INDIA ADVENTURES DAY 12 (part 2) and 13: In our previous episode, monkeys monkeys monkeys monkeys MONKEYS! And now, today.
After the monkey temple, we hop back in the autorickshaw. I’m embarrassed to admit it, because I find shopping a really boring way to spend my time, but when we pass a sign for pashmina shawls I ask if we can stop. (Note for new readers: I am like a cartoon character – I own 7 black skirts, 7 black shirts, and 7 scarves and that’s the entirety of my wardrobe.)
The shop owner sells a lot more than shawls and when I ask to see them he says, “Wouldn’t you like to have a sari?”
I laugh and say, “I’ve never met anyone here who would mind, but the Westerners in Canada would throw tomatoes at me in the street if I wore a sari.”
Like a cat, he simply looks away and pretends that I’ve said nothing and tells his assistant to bring over a sari for me to try on. I’m curious, so I stand like a mannequin as he wraps the cloth around me. It’s extremely comfortable but I don’t want to find out what tomatoes in my hair would feel like so I pass.
I say, “So, can we look at shawls?” and he shows us duvet covers. There’s one that Todd and I both love, it’s patchwork made of old saris, but we both know it would be destroyed by our cat with herpes (in cats, herpes takes the form of a never ending sneezing cold) within 24 hours. The owner is horrified by our reasoning. He wants Todd to try on a business suit but this time I successfully ask to see the shawls. I immediately find two that are perfect. The owner tallies up the duvet cover and the two shawls. We say we’re skipping the duvet cover. He takes me aside and offers me a cheaper price, then takes Todd aside and offers him a cheaper price, but Peter the Cat doesn’t understand what beauty is and we simply cannot have it. We buy the shawls and go. (Later we find out that we were supposed to bargain and have overpaid, and I say with all honesty, “I am SO bad at bargaining that I would literally pay money rather than do it, and ta da! I did.”)
Todd asks to see Panna Meena ka Kund, a stepwell (a unique well in which the water is reached by descending a set of M.C. Esher-like steps) that we both saw on the tv show Amazing Race Australia seven years ago. The contestants had to figure out how to get from the top to a man sitting in the middle using just 41 steps. When we arrive, at the golden hour, the sand coloured stone is glowing.
But in more prosaic news I have to pee like crazy. Shahid shows us a bathroom with a 2 Rs. (3 cents) entrance fee, and I go inside and feel much better. We pile back in the autorickshaw and head home. On the way I see a woman driving a scooter and a man sitting behind her, holding her waist. I see a little boy riding a pink bicycle with training wheels as his dad walks beside him.
Outside the apartment, we both give Shahid a big hug and thank him for everything we’ve seen today and wave goodbye. Nitin gives me a ride to Saksham and I ask for a skirt in hand-printed fabric, from Ashanari: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/AshanariUSA
I go to sleep and, despite my best efforts, I do not dream of monkeys.
In the morning, Deepti (who runs Saksham with her husband Nitin and quite literally gets more done in the first hour she’s awake than I do in an entire day) and Todd and I sip chai. She mentions that she’s going to go buy milk and we ask to go with her. G. comes too. We walk along quiet streets in the early morning light. A wagon filled with milk bottles trundles by and Deepti says that they bought milk from him once, but he watered the milk so he could make more money so now they go to a small store instead. I’m amazed he’s still in business – this is a small and tightly knit community, and when you cheat one person everyone on the street knows it within a week.
Deepti picks up the milk and we all walk home. We eat fried idly (OH MAN is it good) and drink more chai. Todd heads out to meet with a photographer who lives in Jaipur and I stay home and write. When Todd gets back we decide to walk to the park and outside, waiting for Todd to come downstairs, I watch a little boy fill his shoe with sand and then zoom it over sand hills saying, “Vrrrrrrm, vrrrrrmmmmm” to himself. There’s a construction site next door and women dressed in saris walk by with bricks balanced on pads on their heads.
At the park we see four elderly men sitting on the grass in a circle playing a board game. We sit down on a bench in the shade, talking about our plans once we get back to Canada and four young men come sit on the grass near us in a circle that mirrors the old men. We expect them to set up a board game too, but they start smoking regular cigarettes instead, in a furtive way that makes us both giggle – I mean, the smoke is drifting out of the circle above their heads, everyone can see what they’re doing.
Because Todd and I both grew up in families with rampant alcohol abuse, we made a decision 27 years ago to avoid alcohol and drugs altogether. (Either alcoholism is genetic or it’s not, but why find out the hard way?) Coming from Toronto – where alcohol and pot are viewed as vital social activities and NOT drinking or smoking is the weird choice – to a place where smoking a Marlboro is still seen as an illicit activity and most restaurants offer “mocktails”, non-alcoholic drinks instead of beer and wine, has been a joy.
Deepti brings home my new skirt, and I try it on and it’s perfect. Deepti, Nitin, Todd and I all go to the Peacock Rooftop Restaurant. Three musicians sit on a small stage playing quiet live music, surrounded by fairy lights. The air is scented with woodsmoke. I can hear languages from all over the world as people smile and talk over their food. The floor is covered in mosaic tiles and the dark sky above us is absolutely decadent.
It seems impossible that we have to leave for Bangalore tomorrow.