Thursday, December 25, 2008


Some day all of this will make for a very funny story, much like the glowing blue cones up my nose in the Soviet Union. But right now, I feel exactly like I did when I pulled my Leningrad roommate, Kristine, out of class so she could sit with me while I cried about the experience of having less-than-clean foreign objects shoved up my nostrils.

First, let me say that the place I am staying is quite nice, and the owners have been very kind to me. Last night, Vandanaji made me a special waffle dinner for Christmas Eve, and Kush, the son, brought me a bowl of incredibly good popcorn. They also gave me a present, which I haven't opened yet, but from the familar size and shape, I'd say was a Cadbury bar of some variety. So, I recognize that everything is not completely horrible, and life could be much worse. In fact, right now, I'm sitting on the balcony outside my room, alternately watching Om Shanti Om and the cricket match going on in the park across the street. That's not a bad way to spend an afternoon in Delhi, that's for sure. I could be sleeping in the A.I.I.M.S. park with those whacked out stainless steel alien sculptures, but I'm in a comfortable chair enjoying the winter sun, instead.

Still, I wonder--if I stay here for nine months, how bitter will I be in the end? Will I hate the choices that I've made so much that I'll refuse to finish my dissertation? Or, if I finish it, will I refuse to do any work related to India or even architecture? This is a real possibility I think.

My day got off to an awkward and annoying start. I overslept, which seems to be happening every day to me. I just can't get myself out of bed, I don't want to do anything at all but sleep. Anyway, I got out of bed late, so I was still in my room when the maid came by to clean. While she was cleaning, she flat out asked me for baksheesh (money/bribe/"tip"). And I was thinking, you've got to be kidding me. I'm paying more than enough for this place to cover the cost of cleaning my floor. If you don't want to clean it, fine, but our first conversation shouldn't open with the word "baksheesh". At least say hello first. Anyway, I pretended I didn't speak Hindi, and left as quickly as I could, because honestly, it really isn't my place to be giving her money.

Yesterday, I thought I had ascertained that the NAI would be open today. It turns out that, yes, the NAI is open, but not the reading room or library. I should have been more specific with my question, I guess. So, I arrived for work today, only to find out the security hut closed and locked, a clear signal I wasn't going to get anything done today. So, fine, that's 60 rupees in rickshaw fare wasted, but I could find something else to do with my time. For instance, I could just go to a coffee shop in CP and work on my citations or something. I flagged down an autorickshaw and headed toward CP.

The rickshawalla approached CP such that we arrived right at one of the gates for the Palika Underground Bazaar. Well, it's a holiday, I thought, so why not pick up a DVD, sit in the coffee shop and watch it? But when I got out of the rickshaw, those complete jerkface scam artists surrounded me, trying to polish my shoes. I warded them off, but got stuck near the rickshaw too long because the rickshaw wallah had no change. No one around would give him change, so I did the nice thing: I walked to a vendor, bought a bottle of water, got change for the rickshaw wallah, gave him the bottle of water to boot, and sent him on his way. This stupidity kept me in the area just long enough for the shoe-shine jerks to step close again, throw wet monkey dung on my sandals and then tell me, "Oh, madam, your shoes are dirty, I can polish them!"

This made me furious, because for one, it was A LOT of dung, and they splattered it on my jeans which had just come back from the laundry. I told them to fuck off, grabbed a rag from one of them, and started wiping off my foot. You can imagine how the guy felt about me taking the rag out of his hand, but I figure, hey, you throw monkey dung on my sandals, you face my anger. I got off as much as I could, threw his rag on the ground, and walked away.

I was completely pissed--which means I was trying not to cry, because I cry when I get angry--but I didn't want them to think they had won (although they obviously had), so I went into Palika Market and bought a DVD with monkey dung residue on my foot. And then I went into a coffee shop, ordered coffee and a glass of water (and it took me three attempts to get the water), and used the water to rinse my foot. Still, there is no way to clean that stuff off without scrubbing, so I decided that my backup plan of watching a DVD and drinking coffee just wasn't going to happen.

Have I mentioned that I hate CP? No, I do NOT want to buy your stupid junk, so quit jumping in front of me and demanding that I look. I have eyes, and I have free will--if I want to look at your crap, I will. Otherwise, leave me alone. Seriously. Leave me alone.

So, I got a rickshaw back to SJE, and about half way here, the driver starts giving me the "I know a very good bazaar, we stop for only 5 minutes, then I take you home." At this point, I was feeling like I could punch him in the back of the head, but I took the peaceful route and just kept refusing. However, when you are in a moving vehicle, what are you going to do when the driver turns off the route? I thought about jumping out, but then what? Negotiating with my fourth rickshaw wallah of the day? So, in the end, we ended up at the bazaar. At first I refused to go in, but after sitting there in the rickshaw for awhile, it became clear that if I didn't go in, I was never getting home. I also thought, well, I could wait for another rickshaw here, but then there would be this long confrontation about how I hadn't paid him for the distance driven, etc. Fuck all that noise.

Into the bazaar, more people telling me to "Just look, Madam!" and they are all lucky I had no weapons to hand. I hovered for approximately three minutes, walked back out and demanded to be taken home. Luckily, the driver took me home this time, I don't know what I would have done had he ignored my wishes.

So, a lot of scrubbing of jeans, feet, sandals and hands with Dettol soap. Sometimes I feel like Dettol is my only friend here, I spend so much quality time with it.

Anyway, Merry Christmas. The weather's nice, the cricket game is interesting, the movie is a reasonable time pass, but that's really not enough pleasantness to erase the smell of monkey dung from my memory banks.

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