Saturday, December 25, 2010

balancing series...

Before I left for India I was the master at the balancing asanas in yoga. Whether it be toppling tree, dancers pose or eagle pose, I had it in the bag! Zero struggle. I found freedom and elegance in my insane sweating and concentrated breathing.

And now, they are my most difficult and clumsy moments in yoga. and I think, no, I KNOW it is because I am not in balance in life.
Isn't it?

Being home is wonderful. I am enjoying going to the movies with my friends, I am loving all the auntie Bibi time, love eating my mothers food. A full fridge, bubbly water, purring feline, cheese. My duvet and mushy pillows. Polka dot sheets. Listening to conversations and understanding: what a treat! Now I talk to people like Indians talk to me. I am too friendly, only! I have to stop myself from asking complete strangers their good name, if they are married, if they have children..  I have to remind myself not to throw wrappers on the floor! What a concept- there I was in India, getting mad at my neighbour for littering, telling them to keep their India beautiful, and here I am in Montreal, having to literally tell myself  'put the wrapper in your handbag B, gee.'

But sleep time tells a different story. I dream of strange people I've never met and long never ending corridors in India. I wake up dry and hot from the central heating with a cat that never ceases to purr. I spend my days planning my next move instead of writing lesson plans, I went from dorm life to living with my mother. Employed to unemployed. Dreaming about cheese to gorging on it non-stop.

Balancing act.
Disorder. Stability. 
Chaos. Focus.
Love. Aversion.
Slavery. Freedom

Agh! my posts are getting worse and worse. Sure sign I need to keep moving..
I'll be traveling to Ottawa next week and then British Columbia .
I am contemplating doing a 10 day silent meditation. Also I am reading my friends manuscript on Sex. He wants my input. Nice.
So, my cherished reader.. I'll write about Sex!
!Hmpf!- who needs balance? ..........

Friday, December 24, 2010

Hip Openers, Letting Go and Loving Oneself... hahahaha. Uh?

Yeah, it's true. I have a hard time learning to let go, let go of outcome, of attachment to outcome, letting go of past resentments and old friends. 

We all must start by dieing to the past.

LOVING WHAT IS.

I have been doing lots of hot yoga in the last two weeks.The instructor warns us of how some anger/resentment/melancholy/nostalgia can be pent up in the hips. I snicker inside when she says this, for I feel very present with my feelings. I'm way too self absorbed not to notice my emotions. Sigh. God, that's so gross to admit but it's ever so TRUE.

And boom, it strikes me like a cramp. Pain. Strange visuals of an old friend that has decided to write me off with no warning or reason. OK, fine. F you then!  Memories of a society I once was a vital member of, but then I decided to go overseas. Change. Then another visual of my old roommate and my passive aggressive tendencies. Ugh, it's getting harder and harder to love myself with my shadow haunting me.

And then I eat a hundred cookies in bed and hate my thighs.

People that really love themselves seem to love not only the sexy and charming sides but also the not-so-hot or neighbourly aspects of their persona. And- it has nothing to do with body weight. The friends that love themselves without narcissism or self satisfaction don't even mention their weight, and they are heavier than the status quo. They don't worry about their thighs or cellulite. They don't talk about their double chins or fat knees. Never ever. And all these people I am mentioning have strong and healthy romantic relationships and stable satisfying jobs. Coincidence?
Yeah- I don't think so

Here I am obsessing over my intake but loving butter and cheese too much to stop.
GUILT.
I look at my body and don't love it, berate myself for eating the 10th cookie or having a fifth helping of cheese.
An urgent need to feel good.
Love yourself. Love your body. Just the way it is. Soooo hard and yet sooo true. Life is too wonderful (only) to grumble about feeling fat.
Life is too short to not love yourself.

So, I leave you with this, my beloved readers.  Be your favourite person. Don't mistake it for narcissism, but more so in your wondrous uniqueness that has blessed you to be on Earth. Know your purpose and fight to pursue it. My New Years resolution is to stop avoiding mirrors and to tell myself ' I love you B' once a day. Even if I have a mean pimple on my chin and even if I didn't do my breathing and even if my thighs are my enemy.

I love you. Thank you for taking a moment in your day to read my sometimes boring, neurotic and egocentric posts.

It'll be more interesting the next time, I swear!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sledding.

It's snowy and cold. I love it and I loathe it.
I love the wool scarf and mitts my sister knit that I wear. I hate when the wool gets wet. I love the sights and sounds of bundled up children frolicking in the white. I hate that my thighs tighten with the whipping momentum of the mean wind. I love that the cold forces you to remain in the moment.

Although sweating can be not so fun, waking up to the cold air is intensely not fun. How do people get out of bed in this country during the winter? seriously? ugh- that cold air surrounding my bed. no thanks. Makes me love my duvet a little too much.

I went to Rowan's school to bake carrot cake with him and his classmates today. It was wonderful to be around little people, with all their joy and spontaneity and innocence and integrity.  So easily hurt, so easily happy.  So easy...

Unreasonable.

We went sledding after the baking. I was flooded with cold and wonderful memories of my birthday parties spent on the hill, with mulled wine and friends and crazy carpets. Thinking about it made me warm
and cold.
If I spent too long in my head my body shivered a 'be present' response, and my nephew reminded me to push him.
'Give me a push auntie Bibi. You give a good push." said Rowan
hahah. I do?
I wish someone would push me down the hill, only.
Did I say that out loud? No. But Rowan must have seen my faraway and pitiful look and replied:
'Ok, I'll push you next time'.
"Thanks Rowie. You rule."
"I rule what?"
"My world, little man. You rule my world."

Sugar

Its 12:18 and I am thoroughly wasted.    A couple vodka martinis and lovely wine later here I am in front of my laptop. Wanting to impart something so very important to my well being. Sugary goodness.  I ate a delicious dinner. Although the chicken was lovely, I was incredibly grateful for the caramel and chocolate popcorn that was spontaneously donated to me.

At the end of the meal .
Something sweet to follow the savory.

Always.

 One NEEDS the sugar after the salt. Right? My taste-buds need it to compliment what happened before; to finish off, round off...like a gesture of a conductor or a chef's hand rounding the tips of the fingers together and up.
Finish.The end. Finito.

La fin du repas a besoin d'un p'tit sucree.

 YUM
 Anyway I've got Sid purring away, my mum and her boyfriend giggling and making plans next door. and here I am. Making plans about writing about nothing but a sentence about sugar.

AM  I a complete loser?
I'm tired
Thats my excuse.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

a week in Montreal

I took a cab. The cab was clean of smell and dirt and garbage.
It was late and cold and silent. Silence. All that was in the air was the constant and oh-so-annoying 'click' 'shooop'. 'de maisonneuve and Clark'. Shooop. Click. 'De gaspe et L'esplanade' click -static- '219 sherbrooke et mcgill'. click -static- shoooop....

ugh.......
Should I ask him to put the music on? Why isn't he putting the music on? Last time I took a cab was in Delhi and the young driver sang confidently (albeit badly) and gyrated his shoulders back and forth, checking the status of his oiled hair in the rear view mirror. Patting it down every so often and transferring the oil from his hair to the steering wheel. "Which country do you belong?" "What is your good name?" "Do you like Indian music? Achcha? Achcha hae!"

..Crank up the volume of the stereo and his voice and the confidence in his shoulders...

 India.

Looking up at the moon now bathed in a colour story of beige/dusty pink/ white and framed with bare trees.
What do I do?

Surrender.

Be. Patient.

So now I use my time doing hot yoga and searching. Searching and sweating. Eating chocolates and stretching. Watching dvds on my laptop and snacking on nuts and caramels. Eating cheese. Gorging on holiday sweets. Making up stories for my nephew. Reading cookbooks. Sloshing my way through the snow with my head in India but my legs in Montreal.


I feel stunted in writing when I am not travel writing. This is a clear sign
Isn't it?

I am in transition, only.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Central Heating, Cheese, Purring, Good Bedding, and Snow Fresh Air.


For my body memory its 3:33 p.m on Monday afternoon. For my body reality its 5:04 a.m Monday morning. I dozed through an epic bath session, listening to Metro Area and drinking Ephemere Green Apple beer. No harm, I think; what's an innocent nap after a bath at 6 p.m? I get into my delicious bed with a bowl of butterscotch ice cream, eat the two Toblerones I bought in Zurich, the Haribo Gummy bears and the last of my 5 Stars and finish the king size beer.

......Why am I (always) so bloody hungry?......

I wake up from my sugar-coma at 9:30 p.m to my cat purring- so I close my eyes again, this time with a hand caressing the vibrating soft feline. My polka dot sheets, custom made pillows, and my mom's high thread count duvet cover, are all divine- topped with the purring Sid.

So at present, it's not even dawn and I am rearing to go!

What (famished) jet lag?

I came home to a winter wonderland; the white blanket mutes sound and colour alike. Apart from my mother and buddy and nephew (Caribbean mother, Greek/Chec buddy and talkative 3 year old boy), all is pretty silent here. Right now as I write I have a beautiful Andy Warhol print lamp emitting pink light, I have the soft hissing of central heating, I have the purring engine of an insatiable cat, and I have the cocoon of the best duvet on earth. Soft cozy silence, with a hint of purr and pink.

The snow air smells splendid. Pure. Canada smells good.  It could be the disdain of natural (bodily) smells; the sanitation obsession in the western world, but whatever! It is a pleasure to walk into a store and it smelling of what they are selling, and not of dampness or mold or hair or greasy food.

Of Course! Beloved India: I miss the enticing smell of samosas and pakoras bathing in bubbly oil. Of cumin. But how can I miss the diesel polluted air, the urine, the feces, the spitting, the dirt, or the pervasive body odor?

 ( I still love you madly... this I know is true)

My fingers find their way in my meals, much to the displeasure of my mother. I crave green chili pretty seriously. My head bobs a yes or a no; onlookers imitate me and laugh. My bangled wrists announce my comings and goings; I am a loud member of yoga class.

My thighs have already expanded due to the mind-blowing and available cheese I've been consuming. Morning noon and night, my family and friends serve me gooey cheese, crusty baguette, and spicy cured meat. I am warm with Brie and Baguette.  I am warm with the 'I love you auntie Bibi' followed by little arms curling around my neck or legs. I am warm with wool sweaters (thanks Christinki!) and socks. I am warm and wrapped by all the bubbly laughter of jokes familiar, like the blanket I stole from Swiss Air. I am warm by the Bikram yoga that I really really missed! I am warm stepping out from the snow onto wood floors and into central heating. And although I miss hearing Hindi as much I miss sipping street chai, there's a warmth in Understanding and Being Understood.

Warm. I like saying and writing and feeling this word.
warm. warmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
It's all about the 'M'. Like Mother, Melt, Magnificent, Mind-blowing, Mouth, Mellifluous, Music, Mango.

