I left Aunty’s bandstand apartment before noon on september 30th, had stayed up late the night before, folding and packing things. Alone as I generally am when I am moving in or out of any place. I felt angrier and angrier with allowing her to take advantage of me with her demands for money. She is crazy, and it is not her fault, but I could have left earlier, should have, but didn’t.
Leaving the house the next morning, I almost started to cry. Even if something isn’t the best for you, if it’s something you’re used to, you’ll miss it until you have something else.
Then I straightened my back and threw my pieces of luggage into the rickshaw while the men of my building watched me and didn’t offer to help. And whistled past bandstand where I lived for the whole while.
In Canada there is a different kind of beauty. Where in Mumbai, the edges of air are muddled, in Canada they are sharp, crisp, clean. Thrashing my limbs in a hospital bed, I had noticed the quietness around me. I couldn’t hear anything, even if I strained and fought to hear something, there was no sound. And outside the window, there were only a few people. You’d think there would be more people in such a beautiful place.
On the bus downtown, a boy dressed like Justin Bieber ate a piece of sprouted bread toast while he read one of the free newspapers. Every girl walking on Granville strip was dressed to the nines, but was frowning into her phone or ipod or both.
I remember spending time with women in Dharavi, loving them because they don’t have such complicated, wrecked, messy minds. They are simple and clean and beautiful. Their problems are more and their worries are fewer.
I had no phone or ipod to distract me, and shone out the window at the people in the streets.
I left India on a friday morning, sick as a dog. Mary Ellen came to Hayley’s Juhu apartment where I was sleeping, pushed me the bathroom where I took a sitting down shower. She packed my bags and fed me while I was lying down. Then Viren showed up, and practically carried me downstairs with all of my bags. He dropped me off at the international airport and then I was on my own, to take two flights and carry typhoid across two borders before arriving home, delirious with a fever of one hundred and five.
“Your hair is falling out so much,” remarks my little sister. I shrug and pull my fingers through my hair, taking along a few strands.
On the plane, I remembered sleeping beauty in Bandra. How sleepy Carter Road is in the morning, before it wakes up. Many of the people you can see in the day there are also there in the night. Collapsed. Finished, and resting, for as long as their economic situation allows them.
In Vancouver, I sat in a cafe where it looked like every couple was meeting for the first time. On blind dates, organized through the internet, so they already had lots of background information about one another. In one sense, each knows what to expect, and in another sense, each is misled about the other by thinking that they know something about them in advance. Having only lived in the era in which I do, I wondered about the time where you could not know anything about a person before personally meeting them.
I checked into VGH on my second day home. I had not planned to have typhoid fever or stay in the hospital for eight days, but what could I do? I slept for four days while taking two liters of salt water per day into my body through IV, as well as antibiotics.
At the Indian Consulate downtown, the very same sardarji doorman welcomed me.
”Aapko yaad hoga, mere bare me, na?’ I joked with him. You remember me, right? There were only two other foreigners in the Punjabi-filled office, and they were definitely of the tourist variety.
‘Aray haanji, haanji!’ Of course! he spoke with me in Punjabi-tinged Hindi which I could only just understand, and the rest of the waiting room was curious. Naturally there were some complications with my request for a visa.
So I wandered through downtown like a lost dog. I realised again, but for the first time in many months, that I will always be a foreigner in India, and will always require permission from a higher authority before I can spend time there.
In theory, moving every few months is a great idea: how much exposure, how many experiences, how much knowledge gained from having to figure everything out for yourself in a new place, every time. But what if you are emotional? If you need people to love and to love you wherever you go? Who can those people be, how quickly can all of that be set up and be real?
My lips and hands are dry. My legs, the very same that have jumped so high on the trampoline, that have pushed me to so many heights, that have carried me to every place, feel flaccid and finished.
The late afternoon sun filters through the big windows in my parents’ enormous new home and falls on me. My arm hair stands up, my feet are cold, my body has forgotten how to behave.
Downtown, chic office people roam around with lattes in their hands, talking together. The homeless or crazy or addicted, or all three, sit on heating vents and wait for something to happen that will make a change in their lives. Maybe some loose change.
Robson street and granville strip are evolving. Little restaurants are being beaten down to make space for big chain restaurants, or Japadog.
My current on hold, waiting state is not conducive to doing anything: to writing, to deep thinking, to working, to relaxing. It’s only fit for being anxious. So I am anxious all day and don’t do so much.
Still, here the street is clean and people walk everywhere. And everyone does what they like. If you want to wear these clothes, you can. If you want to kiss someone of the same sex publicly, why not. If you want to chat with others, that can be a little tricky, because people would rather keep to their own business. If, like most everyone, you want to keep to yourself, that is the best, you are most welcome.
The sun was not warm, but it shone in my eyes and I welcomed it. I loved it as much as it loved me, and that was enough.