In the Sick Ward

•November 1, 2008 • Leave a Comment

At some point in between the watching of the interminable Mother India at the film archives and the slightly less serious 40-Year-Old Virgin at the guys’ place on Wednesday, I managed to offend my body in such a way that it manifested itself the next morning in what has now been diagnosed as a viral fever.

Now, I don’t get sick. Everyone I know gets sick about once every ten days and makes a big fuss and leaves used tissues everywhere (wimps), but it takes me a good three years to catch something bigger than a headache or a day-long sore throat. But now I’ve mysteriously managed to contract this virus, which makes my head feel like it’s going to fall off if I walk any further than the bakery next door (where I just bought a praline eclair — DON’T JUDGE).

The only things I want to eat are clear vegetable soup (my lunchtime room service order the past three days) and chocolate in any form. I will drink anything, however, with special preferences for hot tea and anything carbonated, so I can numb the back of my throat if I swallow properly. I have been wearing the same clothes for the past three days, despite two hot baths and a shower. My expression, I would imagine, is somewhat dazed. I sound like I have emphysema. But apart from all of this there is not really any pain and no nausea, and I’ve been reasonably productive. For example, I’ve finished almost all of my Power and Contestation reading. And I’ve tried multiple times to watch an episode in the fifth season of Grey’s Anatomy, with minimal results. And I flossed a few times.

I don’t have it as bad as some other people in the program, who are dealing with stomach issues. I will gladly accept fever and sore throat over stomach issues.

But I forgot how bad Sprite tastes. Lemon Mirinda anyday.

yeah, that’s my update.

Tamil bound.

•October 20, 2008 • 2 Comments

Alright–so apparently I’m better at writing about mundane, everyday American life than I am at writing about entirely different, exhaustively interesting India. Or maybe it’s the fact that my own computer refuses to connect to the wireless here, and that the ‘a’ key mysteriously stopped functioning. Maybe I feel like there’s too much to explain about life here, and not enough time to consolidate it all.


Tonight I’m leaving with Isa and Clara (travelling companions from UChi) for Tamil Nadu, India’s south. The train ride will last about a day, and then we’ll spend the night in Chennai, and spend the rest of the week in Tiruvannamalai and Pondicherry until we come back next weekend. I am anticipating my first experience with India’s oceanfront, and southern food, and possibly having major communication difficulties for the first time in this country. Most people there make a point of refusing to learn Hindi.

Things on my mind:

  • Massive anxiety/excitement over the upcoming election in the states
  • Greatly looking forward to downtime–reading, cards, and my iPod on the train; lazy beach time with cocktails
  • Do I have any money?

The magic of the pomegranate.

•October 9, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Too much has happened since I’ve last written to make a coherent post that covers it all. I have moved into a fancy hotel. I have made travel plans for our break, a week from now. I have met two groups of people, and introduced these people to each other. I have drunk a long island iced tea in a bar beside my TA. I have ridden side-saddle in a skirt on a motorcycle. 

But I feel it’s only possible to begin with one thing at a time, and today I want to talk about the pomegranate.

I had never eaten a pomegranate before I came to India. Whereas most people love fruit, I have a very picky and uncomfortable relationship with it. I hate bananas. I also dislike apples generally, unless they’re in some sort of dessert. Oranges are good, but only sometimes. My disdain for strawberries, I think, is widely known among my friends. I have few exceptions to this hatred of fruit. Pineapple–pineapple is good. This past summer in Jaipur, I became fond of mango. I also discovered lychee… which is glorious and deserving of much verse and praise. 

But by far, my favorite fruit is now the pomegranate. In fact, I have developed a steadily increasing pomegranate addiction. Fruit markets and carts are widely available here and last Friday night I set out for one down a few narrow lanes near the hotel. It looked lovely–all lit up with lights strung through the bazaar, a narrow walkway in between carts on both sides selling every kind of fruit and vegetable, scales on the side of each cart, the smell of incense that someone is always burning. I asked one man about the price of his pomegranates and ended up walking away with a kilo of them–5 or 6–for 100R. (that’s about 50 cents a pomegranate). 

