Friday, August 17, 2012

The Jodhpur Diary: Sunny Suraj

16th August, Thursday

"Suraj abhi tak nahin aayi,"(the sun hasn't come as yet) said 'M.'

"Isn't 'suraj' masculine gender and shouldn't it be 'suraj nahin nikla aaj'?(the sun hasn't risen today) I said showing off my very limited knowledge of Hindi.

My friend 'M' laughed and told me that she was referring to her domestic help named Suraj, hence the feminine gender in the verb 'aayi.' 

Suraj is a Hindi word and it means sun. We have a Suraj bringing in her sunny disposition everyday into the house. She's talkative, ever ready to help and she has an opinion about everything and doesn't keep it to herself. But she's not arrogant or obnoxious in her candour. It's just the way the local working class people are in this city. They are simple and uncomplicated. They have no compunctions in expressing whatever they feel and social etiquette as we know it does not exist for them.

So I met Suraj for the first time the day I arrived. She gave me the once-over. Staring isn't taboo for her and neither is eavesdropping, if she's within hearing distance. There was no conversation between us and that was normal for me, as my domestic help doesn't make small talk with my guests and that is the norm in our parts. However that wasn't the reason for Suraj's silence. Two days later, she decided to break the ice!

It was Janamashtami. This is a major Hindu festival which celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna. Usually the womenfolk observe a fast and eat one meal which doesn't have onions, garlic and common table salt. They use rock salt in food during fasts.

I was comfortably ensconced on a sofa in the sitting room, lost in a book and oblivious to the preparations going on for the day. A voice broke into my cocoon of silence.

"Vrat rakha kya?" (Are you fasting?) I looked up to see a pretty Rajput face smiling at me. Suraj had decided to speak!

"Nahin" (No) was my brief reply. She mulled over this a moment.

"Vrat rakhte nahin kya?" (You don't fast at all?) I heard the surprise in her voice.

"Nahin," another brief reply. She thought over this a bit longer.

"Teej ka vrat toh karte hoge" (you must be fasting on Teej) Teej is another major festival in Rajasthan.

Another short negative reply bombed her this time. She shut up. She walked away leaving me amused by her expressions and mannerisms. If I thought that was the end of discussions on the topic of fasting, I had another thought coming.

Later that evening while my friend's daughter and I were salivating over some hot snacks and going yummmm, our friend Suraj walked up to me and said, "Bhooke nahin reh sakte ho, par mandir toh jao," (If you can't stay hungry, at least you can go to the temple) and she walked away leaving us in splits. She must think I'm the biggest atheist in town. What a tiny world she lives in! However, I was not offended by her bluntness, she was genuinely flummoxed by my apparent disregard for God.

Today I was alone at home,the others were out seeing to various jobs. So it was just Suraj and I. She had observed many things since my arrival and was aware that I have a problem with stairs and generally avoid them when I can. But today she wanted me to have a look at the wooden floor in one of the bedrooms upstairs. Due to the wet weather it had swollen up in parts and she found it odd. I refused to budge. She wouldn't take a no. She held my hand and coaxed me to climb two flights of stairs as slowly as was comfortable for me! After she showed me what she wanted to show, and said all that she had to say about wooden flooring, she guided me down slowly, gently and full of concern for my condition. I knew that she would soon have something to say about my knees and my back and my general health. What I didn't know was how soon! I had barely seated myself on a chair and she started.

"Aastha jante ho?"(Do you know about Aastha?)

"Haan, TV par dekha hai" (Yes, I've seen it on TV) I thought she was referring to one of the channels on TV.

"TV par bhi aa gaya!!" (It's on TV too) she sounded amazed. Then she added, "Aap wahan gaye kya?" (Have you been there?)

"Kahan?"(where?) was my monosyllabic reply

"Aastha. Ghar ke peeche hi hai."(Aastha. It's right behind the house)

I knew we were talking about two different things. But I kept quiet and didn't respond. She carried on, undeterred by my reluctance to continue the conversation.

"Ek jagah hai. Buddhe log rahte hain" (It's a place where old men and women stay)

"Achcha, par mere ko kyun bata rahe ho" (okay but why are you telling me this?)

"Achchi jagah hai. Kaam waale rakhein hain safai ke liye, khaana banane, kapde dhone, press karne. Doctor bhi aate hain. Bahut achchi jagah hai. Guard bhi hain...subah, shaam"
(It's a nice place. They have workers to keep the place clean, cook food, do the laundry and ironing. Doctors visit regularly. It's a very nice place. They even have guards at the gate...morning and evening)

I maintained my silence.

