me. i dont remember a thing until i woke up and saw it was four pm, when we were supposed to be there. a boy smiled when he saw me awake, and i asked if we were there and he said the train was late. i noticed how all the girls had rearranged their hair and clothes and looked as though they were going to be joined by their parents, and even sat upright and apart from their respective partners. it was cute, actually.

we arrived about an hour and a half late, but by now i felt totally refreshed, and managed my luggage easily and got off the train. a porter came to get my things, we were near the exit of the station, and a minute later another man asked if i wanted an auto. i liked his looks and i asked ‘autorickshaw?’ and he said ‘yes’. i said, ‘how much’? he said, ‘300 rs’. i laughed and said, ‘my friends said i could get a taxi for that’, and he smiled, but i said i would take it. i dont like taxis-i dont like sitting inside a metal box, i like looking out and seeing everything, but not feeling like i will fall over or off of it like one does on a motorcycle-that is a little too close for me. and he was a nice older gentleman, distinguished looking. i ask myself why should a taxi driver get more than he does? so the three of us went together to his auto.

we drove for a long time, first to the city, then through the city and out of the city. he didnt know where the place was, but did an expert job of finding it. we never had to backtrack even once, and it turned out to be a huge ‘society’, which i guess would be called condominiums in english. it was so huge that i found out later they call parts of it ‘pockets’ and they have their separate community affairs like americans used to have block parties and all. even if i lived there myself i would never be able to find my own place. fortunately there was a splendid landmark by my friends’ flat, a huge world’s fair looking water tank, which was the best thing about the whole place, complete with a guard sitting at the base of it.

by the time we finally reached the right building, i was feeling bad about the fare and gave him 400 because i dont think he had any idea it was so far away, and he would have to drive quite a ways to reach a neighborhood where he could find another fare. he didnt ask for more and he didnt smile either. maybe he led a very sad life.

the rooms are huge and airy, full of light. the bathrooms are real size and it was not a very dusty environment like i am used to. i could see the himalyas but not able to get a good picture because of the mist making the view indistinct, but it was awesome to think i could see them at all.

the kitchen was roomy and bright, next to that was the master bedroom where i stayed, and the third room was one of two other bedrooms. the master bedroom has its own bathroom, and there is a connecting bathroom between the other two. along the back of these three rooms is a balcony and another along the front of the building with entrances to each room. the hall is about 22 feet long if i remember right, and somewhat l-shaped providing plenty of room for dining.

i didnt get to see the village, but they took me to see a rose garden which i guess is famous, but other than that i was in the flat with nirmla and her charming and ever so cute daughter. the two of us liked to watch doraemon, and i borrowed from her bookshelf and must have read about a dozen books while i was there. am now familiar with two indian authors. i went to a kirtan and tried to follow along in the book and managed to do so well that when nirmla lost her place (she had forgotten to bring her glasses) i was able to show her where we were. the following week the kirtan was at her house and i was making improvements enough reading from the book before, that i could sing at least the two last words of every line. luckily there is a lot of repetition. i saw about three of the other flats during my stay and some interesting decorating.

the buildings consist of three floors, three vertical units side by side, with stairs going up the middle. i have no idea how many total buildings there will be, many more are presently under construction and work is ongoing. there is a lot of greenery which has been added to land that was most likely totally cleared so that there will be a sense of pattern and planning to the gardening. various pieces of outdoor sculpture, more or less abstract figures, have been used. additionally there are many small square pavilions set up that as well as being decorative are functional for small get togethers. there are a number of security guards and entrance gates that are sometimes locked and manned by guards as well. one small market has been built near an exit road which is about half restaurants or snack places, a beauty parlor, a couple of food and household supply shops, i dont remember what else. but plans are already laid out for a huge mall in the nearby future.

this was one of the partly constructed buildings going up behind the one next to us. you can see the ground dug out for the foundation of another building that will be built between that row and ours. the roads run down the front of the buildings which are in rows of two, back to back.

the weather was quite comfortable, it never went above 25 degrees and the minimum at night was about 13. there were clouds every day and some light rain maybe three or four days within the two weeks i was there. there was sun, but nothing like in ratlam, which had been running about 35 degrees and not a cloud anywhere before i left.

also i saw an album of the interior of the home my friend built in the village, and it was really spectacular. when i asked, his wife said he designed it all, even down to the plumbing and wiring. it was three floors, the lower built into the side of a mountain and partially underground like a basement. not sure what it was for, but i think that would be used as needed, maybe parking and storage. the next floor up was the home of my friend’s brother, and a guestroom off to the side. above that is my friends’ living space, with guestroom to the side as on the floor beneath. and there is an extra suite built above, a partial fourth floor for their son when he marries. the family lived there for three years but a year ago shifted to chandigarh, and the brother’s family live happily in delhi and dont seem to have any interest in living a village life at all. so currently the house is empty. the access road hasnt yet been built and there is about two kilometres of rough terrain before you reach a road from the house. in this part of the village, there are four houses and only two of them are occupied, but some distance from the road there are other clusters of houses. they told me it is a large village, but now i am not sure if that reflects the area or the population.

when i was leaving, nirmla and i made plans for me to come once a year to visit them, wherever they are, and that sounds good to me. it will fit in very well with my new lifestyle change plans.

return trip-

there was no one available to take me to the station, so nirmla called a taxi for me. all i could think of was ‘uber’ (yeeeeeeeuck!) but this was a government company, and there was no other choice. so i thought, well now i can see what the fare would really be, anyway, and if there is any advantage in a car. i dont feel the cabs are safer, because people dont seem to believe they will ever get caught, and even if they are fingerprinted and photographed, etc., they will not be deterred. at least in an auto i would be visible by the traffic and able to scream bloody murder and be heard, although maybe no one would stop to intervene. it is a big city after all. but an auto is open and i could jump out, whereas a taxi probably has a master control lock for all the doors and windows, and a victim would be trapped.

the fare was 530 rs. it was no trick to find the railway station, and we got there in half an hour, an hour early for my train. but that was good, the station had a sort of large platform connected to the entrance with a roof overhead for shade, it wasnt crowded and there were plenty of benches. they were the hi-fi kind that prevent any more than a certain number of people from sitting on one, and made of metal without any nails sticking out to tear your clothes, but not very comfortable. i used the time to watch everything and see what i could learn.

no anxiety yet, thank you duloxetine! i learned my train was on platform 5 and it was not delayed. i ate some of the snack food i had bought for the trip and before long it was time to try and find out where is platform 5. i asked one of the news stand shop keepers and he said it was up the stairs. there was a sort of sign i remembered from bhopal in the old days, showing me it was the right way. but oh my, what a lot of steps. no way. so i stood at the bottom of the steps and turned around to see if i could see any porters. there was one following another, coming my way, and i didnt know if he was engaged or not, but he looked at me a couple times and i pointed up the steps, so he came over immediately. i told him which train and off we went. he was an older fellow, a little scruffy looking but ok with me. when we reached the spot where my bogie would be stopping, i wasnt sure how much money he would want, but i gave him 100 rs, as i had given the man who helped me when i arrived, and assumed he would leave. in the meantime, i was looking around and noticed a sign that said the charge for a porter for twenty minutes and under 40 kg of luggage is 30 rs, extra waiting is 30 rs for each 20 minutes, and the charge for over 40 kg is 40 rs for twenty minutes. he had disappeared, but when the train came in he was there to pick up my luggage and take it and me to my seat. he could have left, but he didnt. i felt happy i chose nice blokes so far. i have no idea what my luggage weighs.

as i arranged my things under the seat opposite me-can you believe it, there was room!-i thought my fellow travelers seemed a little disapproving. there was a man next to the window on my right, the oldest though i would guess less than 50, slim, his brown hair thinning, barefoot, who was wearing a white shirt without undershirt and plain trousers without a belt. another fellow in the aisle seat to my left, whose face i couldnt see without being conspicuous, seemed to be taller than me and more of a heavyweight, but not fat-just babyfat you might say. i would guess by his sitting quietly that he was not with the others, and maybe 30.

across from me was a young man/boy (anywhere from 20-30) who was nice looking and had a rather serious expression, though not gruff. then there was an older, fortyish sort of professional looking fellow at the window opposite, who was dressed yet more western in style, very mature and sombre. in between these two was a handsome young man/boy in a blue shirt, who seemed to lean against the man at the window a lot.

at first i was trying to offer to change with whoever had an upper berth, but didnt get much of a reaction. later i learned that they all loved the upper berths. in fact, besides the five of us there were two more fellows sleeping up top, and it was impossible to tell who really belonged there. i didnt pursue the issue, and was mentally open to the possibility that i would somehow survive 10-12 hours in a sitting position, and felt that they were more at ease with me being there after some time. then i got the idea; they would exchange places throughout the trip to give each other opportunities to sleep now and then. just my luck to be in a cabin where everyone wanted the top.

as i sat there i noticed a very handsome young man across from us in a side berth, who i am convinced was on his way to stardom-he was every bit as wonderful as shahid kapoor if not more, sort of like a george michael with black hair, and most of the time he was listening to one of those big telephones with an earphone. but the look on his face was as wonderful as the face itself. i mean his hair was stylish but unique, his nose was absolutely perfect, he was wearing an earring and sunglasses and his eyes were shut while he sang nearly silently but enough for me to know he was right on key, which is hard to do with headphones. and meanwhile, his feet and knees were moving as though he was rehearsing dance steps and his hands were moving along. but the most amazing thing about him, and what made me realize what it is that attracts me to a certain person, is the attitude. attitude is everything.

until only recently, amitabh bachaan was by far over and above any other bollywood star for me, and he is a great actor and dancer in my opinion. but what makes him so different is his attitude. i am not sure i can even describe it in words...of course he has stage presence; once he walks into a scene he is the focal point, no doubt in part due to the charisma, the grace, and the sheer height of the man, but attitude is something else. it is what he is thinking while he is acting or dancing-and why he does it. most necessary, the person has to really love what he is doing regardless of how much money he makes for doing it. if he is in a team effort, he has to be aware of the others in the scene or dance and interact with them in a way that makes them as well as the observers able to recognize the respect he gives them. but he clearly knows he is the top banana. there is more, but how to say?

not long ago, well it was the doggie song that did it, i became hooked on shahid kapoor. there is no one like him, and i think he has more fun working than anyone else in the business. i see him doing steps that no one else has done, and i dont know if it is because he made them up or because no one else can do it, but it is just the cutest thing. that too and he has such an innocent sort of naughty boy look about him that makes him suitable for a role model for parents who dont want to see their sons growing up to be strippers. he is actually dancing and i think it is because of his attitude that there is nothing vulgar about it. a true technician as well as an artist.

again, for instance, take shakira. i seldom want to see or hear any ladies, but this is one i really like. you can also see in her face that she is having a great time, but not showing off or trying to tease or arouse anyone. it is as though she knows she has something good and she wants to share it. i am talking about her dancing and her body now in a platonic way. she does not attract shame to the female gender or suggest any kind of stigma, the body is simply a fact in the total artistic composite of the music, the costume and the dance. she is not selling her ‘self’. i think she is truly a lady, and in fact the most beautiful woman in the world that i have seen so far.

but to get back to my boy on the train, i would sneak a peak at him every now and then whenever his voice raised up a little, and he always made me smile. i also noticed that whenever anything seemed to be going on in the aisle, he would stop what he was doing and lean over the edge to follow the action. he seemed very amused at everything, and friendly enough to have made quite a few acquaintances, so he began to sometimes sit here and there when he wasnt singing. i was sure he must be going to mumbai either to audition or was already a performer. no doubt, for sure he was a performer...

we also had a visit from a hijra, and someone gave out money, and i also did, which i think opened up the opportunity for the two across from me and next to the window to do the same. s/he was still trying to get more out of the people who had so far refused, but eventually left happy enough without feeling rejected.

when the boy in the aisle seat across from me got up and left, along comes two very large women. one sits down in the lower side seat under where the performer was, even though there was no room because her partner had surreptitiously set down a load of luggage. the partner one stood around and wandered back and forth a few times, then the first one got up and sat in the seat across from me next to the two friendly men, taking up about half of the seat and the partner took her place on the side berth. it seems there were some males attached to these women who were still surveying or reconnoitering the area. one of them decides to sit next to the woman across from me, and she made a little spot for him to sort of sideways halfsit, and since she was resting her arm on his thigh, i assumed this was her husband. she was very dominant. eventually, another man, older, comes and is commanded to take the first one’s place, maybe he was the husband and the first was the son? the big woman is going to lie down and she needs his thigh for a pillow.

in the meantime, the serious looking boy comes back to his seat and, totally nonplussed, squishes himself in between the fat woman’s knees and the handsome boy. the fat woman has covered her face with her sari, and i might add a very nice sari. she had about 24 bangles on each arm, sparkling in contrast with the deep purple mehendi drawn in phantasmagorical designs from her dark red fingertips to her elbows. but apparently, after some time, she has been made unconmfortable and, having had enough of that and giving up the idea of having a nap, she sits up looking unhappy, but not yet ruffled. now and then two younger boys, one pre and one post puberty, come to speak to the interlopers, and at one point my partner on the left got up and the youngest sat down there.

now is when it gets interesting, and the performer is also a spectator. the TI comes and asks for tickets, and the man, sitting next to his overpowering wife, meekly gives up a small crumpled piece of paper. this is not acceptable to the TI, and he is telling the interlopers that they need to come up with something to back up their story. the man in exasperation says something to the lady and futilely tries to push the blame off on her for not having got it together, but by now the TI is telling them they have to leave. they start to stand up and mill around awhile, looking very upright and pious, the entire party being perhaps two women, two men and two boys, but eventually all sit down again once the TI is out of sight.

we spectators are sneaking looks at each other and smirking, all verifying that we have the same idea in mind, and perfectly no respect for the richest among us to have tried to board without paying. but this was not the end at all. after a decent length of time to allow them to have picked up their things and vacated, the TI comes back, this time much more stern. even though he was a very wimpy looking older man with a slight build, he was willing to take all of them on at once. we spectators are egging him on with smiles and body language, and the performer as well is smiling broadly. the TI is encouraged now, and starts looking back at us while he is reprimanding the losers to see we are mentally cheering him on, and starts to say things that i assume must sound something like ‘you only paid for a general ticket and that is where you are going to have to sit. these people paid for their seats and you dont belong here’. though all i actually heard was the word general, i think i got the gist of it all.

so they finally admit defeat, and make their way to the baggage cum cattle car, but the boy sitting on the aisle seat next to me sits back down again. the large lady comes back in a few minutes, gets yet another bag of hers from our seats, and goes back towards the other car. and coming from the other side is the TI telling the boy he can go right along with her, which he did. the woman was still trying to argue, and the TI said something about chappals, which i take to mean that she was only coming back to find her chappals, and he must have said ‘if you cant take care of your things you deserve to be barefoot’, because he stood in her way and that was the last we saw of any of them.

and of course all of the spectators looked at each other and even the TI stopped awhile, looking quite pleased with himself and said a thing or two and we all agreed and had a happy ending.

somewhere along the line, most of the people who had been occupying our berth got off, maybe it was delhi, i didnt really see. yes, i think it was-anyway, that is where the family from hell got on, and they had the proper paperwork and sat with us. by now, only me and the fellow who had been sitting between me and the window were left. there was a rather husky fellow talking to the family and arranging for which berths they would occupy, though i dont even think he was with them. he was one of those who had been sleeping in the upper berth when i got on i thought, but i had seen so many people by now i can hardly remember.

the family from hell was composed of a young man, a thin, nice looking lady dressed in a fancy saree, almost looked like a bride, but she had an infant with her and a little girl sleeping, who was just at the age of walking and screaming but not speaking. everything was going fine until she woke up, which wasnt long, and then they had to bring out every little goodie they had brought to try and close her mouth, but she would have none of it. then the mummy mixed up a bottle of dried milk and water, but that wouldnt do, papa gave her the bottle of mineral water, but that wouldnt do, he poured some into a glass, and that occupied her for a little while, but not long. then she decided to put a handful of potato chips into the steel glass, and at least she was quiet while she broke them into little pieces and crumbs and threw them on the floor.

i had asked the man across from me if he was going to ratlam, and he said ‘mumbai’. i am always worried how shall i find the stop when it is night time, but usually all the passengers who get off at a common stop are seated together. now i am thinking everyone is going to mumbai.

it seemed to me that we were not going to be able to sleep early, so i had more tea-coffee never showed up again on this train for some reason. this is something else i dont understand. how come on the first train the tea was 5 rupees and the coffee was 5 rupees, but on this train the tea is 10 rs and the coffee is 20? anyway, i took out the last of my snack food, offered some to the mumbaikar, who had eaten only three or four oranges all day, but he refused. after some time, he got out a tiffin and ate-he got good home cooking! he was ready to sleep then, it was about 8:30, and asked the father what about putting up the second berth so he could lie down, who didnt want to oblige, and the husky man in the red shirt came to say it wouldnt be long, they had to eat yet, blah blah blah. who was that man, anyway? their bouncer?

