INDIA ADVENTURES DAY TWO (part 2): In our last episode, Sage saw a poster about leprosy not being contagious. Because we are all learning, I am here to report that a medical statistician says that it actually IS contagious though not highly, and also that the disease itself came from armadillos of all things. You guys have the best comments.
In today’s episode, day two, part two!
Our Airbnb hosts live in a 1960s two story apartment building overlooking the park. The first floor is owned by Doctor Khatri which I know because there’s a big sign attached to the building right above the car which says “Dr. Khatri, Dreamhouse”. (I feel very proud of the doctor because I immediately tell myself a made-up story about a little kid who wanted to be a doctor more than anything and would walk by this house on the way to school every day, promising themselves that someday. SOMEDAY.)
Our hosts are on the second floor. We haul our suitcases up the stairs and Todd offers to take my suitcase but by god I’ve pulled it a kilometre and a half (THROUGH DANGERS UNTOLD AND HARDSHIPS UNNUMBERED, okay not really, that’s just my favourite bit of the movie Labyrinth, it was actually a lovely walk) and I’m going to get the suitcase up these stairs. I immediately regret saying no, though, as our host who’s in his sixties opens his door and urges me to give him my suitcase. At 46 I’m too old myself to pull the “Respect for my elders, though!” card and I hand him my suitcase feeling very apologetic.
The door opens into a wide living room with two bright blue couches and a coffee table. He opens the french doors onto the balcony, and we go outside to goggle over the lushly green park from above. He shows us to our room, which has a big bed and a desk which I’m sitting at right now as I type. We get settled in our room and our host asks us to join him in the living room. He serves us chai with ginger and two types of cookies, one sweet, one savoury.
Todd and the host chat in Hindi – the host asks if it’s okay and I say absolutely. I am secretly tremendously shy, and any opportunity to watch and listen without having to talk is one I prize. Soon his wife arrives and the three of them talk in Hindi (I am very excited when I can tease out various words like “bahut achchha” (very good) and “ahchha” (good, OK, “got it”)) and then Todd spends the rest of the evening turning to me and continuing our own conversation in Hindi without realizing he’s doing it which is very funny. I’d better learn Hindi fast!
Soon we head outside to find dinner. The streets are dark and foggy. We walk out of the enclave and it looks like an autorickshaw driver is waiting for a fare across the street. We start to cross, and he does too, so now he’s on our old side and we’re where he was. Todd and I start across the street again, but the driver is also crossing as we do and after one more cycle the driver gives up on us ever figuring it out and drives away. Giggling, we head down the street and a new autorickshaw stops. Todd asks in Hindi if he can take us to the nearby market and the driver agrees for 80 Rs. ($1.50). (I can see that Todd’s Hindi has really progressed from even a year ago – he’s only had to ask for someone to talk slower once since we’ve arrived, and everyone talks crazy fast here.)
I’m nervous about the traffic. The entirety of my knowledge of autorickshaw rides comes from watching every season of The Amazing Race, and the players are always in the back of the autorickshaw screaming, “GO FASTER” and it looks absolutely terrifying. But actually being in the back is reassuring. We never go over 30 miles an hour – no one can, it’s too packed – and our driver is the picture of competence.
Here is what the traffic consisted of last night, in order of population:
* little scooters
* big 1960s motorcycles
* humans walking in the street (sidewalks are rare)
* privately owned cars
I want to film the traffic from above for ten hours, then speed it up so it takes ten minutes, because I’m convinced that you’d see the delicate dance between all of the above. There is constant honking but it’s for a reason. Everyone pays close attention to the honks and they only happen when it’s important. It’s just, it’s important A LOT on account of the lack of stop signs and traffic lights. Everyone, even the pedestrians, is absolutely nonplussed by the chaos. I’ve seen more drama from a toddler who isn’t getting a chocolate bar on the Danforth in Riverdale. (Yes, the toddler is named Ethan. ALL THE TODDLERS ARE NAMED ETHAN.)
