The View From My Apartment 15
More tales of Larry and Deepti in India!
The Luggage Recovered!
So. When we arrived in India our luggage did not. Well, half of the luggage did not. British Airways assured us they would find it and delivery it. No worries. Right?
I love the internet. The internet is a place that provides information. Up to the minute weather reports! News! Email! Movie trailers! I love it. One can find all sorts of useful (and to some useless) bits of information. British Airways has their own website—one that provides information like departure time! Arrivals! And luggage!
Whoopee! I thought. We’ll be able to know when our luggage was going to arrive! How comforting. And sure enough, a day or two after our arrival: our luggage was at the Delhi International Airport and the “delivery process had been initiated.” What joy! Ring the bells! Chant some chants! Our luggage was coming!
The “delivery process had been initiated” remained on the website for another day or two. And still no luggage. So we began to call. Hoping that some fine person on the other end of the line would be able to tell us: where are the bags?
I was getting upset at this point. I admittedly had a fear that they were on some truck somewhere in Delhi and people were going through them. The Liberal in me was getting a little antsy about such an attitude, until I realized my wife was feeling the same way. The Liberal got over being upset.
The people that we WERE able to reach had little to say, except the “delivery process had been initiated.” Lovely. They couldn’t tell us zip.
And my father in law (Daddy-ji) had booked the whole family into a hotel outside of Delhi in a state called Rajasthan and we were leaving soon…and still no luggage. So, we decided, time to go to the airport, which we did on our way out of the city to the countryside—we figured, it shouldn’t take long to find out what was going on, it should be easy and then on our way. Right?
We arrived at the airport, and of course, it’s as busy and crazy as ever—the fog had caused more troubles and generally it is a chaotic place. We make our way into the British Airways office, which is FILLED with luggage. A flutter of hope passed through my heart—some where in all of this—are my clothes, my presents for the family, all I have to do is dig.
We talk to the tired looking British Airways woman—she takes a look at our baggage claim tickets and types into her computer. And guess what? The luggage was still at the airport—the delivery process had begun and ended very quickly. It turns out, our bags were stuck in customs. The locks. They wanted to look inside our bags, but they didn’t want to cut off the locks.
We asked, “if they were stuck in customs and they needed us to open it to look inside, why weren’t we called?” The woman stared back at us—hoping, I think, to turn invisible. It didn’t work.
Armed with paperwork, and determination, my wife went to customs—only one person would be allowed to go. Since my Hindi is, shall we say, lacking, she was the best suited.
Daddy-ji and I followed her as far as we could go and watched her disappear into customs. We waited outside. We chatted. About the weather. The people. It was a pretty pleasant afternoon.
My wife came storming out of customs…A document was not given to her. So, she had to go all the way back to the British Airways office, get the proper paper, and then make her way back. Daddy-ji and I thought it best to remain where we were…
And my wife came storming back into customs. And we waited. Chatted. This was the most conversation time I had ever had with him. Talking on the phone to people you have never meet while they are on the other side of the world isn’t the best way to get to know them. Here’s a little fun fact for you: the first time I had ever talked to my future father in law was when I asked permission to marry his daughter. Talk about pressure to entertain. It was a nice chat, a sort of circling around each other intellectually, trying to figure the other person out.
There was a pause.
And then suddenly—my wife appeared. With two bags. Finally. I could put on some clean clothes.
Rajasthan is a state south west of Delhi. We were going to a small town where a hotel chain had opened up a new resort hotel. This company was taking old castles, great houses, called havelis, and the like and converting them into nice hotels. An opportunity to live like the wealthy had a hundred or more years ago.
The seven of us (two parents, my wife and I, her sister and her boyfriend and the driver) packed ourselves into a car built for five without luggage. This led to some creative packing and stacking of both the luggage and the people inside. It wasn’t particularly comfortable but it worked.
This leads me to a new vocabulary word for the day: jugaard. Jugaard is the idea of taking something that might be broken and using whatever it takes to just make it work. For example, it was raining on our travel to Rajasthan and the windshield wiper wasn’t working well. So the driver, instead of buying a wiper, wrapped a towel around the old wiper. In our case, it was making 7 people and luggage fit in a car built for five.
There aren’t highways in India like there are in the United States—the roads were built to connect one town or village to another. It’s much more like the old Route 66—the roads wind through the countryside, some of them are in need of love, others are nice, and you pass through town after town.
On these roads I saw a weird clash of poverty with the 21st century mixed in. The roads could be dirt, above ground sanitation, open air home and then suddenly, an internet café. People using camels for transport of goods, being passed by nice SUVs. Some people sitting in their homes with the lights on, others huddled outside by a camp fire. Many of these villages were doing their best to keep up with modernization, but they just couldn’t afford it. Many people were living a subsistent life.
