Monday, March 30, 2015

Pearl's Obsessions

I hadn't written a blog before.

I had a theme: shopping in India.  I had a dream: to share the experience of being in my favorite place on earth, to make it so real that the reader would smell the smells, see the smiles on the faces of the artisans and shopkeepers, taste the steaming chai handed to buyers as we contemplate our purchases.
But really, I'm a professional with a nine-to-five job that has nothing to do with writing.  I am not a writer.

Fortunately, though, I have company when I travel, or when I dream of traveling.  If I was four, you would call her my imaginary friend.  Since I'm not five, we must settle for alter-ego.

Her name is Pearl, and, thankfully, she is a writer. I long ago decided to ignore her in this effort.  She writes fiction; I, within the bounds of memory and wishes, write the facts.

But there are two things.  First,  Pearl is persistent, smart, and has knowledge of India that exceeds mine.  Second, as she often reminds me, there is truth in fiction, sometimes more truth than in half-remembered facts.

So today I will let her write some of her truth.

Roopa and the Foreigner

Roopa pulls her shawl around her as she waits for the bus.  It is a beautiful Kashmiri shawl, paisley in muted colors of sand and sky, covered in minutely-stitched handwork.  She thinks it looks well with her salwar kameez, taupe with a simple cream border, as befits her age.

Divali has ended, which means the beginning of the cold season in Delhi.  Just yesterday she pulled out the woolen blankets from the metal storage cabinets where all her winter clothes are kept. The blankets were part of her trousseau, given by her now-dead parents almost thirty years ago, and she loves them.  She pressed their scratchy softness to her, breathed the odors of mothballs and wool, and laid them at the foot of each bed.

The change in winter is subtle, but clear.  Winter is Roopa's favorite time of year.  It is the time when her son was born.  It is the time for school, which Roopa loved dearly.  If she had gone on to be a doctor, instead of stopping after high school, she might love it more, since winter is the time of health, free from the dangers of heat and disease.

Winter is also the tourist season in Delhi.  Roopa personally has nothing against the European who bring their tourist rupees to India, but she doesn't understand them, either. For example, the young woman standing across the street, apparently also waiting for someone or something. She is dressed, if you can call it that, in an obscenely short skirt, shorter than any Bollywood actress would dare. And in the cold! Roopa has heard, of course, that western women are little better than prostitutes, but she has trouble imagining an entire society filled with such women. But this woman wears too much makeup and too little clothes, much more and much less than the women of the red light district in Delhi.

Suddenly the woman looks directly at Roopa and smiles.  Flustered, Roopa looks away.  She will not risk her own reputation by talking to a western whore, if that is what she is. 



***

Nina's smile dies.

People in India aren't very friendly, especially the women.  Nina is with her husband, who is here on business and is gone during the day.  She has a week to see the capital city, and wishes she knew someone to see it with.

The weather is perfect, probably in the high 70s, so much nicer than her New England town, which by mid-November is cold and dreary.  She has a sweater crammed into her oversized bag, but she doesn't need it; a tee and a jean skirt are fine.

Absentminded, she scratches her leg, wondering if she should go back to the hotel and arrange to hire a driver, rather than trying to negotiate far with an autorickshawallah.  When she planned for this trip, she imagined that she might meet someone who would show her around the city.  She's nervous about hiring a driver, because the men here seem to be totally out of control, saying the rudest things to her.  Their aggressiveness scares her, as she had always thought of Indians as a gentle, spiritual people.  Uncertainly she turns toward the hotel, looking once more in her guidebook, as if the book will show her how to be in this strange place.