Friday, July 31, 2009

Say My Name...

So, the landlord family has learned a wee bit of English, and nobody practices more than their son, the smiley guy. In case you missed it, I call him smiley guy as he normally just stands there and smiles while his cousin/brother/whatever speaks to me in English. But not anymore. Smiley guy is throwing around his new found English every chance he gets. The bad part is, is that he only really knows one word, which he says over and over and over again. And the word, just in case you might be wondering, is "Robb".

Yes, he has discovered my name and uses it almost non-stop. He is like a toddler that has picked up one word and is trying both happy and confused with the sound and the response it generates. I hear it sometimes from a distance "Robb!" I hear it outside my door, "Robb!" But no matter where he is, he only knows one way to say it. No "Robb?" as in "are you there?" or "Robb" as though he were telling someone my name. Nope, he is always calling for me, trying to get my attention. And like a toddler, he then points at something he finds interesting or thinks I might find interesting.

"Robb!" he shouts as he points to an airplane, a bird, a table or whatever. I have actually become sick of hearing my own name. I need a new one, and fast. It is like he is rediscovering the world and "Robb!" is the gateway to some amazing place he has never seen before. And not only that, but he has taught the rest of the family my name, so it is now a chorus of calls everytime I pass their flat. But they have failed to realize that even though they now speak my name, that does not mean I speak Hindi. They now look frustrated, confused and unsure when they start a sentence with "Robb!" and then say something in Hindi and still get a blank look from me. What further confuses them is when I respond with "Hindi nahin" meaning I don't speak Hindi. It is as though that one sentence proves I am a liar, a charlatan. I have many times resisted the almost overwhelming urge to shout "chutiya!" just to see what response that gets, but have decided that telling the landlord to fuck off is probably not in my best interest. At least until my things are in the moving truck and on their way to a more civilized destination.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

My Morning Surprise

This morning, like most mornings, I took a shower. And this morning, like most of my mornings since moving, there was a banging at my door. And like most of the mornings this past week, it is the smiley guy from downstairs with some news he delivers in Hindi and some urgent need to inspect, repair or just look at something. But the knock during the shower was the second one of the morning. The first one arrived at half past four. I was sound asleep and suddenly there was a banging. I thought the house might be on fire, but no, he just needed to inspect something and then he took a hose and was on his way. I tried to go back to sleep, but it was futile. Too awake to sleep and too tired to actually do anything, I listened to the planes passing, while thinking about how I am going to get out of this situation.

But back to this morning's shower. There I was with my shampoo lathered into a luxurious richness when I heard it. I decided to ignore it. I was in the shower. I was naked. The banging came again as I was rubbing some L’Oreal face wash into my eyes, which, take it from me, burns. I was tired, I was cranky and I had soap in my eyes. The banging came again. I screamed something at the door, toweled off and decided to see what the urgency was all about.

I am used to seeing smiley guy at my door. In fact, seeing him at my door is quite a relief after last Sunday. I had gone out early to snap some pics and enjoy the early morning weather and I came home to find the door of my flat locked from the inside. Someone was in my house. It was all very Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I banged on the door having no idea who was inside and was surpised when my door opened and smiley guy welcomed me in. It seems there was no water in their flat, so he decided to use my shower. And, quite noisily, my toilet. Imagine the look of sheer joy on my face. After that, I really thought I had "been there, done that" and was not at all prepared for was the long line of people standing outside my door, desperate to get onto my terrace. It seems there is a pooja tonight and my terrace is to be the kitchen. The terrace above the little terrace is to be party central. A pooja is a religious blessing ceremony done for just about anything. New office. New car. New building. This evening is the pooja for the building. It is not new, but it has been somewhat remodeled, assuming that one can call a splash of paint remodeling.

So in came the big pots, the potable gas burners, kilos and kilos of rice and chicken and goat and whatever else is on the menu. And then there was me, clad in basically my towel while the crew filed in and started looking around. I wanted to get dressed and so closed the door, thinking that people would get the hint. I had just zipped up the jeans when a head pokes through my window. "Namaste". It was the landlord. "Khanna?" I declined. I informed him I am was trying to get ready for work and then he told me that there would be a bit dinner tonight. On my terrace. And of course, I have been invited for what I am sure will prove everyone watching me eat and asking me if I am married. Asking me why I am not married. Telling me I need a nice Indian girl. I will smile politely. I will be kind and charming, knowing that in just a few days, I will be far away in Thailand, hopefully deep in a jungle on the back of an elephant.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Shower Anyone?