 Masala.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Muted, Skinny, Sugarless, Pale and Clean: My First Day Outside Of India.

One of the first things my eye must to get used to: the sober colours everyone is wearing, and how pale and skinny everyone looks. I wonder if the colours look extra sombre contrasted by their pale faces. The clean cut preppy look. The colour co-ordination, the clean lines, and muted coloured fabrics; all astound me. No one is staring at each other either, or at me for that matter. I'm in an airport in Europe. I'm in Zurich, to be exact.

Another first thing I noticed, that I haven't been bombarded with in a little while:  the fantastic footwear and designer handbags these tall scrubbed skinny pale women are wearing. I have a serious and almost pathological love/hate relationship with luxury. I envy Hermes and Cloe clad women, I dream of a Chanel watch, I long for a variety of designer handbags. The new Hermes messenger bag is too beautiful.. I drool over Miu Miu flats and Prada heels. I adored being at the 5 star Radisson Marina in Connaught Place, Dehli. Then again, l relish in my 700 RS (16 dollars, give or take) buffalo leather handbag from Kalkota that totally rules, or the cheapy cheap glass, brass, and 'gold' plated bangles that make me a veritable walking instrument, or paying 1000 rs (20 bucks) for an amazing hotel room with clean sheets, starched white and abundant towels, cochroach free floors, flat screen TV, and scorching hot water, that comes with the typical indian hospitality and warmth translated into free chai and beer (!)

Would I spend thousands on designer and 5 star hotels? 

Of course! (head bob)

I feel dirty. Despite washing my face twice in the airplane, applying deodorant, and spritzing some COCO, both original and MADEMOISELLE. I feel like India is encrusted in my hair, my wrists, my beret, my boots. I miss it already, although I am enjoying the dirt free surroundings AND loving the toilet paper in public washrooms.

Another thing that struck me on the plane. Less food, smaller portions, and one measly lightweight sugar packet! Wha???? Where is my 5 course meal and obligatory sweet? My head bobs back and forth to the hostesses' cabin, waiting to catch a glimpse of one of them to ask for 2 more sugar packets, and if we we're going to be fed soon.

Swiss people seem to talk quietly.. laugh quietly...nod and smile in silence (I'm used to the spastic head bob accompanied with a ACHCHAAAAAH)

All is appearing muted to me.

People are so fucking thin here, holy. I feel like my thighs are expanding- because of the 2 bags of magic masala chips, and the mini 5 stars I wolfed down- just by looking at the small portions people are nibbling on, with the use of a fork and knife. FORK AND KNIFE: NOOOOOOO! I don't have a legitimate reason to eat with my fingers now.

 Bummer.

Oh my god so many blondes roaming the airport halls. All with thin stringy straight hair. Ewwwwww.... All so skinny. oh god, I have  been brainwashed by my 5+ months in Northern India: Give me boobs and thighs, give me a bangled wrists and lots of eyeliner, give me a black silk rope braid for hair, give me flowing, patterned fabrics that could only work in the subcontinent.


I am picking up on just how different India is. It's loud and honest and corrupt and bright and dirty and superstitious and generous and stinky and altogether INCREDIBLE. I miss it . My teeth won't. My sugar levels won't. But my disorganized nature and love of poetic language will.

 Homesick.
For. Familiarity.

When will I learn NOT to listen to The Magnetic Fields if I want to feel uplifted and sprightly? Ugh: total cry fest with onlookers and everything. Why am I even crying? I must be tired, yeah that's it. It's not the fear of the unknown, or my possible broken promise, nor could it be my tenuous relationship with getting back into my beloved India. Tired. Yeah. That's it. I look and feel like shit. I need a sugary tea. A greasy samosa. A head bob.

 I'm as pale as my European neighbour.

As I am about to get up and exist the airport bar, I -without thinking- grab napkins to put in my handbag. As I release them inside the inner pocket, I laugh out loud. What the hell am I doing? There's toilet paper here, only.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Driving. Drinking. (Young) Punjabi Men. An observation.

Hmm: how frank can I be with my thoughts, I wonder? I don't want to offend anybody reading my blog, yet I want you all to have a clear visual of what I have come to see in my five months in India, when it comes to Punjabi men, their driving while drinking, and their romantic dealings. I was named 'fairy of open thoughts' by an older Indian fellow, so I'm gonna run with it.

Punjabi men are by far the most hospitable group I have ever come across. I have never in all my days felt more like a lady. Not in your typical european chivalrous way mind you: it's not about flowers or opening doors or pulling back chairs. No, indeed it is more in their helpful manner, their eye contact, and their love for sweets, to which they are all magnanimous about offering.

 A Punjabi man will ask if he can help you, and even if you say NO he will find a way to help, somehow. Whether it's whipping out their laptop to verify a something, calling a restaurant to see if they're open, or booking and paying for my train tickets.

Their rich coloured eyes are like deep pools of swirling chocolate, swallowing you up with sweetness and depth. This is wonderful and remarkable, and disarming.

And lastly, their love of sweets. I am offered sugary tea and coffee, always. The doorbell rings and there stands a man. sent by my friend, carrying boxes of Bengali sweets, all for me. It's opening the passenger door and instead of a person sitting in shotgun, it's a box of pastries, for me. It's coming out of a convenience store with a bag full of chocolate bars in tow, for me. It's at the end of a meal, ordering a sizzling brownie topped with ice cream, for me. It's always asking if I''ve had enough sweets, only.
Oh wow its awesome!
It ends with a root canal, but it's awesome.

Before segwaying into the less savory aspects of Punjabi men, I also want to add they they are the best multi tasking drivers. It's unsafe but it's true. He will weave past the cow, sms his buddy, and wish his mother goodnight with one hand on the steering wheel and the other interchanging with the stick shift and his cell phone. How come I feel safe?

Now onto their drinking AND driving. Yes, they do this, too. At first I was shocked, frightened and alone in my worries. Everyone else seemed so cool, so relaxed. But- but, you're DRIVING!
hahahh oh B! they all say...
hahaha ? And then, at the last gulp, they pull down the window and throw it out. At this I yelp!
Aw come on! that's soooooo uncool, uncool in a multitude of ways! Just keep in in your car and when you see it a dustbin throw it out.
Do you see a dust bin, Bianca... ?
My eyes search. No, alas, I do not. Keeping India beautiful is a feat, to which the Indian government doesn't assist. For the amount of people in India, there should be way more dustbins... but in my presence I refuse to tolerate this, and I implore them to keep their empties in the car and throw them out accordingly. They laugh a full belly laugh like I just cracked a joke, but appease me nonetheless...

And now for Punjabi romance... strangely enough, after all that hospitality and sugar laden offerings, after their expertise on the road, after his quick mental maths and astounding bargaining, the Punjabi boy is immature in the ways of love. Blame culture, blame whatever, but each one has the same move and each one exercises it with a speed and eagerness that is rather UNromantic. It reminds me of a getting a new toy and testing the limits of the toy by banging it against the wall, flinging  it across the room, and by sticking it in your mouth. You're testing the toy's resilience and fun quotient.

All you feminists out there, calm down that I compared our Superior Sex to toys, it is a visual I am trying to impart to you. It's part reckless abandon, part guilty pleasure, and part this-is-what-I've-seen-in-the-movies-so-it-must-be-what-I-should-do. All in all, it's not THAT disagreeable, but after the 5th time I have to tell him to soften up 'aramseh arameh ji' my mouth isn't a hockey rink!  Or- Hey- take it easy, you're not petting a dog, I yearn for the arms of an older man. For the self assured way and quiet confidence of maturity.

Living this when I was 20 years old would have been more than acceptable. but I'm getting too old for amateur kissing and cheap feels.

 Maybe it's my fault, maybe I should stop settling for these 20 somethings...
Hahahah. ugh.
B. get with it.
Well, I still have all those sweets!
And  a root canal....

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Nothing Remains The Same. The Essence Of Travel Writing.

Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change - this is the rhythm of living. Out of our over-confidence, fear; out of our fear, clearer vision, fresh hope. And out of hope, progress.
Bruce Barton


I am in constant flux, as you are, beloved bathsandbeer reader. Once you come to understand this, the vitality and mystery of life reveals itself to you, and you at once relish every moment of this splendid journey called LIFE.


I love travel writing because it is a testament to change. It documents change. I explore, I discover, I witness, and then I explore, discover, and witness again, but something new.


I am in India. I love India, but I am disenchanted with my present situation. I need change.  I am seeking change. Trial and error is truly the only way I know how to live, for better or for worse.

One good thing about making change your friend, there is never a dull moment.


My body weight has changed, my palette for sweets and spice has changed, my teaching techniques have changed, my hair cut and colour has changed.  My reaction to others has changed (Head Bob!). I indeed, have changed.


I leave India in a week. A week today. I will be back to the land of metered snow and cheese curds, French and English language intermixed. I will be greeted with a 'bonjour' or a 'hello' and be serviced with attention. I will not have to haggle or bargain. I will not stand out. I will not wear Punjabi suits. I will be understood. But I won't be the same, and Montreal won't greet me in the same fashion, either.


This post is to be continued. I have to get changed and teach. But I was inspired. I was sitting on my balcony, observing my neighbours go through their daily routine of hanging their clothes, of sifting beans and letting them dry in the sun, of chatting on their cell phones while watering their plants. And I know this is a scene I won't see again. I feel it deep in the entrails of my system.

Change: Now THAT word should be inked on my body. My commitment to change. The permanence of change.


Isn't it?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Kingfisher, Henna, and Soan Papdi

I'm full. 
I'm contemplating organizing my room, or maybe pack up some stuffs for home, but instead I'm drinking beer and listening to Disco.

I seriously have no idea what to expect in the coming weeks. Going back to Montreal is going to be lovely, but after five months in India, how will I find being around such cleanliness? I won't have to carry napkins in my purse. My head bob will be REALLY out of place.  Like, uh... who is going to finish a sentense with 'isn't it', or 'only' and a head bob?
I'm going to be lonely for that...

and my 5 rupee chai, and my punjabi boy
my kids....

this post sucks.

I'm drinking Indian beer eating my favorite Indian dessert and dying my hair Indian styles.
India, this is the second time I ask you. I'm on one knee....
will you marry me?
word.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mother India, no one makes Samosas the way you do

I love to snack.
I love pastries.
Samosas are my favourite savory pastry snack

Each one different,
like a child, like a snowflake:
unique and remarkable,
and better in multiples

The shape: original and easy to hold
The size: perfect

The flaky greasy outer shell-
sometimes flecked with cumin seeds.
Oh God (which one?) it's good!

The inside: soft and warm.
Like a duvet would taste like if it was food.
Stuffed with peas and cashews and potato,
Paneer and coriander and onions,
and green chilis

 A triangular fried pie.