so mumbaikar, who originally was smiling on the little girl’s antics but soon lost patience when she peed all over the seat next to him, decides to try and lay down with his knees bent on his side, and his head is cramped up against the window ledge with his arm trying to cushion it. there was no one else but the father sitting there with the little girl in his arms, who was still making a mess and a racket at the same time, and off and on the baby would wake up and also scream. then, the man with the red shirt comes and sits down next to the father, (he didnt know the seat wasnt cleaned properly), cramping up the mumbaikar even more.

rather than being redundant, let’s just say somehow we got through it all, after more of the same, until they finally decided to put down the middle berths. mumbaikar quickly scrambles up onto the middle one, probably because it was clean, and just as i decided i would be able to see out the window, hopefully so i would know when to get off the train, they inform me that i am also to have the middle berth. well, whatever.

now this time, after all my previous efforts, i could only think of one more way of arranging my luggage so that i might be comfortable, and it worked like a charm. the train was running late, and it must be nearing midnight, i still had time for four hours sleep. you think so? no.....all through the night, one or the other of those children would wake up and cry. now i dont blame the parents, dont get me wrong. this is the way life is. they did what they could, the father kept taking the girl away and then coming back and she would be quiet-for awhile. so at times like these, i usually console myself to think that they are not my children and i will never see them again. the unfortunate couple has to live with them for a real long time. it is only when parents begin acting like children and start screaming and beating them that i lose my composure.

so i contented myself with looking at my printed out list of stops. there were many stops, from 10-30 minutes apart, and each for only 2 minutes. however there were other stops too while we waited for other trains to go by or who knows why, so it would be useless to try and count them. but my luck was with me, because, after all, what is more important on a train than knowing when to get off? after all those little stops there would be about two hours without any, and then nagda. after nagda, in one hour, comes ratlam. so i should be able to see something, a small part of the window extends a little higher than the middle berth. and when the time came, i saw the nagda sign-in fact, someone even asked what station is this, and i heard the answer confirming it.

that is great, because ratlam is a twenty minute stop, lots of time for me to get up and be sure that is where i am, lots of time to get my luggage together and get off. naturally i didnt try to sleep again, and before i knew it the time had come to get off. i had to crawl over several bodies that lay sleeping in the aisle, some lengthwise and some crosswise, and when i got to the nearest door, there were about four men crammed together fast asleep. i looked back down the aisle and thought it was worth trying that side, so off i went again with my purse and a big sort of duffle bag over the left shoulder, the smaller bag that had been my pillow in my left hand, and the bigger bag that held most of my clothes, and there was my escape-back in ratlam at last!

again i was worried a little about how far was the exit from the station, but found i was quite near. a young man, who was with a friend, asked if i wanted an auto, i bought some bottles of water since i would have nothing at home when i got there, and off we went. the first man who had spoken appeared to be teaching his friend how to drive an auto. they charged 50 rupees-good old ratlam. i didnt expect them to carry my bags upstairs for that price, so i took all but the big one with me, which i left on the landlord’s porch, planning to get it after it was light out.

it is notable i think that there were no porters around in the station when i arrived, and that i was the only person who got off the train in ratlam. i didnt even feel tired and decided first to take a bath and as it turned out i never did sleep that day either. once the sun came up it was hot, but by the next day i was used to it and ever so glad to be back home again.

so this is not the end yet...i will see the village and get some idea of something, i will be closer to an idea of what it is i am looking for. and where it is!

the plan now is for me to go back to chandigarh or delhi or wherever my friends may be on may 23rd. i am making a new luggage plan already

truly i feel there is a new beginning waiting for me. it must be nearing the last chapter of my life, and i dont want to miss out on any opportunities. this is not the time to allow rain, floods, trains or mudslides to discourage me!
chapter 15-anand colony
Date Posted: Mar 2nd, 2017 at 06:38 - Comments (2)
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.
chapter 14-my last trip to america
Date Posted: Feb 28th, 2017 at 01:13 - Comments (3)
Blog entry:
age of aquarius: are we there yet?
(a report on the state of affairs and the changes in america since may of 2008)

riding through the old neighborhoods, the memories were there; some were much stronger than others-bernie and rose, especially. I found bus-routes shortened, some discontinued-stores gone, signs removed. many new taverns and sports pubs have opened, designed for family atmosphere. fitness centers seem to be popular, but not the like bally's-smaller, more down to earth places stuck in lines of empty shops. nearly all major department and grocery store chains seem to be replaced by discount and secondhand, either franchise managed or independently owned. ads on tv for car insurance and how it can be instantly obtained for those who arent really eligible and offers in the mail for ways to get credit for those who have proven they arent able to manage it. instead of 'lost cat' and 'lose weight', there were new signs on telephone poles: ‘we buy gold’, ‘we buy junk cars’.

teachers, preachers, doctors, lawyers, becoming obsolete...
new small businesses are born in attempt to survive joblessness-some innovative, some illegal.
parents looking to their children for help, hope, and a way to adapt...
civilisation trying to resurrect itself amid the still warm ashes of its ongoing destruction.
snow and ice storms, power outages, where snow was rarely if ever seen
signs of the times?

the world I knew is certainly gone...not such a big loss, really. it produced a lot of emptiness, frustration, distrust and exuded a total lack of authenticity. all I find now is a state of flux with no definite direction. there are certainly signs of what is to come, but too soon to interpret them.

looking back-the 60's were no doubt a major breakthrough, a glimpse of what could be. one of the noble truths should be Love is Work. if life is suffering, let us die before death as the sufis say-die to the false and awake to the Truth.

but love is not enough. waking up is not enough. we were wrong, ok? there will always be chopping wood and carrying water, and if no one does it, we wont get anywhere. love is something to be, but it is only effective when it is acted; i.e., premeditated and goal oriented...making love in itself will not make any changes. how about Make Love Work?

(this year i took no pictures.)

the following is a combination of prose and poems that voices my grief, remorse, fear and confusion:

in the dark

he asked if I was angry
he asked if I was disappointed
but all I feel is sadness
when he wants to hug me
I know he's using ecstasy

pray for him?
God guides those whom He will
and leaves to wander in the dark
whomsoever He pleases
pray for me?
we are both in the dark now

emails sent into the starry starry night
no, he is not all right. I dont think there is anything anyone can do, I dont know why I am telling you this. you of all people would be the last one to understand or recognize the problem.

his mind has deteriorated rapidly in the past few months-he doesnt seem to be thinking clearly any more. he has made a number of very bad decisions which at first I thought were a matter of carelessness, but now I believe it is far worse. I saw serious signs of decay when I was there in may of 2008 and hoped it was only a temporary lapse. now I believe it is an irreversible descent towards death.

maybe i am telling you this because something gave me the idea he wanted you to know but didnt want to tell you. i dont know why i am telling you.

this may be your last wakeup call.
you will be able to find valid reasons why I am wrong, so be careful. I am not wrong.

your thinking is not rational any more-you arent making sense. your decisions have been careless and destructive. you have sealed yourself in a bubble made of lead-you are that far from reality.

I thought you and your friends were the majority of your generation-maybe you are. but there are others I have now met on the internet-young people with brilliant minds, from 12 to 30 years old. they are socially aware and involved in the process of not only living day to day but striving to evolve spiritually. I dont know if you are a part of a small section of the lost-or are they a small part of what is left of humanity. I dont know if I am speaking for all my generation, or was I the only one who tried to create a new world and failed. maybe I am still as deluded as you are. like you once said, ‘maybe it is both of us'. if you cant hear the truth, maybe I should speak to you in parables...

where are you going my indigo child? I cant keep up the pace any more. I'm wild with worry
following footprints I dont even recognize. I waited for you, wont you slow down?
you held my hands, now it's me that's afraid. you're too far off the beaten path,
going the wrong way. What lies in store for you now that you've been exiled?

atlas shrugged, jesus wept and satan smiled on the day you were born.
I misread all the signs in the skies. you were never meant to save the world.
who could expect you'd live long enough to undo our mistakes?
a man has time to learn life sucks, and then he dies.

(to all the indigo children):

we tried to give it all to you – the love we never felt from our parents, the respect we never got,
the right and the freedom to question everything, even us. we thought we could save you from
our fate.

maybe we expected too much for you and from you, and it became an unseen burden that broke
your spirit, that which we wanted to preserve whole and intact at all cost, like ours used to be.
our parents forgot, but we remember what we were. how long we have waited to see you

I dont know how we failed you, but we surely must have. where are you going, so fast we cant
follow, so far we cannot see you? our parents made us not want to be like them, but we made you
not want to have children at all. is this what it means, that the world will end 'not with a bang,
but a whisper'?

sun stuck to the sky like a ball of frozen fire
over the house where the Lost Boys live. doors
loosely locked and shades pulled down, inside it is always night
for them. no birds fly over it, but hasten higher,
above the clouds of pungent poison. floors
whisper secrets and walls softly seep yellow tears. it might
have been a home, before this, except for that. once
there was music, now only noise, terrors
and demons that haunt the walking dead
living on the edge of reality. the hero, in his mind, hunts
the dragon, using guns for toys- colors
of christmas, dirty money mixed up with trails of bloodshed

it is dark, mercifully so, and the air is heavy with smoke, blended with the smell of old grease from the kitchen. cluttered with stacks of mail, old bills, flyers for sales, letters from legal agencies and tax boards-all unopened... this is a place even rats and roaches avoid, such is the extent of its lifelessness. the only sound is a television, replaying the same dvd again and again-discs and their empty boxes strewn about displaying the same recurring themes of lawlessness and blood. everywhere are the signs of the trade: digital scales, small plastic bags, mason jars, paper cups and straws, countless prescription bottles. out of sight are the guns-rifles, handguns of various sizes, brought out from time to time and boasted of, then returned to their careless hiding places. in a corner of the basement is a small garden, lovingly tended under artificial light and harvested periodically.

what goes on in a house like this? the occupants are two young men and the visitors are many. most stay only a few minutes, then disappear into the night...people with names like Beans, Flash, Wooly Bear. some stay longer and a game of role playing or cards may begin among the lost boys who never grew up. sometimes nothing happens but sleep-18 hours daily for three or four days-then no sleep at all for four or five days. always the sound of chronic coughing, punctuated with the aggravated spasms. they walk and talk, zombielike, oblivious of lit cigarets burning holes in everything, or stare motionless into the air. sometimes there is music-the angry frustrated rage of the owner on the upper level, creativity channeled into negative expression. from the basement, soft sounds of rock and roll from an age gone by-innocent, like the face of the listener, a survivor of childhood abuse. if anyone cares to consider the issue of hygiene, there is always a dirtier place, so this isnt so bad really...is it?

this house, likely to be worth nothing when it is some day lost to sherrif sale or heedlessly burned to the ground, stands frozen without a future on the edge of reality. padlocks on the inside doors and cameras monitoring the threshholds protect property from friends who have been known to step outside the bounds of the code of honor. the occupants take their trips by turns; in this business, there must be a partner who is lucid at all times, or too many sales would be lost. this is only a small operation, but if they apply themselves it may move higher up the ladder of hierarchy. points to remember: always keep a friend who still has a valid driver’s license and one without a police record, another who has a car, and of course one has a house...for now.

where is this house? hell's kitchen you say? no, this is suburban, midwest, middle america. think about it: the polite young man who snowblows the drive of the elderly ladies living next door could be a drug dealer. would you recognize him? he is not the rowdy, noisy neighbor, it wouldnt do to attract attention or annoy anyone. and might you wonder who are the customers? ex convicts, repeat offenders, good for nothing dropouts from the real world? some perhaps, but the majority are the average person...schoolteachers, carpenters, auto mechanics. some are accompanied by their girl friends or even their mothers when the market demand crosses generations.

is this a way of coping with the economic meltdown? is this a reflection of successful entrepreneurs in the underworld of business or the underprivileged being forced to flaunt the law? is it a result of the asocial pathology of a few misfits, or a growing trend emerging within a society that continues to buy when it is overcome with debt and counts on dying before being held accountable? is it laziness, an aversion to putting forth the effort to change what is wrong in the world and a morbid sense of enjoyment out of watching society crumble? either/and/or a history of abuse, mental difficulties, both emotional and cognitive, lack of education, idleness and poverty are not required, but they do help. paramount is the decision to take risks and the belief one can escape the consequences only other people have to face.

is this the new world order or the end of order altogether?


my china doll, along with my heart, is broken for the last time. all the pieces are here, but
they just keep falling apart. my psychedelic child has grown and flown away. he plays
drums while the crippled angels dance and beat their tambourines to songs he hums.

oh long lost lover of my sweetest days, walk beside me always, unseen and silent. companion
of my darkest hours, fragrance of unfamiliar flowers, the sparkle in my tears, accompany me
through all the endless years until before and after are forgotten and the now disappears.

who else can comfort me, make me laugh again? if you leave, I dont want eternity. before you
go, one last request: dont just kill me, annihilate me completely. leave no trace of blood nor
bones, no paltry poems, empty thoughts, delete my name from cell phones. make me erased from
cosmic memory.

february 2017-
this is a story that i cannot tell you, but i think it is clear enough. it is far from over though, and i do still have a wisp of hope for a happy ending. i can see all the future of humanity in one young man, and it feels like if he fails, so will we all.

then again, what has developed lately in the government seems to be following the pattern...the pattern of no pattern at all. good luck to everybody over there.

i dont seem to be able to make an upbeat ending on this one...best to just move on, i guess.
chapter 13-two days on a farm (sleeping outside)
Date Posted: Feb 26th, 2017 at 00:34 - Comments (0)
present day-
first i should preface this entry with an introduction to another of the families in ratlam that have adopted me. rasheed was one of the vegetable vendors that came to the house in samta nagar. when he called me ‘mummy’ my heart was won forever. he was not married at the time, but over the years i was there to come to know his wife and four children that followed. they became an integral part of my daily life. rasheed knew i was interested in villages, so he had asked me early on to come to the farm, and i jumped at the chance. i can never remember the name of the village, but it is on the second last stop from piploda on the bus from ratlam, situated near the rajasthan border. what follows is a blog entry that i wrote about it:

Begin at the beginning...
Sunday morning shortly after 7 am, Rasheed arrived to bring me to the village. We walked some distance, then took a minibus to the Sailana bus stand. There we bought some namkeen and biscuits for his family and waited for the bus. The bus ride was pleasant, there were plenty of empty seats and the heat of the day had not yet begun. About an hour and a half later we reached the stop near his farm.

It was quite a small bus stand, only two corners had dhabas with water, snacks and telephones, and the bullock cart tied to two huge black bulls was already there waiting. Rasheed's older brother was driving, and three little girls were already sitting inside. It was a much rougher ride than I had ever imagined-whatever I would try to hold onto didnt seem to be stationary, though attached to the cart, and it was so bumpy that I bounced up and down on the wooden floor. When the rough part of the road began it got worse, and then there was a sort of path made of large stones-then every trace of anyone having traveled before was no longer visible to my cataract covered eyes.

We reached the farmhouse after how much time I can only guess to be about 20 minutes. The ride had been at times slow when the ground was more treacherous, sometimes deep gullies caused us to rush downwards suddenly at breakneck speed and then slowly strain to get up the other side-it was more like a roller coaster than anything else I had ever ridden. Time by now had become meaningless. There were not many big trees around, and the sun was blazing down.

The village is made of many large farms with clusters of farmhouses and some small areas of city type doll-sized bungalows with drainage ditches along the pathways. Rasheed's house was an oblong shape, the front half being an open porch with an enclosed kitchen to the left side, and behind was a single large room. The roof was made of corrugated strips of aluminum, floors were dirt and behind the house about 5 or 6 feet back was a latrine, not outdoor type, but indian style toilet inside a closet sized structure with metal roof piece used as a door. Next door was an identical house, and on the other side of the path which was the main road into town was a row of smaller houses.

In front of Rasheed's house were tied three goats-and two huge buffalo each with a calf, a cow and her two calves, and the two huge bulls who pulled the cart were tied respectively and separately in front and in back of the house. There was a huge tree alongside the road which ran parallel to the house and a wall of cowpie cakes were stacked up and dry sticks which together made fuel for the cooking stove.

The furniture that I can remember seeing was one double size and one single size bedframe made of iron, the top flat pieces in basketweave pattern, covered with the piece of industrial plastic that had been in the bullock cart, a couple of plastic lawn chairs, and a tiny wooden framed bed with rope woven as a mattress foundation sagging across it. As the sun moved along its path in the sky, the outdoor seating arrangement was changed so as to remain in the shade. Some of us would sit on the porch and some outside; there was a ceiling fan over the porch and one inside as well, but the electricity was only available from 6-8 am, noon to 3 pm and 8-10 pm. However, there was a nice breeze always coming and it was quite comfortable, even though it was in the month of May. There were various photos and plaques hung on the walls and niches cut in odd places holding things I could not recognize without appearing to be inspecting them, so I never found out what everything was.

The immediate family consisted of Rasheed's mom and dad, his big brother, wife and five children. Rasheed's wife Sultana had arrived a day ahead of us to help prepare for the occasion. I learned there were 25 houses belonging to more relatives living there in the village-i think about half of the village in total are their family members.