Yesterday morning as I went from my bed to the shower, I had a most unusual and awkward experience…

Thursday evening I moved into my new flat on the top floor of the building where I have been living the past three weeks. I live in what is called a Parsati. It is basically a studio apartment split by a terrace. When you walk in the main door, the living space is on the left. The living space is just one room that has no kitchen or bathroom. On the left side of the tiny terrace is the miniscule kitchen and contortionist size bathroom. There is also a small staircase that leads to the roof terrace that offer great views of the parks and the monuments.

I learned just minutes after moving all my things in, that the roof terrace is used quite often by the family that owns the building. Quite often as in all the time… And it was just before seven yesterday morning that there was a knock on my window. I had shut the main door when I went to bed and now that the sun was up, the masses wanted in. I open the door and there is the mother with her sister-in-law. I figured they would stay a few minutes and then the number of voices increased and at one point, someone poked there head into the window of my room and looked around. Fortunately for me, I was not doing anything embarrassing, but I did give her a bit of a stern look. What is social etiquette when a relative of the non-English speaking landlord pops their head in the window?

I waited for the voices to die down and decided to hop across the terrace for a shower. There I was, in my shorts, carrying my towel and still trying to wake up when I noticed the audience. They were all there, on the roof terrace. The landlady, her husband, her brother, her brother’s wife, her niece, her newly engaged daughter and one of her sons. They smiled. They waved. They said “Namaste” and “hello” and I turned red and didn’t know what to do. I am used to being surprised by an uninvited spider holding the shower hostage, but this was something completely new and I was way out of comfort zone. I did the only thing I could do. I put my hands together, said “Namaste” and “hello” and went in the bathroom, ready for a nice shower to rinse the whole experience away.

I turned on the shower and out came a trickle of water. It seem that being just a meter or so below the water tanks mean I have absolutely no water pressure. I guess I will go green and start taking bucket showers. But yesterday morning I had no choice but to press my body up against the wall while the few drops of water lazily did their job. I splashed some here and tried splashing some there. It was creative showering at it’s best, but not the experience that makes me sing. See, I like to sing in the shower and I more often than not, pretend that that I am in a recording booth and the shower head is my mic which just happens to be spouting water. I sing, I purr, I rap. I have raised the roof off of many a bathroom. But this roof, I am afraid, will stay firmly in place.

The evening before was a different matter. Just after my things were shifted, there had been a massive downpour, and I had put on my swimsuit and I sat on the roof terrace just enjoying the cool water. If I had thought about it, I would have taken my big black umbrella and performed “Singin’ in the Rain” right there on the rooftop. I saw people on all the other rooftops doing their version of the same thing. I also saw people bring out the soap and take shower in the downpour. Now I know why. They, like me, are probably roof-dwellers and have no other shower option.

But for the moment, I was stuck in the shower, trying to make the best with what I had, fully aware that there was an audience waiting for me to come out so they could inspect my work. I dried off the one or two drops of water, wrapped myself in a towel and opened the door with my head held high. I didn’t even look at them, I just went into my room and shut the door, all the time telling myself I can’t live like this. It seems I am not a tenant, I am family. I have been told as much, in those exact words. I have been told to call the landlady “Momma”, something I have managed to resist. I am the older son and by moving in, it seems I have signed away all rights to the privacy I might have once had. I made the mistake of having food at their place the night I moved upstairs and that seems to have sealed my fate. Now I feel like a prisoner and have no idea what to do. I am just hoping it is a phase and my privacy will somehow, if only slowly, be restored.

But something tells me otherwise…

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Just My Luck

After months of unemployment, depression and a rather bleak outlook, I am happy to announce that my luck has turned around. This last week alone has been completely unbelievable. And just when I think it might stop, more and more keeps coming…

It all started about a week ago when I received the following message:

Dear Lucky winner,

We are happy to inform you that your email address have emerged winner of 50,000.00 POUNDS in the NOKIA PROMOTION PROGRAM 2009. The online cyber draws was conducted from an exclusive list of 3,000 email addresses of individuals and corporate bodies picked by an advanced automated random computer selection from the web.

And from there it has been an avalanche of winnings. At least once a day, I learn that I am a winner. So far this week, I have won £250,000.00 from Microsoft, £1,500,000.00 from third category draws in the UK (whatever that is, but who cares? I WON!). I was just getting used to my new winnings when I learned I am now the proud owner of a brand new BMW 5 Series car and an additional cash prize of £500,000.00 GBP with congratulations from BMW Automobile Company. And even though I use Gmail almost exclusively, I discover I have won yet another £500,000.00) for the Year 2009 Lottery promotion which is organized by YAHOO/MSN LOTTERY INC & WINDOWS LIVE.

