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Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Day in Brodipet

New Year's morning is raucous as well...Our own and the neighbor's phones (Windows are open) ringing with greetings to/from friends as well as every member of the family, now scattered worldwide. Brother-in-law Ramesh, just 'in' from the 'states, is awake, has already been to the neighborhood '711,' a little old shop in a fadey but classy old building two blocks away, and is busy debriefing a six year absence, renewing connections with life in Brodipet. Sister-in-law Chandrahas and her husband come to call. The veggie hawkers and Venkateswarao, the neighborhood ironing man, conclude their business early. A shirt tail relative comes for his usual perusal of the newspaper, two or three beggars surface with holiday hopefulness, and even the postman comes to collect his holiday cheer. Franklin dispenses paper money (all but one of the coins are to be retired in the new year, the newspaper informs us). A former helper and still good friend comes to call, and the guys cluster over tea in the sunny back yard, A neighbor's puja prayers are particularly loud and long.
Raghava, our driver, a mild mannered man who 'wears many hats,' helps Manjula strip piquant gongorra leaves from their red stems, and cook chicken and coconut rice (evidently a new preparation for both of them) for lunch. This was one of my mother-in-law's specialties, for special occasions. There is a 'stir' when the rice is deemed too dry, but should neither be watered down or burn...the joint decision is to wrap and grab a towel around the sides and lid, and flip the whole thing, flat lid in place, upside down...unf. nobody thinks of adding just a bit of water, and it ends up being dry anyway...Never mind, it's well past lunch time...and at least the rice is not burnt.
The next drama is asking 100 yr old Tata to pray...He does not understand, first what, then why, he is being asked to do so. Feeling around himself and his
cot, he asks where is his book. He is used to praying over an open Bible. Ramesh has taken it to use, but it is fetched back. Then he wonders what to read. Cook,
son, daughter, all add their two pice worth to no avail. Finally Franklin takes the Bible and chooses a Psalm, starts to read, and this is all the priming Tata needs...he finishes several of the verses Franklin starts...but is again confused when asked to pray...Finally Franklin prays, a short prayer for an Indian one, for each member of the family and their families,for forgiveness and forbearance. He and I sing the doxology, while the others (two brothers, sister and brother-in-law) have already gone to the kitchen and are dishing out the yellow coconut rice, chicken curry, and Gongorra Mamsam. (It's meat, this time lamb, in a curry in a gravy with semi-pureed gongorra greens.)
The relative leaves his newspaper to join us, and, for once, the helpers do too (they usually demur, won't eat in our presence, as a matter of prevailing custom). Conversation flows as we eat, and veers toward interviewing the relative for whatever he can tell of people and places of common interest. The helpers retreat to tackle the dishes. The conversation, now at a pace I cannot follow and a pitch akin to heated argument--although it's not-- and the rich food at a late hour (it's already three o'clock) challenge my mind, nerves and stomach. Completely unnoticed, I retreat to an inner room where the 'volume' is lower, and I can meditate about my own distant family, our daughter and her crew so recently departed from India, son and fiancee' on the verge of new beginnings in their lives.
New Year's day evening, I analyze perforce the incessant, urgent chant of a Hindu celebration or observance further down the street...It's an insistent ostinato to the tune and rhythm of the first line of "Good King Wenceslas," repeated twice, the second time '...out' omitted in favor of prolonging the last two notes, '-las-- looked--,", to the unison accompaniment of electronic harmonium and a tinkling rhythm instrument. Occasionally there is a 'verse;' after a few hours there are more frequent tacit interludes and new voices, some of them youthful, taking up the chant. The chanting's losing strength by the time I lie down to sleep at 10:20 and peters out by the time I finally doze off, wondering if Indian friends abroad miss the nighttime chanting soundscape of the neighborhood as much as I miss the absolute stillness of a snowy Minnesota night...
Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night. God bless us, everyone.


  1. You've written a lovely picture of New Years day.