The View #17, still Vintage!

A View From My Apartment 17

Hello my children! Gather around Grandpa Larry as he completes his tale of his trip to India. Quickly! Before it disappears into the depths of his hazy memory! It seems like the trip was SO long ago now…a distant memory…but still…a tale that he should finish…so his wife and his mother will not bother him any longer. I believe in some circles it is called motivation…Come! Listen! Before I forget more!

My Wife Goes to Pakistan…maybe…

We return home from Bombay after a whirl wind trip to the movie capital of the world…(If you go by sheer number of movies made, Bollywood CRUSHES Hollywood. Sure, if you go a silly thing like Box Office numbers, it’s a little different…)

Deepti is an actor. She and I have both done work for a cable channel in Pakistan, thanks to our friend Mehreen Jabbar. Mehreen is a filmmaker based in New York City who was making TV for consumption in Karachi. She, Deepti and I have worked on a few projects together. In fact, Mehreen has gotten me two commissions to write TV serials for Pakistan. (I’m closing in on finishing #2! It’s a 600 pages script! I think I may die).

Deepti has done two serials for Pakistan, both filmed in New York, and they seem to like her. In fact, there’s a teenager in Pakistan that is a big fan of my wife’s work. It’s weird.

Before our trip to India, a producer at the cable channel found out that Deepti was going to be in that part of the world, and asked if she would be interested in doing a serial while she was there. My wife, who never likes to turn down and opportunity to work, said yes. The idea was to shoot part of the serial in Australia and then finish it up in Pakistan. Deepti was excited: she had never been to either place.

Now is the time for a little history. Some of you may know this, others may not. Pakistan and India…they don’t get along. Well, I should say their governments don’t get along. In fact, some might say: they hate each other. Border disputes are common; the territory of Kashmir is HIGHLY contested. Now these two countries used to be ONE country (fans of the film Gandhi know what I’m talking about.) Though before that, it was an area of smaller city states, before the British came in…It was called Hindustan.

When the country finally gained it’s independence from Britain (Go Gandhi!), there were troubles from within. Muslims and Hindus…well, sometimes they don’t get along. In the end, much to Gandhi’s disappointment, the country was divided. Pakistan and India. And the two have not been…friendly since.

As a side note, and you know how I feel about side notes: the embassies in New York City are back to back.

So, because the countries don’t like each other, even though the citizens share a spoken language, heritage and, until fairly recently, a common history, it is difficult for one to get in without the proper visas. And the visas are hard to get.

At times it seems, my wife was the only one working towards getting her into Pakistan. It seems the production staff had never tried, and never did any research. My wife did all that. Even while we were traveling into Rajasthan, Deepti was on the internet communicating with the production staff, finalizing the contract and finding out what needed to be done to get the visa. (Every village seemed to have an internet café, but not necessarily paved roads.)

In the end: it was on the side of the producers in Pakistan. They had to go to a government security office and get a form that basically would say that Deepti isn’t a criminal, she isn’t a terrorist and that she was of no threat. It would take about five to six weeks to process and she would get the visa. Shooting was supposed to start in about two weeks. A problem. Which, of course, could have perhaps been avoided if the producers had done any of the research.

But why cry about spilt milk?

A change of plans. Now, they were going to film in Australia and then to Thailand!

And then ANOTHER change of plans! They were just going to film in Australia. So, Deepti just had to get the Australian visa (and she only had to do a phone interview to do that) and then she was off.

I’ll let Deepti tell of her adventures in Australia…shooting the series, seeing old friends, getting Chicken Pox…

Jantar Mantar

But, before Deepti went away, we were able to do some site seeing. There was one site in particular that I wanted to see: Jantar Mantar, an 18th century astronomical complex in the heart of Delhi.

The complex has is made of what look like strange sculptures but are in fact astronomical tools. The most recognizable is the giant sundial, over 100 feet fight high and accurate to the minute.

There are other…for a lack of a better term, machines, there that can be used to predict the motions of the moon, planets and the sun. These devices are made from a red stone topped with white lime stone. Precise marks are inscribed. These are like any other scientific machines, just made from stone and you climb around in them.

The area is enclosed, you have to pay to get in. Just like the Taj Mahal, if you are Indian you get a deal, me, I had to pay 100 rupees. Which, well, is about 2 bucks. So, it’s still a deal. But, Deepti, she had to pay 10 rupees. Which is a much better deal. We momentarily thought about trying to sneak me in, but then we realized…I don’t really look Indian. So, we abandoned that plan.