Don’t even get me started on the $500,000.00 I won in the Powerball Promo or the lump sum payout of $1,000,000 from Peugot. And then this morning, the biggest win of them all from the prestigious COCA COLA COMPANY, which successfully organized a Sweepstakes marking the 2010 SOUTH AFRICA WORLD CUP PROMOTIONAL LOTTERY. Participants for the draws were randomly selected and drawn from a wide range of web hosts which we enjoy their e-business patronage. However, no tickets were sold but all email addresses were attached to different ticket numbers for representation and privacy. And wouldn’t you know it, my email address as indicated was drawn and attached to ticket number 0098876 with serial numbers MSL099876 and drew the lucky numbers 9-21-17-39-23-13(20) which subsequently won me £500,000,000.00!

Even though I have won well over half a billion dollars already this month, I can honestly tell you, that all this money does not buy feelings of confidence and adequacy. Now I don’t know who has been talking, but some has to be. I noticed that I am also getting emails from someone named Avik telling me to “power up your manliness”, Aicolt and Barnett2003 are telling me how I can “be sooo big she’ll be amazed” and “supercharge bedroom performance” and then there is Dieter.Nehring commanding me to “penetrate harder and give her more pleasure” while Delta703 is telling me I need to make my hose greater. I never actually thought it was that bad until a few minutes ago and suddenly I have the almost uncontrollable urge to use my new found riches to buy a Ferrari to overcompensate for all my shortcomings.

But something tells me that if I just wait a few more days, I’ll win one and well, why pay for what you can get for free?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

No Marry Life (Part 2)

I am relieved to let you know that I might have been a bit hasty in my last post about being the unwilling groom in shotgun wedding. Monday afternoon, as I was at home sick and trying to get some sleep in spite of a stomach infection that was successfully keeping me up and out of bed, there was a knock at my door. Since I have moved, there have been only a few knocks on my door, each of them from the landlord’s family. They are, after all, the only people who know where I live. This time it was the two sons. For some reason, no matter who comes up, they always come in pairs. One to do the talking and one to do the smiling. So there they were, the pair of them, Joseph the talker and Rajiv the smiler. I did not know their names at the time and discovered them during the events of this story, so when I answered the door, they were basically nice dressed guy and guy in shorts and t-shirt.

In the few moments I have been free from work and free from illnesses that make me wish I was on the other side of near death, I almost always have my camera with me, just waiting, lurking, stalking life, if you will, for some perfect photographic moment to appear. It seems I have been spotted. “Can we borrow and use your camera?” asked Joseph. I think I turned a few shades of white. Asking to borrow my camera would be like asking to borrow and use my wife. If I had a wife, which I don’t, but you get the picture.

“My sister make engage” said the smiling one and then Joseph translated that the sister was getting engaged on Wednesday and they wanted to take pictures. This is one of those awkward moments when I don’t know what to do. On one hand, I don’t want anyone molesting my “wife”, but on the other, it is my landlord, the guardian of my things whilst I am toiling in the fields of long hard labor. What does one do in that situation? Then the lightbulb went off. I remembered I still have my old 35mm SLR and offered to loan them that. “Where does memory card go?” and I explained the memory card was a roll of film they would have to purchase at the store. I gave Joseph a 2 minute lesson on the fine art of family portrait making and sent them on their way. I was also invited to the engagement and party afterwards.

The next day, they returned my camera as it seems a friend had loaned them something a bit easier to use, a camera with just one button. I was again invited to attend Wednesday and told them I would be there after work.

Fast forward to yesterday evening… I come home from work and there are about 8 people in the house of the landlord. “Khanna? Khanna? Tea?” and I motion that I will go upstairs and pop back down in a bit, which is exactly what I did. And then it was picture time. Each one of them had their picture taken sitting next to me, while I am sure I gave my best deer-in-the-headlights smile. I knew this was coming, but it is never a comfortable thing for me. I was then told to go upstairs and freshen up for the bachelor party which was going to be on the roof terrace. The roof terrace that will be mine the day after tomorrow.

A bachelor party works a bit different. Or at least this one did. It is a “party” only for bachelors. It has nothing to do with the groom. It is just a group of single guys, sitting around, talking and drinking. I could not drink thanks to antibiotics and they had been drinking since mid-day. “Sir, please, I have very love for you” Ashish, the other brother would say in increasingly slurred speech as the evening wore on. “You very great man. I friend to you. I have very, very love for you. You great man. No eat cow. Mother make great the food. Chicken, mutton, pork,. No make cow. Cow no eating. I have very love for you. You great man” and on it went. Of course, in between his declarations of adoration, I got the usual questions about marriage, but now that it was just a bunch of guys, it ramped up a bit.

