Thursday, January 29, 2009

A bag of trash

We've been ambivalent about hiring domestic help. It feels exploitative to hire anyone for the wages they request. But the marble floor needs to be mopped every day or it gets gritty, even if we leave our shoes at the door. So we decided to hire someone. Wendy tried to communicate this to the guard yesterday, and he seemed to understand. Later in the morning a man and a woman appeared in the hallway. The woman carried cleaning gear and the man held a bag of trash. The man said something in Gujurati. I understood nothing. He did not gesture toward the cleaning woman. I went to the kitchen and returned with a huge plastic bag full of garbage. I handed it to him. He accepted it. Later we found out he had come to introduce the cleaning woman. He took the trash anyway. We are the inscrutable foreigners. Ask us anything and we happily respond with a bag of trash. Thank you so much. I think I'll try it with the internet guy.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Everything is negotiable. That is, unless it has a federally regulated maximum resale price tag on it. The richshaws have a meter with a flag. Sometimes they don't like to run the meter. So you make a deal upon entry. Sometimes the driver asks for more at the end of the ride. This gets interesting because from our side the suggested overcharge is usually around 20 cents, U.S. currency.The second night we spent in Delhi, I had a conversation about this with Gregg Jamison, a Fulbright archaeologist from Madison. We agreed that if our egos are in place, the "rip-off" is meaningless. Usually, that's true. Sometimes the attitude of the driver or merchant is so agressive or filled with smirking pleasure at our ignorance that 20 cents or 40 cents is enough for me to respond. Twenty rupees over the standard fee: move to another rickshaw. Some days, when we've been negotiating everything else and dancing to the beat of rubber stamps, saying no to something is a way to feel like we have a little control. Of course we have almost no control here at all.

Lee has suffered lots of stares and a certain amount of stalking. The first clear stalker appeared at Humayan's tomb in Delhi. He followed at a distance, then would pass and move ahead, anticipating our direction. We played with him a little, letting him get ahead then reversing our direction and taking a parallel route. He even followed us out of the monument and watched while we got into our cab. We called him the barnacle. I'll post his blurry, cheap-detective style photo when our neighbor's internet permits.

This attention disturbs Lee less all the time. We call her the white goddess. Not many "foreigners" here. The local guy, the Badora Stalker, was at it again today, walking back and forth, trying to stay inconspicuous. I walked down and stood about five inches from him, not moving. We both gazed across the street for a while. He dropped his cigarettes and matches. Very satisfying. Whenever we see this guy, we take a rickshaw home, so he won't follow us to our apartment.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Back for a photo

The whole family went back to the bazaar, bought stainless steel plates and mosquito nets, and took a quick and embarrassingly voyeuristic peek at the forbidden corner.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Some Luck

Ben and I found a drum teacher. Our rental agent, Krumal, a great guy and funny, gave us the name of a vocal lecturer in the University's school of Music. We tried to call him but got screaming kids and someone we couldn't understand, so we rode a rickshaw to the school. It sits on a lake with a 265 foot sculpture of Shiva. Yikes. It's much scarier than the Lincoln Memorial. The first person we asked to help us was the chair of the dance department. She said no, no, you need to talk to Bharat Gangani. She went to find him and within ten minutes we were set up for daily, two hour lessons on hand drums. Mr. Bharat comes from a family of drummers. He's also a classical Indian dancer.

Today Bharat took us to his favorite music shop and we bought a two headed drum played horizonally with hands or sticks. It looks like a baby cocktail drum. When anyone started playing, the shop guys joined in. The shop is about the size of a one stall garage. One of the craftsmen fine tuned the drum and we took it home. We start lessons tomorrow.

Ben and I took an interesting walk through the bazaar yesterday. We ended up at the Shiva lake again later in the afternoon. The huge stone gate to the bazaar stands at one end of the lake. From inside the bazaar you can see Shiva framed in the arch. Wendy and Lee took a rickshaw home, while Ben and I went in. This isn't a tourist town. Everybody else looked local except for the naked, ash covered guy with chains on his genitals and couple of barefoot guys in Orange turbans from Rajastan.

We walked in a straight line through clothing, cookware, plumbing and hardware. The shops started to thin out and we found ourselves in an open block with two narrow entrances. We felt like we had intruded in a private quarter. The buildings were disheveled to the degree that it looked like it had been designed for the movies. One stoop was loaded with people, all women in Saris who smiled and laughed at us. A laughing vegetable seller gestured with his arms for us to go in there. And we got it. A whorehouse. We declined. We will go back, though, to photograph that neighborhood.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It Takes a While

Filed documents in one of the records rooms, municipal building, Baroda. Wendy waits in the next room with a group of interested parties, negotiating the rubberstamping of our lease agreement: the greased- palm facilitator , our landlord who is a distributor of aftermarket truck springs from Mumbai, and his minion Gautam, a not to be trusted and morbidly obese young property manager and scion of a family that manufactures plastic components for dry cell batteries. Replace the local people with Europeans in black suits and white shirts. Film the Kafka story of your choice. We are in India.

I'm writing this at the door to one of our three balconies. A white faced, gray bodied monkey just jumped onto a tree limb in front of me. Yesterday, Ben was sitting on this balcony, using the same unprotected Internet connection I'm using, and a monkey joined him. We realized the bars on the windows work to keep out all kinds of intruders.

Right now a Muslim craftsman with good English is driving nails into strips of velcro around the windows of the apartment, so we can hang mosquito netting. We also have a cleaning woman in and her supervisor whose role is to tell the cleaning woman what to do. He doesn't do anything himself. You see a lot of trash and dust here. I'm more used to junk and dust than trash and dust. Everyone is so accustomed to everything being dirty that it seems no one knows what amounts to clean. Those of you who know our house may be shocked by this.

Last night was our first to sleep in the new apartment. This was, of course, delayed. Every path runs in a circle here, and considerable negotiation is required to complete the simplest task. The thump thump of rubber stamps runs steadily, but never seems conclusive. We went to a police station last night to register our lease as foreigners. A mouse ran out of the cop's office when we entered. I suspect it was tired of waiting. After much discussion it was determined that we would have to return today to get the proper stamping.

A lot of this action entertains us. I wouldn't have missed the stacks of tattered records and the labyrinth of the municipal building for anything.
Add Image