Most of daily life in the village revolves around bringing water from the well and caring for the animals. Various types of fodder were stacked up on the far side of where they were penned and given to them during the day, and when it was time for water they were taken a few at a time to the well. The well was across the road the house faced, and the sound of the handpump went on almost continuously as ladies and young girls with different sized steel or plastic containers came to collect what was needed for their households. At our house, the dishwashing, tooth brushing, handwashing and ritual ablution area was in front of the house, where most containers were covered and stored. Some containers were taken to the kitchen, and one kept in the latrine.

I dont know where the laundry was done, but it didnt seem that it would be done very often. Only Rasheed and I changed clothes all the time I was there. The work was quite different from life where I live, there was no washing the dust off the floors, only sweeping since they were made of mud-so much dust everywhere all the time, it seemed senseless to change clothes. A lot of cleaning up after the animals of course, cooking, fetching water, yet they found time to spend together talking and joking, ladies and men together. Rasheed and I had meals there on the porch, and everyone else ate either in the kitchen or some other place where I couldnt see them. We stopped during the day for tea often, sometimes guests or other residents would arrive to pass some time. One lady had come from near Ratlam bringing wedding invitations. I then realized how it would be impossible for me to receive any mail if I lived in a village!

Rasheed said rather apologetically that there was no television to pass the time, but I assured him that what I was watching was far more interesting to me. Where was the need for television? It was a truly new atmosphere for me, far more peaceful than ratlam, no sign of tension of any kind. I could understand how people living this lifestyle would be oblivious to the outside world; they coexist in a different world that is as far as they know unaffected by politics, industry, economics. I asked rasheed if he preferred Ratlam, where he has worked and lived for ten years or the village, and he said the village. I asked which his wife, who is from a very large city, preferred and he said the village.

There are no vegetables available there, but there is another village nearby which they buy from-how they get there I dont know, either by bullock cart or bus I would imagine. There is a masjid, but no azaan-is there an imam, I didnt ask. There is no doctor-for that they must go to Piploda. Some people there had tractors, but I dont know where they had to go to buy gasoline. Some people had motorcycles, which sped by every now and then, always young boys, some going to work some distance away. As far as the eye could see there was no blight-no plastic bags hanging from trees, etc.

I got a call from my family in Ratlam asking what was the name of the village, and I had Rasheed speak to them. They were concerned about my decision to go since they didnt know Rasheed and I had barely just met him. I believe he was a little upset about it and almost thought to take me back home that same night. Initially he had asked me if I wanted to go home in the evening or stay til the morning, and I said stay. Then after the phone call he asked me again did I want to stay or go that evening, and I felt he had changed his mind, so I said I wanted to stay but realized that he would have to miss work another day, and he said that was true and we should leave in the evening. He asked me during the day many times who it was that had called, why did they call, and most of what he said I couldnt understand, but I could see that the incident was unsettling to him and his mother. But I tried as best I could in my limited hindi to tell him it was nothing more than the family wanted to know the name of the village which I hadnt been able to tell them, so they could have some idea of where I was. He became at ease after some time and again asked me when I wanted to go home and I said I thought he had decided not to take another day off work, and he said we should stay the night, so I agreed. It is very interesting to see how much work has to be put into communication and what are the results when there is so little verbal understanding. It becomes essential to be able to rely on intuition and to express your emotions honestly on other levels.

We went for a walk to see some of the other houses, a school, the masjid. We stopped to talk to more relatives. Rasheed specifically asked for a photo of himself next to the dargah and also in front of a bush bursting with red flowers at a neighbor's house. We sat and had tea at the house of yet another relative, an old fellow smoking, who was certain that everyone in America was naked.

The second oldest daughter had the job of taking the goats somewhere for a walk twice a day as I found out, and she seemed to especially love them. Everyone had their specific duties-bhabhi was the one who washed the dishes, the three older girls and Rasheed's wife were the ones who brought water from the well. Big brother brought food for the animals as needed and took them to the well for water while the girls would work the handpump to fill containers for them to drink from. Bhabhi or the older girls from time to time swept the porch and area outside the front of the house.

Then after lunch we went for a ride in the bullock cart to see some of the farm, which was that large so I couldnt have walked-parts of it were well beyond the horizon from the vantage point of the house. I felt that I might improve riding with practice, and began to limber up. There were wheat fields, garlic, one area Rasheed said had been spoiled and grew nothing. In the garlic field I met some more relatives who were working at the harvest which would be sold in rajasthan. I saw huge wells being created to catch rainwater during the monsoon to save for other times. I had my camera and took photos.

When we returned it was time for zuhr, so I did wuzhu and they prepared a place for me in the house to offer namaz. I didnt see anyone else doing namaz, and I am not sure they know how, though I saw them doing wuzhu. Rasheed cannot read the Quran, so maybe nobody knows the arabic prayers either. There was only a short while before it was time for asr, and just as I finished they were calling me to come see the camels and bring my camera. There was an entire caravan of at least five camels, each being led by a lady and I could see the heads of children I assume were not yet weaned looking out over the top of the basket on each camel's back. They stopped for water at the well and were eating leaves off the trees high above the ground. There was also two donkeys carrying huge baskets and a young one with them. Later I learned there is no food or water in rajasthan this time of year so they have to leave home for some time. Where the men were or the older children I dont know, apparently this was ladies' work.

Now I had been wondering what the bathroom would be like. Though I had been drinking surely litres of water I felt no need to visit, but it occurred to me that after dark it would be a lot more difficult. At one time earlier I had asked 'dont you have any lizards?' and Sultana joked 'they are in the latrine'. So I decided I would have to get going. As it turned out, it was spic and span and no trouble at all, not a single lizard or anything in there with me. Not only that but I had to make a second visit after dinner when it was dark and with a flashlight! I hadnt wanted to have two meals, but they made dal bafla and we ate outside in the dark, and I mean it was so dark I couldnt see anything in my plate at all.

We waited for isha and after namaz we were ready to sleep. I was outside by the goats in front of the house on a metal bed, sturdy and wonderfully flat, with a thin comfortable mattress and an extra pillow to raise my knees. There was no need of the blanket. We called a few relatives on my mobile and talked awhile. There was a beautiful breeze and I remember asking Rasheed if it was going to rain, and he said 'oh no, never'. All the family was sleeping in various places on the porch and rasheed also outside in the smaller bed. Lying down on my back I could look up above my head and see the most beautiful moon shining out from behind thin wispy clouds drifting across it. I said 'what a beautiful sight' and someone joked 'take a photo!' but by then the memory in my camera was full. I had shot 55 pictures in all, and Rasheed learned right away how to use it and also took some. I could easily have shot another 100 there was so much to see. I drifted off to sleep almost instantly. I was awakened later by soft, cool raindrops falling on the dupatta covering my face, and they gave me a fit of the giggles.

It was such an impossible situation! One by one the others woke, Rasheed last. I didnt want to move, but I could hear Rasheed's mummy saying the mattress would be ruined in the rain and we had to move out of it. As we were carrying everything into the house the wind kept getting stronger and stronger, tearing across the countryside with almost no trees or buildings to slow it down. After some time it quieted down, and everyone moved back outside leaving me and one member who was still asleep. They lit a small lamp on a table next to me which worried me, and it was terribly stuffy and seemed to get hotter. After some time the mosquitoes arrived, brought on by the rain I suppose. I was feeling very unhappy and when the light blew out and someone came in to relight it they realized I was not asleep and I said that it was too hot, so they moved me back outside again, bed and all.

Once again I settled down, feeling so very comfortable and knowing that nothing would prevent me from sleeping while I was outside. But only a short time later, I awoke once again as rain began to fall, and this time the wind was even more fierce. I pretended to be asleep and hoped it would stop and we wouldnt be disturbed, but i could hear the word 'cyclone' being bantered about, and rather quickly everyone moved all of us back inside once again. This time the wind managed to tear off one of the metal strips on the roof, making a terrible clatter as it flew off who knows where or how far. Two of the men went outside to see what the damage was, and most of the family were talking for some time. It was the longest night I think I have ever experienced, and certainly the most unusual. The youngest child, who was sleeping next to me, had a bad cold and now began to cough continuously. The mosquitoes no longer bothered me, probably because they had found someone more appealing to attack. I was disappointed to think I would have to spend the rest of the night inside, but it was just as unpleasant for everyone else, and again when the wind died down and rain stopped we transferred ourselves and all our gear outside. Even then I think it was only about 2 am, so there was plenty of time to still sleep, which I did.

The next thing I remember is hearing the sound of an army of animals chomping away, and I found myself not to be the first one awake at all. There were many empty places on the porch floor next to my bed, scattered among the blanket covered shapes of the lazy ones. Outside were two beds, the small one where I imagined Rasheed would be though he was completely covered with a blanket so I could only guess. There was the other small bed which I hadnt seen before, and a red blanket covering someone who later turned out to be his mummy. When she got up she limped, and seeing the condition of the bare ropes that had been sagging under her it was not at all surprising. Rasheed's wife was already bringing water from the well, and bhabhi was in the kitchen perhaps. The only ones still asleep were the children, Rasheed and his papa, who had been smoking bidis at various intervals during the night whenever we were disturbed by the weather.

I sat watching the animals and work going on quite satisfied until it looked like I should get up and try to fold the bedding. Rasheed was the last to wake up. I visited the latrine and he asked if I would like to take a bath. I said I would wait til I got back home, thinking we were taking the 7am bus, but he asked me several times. Then he suggested after a while. We had tea and biscuits. I remember his mother asking me if I wanted to take a bath the day before, and I said no because I had already that morning. I began to think they must be very proud of their bathroom, so the next time it was mentioned I decided to oblige. I remember Rasheed saying I should take my other clothes out of my bag...I think he was very conscious of people changing clothes in the world but not on the farm. The bathroom was a separate structure about the size of a shower some distance from the front of the house. They were happy to bring water for me, and being in the open space and sunlight I found it quite pleasant.

Afterwards we took a walk around to meet some more people. I asked what time the bus was coming and Rasheed said noon. I met the relatives who made mava from milk by boiling it, which was sold to the people who make sweets. They gave me some to try and I didnt want to eat all they gave me, knowing how expensive it is. I managed to get Rasheed to finish it. There were various ways of making money, as I learned the extra milk from the buffalo would be sold to the milkman.

Meanwhile work was going on with papa and big brother repairing the damage to the roof. We were getting ready to create a sitting place in the shade around the house when one of the bulls started to make a lot of noise, and we went to see what was going on. He was tied up near the side of the house the main road was on and had seen some 3 to 5 bullock carts coming pulled by the white species of bulls, maybe they are oxen technically. For whatever reason he decided he didnt want them to pass, and they had stopped probably because they knew from experience that it was the best thing to do. I have no doubt that bull could easily have pulled the stake out of the ground where he was tied or broken the rope, though they told me he couldnt. He was blowing breath through his nose and pawing the ground with his left front foot, also emptying his body of whatever materials he could muster. It took some time for him to get over the situation, but eventually he quieted down somewhat and they passed by. Even then he was breathing heavily for an hour afterwards. The day before I had seen the second youngest child carrying a big stick and escorting him back home from the well while Rasheed looked after them from a short distance. This same animal when he would be brought to the cart was eager to get into gear and start working, though sometimes a bit faster than requested. How amazing is the relationship between man and beast.

We sat down to lunch about 11:30 am. Preparations were being made for the return trip. Rasheed's wife, his brother's wife, the oldest and the youngest children were to accompany us all the way home. I was having more difficulty riding in the bullock cart and begged to get out and walk part of the way. I was very relieved to finally reach the bus stand. When we got on the bus, there were no seats left, and we were packed in like sardines. The entire ride was like being in traction, most of the time my two arms stretched out in different directions, grabbing onto whatever I could find that was made of metal and trying to keep from falling because there would be no hope of getting up again before someone else was on top of me. I doubted I would be able to walk at all by the time we reached home, my knees would surely cave in and both arms would fall off. My neck was beginning to hurt, and I cursed my body silently all the way home thinking it would never move again.

When we arrived, Rasheed and I took an autorickshaw to see a doctor while his family went home. I told him to accompany them while I waited, but he said they would be all right. As it turned out there was too much of a crowd at the doctor and he said he would come back alone in the morning. He had told me he wasnt well and I could clearly see that now and have begun to worry a lot. He dropped me off at the house, I gave him some water to drink and he went on his way. He had been admiring my bag and showing it to his mother saying he would like to have it or one like it. I told him it was a set of two matching pieces I bought from america the last time I was there. But I didnt mention that I had another better bag from india that I really didnt need to keep, and later decided to give to him the next day.

I woke up the next morning in my bed in Ratlam realizing that I had no pain at all, and as the day progressed I found I felt better than I had in years. Before I went to the farm I had a small hope that the real me might wake up there-that one who didnt think it is a major calamity to get feet wet or clothes dirty...that one who used to climb up hills of stone and slide down slopes of mud without ever falling or stumbling. Maybe all that happened is I am more aware now of the presence of the one who is sleeping and unable to take part in this reality. I am better able now to properly mourn the loss of the essence of life and my identity...to realize the price we have paid for technology. I think now it would be impossible for me to go back to the time before I have been corrupted and it is almost an obligation now or responsibility for me to try to wake up anyone else who may still have a chance of being who they really are. I know I will be accused of romanticizing or being deluded by the dream of the 'noble savage', but it isnt a dream...it's a memory.

Maybe this is what gitanjali is all about....the lives we live with such a lack of perception and participation.
What if we were conscious of every minute of our lives?
...What if we were conscious?

chapter 12-sambhavna clinic
Date Posted: Feb 24th, 2017 at 09:46 - Comments (2)
written in retrospect 2017

my second home became like the family i never had. my landlord was the middle of five sons and he didnt live in ratlam. the apartment that was behind me is occupied by mummy’s youngest son, his wife and two daughters. the house adjoining it is occupied by another of mummy’s sons with his wife and two children and mummy and papa as well. the other two sons live nearby and all in all there are fourteen grandchildren.

i can remember waking both households one night when i was screaming in my sleep because of a nightmare, and they came to see what was the matter. when i am stressed, as i was when i arrived there as a tenant, i tend to do that, but this is the first time i had ever waked up anyone other than myself in my life. mummy stayed and sat with me until she was sure i could go back to sleep peacefully. it was she who sat with me when i had what i believe was food poisoning. luckily it was not serious but very frightening as i was so dizzy the room was spinning even when i was lying down. i was vomiting and in no condition to care for myself at all since i couldnt even walk.

of the two granddaughters who lived behind me, the youngest was my special friend and we used to play together all the time. we would play school, and all the games little girls played. i was living my second childhood again and this time had another chance to get it right. even at the age of four she could do things with my camera that i never knew it could do, and i think she was the only person who never was stuck at my computer because it didnt work like windows. she just used it as it was.

so as years went by and my emotional state became stable, i began to feel that i needed to make a commitment to a community in india. i can say that i love and respect all religions and i would like to see a world without borders, but there has to be something that goes beyond family, and as a family does not segregate people from each other, neither should a community. i had studied a lot about different religions during my years in america and was most attracted to sufism. it is not a religious organization but is considered to be mysticism which is at the core of all religions. as catholicism has gnosticism, islam has sufism. i had become affiliated with a sufi group in america and at that time believed that it was not necessary to be first a muslim, then a sufi. but over the years i found i had not progressed as i thought i would. no one can say ‘i am going to be a sufi’ or ‘i am going to be a mystic’, it is something that happens. surely there are some people who have been blessed with an overnight transformation but most will find that they have to work hard at the basics of some tradition first. i chose islam because it seemed to have what i needed. i knew i lacked self discipline among other things, and the prayers five times a day were just what i needed. i was able to memorize the arabic phonetically within two weeks to allow me to offer namaz.

i had looked in ratlam for some meaningful volunteer work to do, but to its credit the whole town seems to look after itself. i visted the old men’s home, the leprosy home, a school for handicapped children, and yet everything was already in place and functioning well without me.

this is a view of part of the compound from the balcony of the clinic:

my main interest in volunteering was at the hospital built in bhopal to care for the victims of the union carbide disater. i was mortified that i never even heard of it when it happened. my son was then three years old and we were going through a difficult time, and i had put all newspapers, television, radio news out of my world for so many years. i lived a rather isolated life and there are enough others living there who are totally unaware of what goes on in the world beyond their borders that i never heard it mentioned. but one cannot try to learn about india without learning about that horrible event, which is continuing to cause misery and hardship even today.

one of the homes i stayed at in bhopal was owned by someone who was able to tell me about that night, as he was coming from another city by train back to his home and family. he described to me the crowds of people running and screaming, not being able to see where they were going, and the station had shut down and wouldnt let any more trains into the city.

this picture was taken where staff meetings were held:

it had always been in my mind to live in bhopal so i could do volunteer work at the clinic. but having not been able to find a suitable place to live it seemed it was impossible for me. i even thought maybe i could commute between ratlam, for instance stay in bhopal for three months of every year to volunteer and then return to ratlam for nine months. this was something i had wanted to do even before i left america, and it was hard to let go of the idea.

so i made arrangements to go and make a trial to see how it would work out. i had a perfectly wonderful three months, worked like the devil, way beyond my capacity, and met some unforgettable people there. every time i go to bhopal it brings tears to my eyes when i get to the railway station, either to leave or arrive. a large part of my heart is there and always will be. but i miss ratlam while i am there and the life i live here. in bhopal i was in the compound, i lived there and worked there and slept there for three months. i rarely went to the market, and it was a very limited life in a way. at the same time, if i ever needed to go anywhere there was no lack of people ready to accompany me and help me.

this picture is of a rock garden which shows the care taken to make the grounds almost a retreat:

patients are given the utmost respect and attention that they deserve as well as the best possible medical care. most of the world has forgotten the victims and survivors, so this place is important for emotional healing as well. here they are validated.

in the end, i decided to stay in ratlam, and became involved more in the lives of other people here, not as a volunteer but as a friend. but some of the ties that i made in bhopal will never be broken.

this picture is another example of the beauty and tranquility of the grounds.

the job i had been called there to do was to help in the office entering data in the computers about the doctors’ visits, patients and treatment, etc. but my great love was working in the library where i scanned and copied about ten years’ worth of various newspaper and magazine articles about all aspects of the disaster. as i sat there at night, after the office work was done, i found it necessary to read as well as scan the clippings which had been so carefully saved over the years, and it was like seeing it all happen before my very eyes. it was intense and spellbinding.

the experience of working at the clinic with actual survivors of the tragedy was overwhelming. i hope not to offend anyone with anything i have written in the following poems, but there was a tremendous need of expressing my feelings which i could do in no other way. i hope they help to convey the magnitude of the event itself and its aftermath, though i am aware that no words ever can totally do that.

sundown: the most peaceful time of the day, when even ghosts do not wander about

i went with someone and saw the factory from a short distance, and it was a bleak and desolate sight, rather frightening to me. i saw the memorial statue made for the victims. i met sunil on one of my earlier visits to the clinic a few years before where he was a security guard. i pray he will have everlasting peace.

