Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Gawking in the City

Back in New York, I've been so busy I haven't posted. I'm well, off the meds, still happily unemployed. I'm sleeping late, lunching with friends and old co-workers, leaving them as they rejoin their desks and emails to stroll the city streets.

I'm trying not to stare up at tall buildings and people, but they're so shiny and well-put together here. The women are amazing: they sprint down the sidewalk in three and a half inch heels, hailing a cab and putting on lip gloss while having a heated debate on their cell about where to have tapas tonight. The men are staring at them and not at me, which is great for a change.

I think I've stopped hyperventilating in grocery stores. It happened a few times when I was in the Maryland 'burbs: standing in the soy sauce aisle, the rows of bottles, all shapes and sizes and Szechuans, started to blur and whirl. My heart pounded and my mouth went dry. The silence was deafening. It happened in the drugstore, too, in the toothpaste aisle. Yesterday, a week and a half later, I tackled Zabar's. Inside I met with no heart palpitations, just mixed olives and tasty Swiss Peasant Bread.

I'm keeping bits of India in my life. The Ustad Zakir Hussain tabla CD I picked up in Pushkar is perpetually on my stereo, and I'm almost through Paul Theroux's The Great Railway Bazaar, a narrative of train journey through Asia. The section where he travels through India is fascinating. It's apparent that almost nothing he saw has changed in thirty years--scratch that, in a century: he quotes Mark Twain on Bombay's sidewalk sleepers, writing in 1896 of the "city of the dead" who lay "everywhere on the ground sleeping."

The last night in Mumbai I drove past these "hundreds and hundreds" -- now probably a hundred thousand--on the way to the international airport. I saw them sleeping on cardboard, mats, carpet, in twos and threes. Taxi drivers sprawled out on their car's hoods, probably still warm from the day. I stared and stared, trying to burn the image in my memory, not knowing the next time I'd see anything like it.