Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A post about books that becomes a post about India

I don't have much to say this morning as yesterday I devoted most of my non-working, non-sleeping hours to Allegra Goodman's novel Intuition.

It was that good.

So that's my excitement.

Now I return to Laurie King's novel The Game, which is notable for its extremely accurate (IHMO) view of India through the eyes of a Western tourist. (Though of course Mary Russell isn't a tourist. She's solving a crime. And I might technically have been a student rather than a tourist. But one is inherently a tourist somewhere that foreign to one.)

And it is foreign. So foreign that when one returns, it is very difficult to talk about. Thus, I had the conversation "How was India?" "Oh, it was good" some three dozen times in the month I returned after my five weeks there.

The ChaliceRelative was bothered by this. She was convinced that I had been traumatized by my time there. She asked me open ended questions repeatedly and I never quite answered them to her satisfaction. I tried to tell her that I hadn't been traumatized, India is just hard to explain. Some months later, she and I were in a little shop in Alexandria, VA where I ran across a friend from college who had gone to India the previous year.

She started talking about India and I started talking about India and an hour later the ChaliceRelative was looking at her watch but seemed convinced that I was untraumatized.

In London some time later, I nearly got a waiter fired because he and I raved to one another for some fifteen minutes about the Bissau Palace Hotel in Jaipur.

Random India story: There were two old ladies who came along on our trip with us. Rather than the backpacks all the students had, they brought large suitcases under the assumption that thay would just pay somebody to haul their luggage around. There wasn't always someone to pay, so they often depended on us and in fact I actually threw myself off a moving train with one of those suitcases at one point. (I'll grant you that it wasn't moving very fast. But still, "I once leaped off the Ghandhidham Express in Mumbai while it was pulling out of the station" is a clear winner in that YRUU game where you have to tell a fact about yourself that isn't true of anyone else in the room.)

As far as I could tell, all coffee in India is made with milk. Your waiter will make you a coffee without milk if you ask for "American coffee" or just "coffee without milk." But you have to order it that way.

One time, one of the old ladies was having breakfast with a few of us. She ordered coffee. This restaurant, I should mention, was being run by a ten-year-old. Presumably the kid would come in and work breakfast, then go off to school while his parents dealt with the bigger crowds at lunch and dinner.

When the kid brought this woman her coffee, she started bitching at him because of course it had milk in it.

And I stood up and barked "First off, YOU ordered it wrong. Secondly, he's ten. I don't care if he runs a restaurant, he's still ten and you don't talk to him that way!"

I'd said it way too loud. Someone across the street was laughing at me. And my friends stared and the old lady stared and the ten year old with more professional responsibility that my nineteen-year-old self had ever had stared. And a cow walked by in the street, crunching the sandy road.

When I think of that moment, I smell spices.

India wasn't traumatic exactly, but the ChaliceRelative is probably right that I was never quite the same.


No comments: