The small boy with the painted-on mustache and the well worn knock off Polo cap performed his acrobatic trick of fitting himself through a series of metal rings while his little sister, who couldn’t have been more than 6, did handstands and cartwheels between the cars idling at the traffic light. It was an impressive act even by street urchin standards so I rolled down the window and handed out a 10 rupee note. The boy snatched it from my hand as the light turned and our car pulled away. “Namaste!” he called after me.
The first time someone in India said ‘namaste’ to me I wondered if I shouldn’t be lying on a thin rubber mat struggling to climb out of a mediation-induced nap at the end of a yoga class. This is when the teacher puts her palms together, bows and mummers ‘namaste’ in a reverential tone. The class dutifully replies with a chorus of ‘namaste’. I always thought this was an affectation perpetrated by Americans wishing to get in touch with their inner India, as if 45 minutes of downward dog and planks weren’t enough. I also thought it signified the end of yet another excruciating session of trying to persuade my body to assume positions I had no right to expect of it.
The standard greeting here from children is “Hullo! Hullo!” followed by “Pen! Pen!” I used to think these kids were really into writing until I figured out that they sell the pens, unloading them at a tidy profit. According to some, it was Lyndon Johnson who initiated the “Gimme the pen!” plague when he arrived for a state visit carrying a boatload of pens – one for every child in India and Pakistan. The bolder children demand “Rupee! Rupee!” And I’ve taken to replying with a an incredulous look, saying, “You want to give me a rupee?” That tends to flummox them long enough for me to make a break for it.
“Only two more weeks,” David said over dinner last night. “Are you ready to go home?” It’s complicated. This has been an extraordinary time for me and for us as a couple. So far it has exceeded my most fervent hopes and my wildest expectations. The ability to travel at a slow pace, at times making it up as we go along, being well supported in terms of good drivers, staying in nice hotels and home stays, meeting and making friends along the way, have been pleasures for which we are most grateful.
So far, with the exception of David walking into glass doors and straying too close to the ocean floor, we have remained healthy. We seem to be able to sense when the other is ready to call it a day and even though we are together 24/7 there’s a mutual respect for personal space even in the smallest hotel room.
In spite of my fears David seems to have embraced retirement with the grace of Nureyev and the good humor of a man who has clearly made the right choice. I seem to have found it easier to write without the lurking presence of my destructive inner critic. After an initial period of frustration I’ve come to really enjoy writing this blog and hearing such positive encouragement from many of you. I’m coming home with 30 rolls of 120 black and white film I shot with my Holga plastic camera as well as enough digital captures to keep me busy editing for a long time. I am pretty sure that I met my goal of 12 images of which I can be truly proud.
David, meanwhile, has discovered his inner writer, and has come to appreciate all those modifiers that lawyers typically eschew. He was always droll, but now he’s downright funny. From the comments you’ve left (which I am still trying to figure out how to make public), I can see that you share my view that his talents extend far beyond writing an awesome brief.
So, what do I miss? Family and friends, of course. I long to hear Elijah’s laugh in person instead of on FaceTime and to see how much he’s grown. I miss all our kids very much.
I don’t miss snow and ice, grey skies, slippery roads and winter clothes. I don’t miss fleece and socks and hats and mittens. I do miss sushi, olive oil and being able to drink water out of the tap. I miss Provincetown. I miss Miss Pearl.
But once we leave India I know I will miss the excitement, the people, and the place. I’ll miss the crazy, dusty kaleidoscope of colors, the assault of noise and even (most of) the smells. I’ll miss wearing light cotton clothes and sandals in the middle of winter. I’ll certainly miss knowing there’s the possibility of a great photo around every corner.
I will miss having David within speaking distance whenever I have something to tell him. I’ll miss looking up and seeing him right there pecking away at the computer or finally getting the time to actually sit down and read a book. I’ll miss the silent signals we’ve learned to use when words don’t work or aren’t appropriate to say aloud.
I’ve gotten used to living out of a suitcase. I don’t miss my closet or its contents at all. I really like hotel bathrooms and have learned to embrace the bucket and scoop method of showering (more on that later).
As we waited at the airport in Hyderabad for the plane to Jaipur, Sweet Caroline played in the background sandwiched in between Muzak arrangements of Hotel California (cue my sons rolling their eyes) and Norwegian Wood (the sitar making itself known even in the airport version). Hearing those tunes induced a wave of homesickness. Then to top it off after not having turned on a television for almost four months I switched on the one in our hotel room in Delhi to find sandwiched between two Bollywood movies this one: (10 rupees if you can name it).
I love that I live in America, our fabulous president, and that I can come and go without having to worry about a green card or quota. Speaking of going, we’re already planning our next trip here. We hear Gujarat is spectacular in January and February and there’s a game preserve where everyone gets to see a tiger.