Sunday, March 25, 2007

Me and Daisy Mae

I have heard it said that we learn something new everyday. It is not yet noon and I have already had my quota. So grab a pen and jot this down. Never, and I do mean never, walk too closely behind a cow. I’m serious about this one. Not only is the view not very attractive, but blink at the wrong moment and you just might find yourself putting your feet into a fresh pancake of poo. Cow pies are supposed to bring luck if you accidentally step into them, but when wearing sandals, I firmly believe they must be avoided at all costs…

One thing I love about India are the narrow and windy streets with all sorts of little shops selling all sorts of little things. Wedding jewelry, silver Ganeshes (or is it Ganeshi? Note to self: check the plural form of Ganesh - mustn’t make a cultural faux pas) spices, car motors and my personal favorite, the combination optical and dental kiosk. That must be the nightmare for every Indian teen. Go in looking like a star, come out with a full set of braces and coke bottle glasses.

I can stroll and take in the local color and what’s great is that I never have to pay any attention to where I am going, I am free to get completely lost and turned around because there will always be an auto or cycle rickshaw rolling past within a few seconds. If that doesn’t happen, the people that live and work there are happy to point me in the right direction. Small children peek out at me and giggle, usually too shy to say anything or come up to me but overcome with curiosity. Others are more than happy, eager actually to practice their English. I hear their names, I hear them count, they ask where I am from and then every once in a while, one will surprise me by starting to speak French or other European language, usually putting my own knowledge of that language to shame. I love losing myself in the timeless, sliver-like streets with the criss-cross of electrical and phone wires barely held together with electrical tape, the lengths of the wires themselves often in various colors as though they have been made of scraps or even patched when they broke or snapped. It is this spaghetti like collection of wires and TV cables with their thick coating of dust that provide a sort of open-air ceiling to the narrow streets which carve out the little neighborhoods. When I was in India before, I would see the occasional tourist walking through these areas looking as out of place as I do, but on this trip, they seem to have taken a keener interest in more upscale places like Khan Market where they can pop into Barista and have a latte when shopping for kurta becomes too strenuous.

Being the only non-Indian around, it makes me feel like I am on an adventure, a sort of Indiana Jones only without the whip and cool hat. Or Harrison Ford jawline. So there I was, the wandering gora, going nowhere slowly and without a care, Kylie spinning around in my headphones and a cow, who for the sake of this story I will name Daisy Mae Gupta, slightly ahead of me, keeping me company while leading the way. She the royal one, me staying three paces back, a Philip to her Elizabeth. I was looking left, looking right, scanning like a hawk for little things I did not yet know I had to have at bargain prices that I could swoop down upon and snatch up in my talons, dragging them back to my little nest.

In other words, I was in no way paying attention to Daisy Mae when she did the most unladylike thing. She let it go, right in front of me, as though I were not even there. As though porcelain accessories had not yet been created for the bathroom. It was simply beastly of her, but I had no time to think about that, I had steaming pie almost underfoot. I swerved left, almost colliding with a rickshaw that just about threw me off balance, I fell back to the right. Suddenly I was caught between a rickshaw and a cow pie. I had a choice to make: fertilizer or hospital. That is a choice that should not be taken lightly. But fortunately for me, one of the many Hindu gods was smiling down and gave the quick reflex do a small yet very elegant pole vault over the aforementioned unmentionable. I decided Daisy Mae and I needed space, some time apart. A time out, if you will. As we parted, she didn’t even glance at me with her cow eyes. Instead she swatted off a few flies with her tail as if to tell me to get lost. It was all very heartbreaking.

But I was soon over my heartbreak and I rounded a corner which brought me face to face with a herd of water buffalo. What water buffalo are doing in the middle of a city, is anyone’s guess, but they seemed to know where they were going and so I let them to it, moving out of their way and staying clear of the hind quarters.

Another little turn of phrase that proves itself correct here in India is “until the cows come home.” It turns out, and I was very surprised by this, that after spending a busy day walking the streets, lounging in the middle of traffic, sleeping by the side of the road and leaving good luck piles for the unsuspecting to step in, they do indeed go home. I thought they were homeless. And what, I ask you, is more heart wrenching than a homeless cow? Well, you can all rest easy, there is no cause for alarm. While their owners may let them play in traffic, they do keep them safe and cozy at night. For all I know, Daisy Mae could very well have better bedding than I do. And I am serious on that one. I sleep on a slab of wood with a mattress I suspect is made of crumbled bricks. I toss and I turn but no matter where I place my comfort starved body, it is lumpy hardness that greets me. Perhaps that’s why my fashion week contacts have forsaken me. The dark circles under my eyes are giving me that heroin chic look that was once the rage of the runways and went out around the same time we waved goodbye to the waif.

And like Kate Moss’ cocaine habit, I’m finished but will be back soon.

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