July 2006
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From left to right: Celebrating in Little Italy, Punk Cadillac, Sunset on the Upper West Side, July 4 in the East Village, a view of Manhattan from the Chinatown bus. Click on a picture to enlarge it.

Monday, July 24

For the last week, I've seen colorful floats all along the bridge that leads to Delhi and many, many men in saffron robes walking along the roadside. Sometimes the carry colorful mini-floats on their shoulders. I stopped by one of the big floats a few days ago and saw that it was in honor of the deity Shiva, the destroyer, who is blue-skinned and bad-tempered and sits upon a mountain top (fair weather or foul) meditating, coils of cobras wrapped around his shoulders. Mmmm, so dishy. Did I mention he has dreadlocks?

When I was younger, I used to be rather fond of Krishna (an incarnation of Vishnu, the preserver). Which makes me think that the Hindu gods are rather like the Beatles. When you're younger you like Krishna/Paul McCartney, because he is sweet and cute and sings silly love songs to all the cowgirls. Very accessible and not intimidating at all. But when you're older and more complicated yourself, you find yourself drawn to the edgier, darker types, hence Shiva/John Lennon.

So during the festival that is currently going on, the saffron men -- called kanarias -- go to two cities along the river Ganga to take home holy water and pour it on their village "lingam," which is basically a phallic symbol that people pray to when they pray to Shiva. It is dark stone cylinder, rounded at the top. The basis is a shallow channel that surrounds the pillar. Women pray to the lingam when they want babies. I read in the paper today that one of the devotees got run over by a truck while strolling along and his compatriots blockaded the road for three hours in his honor.

(The following weren't posted on the days they were written because a) I was on a plane and b) the phone service got switched off the day I got back for lack of payment. Sometimes India is very efficient.)

Sunday, July 16

I am now running the household, which comprises me, the dog, my grandmother, three maids (I don’t understand the ratio of help to the rest of us either) and one driver. When I woke up in the morning after I arrived I found the phone service had been switched off for nonpayment. I believe my dad had some household mishaps before leaving.

On my first day back I went over to Q.’s, our next-door neighbor, for cash and sundry bits of advice. Things took a morbid turn when he said, “Of course the old lady is going to pop off any day now. She could live for five more years but I know the way you Lahiris operate and you’ll be running around like headless chickens. You must do your research.” The “old lady” in question is not my grandmother but the geriatric dog, who has taken a turn for the worse. I left after that, promising to look into pet cemeteries and the like. Q. says there is one nearby, next to the Radisson hotel.


Even in the midst of the ode to concrete that Delhi has become, an astonishing range of wildlife survives. And I'm not just talking cows and wild pigs. On Saturday I was walking around the building complex when I saw a peacock in the green patch at the back. It was walking along, sort of looked like it was talking itself. I had seen lots of peahens – they fly! – around the building before but never a full-fledged peacock. The next time around, wonder of wonders, it had raised and fanned out its tail almost to a full circle, displaying the thousand eyes upon it to wondrous effect. It was also pumping its neck out in a slightly aggressive manner and swiveling its tail from side to side, clearly doing its best imitation o fa satellite dish.

There was a lovely rainstorm this morning. It stayed dark and cool all morning as a result of which I slept till 1 p.m. I would like to blame it on jetlagg. When I woke up I found the rain had seeped in the window and into the cupboard below the window-seat and onto my computer. I called up the contractor and asked him to come and do something about it, something different than what he had done the other three times, namely to apply tiny bit of a newly-bought sealant with great pride and joy along the windowsill. He has a wonderful if misplaced faith in that sealant. This is the same man who insisted on taking down my blinds, saying the whole job was poorly done and he couldn’t rest until he had put them up properly himself. Two months later I’m still tripping over the blinds.

Friday, July 14

I’m about an hour away from arriving in Delhi and I’m awfully excited. I think this may be the first time I actually want to be in the place that I live in. After all my lamentations on the lack of public transportation one of the most things I’m excited about doing after a hiatus of a month is driving. I realize, with a bit of shame, that in great part I probably enjoy Delhi so much because it affords me the possibility of endless and sometimes exaggerated complaining. I love mocking Delhi and there’s no end to the fun because there are so many snide remarks to be made about the city. No doubt the reason I’ve not felt as involved with other places – it would be a stretch to say “at home” and to be honest as an inveterate outsider I’m not even sure what that means – is because there isn’t as much to complain about.

Example: On the drive to the airport in Brooklyn, we passed a patch of urban blight – a construction site next to a muddy parking lot full of trailers, some with graffiti on them – and NP said he couldn’t believe parts of New York could like that … so third world. Even though he generally claims that “third world” is an inappropriate phrase. So that was my opening and I said:“Third world?! This is like a posh suburb in New Delhi!”

I find I’ve become very sentimental on transcontinental airline flights, with little excuse. For instance, sitting next to some sedate Japanese tourists while flying from Hong Kong to New Delhi, I read an article about a woman who was writing a memoir about her dead sibling and shed many tears over it. I felt so bad for the Japanese tourists, but fortunately they pretended not to notice. This time I was watching a movie about mermaids and junior high school social mores (yes someone did manage to work all that into one film) and found myself weeping at the denoument. Why is this happening? I am so ashamed. I think this particular movie was tuned to the same emotional pitch as Bollywood films, which are carefully calibrated to jerk tears from people weakened by childhood exposure.