Sunil is in the sunlight that dances on the lake.
he was the poster-boy, the super star that led us into war
against the monoliths and mega myths that slaughtered us before.
while we slept, a toxic cloud prowled through our town,
dragged us from our beds, knocked us down,
heaped one upon the other, separating sister and brother.

Sunil is in the center of our deepest heartbreak.
choking, burning, blinded and driven mad by fear of the silent
killer unleashing its deadly poisons, we ran. our lives were spent
in one night, and generations afterward are paying
the debt we incurred. after twenty-five years,
we have become a part of history.

Sunil is in our memories and all the prayers we make.
he led the parades, carried our flag, upheld our hopes and ideals
while he succumbed to death slowly from wounds unseen. how much
time heals children orphaned and crippled, babies unborn,
survivors forgotten, minds torn to shreds, haunted by the past?
when will the victims have peace at last?

bhopali skies are bleeding, bearing witness to old wounds. Still veiled
in traces of gas, a modern-day palace of mirrors maintains silence,
concealing its secrets in Time.

Across the decades echo the eerie cries of victims, imprisoned within the past.
Their tears are more real, their hearts more alive than the fugitives
who run from this crime.

Life goes on in the midst of death. For some, everything died but the memory
of that night. How to erase a story inscribed in blood,
to write off incalculable loss?

Another winter comes without sleep, but nightmares go on.
Broken promises incite no hope of compensation. What is the price of a child,
a job, an eye? Across the sea,

the good life's enjoyed by corporate kings and political giants.
Bhopal's survivors are betrayed by its well-to-do, who value
countrymen less than gold.

The neighborhood is sick with grief, poisoned daily by its water and air.
Progress falls harder on some than on others. Oh, God! How many times
must their story be told?

protocol, respect, dignity forgotten, routed out of our beds, waking to a nightmare
beyond description, surpassing the horrors of war, we stare in disbelief.
no end to the incoming surge of humanity.

corpses be damned, throw them aside!
dragging them feet first out of the way, leaving trails in the mud,
we clear the way for those we might help- the ones vomiting blood,
blind and burned, stumbling over the others who have mercifully died.

if only there was more time or drugs or doctors, some clue to the name
or nature of the beast, but there is no way even to count the number of deceased
let alone distinguish them from the living strewn on the floor.

looking for any faint life signs
we fight to save victims from something none of us understands;
meanwhile death silently steals them away from our frantic hands.
the night is still, the screams of terror now diminished to moans and whines.

nothing to distract us as we tend to the business at hand, these ailing and the
thousands more in the halls and on the road and grounds outside the open door,
while their faces are being engraved forever in our memory.

even well beyond the sunrise
they wander in, crawling, coughing, some carrying others, dazed
and lost. some have come in search of their families, shaken, half-crazed;
some are unable to speak, struck dumb with pain from burning lungs and eyes.

this is their story, eulogy for some. in time the world will forget, going on
to new highs and lows of human history. in our hearts we still hear the cries
of the wretched, helpless, innocent souls engulfed in this tragedy.

bury the living with the dead,
carry on with your lives because you can. but we who were there
are bound to each other and the ghost of that fateful night. we share
this curse, inextricably tied by a single, slender, common thread.

Try and tell my friend, who runs naked, screaming in the night, that there's
no one chasing him. He can't hear me any more. Aren't 25 years enough to prove
no one cares? Broken promises and lies are the real demons. forget the babies
born with no eyes and no brains... ask their mothers if 48 hours of life was enough.
Whose nightmare is it? Will we ever wake up?

This disaster became a tragedy through bureaucracy and denial. When they are all dead
let the whole world forget the illness, mutation, suffering, negligence and most of all,
the guilt. No one is responsible, there are no lessons to be learned about human nature
and ethics. Dream on, humanity, it's your drug of choice. Read the tabloids and try to be
shocked by something, anything at all.

We're numb and cold like the corpses left lying where they fell while they fled from
beautiful Bhopal. Likewise we run, trying to escape responsibility. History books can lie,
omit and twist the truth, no one will ever know or even care. Just an accident, that's all.
S*it happens. Collateral damage. Give it up, go home, get over it.

What makes you think there is enough wealth, even added together from all the
executives of all the biggest corporations in the world to pay for a single life? If you
hang every one of them and their entire families it wont add up to the number of people
who have suffered and died. Justice will never happen on this plane of existence, it is only
an ideal we lost sight of long ago.

Being American means you never have to say you're sorry. Being anyone else means
you don't really matter much. What does matter? Progress? Technology? Money? Security?
Education? No, these are just things to grab like brass rings. It doesn't really matter what
matters; just keep grabbing the rings and don't lose any sleep over it.
chapter 11-samta nagar
Date Posted: Feb 22nd, 2017 at 11:42 - Comments (1)
2010-(the following must be part of an old blog...)

This October 4 will be my seventh anniversary of my 'life in India' and I am now just finishing decorating my first and hopefully last home on this earth. My hopes of finding a painter through my neighbor have failed. After seeing the condition of my ladder which they borrowed, I don't even have to go and see their work; it doesn't appear to me that they could have been very neat-that and the fact that their clothes looked as though they have been in a paintball fight rather than applying paint on the walls. Fortunately the ladder is aluminum, and it was easy to wash the paint off, which seemed to me to be very thin, and today they didn't want to borrow it, probably finding it to be very unstable compared to the high stools they usually stand on.

So tomorrow, if I wake up feeling adventurous enough, I may make my broom experiment and see if I can manage to get paint onto the bathroom ceiling and three or so feet of the walls that are not tiled. It is a very small bathroom, and even if I splash a lot it should be easy enough to clean up. The only issue is whether or not the broom can hold enough paint in the first place and then if it will let go when I want it to and where. If it turns out plain flat that is fine, and if it looks like a fancy design, a new faux finish sort of method, that is even better. I guess there is also the possibility it will end up looking like someone tried to paint with a broom...in which case I will have to hire someone to paint over it.

At last I have been able to get the bank to agree that I should not be having an NRE account since I am most definitely an Indian resident, and an 'ordinarily resident' one at that. It will take time of course, like everything here, but will save me from tax being deducted when I sell mutual funds. For all I know it might mean that tax is deducted from me for other things that has not as yet been, due to my misperceived status of non-resident, but that is ok too.

This will be the first year I try and make out an Indian income tax form. I had one done by a professional a few years ago and I can't believe I didn't save it, but I have looked everywhere and it just isn't here. Of course I never made enough to be eligible for taxation here, though Uncle S has claimed it already even though I am not allowed to vote over there. Since it will cost me nearly as much as I hope to get refunded, I thought I might as well try it myself. Next year I am due to get back five times as much, and this will be a good way to find out if I need any help or not.

Of course I was elated when I received my Overseas Citizen Certificate (not really a citizen status, but an unrestricted, lifelong visa is included). But rather than being a 'person of Indian origin' I can call myself 'an ordinary Indian' now. I have been truly validated-even better than when I got my very first credit card way back in america after my first divorce.

In the meantime, a chipmunk is building an addition onto the bathroom window ledge. It appears to be a multilevel extravagant affair. Though I just plugged up some more gaps in the window frame in the kitchen to keep out the lizards, well at least the medium size and large ones, I don't have any problem with chipmunk neighbors. It is very funny to watch him/her every day taking so much time to arrange and rearrange things just like I have been doing-I think I am now on the sixth or seventh style of draping the valance over the alcove pass-through cut out between the parlor and the kitchen. I only hope that no predators find their home and this sweet story ends up being one of those horrible Discovery Channel or Animal Planet episodes. There is no way to even get on the other side of that side of the house, it is joined to a wall about 20 feet high, and there is a huge, deep ravine beyond. I think it would be totally inaccessible, there would be no way to do anything to save them if they were threatened.

I will never forget one year, way back in America, late in autumn, some crows or starlings would often come and try to attack baby birds in a nest high up in a tree outside my kitchen window. The mother would chirp, and hundreds and hundreds of sparrows would come and fly around the tree in a circle as though they were attached to it with ribbons like a maypole. The big birds couldn't get in, and would wait for a time, then go on their way. But finally the leaves had all fallen off the tree and the babies were not big enough to fly yet. Eventually the majority of sparrows had gone south, and one day when the predators showed up the mother chirped and screamed, but no other birds came to their rescue. She sat so pitifully crying, some branches above, watching while they ate her little ones alive, which took them a period of days. The memory and the way I felt has never diminished, not after over 30 years. Are we any different than any other link in the food chain?

And of course, my home has never been and will never be any more permanent than theirs. They will relocate every year, and during my childhood I think the longest we ever lived in a single home was five years. The longest I ever lived anywhere was 19 years, then after my divorce it was on the go again except for a shorter break of 12 years, but those were the closest I ever came to having a 'home' for real. Here in India of course many people have ancestral homes, ancestral villages, and they know where they came from. A house is not the same thing as a home-people like me can spend our lives making houses, but a home some people never find. If we want to make a home, it has to be built from those intangible qualities, memories and symbols like the ones I have been collecting for the past seven years.

sometimes i would make tea for this lady. she is also a tribal person, selling vegetables as she says, because she likes to eat. i am very fond of her. i cant imagine how old she is and i am sure she doesnt know either. i admire her so much for being willing and able to work as hard as she does, in any and all kinds of weather too. in fact, you might say she is one of my heroines. once i hadnt seen her in a number of months, and then she came back but something was wrong. i asked her what happened, and she said a motorcycle hit her, knocked her down and her arm broke. even now her fingers dont work properly and her arms are weaker, she cant carry as heavy a load as before. i asked her if the person stopped to help her, and she said no. but she is no worse the wear in her heart and mind for all her troubles.

this is the gate outside my front door with the indian moon in the sky like the smile of the cheshire cat in alice and wonderland. i was so amazed when i saw that, i must have missed something in the general science book when i was a kid because i never knew until i saw it that the phases of the moon were different anywhere on earth. i looked it up one day and found out why that happens, but i promptly forgot. i know there is a reason for it, that is all that matters.

India is my home, in its entirety and its haphazard unmanufactured state-a raw material for a home so to speak, or an uncleared plot of land. But I think it is too late for me to go back to that original state. There is only so much social conditioning that can be undone in a person.

We have come a long way in the course of progress...but it is time to go back now I think.

Rats and the City (blog entry while living in same house)
(Going back to Nature)

Well last night I learned some invaluable things from the internet. First off, the stupid little flies in my kitchen, which to me look like tiny bow ties, are called drain flies (more correctly moth flies) and they breed near drains that are improperly cleaned out. So that proves there is certainly something wrong with that kitchen drain-the one whose ugliness is the eyesore of my entire home. I am now somewhat worried that they will hatch maggots...read some horror stories last night.

Also one of the things I learned was what to use to clean drains. (my god, I thought I was overly compulsively clean, but I never cleaned my drains!)

Another incredible thing was finding an article on sanitation and drainage in buildings-in India! I really did not think there were any drain pipes under the floors, though I had seen some coming from rooftops ending a few feet away from the building, where the water would flow off and fall wherever the wind blew. This article is incredible, it has detailed diagrams explaining all the musts and do's and don'ts, and it is so complicated I really doubt if there is even one building where I live that has anything like it.

My thoughts have been running along the lines of going back to Nature lately-going to a small village and living without electricity, where there is no water except from an outside handpump. Over the years, being a homeowner has taught me that the worst thing Man has ever invented is plumbing. If not for plumbing I don't think there would be any homeowners' problems! Problems, more correctly the term would be nightmares.

In America I have faced the usual homeowners' and renters' challenges which I am sure are familiar to anyone reading, but here I am now facing a new one-for me, anyway. I am being plagued with the bane of urban living-rats!

Every night this year since the winter approached I wake up to the sound of scratching on metal, and I get my handy spray can of insecticide and blast them. They stop and I go back to sleep. Years past there were one or two instances, but never nightly! I have four drains in my house, the one in the kitchen has no metal cover-it is totally made of cement, and a plastic accordion drainpipe is embedded into it. This is where the drain flies are breeding, and if the rats are there I can't hear them.

But in both bathrooms and the central hall, rats are trying diligently to gnaw away through the floor to escape the cold, I assume. I know they can't chew through metal-well, I have my doubts about the kind of metal used here which is so thin even I might be able to chew through it. But what is worrying me is that the drain strainer is set into concrete...and as far as I know, that's it. Suppose they continually gnaw away at the cement around the drain until it gets loose and falls through the floor? I can of course check it daily to see that it isn't loose, but I would really like a more secure solution to the problem. Most importantly, I want peace of mind so I can sleep!

Now I find it hard to believe there are any drain pipes at all under the house. When I hear a rat in one of the bathrooms and spray him, about three minutes later he is scratching away at the next drain-and when I spray that he goes on to the third. Then he must go to someone else's part of the house I guess, because he doesn't come back until the next afternoon or night. I don't see how he and his friends and family could be running through any kind of pipe from drain to drain, unless they were all small and Olympic swimmers.

Anyway one night, when the furry critter woke me up, I turned on the water to see what would happen, and he stopped but started up again in the same place. Then I got a bottle of vinegar and poured that down, which had no more effect on him than the water. Maybe he drank it!

Originally I was thinking I could get some poison, which hopefully would not weaken the cement or bleed into the nearby tubewell, contaminating the drinking water. But, and as I already know it takes two to three weeks for a rat's corpse to completely decay, while I was reading about maggots infesting homes because of decaying creatures stuck in the walls...I began to think suppose there were two hundred rats under my house and they all died? Wouldn't that be opening the door to a whole lot of other disturbing creatures? And there are the ethical issues-after all, they aren't even ugly like lizards.

So I think ultimately it is not a good idea to try and kill them for various reasons. But perhaps there can be a deterrent which is cheap enough that I can pour it down each drain once a day? I had used some paint thinner yesterday and left the paint rags over one of the drains, the one in the back bathroom, and I slept through the night. But the scary thing was, the night before he woke me up but making much less noise-as though he was purposely trying to be quiet. Makes me feel like I am in a Stephen King movie.

I have spent a long time figuring out how to lizard proof my home and take control back from the beasts, and now here is something new. Actually, the rats here are not bad looking-they are like big mice. But though I would prefer them to a lizard, I still don't want any in my home. Also, I know they will not be afraid of me and I don't think I could kill them with my broom. All of this only reinforces my theory that living without plumbing would be a good idea. Maybe some day I will go back to Nature and move away from rats and the city.

Later update:
One evening, googling more about rats using the word 'repellent' I found some interesting natural solutions. First and foremost was mothballs, but they pose a number of problems. In addition to being toxic to humans, they don't have a pleasant aroma. Other possibilities were cloves, cayenne pepper, and mint leaves. Since I had no mothballs I decided to perform an experiment.

I sprinkled dried mint leaves on one drain, some cloves on another and cayenne pepper on the one under the basin. I laid awake for a long time wondering what would happen, and finally I heard my guest in the bathroom where the cloves were, which obviously did not perturb him in the least. I poured some cayenne down onto him and he next tried the rear bathroom with the mint, again not a problem for him. I gave him a blast of red pepper there, and that was the last I heard of him all night. In the morning he was back at the hall drain for about two scratches, then disappeared on his own. I was really encouraged!

The next day I went to get some moth balls to see how they compared, since having cayenne pepper on the drains seems a little untidy, and it would be hard not to feel silly if I ever had to explain why all my drains were red. I was not sure which would be the most expensive, which would also be a factor in the long run. So I laid down two moth balls in each drain over the red pepper and again slept well. The next morning, my neighbor, the landlord’s brother who lives behind me, told me he had a visitor at night-my rat!