In the summer, our cook at the program would sometimes add pomegranate seeds and something green to the rice. It was delicious, but it wasn’t until a week ago, when my roommate Clare offered me one that I decided I needed to create space for pomegranates in my life. And now, like some kind of addict, I’m buying a kilo at a time and sometimes running out within a day. I usually have one or two in the morning between Hindi and my Religion and Arts class, and one or two later in the night while studying. And then maybe right before I go to bed. And maybe at some other time, too.   

If you’ve never had a pomegranate, they seem very strange–you open the orange-sized rind to find hundreds of bright red seeds, all packed up neatly into separate compartments. Breaking into the little compartments is immensely satisfying, like winning. The pomegranate is the cat of the fruit world; it requires attention and work before it rewards you. (An admittedly weird simile; it’s been two weeks, give me a break.)

Once you get to the seeds though, you find that they taste lovely. They lack all of the aspects that turn me away from other fruit. Bananas have a grossly squishy texture; pomegranates are crisp, with a thin skin and a watery inside. And the taste is clean, tangy and somewhat woodsy and floral. 

Wondering why I’d never had a pomegranate before, I approached Wikipedia and discovered some interesting facts:

1. The pomegranate is native from the Middle East to the Himalayan foothills of India. It is widely used in these areas, as well as Central Asia and Southern Europe and some parts of Southeast Asia. It was introduced into the Americas (think: California) later on and is primarily used there for juice production. India makes wide use of the pomegranate however, which is why it’s available at all the fruit markets, and why it was in my rice (and a dosa, recently, I think.) 

2. Because the pomegranate has been historically native in an area where several major religions developed, it is a frequently mentioned fruit in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Also, there are some people who believe the forbidden fruit that Adam and Eve partook of in the Garden of Eden was a pomegranate instead of an apple.  

3. The pomegranate is high in vitamin C and vitamin B5. It is also high in antioxidants and has been shown as effective in reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease.

Have you experienced a pomegranate? Now’s the time. Embrace life!

One of the guys.

•September 23, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Have you ever wondered what four drunk (well.. three drunk, the fourth on Red Bull) college-aged Indian guys do in the early morning hours in the company of an equal drunk foreign girl?

Dance, as it turns out. Dance. And dance. And dance.

I should have figured this out from Harish, back in the states. The guy loves to dance. I should have noticed that it was strange, and I should have related it back to his subcontinent. But I did not, and as a result, I’m still wonderfully blindsided and charmed by the fact that in this country of nearly two billion, I’ve yet to meet a guy who won’t dance.

And not just won’t–that makes it sound like they need to be prodded first. No. These men are born to dance. They pull you back in when you try to sit down and rest. They spin you. And they move, whether or not you’ll move with them; it almost seems involuntary.

So, how did I find myself dancing with four guys I’d just met at 4 in the morning?

It started with only one of them, who slowed down on his bike the night before, after he saw me walking back to my guesthouse in the dark. Did I need a ride? he asked. I looked suspicious. No, I said, I can walk. Are you an Osho? he asked. No, I said. And so the questions continued until we were in conversation, and then I was being invited for coffee, and then I got on the bike and then I was having coffee with a stranger.

Undeniably, this sounds sketchtastic. It’s just another difference in this country that such behavior does not necessarily presume a creepy person. I have written before about the informality of India; this is partially what I mean. He stopped for obvious reasons but his eyes were innocent, not probing. And I was tired of only meeting people who wanted to talk about my aura.

So we had our coffee, I discovered that he was willing to only talk, and he promised to take me to an event at his college the next day before dropping me off. We hung out some more the next day, and that night I met his friends, and we went to his place, and hookah was smoked, and white wine and beer and a tiny bottle of vodka worked their way around the group, and everyone’s personalities became transparent, and before the night was out I was being declared one of them and given an alcohol-saturated pass into their group of friends.

