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," 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.



Friday, November 26, 2010


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


What is your good name?
Priyanka! That is an Indian name, only!
No, no. BEEEianca.
From which country do you belong?
Are you married?

What is your age?
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 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
I think I need a hug, isn't it?
Like that.
A hug,

Sunday, November 21, 2010


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.

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.

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.
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?"
"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,

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....

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.