"You look good in Indian Dress." That's what one waiter said to me yesterday. He wasn't the first to comment on it. It's amazing what a difference wearing my Kurta's and long pants and dupatta (the scarf) actually make. Everyone comments on it. Indian's, non-Indians, former Indians who now live in the US or England. Seriously, people stop me on the street to tell me how well the clothes suit me. Apparently I look as if I've been wearing them my whole life.
I suspect that I'm really starting to wear India more naturally. I noticed a shift even in Mumbai. But it was so tenuous that I didn't want to mention it for fear of jinxing the inner evolution. Last week I had whole hours where I felt more in
India than out
After just two weeks in the country, I find washing my clothes in a bucket in the bathroom common place. I consider cold showers and hard beds normal. Did I really ever sleep on a soft mattress? Are pillows flexible? I can't remember.
Energetically, I seem to be shifting as well. I have moments when time gets hazy. I sense that I've always been here. Or at least lived whole lives here. I can almost remember the days when rickshaws were powered by human strength. I feel if I just concentrated hard enough I could recall which birds migrated through Kerala at this time of year, because it feels as if I've always known it. The other day when I was walking to the ferry, my lower back started screaming at me. I was soon passing by a small spice shop. I walked right up to a basket filled with gorgeous large pods of some kind. I picked up several of them. Nothing else in the shop even came into focus. A woman walked up and explained that I was holding a kokka. If I drop the pod in boiling water and crack it open, I was told, I would find a large white seed. Eating that seed, she explained, cures lower back pain.
I returned last evening to the boardwalk to watch the sunset. It was Sunday so it was almost as crowded as Republic Day last week. Remember when I went to the sea to find some balance and almost had a nervous breakdown because I felt so outcast and downcast and cast away?
This time, sitting there in my Indian suit, parents practically forced their children to speak to me. When I went out to sit on a rock to get a better view, a lovely older Indian woman and her daughter navigated the unsteady and craggy path out to where I was just because the older woman wanted to tell me how lovely I looked in my outfit. That, and she thought I probably had a great vantage point.
The mother's name was Indira. She was born and raised in Kenya, actually. Her daughter, Yogini, was also born in Africa. They now live in London. They had the most lovely and posh accents, Indian and African and English all mixed together which created this extra resounding trilled"r"~Delicious.
Yogini and I found we shared a love of trees and we vied for the best shot of the setting sun behind a craggy tree.
When dark descended the three of us shared a stroll back toward town and Indira offered to treat us all to coconut water served fresh from the coconut because, "It makes the ur-een come. It ees very gut for dis cli-mat. I am always drinkeng many coconuts when I am herrrre."
I only slightly protested her generosity. But she said, "No. Got has made us all to meet herrrrre. So, we will celebrate."
The coconut vendor stands at a table piled high with coconuts. He chops a tiny bit off the top with a big machete, barely missing his coconut holding hand every time. Then he takes a divet out of the top and sticks a straw into the nut, a bendy straw. It's always a bendy straw in India. We were all handed coconuts and then, in the dark at the edge of the Arabian Sea, we clinked coconuts and said, "Cheers."
When I got back to the house there was an American girl there, Nicole. She had just arrived in India the day before. She is a very seasoned traveler and a New Yorker and she exudes this kind of tough, take no shit attitude from the second she introduces herself. We were fast friends in a sort of yin and yang way. We went to dinner and made plans to spend today going to the spice market.
Nicole: "I won't take a tuk. Or if I do, I'm not letting him follow us around. I won't stand for that. He's taking us right there and we are getting out. And he will be done."
Me: "Awesome." I wouldn't have to worry about betraying Sandosh or about negotiating with another Tuk, Nicole could be responsible. I could just walk around charming people with my Indian dress and my scant Malayalam vocabulary.
I went to bed feeling truly relaxed for the first time, feeling more at home and holding the prospect of an on again off again traveling partner since Nicole and I discovered that she leaves India only one day before I do and we have almost the exact same list of must see places.
I woke up rested and self-assured. I went downstairs and sat on the stoop petting Marshall, the giant Golden Retriever. Leelu was across the street and she wandered over to me and announced that I had to move. Just like that. An internet booking had been re-confirmed and they had no room for me for at least one night if not the rest of my stay. She said Roy had made her give me the bad news. Roy said later that Leelu was very angry with him for missing the internet booking. My Indian family was falling apart and it was all my fault. My mood sunk like a stone in the sea. On top of moving, I still didn't know if my bank card had broken or if I was cut off from my money.
"Why can't anything be simple here", I wailed...... in my head.
Nicole, who is in the Leelu Homestay annex a few blocks away, showed up and we had coffee. We laughed about how plans are so fluid in India, its impossible to count on things happening the way they are "supposed" to.
But we are Americans, and we had a plan of our own. I would go to the bank. We would meet in an hour or so, after I moved and then we would go sightseeing to the spice market and "Jew Town." As we talked about our day's plans, I started to make peace with my change in accommodations, even though I didn't know where I was headed. I went to pack up my bag and Nicole used my computer to check her email.
