Today it rained. It is A’s birthday. It has rained many times like this before. Then my house used to let the water seep in gently through hidden cracks, like music, flowing into waiting pots and pans. Then, Lola, my dog sat miserably under a chair- she hated the rain. I am with Tom now. Rain in Pondy is a happy place. Pakoras fried on street corners, families huddled under umbrellas, children jumping in puddles, the sea calm, grey yet wild. Rain in Pondy is a dream I remember when I am cold and wet in Berkeley. The roads slick with oil, grime and cow dung smell of the earth, of child-hood and truth. I want to get wet in this rain but I am still in the car. I don’t want my shoes to get wet. I am smiling. It rained in Pondy today.
My house is a collection of memories. Pieces of furniture unmatched, uncoordinated used to each other after three decades together sit side by side in uneasy but accustomed companionship. If my parents were still living together that is how I imagine their life together would be. It is early in the morning, I am jet-lagged. The sun should rise soon, there is comfort in certainties. In a few days we sell this apartment that I owned with my ex-husband. Tom and I have bought a home across the road. I look forward to cleaning this apartment of the memories sleeping in the sofas and tables. I will lay them on the side of the road and hope someone will pick them up and use them. The time now is 4:30 am.
We entered the restaurant to eat and blanched. The table right in front of me was covered with flies. I took a step backwards, the girls took a step forward and exclaimed,” Mommy, mommy, look, flies.” I nodded grimly and turned to look around. A man eating at the table next to us pointed vaguely to a distant corner and said” Go there.” I turned and walked out trailed by two eagerly chattering girls, one tired husband carrying one very curious baby. Next door was another restaurant, open air as the one we had just visited but no flies. We sat down and ordered our lunch. The mango juices fresh and cold soothed my constantly waging thoughts on life in India and I gazed out at the green trees and let the children and husband voices wash over me. Over lunch, a couple of dogs weaved in and out from under our table licking our crumbs oblivious to the girls laughing, screaming and valiant efforts to keep their legs away from them. Cheese sandwiches, summer salad, mushroom crepes- the lunch was almost impeccable. India, a study in fierce contrasts soothes me in moments of calm. I observe the girls getting out of their air-conditioned cars and home and walk on the roads. They count the cows, goats, kids, they talk about milk coming out from under the cows, they ask me why people don’t take the dogs home, why we don’t take a hungry dog home. I remember a time when I did. When my mother would find me standing outside the house feeding milk stolen from the kitchen to feed the strays I would stumble upon.Now, I am not so optimistic. Now, I avoid the eyes of the homeless, rarely look at the animals. Now, when I have so much more materially than I have ever had in my life, I am filled with a sense of hopelessness. What use is the penny to the homeless, the sip of milk to an animal that will live its days out in the sun and rain living always on scraps? Though sometimes I do stop. Boys throwing stones at a dog that wants to play with them, security guards waving big sticks in the faces of road peddlers to get them out of their door-ways- sometimes I stop, sometimes I yell and sometimes someone listens, sometimes someone laughs and sometimes someone yells back at me… But I realize I do it now more for the sake of my girls. Indifference to injustice is a terrible thing. Memories of who I was stir me and I speak up for that girl who was and for these girls who are witnesses and my hope for a world that could be just a little less indifferent.
Four days into my trip to India, I had to sadly admit to myself that I had come to no conclusions or understanding about myself or my identity as an Indian who is now a resident of America. In the elevator in my way up to a “wi-fi” cafe, on the third floor of a fancy albeit gaudy leather boutique, I would sip a sweet lime soda, blog in my diary while the temperature close to a hundred degrees F beats against the frosted glass. For three days now, Paro almost eleven months old has a fever- heat exhaustion. She spends most of her day in an air-conditioned room as does the rest of the family. I make quick dashes into the open world and rush back with equal alacrity. I am under assault- sounds, smells, smokes, light, dust, colors. I am drained. I am home.