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India Trip Notes

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4-02-11 - Dhanam doesn't like flowers

Dhanam stands before me, slight, wonderfully dark, intelligent eyes, intense, a little fierce at times, industrious - she's been sewing, one of her side jobs. They call her when they see me. "Ma!" and she' s nobody's ma. She came out and asked me if I wanted dosa for dinner. I keep telling her I don't want dinner but I say okay but please not too much and not too late. They like to eat dinner at nine. I remember in hotels here when I first came eating alone in their restaurant and feeling sorry for them that all their food was going to waste and then passing by at ten at night and the dining room being full. That is not good for me and my stomach. She says eight.

I ask if there's something they'd like to do that I might be able to treat them to. They're always doing so much for me. They just cleaned my rooms. By them I mean her, her sister Indra, mother Lakshmi, and sister-in-law, the younger one, the little bit angry one. Dhanam smiles. Like, how about a movie? Are there movie theaters here? Yes. Do you want to go to a movie? No, she doesn't like them. Too many people too close together. She makes a face. She likes TV. They have a small TV that's always on in the evening. Dramas.

I ask if there's any entertainment in the city. Like concerts. Is there any Carnatic music, traditional music? Venka tells me no and so does Arul. She just says she doesn't like it. How about Hindustani music? Nope. You like modern music? She doesn't understand. New music, music on TV? Yes. There's no music in the city you want to hear? No. I haven't even been able to find out if there's any live music anywhere except what you run into in the back of a truck or sitting by the road during a festival. The only other live music I've heard here was the Sunday sing and chant-along of unique devotional Indian music with guitars and tabla at a Westerner's house with mostly Westerners. His name now is Upahara and he's been here a long time. No web site. Spends the hot hot months in Italy with his wife. Katrinka and I enjoyed it but it's not on again till October.

"Well, can I buy you flowers?" I ask half-joking. Nope. She says she doesn't like flowers. What? Well what about your mother and sister and her? I forget her name which starts with a twirled r. No, my mother and my father don't like flowers (her father died eleven years ago), Well, you mean you don't like to wear flowers, right? I say gesturing. You don't want any flowers inside? No. You like to see flowers on plants outside, again gesturing, right? She smiles.

I tell her I know one thing she liked and that was going to see all the politicians at a gathering at the college the other day. She was beaming. I didn't understand at the time. I thought she'd said she was going to see the prayer minister but she'd said prime minister, a woman. Hmm. A man's PM. Maybe it was candidates. I would have gone if I'd understood.

There's so much I don't understand because so much is really different here and because of the way they speak English when they use it and most, like Dhanam, don't have much of it to use. But even those who know more speak so fast, sort of staccato, with a bevy of differently pronounced words and if I ask them to repeat they don't slow down or say it differently. Calling customer support for my Vodaphone Modem was so frustrating because I couldn't understand their English. It's English. It's just their English. I had the same problem in Scotland.

People from other parts of India who don't speak Tamil have to use English here. Kama's brother Shantam was by here the other day to give a package to Dhanam who has a package service that ties into the post office across the street and he was speaking English to her. He's from Jaipur in Rajasthan. I just happened to run into him because Dhanam was showing him her brother's room, one room next to mine. He didn't even know I lived here. I showed him my place and we talked about maybe sharing it in some way. That was weird because KC and Kama were just over looking at it with the same thing in mind and he didn't even know that.

Anyway, Shantam said he has to use English here and it's difficult but that's true in many parts of India where there are so many languages though often he can use Hindi. There's more English here than Hindi. People down here do not like Hindi, it's like their oppressor's tongue, but mom speaks it so she can help out if needed. He also said that people here treat him like a foreigner, not much different from me he imagined.

"Okay. I'm going to the store,: I said to Dhanam. "I'll bet there's something you like there. Can I buy you anything to eat?"

"You want dosa?"

"Yes." - Dosa are like thin pancakes, often rolled around vegetables.

"Buy eggs."

She wants ten eggs. Anything else? Salt cracker - kreg jeg. I walk off with an empty ten liter plastic water bottle repeating kreg jeg. The clerk understood right away - it's Crack Jack. Ten rupees. Good, now I know something I can buy them that's cheap.