Akshay–the first one I met–is one of many guys I’ve met in India that neither smoke nor drink. I admire his ability to be happily sober in a group of drunk people, something that’s not always particularly fun. But he’s a pretty straight-laced guy, as it’s become clear. His room was plastered with motivational posters that might be available at a teachers’ supplies outlet, and a hand-written sign was stuck on the wall to remind himself, “If I become a successful businessman, a few people will know me, whereas if I become a successful cricketer, the world will know me.”

They all attend a prestigious business school, but A. is apparently a highly prized cricketer as well. In fact, the U.S. is currently forming a team, and he’s in negotiations to join it; the downside being that his future in Indian cricket would be done for, and that’s really where his heart is.

A.’s two friends Kalyan and Sumit were an interesting contrast to his more reserved and polite personality. K., the oldest of the three, discussed movies and books and music and as the night wore on became more and more of a flirt. S., on the other hand, is the youngest, and had no apparent interest in me but chain-smoked, drank like a fish, and was the most wildly enthusiastic dancer. He could have danced all night. Like Audrey Hepburn.

S.’s friend Chetan–a year younger than him–eventually joined us as well, a very quiet guy who nevertheless partook of the smoking and dancing. It turns out that American preteens have no monopoly on Truth or Dare; in fact, four college-aged Indian guys will very happily play the game. This is what followed the hookah but preceeded the dancing, and there was seduction, talk of virginity and the loss of it, and C.’s forced proposal to me (“I love you… I love you.. I love you because you are a foreign.”)

I went to the bathroom and came out to find the four guys dancing to some Hindi pop song. When I tried to sit down, I was pulled back up, but I felt too awkward to dance to whatever was on so I put on Shakira instead. Even I can’t resist Shakira. And then I found myself shaking my hips and working my way around their circle to dance with each one, enjoying the power of being the only girl. I also noticed for the first time the upward tug at the corners of my mouth that comes with wine drunkenness; involuntary and persistent smiling.

All in all it was a very good night, and not entirely unlike time spent with friends back home. Except, of course, being one of the guys, a curious new place for me… but one I kind of like. It teaches me things. For example, I partially understand cricket now.


Adjusting my chakras in Pune

•September 18, 2008 • 1 Comment

I admit Pune did not endear herself to me immediately. I was a bit dazed coming off the train from Delhi–a train ride that exceeded 24 hours and involved catching up on old podcasts and giving some of the lesser-listened music on my iPod a chance, as well as reading a sizeable chunk of Roald Dahl’s short stories for adults (some of them surprisingly creepy [I can suggest some if you’re interested!]).

As is par for the course, in getting off the train one is waylaid by men who want to carry one’s bag for money. I didn’t feel like fighting anyone off, as I have six month’s worth of crap with me. The man carried the bag outside to the rickshaw-wallah and immediately demanded 150R, an exhorbitant amount of money. He had mentioned this amount before scooping up the suitcase and running away with it, so I cut my losses and handed it over. In front of the rickshaw-wallah, unfortunately… who, after I gave the name of the cheapest hotel in the Rough Guide I’ve inherited from Gina, said he’d take me there for 200R. It was an insane price–like, 4 times the amount that considered normal, and I lost my calm.

“NO!” I yelled. “I can’t.” I checked my poor, beleaguered maroon wallet. “That’s SO expensive. BAHUT MAHENGA! Look, I only have 140R. That’s ALL I HAVE. That’s ridiculous! It should be 50R, MAYBE. I’ve been in India! I know prices!”

He remained smiling, and pointed out that I had just handed the guy carrying my luggage 150R. “I shouldn’t have!” I said. “I won’t. No. I can’t give you that much.”

