Friday, January 21, 2005


It's overcast and rainy today, which makes me realize how great it is wake up to bright sun, morning after morning here. It's like California, the sharp sunny days followed by chilly nights. Here at dusk the air fills with thick acrid smoke from garbage fires at the side of the room.

There are no trash cans at the guest house or in any house I've been (including in Mumbai). Although a pickup supposedly comes at 4am, everyone tosses rubbish over the glass shard-studded wall (a pretty alternative to barbed wire I guess) into the lot next door. Sure, there's trash all over, not to mention a lot of cow shit, but considering one million people live in this city it's not much. It helps that no one apart from westerners uses paper products like toilet paper or tissues (they do the Indian sniff-snort-hack thing into the dust). Food also comes whole, not wrapped in plastic. Vegetables are fetched from one of the markets around--usually okra, tomatoes, huge red carrots, ginger--which here is fat and juicy--tiny red onions, hot green and red peppers, and cabbage. Wheat flour for chipattis, the bread staple at every meal, comes in reusable burlap bags with bright, graphic lettering.

Any trash I have I'm told to give to one of the live-in servants, thin-as-a-rail Samnadl, a 22-year old who sleeps in the linen closet, or Sotoush ("Shorrrtu!"). Shortu (Hindi's version of Shorty) is a growth-stunted 12, who continues, despite Push and Neeta's pleas, to fuel up for a hectic day mopping floors, cooking, and running errands with harsh, cheap chewing tobacco. The good news is he's cut down from 10-15 packets a day. Shortu's family came from poor, war-torn Nepal to Jaipur, a nearby city, where he worked in Neeta's family's home. His father is an abusive alcoholic who burned off half of Shortu's hair, and scared away his mom before he and Shortu's brothers came to India. So Neeta took him in to keep him safe. She gave him a few reading and writing lessons at home, since he never went to school, but he gave up soon. It's probably discouraging to be a 12 year-old illiterate in a household of smart, studious kids (Neeta's five year old speaks better English than some of my 17 year-old village girls).

Shortu is a favorite of mine and Jess's, and we try give him things here and there--drawing paper, with which he made a pretty damn good sketch of us--a hat, chocolate, American coins. He asked to come live with me in New York. "He says he will prepare food for you," Neeta translated. I said I'd have to find myself a job before I could find him one.

If I come home after midnight, I'm shocked to see Shortu asleep. He cashes out on the front room's cold marble floor, flat on his back, a blanket pulled over his head.


Post a Comment

<< Home