An apple a day? Hmphf!
Try a Samosa or three.
Your taste buds will thank you
Happy mouth, indeed!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

For Love or Money -OR- I Feel Great In My Jeans

beloved reader,
Why do you do what you do? Is it because you love it, or is it because it pays well? Do you do a boring lucrative job and have serious hobbies to keep your creativity satiated? Do you give your heart and soul and get paid in hugs and smiles more so than dollar bills(or rupees or pounds or whatevs)? Can you do mindless work without guilt of wasting your precious time on this magnificent earth?

Or, are you the lucky one that has a financially AND emotionally/intellectually fulfilling job? Some days I think, who cares, it's just money, I don't need a lot of it, I'm happy without it. I watched 30 Rock the other night and laughed when Jack Doneghey confidently said,"...money doesn't buy you happiness. Money IS happiness"hahah. I'm not like that, I don't believe that. ???

In my experience rich people aren't that happy, but I won't get into that platitude cause it's incredibly dull and we all know that the sight of a full moon or the taste of a home made cookie is happiness, Blablablabla. Snoresville.  But a new pair of designer jeans is happiness too. Indeed.

I was meeting a friend for dinner and was 10 minutes early. hmmm stores are open late here. what's ten minutes of window shopping? I can't get into trouble in ten minutes, surely.

Forget window shopping, this store's window is badly outfitted, let's just walk in and see the goods. And so I do. I walk in, and the B of days past comes to center stage. I might not be good in maths, kind reader, nor do I have good hand eye coordination. But one thing is for certain: I know how to shop. I really know my way around cuts and fabrics and fit.
And I want a new pair of jeans.

None of my pants fit. Despite my sugar obsession (and I wish I was exaggerating when I tell you my love affair with Indian sweets and bakeries and Cadbury India, but I'm not and my teeth are paying the price, as well as my energy levels), I have dropped a few pounds here and none of my bottoms fit well. so I don't wear pants as much. But Chandigarh is getting cold now (relatively speaking). I need jeans. I need. haha. Yes. It's a need like a need for a pastry or a beer.

And you know what? I bought them. I stopped myself from adding a handbag to the bill, and that was a challenge, since handbags always fit. These skinny jeans won't fit me back in Cheese Land.  Oh wow. They look great, they feel great, and fuck it- so my salary is small, so the jeans were more than half my salary. Should I regret the purchase, or should I be rethinking my job?

 I decide not to feel guilty and focus on why I think its fine and dandy to be OK with getting paid less than I am worth. Money talks. Money talks everywhere in this capitalistic world, of course. But in a corrupt country like India, money shouts and yells. If money could type  IT WOULD IN CAPS.  When I confide to my Indian buddies what I charge (as they say here) they are appalled. Seriously. Sure there are some benefits that I can't do without (room, food allowance, cell paid), yet still. I make less than I ever have, and I'm 32.

I love my kids! I love what I do! But I refuse to regret buying designer jeans! And I refuse to believe that I am a bad person for wanting designer jeans, or believing designer jeans are bringing me happiness. For they are.

I FEEL GREAT IN MY JEANS!

Only.

Friday, November 26, 2010

INDIAAAAAAAAA!

I love you.
I love that I can eat with my hands, that you are ok with that.
That you encourage me, even.
I love that I can hear your morning birds chirp chirp chirping away.
A natural alarm clock.
I love your morning chanting that accompanies your chirping birds.
Man and Nature in harmony.
I love hearing your trains annoucing their arrival every night, coupled with your blaring Bhangra from a neighbour's stereo.
I love the way my students talk about food.
Like a member of the family
I love that despite your unruly manner, you get things done
I love that you're good in maths.
I love that I have to ask twice to get somewhere.
It's twice the connection.
I love that you address me as Didi, and Ji.
I am your honored sister.
I love that the moment I smile at you, your eyes sparkle.
India, will you marry me?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Delhi. Again.

8:15 a.m. Delhi. November 24th.

This time more agreeable. Shared time, ain't that the truth. The more time you share with someone (or some place, in this case,) the better it gets, isn't it?
Isn't it.. I am understanding Indian translations now. Teek hae nah? -Isn't it? Bus- Enough. Stop. Only.
....
Last night on the train- geez the food looks nasty but god is it is ever good. No wonder- it's called butter! Or ghee, to be precise. Clarified butter. Indians are fond of eating. I mean, for a 3+ hour train ride I got fed three times! Ha! My country indeed, teek hae nah? I'm smiling to myself because a few moments (read days) I was bitching and complaining about India. But my ever changing and impulsive nature comes back with the yumminess of a warm sugary tea or the sights of some magnificient brown eyes.

I love this country.

Anyway, I get off the train and my sweet punjabi 'boyfriend' is there to pick me up.
"Do you want icecream?"
Do I? (hahah- little does he know I juuust finished two icecreams on the train, only!)
He takes me to a swank Western-y shopping mall where seriously I thought I was home. La Senza, Zara, Tommy Hilfiger, Mango, etc... We go to Haagen Daz and it's like we're royalty or something; so many 'good evening maam's and 'would you like to try this maam?' I got to taste, no joke,  7 different flavours- and not just a little covering on the plastic spoon- I'm talking a heap, each time! Who would've thought Strawberry Cheesecake could compare in deliciousness to Belgian Chocolate?

We go back to his buddy's place and I meet Aman. I have a beer and eat chips. Then I get served a spoon and a jar of Nutella(my weakness) and then a bowl of this delicious Indian dessert made out of grated carrots. Then a chocolate bar..Diabetes! Jason knows me, always feeding me sweeets.

He has his pilot exam in the morning. It's now 1:30, then 2:30 now 3. He is young and looong and stringy like a french grean bean. Haricot vert. The sleep is short, but holding hands in bed is one of my faves, so I sleep soundly. We wake up to three cell phones at 6:30, singing.
Shower. Car. Off we go. Him to his exam, me to the FRO (foreign registrations office).
......
Now I am sitting in reception(it's 8:15 a.m.). 45 mns before they open and already we're six people waiting.

Please Universe. Work. With. Me.

.......I walk to 36A. Mr. Vinod Kumar. He tells me he can help me when I print out my e-ticket, to prove that my ticket is for the 28th December. I do. A bit of a nightmare since his secretary tried but she failed, so I had to leave the building and walk to Khan market nearby to print it. Regardless. Then he says I have to fill out some forms. I do. Then he says he cannot help me. The visa hall can. So I go back through the hideous dirty cabinet-lined corridors, find a  seat and wait, and who do I get shoved to, after they can't read the number they wrote on my form (the strangest looking '8' ever), but the original guy that told me to come in December. He tells me to fill out yet another form and to come back at 5:30.
'NO!' I have a train to catch at 5.
'ok maam come at 3:30'. Head bob.
'But sir I am here now, it will take me less than 20 seconds to fill out this form.'
'maam, kindly come back at 3:30.'
'teek hae ji', I say grudgingly.  Mr. Kumar had told me if I had any problems to come back to him, which I promptly do, now that I know my way around this dusty sad creepy nightmare of a government building.
'maam I cannot help you. Just sit in the Visa hall.'
'I did. But since you kindly told me to come to you if I wasn't being helped, I am here again.'
'maam I cannot help you. Come back at the scheduled time.'
'So why did you reassure me, then?'
Blank stare. I slump out of there, stomach growling, like it was taking on what my mouth would have snarled had I been a lion.

I wait for Aman, smoke like a milliion cigarettes and down a trillion chai's. I brought my fixed Canon child but am not inspired. Funny how I couldn't live without her and now that she's healthy I just don't feel like taking photographs. I must admit though, Delhi is no where near as abrasive as the last time. A breath of polluted rainy air. AAhhh.

So now I wait. There's a french expression, "Jamais deux sans trois" Never two without three, to which my mum confirmed when I told her I was back in Delhi for my visa extension. Does that mean there's another part of this visa story to live through? I'm calm, a teensy bit irritated but I don't want to struggle anymore. So- I looked up at the white rainy Delhi sky surrendering, under my breath saying, 'You take care of me now, Universe.' Aaaand a bird just shit on my camel leather purse. It highlights the samosa grease stain. It has twice the character now? 
.....
I couldn't help but have a bit of a cry. I am too sensitive. Alas; I exacerbated my sentiments by listening to Fleetwood Mac. I am back in the train now. Defeated.
.....

After a super duper lovely beer and sheesha and chicken Biryani and chicken Kebab with Anan, he rushes me back to the FRO and I wait in vain. No one is there to greet me.
'Yes maam, come back at 5:30.'
'Nonono sir I was told to come at 3:30 as I have a train to catch.'

'Yes maam,' head bob. 'Come back at 5:30.' Uh- are you trying to be an asshole?( I didn't dare say that, obviously. ) I call Aman back and he comes straight away. I open the passenger side and there on the seat is a box of pastries and a plastic bag full of chocolate bars.  (I have a dentist  appt tomorrow, incidentally, and should ask my mum if diabetes runs in the family.) I eat one rapidly and exhale, looking out at the rainy day through the warmth and softness of his car. Nice, I have pastries to eat. He parks his car and walks me to the train and assures that I am well seated. I have a crush on this sweet boy who casually walked into my heart by making fun of Indian English with me, offering me a box of pastries.
....
After wiping the black eyeliner from my cheeks the Sihk gentleman I am sitting next to asks if I want a coffee, and gestures to a train dude to fetch me one. We start talking. Another Indian angel indeed, so mega interesting and warm and hospitable.

I don't want to leave this country.

We spend the full three and a half hours in conversation. I am grateful for him because had he not been so wonderful I might have listened to more chest tightening music and wiped more black eyeliner.

I have two weekends left in India before returning back to Canada.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Only

What is your good name?
Bianca
Priyanka! That is an Indian name, only!
No, no. BEEEianca.
Oh..
From which country do you belong?
Canada
Are you married?
No
Unmarried!?!?
Unmarried
(...silence...)

What is your age?
32
How come you are unmarried?
(....smiling silence....)
How much do you charge at your job?
Uh... (smile)
How much do you charge?
(....smiling silence....)
Why are you in India, only?
because I love it here, only.

Only
Only now I am slightly frustrated about some cultural norms of this country.
Indians try to get away with whatever they can,
isn't it?
I am in perpetual battle, constant.
Being is a challenge, only

Head bob....

I only wish I didn't have to haggle
I only wish I had work papers
I only wish for toilet paper in public washrooms
I only wish for disco clubs and metered yellow cabs
only.
I think I need a hug, isn't it?
Like that.
A hug,
Only.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mother

I want to start this post now, tired, really tired, but mega jazzed at having my mum in town. She and her boyfriend are visiting Chandigarh for the weekend. It's rad to look into her eyes, touch her, and it's incredible to speak and hear French again. French. More french. My mum's accent is special, too. It's France French mixed with sing songy Caribbean. It's demanding, sophisticated and lively. Like her, actually. I described my mother without meaning to!
I love this woman.