Yesterday I told my neighbor about the chile powder and he was listening intently, but then he said, “well it doesn't bother us as much as it does you of course!” The funny thing is that later the same day I could hear this tapping noise from his apartment, like metal against metal, and his little girl came home from school and must have asked him “what are you doing?” He gave her an answer that included the word 'rat'. So i guess it didnt take long for him to reach his limit and get tired of it I guess!

Well, the little darling came back around a time or two, and I think the moth balls are toning down the effect of the cayenne, and my house does not smell at all inviting to me any more, so I am going to remove the mothballs at least from the hall under the basin. But I do believe I have won-I can once again sleep through the night and my home is still mine! If I tell everyone how well this works, maybe we can eventually drive them out of the city and from there off the face of the earth, who knows?

into the present day, february 16
i remember so well the day i looked at this house. my friend zakir, the auto driver, took me to see it. i had told him i wanted to live in a muslim house since i hadnt had a chance yet to get to know any muslims.

they were looking to let one apartment on the ground floor and the one above. i liked the one below, and i remember that zakir said i would never find the kind of bathroom i was looking for, but there it was-everything i wanted!

when i came outside, i saw an older lady sitting on the step of the apartment that was on the first floor behind mine. she was wearing a sari, which muslim ladies do not often do that i know of, but she was the mother of the landlord. there was something about her that i really liked, and she was the reason i decided to take the place then and there. there was such a radiance about her, and in the years that followed i came to believe she must have been a saint. she used to come and sit on my step with me after i moved in and we would talk or just each do our own work silently. she was always sewing something, she was never idle. the others used to say how did we speak because my hindi was still weak, but i said that there was a special language of the heart that she knows. i believe she had an understanding for people, things, animals and life that can only come from the heart. i soon loved her as a mother and admired her as a great lady.
chapter 10-shashtri nagar
Date Posted: Feb 20th, 2017 at 20:57 - Comments (2)
the first place i rented was in a private home, i was the downstairs tenant. i had two rooms, kitchen and bath. ours was the last house on the lane. the property line was bordered by the open drainage system, and in fact originally encroached on the area next to the ditch that was to remain free for cleaning vehicles or whatever to get in. the landlord nevertheless built on the noman’s land, and one day, before my arrival, the side where my bathroom was had been deliberately and rudely knocked off by a city bulldozer. i had a very funny shaped bathroom, sort of a hypoteneuse triangle shaped wedge, with very rough cut outer walls.

there was another tenant who had a room that adjoined mine but the door was now kept locked to allow for two rentals. a young man who spoke very good english was staying there alone to finish some schooling, and he was a help to me if i had to explain something to my landlady.

the landlady was lonely i think, since out of her five daughters none of them were living at home any more and her husband was out all day because of work. we spent a lot of time together and i learned some hindi from her. this was the first time since i had come to india that i was with someone who spoke only hindi most of the time and that was good for me. she grew up in a village and i used to ask her about her life as a child. i didnt undersntad much, but something came across and she was happy to talk to me. when you learn a language from a textbook, it doesnt really teach you the way people talk in their everyday life.

i spent one monsoon in that house, and apparently the area is low lying land. i remember one day hearing the loud roaring noise and the water was coming down the street towards us like a tidal wave and pouring into the drainage area. the ditch had to be twenty feet deep, and the water was nearly level with the land. it wouldnt be long before it would be rushing onto the porch and maybe into the house. but it subsided before any calamity occurred.

there was a small apartment complex, garden style, across the street from me where a neighbor used to call me to visit because she was a widow and lived alone. she spoke fine english so we could have a normal conversation. she always wanted to eat something with tea, so i had to join her. i remember how she loved christmas-she was an anglo indian christian woman. she would have a table set up for the season and her friends would come and share the holiday. her family was mixed, she had three daughters and each one married someone of a different faith.

i also remember now that when i lived in that house i was always asked what religion i was. though they used the word caste, i learned later that they did mean religion. i told them that i have respect for all religions and i dont belong exclusively to any one. they found that very hard to accept, as though they didnt know how to relate to me if they couldnt fix me in a place that defined what i was. i thought ‘foreigner’ would have been enough of a label. i went so far as to hang or display various religious symbols in the house but they were not satisfied. in fact, the hindus used to say ‘she is hindu’ and the christians used to say ‘she is christian’ while i just kept silent.

the first picture is looking out from the porch where my front door opened out. across the street is a big langur monkey sitting on the cement post of the fence. there is another sitting on the canopy over their front door. one time i tried talking to one, and he showed me his teeth. they are vegetarians, but when they open their mouth they look more like vampires. if they have teeth like that and they dont eat meat, then they must use them for fighting. my landlady said she found one sitting on her dining room table one day eating from a bowl of tomatoes. many people seem to like to leave their doors open and dont have screen doors. often there are skylights cut in the roof that have no screens, just an iron grate to keep out big animals and bandits. but lizards, rats and chipmunks come in. one time i was sitting with my landlady and she was doing laundry, a chipmunk jumped onto her shoulder and ran down her back because there was no room to pass by her. wildlife is more tame here than in america.

for some time the lady of the house gave me meals at a minimal cost, and we spent a lot of time together, preparing food or whatever. i admired her very much because she was not your dainty flower type of woman, during the construction of her new home she had been working right next to the labourers, carrying bricks on top of her head and all, and overseeing the progress. one time i saw her yelling that the cement was bad on a newly constructed wall, and the contractor insisted that it was not, until finally she picked up a rod or something and bashed at it until it crumbled and they had to do it over. chutzpah is what i would say she had...yep. her cooking was great too...i still remember the chutney she used to make, and i wish i had written down how she did it.

in the summertime, one of the drinks that supposedly cool you off is sugar cane juice. most of the vendors when i first arrived use to squeeze the juice by hand, and it looked like a backbreaking job to me. only young men used to do this. but today most have a gasoline engine to run the machine to extract the juice. they also have ice i believe. i am not a fan of this drink, after having tried it once. maybe they had put salt in it, i dont know. the fruit juice sellers will put salt in their juice if you dont stop them, or on cut fruit as well. another local favorite is coconut juice, which i have never tried. mango juice is also popular, but it is said that the mango is ‘warm’ to the body. my drink of choice in the summer is cold coffee with ice cream.

i had lived with a family in bhopal for about six months, and this was my second experience of becoming immersed in another aspect of indian culture. in bhopal, the society was such that the family that i lived with would never allow someone they considered beneath their rank into their house socially. but in ratlam, my rickshaw driver friend, the one who showed me around on my first day and who became my first friend here, was welcome to come in with us and have tea. i was very upset at some of the behavior i saw while i was in bhopal towards people who were the same class as me, yet they fell over me to attend, believing that surely i would be rich, being from america. the people they so disdained ARE my class, the blue collar people like plumbers, painters, vendors. if some class must be assigned to me, i am happy to accept that one.

this fellow had a bakery on the corner of our street almost. what is called a bakery here is not always what a bakery is in america. it is basically just a household supply shop, mostly food. you can see in the pictures all the cookies, which are called biscuits. but you will also find light bulbs, razor blades, cleaning supplies, matches, all sorts of odds and ends. i was so much in love with the painting done in this shop. it was meticulously done and the use of color was most imaginative.

i have been able to also sample various different styles of cooking, and i think the very best cook i have met was the lady in bhopal who was married to uma’s brother in the house where i lived for three months. she was actually from a village in maharashtra, so her cooking was probably improvised to blend with her new home. but in central india, where i am, there is somewhat of a mixture of food-it is not as regional as gujarati or rajasthani i think. but of course every cook is different. and the boy rakesh, who worked for them on a livein basis, made the best roti i have ever tasted. they were so light and he would carry each one to the table one at a time in one hand with the other high above because it was puffed up like a balloon and i dont think he wanted to stack them up.

i found that i liked living in other people’s houses better than i would like to have someone living in my house. in my own house i am far too particular and would always be freaking out over little things that werent done like i wanted. but in someone else’s home i find no problem and have no resentment at adapting to their rules.

after having been a renter for so long i cant see any reason to buy or build my own house. i managed a house in america as a single woman, but in india it would be more than i would want to attempt. i cant see me dealing with contractors and workmen in an authoritative manner

yep, it’s me. i know the picture is blurry, but there is something about it i like. i look very vulnerable there, which i was at the time. i had just been refused a pio card, a stranger in town, and my best friend in america had just died. the picture was taken in the second room in my first home. the lady had warned me sometimes water comes in so i had just moved everything out of it. the walls were a mess from a lot of leaking before i got there. i still in those days used to think that if you paint the walls here they will look nice for five to twenty years like in america. haha. even if you have the best quality paint and equipment, use the best methods and are a master painter, it will probably peel off in about three months and within six months have black stains all over. i havent figured out why this is, whether it is because of the walls made of bad materials or bad sealing or just the harsh weather or a combination of all.

here are some poems i wrote about a few of the remarkable people i met early on in ratlam because they are so very inspiring to me. you can skip them if you want, they are not a part of the history.

for the first one i made up the name babaji, because he always looked like he was praying to god that someone would give him food rather than begging. i even spoke to him once, though i had never heard anyone else ever address him. and one time he spoke to me and told me to go to a certain temple, i think because there were many people there who could use money. i dont think he ever took money. he used to have four or five huge sacks stuffed with what i cant imagine, and he walked through the city dragging them all along with him.

he makes his daily rounds, dragging sacks and bags
containing whatever he found – empty bottles, papers, rags.
his eyes are always sad, hands clasped, raised in prayer.
children torment him if they’re bad; good ones pretend he’s not there.

like him, we pass each day gathering our things,
not realizing what they weigh. the ego stubbornly clings
to its identity. as if in a trance,
the soul lives in captivity, blind to its own existence.

moti did all the work for my first landlady. he was a tribal boy, and everything he did was first class. the contrast was so sharp between him and the neighborhood kids. i remember one time i thought he might have taken some money from my room, and my landlady said ‘he steals, be careful.’ but i didnt mind. he only took small change-there would be big bills lying there in plain sight and he never took those. he was like the sun streaming into a dark house and had an irresistible smile that was contagious.

moti can do anything – sweep, wash dishes, make tea, press clothes, fix the baby’s toy,
go to market – everything including going to school, though he’s only a boy
of twelve. when he smiles at me and says ‘good morning’, how happy he is,
unaware of inequity. i see the rich kids playing all day, but moti wouldn’t dare
even to watch. now it’s late… the village is far by cycle.

he has a good name – ‘precious stone’.
closing the gate, he soars down the street. those lumps of coal have no shame.
spoiled and haughty, they’ve been taught they deserve the best,
all their parents’ money can buy. moti is genuine, not fake.
they know he’s different without understanding why.

her madness is her path to god.
mistaken myth and misunderstood metaphor
obscure her comprehension. inconsistently, she will plod along,
stumbling on the truth now and then, ever so pure in her intention.
blood-stained, bedraggled, battered and beaten by imaginary foes,
she lapses into some new delusion.
today she is a goddess, grand and glorious – yesterday
just a wife and mother. who is the illusion?
insanity becomes her so. with her hair untied,
flowing wild and free, in all its splendor
the light of heaven shines in her eyes.
she doesn’t know pain today;
mercifully, she cant remember when her only son,
seven months waiting to be born, was killed indirectly by her own hand.
denial is a drug without endurance.
by lunacy alone she stilled her conscience and buried her salvation,
exchanging life for a life sentence.
Psychosis is a great escape, but it isnt free. sometimes she looks in the mirror,
cognizant of her existence in a dark world of form and shape,
yet unable to see her immortal soul,
radiant in its innocence.

there is not much hope of getting help for mentally unbalanced people. they come and go, and are let to follow their own lifestyle as long as there are no complaints about them i guess. i also noticed this is another difference between bhopal and ratlam, that handicapped people are in the mainstream of society and visible on the street, sometimes with family members or friends who are helping them. in bhopal i never saw a single disabled person who wasnt a beggar.

i also made up the name rafiq for the next person. he is still around now and then. i used to talk with him sometimes, and he said he has no relatives, which is hard to believe. i asked him from where had he come to ratlam and he said from ujjain.

wearing ragged, dirty clothes,
sporting an unkempt beard and motley,
misshapen teeth, he walks slowly, struggling with crutches,
carrying a shoulder bag made of cloth and a small, metal pail.

on basant panchami, madam gave him a meal – water, four roti,
a meagre portion of dal in a tiny bowl she told him to keep.
she is ignorant of her own poverty, poor wretched soul.
he is only hungry and cold.

later madam will do puja and
count the beads on her mala to cancel all her sins.
her fifty close family members will envy her good fortune
and feel proud. i wonder, does rafiq wish he were one of them?

where is he sleeping tonight? when he dreams, maybe he’s loved,
maybe he can work for a living, walk, run and even fly.
but he’ll wake up alone in the morning tomorrow,
crippled again…or die.

and i wrote this last one for all the nameless ones, those that i see and those that i dont see.

the moon abandoned the world tonight. from the window,
i see the light of flimsy fires built by the homeless,
fighting to keep warm. across the street in the polo ground
they crouch, huddled in groups around their little pyres, no more than candles
floundering in a storm. hungry, cold, they’re not allowed to sleep.

i feel ashamed. silently, deep holes in the sky open up. raindrops
weeping from above steal whatever warmth there was, until one by one
the sparks go out. still there is no cry of despair. hope lives,
filling me with love.
chapter 9-why ratlam
Date Posted: Feb 17th, 2017 at 22:43 - Comments (0)
written in retrospect over a decade later...

the date is etched into my memory-november 17, 2005 is the first day i saw ratlam. i had been in india for a little over two years and still did not know where i would live. i love bhopal, but was unable to find anyone to rent to me in sixteen months. the people are afraid of foreigners, i was considered to be a liability. even so, it is not suitable for me because of its size, and i was somewhat worried about the fact of its being the state capital and more politically oriented. but madhya pradesh was definitely where i wanted to settle. i had no wish to look any further.

in delhi i bought some road maps, and did some research on the internet, and chose the area where bhopal is (malva plateau) due to its geography and climate as the ideal part of madhya pradesh. i even checked to be sure it wasnt in a quake zone. then i chose ratlam junction as the center of at least two routes going through various cities in different directions, which i intended to investigate by train, and even a few that were off the route of the train that i would have to reach by bus. i chose nothing bigger than ratlam itself, which of course was going to be my first stop. i still have those road maps, they are hanging on the wall of my playroom with the itinerary marked out.

when i first set sight on ratlam, i thought it seemed small. i was a bit disappointed, and i remember thinking that it may not have all the things i needed. as i was coming out of the railway station there was a policeman standing by who asked me where i was going.i said i was in town for awhile and needed a hotel, and he escorted me to the autorickshaw stand. i told him i didnt want a five star place, just something nice, and he instructed one of the drivers where to take me. after looking at it i asked for a better one, and the second choice was fine. i got a room and settled in, then decided to go out and look around.

it wasnt long before i saw an autowalla. i asked him if he had lived in ratlam all his life, and he said yes. so i asked him to take me around ratlam and show me all of it, i wanted to see the whole city inside out. it seemed to be all folded and enclosed within itself somehow, but there were so many places to go and see. i began noticing the atmosphere of the place, it was so totally relaxed compared to bhopal, and that tension you find in a big city was not there at all. how healthy the cows looked, and how happy the people looked was what i thought. the vibrations were great, even the water tasted sweet!

the driver, zakir, was the first friend i made in ratlam, and he was of great help to me when i first arrived and knew nothing of the markets. he took me where i needed to go until i learned my way around and was the one who later helped me look for a proper place to rent.

after we had seen it all, i was tired and went back to my room to rest. but i think before nightfall i had already decided this was the place i was looking for, and there was no need to go further. at night before sleep overcame me, i would listen to the horns of the trucks and trains in the distance, and it was like the music of the heavenly spheres, that held great promise of what was to come.

i had been there about three weeks before i found a place i wanted to rent, and it was just in time because i was running out of money. i had been happy in the hotel, all the staff were great, and i was able to talk to the owner who helped me when i was still ignorant of so many things. the food was also wonderful, but even the least expensive hotels really eat into the budget. i took a train back to delhi because i had to bring back the things i had left there and planned to bring when i had everything ready.

chandni chowk is the gold bazaar, and it must be a tradition to have a chandni chowk in every city. indian people are very fond of gold, and cant imagine a woman who doesnt have any use for it. when they ask me ‘where is your gold?’ i smile and show them the last four gold crowns i have left from my american dental history. after i got a little braver, i started going out in the mini buses, or tempos as they were called. i like the back window being a frame for the picture of the old city bazaar.

i had failed in getting a pio card, even though the man at the office said he felt i certainly had all the documentation that was required. indian bureaucracy is indeed a nightmare. but soon after that, i was able to apply for an oci card, which i obtained in march of 2006-finally i was an indian resident, no more a tourist who had to leave the country every six months and have to always be renewing a visa. i didnt have to keep secret the fact that i wanted to immigrate any more. i went back to delhi one more time to get my card, my absolutely official permission to reside in india.i felt like pinnochio, the wooden puppet that came to life at last.

