8 Oct

I have a heart-longing this afternoon for a moment in time that embodies a lifestyle, a way of living and loving, a way of doing community and society that I doubt the Western hemisphere finds easy to come by.

I’m sitting here with Manzon’s attempt to outline The Construction of a Field, but my mind is stubbornly on a rickety bus whose seats are steadfastly warm from the sun. I’m on the bus with my mother, who is the perfect person to go out with on a lazy, laid-back expedition.

We’ve just been to the salon and gone perusing through bargain-hunter haunts. I’ve dragged her reluctantly from shop to shop, presumably. And she won’t refuse because I’m leaving soon. But she does really want to stop for food.

It’s easy to find some place to eat from bus stop to bus stop in India. It’s easy to eat out on your wallet too. It’s easy to choose from a variety of tastes. And it’s easy to treat yourself to a meal that is less easy on your wallet, but still doable.

And so it’s easy to change your mind. To decide not to go into a restaurant and find another one two street corners away. To ask the lady selling bangles why she won’t sell them cheaper and nearly have an argument with her but also ask her what her daughters are studying in school and listen to her tell you to get married soon. To turn around and say to my mum that I want to delay our plans by a half hour because… well, I want to get a henna tattoo on my hands. Mehendi is what we’d call it.

And I’m walking around with a blue umbrella, avoiding the sun, and I like the absence of heat beating down on me and the presence of prevailing warmth in the air. And this is fine. In India. It’s not weird. Nobody’s going to carefully keep their eyes off you so as not to look at you like a spectacle.

Also, just so you know, if it were a spectacle – they’ll look. You know? And you hate it when you’re there. But it’s a way of life. It seems to come with the territory. Passive-aggressive is just… less passive there.

So we step off the bus, walk into a restaurant, and my mother finds a table. I am less laid-back. I walk up to the counter and tell the guy that if we’re paying for air-conditioning (which you do, actually, in restaurants there), we want it on. Of course, he’s amused because I look as unlikely a candidate for independence as possible. I’m in jeans and a t-shirt, I carry a backpack, I’m shopping with my mum. I look like I’m in college – you know what I’m saying? 😉 I also look unlikely to be able to speak in any authoritative way in the local dialect. But I do. So he smirks, but I practise my stare and the A/C gets turned on. Stat.

And then we saunter over to the mehendi stand. Four youngish guys, all in jeans, in a mehendi stand. Daunting. One of them takes my measure. I take theirs. And then he nonchalantly asks me to put my hand on his knee.

I am a little less nonchalant. I’ve learned different social codes. My mother doesn’t care – she’s just encouraging me to tattoo both hands. But I gingerly lay my arm out and the man paints a tattoo on. And my mum looks on – and there’s love in her eyes and enjoyment of this time. A security I only know when I look for it. But it’s always there.

And they wait while we fumble with our many bags, umbrella and wallets to get the cash out. It’s always a struggle between my mum and me to get to our cash first. And they listen in to our banter. They’re not in the least uncomfortable. We know it’s banter they can listen in to, of course. It’s an allowed intimacy.

She pays. I am incapacitated by the wet paste on the whole of my left arm and hand.

And we hop on a bus again. We’re talking about the dogs and my father. I hope he’s waiting for us for dinner. If he’s been out, he’s probably bought something for us. And it’s okay to stick my hand out into the sunlight streaming into the bus. It’s not weird either. It’s not in anybody’s space because it’s not as crowded in the afternoon. And it’s okay to hide my really hot cheeks from the sun, and it’s okay to laugh with my mother and give her a hug if I can manage it with my bags.

It’s okay to change my plans, to delay things, to speed up things, to make something happen that I thought about ten minutes ago. It’s okay. And I miss it today.


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