But I had little to no choice. My suitcase was already jammed in the rickshaw and I was hard-pressed to get it out and then into another one, where I would just as likely be asked for some obscenely out-of-proportion amount of money.

After I went to the guesthouse and saw that it was barren and they asked for much more than the book said and far more than it was worth, I refused and told the rickshaw-wallah I needed to go somewhere CHEAP. Cheap like less than 500R. cheap. To make a boring story shorter, he took me to a place finally–the place I am now–and eventually wanted 250 fucking rupees out of me.

To give you an idea of how outrageous and unfair that is, the rickshaw driver in Amritsar asked for a total of 400R. (100R. from each person) to drive us 45 minutes to the border with Pakistan, wait an entire hour or more for the border closing ceremony to complete, and drive us all the way back. The Pune rickshaw-wallah wanted more than half that amount for the 15 minutes he spent driving me around a tiny section of Pune.

I became so outraged that I literally had a meltdown. “NO!” I screamed. I then proceeded to call him four letter words, and scream in Hindi about how it’s only because I’m a foreigner, and I know how much things should cost. It was, admittedly, a little absurdly disproportionate of a reaction.

It’s not that I’m loathe to part with six dollars. It’s much more that I feel incredibly affronted to be treated as a naive foreigner. I’ve been here three months and at this point it’s more like living here, rather than traveling. And damned if I’m going to be treated like I don’t know what’s going on. I’ve powered through a lot of it and fought my way to correct prices and honesty with locals. I make a sincere effort to speak the language, for God’s sake. I stay for the most part in modest lodgings that the Indian middle-class avoids. So when I’m asked, by someone with a straight face, for more than twice what something is worth, it sends me into a crazy tirade much faster than anything else.


So, like I was saying, Pune and I didn’t get off on the right foot. After I threw the money at the rickshaw-wallah and told him to “Get away from me”, I went up into my room, locked myself inside, and allowed myself to sob quietly for a couple minutes. Then I curled under the blanket and slept.

This wedge the country drives in between you and everyone else–which says “You’ll never belong here”–gets me sensitive sometimes.

I felt a little less insane when I woke up. I decided to take a walk, to take in a little of Pune, gauge the difference between the north and the south.

Here’s one thing: The weather down here? It’s comfortable. Like, comfortable enough that you can walk around outside without feeling absolutely miserable and wanting with all your heart just to be inside. All of the north–with the exception of cool and calm Dharmshala–was, simply put, horrible for living. The sun was so intensive that the day was almost unenjoyable. It beat you into a submissive and yawning slave to the shade, and then it laughed at you when you passed by pools of water that were clogged with garbage and colored a noxious green. Northern India during monsoon season is unkind.

But down here, the weather is lovely. It’s warm but not hot, breezy but not chilly. I can wear jeans and not be soaked with sweat. Big, grey clouds roll in and soften the day. Gentle rain comes down and makes a jacket seem appropriate. My back doesn’t sweat (don’t look grossed out; I told you north India is intense). My feet don’t sweat. NOTHING SWEATS. It’s almost like I’m not in India or something.

Not wanting to die when I’m outside means I’ve no use for rickshaws and I’ve rediscovered walking. And, to further expound on the glories of the south, there are more trees (especially beautiful, expansive banyan trees), less garbage, and less dust.

And then there’s the German Bakery.

I have been here one day and eaten there twice. Last night and this morning. And it was so good that I ate the same thing. A mixed vegetable omelette (small aside: I am not sure why, but for some reason Indians really know how to make omelettes. I think the best omelettes I’ve ever eaten come from here) and two pieces of toast, real toast, like real-bread, whole-wheat home-made toast, not the refined flour white bread equivalent that is the widely available alternative here. And then a pot of tea–hot tea without milk or sugar, the way I like it. Chai has its place, but in the end I’ll be crawling back to the plain old hot water and loose leaves, begging for it to take me back.

It is beautiful, the German Bakery.

