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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Seven Days and Counting, Part Two

We sleep.  And sleep.  As we emerge from the disorientation of long travel and topsy turvy timing, new and remembered details of people, place, and thing slip through consciousness like details of scenery viewed from a moving train.

Half a dozen bright parrots tumble into the neighbor's wild-branched jaama-kaya (guava) tree, thrash about in pairs. fly swiftly off. Is the guava tree their home? Or just a trysting place? Another day, a solitary red-beak contemplates the concrete dominated neighborhood from a window ledge on the back of the house, flies away when I move closer for a better look.

Pushpa and Raghava, our cleaning/assistant cook and cook/driver/"local yellow pages" are back to help us five and eight hours a day, five or six days a week.  'Hard to find words to explain to folks at home in US how and why we employ people here to do things we do ourselves in the 'states. I'll tell you after thinking about it some more.

We listen and try to re-orient ourselves to old and new details about people, places, things. The first one up unlocks the front door, opens casement windows for cooler air, makes a cup of tea.  Raghava slips in, greets us in a hush, makes more tea.  Murmured conversation.  Pushpa arrives: ditto, as she sets to work on breakfast or chopping veggies for lunch. She giggles at the prospect of learning to cook from Raghava, our usual cook cum driver, and is amused at my renewed attempts to teach her to sort the laundry by compatible color.

Our elevator has been kept in good repair, glides and stops smoothly, even sounds quieter than a year ago when it was new. Our elbows are exercised (Arya will know what I mean) as we drag the heavy, double grilled doors open and shut, but before we ever can, a recorded, annoyed woman's voice scolds from within the elevator shaft, "Please shut the DOOR!!"

In that first week,  I’m awakened from nap one afternoon by a rush of young chatter...A single line of white and blue uniformed school children and pairs of saree clad teachers from a nearby school stride along two sides of the block, heading, I learn, for an annual government school census.  (Echoes of Bethlehem?!)  No doubt it’s a welcome diversion from the relentless study and schoolroom life of both teacher and child.  An hour later they come chattering back. Next day’s Deccan Chronicle compares the states’s school enrollment with actual attendance: both abysmal.

Voluntary demolition of modest homes and the building of apartments in this mid-city neighborhood are in full swing.  Concrete apartment buildings are currently under construction in front of and behind us. This seems to be the week for workers to custom-cut the ubiquitous tile, the flooring of choice (and of necessity: trees are a protected species in India), and saw they do, on site, from breakfast until bedtime. Conversations are dropped or shouted while relentless tile cutting  continues. In the early  morning, grinding of condiments and soaked lentils in a mixie (heavy duty blender)  for the day's meals is nearly as loud.

The drilling ricochets against concrete walls, competes with loudspeakers blasting street hawkers and leaders of neighbourhood events, all of which proceed with great gusto, if not finesse: music, chanting and preaching of revival, wedding, worship, housewarming, or annual festival – Christian or Hinldu, all punctuated by the Muezzin calls-to-prayer from two directions. The over amplified finale of a Bollywood movie in a theatre a little over a block away. The beeps and motors of late night traffic. This frenzied soundscape continues like never before, and well past midnight, for the first few days of our visit. What have we gotten ourselves into???  I toy with the idea of going back home.

 In contrast, the usual silence from midnight to four thirty a.m. is near absolute. Then, a bucket being set down on tile, water splashing, birds chirping, the click of microwave opening or the starter over the gas stove, the patient swish, swish of street and doorway being swept with grass brooms, unique tunes of cell phones and cars backing out of parking spaces, all gradually crescendo long before the typical nine o’clock breakfast, by which time the elevator, traffic and construction are in full swing again.  A quiet hour between noon and two is soft and gentle on the ear.  Miss it and you will have a harder time napping when noises start up again.
It takes a few days to make out new and more robust cries of peddlers making their way along the street throughout the day: “Ooraguy! Oy, ooraguy!” (vegetables), or “Kamalaalu, appel, appel, kamalaalu” (“loose- jacket” sweet oranges, apples). Gone is the bulk salt seller with his near-regurgitating cry ,”Oop-poo (uppu means salt)!!”  Free flowing salt is now one of the multiplying packaged items flooding the market, replacing some of the peddlers. The paper collector adds his loudspeaker to the mix as he wheels his cart past: “Paper, bring out your paper stuff! Sell your old paper and gain a few rupees! Come and bring your useless paper, notebooks, newspapers, old books, school books  old God’s words (scriptures.)”  Really?  God’s word gets old?  I don’t think so.
Every morning, singing a hymn or two and reading from our tiny, worn, travelling new testament, given by friends for an anniversary, refresh me enough to face a new day.  Whether I read at random or continuously, there is always a word of narrative, exhortation, or consolation that stands out, surprises even, in its relevance to these days. 
But we long to hear our own children's voices, and phone them each, both to touch base and to update them and ourselves on relatives and friends.  Our daughter talks about her school going children. It's hard to believe we were at 'Grandparents' Day' with our granddaughter in Minnesota just a few days ago. Our son gives an update on their newborn, then asks how things are, over here.  I describe the frequent comings and goings of four local families of in-laws, two of whom live the same building, and walk freely in and our of our open door for a chat.  He asks pointedly, on the basis of his own experience, "Are you able to maintain some privacy for yourselves?
"Sure," I reply, "of course! We have our own separate place now, right?" Right...

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