Once they all realized I was not married, that I had been and was now divorced, their attention shifted. “You bring the womans here for to fuck?” and of course I said no. They took it as a sign of respect for their mother and confirmation that I would not be notorious. But then Ashish says “I send girlfriend to place tomorrow. She like make fuck you.” I thanked him for his generosity and politely declined but he was not hearing it. “Me five girlfriend”, he said looking very proud and virile. I looked over at him, his oversized belly and could not help myself I said “And do you fuck them all?” He was a bit shocked and changed the subject slightly. “Where find gigolo?” I looked puzzled. “Where find man woman gigolo?” I said go online. “How much pay gigolo?” and they were all a bit disappointed I have not had sex with a prostitute. But then all was well with the group when Ashish said “I send girlfriend you tomorrow. You can make fuck.”

So now, I am hiding out at “TLR”, not sure if he remembers or not. I would not know what to say. I am a bit rusty on my social graces when it comes to turning down unwanted sex sent by the landlord’s son in a country in which I am a guest.

No Marry Life

It has been a few weeks since my last post and what a few weeks they have been. Let’s see, to sum up, Manuel left for Scotland, I moved house and started a new job which is so busy, I feel like it might be more relaxing if I were picking cotton in the fields at Tara. I have also not really had any time with my friends… That is pretty much it. The power comes. The power goes. And life in Delhi goes on as life in Delhi does.

Since living abroad, I have become used to the daily question of “Where are you from?” and “How long have you been here?” After that, the curiosity of people tended to wane and conversation goes down what for me had always been a pretty normal path. Since living here, I get the daily question of “Are you married?” and when I answer in the negative, I get looks that suggest I might be a serial wife killer on the loose and the question “Why not?” It is a question I have become used to, along with “How much did you pay for that?” which is always followed by a “You got ripped off man!”

My new neighborhood is a little village locked in the middle of Delhi. Yes, Hauz Khaz Village has but one street and it dead ends. That means there is no through traffic. It is also surrounded on all sides by parks and ruins which give the illusion that Delhi is nowhere around. Full of tiny antique shops, designer clothes stores and dotted with a few restaurants, the place a has a dusty and run down charm. I have moved into a temporary place while my final place gets finished. That was supposed to be yesterday and I discovered yesterday that it will be one more week. Right now I am staying on the second floor. No light. No breeze. Walls painted a mustard yellow. One can easily forget there is a word out there. My new place is on the top floor with two terraces. It sounds grand, but tiny is more the word that comes to mind. More on that in a later post.

My work schedule has left me little time for anything but sleep and work, and in spite of living 50 meters from gym, I have yet to step inside. I leave first thing in the morning for the roughly hour-long commute to the office, work until at least ten at night and then commute back, stopping in one of the cafes for some take-out before heading the last minute or so home on foot. I eat, I sleep and I start it all over again.

Living in a place like Hauz Khaz Village is like living in an actual village. Everyone knows everyone and everyone likes to be involved in everyone’s business. There is only one flat per floor, and to get to my flat, I have to pass the landlord’s place. They live on the ground floor. The door is always open and someone is always keeping watch. My landlords also do not speak English. They have a son who speaks a bit of it, but a real conversation is out of the question. Every time I go to or from my house, the usual offers come out of the house “Khanna? Khanna?” Khanna is the word for food. I was sure she was looking at my thin fame with pity and felt it was her duty to fatten me up a bit. But now I suspect there were other motives in play.

It all started last week on a Wednesday night when I did my usual stop by “The Living Room” to pick up some food. I got home only to realize the power was out, so I ate my dinner by the light of my laptop and was just about finished when the son with the broken English came by and invited me up to the roof terrace. The terrace that would one day be mine. As I said, there are two terraces in my soon-to-be place. One right in the middle of the flat, and one on the roof of it all. It is on that roof that there is evidence of total surroundings of trees and from there, I will have a stunning view of nature and history. But that night, I was met by a gentle breeze, an almost full moon and most of the landlord’s family. Suddenly they had me.

There was a lot of Hindi and then I was asked “You marriage?” and I replied in the negative. There was more Hindi and suspicious looks. “Why not?” I replied that I have not had the time, that I work too much. More Hindi and then the big reveal. It seems that landlord has an unmarried daughter, who just happened to be on the terrace and who just happened to have positioned herself so that the light of the almost full moon was showing her off in the way she obviously felt was most flattering. There was more Hindi, giggling among the girls and then “Me also no marriage. You, me marry” I gave him a strange look. “Oh, you and I need to get wife?” which was met by a big smile. “My sister no marriage. Good cook. Very nice the khanna!” They, like so many others are under the opinion the only thing I am missing from my life, and the only thing that will make me truly happy is a nice Indian wife.

Suddenly the power was back on and I excused myself, paying my respects to the mother before heading off to my little bachelor pad to sleep. Since then, I have been trying to keep a bit of distance. I am almost scared of coming home one evening and running into the cold steel of a Punjabi shot gun wedding.