July 1 - 7, 2005
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Thursday, June 30:

I thought I had made a miraculous recovery, but I woke up with a vicious sore throat and a 102 fever. Perhaps it was nerves, since I was supposed to meet a celebrity Indian television journalist. Being a rather lowly personage in the media world in spite of my many relatives' concerted efforts to the contrary ("Don't settle for less than an anchoring spot," one cousin advised me, undaunted bymy total lack of television experience), I thought I better not cancel, so I popped two pills instead.

[I'm sure all my friends who are in the employ of large pharmaceutical companies -- you know who you are --will be happy to know that my medicine consumption (and expenditure upon) has risen drastically since coming to India. First I spent a great deal of money putting together a first-aid kit full of antibiotics, anti-flatulents and tranquilizers in preparation for travels with the cousin. Then when I fell ill, I was made to take an anti-nausea pill, an analgesic and an antibiotic in rapid succession. All of which I threw up. And with the sore throat, I've been put on antibiotics again. Antibiotics are my new multivitamin.]

The television studio was all gleaming glass and marble, with wondrous air-conditioning, and with a very young receptionist who was wearing a sparkly bubblegum pink top ensconced in an island in the middle of it. Something about it reminded me of the Mercedes-Benz showroom in Hell’s Kitchen, where I once had a very horrible temp job. Lots of pretty-ish girls with long straight hair and very tight capris and tank tops and mules were floating about (as much as Indian women, even the slimmest of them, can be said to float) chatting on cellphones. It was very ... TV.

There was a little bit of confusion in the waiting room (another aspirant there had the same first name as I do, something that doesn't happen often in New York) but then I got my 15 minutes with the Man. I toyed with the idea of asking for an anchoring spot, but the trouble with that advice is that it doesn't take account the whimpering, sycophantic persona I prefer to assume in job-interview situations. But I stood my ground and made it clear that I would settle for nothing less than an internship.

Friday, July 1:

Lying in bed with a fever is quite a pleasant way to pass the time here and, with cable, also quite educational. Lots of things seem to be happening in the country. Like the opening of the second line of the Delhi Metro, which can take you from Connaught Place to Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi, where you can spend an afternoon haggling for silver trinkets. Perhaps I'll try out the train when I am better.

I was tempted to abbreviate and write "CP," instead of "Connaught Place," but I am trying not to give in to the mania for acronyms that seems to be a national afffliction. People keep asking me if I am getting up-to-date with events in India and I really don't know what to say. I read multiple newspapers everyday but I can't understand a thing. It's all: The UPA told the PMO to yield on the CMP at the NDC. Those are just the more frequently used acronyms. Also, there are many hanging clauses, and bizarrely placed commas. I used to have a problem using commas myself; it must be an Indian thing.

I also saw an "item number" girl performing a song. In Hindi films, it used to be mainly the heroine that lip-synched the songs. But now random pretty girls are brought in to "dance" and lip-synch instead. After doing one of those song sequences, the girls are ever after referred to with the word “item girl” in front of their names, as if it’s a title.

A comforting discovery: Buffy reruns are on here at the same time as they were in NYC. I mean, New York City.

Saturday, July 2:

I went with the cousin for lunch to my great-aunt's house. Without even offering me a drink or a potato chip, she started with the expected questions: my age, my availability for marriage and my height. Yes, height, because how can any man live happily with a woman who is able to look down on him? My cousin egged her on. For good measure, she also told me a cautionary tale about a "fast" cousin who turned down a doctor from Los Angeles when she could have had him, and is now bitterly regretting it. She intimated that she has two boys in an attic (or somewhere), and she's waiting to hear from me about what to do with them.

I don't understand why there's so much pressure to get married, even when you are not (much of) a financial burden on your family. But society is pretty good about closing ranks on girls who remain single and bringing extraordinary pressure on them in the form of incessant questions or offers to introduce them to presentable boys. It's as if single girls are some sort of virus that will bring down the gigantic creaking machine that is Indian society.