I expect her to comment on my weight loss, but she doesn't. It's only when I gain weight that she gently tells me; ' ton corps a changer' your body has changed, like she told me when I came home from Thunder Bay, after spending a year studying and eating pizza and wings and drinking beer in bed with a boyfriend.

When I greeted her at the hotel she saw the old B. The beret wearing, waist-cinched-by-a-vintage-belted, scarf clad B, and wondered where the changes were. Then comes out the head bob and the assertive talk with Indians and she quickly came to see indeed her daughter had evolved in India, despite western appearances. I appeased her and wore a salwaar kameez the next day, and the day after that, to her great delight.

The head bob.
"...alors Bianca explique moi le mouvement de tete comme cas? c'est oui out c'est non?"
"C'est plutot oui, maman, mais parfois non." The head bob is confusing to some, but after a day or two, well, you don't have a choice but to adopt it. Observation, imitation =survival.

My mum is from Haiti; so dirt, grime, poverty and corruption is nothing new to her. She fits into India like a fish to water. I can already tell she is loving it. Putting her palms in prayer and namaste-ing every Tom Dick and Harry(every Dinesh, Sunil, and Gupreet). It is endearing. It is warm and innocent. She wants to live what I am living, and insists on hanging out in my market and observe. We have tea, we eat spring rolls, we watch them set up their food stand for the night feast. She is fascinated. She is laughing and enthralled. I can't get over how much I love this woman, and how I get my curiosity and easily satisfied nature from her.

So- after she joins my class(God was she ever awesome: playing games and being my student. My kids fell in love with her), we go to a beautiful hill station, Kasauli, and have a great time visiting a Kali temple, drinking chai and walking around. I take her shopping for her first Salwaar kameez. We eat and eat and eat, and we talk. My mum is very black and white, and doesn't mince words. This can be cutting, and tactless (like me) but it's genuine and refreshing.  She tells me how she feels about my situation here. She tells me how she feels about the city I live in, tells me flat out that "c'as te ne resemble pas" (it doesn't resemble me?) and now understands why I try to leave as much as I can.  I take in all. We talk so much. This invigorates and exhausts me. My head swims with possibility and truth. Options. Opinions. Orientation.
Disorientation.

I have a stack unanswered and important life questions that will be resolved this upcoming week. Time is the main character.  I play a role but I don't know which one yet, and this gives me anxiety.  I am living a crisis that I didn't know was a crisis till I had my mum candidly point it out to me. Have I overstayed my time? Am I still growing here? Can I get more out of my experience? Does this suit me? Am I protected? Do I have to pack up and leave? Will I get my work papers? Will I be replaced without my knowledge?

The next day we go to the rock garden, the rose garden, leisure valley, drive through some residential sectors, sukna lake. The discussing becomes dramatic and I get agitated, for the more we talk the more uneasy I am about my situation, and see just how tenuous it is.

I come back to my room and still adore it, but now see that the life I lead here isn't attracting what I am actually seeking. This dorm life isn't too mature indeed. And this lack of social life is hard on me. Yes I make the best of it and yes I love my jobs, but a tourist status isn't all that cool, and it took my mum to make me understand this. Also, this experience is without a doubt making me a better teacher and you would think this is so on an international scale, but this school isn't registered nor is it academic. How will this help me get a job in an International school?
I don't know.

I eat to quiet the anxiety, to occupy my taste buds, to appease my need for stimulus and satisfaction, with an urgency that alarms me; is this one of my last Channa Bhatura's? How will I replicate this tea back home? Why buy all these Punjabi suits, will I wear them outside of India? Questions I had NEVER ASKED MYSELF BEFORE.

We hug it out and she gazes into eyes that don't look like hers but that sparkle nonetheless. "Ne t'en fait pas cherie. Respire. Laisse la vie repondre pour toi. "
Don't worry honey. Breathe. Let life answer for you.

I am back in my room, eating my sister Vanessa's insanely delicious cookies, scrutinizing my surroundings, crumbs falling on my laptop. Bhangra music is playing through cheap speakers a few meters far away, a train toot toots its' arrival, fireworks sound off -as if announcing attack on the battlefield.
My mind is mush. My stomach is stretched. My eyes hurt a sour pain.
I don't know what to do.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Calcutta. Day 5

This fine morning I really wish to buy a sari, and my flight back to Delhi is at noon. I know I have to get up pretty early in order to explore the market, bargain, haggle, and get to the airport. But I can't stop hitting the snooze button on my cell. B get up!

 Sluggishly I put my yoga pants on, put a bra and leave the guest house. Forget the shower, I'll do that later. Luckily New Market is pretty close by, and it's a beautiful and peaceful morning in Calcutta.  The trusted Lonely Planet (aka Bible) suggests going early, so good thing I left this experience for this morning.

Despite the 8 am arrival, there are still many men and boys around. I ignore the pestilential touts and admire the grand colonial clock tower.  I let myself be drawn inside, for I really want to buy a sari for my sister. I stop at a gorgeous scarf. I must have it. He shows me more. I end up buying 5 of the most beautiful scarves I have seen so far in India, and I bargained expertly (yay- I am gloating inside because I finally get it! It's a Science, or an Art. I don't know. But I got it!)! He directs me to where I can buy a sari. Again I rock the price down. I skip my way back to my hood. Flurys is open. I mean, I gotta have a pastry and an espresso before my travels, right? Right.

I bid farewell to Rahim. In these three days I have become rather fond of him. I ask him how long it will take me to get to the airport. An hour. No. Yes yes maam, an hour. HOLY I GOTTA GOOOO! I get the pastries packed, I hug Rahim and I sprint to my guest house. I wash my pits and face, pack up my sari and scarves and exit quickly.

I beeline to a yellow cab 100 meters away. I am learning to discern honest eyes and mouths now. He seems cool, plus I like his cab because its customized, all festive and lively. I say meter and he head bobs. I tell him the airport.  It's 10:15. Traffic. Traffic. Traffic. I can't help but chain smoke. ugh.. will I make it? He blares music and I am grateful for this: my loud thoughts drowned. I concentrate on how rad his cab is, and how much I enjoy Indian harmonies.
 I eat a pastry.
And then another.

 It's past 11. "Challo challo" I say (let's go! ) but now I have learned to say it in Bengali so I say 'Chollo' instead.  There is one pastry left, I saved the best for last. Once we get to the airport I break it in half ; give part of it to the cabby, and pop the other half in my mouth. As I scramble with my bag and weave my body through cars and people I think two thoughts at once: Oh please let me make my plane, and gee whiz- this pastry is my ultimate favorite.

Oops I forget the security check my bag. The man at the Spicejet counter says not to worry, points to my bag and nods over to a airport guy who whisks it away. A few minutes later I am on line with a lovely Punjabi lady and a British family. We chitchat about India (duh!) and how flying has changed in the last ten years. I'm getting old;  I'm actually initiating conversations that begin with: "Do you remember a time when--" The Punjabi woman is irritated at the turtle speed of the line and gestures me to follow her. We push our way to the front, waving our Delhi boarding passes to all who protest. It's 11:50 now.  We make it on the plane.

I am sandwiched between a young mother with her infant child and a dapper looking pilot. The child has eyeliner on. The child cries a lot. The child has black streaks running down her little cheeks. Once out of the plane I wait to take a bus to the train station. I get to the train station right on time and sit with a most adorable Chinese woman. She giggles a lot. She asks me how I can stand the food here, how I can stand the dirt here, how I can stand the body odor here. Things I tend to forget are exotic to some. We gossip the whole ride.  I am in the mood for chinese food. Again. Always!

I get back to my room, unpack and lie on my bed.....
I fell into the arms of a familiar hug when I got to Calcutta.  I think about the yellow cabs, about the pastries and the typography Flurys uses. I think about Bengali street food. I am a city girl.  Stimulus driven. I need lights and crowds. Give me an anonymity that only being enveloped by a volume and flux of people can offer.   Give me beer stalls and sidewalks, movie theaters and coffee shops.
Give me parks.
Give me yellow cabs. I need yellow cabs.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

No edit, just write. India I love you like I hate you. Like I love and hate my messy bedroom.

I'm serious when I tell you, beloved reader, that I just got home, washed the dirt and hours of Delhi off my face and sat down to write.

It's all too raw and messy to be edited. Raw and messy, like Delhi, like the Visa extension mess, like my bedroom too, frankly.

ugh.. so journey starts early. I listen to the Magnetic Fields the whole 3 + hours and have such a good feeling about the outcome of today... I am off to Delhi to extend my tourist Visa.

I get there and I sort of forget how much I actually don't like Delhi. Delhi isn't friendly' its accosting, dirty and rushed. After my visit to Calcutta, Delhi is abrasive and mean. Calcutta might be dirty and busy, but at least people let you be and they have yellow cabs.

Anyway, the traffic sucks. It takes me 400 rupees and 45 minutes to reach the FRO (foreign registration's office) but of course, I'm in the wrong building- duh! So i pay another 300 rupees to get to the proper government building, where I wait. and wait. then I get whisked to another building. There again I fill out papers. This is the strangest and creepiest government building I have ever seen. All the hallways are lined with metal armoirs, covered in dust. strange and badly printed signs cover some of them, reading "room 24 >>>>>" room 36 A>>>>. The is no reasonable logic to the numbering of rooms. I am lost and a little frantic. It's stimulating and frustrating and messy. Where is the room I need?  I get a sms from my colleague  to go this a certain person room 36A, and that I was sent by such and such, an important person, allegedly. I get to the room and there are 4 people sitting on the couch in front of a desk with no one behind it. I wait. 5 minutes pass by, I turn to one of the friendlier faces and ask how long he has been waiting. He looks at the clock and says 'almost 4 hours.'  I turn to the other sorta friendly face and he says 3 hours. oh. my. god. Are we going to grow old in here I say? trying to lighten the mood.. hahahah hmm not working. It's now 1pm, official lunch time in India that is most definitely sacred, and means most definitely that Mr. X will not be showing up now. shit. I try again, to see if I can roam the creepy hallways scattered with tired looking Indians and even more tired looking foreigners. Finally I stop a man and tell him I need to extend my tourist visa I am Canadian, he guides me through more cabinet lined hallways and directs me to another man, who takes one look at my visa and says : "... look maam, it says right here. non -extendable. I really cannot help you. you will have to back to your country to renew."
"but but but... but sir my visa expires the 12th but my flight home is the 28th."With this he stops pushing paper around his desk and looks me directly in the eyes.
"Maam this is a serious situation you are in. You must prepone your ticket. Or else you will not be able to leave the country."
"Good- I don't want to leave the country!" Hahahah. Me always trying to lighten the mood.. in vain.
"No, you will be sent to jail, and potentially black  listed. You must prepone your ticket."
"And what if I can't?"
"If you can't, come back at the beginning of next month and I'll see what I can do."
"but sir, sir I.... I... "
"Maam. I cannot help you."