the tongas are the transportation mode of choice for a lot of the farmers who come into ratlam. sometimes i feel sorry that one horse has to pull so many people, but most of them appear to be healthy and well cared for. i once hired a tonga to take me from the railway station to my hotel in bhopal, just because i think they are so cute.

there are some beautiful buildings here used as government offices which are favorites of mine. this is one that appears to be kept up nicely though i have never been inside. sadly there are some, like the palace itself, which are dilapidated and more of an eyesore than anything else. members of the former royal family still exist, i dont remember the story, but the palace has been made into little offices and also there i have not been inside.

what i see now looking back is how uncrowded everything was when these pictures were taken. in the middle of the day at the railway station, almost no one at the rickshaw stand. yep, my kind of town...i used to go to the railway station quite often because the vendors have the best food there, and also i would buy a newspaper and sometimes a train schedule book from the newsstand. i havent been there in years.

here is one of the tempo minibuses i mentioned, which have now mainly been replaced with big vans. of course i dont like the vans, but i dont think there has been too many good looking automobiles produced since 1949. in bhopal there are so many different city buses which all had numbers but i couldnt see where on the body of the bus they were. the city buses dont even stop, they just slow down, and i never could find where they were supposed to stop, but i guess it didnt matter to me because i couldnt jump on a bus anyway when i didnt even know where it was going.

there is a big temple complex where shops or stalls are set up sometimes to accommodate the merchants when a mela comes to town. all year in the compound are little dhabas, tea stalls and paan shops, along with the flower and fruit sellers and other puja supplies. you can see this landmark, called kali ka mata mandir on googleearth if you look for ratlam, and also the talab in the next picture.

and of course the talab (manmade pond or lake) which helps along with the trees when it is hot in the summer to make the park a little cooler. sometimes during the monsoon the water level is all the way up to the rim. people come to look because all the steps are under water. there are other things in the complex that are especially attractive which i never got a photo of, for instance the fountain which at night plays music and has colored lights. i saw it once or twice but i dont go out at night alone, so i miss out on lots of stuff. (i didnt go out alone at night in america either.) there is also a small playground, and enough room for lots of young boys to play sports.

to me, everything is beautiful in ratlam. any street scene i shot turned out so good my friend asked me if i had bought a better camera. there are so many pictures i am in love with but i have to stop somewhere. i hope this gives you a feel for the state and especially the malva plateau which is where bhopal and ratlam are located. the towns, villages and cities, all are like oases in a vast, beautiful and primitive land.

i overlooked my self imposed limit of five pix per entry this time!

i didnt know a soul and almost no one i would have reason to be involved with speaks english here, but the town had a warm and friendly feel. it had a rural flavor, nothing showy, but a feeling of simplicity and innocence, a sense of all being in harmony. before long i had learned how to walk to the shops i needed and felt entirely at home. it was a peaceful life and had everything i was looking for.

everybody always asks me why india, and that is easy-because my mother came from india. then they ask but why ratlam? i think ‘how ratlam?’ would be a more interesting question, because to me the why is self explanatory. i think to myself why dont they know they are living in the most enchanted and magical city in all of india? ah, but maybe that is because all of india is enchanted, but in so many ways as to be able to attract different people to different cities.

in fact, i do remember once there was a bus of tourists that was passing through and broke down. someone from the hotel where they were waiting, which happened to be the one where i had stayed for three weeks, sent a messenger for me to come and meet them, which i did, and i was surprised to see the gloomy look on their faces. they were upset that the repairs on the bus might even cause them to have to stay the whole night in my sleepy little town. they wanted to move on, to be on the go, and here is paradise looking them in the eye and they missed the chance of a lifetime. maybe they will find their paradise somewhere else. so as i could see they were not in any mood for conversation, i just sneaked away.

perhaps i should explain that the reason my pio card was denied was an incorrect interpretation of the rules that my application needed to include an expired passport of a relative. however, my mother as a war bride was eligible to enter the usa with her husband without any passport, so she never had one. my grandparents never had passports because they were born in india and never left. not to mention that the passport my mother would have carried, had she had one, would have been british since she left before independence.

one of the problems i see in india is that all the laws and legal documents are written in english, including what the police have to go by in their daily business of law and order. there are not enough people here fluent in english to warrant the use of the language countrywide. and if fluency in english were to be a condition for employment, there wouldnt be many applicants for the positions that are already underfilled.

one of the things about indian bureaucracy is that if something doesnt go through, wait awhile and submit it again. most people think you have to bribe someone, but i have never found it necessary. the way it looks to me is that it all depends on whose desk it falls, and maybe what mood they happen to be in at the time. and i am not complaining, it is just about as fair as anything else on this planet. always a workaround in india, you just have to be persistent.
chapter 8-trip to sunauli, nepal
Date Posted: Feb 15th, 2017 at 20:41 - Comments (2)
in the first place, there was no reason for me to go to nepal, but i had to go somewhere every six months or my visa would be in violation. having very little money, i chose the cheapest option from delhi, which was to cross the border at sunauli and stay in a hotel there for a maximum of two days, then return home. to do that i had to take a train to gorakhpur, then either a bus or taxi to the border.

for some reason i was really afraid of going on this trip. unlike bangkok, where many people i knew had gone and told me how safe and clean and wonderful it was, advising me about where to stay and when to go and how to travel about in the city, i knew no one who had been to nepal. there were some derogatory blogs and journals on the web about the border town of sunauli, along with photos; but i thought it looked just like the kind of place i would enjoy.

the train to gorakhpur would take at least fourteen hours, and most of that would be at night. the compartment was shared with a lady in a fancy red saree, wearing all her best jewelry, and a small boy in hand. before the train left a man sat next to her that must have been her husband, but he didn’t make the journey with her. a young man was also with her, and she seemed very close to him, and i could only assume it must have been her brother. two other men were in the compartment, ordinary fellows.

because it has the price and the travellers i am most comfortable with, whenever possible i travel second class non a/c. keep this in mind, because the experience of train travel can be very different depending on who is going! i was sitting next to the window, with a huge cloth bag on the floor in front of me, belonging to the lady. it was far too large to fit under the seat, but it made a good footrest. the lady, child, and young man were across from me, and the two other men beside me.

the first thing everyone seems to do on a train is to get out all the food they have brought with them from home; before long, the floor was riddled with apple peels and cores, and the little boy kept badgering his mother for chai, which when he got, he spilled all over the seat. fortunately for me it was not my seat! i saw that the tea was made from tea bags, so i didn’t have any interest in that, and had no plans on eating anything at all. meals were available from the railroad pantry car, but only the unfortunate people like students or businessmen who were not living at home and had no one to prepare them home cooked food bought those. various snacks of course and water and other cold drinks were also offered by vendors who made their way up and down the aisles of the cars, along with the never ending streams of chai and coffee.

one of the men on my seat went into an upper berth and went to sleep. i heard someone singing, such a beautiful voice, and as it came nearer a man came into view. his face was absolutely angelic; he was young, but his hair was beginning to gray at the temples. he carried a roughly made stick as a cane, and had a small cloth bag slung over one shoulder. he was a blind beggar, holding one hand out with a few coins that he jingled softly every now and then. he made his way through the cars, (i have no idea if he went all the way through every compartment), and later made his way back again. i must ask someone some day, but i am guessing now that maybe blind people can ride the trains for free, and he would get off at a particular station, then get back on going the other way, back and forth all day long. but there are so many vendors who turn up and disappear, i also think maybe they get on trains without tickets, and do as much business as they can before they get caught. i have seen some being chased out by the ticket takers. i also noticed the absence of the many heavily armed guards that i was used to seeing on the bhopal delhi express trains.

after some time, a woman with a horrible harsh voice came along singing, and various other people begging, selling. one was a miserable old man, thin, bald, scantily dressed in some dirty rags. he too had a cloth shoulder bag, and was babbling unintelligibly. he did not appear blind, but one of his huge, bulging eyes was covered over completely with a white, translucent growth, and on his right arm was a deep, open cut of some kind that was green and yellow inside. he decided to target me, and stepped into the compartment, putting his rotten fingers on my thigh of all places! you would think he might have chosen a less personal way of introducing himself. the seat was empty beside me, and he sat next to me. he grabbed each of my wrists with one of his hands and squeezed me really tight, moving higher up my arm. when he got past my elbow, i was really getting disturbed, and leaned away from him, freeing myself. his hands were icy cold; it didn’t seem possible any human being alive could be that cold.

by now, i noticed two young fellows standing near the outer door to the bogey who were watching, apparently amused at my dilemma. now the old man grabbed my right hand with both of his, and began to twist and crush my fingers, finally pulling downward sharply towards his lap in an amazing show of strength, and i wrenched my hand away and held it up as if to strike him in the face, snarling ‘get out!’ i glanced toward the aisle, indicating with my eyes, and again said ‘get out! get out!’ the man recoiled, apparently surprised, with a look on his face as though he couldn’t believe i would hit him. then while he was still in shock, the man sitting on the other side of him took both his arms and walked him out of the compartment. i try not to be repulsed by anyone, but i have to admit my skin was crawling for hours afterwards. how is it that anyone could imagine they could get money or pity with such a method?

some time afterwards, everyone laid down to sleep-but there was very little sleep to be had. the first fellow who had gone to sleep earlier had by now woke up and was in a very talkative mood. he had a loud voice, and it didn’t seem that anyone was answering him, there was no space between his long discourses. there were many, many stops along the route, and often the train went so slowly that no air at all could come in through the windows. when it stopped entirely for long periods, the fans would halt. the loud chants of the chai and coffee vendors went on throughout the night…

morning came, and time for my two cups of coffee. i noticed the lady had a wooden stick in her mouth that she was using like a toothbrush. i had heard of that, but never seen any before; it turns out that they were being sold by one of the vendors on the train. always wanting to try old fashioned methods and primitive customs, i very much wanted to buy one, but thought i would pick them up later when i got home.

it had been dark when i boarded the train, but now i could see through the open window that the countryside looked very beautiful. it seemed to be blessed with plenty of water, and vast areas of cultivated land streamed by alongside the train, as opposed to the long stretches of wild emptiness that i was used to seeing in madhya pradesh. i liked the look of the people i could see at the many small stations we passed, they reminded me of the people in bhopal. i was watching the names of the stations and writing down the ones i liked, when a large city marked with major tall buildings loomed ahead. i had thought gorakhpur was the last stop, but if this wasn’t gorakhpur, what could it be? i thought for sure the train would be late, having gone so slow and stopped so often during the night, and it was way too early to be at the last stop. then i heard the man next to me say ‘gorakhpur’, and sure enough, there came a sign that confirmed this was indeed my stop.

the gorakhpur station was beautiful compared to the few others i have seen. there were floors of marble, dust bins everywhere, and it was well lighted with open space, and very clean. the first thing i wanted to do was to buy a bottle of water, and i hardly took care of that and after a long drink was preparing to pick up my things, when a man walked by behind me and said in a soft, bass voice, ‘going to nepal?’ i turned to see no one else around but a tall, very handsome fellow, casually dressed in western clothes, totally out of place in the surroundings. his accent reminded me of jamaica; his head was shaved and he had a sort of island look about him, and the manner and bearing of someone straight out of a detective series on television. always in my mind the argument starts ‘should i trust this guy, is he going to rob me, kill me, annoy me?’ but this time i was so intrigued with the figure of the man that i decided to go along and see what would happen next.

‘how did you know?’ i asked, ‘I have to get a bus to sunauli.’

‘come along with me then, there is one leaving in a minute out front.’

so i followed him out of the station, and there across the road were some shops, one being a travel agency with glass wall and open front door. he went inside, and then another man came and said to me, ‘we will take you across the border in an auto, very comfortable, you will be the only passenger, for 700 rupees.’ ‘no,’ i said, ‘i will have to take a bus, that is too much money.’ ‘ok, we will take you with one other person for only 350 rupees.’

thinking that was a fair price, and as tired as i was from the train ride, it seemed worth it, instead of facing a long ride on a crowded bus making lots of stops along the way. so i agreed, and as a gesture designed to warn them of any thoughts of foul play, i called my friend with my mobile to give him the number of the car i was in, but not really feeling that there was any danger at all. after all, these people actually had a real business, they didn’t just walk up to me and try to take me away. after i had given them the money, i started thinking what a fool i was, i hadnt even asked to see the car first! but it turned out to be very nice. in addition to a tall young man with a british accent and the driver, two of the men who worked at the travel agency also came along for the ride. as the man who had led me there showed me to the front seat and shut the door, he asked ‘do you have anything for me?’ and since i was relieved at being on my way so quickly, i gave him a generous tip.

the whole time the tourist fellow never even said hello to me. gorakhpur was indeed a beautiful city; there were lots of muslims, and some adorable, fat, furry donkeys. in about two and a half hours, stopping once for water and cigarets, we had arrived.

as we drove near the border there was a line of trucks, buses, cars, motorcycles, all waiting to go through. there were loads of colorful shops on each side of the street, it was a wonderful bustling place. i didn’t want to sit in the car any longer, and i wasn’t sure if they were going to cross the border too and take me to the hotel where i had a reservation or not, but i had heard that it was easier to go on foot, and decided to try. as i got out of the car, one of the men started walking with me, telling me something about 500 rupees, and i couldn’t follow if he was trying to sell me something or set up some bribe with someone he knew on the other side. i started to feel worried; i knew i had to get a visa for nepal, but not exactly how to do it. the first thing was to end my dealings with the people from the travel agency, which i did by picking up my pace until they disappeared.

the ‘border’ was marked by two tall signs, each one comprised of two columns and a banner that looked to be made of cardboard, one side saying goodbye from india, and the other hello from nepal. before going over, i had to get my departure stamp from india. in an open shop, one of the rollup type of places that are all in a row along the streets in india, there were a couple of desks set up and at least five men who appeared to be working there. i was the only customer, but i was asked to sit and wait for some time for no apparent reason. two of the men studied my passport, asked me to fill out the disembarkation card that i had been given when i arrived from america by plane, and after an inordinate amount of time managed to find the proper place to stamp my passport. this is one of the charming things about india, that government officials put on such a great show of importance about their job no matter how insignificant it may be.

next stop, after going under the signposts, was nepal immigration station. this was an actual stand alone structure with windows and fans…there were two desks, two people at the side desk, one man milling about, and sitting behind the other desk, wearing a multicolored nepali cap, was the obviously most important man with a marvelously fancy moustache, one of the ones with the swirly ends. he asked me ‘are you going to lummini?’ realizing that i had no idea what that was, he told me it was lord buddha’s birthplace. i said i didn’t think i would be going anywhere this trip, maybe next time. i had downloaded a visa application from the internet, and handed it over already prepared. the main man took it, and had one of the lesser men give me the same exact form, printed on paper about an inch longer, and had me fill that out. but in less time than it took to get my passport stamped in india, i was ready to look for my hotel.

before i took two or three steps, i was greeted with ‘welcome to nepal’, from a charming young man about my height, dressed in short pants and a striped tee shirt. he had thick, straight black hair, and one of those strange little beards made of a few strands of long hair that grew from just under his lower lip. once again, the voices in my head began with whether or not to talk to this fellow, and i was getting more and more tired by the minute. it was well after noon by now. i told him i had a room already booked at the nepal guest house, and all i wanted to do was go there. he began to tell me things about changing money, and i started to get perturbed, telling him that i had no intention of buying anything so i didn’t need any money changed, all i wanted to do was to go to my hotel and rest.

he said that was okay, it was just a little way, and again started telling me that the hotel wouldn’t take my money unless it was in smaller than 500 rupee notes, and i said my room was already paid for, i had vouchers and i was not changing any money. he could see i was getting angry, and said ‘i work there, i will take you.’ it was indeed only about 1000 feet away, and he showed me to an office where we sat and he started telling me some other things i didn’t care to know, and i said ‘look, i have already booked my room, i want to go there and sleep, i am dirty and tired. are you going to show me my room or not?’ so he said ‘sure, this way…’

the room was small and dismal, but it was the bathroom i cared about more than anything else. i looked inside, and trying to find the light switch, discovered to my dismay that the light was already on-somewhere there must be a company that makes such a thing as a half watt light bulb. the floor was of concrete, and all over water was leaking, from where i couldn’t tell. i said, ‘do you have a better room?’ and he said ‘i can show you two others’. one seemed a little better, but was upstairs, had no window to the outside and was very hot. the third had a window, but the bathroom was as dismal as the first one. all in all, the place gave me the creeps, though i couldn’t exactly say why.

the boy said he would take me to a better hotel. the room at the nepal guest house he said would cost me about 200 indian rupees, while he could show me one that would be clean and cost only 250 indian rupees per night. on the internet i had seen prices starting at about 150 and 200, but i thought that must have been nepali rupees. according to the exchange rate, 100 nepali rupees equalled 65 indian rupees, so it seemed too high, but affordable to me. the other hotel was named hotel mansarover, and was definitely better. i agreed to take a room there. the boy didn’t seem to work there, but stayed around while i checked in. the man at the desk said he wanted rent for one night in advance, and i said i would be staying two nights. i didn’t have change, and i gave him a 500 rupee note, saying ‘bring me change, and i will give it back to you tomorrow’. i went to my room and slept, or tried to for a few hours. the boy told me he would arrange a car to take me to lummini, but i told him i wasn’t interested. he also said that when i was ready to go back to gorakhpur, he would get me a car that would take me for 70 rupees. i told him when i was leaving, and he said he would meet me then and take me across the border.