I also looked around and came to understand Pune a little better as I sipped my tea and sat awkwardly alone. That’s one clue: awkwardly alone. There are two things that stand out especially about Pune. One: It is a university town. There are many fine universities here, and as a result the population is largely young (even for India) and, well, hip. Like, the guys were smoking, for instance. And wearing Converse shoes. And looking really hip while smoking and wearing Converse shoes and drinking their coffees. Two: Pune was the chosen settling-place of Bhagwan Rajneesh, or Osho, the sometimes respected, sometimes notorious Indian philosopher and semi-cult leader who sort of epitomised the 1960’s eastern spiritual movement, what with his teachings on free love and awakening the unconscious and whatnot. Osho set up an ashram in Pune, less than a kilometer from where I am now, and as a result, many foreigners and Indians who follow Osho have ended up here to meditate or smoke weed, usually a combination.

In other words, I have gone from perhaps the most conservative part of India to possibly the most liberal, a place where hippie spirituality saturates. How about a couple people for a case in point?

This morning at the German Bakery, as I was indulging in a chocolate croissant (forgive me, body) and enjoying some Roald Dahl, an Indian guy slid onto the wooden bench across from me, right in front of the Tulsi Organic Tea sign. “Mind if I sit here?” he asked. He introduced himself as “Ray”.

I continued trying to read, but he lit up a cigarette and struck up a conversation, asking what I was reading and whether I worked in Pune. After returning the question, he said, “I’m a part-time model,” and I tried to swallow back a smile; really, it’s hard to stay straight-faced when a stranger leans forward across the table from you, blows a puff of smoke and says, “I’m a part-time model.” It was then that I really looked at him and noticed his long, silky, wavy hair (a mane that would make Fabio seethe with jealousy), his smooth skin and symmetric features. I also felt a little self-conscious with my black-rimmed glasses and thick book. But I still had the upper hand; I was somehow not attracted to him.

Ray was unusually chatty and somewhat embarrassingly… spiritual. He gave me his short backstory–24 years old, from a village in Kerala–and peppered me with a host of strange questions; “Which came first, darkness or light?” and announced he was in Pune to meditate and “learn why I’m here, where I’m going”.

“You think you’re going to find out?” I asked, amused, but too quietly. “We all need to turn inside,” he explained at some point, and “We’re all energy, made of the same thing, everything is God to me, that tree and you and I, we’re all the same thing.” I nodded. He then began rather frankly to talk about sexuality and explained his conflict between sensuality and spirituality. At this point he had talked me into a walk around the Osho park, and I mentally noted that I was walking under banyan trees with a strikingly attractive person I wasn’t attracted to, having a conversation about sex that I hadn’t particularly wanted to get into. I wondered if he assumed I was somebody that I wasn’t.

The whole conversation was enlightening for me. I have in the past referred to myself at times as a hippie for various reasons–being a indifferent and occasionally clueless or scruffy dresser, caring too much about recycling–but there is one thing I cannot pretend to have in common with most hippies: I am so. not. spiritual. The word itself makes me cringe slightly. I will simply not buy anything you try to sell about “inner light” or my “third eye” or “awakening” my whatever. I think yoga and meditation are good; I think they are physically and mentally productive, that they do good things for the heart rate and breathing and release helpful chemicals. But I won’t go further. And what else, I am so. not. free. love. I view all of these things with a suspicious and skeptical eye. There’s too much to be exploited with these views; people’s money and bodies can be talked into another person’s hands. Just ask how much it costs to enter Osho’s ashram of inner peace and meditation. I can meditate for free.

And when Ray started asking distressingly probing sexual questions like, “Do you have a fantasy?” with that casual and drunken-smile look of a Free Lover (and he laughed at great length, that high-pitched Indian man-giggle, when I said the answers to his questions were “personal”), and invited me some ten minutes later to stop by his place so he could give me some books containing Osho’s wisdom, I had to decline and hightail it down the street.