"Ek baar dekh kar aao. Badhiya jagah hai buddhon ke liye. Bachhe nahin rakhte hain toh yeh log yahan aate hain. Kabhi apna koi nahin hota toh yeh jagah sahi hai."
(Go and see it once at least. It's a great place for oldies. When children don't look after their old parents they come here. If one has no relatives it's the right place to come to)

Finally I got it. Her concern for me was touching though ill-placed. I assured her I had no interest in visiting Aastha and I'd take her word that it was an ideal place for oldies....but I didn't qualify as one right now, and by God's grace I had children who looked after me! This seemed to make her happy and she smiled a broad smile and went into the kitchen. I was off the hook and relaxed, but not for long. She popped her head out the door and asked, "Ramdevda mela dekha kya? Main aapko le jaoongi" (Have you been to the Ramdev fair. I'll take you there)

"NAHIN, nahin jaana hai" (NO, no I don't want to go) I said rather firmly emphasizing the 'no' as much as I could. She gave up without a fight.

So even though the skies remain overcast, we have our Suraj everyday...sunny, warm and caring in her own way!


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Jodhpur Diary: A desert waiting for the rain

August 14, Tuesday

It's raining.

It's been raining since yesterday afternoon, continuously in varying degrees of intensity, from heavy downpour to mild showers to drizzles to needle sprays. There are few things as beautiful as a desert monsoon. It's's sheer revival, a return to vitality for a thirsting soil, and its flora and fauna. It's been great that my arrival coincided with the onset of the wet season. The garden my friend 'M' has so lovingly and painstakingly grown is a sight to behold. The flowers are blooming with brighter shades of red, pink, blue, purple....and the leaves are a greener shade of green....if you know what I mean!!

Imagine morning and evening walks in a fine, light needle spray shower, and getting thoroughly drenched in a heavy downpour just for the heck of it.....and there's Norah Jones singing:

Like a flower
Waiting to bloom
Like a light bulb
In a dark room
I'm just sittin' here
Waiting for you
To come on home
And turn me on

Like the desert
Waiting for the rain
Like a school kid
Waiting for the Spring
I'm just sittin' here
Waiting for you
To come on home
And turn me on

Holidays turn my world upside down. My days start later than I'd like them to and end later than what's good for me....but I'm not's heavenly to forget routines and schedules once in a while. Especially when a late, late night can give you a scare and goose bumps!

It was one of those nights when I Skype with my son in Canada at around midnight our time. Alyssa gets back from playschool then and I get my quota of baby-watching and chatting. So here I was after one such session and it was around 1.30 am, and sleep was elusive. I decided to catch up with some pending work on the net. As I tapped away at the keys, I was distracted by a sound that didn't fit into the usual night sounds I had experienced in my new environs. Then came a waft of cologne. Who on earth would bathe or shave or whatever and use cologne at this hour, I wondered and decided the thought was as ridiculous as the imagined activity itself. But then it happened again and again.
Bandicoot rats in the cupboard I screamed silently...I had lost my voice as soon as the thought occurred!

I sat petrified in front of the lappy, my fingers frozen above the keys. The petrifying insanity lasted a few seconds and I was back to rationality. There were bandicoot rats around the place but none inside the house, I reasoned. What if one slipped in and was in a cupboard and jumping over cologne and perfume bottles and releasing the fragrance, said the other part of my mind that I sometimes listen to, especially at moments like these. One would think I wanted to heighten the prospect of fear and enjoy the goose bumps that had started to bump up my spine and arms. "That's the stupidest thing you've thought in some time," I said and continued with my work. But once you lend a ear to neglected thought processes they don't let go so quickly.

"It's a burglar at the door."

Oh yeah, he doused himself with perfume to commit a burglary. Pathetic!

"It's someone in the house who felt like having a's possible."

Haan, but highly improbable.

"I know, it's an apparition. Remember what happened in Mohali?"

Now, my saner mind was listening. That wasn't good. I looked toward the room to my left, and my own room to the right. Nothing felt wrong. I relaxed.

Rubbish. Your imagination is running wild.

"Oh yeah, then why aren't you looking at the staircase behind you?"

That did it. I just didn't want to look at the staircase behind me. Then it happened again...a kind of whoosh and slight crackle, and the fragrance. I realised it was closer and to my left. Was someone outside the side door?

I turned just as the whooshing sound occurred and it hit me! There on the wall above the wrought iron screen was the room freshner dispenser....I laughed my way to bed and deep slumber and the whooshing fragrant ghost kept vigil.