i kept waking up because of what i thought were the fiercest mosquitoes i had ever encountered-and still daylight no less. i started a coil burning, and rang the buzzer for room service. there was no television in the room, and no telephone. the view out the front window was entertaining, open to the main road which had lots of traffic in the way of cycle rickshaws and pedestrians, some who were pulling carts laden with all sorts of items. after some time since no one had answered the bell, i decided to walk out to the desk and ask for dinner. they saw me scratching, and gave me an electric mosquito repellent, which i plugged in deciding nothing was too much for these nepali insects. there were many more in the room, kinds that i hadnt ever seen in india, and a chorus of crickets outside the window that were to keep me awake the next two nights.

the man at the desk tried to talk me into going to lummini. i asked him how much it would cost, and he said ‘30 rupees’. still i wasn’t sure. he also tried to tell me that the boy who had brought me was dishonest, that he didn’t work for the hotel, and said he would arrange for a car to take me back to gorakhpur. the food was good, and i had a bath and went to sleep. very little sleep happened however. even with the coil burning and the allout plugin, the mosquitoes were busy all night feasting on me.

the next morning, i rang the bell for breakfast, and once again it went unanswered. at the desk no one was anywhere to be found, so i took a walk outside. it was a beautiful day, the sky blue and filled with fluffy clouds like i hadnt seen in delhi for as many months as i had been there. i was so glad to be anywhere else! the weather was hot, but not humid and oppressive like what i had left behind. i stopped at the paanwallah to get some bidis, and they didn’t have any. i asked, ‘where can i get them?’ and the man said ‘india’. so i ended up buying some nepali cigarets. it seems in nepal no one likes bidis.

now that i was rested i could see what this side of the border looked like. there were mostly hotels along both sides of the street, maybe a dozen or so. in front of them were paan wallas, and some food stalls. i made note of one that looked good on the way across the street where there were a few shops. i looked them over, but they sold nothing but travel bags and men’s shirts, with one electronics store. i went to the food stall, and there was a man sitting on a table with one burner, mixing some vegetables that looked good, next to a big bowl of cachori, which are fried balls of bread dough stuffed with a spicy filling. i put in an order, and he motioned to me to sit inside. under the tent behind him was a wet, wooden bench, and a couple of tables with various cooking utensils on them, another bench on the opposite side of the tables. the floor was the bare earth of course, and it was really much hotter in there, but it seems to make men in india very uncomfortable if a lady stands up, so i went inside and sat down on a dry spot.

a lady who i assumed was the man’s wife was washing dishes with a pitcher of water on the ground in front of the stall, and a dirty little girl clutching four biscuits in her hand came into the tent to take a look at me. i said namaste, but she gave no reaction at all, trying to take a bite out of all four biscuits simultaneously. a man came in and sat down on the other bench, telling me ‘she is nepali and doesn’t understand namaste’. before long he was telling me how he was too thin, and i was just right, and asking me where was i from, where was i staying, and a lot of questions about my ‘husband’.

the food was absolutely delicious, the veg was potato loaded with tons of garlic like i hadnt been able to find since i did my own cooking, and i had two cups of tea, but the friendly man was making me uncomfortable and i wanted to leave. besides that, it was really getting hot in there! the lady was now carrying the little girl, her daughter it would seem, who dropped the biscuits on the ground. the mother picked them up and had no qualms about eating them. there was more food being prepared for later, dal and rice among other things. the lady cleaned the little girl’s nose with her bare hands, poured some water over them, and went back to making roti.

it is really amazing to me to realize what a western person, accustomed to seeing their food prepared by people wearing rubber gloves would think about these circumstances, that anyone who ate there would surely get sick and die. but i havent had any problems at all, and i think if there were anything to worry about how could those undeveloped countries have become so overpopulated? invariably i always prefer the food i have bought at dhabas to what i have bought in restaurants or hotels.

back in the hotel, i was feeling pretty pleased with myself for having half the job done, and everything going so smoothly. i thought since i had a whole day to spare, maybe i would go to see lummini. one of the reasons i had chosen nepal was to buy brass bangles, so maybe i could arrange to do both on one trip. i spoke to the hotel man, and in about a new york minute there was a car outside the door and he was shaking hands with a man who he said would be driving, and that he would also go along. he said he would take me to a couple of other temples too, like it was a big added attraction. although i really had no interest in seeing any temples, i didn’t want to hurt his feelings or sound like a pagan, so i said nothing at all except that i wanted to go to a market and buy some brass bangles.

we set off and the driver asked if i wasn’t hot, and i said ‘of course i am, but it is ok to be hot sometimes’. later i wondered if they didn’t hope i was going to want a/c turned on so they could charge me more money for the trip as well as enjoying it themselves for free. we reached the birthplace of lord buddha in not too long, maybe an hour. it was a nice ride, the countryside was beautiful-but so is america. there was a gate through which no cars were allowed, just bicycles and cycle rickshaws. i said i would prefer to walk, so we walked off in the hot sun leaving the driver to care for the car.

admittedly i didn’t expect much, but the minute i entered the structure around the palace ruins, i felt an immediate change in the atmosphere. it was heavily charged with energy, and all in all it was truly an awesome and sacred experience. there was a glass box over what is thought to be the actual imprint of the body of the infant buddha, and mostly foundations remaining, but some partial walls supported from the outer side with iron bars.

outside was the pool where the family bathed, a low stone wall around it, and some beautiful gardens all around.

there was a great old tree that must have meant something, but there was no one there to tell me.

we drove on to two other chinese temples, burning our feet on the hot stones after removing our shoes to get inside them, and the last stop was a buddhist temple dedicated to world peace. it was way out in the middle of nowhere, no traffic, no autorickshaws, no roads, nothing. i took pictures of everything, but later realized that the only place that was really of any importance was the birthplace of buddha, and that couldn’t be captured by a camera. in a photo it is nothing but old stones, while the value of the experience of being there is beyond description.

i had been talking with the hotel man about a lot of things, and he had said at one point that america is the ‘dream country’. i told him that there are more americans than he could ever imagine for whom the dream country would be nepal. we talked about money and progress, and buddha’s life…i remember that he said money wasn’t everything. but it was here that he told me he wanted the money for the trip so he could pay the driver. we had stopped for him to buy batteries for my camera, so i asked how much was the trip altogether, and he said, ‘600 rupees’. i was completely shocked. i said ‘you told me it would be 30 rupees.’ and he said ‘that was only for the insurance.’

there was really nothing i could do. my bag was locked in the hotel room. they had never brought me change for my 500- rupee note, so i had already paid for tonight’s stay as well. if i refused to pay for the trip, he could get in the car with his friend and leave me there, and how would i even find my way back? by now, i was really sick to my stomach over the entire trip, and i gave him the money and we got in the car and left. this time there was no conversation. on the way, nearly back at the hotel, we passed through the market, and the man asked ‘madam, do you want to go shopping for bangles?’ and i simply shook my head in disgust without saying a word. how could i buy anything now that he had almost all my money?

when we got to the hotel, i took the key and went to my room without saying a word. i was so depressed and discouraged about nepal that i shut the drapes and didn’t even want to look out the window. i don’t mind when a poor man wants to cheat me-but this man was not poor. how many poor people i could have given that 600 rupees to! for two or three hours i debated about whether or not to order dinner there or go out again or go on a fast until i got back to india, and finally decided to order some small thing. when i went out to the desk, the hotel manager was nowhere to be seen, only the lower employees, and i felt a little better looking at them and knowing that they too were probably being cheated daily by the same man who cheated me. at least i was in better company now.

i had decided to let the boy i met originally arrange for my car back to gorakhpur. i would imagine the ride the hotel manager was going to arrange for 350 rs would turn out to be 700. i left my hotel room to order breakfast the next morning, and there was only one man there. the boy came by around 9, and said he had been looking for me the day before and i was sleeping, and again later in the day, when they told him i had gone to lummini. i asked the boy about himself, and he told me his name was vikas, he was 25 years old, and married for two years. he was waiting to have children until he made enough money to support them properly. he works for two hotels, and whenever he brings in a customer, he gets 50% commission. his big dream is to leave nepal for a country where he can make more money. he was going to try and get a visa for australia because an aunt lives there, but after 9/11 they stopped giving them. now he is trying to get a visa for dubai.

vikas said he knew someone in delhi and stayed with them for a month; indians and nepalis need no visa to visit each other’s country. he managed to get a factory job, but the pay was bad and the people were bad, so he gave up and went home. he was really a charming boy, his language skills were good, and i thought he would do well in a job that involved people contact, maybe helping my friend in delhi who has a tourist agency, and i decided that i would get them together if he got me a good ride back to gorakhpur.

we must have talked about an hour-i was out of cigarets, so he went and bought two for us to smoke. then he said he would come back in an hour when i was checking out. it was time to check out before he showed up, so i went to the desk. they told me i needed to give them 174 indian rupees for the food and another 500 for the room. i told them i had paid for both nights, and showed them in the register that the advance amount was 500, but they insisted that the charge for one night was 500 rupees, not 250. the manager was not there, nor the man who checked me in, and though his english was atrocious, i know i never heard him say the number 500.

when vickas got there, we talked about it together, and i said ‘didn’t you tell me the room was 250 rs a night?’ and he seemed to be totally confused. by now i was not feeling very happy about him either…i couldn’t get any straight answer out of him, and i realized that he didn’t work for the hotel so it hardly mattered what he said anyway. finally i agreed to pay the hotel 500 nepali rupees a night for the room, and walked out. by now the hotel staff and their dog named sophie had gathered to see what would come of it all, and they didn’t try to stop me from leaving, so i figured that was the end of it.

vickas walked me to the border and said he had to go somewhere, he would meet me on the other side after i went through immigration. as i sat on a bench at a table outside the nepali immigration building filling out the form they wanted, the man who had checked me into the hotel mansarover walked up to me complaining about vickas again, and as bad as his english was it was obvious that he wanted more money. he said he had just returned to work and they told him that i had left, and it was his boss who wanted the money, not him. i really didn’t know what he would do if i didn’t give it to him, and a lot of thoughts went through my mind, but in the end i gave it to him swearing that i would never ever come back to nepal.

vikas showed up after i had finished with immigration, and i didn’t mention to him that the hotel man had followed me there. we crossed the border, i stopped at the indian office to get my entry stamp, and we had hardly walked twenty feet from there when a man said ‘i will take you to gorakhpur for 500 rupees.’ i said ‘no way, sorry’ and he said ‘400’. i said, ‘look, i came here for 350 rupees, why would i pay you more?’ so he said, ‘ok, 350’. i asked vickas, ‘do you know this guy?’ and he said ‘yes, he takes people across the border all the time, he lives in gorakhpur.’ he really seemed like a nice man, highly educated, and once again i didn’t ask to see the car before i gave out the money. while the man went to get the car, i asked vikas about the ride for 70 rupees. he told me that it would be in a sumo, pointing one out to me, and crowded. i asked how many people might be in the jeep? he said 14, 15. by then i knew i had made the right decision…and now i understood how the taxis work and how the fare is determined.

i told vikas about my friend in delhi, and gave him my phone number and email address, telling him i am sure we can help him find good work in delhi. when we were leaving, i saw the driver give vikas 50 rupees-now i understand how the commission works. vikas then asked me if i had anything to give him…what a cute boy. just like my son….

now i wish i had paid attention to what kind of car i was in, because the ride there was a lot more comfortable than the ride back. this car seemed to have no shock absorbers whatsoever, and the seat felt like it was made out of metal. the man was nice enough, and we stopped once when he bought me some kind of herbal tea. when we got into gorakhpur, there again were donkeys near the railway station, and the man told me which platform i would board from, and showed me the lady’s second class waiting room. there was a young girl there who was delighted to talk to me, and seemed to want me to cancel my trip home and get a ticket and get on her train to her house. she was a student who commuted daily by train.

now i thought would be a good time to go to the toilet, so i might not have to on the train, but i was in for a real surprise. there must have been an indian style toilet there on the ground, but it was under a huge pool of water, urine, and excrement that must have been about four or five feet in diameter. the stench was too much even for me, and after closing the door for a few minutes and pondering how to make use of it, i decided to wait and left. from the chairs in the waiting room, i later saw two or three ladies go into that ‘bathroom’ and come out adjusting their clothes as though they had used it, but i cant imagine how they did it.

i had about an hour to wait for the train, so i decided to go downstairs and get a snack. what good fortune to find an empty seat i thought, until i realized it was empty because the fan above it was not working. but i didn’t intend to sit for long since i had some sitting to do on the train, which would leave at 5 pm. after that, i went to look at the platform where it would arrive, and chose a place to stand. there was a small young lady lying on the floor coughing who appeared to be all by herself. no one is ever alone in india, so i thought i should probably stand next to her. eventually the train showed up, and i got on. i had to go back and forth three times between coach number 3 and coach number 8 because my ticket wasn’t printed clear enough to tell which one was mine. i had been all excited that this trip i understood how to find my name on the list outside the door by using the seat number, but when the train arrived all the lists were half torn or completely missing!

this time i shared the compartment with three men and a young couple. the lady wore western clothes and had short hair, but was clearly indian. she was very bossy with the man, telling him where to sit and refusing to do anything that he asked, and i wondered if he was actually going to marry her. this trip there was another blind singer, an old white-bearded muslim fellow singing from the quran, whose voice was even more heavenly than the other fellow. i wished i could have followed him all the way wherever he went, and was in such an ethereal mood for a long time after that it was soon time to sleep. once again i had the lower berth. the insect bites i had from nepal were itching like crazy, and this train simply was no good for sleeping. i waited as long as i could to go to the bathroom, but the commotion and traffic never stopped, so i never made it there.

in the morning when i was ready to get up, there was another man sleeping on the floor of the compartment and there was nowhere for me to put my feet down! fortunately the young couple, who had the berths above me, were early risers; they folded up the middle berth where he had been sleeping, and he climbed up and sat on the top one next to her. looking up i could see her bare legs sticking out of a blanket…she had been wearing long pants when i saw her last. anyway, at least i was able to sit up and have my coffee. it was an uneventful trip compared to the last, and by the time i got into the new delhi railway station i had not gone to the toilet for 24 hours, but didn’t feel like i would ever have to go again. then i realized that my phone was useless, all the money had run out on my prepaid card while i was in nepal on two calls i received from india. there was a long line at the phone stand, and as i was wondering how would i call for a ride, my phone rang.

my driver was there in the parking lot, so all i had to do was find it. it took me a long time, in fact looking back i would say that was the most difficult part of the trip. there are two main gates to the delhi station, and even though i knew which one to look for, there was more than one parking area. finally i realized if there were no autorickshaws it must be the wrong place, so after telling my driver by phone what was around me, we managed to connect, and my four day trip was over. it was when i got back to the flat that my friends told me the miserable mosquito bites must have been from bedbugs in the hotel in nepal. there was no way of mistaking them for anything else, i later learned, because they were all in rows, perfectly straight lines now i wonder had i chosen the first hotel what would i have brought back…

of course everyone asked me how was my trip, and i usually say there were some good things and some bad things. my friends in delhi were concerned, and wanted to know what bad things happened, and i said i was trying to forget the bad things and remember the good. i had to explain that good things and bad things don’t happen in america-in fact, nothing out of the ordinary ever happens at all in america, everything always goes as planned, and that is one of the many reasons why i love being here.

looking back from february 7, 2017
after a few years i have come to understand that the banners and things tied onto the tree at the pond must have been offerings, maybe alluding to the wishes and prayers of the devotees. all in all, it was a beautiful place, not marred by the carnival type surroundings you find in other places thought to be holy. it was preserved and respected as all sacred things should be.

now i can hardly believe the things i used to do without any fear. i had no qualms at all to take a ride from a stranger, even though i was so ignorant i would never know where he was taking me. i had drank tea from the fellow who was driving me home that might have been drugged. i had ridden in a car with three men in the wilderness in a country i knew nothing about...yet other than losing some money due to my distaste for arguing, i had been safe.

sorry to say, i dont feel that way any more. everyone used to ask me in america if i was safe here, and i always said i feel safer here than i do in usa. not any more. the things that i am aware of now are too risky and that is such a pity. had i not been such a fool, i would have missed out on some great experiences...might never even have dared to come here and leave everything behind the way i did.

one more thing about nepal. of course it is not fair to judge a whole country on the basis of a few days in a border town. and one thing for sure, the scenery is breathtaking. nevertheless, the time i spent there was a unique experience i shall never forget!
chapter 7 living in delhi
Date Posted: Feb 13th, 2017 at 12:49 - Comments (3)
(this letter was written to a friend in usa after a trip to america. she was a very dear lady, and again, like so many of the people i once knew, she is no longer alive.)