Because that’s not me, it turns out. That’s so not me. Talk about physics. That I will listen to.

The guesthouse owner likes to bid me adieu by taking one of my hands in between two of his, closing his eyes, letting loose a string of “Om shanti om shanti om shanti om”‘s and, apparently, reading my aura. Tonight he diagnosed a problem with my neck chakra. Said it’s blocked; thus, I have trouble communicating.

Hope this is clear enough for you.

train log, Delhi to Pune

•September 18, 2008 • Leave a Comment

So here I am, once more on a bumpy night train to a new and somehow different aspect of India. This time? South India, or my version of it, my final (well..) destination of Pune. I will have ten days before my program (autumn quarter!) begins and I don’t know what I’ll do. I may succumb to the travel bug and check out either the southeast (Chennai, Pondicherry) or the southwest (Kerala), depending on which place I decide not to go on the week off in October or November or whenever it is. I’d like to see both areas.

But I’m not much for solo travel, as it’s harder to buck off the more tenacious individuals alone. Take this train trip (a rousing ~30hrs, oh my!) on which, at some point earlier I’d decided to slip on over to an empty berth with a window view, clutch my blanket, and listen to music. I even had a little curtain to draw! Solitary bliss.

But it was not without a struggle, as a quite-older Punjabi guy who’d seen me earlier ducked into the seat across from me and insisted on a conversation. It was the usual (I’m in India to learn Hindi/civ, I’ve gone herehere and here) except when he asked about a boyfriend I invented one in the states. I was obviously a little agitated and disinterested in conversation, but he just sat there. Finally I put on my headphones and five minutes later he gave up on friendly exchanges and left (although he did insert a strange little palm-stroking thing during the handshake that creeped me out).

I don’t hate and rudely banish all conversation, obviously, but sometimes I’m just not up for it and refuse to carry politeness past the first several minutes. I had looked for my own seat to wrap the solitude around me. My own compartment, which I’ve again escaped from (I’m like the pathologically wandering foreigner), contains three fat women who spread themselves out along the bottom seats such that I really only have the top berth–I can’t sit upright. They talk a lot and burp audibly and frequently, which disgusts me. To think I’ve seen so many things (innumerable people relieving themselves in public places, for example) and what revolts me is the loudly burping women in my train compartment.

I was happy to leave Delhi. I don’t much like Delhi, for whatever reason. After seeing the refreshingly green countryside of Punjab, the glistening Golden Temple, the cool and winding Himachal foothills and the candles lit inside shops during power outages, the simple and peaceful image of Tibetan prayer flags strung above a waterfall, the sand dunes of the expansive Thar desert.. Delhi has little to offer in the way of charm. It does offer Kamal (meaning “lotus flower”), the most adorable budding hospitality professional I have probably ever met, who had some actual conversations with me, and flashed that smile, and wore a twin red thread around his wrist, like the one I got in the Ajmer mosque and have worn almost every day subsequently. Oh, Kamal.

I’m sorry to report that the night of the bombings that seemed to have been meant for me was only strange and surreal and sad for one night. The next morning it felt like a detached fact of the previous day, like my breakfast or an afternoon purchase. This is the fourth major attack of terrorism this year, all within only the past five months, three of which have happened while I’ve been in the country. As horrible as it sounds, it has begun to feel like some kind of norm. There is a routine to it. A few days of media coverage and public discourse, a condemnation from the prime minister, and then a quiet slip into the background. The glass is swept up, people get back into the markets, the police stand around, trying not to look like they don’t know what they’re doing.

This talk about not liking Delhi and terrorism and irritating conversations has me thinking about something Matt (one of my travel companions, and now, friends) and I were talking about. He mentioned that he thought it was unfortunate when people gave a negative impression of the country in which they were traveling (via blogs, information to friends, etc). Given that the country isn’t “ours”, it seems unfair to waltz into it and judge everything according to our biased standards. It just promotes a bad image of the country.