Apart from that, lunch was going on uneventfully, until an unfortunate close encounter with the interior of the human body. My great-aunt had a little tin container by her side, which she opened after I had begun eating. Her dentures, which were extremely pink, were sitting inside, bathed in water. I averted my eyes but not before she began shaking them all around and then inserting them into her mouth. When I looked back at her, I got another shock. The dentures didn't fit her very well and sat high up in her mouth, giving her (in my fevered gaze) a distinctly predatory appearance.

I didn't used to be like this about dentures, but after spending a lot of time with a chain-smoking uncle who used to hack and cough up a lot of phlegm while wearing his dentures, and then leave the dentures lying about, I've become extra sensitive. I left with my fever back up to 102.

Sunday, July 3:

Cousin left for America. Hurray!

Monday, July 4:

Half the day went by before I realized it was Independence Day in my adopted homeland. I celebrated by getting a pedicure from a lady who came to the house. Her tools were rather crusty but I was already soaking my feet by the time I saw them.

The rains have come, officially. Conversation about the weather is not small talk here. In the days before I went to Ranikhet everyone was asking each other when the monsoon would come, and now that it's here I remember why. You can sit around without the air-conditioner on, and it's bearable. And everyone knew the trajectory of the rains and where they had landed already and where they were headed next.

In retrospect, there were some things I did like about Ranikhet. Like very good glass bangle shopping, watching weavers at work, and a last-minute view of the Trishul(=trident) peak. It looked so pristine and beauteous from afar that I don't dare to go anywhere near there to find out otherwise.

I also remembered something that was a bit sad. The first night, walking home to our guesthouse on shortcut from the Mall Road, we bumped into a cow. We saw her again during the day and there was an elderly lady on a charpai near her. This cow was very pretty -- quite brown and plump and not very old. It turned out that she had fallen down a hill -- the livestock there is quite agile and grazes on the hillsides -- and hurt herself and the woman had been sitting with her for 11 days, hoping she would recover. But in the last days we were there she took a turn for the worse. She began lying on her side in a twisted position and groaning -- a low gurgling sort of sound. The last night the old woman's son began to place grass and light incense around her. I'm not sure what happened after that because we left the next day but I'm sure she died.

Wednesday, July 6

I miss exercising! I miss walking! I miss using my legs! Sometimes my legs feel so restless at night I can't sleep and I have to kick and shake them till they feel a bit used.

The first few days here I did try to keep up the exercise regime my aerobics instructor friend had forced me to take up in horror at my flaccid condition -- 500 abdominals and 50 pushups and squats a day. Doing 50 pushups in 45-degree isn't very much fun -- even if you like exercising -- but I tried to think of it as a cheap form of Bikram Yoga. After all, if I was once happy to pay money to feel very uncomfortable and sweat profusely, I ought to be even happier doing it for free. But somehow, I began to find myself feeling vaguely embarrassed about my fervent desire to do exercise, like wanting to expend energy when there is no need to is decadent.

So I have begun taking exercise surreptitiously. Like sometimes I'll try and do a few push-ups in the bathroom. I can't do the full regime anymore, because it does take quite a bit of time, and I worry that if I spend all that time in the bathroom, people will start wondering.

Sometimes I walk to the local markets on the pretext of running some errands. But since most of my time is spent trying to cross the road, and breathing in dust and exhaust, I'm not actually walking very much. I'm starting to think it's not really possible to exercise outdoors here.

And yet Delhi girls are so slim. How do they do it? It must be eating disorders.

I wonder if the little exercise we get is why a lot of Indians seem to grow old so badly. All my older relatives are propped up by an intensive regime of pills and injections and regular surgery. And seeing how car-dependent we are in India explains why very few Indian people I know, even of my parent's generation, are particularly active. It must just be that the less you do, the less you can do.

I've been on holiday with my parents and their friends in places outside India, places where you can actually walk for pleasure. But invariably, in spite of everyone's grand plans to the contrary, this is how it actually plays out:

1. Discuss where to go for a walk (30 minutes)
2. Attempt to depart on walk (45 minutes)
3. Return after 5 minutes to collect shawls and umbrellas (15 minutes)
4. Decide to take car to designated walking site (30 minutes)
5. Walk at glacial pace around designated site (5 minutes)
6. Sit down at tourist-trap (1 hour)
7. Drive home, eat large meal and complain of total exhaustion.