We zoom through roads big enough for two autorickshaws side by side but not much more and the road is solid in some parts, ripped up in others. At one point the driver gestures to a pit of mud that used to be a road and says, “Bad city!” and turns around to zoom down a better maintained alley. He drops us off right in front of the restaurant our hosts have recommended. At the door, a woman runs a metal wand around my body and a man does the same to Todd, and we both walk through a metal detector and go upstairs.Todd orders a North Indian thali and I order a South Indian plate and we share. Todd’s dal is delectable.
After we eat I leave my backpack with Todd and go upstairs to the washroom. A bathroom attendant is sitting cheerfully chatting on her phone with a friend. When I leave the stall I feel bad because I don’t have my wallet, and I’m assuming you’re supposed to tip attendants but she seems unphased by my rudeness and I wish her a good night and head back downstairs.
As we exit the restaurant we see a four year old girl driving an electric sportscar. (I know this sounds like a fever dream, but it really happened.
Yes, that’s me posting a photo using a smartphone. Not to worry! In Canada I am still Analog Sage, but in India it seemed to make the most sense to have a temporary phone which I’ll give away when I come back. We have a rule – so that neither of us misses a minute of this trip – that if we’re out and about, phones are used for two things only: directions, and posting things. No looking at anything else. So far it’s working well.) I wonder briefly if this is how her family takes walks with her, but a little further down the block we see a man renting a blue sportscar to another family with a tiny child.
Todd and I decide to explore the neighbourhood for a bit, which involves crossing a wide street that – because of the lack of stop signs and traffic lights – is a constant stream of traffic. I start to cross with Todd then chicken out and wait to cross on my own. But with only 30% hearing in my left ear, I cannot convince myself that it’s possible to cross safely by myself in the dark, wearing a black skirt and sweatshirt. Across the street Todd calls, “Do you want me to come back?” and I say yes. I feel like a dork for not being able to cross by myself – I mean, I’m sure if that FIVE YEAR OLD crossing on the next block can do it so can I – but I feel much safer with three working ears crossing rather than just one.
As we walk, we see the shops. Most of them are about ten feet wide and fifteen feet long and almost none of them have doors, just a an open front. (Maybe when they close they pull down metal doors to keep their merchandise safe? I’m not sure.) I like the permeable nature of the stores, the feeling that there is no separation between outside and in, customers and non-customers. I am reminded very much of the land where my mom, Kite, lived for most of her life. The same invitation for the outside to come on in. We turn a corner and see two men warming their hands by a small campfire and am transported to a thousand nights by the fire with my mom.
“Todd! Will you translate?”
“I want to ask them if I can take their photo but it will be better in Hindi, so will you translate and by translate I mean will you ask for me?”
Todd, who is shy like me, is reluctant but says yes. He asks and the two men are perfectly amenable. He ends up getting the better photo, and I close my eyes for a moment and wish and wish and wish that my mom were here, sitting by this fire, warming herself.
Just one block later we see a cook making dosa at a small outdoor stall. It must be good, the place is swamped by men eating standing up. I ask Todd to ask for a video, and the dosa maker says sure, so I capture that too. We have to tear ourselves away, we both could have watched him make fifty more and been perfectly content.
Though we both thought we were walking towards the enclave, it turns out we’ve actually walked much further away and though I really want to walk back to the enclave I know there’s a massive street to cross between us and it. So we ask an autorickshaw driver to drive us instead which he does for 100 Rp ($1.87). The trip back winds through the same alleyways and we pass the same shops. In front of one I see a teenage boy sitting with his friends on a low wall, playing catch with his very little brother who is delirious with joy.
At our building we go up the stairs and turn on the electric heater in our room. Though it’s 7C, it’s surprisingly cold and we bundle ourselves up in blankets. Todd turns off the lights and I am transported back to the land where my mom lived. Sitting talking in low voices well into the night, the only light a soft red glow from the gas heater.
We fall asleep, warm and cozy.
(I will be posting videos and photos throughout the day on Instagram, be sure to subscribe if you haven’t already: https://www.instagram.com/sagetyrtle/ )