It was a bright, cool, day. One of those days you just want to hang out and enjoy. Jantar Mantar, walled off from the city, was quiet, peaceful. Couples were sitting on the grass and enjoying the stillness. In fact, it was the first time I really found a place in Delhi that was still—no rushing of crowds, no beggars, no one trying to sell me something. It was just…the place, the grass, and the sun.

We began to move to the first sculpture…no…device…no…machine. We moved to the first thing. It was about twenty feet high, a long stairway in the center and two half circles curving down to the ground. I couldn’t tell you what it was for, but…I loved it. I was fascinated.

I’ve always been a sucker for anything space related. When I was a kid, I was fascinated by space travel and exploration, I soaked up the history, I even went to Space Camp. Though strangely, while I was interested, I never really got into astronomy. I liked it, took a class, but I never went beyond the simple telescope my parents got me for Christmas. I would take it out occasionally, every so often looking at the moon or a star…which would turn out to be Saturn. I was a haphazard Astronomer.

I think I like to hear about it…

Anyway…So, while I was doing my best to figure out what this particular building was used for, a 60 year old man limped over to us. He explained to us that he was an employee of the complex, and wondered if we had any questions. My Super-Ego whispered in my head: you don’t have any questions! You’re a smart guy! There’s a plaque. Read the plaque!

My wife, however, had the good sense to say yes. My Super-Ego crossed his arms and became petulant…but silent.

The man took us to each building. The largest by far, and in the center of the complex was the sundial. My Super-Ego: Duh, I knew that one. It was large triangle, about 100 feet high and on the ground on either side of the triangle were markings… The man pointed to the shadow and asked us the time…it was off from Deepti’s watch. By about 30 minutes. He smiled and explained…The sundial was locale time…if adjusted for longitude…it was right, to the minute.

The next building was a round, two stories with what seemed like windows all around it. There was nothing inside the building, it was empty, no floors or anything. This was used for the phases of the moon.

The last one he showed us was a monument that was dug into the ground, like an empty swimming pool, curved with metal rods in certain places, this was used to help establish a child’s horoscope. Then he said, this is the only one that no longer works. My head tilted, didn’t work? There were no moving parts. Then he pointed to the buildings outside of the complex to the east and the west. Because of their height, they block certain important parts of the sky, making it impossible for this particular machine to work to its fullest. Modern life encroaching in on the past…

At the end…the man reminded us…he was an employee there, and he was paid a salary…but if there was anyway we could see to…you know…

Information does not come with out a price. 50 rupees.

The Coat and Mummyji

Before I left India, I wanted a Nehru jacket. It’s that jacket that doesn’t have a collar, with buttons that go all the way to the top. It just looked cool. At least on Nehru.

Of all the things that I wanted in India this was it. A jacket. A lovely jacket. )I like jackets. So, cut me some slack.)

Deepti and I spent a few days together shopping in Delhi before her flight to Australia. We found a few…but they were too big. We kept looking. We found presents for friends and family, but no jacket. How could we not find a Nehru jacket in Delhi?

Finally, we ran out of time, Deepti had to go. We kissed good bye and off she went to the land down under.

Which meant, I was home with my in-laws. Alone.

Getting married isn’t just getting a wife, it’s also getting another set of parents who will feed you. It’s awesome. (and feed I did, I must say.)

Mummyji liked the fact that I liked Indian food, and that I would keep eating. And eating. Now…the thing is if you say no, I don’t want any more, that doesn’t mean they won’t give you more. In fact, you will kept being offered and given food. One no isn’t enough. You have to say no repeatedly. Or more delicious foods will arrive. Hot, fried delicious foods.

Deepti gone, and Daddyji back to work, it was me and Mummyji. She played catch up in the house, that silly old wedding was a distraction to getting things done in the house. I was content for a little bit to read, just to sit and read and not meet anyone.

In the end though…there was the jacket.

Mummyji likes to shop. That is a fact. That the Sun will rise and set, my mother in law will shop. She was excited about finding the Nehru jacket. It became a quest.

We got a driver and went to various markets. One was this lovely outdoor market, geared towards tourists. A wide open walk way, with various little shops. Even a food court representing different foods from all around India. Mummyji and I made it around to every shop. No jacket. Though, that didn’t stop us from buying. I got a marble elephant for a friend, and, finally, found the marble Taj Mahal for our home—a painting of the Taj on a piece of marble. Mummyji found some things for my niece and something for my wife.