I leave the room. Now I am the tired looking foreigner, the sprint out of my step. All urgency and hope dull like the sad colour of the metal cabinets.

Do I want to shop? Will that make me feel better? I go to Palinka underground market and that was a big mistake. HUGE. The claustrophobically low ceilings, the hideous blue halogen lights, the harrassment. A man tried to sell me bags that were so obviously not leather and I kept trying to get out of the store and he wouldnt let me.

PICHAY! I yell. BUS! (step away and stop).  Holy I'm turning into mega bitch now. I think food and open space is in order.

I go to Benetton. I get treated like a god-damn princess. I throw money worries to the wind and buy boots and flats. There's nothing like footwear therapy. NOTHING.

I sit at a restaurant and order a beer. wondering what the F am I going to do. My lovely boy Jason meets me. We eat a superb chicken dish and spring rolls, then walk around Connaught Place. He buys me bangles. He cheers me up with his calm and confident way, and his smitten eyes. He drives me back to the trainstation. We kiss. Yummm.

I chat up a lovely fellow sitting next to me. He is an angel. he gets out his laptop and looks up Air Swiss so I can figure out how to proceed with my preponing my trip home.

I am finally home. I come back to my ever so awesome room but am looking for something and I can't find it. It's not the room's fault. It's mine. I am a messy and disorganized girl. And it comes to bite me in the ass.  Everytime.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Calcutta. Day 4 (2nd full day)

I have a trillion things planned for today. Technically I reserve sleeping in for days off, but Calcutta and her taxis and sights await. I plan to carry the snack (that was buried in my bag which I hadn't noticed) for Mr. Beautiful Barbados...

 I decide today is the day to wear my new punjabi suit. I try it on. Ewww: it's a HORRIBLE fit! I didn't wear a (padded) bra the day I got measured, so it's MEGA tight in the chest area. Not comfortable at all. but I persist, in spite. I leave the guest house in search of the beggar to give him the forgotten snack before I have a Flurys coffee and start my day. He's no where to be found.  I give the yummy treat to another beggar and cross the street to enter art deco heaven. I'm tempted by four delectable delicacies. Oh my god- I am so fucking uncomfortable... I take the rest of the pastries to go and return to my guesthouse to get out of this cursed Salwaar Kameez. On my way I see Mr. Beautiful Barbados. Upon seeing me he starts crying, telling me he really needs money to send his sickly child to the hospital, and flings a malaria stamped doctor's note at my face... Oh gosh. I don't know what to say.  I give him the packed pastries, telling him I'm sorry but I have to go. He takes the hot pink box, sobbing. Next, he follows me yelling and catapults the box back at me, "You can! You can pay for my child's hospital treatment, but you don't want to, only! I don't want your food!".. oh my god my heart is crumbling like the cakes he's thrown at me. I race back to my room.

I sit on my bed and contemplate what to do. My chest is tight, figuratively and literally. I get changed. I am rife with guilty feelings. What should I do? Who the hell am I to give a god damn bourgeois pastry to a man that obviously needs medical assistance for his child?  I leave my room.. feeling really down.

I go to the Indian museum. It's so full of cool stuff and beautiful artworks.  A suspended skeleton of a whale,  bottled insects,  200 year old smooth Ganesh stone statues, a mummy. Still, my mind is heavy with guilt. I think, 'ok if I see him again, then it's destiny, and I will give him some money'. This notion uplifts me, just a little.

There is this most peaceful drawing of a woman. I am mesmerized. I see a curly haired white boy with headphones and a sketch pad, drawing. he exists the space. I sprint after him, tap him on the shoulder. He removes his headphones. His eyes are big and tremendously blue. I ask him if he could please do me the favour of drawing me the artwork I've been admiring. He smiles and nods.
" Eet wooed be ma pleasuhre." Oh- he is French!  He spends like 15 minutes on the drawing. I tell him to stop, he has given me too much time as it is.

I walk through Eliot Park on my way to the Birla Planetarium. A guard in the park points to my red and white bangles then points to my hair part." You make a beautiful bride". Head bob, still pointing to my hair. I don't understand. " Your bangles tell me your married, you are just missing the red line in you hair partition." Ooooh THAT'S what the red and white bangles signify!

He kindly walks me to the Planetarium. What a gentleman. I'm just in time for the star show. I am looking at a prime place in the dome shaped room. Two boys tell me "yeah- this is the best seat in the theater." I sit close to them. We start chatting. They are students in the hotel business, one is an aspiring chef, the other a hotel manager. Both boys are agreeable and sprightly. The slow moving night sky is impressive, but alas, we actually have the worst seats! Hahah. The woman introducing the sky has a lovely and thick accent and is very strict. "Silence!" she demands. "You should only be bringing your children if they can behave. Shut off your mobile! I said SHUT. OFF. YOUR MOBILE!" I like her....

I eat a veg patty outside the planetarium, finally hungry. I couldn't eat those tainted crumbled mini cakes this morning. The patty is dubious. I take two bites and throw out the rest.

Next is the Botanical garden. I find a cab and tell him where I need to go. I tell him I will go by the meter ( a lot of cabbies tell me their meter is broken to justify the inflated flat price). He says fine but add 10 rupees. I say fine- what's 10 rupees? He takes me to where  where the world's largest Banyan resides. Once we reach I pay him what is owed. He spits orange stuff out of his mouth and tells me I owe more. "More more more" he says.. But. Oh god, I don't feel well. That patty isn't sitting well, at all. "Teekhai, here" and I give him more money, but he's not satisfied and starts to yell. Men and boys crowd the cab. This is disturbing. His glassy eyes (is he drunk?) and perpetual spitting, topped with the veg patty, is altogether unpleasant. I jump out and walk confidently to the garden gates, letting him yell behind me.

The walk and foliage do me good. Nature cures me of my previous malaise. The Giant Amazon Lily pads are Jurassic in their enormity. The 250 year old Banyan tree is wicked. It's reputed as being the world's largest, but the central trunk rotted away in the 1920's, leaving an intricate forest of mini Banyan trees, like a twisted intertwined aerial and rooted maze.

Next on the list is Mother Teresa's Mission. I have 40 minutes to get there. I decide to take a public bus. The bus rides through the Howrah neighbourhood, onto the Howrah bridge, built in WW11, a 705 m long architectural icon. It is one of the world's busiest bridges. This is a great ride. I have no clue where to get off, though, hahah. The bus boy gestures with his head that it's my stop. I then take a cab and explain where I am going and ask him if I will have time to reach. Head bob, head bob, head bob. Hmmm yes or no? He doesn't hassle me, puts the meter on and drives like a maniac. I get to Mother Teresa's house 10 minutes before closing time. I give the cabbie more than the meter states. "Thats what you get for not treating me like a bloody tourist" I say, handing him the sum. Head bob!

 I wonder if the place will be closed.. it's not! I visit her tomb and the mini museum: displaying her sandals, journal, enamel dinner bowl. I walk up the stairs to a sermon taking place. I sit and pray. I think about Mr. Beautiful Barbados, and doing right by him.

As I exit the Mission a woman and her child approach me. She tells me I look like an old friend of hers, asks me where I am going. My immediate reaction is to be open, then to stay shut. I can't figure myself out sometimes, but I do believe somewhere, strangers are drawn to me, like moths to a light, like chinese food lovers to the smell of frying szechuwan peppercorns in peanut oil.  I don't mean to come off pretentious when saying this, but I have a feeling some people can smell my perfume. 'Oh, I recognize that- it's 'OPEN' (aka as Naive), by Brandt-Rousseau'..... We walk together. She tells me her daughter has malaria. She shows me a malaria stamped doctors note. She hands me a metal pendant of Mother Teresa. I am touched. She tells me she is alone, homeless, jobless, doesn't have a rupee to her name, and that her husband left her. I must tell you, beloved reader, that both her and her daughter are looking very clean, very fit, and very well dressed; not destitute at all. "Can we go for a little stroll together?" she says. I head bob. We walk a bit and then I say I am turning here. Her eyes plead but her mouth doesn't. She says some people lie and some people don't and only the true good people can tell the difference. We part ways.  I keep walking, a bit surprised that I didn't cave in.

"Didi! Remember me?' I turn my head to the summoning voice. It's Mr. Beautiful Barbados, sitting on a stoop, with a mickey of booze and a gigantic grin. No child. He waves to me with the mickey in his hand. I am LIVID! I stop in my tracks, go over to the stoop, and tell him I was worried all day about doing right by him! He head bobs, breathing alcohol all over my face, still grinning. "Ap kya se oh?" he asks me (how are you?) It's like what had happened this morning was a dream or something! UGH! I storm away. My appetite is back in full force now.

I stomp to Hot Kati Roll and order double egg double mutton. Bring it on. I get a beer. I am about to keep walking when I notice that a man has spotted me and stopped, pretending to tie his shoe laces, lurking around the beer stall. I retrace my steps and hang out with the beer vendor, wanting to be in bathed in halogen light. I drink my beer and glare at the dude. He gets it and walks away. This new B rocks!

Now I notice another stranger across the beer stall smoking, stealing glances in my direction. He looks preoccupied. He is chain smoking, checking his cell periodically, almost frantically. He comes over. "Hi, can I talk with you for a moment? I am having girl problems and I have a feeling you will give me sound advice."
" Uhhhhh, ok what's the matter?"
 He tells me his dilemma and I am smitten by his romanticism and innocence. He is in love. He is jealous. He is insecure. He is 19, and he is adorable. I want to give him a big hug but I don't.
 "Don't worry," I tell him, planting my hand on his shoulder, the only touching I allow myself to indulge in. "Just tell her you love her, and bake her a cake. You'll see."
 We talk India, cultural norms and differences. We share views about love and trust for half an hour. It is very pleasant. I'm hungry. Again.

I walk to BBQ, a legendary chinese food restaurant.  I order a killer chicken szechwan chow mein, write in my journal, and peruse my photos. I'm  satisfied with today, feeling like I aged 10 years in maturity. I go back to Chandigarh tomorrow. Chandigarh hasn't touched me like Calcutta has. Calcutta beckoned me the moment I stepped foot here, that night with James, and it hasn't lost it's luster, in spite of any unpleasantness I have lived. I ask the charming Nepalese waiter to pack up the rest of my meal. As I leave the restaurant I hand the take-out to the old beggar on the corner. She smiles a toothless smile. Good thing she's having noodles for dinner!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Calcutta. Day 3

No remembered dreams. I awake to the  TV on, blaring National Geoographic: Raging elephants killing innocent(?) people. Alrighty then.

I take a shower. And by shower I mean bending my body forward to a tap that runs cold water. I get dressed and pack my bag and depart. I check new Casio for the time...blankness stares back at me-fake Casio!

