Friday, September 29, 2006

Passage to India, Part 2

Friday, 8am: I awoke to the gorgeous sounds of New York City: trash compacting, trucks squealing breaks, ect. Muted due to rain. Peeled self off 400tc sheets (granted, from Target). Made breakfast, looked forward to waking up to, chai! chai!---breeeeeakfast madam! Of course I hear from Jessica that Sourage aka Shortu, the adorable Nepali boy who worked at Sun City Guest House, may have gone home.

Off to work...

Now: Sunday, Mumbai, more rain, more furiously. Tomorrow I return to Rajasthan to work with the Veerni Project again. I won't be teaching, just shadowing the staff (nurses, teachers, social workers) and writing reports (reports! I rub my hands together gleefully). I am looking forward to getting settled at Sun City, at least for the two short weeks I have for this trip. Of course I was lucky to get the vacation time but it seems inadequate after coming all this way. It's really, really far. If you're not sleeping it's hard to fill the time. As the sun set and rose again crossing the Atlantic I read the New Delhi segment of Somini Sengupta's series in the New York Times on India's growing water crisis (resulting from a mix of overpopulation, corruption and inefficiency-crippled bureaucracy): middle class women are fighting for buckets, quitting their jobs to wait for the few and far between city water deliveries. Then Bill Buford on the Food Network in The New Yorker and finally US Weekly on Jessica Simpson's fling with Bam whats-his-name. After disembarking to go through London's excruciating security checkpoint which took almost an hour and cost me my toothpaste and Purell (no liquids, gels or pastes are allowed on board) I slept while the sun set again on the 9 hour leg to Mumbai, while we raced across the mideast and Himalayas. All of the sudden it was two days later.

It's a festival day (when is it not?)--the end of Durga Puja week. The goddess was created by Hinduism's three principal gods to defeat a furious demon who was taking over the world, whose butt she proceeded to kick. So sitting on a lion or tiger, clutching a trident lent from Shiva and other miscellaneous weapons (perhaps a lightning bolt) she is the embodiment of female power. My Mumbai family took me to a puja (prayer ceremony) with a giant sparkling effigy of Durga. Then we went to the puja feast, which consisted mainly of kachori (Sp?) a mix of dahl and rice. It was dished out of giant vats stirred by what looked like 11 year old boys into buckets and poured over wooden plates--a huge serving that I could barely touch what with the whibbly-whobbly beginnings of Dehli belly.

Yessss, I'm back! Lugging my clumsy bags out of Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport last night Sunday morning at 1:30 am--22.5 hours after setting off in New York on Friday afternoon--I was struck first by the warm, hugging humidity and secondly by the rotten egg smell. But I was grinning out the window of the midget cab--my head brushed the ceiling--at the sorta-familiar landscape of lush green trees, STD (phone!) booths, stray dogs, shabby "heritage" housing. You know you're in Bombay when you see the odd sparkling glassy mall and giant fashion billboard (Indian lines, lots of men in tight shirts and jeans, no swimsuit-clad Heidi Klums, not this year at least). My hotel is rather glum: about $30/night for a tiny room that you'd pay no more than $2.50 for in any other city apart from Dehli. But it's a couple blocks from the fabulous Taj Mahal Palce & Hotel, a 1903 British construction that is one of the city's landmarks (with the Arch of India, which it overlooks). I'm going to swing by to scope it out--hopefully stave off sickness with some expensive chai tea for a few more hours.


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