My holiday is so holidayish and lovely!!


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Westward Bound: The Jodhpur Diary

Wednesday, 8th Aug

It was 6.oo a.m and I had managed to catch a few hours of sleep. I am always jumpy and nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof, the night before I have to travel could be anywhere, even a three hour train journey!

I looked out of the window and groaned. The skies were overcast: dark, ominous clouds hung heavy with their burden. No, no not now. Not when I have to leave....a downpour was the last thing I wanted to happen.

The airport is a forty-five minute drive from my home, if I don't get stuck in long car queues at traffic lights and the toll gates. I had a 10.15 am flight to catch. As a person with special requirements (read assistance) I couldn't check-in online and that meant I had to allow for check-in time too. I had asked my nephew, V, to accompany me so I would not have any problems with my 'special' assistance! Later I would be more than glad that he came along.

I was ready, baggage weighed, locked and ready at the door. I made a last minute check on the to-do list stuck on my notice board....yes, everything done and now where was the cab?

Right on cue, my phone rang; the cab had arrived. The baggage went down, I went down and everything went into the car. Now it was time to ring V. No more call.....two more calls later, I discovered he'd fallen asleep. Who wouldn't after a long night's work followed by a long drive back home!! I was grateful he had agreed to come with me. A short wait and he was in the cab and we were airport bound. I checked the time.....we were good with about fifteen minutes to spare above the forty-five minute time frame for check-in. I relaxed.

Just as I was beginning to enjoy the drive I heard a sound and saw the driver's left foot frantically stepping on a limp clutch....a school bus was honking on our tail. My heart sank. The clutch cable had snapped. We rolled to a halt and I whispered....a stage whisper mind you....."I'm going to miss my flight."

"No, no, we'll make some arrangements," said V very confidently.

That's one of the reasons I wanted him to come along. He's resourceful! I settled down with a deceptively calm exterior and waited, while the cabbie called for another vehicle. V was making some calls of his own.....a vehicle would come eventually, but would it be in time? But V was still sure I'd be on that plane and I believed him. I am sure I would have had a coronary something, if he hadn't been there!

Another cab arrived just when nephew dear decided to use his arrangements. Transfer of baggage, and we were airport bound. I looked up and saw the driver looking at me in the mirror.

"Don't worry ma'am," he said, "I won't let the flight go without you."

Tall claim, but I knew what he meant! A quick look at my watch and I knew we'd cut it very fine, but I'd get on that flight. A consolation short-lived. I was on a diurectic, and it kicked in just then....I had to go and I had to go right now....major emergency! We were approaching a traffic light and there were a whole lot of vehicles already there and more coming behind us. The driver made a snap decision and took a left turn into a slip road. I knew what he was doing. He knew English and had obviously understood my condition and urgent requirement. A right turn brought us to Ramada and the necessary facilities.

My nephew and I walked in and while he engaged the receptionists with queries, I located the washroom. Time was running out! Still we walked out laughing with our own discoveries. The nephew was thrilled with the brunch/breakfast tariffs and I was happy with the maintenance of the washrooms. Silly things to rejoice about at that time it would seem! We looked for the cab, it wasn't where we left it. A quick search and phone call and we were on our way again. There was very little time left now. We had lost the fifteen minutes of extra time. I was seriously on my knees again. Please Jesus we don't need a rush at the toll plaza, no traffic snarls and I would like to be on that flight. It was all answered.

We got to a lane with few cars at the Toll, and traffic was light. I made it to the check-in counter just as it was closing. If I wasn't one of the special requirements person (read wheelchair required) the lady behind the counter wouldn't have been so accommodating and pleasant.

Now began my long wait for a delayed flight. A half hour delay was quickly followed by huge relief on boarding. The tiny craft was packed and I felt like a sardine. We must have been air-borne for a quarter of an hour before we hit bad weather. It's horrible to be seated in the tail section when there's turbulence...worse when you're in a small plane, which I was in, and it's added drama when the buffeting brings on loud creaking sounds....

The Captain announced our arrival at Jodhpur and before I could even complete my long sigh of relief, he announced that landing would be delayed due to some Air Force exercise or something (my hearing was impaired by then) we circled the Jodhpur sky which was heavy with dark clouds and quite windy. But eventually we did land and I was able to complete my long sigh of relief!

I had made it and I sent my Big Friend a 'thank you' note and Amen!

PS: It rained heavily AFTER we took off from Delhi. It rained continuously AFTER I reached my destination in Jodhpur. What more can one ask for.....except hot pakoras, gulgullas and ginger tea!!