I walk down Freeuh Schooluh Street to grab a tea and map my  next move: where to stay...A man approaches me, dirty, missing teeth. His t-shirt reads: Beautiful Barbados.  He is with child.
"Didi,(sister in Hindi) where are you going? You should go to Sunflower Guest House. Very clean."

 I sip my scalding tea. I know he's about to ask me for money, and before he does, I remove ALL my eatables from my back pack -peanuts, peanut brittle, coconut, channa(chick peas), sesame cookies- handing him a cloth bag containing all the said snacks. He doesn't look that happy about it. But still thanks me. I move on. I find the guest house on Royd(uh) street.

The Sunflower Guest House is a1865 Solomon Mansions building. It's a dusty rose, and it's really tall, with the original 1940's elevator functional and awesome. (I couldn't help but think of 'Inception', that grate closing...) I take the Inception elevator to the garden roof top and inquire. A teenage boy takes me back to the elevator, down to the first floor, shows me a room. It's the size of a shoe box, there's no TV, but the ceiling is high and I could eat off the freshly tiled floor it's so sparkling! Yes. I'll take it. I drop my bag and go hunting for a bakery... 'Flurys' came highly recommended, and lucky me, it's just around the corner.

What a place, or should I say palace! Art deco heaven. Am I in Miami ? Hahah just kidding.. but still. All the waiters are old and gracious, wearing  chocolate milk shake coloured uniforms. I have the best espresso ever and a mushroom pattie. My cell rings. it's Agni. "let's meet up." Ok- cool beans! Him and a colleague walk in 15 minutes later and order a round cappuccinos. Fancy!

We drive to the Victorian Memorial. It's the White House meets the Taj Mahal. It's beautiful, but well, I don't really care so much... We drive on the suspended Hooghly bridge and THAT is fun! I take a  photo and a guard rushes over, snatches my camera and yells to Agni that it's illegal (?) and demands 200 rupees before begrudgingly handing over the camera.  Agni smiles as he places the camera in my hand. "Welcome to India!"  he chimes. Hmm ...  Where have I heard that line before?!

We eat at a small nondescript restaurant, and now I am noticing the difference in Bengalis as compared to Punjabis. They are darker in skin colour and have rounder features. They speak waaay more English mixed into their Bengali (no Hindi here). Somehow these characteristics, along with the English, comes to me as a little more approachable. Also, Bengalis stare less; I'm not being gawked at as much. Indeed, there are more beggars, more poverty; so in that sense I am attractive, but apart from that, I am anonymous. My initial feeling about this city is realizing itself.

The fish is DIVINE! Bengali food is sweeter; it has a coconut and poppy seed undercurrent, and is more delicate. The rice was by far one of the best I have ever eaten, and I've eaten a lot of rice. I do love spicy, ergo Punjabi cuisine is close to my heart. But in Punjab they favour chapati, and in Bengal rice. I am a rice girl through and through. We finish off the meal with a legendary Rasgulla: syrupy sponge balls. Splendid.

Agni takes me to the lake, where lovers come to gaze and whisper sweet nothings to each other, on a boat or lazing on benches. It's peaceful.

I want to visit Tagore's 1784 family mansion turned museum. He is India's greatest modern poet. I have read inspiring things about him since moving to India, and here's my chance to be close to greatness. The mansion/museum closes at 4. Let's go! Of course we get there at 3:50 and it's closed. Aw come on! I snap some shots. He accompanies me back to my part of the city to walk around Chowringee(uh) street. We say farewell. I buy a super purse, a couple scarves and a beer. I drink the beer and chill. I eat a kati roll, Bengal's trademark fast food. A grilled roti, fried on one side with an egg, filled with sliced onions, chili, lime juice and choice of meat or paneer. It is one of the most beautiful taste bud experiences EVER!!!! I buy another beer and another roll, this time Single Egg Chicken in lieu of the initial Single Egg Double Mutton. Mutton is an ugly word, but very very tasty indeed.

I walk, I observe, and not the other way 'round. How refreshing this is: the beer, the walk, and the being-left-alone. I'm getting a little sleepy; the king cans of Kingfisher and kati rolls sloshing about inside me.

I go back to my guest house, sit on the stoops and stare out. I finish my beer and go over  pictures on my dinky point-and-shoot camera. The ancient and ever-so-calm guest house owner joins me on the stoop. Silent. We share a moment, looking forward onto the street. We don't exchange polite or inane niceties. Simple silence. Together.
I like it here.
Period.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Journey to Calcutta. Day 2

 I wake up and look at my new Casio. I have been on the train for 16 hours.. It's around 8:30 a.m now.. ok that's cool, another 9 hours or so. I can hack it. The book I am reading is like a  cheesecake: all lines dense, wondrous, tasty and astoundingly precise. Thank god for reading. I read, I get off my bunk, I walk around(up and down the dirty train), I smoke, I get back on my bunk, I read, I snooze, I have a chai, I eat some peanuts.
Repeat.
Over and over.

My cell phone rings. It's Iqbal, the lovely man that guided my Amritsar trip. his ex boss lives in Kolkata.
 "Hi Iqbal!"
" B- have you contacted Gulzar?"
 "No"
"Well, why not?"
 "uh- well I thought I would do it once I get there."
"call him up."
So I do. Gulzar is wonderful, gets me in contact with Satya, who gets me in contact with Agni. They are all sms ing me with numbers to call and places to see, all reassuring me of support once I reach Kolkata. I should accept this, instead of being my stubborn independent self.

I'm hungry. It's now 6. Hmm we should BE there. Why has the train stopped? It's the second person telling me we will reach at 8:30ish... Nooooo. ugh. Diwali is happening now! The train stops again. Blast! Bang! Boom!.... firecrackers going off like gunshots, lighting up the sky like long neon scarves, and at times like concentrated falling snow. I'm spending Diwali on a crowded smelly train. At least I'm spending Diwali in India with Indians!!! I can't lie: it's bittersweet. I do hope we reach Kolkata before the night is through...

Ahhhh FINALLY! We make it. I say goodbye to all the new acquaintances I made, and to James, but we end up talking our way out of the train station and onto the street. Once outside I see the Hooghly Bridge and yellow taxi cabs and I get hit with a strange nostalgia. New York City. My smile is so absurdly wide. This city is oddly comforting and familiar. Calm yet stimulating. I already know I will feel anonymous here... I already know I will like it here. Some cities touch you. Unreasonable but true.

James and I walk a bit further and take a cab to Free School street. I tap the cabby on the shoulder and point to my pack of ciggies, head bobbing, and he gives me matches... haha, only in India! Here I was trying to ask if I could smoke, and he facilitates my dirty habit. Sweet.

Once on Free School street (and its pronounced freeuh schooluh street) I find a guest house. Its unsavory, just like the pushy hotel owner, with his repulsive Bengali belly hanging out of his wife beater, but honestly, Kali Pooja is happening now and I just want to drop my bag and discover. James follows me. We get a chai and decide what to do. I say lets get to Kalighat, the Kali temple. Bengalis worship Kali, and it's even possible that Kolkata is named after her. She is the goddess of devastation, darkness and rebirth(more on Kali later, my favourite goddess deserves her own post).

The temple is sort of hidden in a maze of alleys, jammed with market stalls selling flowers, religious trinkets, bangles, brassware and of course, pictures of Kali. I ask how much the two white and two red plastic bangles are. First vendor says 30, second vendor says 70, third vendor says 50, so I tell the fourth vendor I will give 25 and he doesn't fight me. Cool. I later find out the significance of the red and white bangles.. I'll tell you about that soon.

OH MY GAAAWD the amount of people is truly AWESOME and the experience is just as explosive and huge and intense. People pushing, but without hardness or aggression (this needs to be lived to be understood, sorry to say). The temple is tiled with floral and peacock motifs (looks quite Portuguese, not Indian at all, actually). I see black haired animal bits. What is that? Then I see blood, then I see a black goat head. Ah yes- the goats are sacrificed to honor the demanding Kali, thereby buying 'God Power'. A man approaches and asks if we want to see Kali, we say yes. He says 50 rupees and we say yes again. We are taken, woven in amongst the hundreds of pilgrims to the front of the line. He discusses something to a man wearing a uniform. Money talks. We cut the line. It's hard to see her for there are so many bodies crammed and in constant flux. then I see the three red eyes and the gold tongue. There she is, crowned, dark and powerful, covered by hibiscus flower offerings. A 'priest' standing at her altar (there is one on each side) gestures for money. I hand him a 5 rupee note and he takes it (I can't believe I finally got rid of it! For some reason Indians dislike the 5 rupee bill) and then we get tikkaed (the reddish orangeish dot the priest places on your third eye, blessing you). We are ushered out. We find our shoes. We look at each other. "Holy Shit (James)! We made it to the Kali temple on the Holiest of days! We rule! Now let's eat something.."

I get my trusted lonely planet bible out and look up yummy places close by. Kewpies is famous for Bengali fish, and it is the only restaurant still open. We rush. It's a bit of a nightmare to find, so many miniscule alleys. I ask a man in uniform. He honestly tells me to ask the cross guard. I bravely cross the intersection with my silly large book open to the map and point. He is busily directing traffic but seems non-plussed by my enquiry. 'Yes, you are very  close, just make a sharp left then two intersections then a...."
I hear a deep and confident voice behind me, " let me help you. Where are you trying to go? " I turn around and see these kind black outlined eyes behind stylish glasses. A warm round smile, a round nose, a soft face. She is an angel, appearing out of nowhere.

She walks us to a taxi and firmly tells the cabby where to go and how much to charge us. And as we hop in she looks at me and says, "make sure he doesn't charge you more than 30." Angel.

Kewpies is on Elgin Lane, but we can't find Elgin Lane, only Elgin Road. Must be a typo James says.. 'A typo' I think? Really? It's 9:45. Gah!- are we going to make it?. The restaurant closes at 10. Twisting here and there, we ask again. 'yes yes Elgin lane is the next sharp left.' We retrace our steps. Now I am running almost, and James is a few meters behind me. We will never find it. Let's just give up. It's ten to ten now.. I slump and slow down... and - like a phoenix rising from the ashes (not really, but you know) there lies Kewpies, hidden, dark, but there! Just when I had given up! Yay we made it!
Uh no. Closed. Nords.
'ok' I tell James, 'let's eat wherever'. We hop into a cab to go back to Freeuh Schooluh street and we see a chirpy looking SUBWAY sub restaurant on the way. James looks at me quickly and we both tell the cabby to stop.

We're hungry, after all. I know, shame on me to be eating at a non-Indian joint, but whatever. Once we enter, a woman kindly calls all these restaurant numbers for us, to see if any are open. No such luck. We eat subway subs and chill for a bit.

