courage can't see around corners but goes around them anyway. ~Mignon McLaughlin

The Edge of India

Am I losing my edge? I’m on edge, at the edge of sanity, and everyone seems to be putting me on edge.

After two and a half days in the suburbs with friends, running around making preparationg for our party, a friends sisters wedding and recovering from jetlag, I am alone in South Bombay for the first time today. I’m a little shaken after getting scammed at an internet cafe and getting into an argument with the manager that got entirely out of hand. I know in my GUT that every single moment was a manipulation and I hate that. I should just accept that this is the way things are here. But to do that is to relinquish any hope of independence and fair treatment as a foreign woman. And that makes me sad. I don’t want to believe it so I keep fighting. India’s particular brand of male arrogance winds me up beyond belief.

Stragely, I love this place for all its juxtaposed opposites and inherent contradiction. I love it most when I’m with Kiran. It’s a bit too much work for me all alone (that challenge lost its charm a while ago.) When we first met, he said “I want to see my country through your eyes.” I wondered if he really did because what I see is not all beautiful mystical ‘Incredible India”. India is a multifaceted country. Bombay is a living organism all its own.

We are staying in Goregaon, a northern suburb of Bombay with a friends family. The amount of overpopulation is oppressive. There are somewhere between 200-300 new cars on the Bombay roads every day and, according to a BBC documentary last year, 10,000 new migrants arriving every single day. We set out in the morning and plan our entire day around the traffic. Kiran set off to get the car tuned up and meet a client. I headed down to South Bombay with a list of chores like a good little soldier. After sorting out a few things with our mobile phones (aka lifelines) I wandered over to my friends’ shop to say hello and catch up. Hardeep is a wonderful woman who I first met while searching for air conditioning on a blazing hot February afternoon in 2006. She welcomed me in, offered me lemon water, and let me decompress. Of course, wonder of wonders, she also sold me my first salwar kameez in the process and it remains my favourite. When Kiran was sick with malaria, she referred me to specialists and sent me to her personal doctor for advice. Many people are open like that here, and I’m also a bit lucky too.

But by the time I left her shop and stared at my list of jobs, which included hotel reservations for our newly adjusted calendar, email, flight reservations for our emergency escape to Goa, gifts for him, her and that other guy…well, I just started to giggle. I HAVE to laugh, people! If I don’t I’ll just cry. It’s too much. It’s too busy. I have left the planning of a month long family wedding trip to Kiran. First of all, planning and contingency planning is my strength, not his. But more importantly, there are Indian family expectations, Owal family dynamics, social pressures, work commitments, last minute changes that I can’t possibly accommodate so I just don’t. His sister is having trouble getting out of work on the Sunday or our reception because she has some mandatory training course for her government teaching job. Totally outside my realm of understanding.

[commence dream sequence…]
I tell Kiran I am sure it will all work out and that his sister will be able to arrange her attendance. Clearly there will be a solution because this is her brother’s wedding reception. I ask to learn more about her job and its opportunities and challenges and we all sleep peacefully. [end dream sequence]

Well…back in reality, I got more than a little frustrated that the invitations have not been printed yet, his sister may not be coming, there was even a short mention of changing the date to accommodate her job constraint! We planned this 3 months ago. I took time off work. We flew across the world. We are not changing the date.

Of course, then my inner extremist thinks of saying things like “have a lovely party losers, I’m going to the beach.” But thank GOD I didn’t say that. On rare occasions, I do manage to self edit.

It will work out. Now Kiran is working his way down from Mahim, about 40 minutes away, traffic permitting. We are hunting for a hotel because we don’t have a place to stay when we come back from Pune for a friends’ wedding next week. I cannot hunt for a hotel on my own. I have to be with Kiran because in Bombay there are some places that will not permit us to stay together unless we can prove we are married. We have different last names and different nationalities reflected on our passports. This is always a royal pain in the arse in Bombay.

But just to maintain perspective, I’m in India. I’m going to a party in Juhu near the beach tonight for New Years with friends from London. Tomorrow we are driving to Pune to see his parents who have been preparing the house for 2 days (well…let’s get real. His Mom has been the one preparing) and as for meeting his father. I have hopes but no expectations. I hope for a smile. Even a tiny one. But I’m not setting my heart on it.

But if I get it. Man oh man, will you all hear about it.

Now I need a break. I need to book an emergency escape for three days before my Mother arrives. Before the puja on the 14th, party on the 18th, endless visits, wardrobe changes and and and everything in between. Kiran and I have hand picked every part of this trip. This is what we want. And as for the ceremonies and parties, Kiran has chosen what is meaningful to him, not what is traditional or expected by others. I respect that level of soul searching. Yep. I find this crazy place a lot more fun when I’m in it with him.

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