April 9, 2005

Dear Munira,

It is wonderful to be back home at last, hopefully this time to stay. I do appreciate India even more now after my visit to America. The photos I took will help to illustrate what the old country looks like-that is, big, gray, cold and empty. After seeing the sun, (or was it the shadow of the sun?), only three days in nearly eight weeks and finding that it had not even a glimmer of warmth, how I welcomed the real thing in New Delhi.

I never dreamed I would be glad to be in New Delhi!!! waiting for my driver outside the airport before dawn, i was met by a horde of mosquitoes that was even more happy to see me. i couldn’t find the driver, but i was able to make a call from a pay phone since i had saved some change and small notes when i left india. (no such thing as atm machines in the airport here!) as i wondered where i was supposed to put the coin, a young man leaped up beside me and demonstrated silently. i had momentarily forgotten that in india, everyone is aware of everyone else and what they are doing. without my asking for help or even turning toward the crowd to think about asking, india fulfills my needs.

The first day here they sent me to a hotel in the dark of early morning, and there I remained and slept off and on for over 24 hours. on the way there were two wonderful cows waiting for me in the small street where the budget hotel is located. It didn’t sink in until the day after I arrived and went out in the morning to do my urgent errands how wonderful it was to be back. i could feel the heat of the sun on my body, even though it couldn’t be seen. this was the real thing, blazing down even through the polluted delhi skies. as i watched the clouds of dirt floating up into the air higher than the huge transport trucks, i opened the window, giving it free access into the auto, happy to let the dust coat me like a pakora ready to fry in the heat of the sungod’s majesty. as we crossed the jamuna to east delhi i saw an elephant on the bridge, a rare treat in the city. it was as though all the country, animal, vegetable and mineral were there to greet me.

in the flat, there are things that have made my stay more comfortable than the last time. especially i appreciate that there is an electrical outlet in the room i have been given, and it seems there is some sort of schedule to learn that will be able to make it easier for me to fit myself into the daily routine. one lizard has looked in on me, and a very fat mouse runs all around the room in and out from under the bed. the little girl still screams, but it honestly doesn’t even bother me any more after listening to my son’s incessant whining. once again, he has helped to teach me tolerance! if not for him i don’t know how long it might have taken me to get used to some of the things in the lifestyle here!

i think it will be possible for me to buy my own flat in a year, though i will have almost no money to spend for the next two years. in the meantime, i will first contact the sufis about doing some work here in delhi since i am able to commit to a year.

also i have decided to pursue dual citizenship. i have written another letter to the prime minister, and hope to have someone deliver it, along with the first one i wrote, personally to him. i know he has the authority, and there is no doubt in my mind that if he would only read them, he would have the inclination to assure that i am given what is rightfully mine. if no one can do this for me, i intend to walk up to his office or home as far as is possible until i am stopped by the armed guards, and if they turn me away i will return again with a news reporter. i have faith that this is meant to be.

now the question in my mind is: once i buy this flat, will i be living there alone forever? it will be in a smaller city, and yet i may need to find some kind of volunteer work. but that is way too far off to really imagine. living in india one thing is for sure; from one day to the next-no, from one hour to the next, every plan you have made can become impossible and you will have to come up with another. but the good news is, though nothing works in this land the way it is ‘supposed’ to (that is the way you think it should) it will work some other way. all you have to do is, keep trying until you find it…

so this day my plan is to write letters, but of course if the electricity goes off i will have to do otherwise. or if social plans arise, they may take precedence…or any number of other possibilities.

how is it that anyone can ever leave this place i wonder? how can someone living here as indians do, an integral part of the land and the lifeforms, become so lustful for gold and other riches that he chooses to live in america, the land of people locked in glass bubbles?

to some questions there are no answers…or more correctly, only god knows them.

say hello to everyone who knows me, and i hope you are feeling better these days. i also hope you are given whatever it is that you wish for yourself…

love and light,


(another letter written later to my friend about life in delhi).

May 2009
dear munira,

as time passes, i cant help but think of my beautiful blue bhopali sky and how much i miss everything it meant to me. in delhi the sky is never blue, i think…

did you ever realize how many people in america wear uniforms with their job identity written clearly on them? in america if you call the cable guy, he has the company name written on his clothes and drives a van with the company name on it, the same with the phone company, the water company, and the garbage men come in trucks that are labeled ‘waste management’. but here, a raggedy fellow, sometimes wearing only poolside flipflops for shoes, will come to the door walking and be the man who has been sent to fix your telephone. he will not have any form of identity you can check, so you let him in.

lately i had been wondering how would i know who comes to collect the garbage, which is hired out and done door to door in decent flats like where i live. it turns out it is a very young and charming boy-a child, really, with a huge transparent plastic bag filled with trash, and if you come to the door holding your wastebasket, he will grab it away from you and empty it into his bag. after i said ‘thank you’, he repeated it as though he had never heard the phrase before and was practicing hoping to use it himself some day.

my citizenship plans are on hold now, since i have discovered that the rules for implementing the law they passed are not yet final, and until they have been signed and published in the official gazette, they will not be distributed to the government offices and no more applications will be taken. it makes me wonder how could they have taken any applications at all because there was no procedure for them to get to the central government in the first place! so if it turns out they require an expired indian passport, i will go straight to the prime minister rather than applying.

my hopes to do some work have not panned out. i havent been able to contact the sufis at all, and one day i will try and go to the dargah. through the web i havent been able to find anywhere to volunteer either, so i will begin by asking all the doctors i meet and chemists if they know of anything i can do. one of the problems is that they usually require experience and qualifications, which of course i have none other than compassion and sincerity. but i will be busy in the flat by myself for a month or more and not need outside work until they come back from the village in himachal, so it isnt a great concern to me now.

kashiram calls me regularly but says he will not come to delhi for two or three months, and i don’t understand his hindi well enough to know why. but that is okay. today he said once he gets here he will never leave, but he probably is just having a bad day. everyone thinks he is lying to me, but they don’t understand that there is no such thing as truth on this earth anyway, so what does it matter? the only truth is haqq…so if he is lying, let it be a good lie that makes me happy.

i have been reading hazrat inayat khan’s message volumes every morning, which i have in my computer. this morning i was reading about renunciation and it occurred to me that the only thing left for me to renounce is love. isnt that funny? so how many more false lovers will i have to embrace before i have had my fill and this desire passes away? he never mentioned having to renounce the desire for love, but it must be so.

he also spoke on values, and how nothing in life has any value except what man puts on it; and of course we should not judge anyone for their values. then i thought of my son and it made me cry. right now his value is how tall he is-and though i cannot judge him for giving this small thing such great importance, i can pity him in his pain. what seems petty to one person is something that may lead another to commit suicide, as well i remember how many very small things meant so much to me long ago. vince hasn’t written to me by email even though i sent him two or three since i have been in india. how many more years before his suffering is over, either by his evolution or his death?

india really is a dirty country; did i ever tell you there is black dirt that gets in your hair and on your comb, and in your nose? i have to clean my nose out at least twice a day even if i don’t go outside! why that is i don’t know, unless maybe the whole world used to be like this before some of the modern places got covered with cement. it rained today for an hour or so…

i bought four new sarees here, i was amazed they were cheaper than in bhopal. i am trying synthetics now because they are the prints and colors that i want, and when it is this hot it really doesn’t matter what material you are wearing. total nudity wouldn’t help! i have one special red and black sari that i am saving for the day kashiram arrives here and we meet in the train station. it has been over three months since i saw him last. i must be looking so much older by now!

hope you and your family are doing ok-i havent heard from jomarie or brady lately so i have no way of knowing how you are! take care of yourself, i am thinking of you always.



(this is a copy of a letter to i wrote to another friend in america. she was older than me, she never would say how much. i lost touch with her some years ago.)

14 july, 2005

dear renata,

it was good to hear from you. i am glad you found work, but sorry it is such a difficult job. don’t feel bad about my buying you dinner-after all you had to pay for the gas. and the amount of a dinner or two wouldn’t have changed anything for me, my reserves would still have been the same.

the reason the flat wouldn’t be in my name if i am not a citizen is that only residents may buy property. i know of no way i can attain residency without citizenship. certainly these things will not be resolved before my six months stay has been reached, so i will have to make a trip outside the country or my visa will be in violation. pakistan is the cheapest and, believe it or not, most politically stable place for me to go. that will be in september.

in december or january i hope to go with my friend to some other cities where i will decide which one i want to live in permanently. in march i should be ready to buy my flat. after that money will be very tight for at least two more years until social security kicks in.

don’t think too much about being on probation for three months, that is usually the rule with every job. how does your job work, you can leave each day when you are finished? is it paid by salary or more like piecework depending on how many patients you can care for? at least it is good to know that your schoolwork has brought you something. it is always important to try to remain flexible and open to whatever comes your way. the day for all secretaries is over i think-the job no longer exists.

i went to bhopal for two weeks, and found i am getting depressed waiting for so long and with nothing to do. things there were not the same and did not please me as they had before, and i returned to delhi even more depressed. i arrived here nearly midnight, and there was a huge rat at the railway station to greet me-i am not kidding, this guy was as big and fat as a football. can you imagine people sleep there on the concrete floor waiting for trains when they have no family to stay with and no money to stay in a hotel?

we had gone through week after week of 115 degree temperatures, and humidity as well, it was almost unbearable. i got a bad heat rash but after some weeks i learned how to manage it with applying ice twice a day. now i know i can cope with delhi summers. the weather is cooler now if you look at the numbers-but it feels every bit as uncomfortable. it will be like this at least through the end of october. the locals however are happy now-it is only a source of botheration to me. i think i have more sweat glands.

it is unlikely that i could ever marry in india-so don’t worry about that. finding a man only means a companion. i am still waiting for that to happen, so you know i am being really careful-i have had far too many offers for all the wrong things. but i must admit i am also losing hope.

i think the yellow tinge in the pictures might be if the film was old. but they are good pictures, except that i think i look really fat. how gray my hair is! and the outfit i had on looked really odd to me-like i picked up a bunch of clothes that didn’t match. i cant print the pictures i took, but i would be able to email them to you if you want.

one funny story i must tell you about tracing my roots. i had learned which church here in delhi my mother’s baptismal records would have been kept, so i went with a new friend i found through the internet. i had tried calling the church first but the number was wrong, like almost every number you are given here in this country. my friend’s cousin’s husband is a driver for his tour company, and he and another man drove us around that day. i should tell you the whole story i think…

we couldn’t find st mary’s right away, so to ask directions first we stopped at a church called st james, the oldest church in the city. it was very well kept, looked like a large congregation was still there-it was an anglican church. the lady we spoke to said ‘do you want to see st mary’s, that is the catholic church, or do you want to see our church?’ my friend isobel is from the uk, and she was very keen on looking it over, so we did. but i noticed that they seemed to welcome only me and my friend, they asked our driver sanjay to wait outside. they must have considered him to be a heathen. i even gave them a donation before i left, rather grudgingly i admit.

so now we knew how to get to st mary’s, we went there next. what a difference-it was all dilapidated and dirty looking, as though no one would ever go there. in the church was one man sitting doing nothing who didn’t speak to us at all. finally we asked if he knew where the priest was, and he pointed to a building across from us. this building was the priest residence according to a sign in english, and quite large, though every bit as shabby as the church. we went there, and sanjay called inside a broken window since no one was answering our knocking. a very scruffy old man with half his clothes missing and an odd look on his face told us to go away. we told him we wanted to talk to the parish priest, but he kept telling us to go away. i thought he must have been some lunatic who took shelter there when no one was around, or maybe some poor half-wit that the church had hired as a gardener out of mercy.

there was also a school on the grounds, that was our next stop. a sister came out to talk to us, and she said the priest had been there for morning mass, and should be in his home now. i told her he was not, but we had found one very disagreeable and rude man who told us to go away. the sister said she was new at the church, but she asked us inside to sit down. she took the information i was looking for, and my mobile number, and said she would give it to the parish priest and he would call me.

before we left, isobel wanted to try again at the priest house, since often indians are rude to each other but polite to foreigners. she knocked on the door with the broken window, demanding in a loud voice with heavy english accent to see the priest, and i found a doorbell and rang it about a hundred times. finally as we were leaving, the door opened, and the man came out-the same man i had seen before. he was now dressed properly, but still looked at us with a peculiar expression. i said i wanted to see the parish priest, and he said “why have you come unannounced?” i thought it was hardly any of his business, but i told him i had called and the number didn’t work. he argued with me and said, without looking at the paper i held up with the number written on it, that the number was definitely correct. i took out my mobile and said “i will call it now for you and show you it does not work” but he saw that i hadnt dialed the city code first, and told me that was the reason why. i was sure i had also tried that before, but i dialed it anyway. he said “see, there it is ringing now” and indeed a phone behind him on a table in the dark room was ringing. so i said “i am sorry, you are right.” he then told us that we needed to call first for an appointment before seeing the priest!

by then we left, being angry, hot and tired. if you havent guessed by now, as we were driving away we realized that the rude, slovenly lunatic was indeed the parish priest! and i tell you he was the absolutely most disagreeable man i have met in all of india. it is no wonder at all that there must be a congregation of only one person there! now i am glad i gave money to the anglican church!!

isobel wants to go again to get mother’s documents, but i think the man will want too much money for them and i think i can get them from the internet. also, isobel is going to the uk the end of this month, and she will be able to get me my grandmother’s records, which are the most important for me to prove my right to citizenship. i think if i have to see that man again it will be hard for me to behave like a good christian, or hindu or muslim or anything else for that matter!!

things happen so slowly here it seems as though nothing at all happens. even if there is no good news about myself, by the next time i write i should at least be able to tell you about pakistan! i had to buy a long sleeved shirt specially for that one day trip because it is considered grossly improper for ladies to show bare arms in pakistan!

february 2017-
as it turned out, i decided to go to nepal to get a new visa, which you can read about in the next journal entry. that took place near the end of september. i stayed in delhi with friends for over eight months in 2005. we lived in a suburb in east delhi which i liked very much, but the city of delhi itself was not my style at all.

i had left bhopal because i hadnt been able to find anywhere to live on rent. i dont know how it is today, but at that time no one wanted to rent to a foreigner, they expected some kind of legal or political trouble. and i get the impression that people are also not keen on renting to a single woman. my friends had invited me to delhi but i felt i could never be happy there permanently.

i had learned to find my way around the neighborhood the flat where i stayed in delhi was located, and could take an auto into the city to meet my english expat friend because i was familiar with the route. she used to like to go to the imperial hotel for high tea, and we would meet there, then sometimes go back to her flat or to the market. the dainty little sweets they had were so alluring and delicious that i couldnt resist them, yet every time after i left there, by the time i got home i was really rather violently ill. one time i mentioned to my friend about that, and she said 'oh so am i!'

there was no way to go sightseeing in delhi because nowhere to even stop the car. but all i really wanted to see was the church where my mother was married. i stood there on the very steps she walked down from the church after marrying my father. in the picture my parents had just gone down the steps i believe, so they are not visible here. i do have some of them but i am afraid i scanned them two at a time and the image doesnt display properly, so i will have to find an editor that i can use to crop them.

while i was there there was a beautiful banner up on the wall, a prayer for peace, and i am sorry now i didnt write down what it said. it must have been world peace day or something.

so i decided i would i take most of my clothes with me and just leave the bigger things, which were only two that i recall, my electric stove and my harmonium, in delhi with my friends, and go by train to see what other kinds of places madhya pradesh had to offer.

while i was in delhi i also managed to locate the last house my mother and her parents lived in before she left there as a war bride, married to my father. i thought i had a picture of that house with me, but sadly i dont. there may be one still in my brother’s house. when i went to the house with a driver, there was a sort of tower at the end of the drive up to the house. it was not a large imposing house, sort of a square looking thing, and i explained that my mother used to live there before independence when her father worked for the government. i hoped that the people living there would not mind to let me in and see it. he asked them, but they refused. i would have liked to take pictures, but at that point i was afraid they may think something was suspicious. the house then, as it was in my mother’s time, was being used for government servants, and i gather whoever lived there was more than a clerk, as my grandfather had been, or they wouldnt have had a guard in a tower..

my mother’s family used to live in simla in the summer months, like most of the governement people, and that is one other place i really would like to see. i had hoped to be able to see some church records and maybe gravestones, and the last i heart the loretto convent where my mother went to school is still there. she told us children, and anyone who would listen, stories about living in india, and i was always fascinated by them.

when all my affairs were straightened out and i was coming back to ratlam from delhi with the last of my things by car, i had the chance to stop in agra and saw st peter’s college, where my grandfather went to school. it was a saturday and the office was locked, or the man in charge there said they would have let me see the old records. but what a thrill it was just to be there and bring back a picture of myself standing in front of it..

once the OCI card process was going i was able to apply for that, and it gives me the right of residence. i can buy property, but not agricultural property, and i cannot vote or run for any constitutional office, which suits me just fine. it is not a citizenship, because there is no dual citizenship agreement between usa and india. at this point, i am probably eligible to become an indian citizen after having been a resident as long as i have, but i would have to renounce my american citizenship, and they would revoke my pension, so that is not an option.

my visa was about to run out again and pakistan would have been my next choice, but at the last minute my papers came through. i am sorry i missed seeing it, especially since now, since it is in more political turmoil than i would care to step into. but i am happy to have been able to clain the right to be a resident of india at last.
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