Cab back to the unsavory hotel. James and I hug it out, exchange emails and part ways. I am thirsty. The nasty hotel owner tries to sell me a bottle of water for 20 rupees (they are usually 12-14)..I look at him. I check if the bottle has been opened. Of course it has. I look at him. He smiles a devilish smile. "You're not new to India, are you maam?"
 Despite his obnoxious nature, I smile. I mean, I got blessed on the holiest of days, nothing is crushing THIS spirit!
I start climbing the stairs to my room "No I'm not, unsavory one. Good night."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Journey to Calcutta. Day 1.

4th November, 6:43 a.m.
I am at the Chandigarh train station. For the amount of people that are waiting, it is surprisingly, and to my delight, rather calm. It is Diwali season, after all.  I eat a banana, have a tea and wait. This is one of the first times I travel wearing western clothes, and not a salwaar kameez. They are not convenient. The dupatta dragging on the ground, the pant tie-up cutting my midriff  circulation, the bottoms touching the nasty toilet floor as I squat to relieve myself. And sadly, I understand now that adopting their cultural clothing does not make me fit in. So I choose comfort over culture, just this once.

I am on the train. 4 months living in this country and just now do I see that wowie they like their tea strong and sugary. They give you two tea bags for one cup and two sugar packets that are noticeably heavier than the ones we have at home. The thermoses they use, I swear it looks circa 1970's. And it's not the colour story that gives it away (beige and brown), it's the grimy layer of incrusted dirt, the cracked mouth. Ugh. Still, I pour the warm water out of it and make my sugary strong beverage. There's a lady in front of me.. her mouth turned downward in a permanent frown... she gingerly picks up the ketchup packets and butter packet and plops them in her purse. This makes me giggle, and she looks up, her frown intact. Oops. I look at her arms, they are fat. I think about a hug, and how I haven't had a good hug in a long time, and how thick people give the best hugs.

Traveling alone is awesome, amazing really. But there are moments when you want to turn to someone comfortable. Comfortably nice smelling, Comfortably familiar, and rest your head on their comfortable shoulder and wrap your arms around their comfortable torso. Skinny stinky strangers need not apply.

Train lands in Delhi. I have a few hours to kill. What else to do but shop and walk. I buy a sweet Casio to add to my growing collection. I find the eggplant purple bangles for my buddy, and I fall in love with someone because of his glasses. He walks into the little restaurant I am sitting in and we both look at each other with surprise. It was odd and instant, and real. Gosh, he is cute. I wish he would turn around and talk to me. Oh! He does! He points to my glasses and gives me a thumbs up. I reciprocate it, along with a dorky smile. Cooome over I am thinking! Why can't he read my mind? This is beloved #1. I like the fact that he is alone. Traveling alone in India is seemingly rare. Come over you hottie, cooome! His glasses are killing me softly. He eats, turns around, waves and leaves. Bye beloved #1.

Okay- so I am on a train to Calcutta in 2 hours, and the ride is 26+ hours. Wow. I have numbers to call and people to meet, if I want. Do I? My cell rings. It's Canon! My camera baby is fixed and arrived from Delhi this morning! Yay.

Better get a move on... Calcutta is calling. I find my grimy bunk. There is a white guy sitting there. He is a dirty hippie. You know the type: leather sandals, MC hammer pants (harem pants they are called here), faded and hole-peppered tie-dyed tee, lots of bracelets and necklaces, long dirty hair.  He clings to me. Talks incessantly, and I can already tell he is a bad story teller and that he is young. I want to get to my bunk now. so I do, and he does the same. There is a man sitting on mine and I gesture him to get off, so he plops himself on the American hippie's. James looks at me- (James let's call him, he reminds me of a James I once knew) with contempt. I tell him the brief version of my past molestation and that now no one comes on my bunk. Full stop. 'But', James says, 'where else will they go?' 'That's not my business.' I say. I lend him a book to read and he takes it, as if it is owed to him, without a thank you or a smile. Like since he has two extra bodies on his bunk because I kicked one guy off, I of course SHOULD be lending him a book.  He shuffles, he grunts, he looks pitiful. I don't want to share my time with him anymore. Here is the book. That's enough. I like this new incarnation of B. Ever since the train-bad-touch I am ruthless, cunning. Learned.

I look around this new top view, and here comes beloved #2. He. Is. Gorgeous. And we can't stop staring at each other. He holds my gaze with no shame or perversity. I do the same. God I wish I spoke Hindi! He is sooo dreamy. That's it! It's final: I am really going to take Hindi language classes. For if I did, I could ask him more than how he is doing and what is his 'good' name. I could feign discreet curiosity, instead of telling him he is 'bohot sundar heh' (very beautiful) and then exchange phone numbers to then end up hating him because we can't communicate but he calls a million times a day.
Unrequited. I swear that should be my middle name.

It's his mouth. It's beautiful. And the look of soft sensuality in his eyes. I figured it out! What makes a person attractive (to me) is their mouth. All the words that come out of it , all the kissing that happens with it, all the smiling and laughing it gets to indulge in. Yes; a mouth indeed. AND of course the gaze. Not even the shape or size or colour of eyes, it's really the soul behind it, the source ingredient of unique. I can't look away. We are maybe 4 meters apart and I can FEEL him looking at me when I pretend to read my book. Sigh. I look at him again, I can't help myself. I'm a glutton. I hold his gaze. Shit- a whole romance novel could be written with the feelings that are sparking inside me. I LOVE HIM! hahahah.

....This is becoming a teensy bit long, a teensy bit crowded and a teensy bit dirty. Men and women and children are friendly. A woman gave me an apple and an Indian sweet. Another man bought me a tea. Another man gave me some snacks. God I'm feeling tall right now, the top bunk is safe from molesters, but I'm cramped. Beloved #2 has his legs stretched out and they are reaching my bunk. I too have my legs stretched out. His foot is touching my foot. I feel like I'm in the Victorian ages or something because this innocent graze is setting me on fire! We look at each other. We smile. We both know that's all we can share and so we share it 100%.

Bed time.. it must be 9ish by now (the 4th november, still). A man comes up on my bunk and tells me he will just be on the side. I say no. He tells me in perfect English that he will not touch me or take too much space. ugh FIIIINE, I say, but I warn him that if he touches me I yell and punch, with no reservation. He smiles and head bobs.

I wake up to him resting his head and arm on my leg. I push him off with said leg and tell him to get off my bunk. I look for beloved #2's eyes. It's dark. His foot is gone. He is gone. During my strange slumber the train stopped a few times and people got on and got off. Beloved #2 got off. I close my eyes and dream of his mouth.

 Diazepam and Disco; Thank you. You both are lulling me to where I need to be now: cocooned in a dreamsphere.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Tips and Tricks For the Single Gal Traveling Northern India.

....Below are simple yet useful suggestions... stated in random order. Come to India! It's chaotic charm, stuffed into a beautiful Bengali egg roll, washed down by a creamy fragrant chai... oh yeah, and finished off with a soft round Rasgulla. (Can you tell I just came back from Bengal?)

1. Surrender. Don't struggle with reality. Enjoy it, you asked for it.

2. Realize you will get ripped off. Try to bargain and then move on to the next vendor. Be happy to spend the money. If not, don't bother.

3. Don't wear flip flops. It is dirty here.

4. Carry napkins. Take as many as you can from restaurants. You'll be grateful to have them, trust me.

5. Break large bills every chance you get.

6. Paint your nails a dark colour. It will stop you from biting them, if you're so inclined, AND you won't have to witness how dirty they really are.

7. Learn the head bob and use it confidently. Always.

8. Always pack a bed sheet.

9. Always pack a towel.

10. Drink chai from tea stalls. It's the best tea you'll drink in India, guaranteed.

11. Count your change. Mental maths comes in handy BIG TIME.

12. Give beggars food instead of coins, if you can.

13. Ask for directions to your designated destination at least twice. Seriously. AT LEAST twice.

14. Be Patient. Rid yourself of any narcissistic inclinations. You're not the only one waiting in a queue, that needs to catch a train/bus/rickshaw/tram/flight/cab, that needs her change back, that wants a tea. This is INDIA time, lady! Refer back to tip number 1.

15. As a lady, you will be stared at, and you will be touched. Don't use niceties you were brought up with, leave those at home. If (or should I say when) you get fondled: punch hit and yell. Seriously. And when you get stared at, well, you know what? Enjoy it (on the inside).When you go back to NA you won't get the same attention. So- you know... when in Rome....

16. Get ready to have your heart swept away, broken, mended and melted. Maybe every day.

17. Now here's the tricky part. NEVER expect the worst. EXPECT the best and HOPE for the best. Because that's exactly what you'll get.

Love, from yours truly,
B

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Ugly Truth

I'm at the tailor, again.
It's a hop, skip, and a jump away from home, part of the market complex area I visit daily for chai and produce, cadbury chocolates, Indian snacks, samosas, Chinese food and pharmaceutical needs. It's like the 5th time I come to collect my new punjabi suit- pumped-up at the prospect of wearing it the following day-and every time, I leave empty handed, wondering what to wear tomorrow. This time; I refuse to leave without my new suit, only. (Indian English thrown in there for good measure!)

 I walk in, I smile, I head bob and Namaste the lady- my eyes sparkling with excitement- TODAY IS THE DAY, she assured me! Yay- a new suit just in time for my trip to Calcutta. Cool beans! She sees me and looks away, smiling at the other women and muttering. I wait. Swarms of indian ladies are being attended to, It's like I'm invisible or something, a ghost...
This is tiring my patience now, big time.

The tailor lady averts my eyes and smiles and nods, 'yes yes' she says, 'come back tomorrow', 'come back tonight', 'come back in an hour'... smiling this syrupy smile I want to slap off her face! I start to get short with her. I tell her (in embarrassingly badly enunciated Hindi) that I have been waiting A MONTH for ONE suit to be ready, when the first time I came here (with a Brahmin female friend) I had TWO suits done in ONE WEEK! What is the hold up? 'Yes yes', she keeps smiling, syrup drooling off her face, mocking. 'Come back in an hour'...
'Puckaah?' I say(for sure, definitely?)
'Puckaah puckaah' head bob. She finally looks me in the eyes, even if only for a darting second....
Argh!!!

And this, sadly, is how I am treated, sometimes, as a white unmarried 30s something female, in Northern India. I might be the lowest rank, next to, I don't know... the Untouchables, could that be?

 I begin to question her behaviour and my treatment as a foreigner here... and I get answers that I don't like. I'm open and all, but come on- a person is a person is a person, right? The customer is always right, right? WRONG!

I discuss this with my Indian guru back home, and she enlightens me with an ugly dark truth. Glass ceiling for white women here..

I got sexually harassed by my boss. It was unpleasant, unprofessional, and frankly, a total abuse of power. I tell my colleague, a woman, a Brahmin. She casually responds with '...Oh well, you shouldn't have gone to the party with him, what were you thinking? Why did you get in a car with him, that wasn't wise of you B.'