Then Nicole ran into my room and said, "The plans are changing, the plans are changing."
Her Indian friend Raj, who lives in New York, had written that he was in Cochin visiting his mom, so she needed to cancel the spice market trip to hang out with him before he leaves tomorrow.
Huh. Ok, so, no room, no money, and now, no friend.
Holy Ganesha. What a morning.
"One thing at a time, Morgan. One thing at a time."
That's all I could say to myself.
First, Roy moved me around the corner to a nice enough hotel. Then I went off in search of the bank to speak to the manager to find out if he could give me a cash advance on my debit card since it wasn't working in the atm.
The Canara bank in Cochin is like some kind of dusty, clap-trap, rambling version of the Bailey Savings and Loan in It's a Wonderful Life
. If you made George Bailey Indian and 20 years older, you'd have the bank manager. I waited dutifully in the amoeba shaped "line"of people clustered around the manager while important looking papers were exchanged and stuffed in drawers that looked more like the "catch everything" drawer at my house rather than a place where Very Important Documents should be stuffed. When it came my turn, a young Indian man tried to cut in front, but the bank manager very quietly, but firmly, shooed him away and insisted that I take a seat and tell him the problem. I did. He couldn't help. But he told me to go to the "Credit Extent" down the street could.
"The extent? Is that an extension of the bank?"
"Ex---tent," he over enunciated, as if he was making himself clearer.
Only after I found the "Currency EXCHANGE" did I make sense of what he'd said.
The "Ex-tent" was excellent and solved all my money problems and I wandered back thru town.
When I got back my new BFF was waiting for me. I was being invited, in an "I'm kid-napping you for the day" way, to join her and Raj for the afternoon. I thought about saying, "no" because I'd had enough of being moved around and guided by Roy and Leelu and Sandosh. I wanted to regain control, say "no" and stay in town and write.
Thank Ganesha I didn't. Raj took us to a fancy hotel restaurant in Ernakulum for a real Keralan feast. Even though Raj is Indian by birth, he is a New Yorker by personality; he is out-going and funny and not shocked by women being feisty and talking sass. Plus, I felt that I could be totally myself without worry that Raj was going to try and hit on me just because I am such a smiley personality. The restaurant had a bar and, since we were far from the judging eyes of anyone I might know in Fort Cochin, I had a margarita which was the first drink I'd had in weeks. The three of us laughed and made jokes at each other's expense and there was an easy-to-be-me feeling I hadn't realized I'd lost because I've been working so hard to be culturally respectful and to fit in . At one point, Raj had to get up to go clean his shirt which had gotten food on it, a major source of ribbing, and left Nicole and I at the table in stitches. Nicole said, "Isn't it great to be able to poke fun and talk shit with someone?" And I said, almost sobbing I was laughing so hard, "OH MY GOD, it's such a RELIEF."
|Nicole and I pose Japanese style|
After food, we went to meet Raj's mother and her young live-in helper, two charming ladies who chattered with us and graciously put up with we three giggly folks who'd invaded the house. I showed off my Malayalam and received an invite to come back for lunch or dinner anytime.
"As usual, everybody wants to adopt Morgan." Nicole good-naturadely teased.
|Raj and his Mum|
Earlier in the day, when Roy was moving me, I rode in the car with Nicole and Randa, the cleaning lady, over to the annex. Randa insisted I sit next to her and she talked to me in Malayalam and held my hand the whole way over, like a grand-mother might. She was sad, I think, that I might not be staying anymore at Leelu's.
I'm not great with the holding hand thing, especially when I don't know someone well. I can be a little physically self protective. But this hand-holding was so natural, so very right. This woman I've only met is part of my heart now. It was part of my heart holding my hand.
Like India. India is becoming, quickly, a part of my heart. Or maybe, like it has taught Rajiv, India is teaching me to think with my heart. The hastles of dealing with ancient banking systems and the Indian tendency to say "Yes" to everything (any person who asks for a room, for instance), when really the answer needs to be "No", ("No we don't have a room for you because it's already pre-booked," as an example) are fast becoming secondary to holding hands with the beautiful woman who cleans the floors and laughing with friends I only just met.
Nicole had a moment where she stopped and said, "Oh my god, I just realized I'M IN INDIA!" I know that feeling. I've had that feeling....in Rome standing in the Colosseum, in Cornwall walking Queen Morgaine's coast. But I've not had that feeling in India. India feels natural, like an old coat. Despite the drastic adjustment to dirt and begging and staring men and disapproving women, it fits. I have always been here. In some lifetime, or several lifetimes.
I just had to remember how to dress.
Addendum: The internet has been uncooperative for the last few days, so I'm a day behind. Today, I moved back to Leelus. Nicole and I went to Jew Town. And, I bought a sari.
|Leelu, Me and Roy|
If you are a gal and you ever want to feel like a rockstar in Kerala, buy a traditional Keralan sari. First, 10 beautiful Keralan girls dress you and put kohl under your eyes and fuss over you like they might a favorite doll. Then when you walk down the street, you might as well be an Indian princess. The men were staring, the women were giving me the ok sign and waving, and the respect factor went through the roof!