January 8, 2006
We have been here for 4 days. We went right to work at Creative Handicrafts. It was great to see new faces and many of the same. Even in the neighborhood of our flat on Mahakali Caves Rd. the dress shop owner, photo developer, and veg. restaurant, remembered Beth and me. It is not as hot as last year, but it is hot. We had a big cockroach in our flat, but I scared him out and blocked his entrance with newspaper.
We visited our friends in Dombivli for two days. Deepak, Eugene and Benny. It was good to see and hug our Indian family again. We had our best sleep yet in their flat. It was so much quieter than our flat in Takshila. This trip has been different for us. We now understand the culture better. Our heads even seem to naturally wag side to side in typical Indian fashion, which conveys many unspoken words, like, you're welcome or that is fine, or, hello......nice to see you.
Today we took a long train ride, very crowded. I actually bought some fruit called chico, from a little girl selling. I wagged my head Indian style to close my purchase. We are learning some Hindi. Several children came to beg from us at the Dombivli train station, and instead of saying or nodding no, we asked them their names in Hindi “Apka nam kiya, hey”? Their faces lit up in surprise, and they told us their names. One boy was Santosh, and now I cannot recall the other names. Asking the children their names in their language changed our relationship to something more intimate, and we did not give them rupees, we gave them our hearts and genuine interest. We gave them our respect, by speaking their language. Not to be too idealistic, they do need more than what we gave, but for that moment, it was honest for all of us just to share names and eye contact. These children look joyous. Then, sometimes they do not. Sometimes, it is very painful to look at them, and I either look or do not look. You have to find your way to be ok with everything you witness in this mass of humanity and chaos.
The train was soooo crowded coming back from Dombivili tonight, and as usual, we were pushed in by the wave of women getting on. Our backpacks are a pain for everyone, because they stick out too far. The women usually watch out for us to make sure we don't miss our stop. We now understand that when a new woman gets on and points at us, it is not hostile, she wants to know our stop, and if it is closer than her stop, we need to give her our seat. If our stop is further away, we stay put. It can all be handled without many words. We have received some respectful smiles of approval, by our more astute handling or train communication. You cannot lollygag on trains or buses or busy streets.
Our flat is on a very busy road. Loud crows start cawing at 4am. Wild dogs howl off and on through out the night, and rickshaws and cars honk until 2am or so, and start up at 5 or 6am. But I love it here. This feels like my home away from home.
We walked in the slums the other day, with the director of Creative. The slums are so self contained, they have their tailors, international phonecall place, tiny food stalls. Let me tell you, the tailors are amazingly skilled. The smells are bad and delicious, curries, incense, human waste. No matter how poor, the Indian people and their children had haircuts, combed hair, and neat and tidy clothing, even if it was sometimes ragged. There is so much joy and humor on their faces. Sometimes much sadness and weariness. Certainly tolerance.
We go out to shop for food, etc, and we feel so comfortable now. Knowing some Hindi has increase our comfort. Tonight a fruit vendor overcharged me, and I did not realize until I walked away. I was amused. I went back and with a wag of my head, showed him my tangerines and repeated what he charged me, which was 20 rupees, much to the amused look of other vendors. I laughed and they laughed, and so did he. I said “ten rupees, not 20”. I also told him I stayed at Takshila, about one hundred yards away, to let him know I would be back. Sheepishly, he handed 10 rupees back to me. His friend laughed. I laughed again and held out my hand to consumate the new deal and to say, as I wagged my head “achaa”, or, very good. I had enjoyed my new ability to trade on the street.