I got molested on the train, I tell her. she replies, 'Well, why were you in second class? You know better. And why were you on a bottom bunk?  If you were on a top bunk then that would not have happened to you, surely. What were you wearing? A Salwaar Kameez... oh. Was your dupatta slightly off the shoulder?'

WHAT? I look at her, in shock. 'Do you know that your discourse is the very reason women have been caged for centuries? Do you realize that you are blaming me for others behaviour that I have no control over?' she sighs, and smirks. 'This is india Bianca. Welcome, and get used to it.'

'But- but, but.....' my voice trails off. She looks away, focusing on something really interesting on the carpet(nothing) and then starts vigorously fishing for her cell phone in her purse. This conversation is closed, and there won't be another one, puckaah puckaah.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Delusions of Grandeur.

Name: Eugenio Bolongaro
Profession: Professor of Italian Cinema, McGill University; Copyrighter Ogilvy Advertising; Philosopher.
Age: 40's ( I guess)
Height: 6'4
Occupation:  corner stone real estate in Bianca Brandt-Rousseau's heart. Her unrequited love.

He was dashing. Soberly debonaire. He wore bow ties, tweed jackets, and wing-tips. He dramatically parted his hair to one side. Sometimes, dark wisps would step out of line, into his saucer-shaped powder blue eyes. Absentmindedly, he would sweep the strands with his hand. His long, piano perfect hand. He resembled an Italian Donald Draper. He is timeless. Ageless. Like Nature; he is perfect.

One of my most vivid and memorable dreams centered around him, me, Derrida and Chomsky, sitting at a round table, discussing Deconstructionism... How pretentious that sounds now, how hoighty and intellectually grandiose. The best part of this dream, dear friends, was the flirtation underlining it: Professor Bolongaro -I was referring to him as Eugenio in the dream, of course- was playing footsie with me, under the round table.

I attended every class he taught. I was early to arrive, sat in the front row, and would linger afterwards, just so I could hear him speak some more. His face, his accent, and his style made my knees weak, enchanting me in a lovers trance. It didn't matter that he was gay, that my feminine charms eluded him. This one-sided crush was all I dreamed about (think Tiramisu): All the joy was in consumption, nothing else came out of it but gratuitous calories, cushioning me. I just loved to love him! Gluttony: pure and simple. Bolongaro was the beginning of my Italian chapter that hasn't been written. Yet. I have rough copies, scraps written in pencil, scattered in the chaotic corridors of my mind, and echoing halls of my heart.

 I loved him. He is my reason for favoring the word 'Indeed'. He used this word with grace and poignancy. A playfully placed punctuation. He too favored this word, it was obvious. When he would use it, his eyes sparkled... So- I slid 'indeed' into my day-to-day vocabulary, because every time I used it, I saw HIM saying it. And I felt timeless, stylish, Italian. How silly this all sounds now.... But it is the truth.

So began my obsession with anything and everything Italian:
Neorealist cinema became my snobby fixation; Mama Roma and Osessione.  Fellini or DeSica, usually in my VCR.
Italian fashion- I later worked for Prada. Dolce no doubt!
Italian cuisine- I make a killer Eggplant Parmesan. 
Italian language- I received Ital/Eng dictionaries and Italian language tapes for my birthday that year, in vain. Some of the best moments I've had alone were in the bath, shotgunning beers, repeating some Italian sentence over and over.. ah - good oldies!!
(oh my- I almost forgot- I changed my voice mail message to 'Bonjorno Tutti!' Ha! Laughable! Who the hell did I think I was?)
And lastly, an Italian lover- Too bad he was disappointing, but his name, 'Mattia' coupled with his accent- luscious and powerful- sustained me for a week or two.

Before moving to India I had an opportunity to visit Italy with a dear friend. A very dear friend. Things got complicated; financial and family matters thickened the once flowing probability. And I backed out. I was sick over it, but I backed out.

Destiny: she takes you by the hand, directing where to go.  Although Italy is still a fascination, I'm not ready for her. I've traveled a lot and somehow opt not to go to her, time and time again. Had I turned this illusion into a truth,  I most likely wouldn't be in India today. And that, my beloved reader, is unimaginable! So- I traded a couple weeks of limoncello, 'Ciaos' and touching things Marcello Mastrioni might have, for a year of Butter Chicken, Ohm Shantis, and Namastes ...

Italy and Eugenio: Illusionary. Untouchable. Intimacy denied.

Ah well!  I still have the language tapes(somewhere in storage), the tingles and his perfect face in my mind's eye when I utter my favourite word.  That is awesome. 
In------dubitably!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sonny

I have a crush on Sonny. It could veritably have everything to do with his name, for if he was a Frank, or a Frantz or a Fritz (what's with me and my disdain for Germanic male names? hmmm), it probably wouldn't swim so gracefully in my mind or be as fun to mutter under my breath. Sonny. Sonny.  It is like the fire star in the sky and the gender I hope to give birth to. Aaaahhh. Sonny.

*Sigh*.

Sonny and I spend half an hour together, just me and him, at least once a week. He is the one that takes me back to work after my shift at the school in the slum. We chitchat about India and food. We gossip about colleagues. We laugh at my Hindi mistakes and my faulty pronunciation. We hang out. We share time. I love this ride back home. AAAND he is a devilishly good driver. Wowie- the way he masters the stick shift and weaves in and out of traffic (cars and cows. Yes; cattle are everywhere in India, not just the field. Sacred cow- don't hit her!) is admirable.

Sonny.

It's because he has a naughty crooked smile. It's because he has a scar on his cheek that tells of his past gang affiliation. It's because he is responsible and macho.  It's because when he talks he is so present, his eyes arrest you. There's no option but to look and listen. It's because he laughs a deep, mellifluous laugh. It's because he looks at me with sex written all over his gaze. And, it's because when I saw him onstage dancing Bhangra, a little piece of me crumbled at his feet.

"B and Sonny", he says in his delicious Indian English, flashing me that winning and naughty smile, his left hand confidently on the stick shift, his other hand drumming to Indian tunage at the steering wheel... "It has too nice a ring to it- isn't it?"

Yes Sonny. Whatever you say..

*sigh*

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Samosas and Tea

In France it's 'un court, ou un allonge avec un petit chocolat'. In England it's 'tea and crumpets' or perhaps 'tea and cucumber sandwiches'. A long lost English lover called it 'builder's tea'. What does that mean?

In India, it's chai an samosas. The sugary milky cardamom and ginger laced black tea marries well with the greasy spicy potato and green pea filled pastry. I love this afternoon snack, more than I thought possible. Indians reeeeeally know their tea. Do they get it from the Brits? This I must find out.

Tea stalls are scattered all over the places I've visited in India. Usually served by men(and boys... lots and lots of youngsters). The best to date is my chai guy in Manimajra, Chandigarh. I watch him methodically spoon loose tea, then heaps of white sugar in cream coloured liquid, crush ginger with a slab (is this hygienic?) and let it boil and boil. He serves me this gorgeous coloured drink. I didn't know it goes best with samosas until I started paying attention to the other stall patrons loitering in the early afternoon. Most of them had a couple samosas in one hand and their glass of tea in the other.

I work at the slum. My boss told me when he bought cups for his staff was when he finally got them to talk, to open up, to dish. A good excuse for taking a break indeed. And once cups were part of the accessories in the staff room, Frederick confided in me that the slum workers felt like 'somebody'. "I was nothing before." said Sangeeta, sipping the near boiling beige drink. Frederick looks at her with astonishment. "Actually! Dr. Frederick you have made me somebody, only!" I think he is embarrassed by her honesty. She puts down her glass and rushes out. He is dazed. Ten minutes later she rushes in with a brown paper big brimming with samosas. "We need to eat this while having chai in the afternoons, Dr. Frederick sir!" And she proceeds in handing out napkins topped with a couple of samosas to each staff member.

It seems like such a luxury, don't you think? Drinking this dessert like beverage coupled with a snack that fills like a meal? THIS is India to me: A breathing paradox. And it's only noon.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Virtue vs Vice, A Dialogue With Duality.

Like an uninvited visitor that noticed your passing foot steps behind the door (you can't escape!). Knock knock knocking... Like a snarling stomach ache, persisting, in spite of all the soothing mantras and deep breathing: I see now that I am struggling with what I say vs what I do, when it comes to romantic dealings. The light is blinding and I can't flee or see clear until I write. So I write..

I say I want a diamond, but I settle for zirconia. I say Word Is Bond, but I permit them to be sloshed around, stripped of their essence and validity. I wish for an independent yet fervently loyal counterpart, and I end up somewhat satisfied with being left to my own devices, and wondering if this is my prerogative, or his doing.

My virtue is this: I believe 100% in the value of shared time and good ol' fashion love. I am an empathetic soul with a generous spirit that comes to all with alacrity and curiosity. Being regarded as anything but enthusiastic would be a gross misconception, for if you know me you know I'm usually smiling and enjoying one of life's pleasures; whether it be photographing faces, boogying any chance I get to delicious funk or disco (now Bhangarra!), laughing if it's funny (good thing I make myself laugh, gee whiz) exchanging ideas and niceties, crafting it up(scissors, glue, and potato stamps are serious underrated), or eating eating and eating some more.

My vice is this. I smoke. I swear. I stuff my face. I get grumpy and antisocial when I'm hungry. I'm incorrigibly impatient (especially when starving). I'm unpredictable, and tactless. I demand as much attention as I give. I am selfish in my wants for sensuality and demonstrations. My habit in love is that when I don't get what I want, I bitch to my close friends, but to the party in question I remain smiley and inspirational, when inside I hope he can read my mind and pick up on my subtle aloofness. I pick fights. I relish in argument. I feign coolness but I'm not cool. I want what I want when I want it. I'm capricious and susceptible. But mostly, I lie to myself and pretend all is well- until I stomp to stage left with a dramatic exit... expecting him to be running after me with a "NOOOOOO BEEEEEE! I F%$ked UUUUP"

Bahahahahh!! Yeah right. Not. Going. To. Happen. If it did, I probably would look at him with contempt and call him a pussy under my breath, just audible enough to remain true to my tactless manner. Getting what I want might actually be a turn off. Oh geeesus: Is the age-old platitude of girls liking bad boys true, then? Say it aint so!

Where is the 'juste milieu' ? Is it my problem or his? Writing me a love poem or baking me a sheet cake doesn't always cut the cake, so to speak (although it does help. If you're a writer or a chef call me up, I won't screen you!). I expect value behind statements and actions that resonate with them---And THERE is my issue: I EXPECT!! I knew writing would be my salvation! I knew it!

No attachment to outcome. This is what I need to befriend. It is indeed my problem, and not his. Writing: for your health!