We stopped once in a village, as the driver wanted some chai. We unpacked ourselves to stretch and breathe again. It was late, it was dark and there wasn’t much in the village. Freddo started smoking, I started talking to Deepti. Then, Daddy-ji, got worried. Nervous. He said we should go. And by the tone of his voice: he meant right away. We were attracting too much attention. He was nervous that we would be robbed.
Back on the bumpy road.
The haveli was beautiful. The building itself is like two squares next to each other. In one square, along the edges are the rooms, with an open court in the center, then the next square has another court, and leads to the kitchens. The rooms were large with huge ceilings and stone floors. And it smelled of moth balls. Just what I imagined the turn of the last century to smell like.
The next day the plan was to go to another village and look at other havelis, some restored and some not. One of the restored ones we went to was owned by the village. A man, years ago, purchased it and gave it to the city with the idea of turning it into a tourist destination, in order to help get money into the village. I don’t know how successful the plan has been, but the haveli was beautiful. This one was larger than the one we were staying in. More elaborate paintings, and rooms. It would be easy to fall back into time in these buildings.
The legacy of India is complicated. For many years it was a country occupied and run by a foreigner power. In order to do that, the British needed allies within India, and used India’s wealth to pay for those very allies—the Rajs, for example. And those with the wealth and power built these beautiful palaces in these places—and perhaps brought a lot of work and notoriety to these villages—but when the rich people left….their households fell into disrepair as did the villages. And now, people live in and around these former glorious households of the past.
Deepti and the Bindi!
My sister in law, Swati, kept fighting with my wife about wearing a bindi. The bindi is the dot that married women wear. This is also sometimes done in conjunction with a red powder called sindoor being placed in a short line on the top of the head from front to back. These are done to signify to unmarried men that this woman is unavailable.
In New York, Deepti rarely wears a bindi—unless it’s a special occasion—and hadn’t planned on wearing one in India.
However, Swati was adamant. She was concerned how her sister might be looked at, walking hand in hand with another man, let alone a white man, with no outward signs of marriage.
Deepti and Swati are very close, my wife is very protective of her little sister, but when they fight—it can become quite a battle. They don’t get to see each other very often, so I think they like to explore the full range of emotion—love to anger.
Round and round they went. Both sisters dug in their heels.
In the end, with a little help from me, Swati won the war of attrition and my wife wore the bindi. It’s just a dot.
One of Deepti’s aunts lives a few blocks away from her parents’ apartment. She is one of Daddy-ji’s sisters, her name is Sarla, but because she is the sister of my wife’s father, I would call her Sarla-bua. Her daughter, Nidhi, was living with her. Nidhi and her husband Anirban were planning on moving to Bombay soon. Anirban was already there, working and finding a place for them to live. Nidhi had given birth to a wonderful baby boy: the mighty Arjun.
I added the mighty part. For mighty he is. Not in weight, not in height, he was only eight months old, but mighty in his looks. This was one cute baby. Round cheeks, big eyes and a smile—toothless and very gummy—that was brighter than the sun.
We went over with some presents—as is the polite thing to do. Deepti reunites with the family she hasn’t seen in many years and I meet them for the first time. There is hugging, laughing, especially when I do the respectful thing and try to touch Sarla-bua’s feet. This is an outgoing family. Food is served—another attempt at poisoning—but avoided.
And then Arjun is brought out. He seems me and his eyes go wide. Now, I think I’m pretty good with kids—they like me, I’m playful. I get on with kids. And I have the full expectation that I will with Arjun.
His eyes went wide and he stopped blinking when he saw me. He wouldn’t stop staring. And then I realized, there was a little bit of fear in those eyes.
Deepti can’t keep her hands off babies. She grabs Arjun and does her best to lavish attention on him. But he won’t stop looking at me. She would turn him away, but he would do his best to look at me. I took him.
In my hands, he was still, unsure and still staring. And then…he began to whine, he tried to pull away—as well as any eight month old can pull away. And not wanting to upset a baby, I passed him on. He stopped whining, but not the staring. We were certain at this point, he had never seen a white man before—I’m sure he was wondering what poor dreadful event had befallen me. I was a nightmare to him, I’m sure.
The conversation in the room was fast, frantic and in Hindi. Hindi is just such an expressive language. Its quality of rhythms and tones creates an atmosphere of energy. Deepti was thrilled to be speaking Hindi again, I could tell. Now, I think I’ve said it before, my knowledge of Hindi is limited, and I didn’t recognize anything that was being said, but, I feel like I could follow the conversation. I think I did. Well, I knew when they were talking about me. And that’s all that’s important, right?
The Wedding, Taj Mahal, and Delhi vs. New Delhi, and Amitabh Bachchan!
(We’re entering into the home stretch—it’s the first of the last two blogs about India!)