Archive for August, 2008
How long does it take to get over a hurt? A day, a month, years? What if it’s a moment? A choice between forgiveness and nursing the pain. That’s what it comes down to, ultimately: a choice, a decision that says I’ve had enough. I’m done being angry, punishing you, resenting you, blaming you for my feeling unworthy. It’s a choice that says I’m worthy of loving or being loved. I don’t need this barrier anymore.
I have a small but glorious accomplishment to share with all of you today. This afternoon I stopped at Pakeeza, my local dairy center where I go to buy fresh dahi (yogurt) and kulfi (ice cream). After I placed the order, a man standing next to me complimented me on my Hindi! He was pleasantly surprised to hear a foreigner ordering in Hindi and asked a few questions about my experience in Bombay. This exchange was a pleasant reminder of how far I’ve come from my earlier attempts to communicate. I walked home with a definite spring in my step.
One of the most daunting realities of life in India is bargaining. The threat of having to haggle with people on the street haunted me before I moved here and well into my first month. I avoided shopping on the street, taking to heart the words of caution from well-meaning friends and family members. “You’ll be targeted because you’re white/a foreigner/don’t speak Hindi,” everyone warned me. I frequented shops with fixed prices and promised myself I would learn to bargain at some point. That day came much sooner than I expected when our local supermarket suddenly closed (temporarily- “due to domestic problems”). I was forced to confront one of my biggest fears as I headed out to the corner to buy veggies from the local vendor. Later that night I sent Sam out without me to find out how much Indians pay for the same items. Guess what? Same price. I tested it out when my father-in-law visited, too, and happily discovered that the men who work on my corner are extremely honest.
For the most part my experience in Bombay has been consistent. Rickshawalas use the meter, veggie vendors quote the same prices to Indians and foreigners, and street hawkers will bargain down to a lower price than stores offer. When my friend Laura visited in February we bought some souvenirs on the street. I think the guy was so surprised to hear me speak Hindi (I know the numbers pretty well) that he gave me some kind of special discount on a few items. When I checked out a local discount store that carries the same items I was shocked to see how little I’d paid on the street.
Having a series of such positive experiences has made me a little less vigilant when I’m out and about in Bombay. Then, every once in a while, something happens that wakes me up again. Yesterday I took a taxi from the American Consulate to a shop near Churchgate station. Upon arriving at my destination the driver quoted 40 rupees, which was way too much. Every driver carries a rate card that shows the charges according to the meter display. When I asked him in Hindi to give me the rate card, he bargained himself down to 29 rupees.
Yesterday Sam and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary at Shiro, a “trendy and upscale lounge bar” in Bombay. It is by far the best sushi place we’ve found, after much exploration. The meal was a sensual delight with exquisite food, soft lighting, and spicy music.
We indulged in some of our favorite dishes as we reminisced about our two years as husband and wife. Our wedding ceremony, which we wrote ourselves, remains one of our most precious memories. It was truly a reflection of the love we share, and our families and friends were fully present through personal reflections and group vows. My dad and I shared a fun father-daughter moment as we danced a polka together. Bollywood hits blared from the speakers as our friend Brijesh encouraged everyone to join in with the classic move “turning the light bulb”.
Memories of our two-week honeymoon are engraved in our hearts. Affectionately nicknamed our “Temples, Tombs, and Forts Tour” we traveled through much of Rajasthan and some northern cities. Standing on a snow-covered ridge in the Himalayas I was overcome with awe, and the Taj Mahal brought me to tears. We enjoyed dinner at a palace in a hilltop fort overlooking the city of Jaipur. The trip culminated in a stay at the Taj Lake Palace, a hotel that is the former summer palace of the regional king. It was at dinner one night that I overheard a tour guide proclaim to his group, “India will never surrender the cashew nut!” Sam assured me he probably said “the Kashmir” not “cashew nut”, which I admit makes more sense.
I have learned so much about love and friendship from Sam in the last two years. He is generous and kind, smart and thoughtful. He loves me all the time, in spite of myself. Sam and I share a life that is full of adventure and travel, and face life’s ups and downs together. As we look back on the days since our wedding, we also look forward to the years to come.
There are times in my experience when a strange and sultry dream image is mirrored with remarkable clarity in my waking life. As I surfaced through the hazy space between dreaming and wakefulness recently, I reached for the wisps of a fading dream. The whisper of Hollywood director David Lynch echoed through my mind, “The vermilion thread cannot be broken. We are the vermilion thread.” I quickly reached for my dream journal and scribbled the enigmatic message.
Curious about the reference, I investigated cross-cultural allusions to vermilion thread. Buddhists believe that red thread symbolizes the life blood of passion; it is that which creates and nourishes life. A red thread bestowed upon Hindu boys of the Brahman caste gives them access to ancient knowledge. In Judaism wearing a red thread signals an intention to remain open to receiving God’s grace and protection. An ancient Chinese belief affirms that an invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break.
On Saturday we celebrated the Hindu holiday of Raksha Bandhan, which honors and reaffirms family bonds. Tying a vermilion thread around a brother’s wrist, a girl reminds her brother of his obligation to protect her in times of need. This simple gesture is one that transcends culture and family connections, however, as it reminds us of the ties that bind us all to each other.
My husband’s grandmother, Dadi, was a freedom fighter in India’s struggle for independence from the British. Today marks the 61st anniversary of the historic day when India’s hard-won battle was completed at the stroke of the midnight hour. (Coincidentally, today is also Dadi’s birthday). Freedom fighters sacrificed their education, their livelihood, and sometimes their lives for the political cause. A student protester, Dadi was arrested and imprisoned for demonstrating as part of the movement for independence. Her future husband was spared a police record when an officer recognized him as the doctor’s son and released him without charges.
Independence was the culmination of long and sometimes violent struggle, which resulted in the Partition of India into what it now three countries: India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The legacy of independence and partition continues today, in political conflicts that flare across the northern regions. As we remember the valiant sacrifices of millions of people who gave their lives for this political cause, let us offer a moment of silence for a peaceful resolution to this and all world conflicts.
Nehru’s “Tryst with Destiny” speech, delivered on the eve of independence.