Onto the next market. And then the next. And the next. We started asking, do you have any Nehru jackets? They would show us what they have, and I would just shake my head…all of them were without sleeves. Not what I wanted. We pressed on.

Soon, I learned something. Language is a finny thing. I kept asking for a Nehru jacket, and I kept getting ones without sleeves. And I knew ones WITH sleeves existed, but I was amazed we couldn’t find any. I mention this to Mummyji. Why weren’t we finding any Nehru jackets with sleeves? Because jackets don’t come with sleeves.

Er?

In India, coats have sleeves, jackets are sleeveless. Let that be a warning to those who are traveling to India. Language isn’t always what you think it is, even if you are speaking the same language.

P.S.—I got my Nehru…coat.

Going to America

The time had come. Three and a half weeks in India. Meeting a whole new part of my family, seeing a whole new country. And I was ready to go. I think I had had enough culture shock or something. It was time to go home.

Ah, sweet British Airways…

Having said my goodbye’s to Mummyji, Daddyji and I got into a car and headed out to the airport. I think I had been to this airport 15 times since I had arrived in Delhi. To pick people up, to fly out of…so many times…I think the beggars recognized me.

Daddyji dropped me off, waiting for me to check in. Everything was fine. I had time to go through security, board and then, as the schedule said, plenty of time in Heathrow for my flight back to New York. I waved a final good bye to Daddyji—he couldn’t come inside the airport without paying, I headed into the airport.

Where I waited.

And waited.

And waited yet again.

It seems the flight was delayed. Imagine my surprise.

Finally, we boarded the plane…I got my window seat near the bulkhead…plenty of leg room, I learned that lesson on the first flight. I settled in for my flight…only beginning to panic a little bit…my few hours of leisure time at Heathrow were evaporating….

And indeed…it dwindled to…me rushing through the airport with only 30 minutes to get to my plane. I was hoping to have had time to buy liquor at the duty free shop, booze for you all…but…alas, you will have to complain to British Airways…

And then onto the next plane…

On the leg from Delhi to Heathrow, I had my last bit of Indian food for that trip. A simple curry. Then, for the next meal, somewhere over the Atlantic, the menu changed. I had my first taste beef in three weeks. Suddenly, my whole palette had to change…back… To something a little less complicated, more direct than anything I had eaten for almost a month.

It was a taste of home. A taste that…Ok. I’ll put it this way: I generally tell people I only had one moment of food poisoning while in India. And, from a certain point of view that is true…because it wasn’t until I was over the Atlantic, hours away from New York that…I’ll also put it this way…I gave British Airways a special gift in the toilet.

New York at night from the sky…is beautiful. It glitters, shimmers. The Empire State Building, Central Park. And from the sky at night you can see how massive the city is, how far in every direction it stretches. It also feels like you are visiting a city of the future, something out of Blade Runner. Perhaps I felt that because I had no idea what time it should be…the beginnings of Jet Lag.

I was worried. About customs. Not that I had anything illegal in my bags, but…I had a lot. And I’m not to sure when I have to declare something. Sure, I received that piece of paper in government speak, but, still, I’m always nervous they are going to demand my bag to be opened and discover that I bought one to many T-shirts of the Taj Mahal and I now need to pay taxes. Right then and there. Cash only, no check, no credit cards.

The guy at customs barely looked at me. I was ushered through with no problems. A small part of me was disappointed…but, then, the smarter part of me was thrilled, now I could get into a cab and go home.

And home I went…where for four days I went to bed at three in the morning and waking up at eleven. Oh, sweet sweet jet lag…

And so…

That’s it! That’s the trip. My first and the beginning of a life time of trips back to India.

I am living a life that I never imagined. I never imagined I would marry a woman, a wonderful, amazing woman, from another country. That half of my family is in a country on the other side of the world. That my life is now wrapped into the history of this marvelous country, filled with such astounding contradictions, with ancient history, with new found pride as it grows by leaps and bounds.

My new family welcomed me, my parents, and others with wide open arms and for that I am eternally grateful.

And what’s next for the View From My Apartment? Now that I have finished the series, I’ll be able to dedicate more attention to this blog. I hope to do this much more regularly and my apologies to those who have waited with patience (like my mom) for me to stop being so lazy and write this damn thing. Thanks!

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