I go shopping just down the street, pass a scaffolding that had two guys on it painting earlier. Minimal scaffolding made from saplings the way bamboo is used elsewhere. Maybe three inches in diameter. They're tied together like a wide ladder with the rungs more than two feet apart being where the painters had stood, no platform. Further on I pass four young shirtless guys working under lights doing a remodeling job, taking turns smashing a giant opening in a concrete wall with a sledge hammer. A monkey sits on the floor above them.

That reminds me. There aren't a lot of monkeys around here so I forget them. There were monkeys everywhere in Dharamsala - so many the city relocated them at times. I see one or two here now and then.  When Dhanam brought my lunch in yesterday and placed it on the little round glass-topped table, I told her I'd noticed that when they clean my rooms, they close and bolt the door to the mini room where I'd screened the two windows, the only windows that aren't faced with a steel grid. Is that because someone might climb up and get in to steal things? No. No? No she said, no people come. But I should close and bolt it when I leave? Yes. Why? Monkeys. Ohhhhhhh.

Later I come down for dinner. A neighbor man sits on a crude table-like stool. After declining their offer of the wooden platform (which is also a bed) I sit on the concrete floor with them. They laugh. I and only I am served the dosa which has so many eggs in it, it's half omelet. I think they're going to eat later. We watch a Tamil Nadu drama - all the shows they watch are like soap operas. I know it's made down here because there are dark people in it. It's usually like Mexican TV here, featuring attractive people with light skin. Attractive women anyway, the men on TV don't seem that attractive to me and they favor the hefty and not too young. Hmm. Maybe I'm attractive here.

I haven't eaten out in a while. I used to like to do it somewhat just to get out and see other people but now I'm satisfied with this family. I'm turning into a semi-hermit. I just go to the Ashram for puja and sitting, drink tea at a shop, work and eat here. There is nothing romantic or exciting about this. Get out a little to walk around. My life here would not be for most people. It works for me a great deal because of all the work I want to get done, but there's really not much for most people. It's stifling hot, beggars come after you like zombies, there's no entertainment, there's trash everywhere, open sewers in many places, mosquitoes, cow dung on your sandals, dogs barking loudly at random, exhaust. But I love it and I love eating with the women downstairs.

I ate too much. Can't eat like that at night. That's the only time I have to take an antacid. I really don't understand it but I almost never have to take an antacid here. Same happened last time in India. In the US I have to work hard not to be a Zantac addict. That's the heavy stuff. Here I never take that and only occasionally take a piece of a Tums type tablet like last night. There's not much animal food except for dairy and I drink tea all day with milk in it. and eat yogurt which they call curd.  Almost zero acid reflux. I can't account for it by diet alone. We eat pretty well back home. Katrinka thinks it's the lack of stress. Maybe it's the water. We've got a lot of iron and manganese in our water there.

As long as I'm on that, another puzzling health differential - I don't have any itching here in the private area. Not at all. At home I almost do and just try not to let it get out of hand. This is the tropics. Things grow out of control here. It's supposed to be worse to get infections here. Why no itching? Again, I don't understand. Hmm. Well, I take showers all the time now - but even when I don't so much in traveling I don't notice anything. And I was taking a bath every night at home since we got our own bathtub upstairs in the barn and I wasn't sweating all the time there either.

I stand by my window looking down on Dhanam washing stainless dishes in a bucket outside, her mother tending a wood fire under a small stone oven I guess you'd call it. There are two of them only a foot high and wide, a bowl carved out of the top, one with a pot over it, a soup her mother is dropping peppers slices in to join the other veggies. They're out there on the dirt and grass in the sun. Her sister is on the other side of the wall sitting on the cement floor grinding rice into rice flower for idly with a pestle running around the scooped-out sides of a rough mortar.

From nearby comes a deep mooing from one of the cows under the trees, in the manger, some are tied up, some have walked away. Dhanam says they're not for milk, that they keep them for the government. Is it because they're holy I ask? She doesn't get it. Divine? I say putting my palms together and bowing. Yes. But then I learn that they get paid to keep the cows and the government gets the milk for the poor. I want to ask her what a woman, maybe her, with a strong flashlight was doing getting a cow from there at about one in the morning the other night and walking off with it.

So many things I don't understand. It is so different. We are so different. And yet much the same in so many ways. It's okay. I don't need to understand anything.

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