It struck me, the way he was talking about it… he sounded actually concerned. I said I found it even more obnoxious when people traveled and delivered only a glowing and glittery impression of their destination. To mention some of India’s best qualities and turn a blind eye to things like pollution and sexism is, frankly, unrealistic. Still, dwelling on these things without making note of how culturally ingrained and therefore difficult to both understand and conquer they are–that’s also pretty unrealistic.

And the conversation made me wonder if I’m portraying India poorly, with some of the negative things I say. The negative often requires more thought than the positive, which is maybe why it slips much more easily into writing. But if it’s the case, I’d like to establish that my view of India is overwhelmingly complicated but nuanced by so many positive things I have yet to touch on and have trouble explaining.

in delhi

•September 13, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I have been to quite a few places over the last two weeks–the center of Sikhism, the sanctuary of exiled Tibetans, on the back of a camel in desert sand dunes–but I don’t know when I’ll feel up to writing the details. Sleeping on trains and oppressive heat and minimal internet access makes the internet, when available, feel like an opportunity I don’t know how to handle. I check my e-mail, check Google news, and I’m overwhelmed. But now, a short and recent update.

Today we came back to Delhi, via an overnight train from Jaisalmer. We spent the afternoon wandering, picking up a couple things that we needed, eating leisurely. We had some cold coffee to cool down, headed over to Planet M to get Matt’s friend a gift, and then over to the Center Park to rest in the shade of a tree. It was hard to find, this tree, as all those growing were small like bushes, not yet able to provide shade. It can be hard to find shade in this country, and I feel like that can function as a broad metaphor but I’m too drained to actually analyze it much further.

In the tiny patch of shade we found, hiaku were created. Last-Day-of-India haiku, for the three leaving, the three other than myself.

We left Center Park and went to a restaurant, the most expensive we’d all eaten at together, which served “blissful” Chinese food–their description, not mine. We ate well and talked about American television, which seems like such a strangely distant and inaccessible treat to me here. Comfort is a thing far away. The three discussed the merits of Boulder, and it made me miss America. Some days I really do. Miss it, that is. Chicago and lakeshore path and cycling and bitter snow and morning tea and coffee shops with friends and my bed, I miss little bits of my life back home and allow myself sometimes to think about it. By the end of today–by now–my sister and friends would be (are) gone. Gina goes home, the guys are bound for Turkey and then Europe. Every once in a while, on rare days, India feels all wrong and I sigh and deal with it.

Now comes the part, 6:15pm, when we leave the restaurant and wander toward the road to look for a rickshaw. We head up one street and I approach an empty auto and the apparent driver who is sitting nearby, staring dejectedly at the ground in front of him. “Is this your auto?” I ask in Hindi, but he just looks up with heavy eyes and motions us away. Gina mentions that she’s seen a lot of poor people, but she’s never seen someone looking so depressed in India.

Now the part when we mill out to the street and finally do find an auto, I bargain down a price, and we’re all four squeezed in and headed back to the hotel. And we hear a couple of explosions nearby and I tell everyone it’s probably fireworks, Indians are always setting off fireworks for any reason.

And then the part when we get back to the hotel, turn on the television, and see that four bombs have exploded in Delhi, and the number of dead begins to grow, and familiar places a mile away are on the screen, covered in blood, and it’s at Block M, where we bought a couple albums not 3 hours before, and Center Park, where we made up Indian haiku in the shade less than 2 hours before. And those people milling around us all day, getting new shoes or trying to get rupees for missing fingers or meeting friends, whichever of those people chose to follow our path a few hours later than us.. saw broken glass and blood and screaming.

And what I keep thinking about is the man on the curb, staring at the ground. I don’t know why, but I keep thinking about him.

And now, up to date, is the part where I’m at the hotel, and people are clean, and I just feel. Strange.