Friday, April 16, 2004

Morning off 

This new neighborhood also comes alive early in the mornings. Four-thirty hears the first buckets being filled and by five-something most homes are lit and waking up. Pre-dawn’s gray light sees people already dressed and out. Here, though, no-one dons new sneakers and takes walking stick (or sometimes wife) for morning walks while the servants prepare the breakfast and home for them. Here, they all do their own work. By the time sun shows through trees and clouds on the horizon, everyone is out and about and the sound of grass brooms briskly sweeping away yesterday’s dust as crows caw overhead has been replaced by morning conversations as chickens squack and sparrows chirp.

The omnipresent sound from before light to after dark periodically punctuates the idyll: “Chhhhhttoooack-FFFTOOO!”. From Bangalore’s less-affluent area where I first stayed, to Shalacentral, to here and, one assumes, everywhere, people hawk, hack, honk, then spit with great panache, copiously and constantly. I did, a little, as the dirt and dust of downtown Bangalore clogged my lungs and closed my throat. Here, though, the air is clean and clear, if not cool. Can’t imagine what people collect to produce the kind of sounds the morning breeze carries. Women, too: “Chhhhhlaaack-FwahTOOO!”.

Slowly working on bridging the distance between myself and the neighborhood. The only other yogastudents in the area, a couple from America, left yesterday. Felt alone and sad for a moment, as it was nice to have another household up and lit as early as mine. Then a sense of relief and freedom came over me; am now free to carve and shape my identity alone amongst the Indian neighbors. Respectful, but ultimately as curious about them as they are about me. Don’t want to be the person that drives in and out and just goes upstairs and lives behind shut doors and windows and curtains drawn to the world outside and no interaction, affording the rare glimpse as I peek out from the balcony or whiz by on the moped. The pedestal must come down. Take out my garbage pail at the same time as the other ladies, midmorning (this is unceremoniously emptied in or around the garbage dump, a cement cylinder perched on a slope within sight of my castle, which gets turned on its side by the sanitation workers and everything left by the garbage collectors, both human and beast, is set on fire). Meet stares and head-nods of acknowledgment with soft smiles that are invariably reciprocated, at which point I tend to grin and they smile wide. Sometimes greet the perpetual chorus of “WHAT’SYERNAME!” by the swarms of kids that are everywhere with what’s YOUR name? Say hi and bye and goodnight to Chetana, the beautiful seven-year-old who lives across the way next to the peach house with her baby sister and smiling mother and soft-voiced grandparents and rarely-seen father.

Was accosted by my lovely landlady and her daughter as soon as I put key to door, last night, as I came back from a late dinner. They had saved me a covered tin bowl of sweets and snacks from a puja (ceremony/blessing) and celebration at the grandmother’s new home. Made the requisite enthusiastic gesticulating and told them how much I love sweets (having glimpsed a couple of ladoos amongst the unnamable biscuits and puffs) and that I will return the bowl the next day, if that is ok. Want to return it filled with something nice in return- perhaps a few choice mango slices. While the newspaper boy is on his bicycle, dismounting and carefully distributing the morning news on gates and inside driveways, the milkman fills waiting bowls from his imposing motorcycle. There are no cars in this neighborhood; people walk or pile onto two-wheelers, skinny brown arms clutching and bare dirty feet dangling precariously close to the bumpy roads and cobbled streets. Women, here, are almost exclusively in saris (though some go around in their nightdresses); have seen less than a handful in kameez and none in western dress. Have tried to be respectably-dressed as I go about my days, but the western woman living across the way blazed my path with tank tops and short pants. No wonder I am “auntie”.

The local sanyasi or renunciate makes his way up the street. He carries his earthly belongingd in a small cloth bag and makes his presence known by the clang on a gong-cymbal thing he holds and a blow on the conch shell he wears strung around his neck: “Daonggggg. Tamooooo.” He stops at households and waits, making sound, while the residents come out for him. Guess they bring him money, know he lives off the charity of others. Meet eyes with Chetana’s mom, who affirms my inquiring rubbing of thumb and forefingers together in the universal sign for cash-money. Run to kitchen, grab two-Rupee coin form counter and mixed nuts box from shelf, dash downstairs to find him waiting at my narrow entrance. How he knew to wait there, when he has never seen me nor I him, I don’t know. He presents his round clang-thing horizontally as a tray, dark eyes burning at me as I place coin and box on it with a nod and a smile. Not sure how unorthodox an offering the dried fruit and nuts was. It felt good to do, kinda like feeding cows, just what you so. Hope I got his blessing, in any case.

Sit on my balcony as still-wan sun gives subtle pink glow to peach-hued house across the way and thatched low shacks next door. Cows amble by with their owners at a companiable pace. All up and down the street, women dribble loose chalk from tin bowls in swirls and spirals at the entrance to their homes, having swept and washed them clean. Mostly lotus flowers, but also stars and more elaborate geometric shapes and patterns, these mandalas are a tangible example of letting go, as they are trod on and faded by evening, to be washed away and created from scratch tomorrow, in unending cycles going back who knows how many generations. Every day different, but based on unchanging principles and patterns- kinda like the practice, and kinda cool.

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