INDIA ADVENTURES DAY 14: In our previous episode, Peter the Cat didn’t understand beauty and young men smoked illicit Marlboros at the park. And now, today!
We wake up at 5 AM and quietly finish packing. While Todd is showering, S. and G.’s granny comes in with a tray which has two cups of chai on it. I realize as I type this that I haven’t mentioned her at all and that’s because from the moment I walked into the apartment the first time she felt so familiar, so true and right, that it would be like talking about still having thumbs. Granny puts the tray down.
She doesn’t speak much English and counting to five in Hindi wouldn’t be helpful in this moment, but when she holds her arms open I lean towards her and we hug for a long, long time. Tears streaming down our cheeks. I tell her I’m sad to go and she nods. We look into each other’s eyes and hold hands and I did not expect to find family in India, but I have, over and over again.
She wipes her eyes with her scarf and I wipe mine with my scarf and we tearily chuckle and I watch her leave the room.
I write a letter to S., saying I won’t have a little monkey to play with in Toronto and will have to come back next year. I write a letter to G., telling her I feel lucky to be friends with someone who is so smart and funny. When Todd finishes his shower, Deepti comes into the hallway. “Come say goodbye to the kids,” she says, and G. gives us both a hug. S. is a determined sleeper, though, and after a few minutes of everyone trying to wake him he extricates one little hand from his nest of blankets and vaguely waves with his eyes closed and mutters what might be “goodbye” and we all get the giggles.
We haul our suitcases downstairs to wait for the Uber driver. Deepti comes with us. She says, “Stay!” and I say, “We could live down the street! I could be S. and G.’s weird auntie!” The Uber driver whizzes by us, then calls to ask where we are. He comes around the block again. I hug Deepti and we both cry and the warmth and love I am finding here is really ruining my record for dry-eyed casual waves as I walk out the door.
The driver goes faster than anyone we’ve ridden with since we arrived in India and doesn’t use his horn nearly enough. This is why I love buses, streetcars, and subways – slow and steady and I get there eventually. Asking the person driving the car to drive differently is a dicey business and I avoid it like the plague (which is why I never get in cars unless I absolutely have to). The last thing I want is a too-fast driver who is ALSO angry.
Inside the Jaipur airport I see two small desks right next to each other. On the left, a smiling young woman behind a desk with the sign “Help Desk”. On the right, a soldier in camouflage with a rifle. The sign on his desk says, “NO INQUIRY PLEASE KEEP DISTANCE”. I am immediately dying to go ask Help Desk why the other desk is NO INQUIRY but I restrain myself. I watch Help Desk and No Inquiry flirting with each other. It’s Romeo and Juliet right here in the airport!
Todd and I go throuh security. As is the norm, he’s in the Gents line and I’m in the Ladies line. His guard is a man, mine is a woman. My side has a curtained area where my guard runs her metal detector around me. She is forbidding and stern until I try to take the boarding pass away before she’s stamped it and then she grins at me and tugs it back and stamps it and waves me out the door.
Upstairs we eat idly sambar, chai, a masala omelette and an Americano for 1113 Rs. ($20.80) – enough for a servicable hotel room for the night. (I include prices because *I* find them fascinating when I’m reading travel stories.) On our way to our gate we pass the Cigarette Shame Hole. This time it’s filled with grim women in expensive clothes and genuinely looks like an Afterschool Special. “Jessica, don’t take that cigarette! Do you want to have to spend time with THEM? Have a nutritious fruit juice instead!”
On the two and a half hour flight from Jaipur to Bangalore I write an entry and chose my favourites from the 1,396 (for real) photos I took of monkeys at the Monkey Temple. As we descend the plane bumps like we’re on a dirt road and I ask Todd to distract me.
“Quick, name five coffee shops you’ll open in Toronto,” he says as I clutch his hand so tightly the fingers turn white.
“Um, um, The Cafe Where You Write Your Novel On Typewriters! The Lemon Meringue Tart Cafe! The Urine Test For Sobriety Before You’re Allowed In Here Cafe! The Storytelling Cafe! The We’ll Break Your Legs If You Look At Your Phone Cafe!” (Yeah, it’s a good thing I’m not Empress of Toronto, I’m pretty draconian.) The plane touches the ground safely and I let go of Todd’s hand. He massages the blood back into his fingers.
In the bathroom I read the proceedure for disposing of a pad. There are six steps and one of them includes a UV lamp that sterilizes the pad.
We grab our bags and head outside. It feels EXACTLY like walking out of the Tampa Florida airport. Same palm trees, same flowery smell in the air, same heat. Though there is a helicopter taxi on offer we elect to take a regular taxi for the long ride to the hotel. We pass a couple selling watermelons, sitting in the shade of a small stand. He’s just said something funny and she is laughing. The houses here are whimsical, so much like the green house in Jaipur that I wonder if it was built by a homesick Bangalore transplant. The houses are narrow and tall, pink, yellow, blue and purple. We pass statues of gods in little cages and I wonder if it’s to protect them from the monkeys. New construction is everywhere. We pass a thirty story apartment building with nothing over two stories as far as the eye can see and I imagine the spectacular view from the top floor.
Then I notice the car drifting to the right and the driver looking down, browsing Facebook. This is why I avoid getting in cars as much as humanly possible and I’m too angry to stay quiet this time. “Can you watch the ROAD instead of the PHONE?” I say, and to the driver’s credit he does for the rest of the ride. But the atmosphere is strained to say the least.
When we booked this hotel we didn’t understand just how far from Bangalore it is. It’s basically Newmarket in relation to Toronto, except it is always rush hour. Always. I’m teaching in Bangalore on Tuesday and Wednesday, then performing in Bangalore Thursday and Friday. Which means we’ll be spending sixteen hours in taxis. We consider just heading into Bangalore and getting a hotel there, but we manage to talk ourselves out of it.
The stress of the car ride recedes as we eat on the roof of the hotel. Hawks careen in the wind, coming within six feet of our faces and I keep involuntarily clapping my hands with delight. I add hawks to my list of Things I Didn’t Know Where Big In India. Our hotel towers over the other buildings and I can see red blue green purple Houses of Whimsy everywhere. The lushly green trees sway back and forth. After eating we walk outside. There’s a construction site next door and a high pile of gravel. Three dogs are lying full length on top, soaking up the sun. One dog gets up, starts to head down the hill and then forgets where she’s going and falls down and ecstatically wriggles on her back for awhile before falling asleep again. Doggle Mountain of Gravel Happiness!
The last ATM we visited gave us a 2,000 Rs. ($37.37) note. It’s like a $100 bill in Toronto, everyone asks for smaller change. At Cafe Coffee Day we buy a coffee and a lemonade and the clerk gives us all but 200 Rs. ($3.74) back and asks us to wait until a few more customers have gone by, then gives us the rest. We take our change and go have a quick dinner, tired and out of sorts.
Back at the hotel Todd has his Hindi class with Mitali while I drift off to sleep, listening to the sound of the crow outside scolding the Doggle Mountain dogs.