Sunday, October 21, 2012

I Am Everyday People

In my last entry, I talked about the awesomeness of the “two-mouse house” and how I enjoy living with a friend.  However, I did not mention the plethora of visitors that grace the door of Suncliffe on a weekly basis.  These visitors include, but are not limited to:

-COOLIES (men whose job it is to tote items… groceries, washing machines, you name it... up the mountainside and deliver it to weaklings like myself)
-BREADMAN (he makes bread)
-VEGGIE BOYS (they sell vegetables)
-THE DHOBI (he washes clothing)
-SEEMA (she gives massages)
Each of these visitors is an essential part of my life in India… except for the dhobi, since I now have a washing machine.  So I shall start with him.
Washing machines are a luxury in India.  This is good news for dhobis, who make a living by collecting people’s clothing and cleaning it themselves.  Before Laura moved in, I was using the same dhobi as my neighbors, who speak Hindi and were able to come up with an arrangement for me:  Rs. 400 a month—approximately $8—for the washing, ironing, and folding of all my laundry.  He collected my clothes from my house on Saturday and dropped them back off when he was finished… sometimes within a few days, or, because I hired him during monsoon season, sometimes not until the following Saturday. 
The finished laundry was always wrapped in a white sheet, so it looked like I got a weekly visit from the stork.  And, just like a baby, the clothing inside usually smelled a little… questionable.  I don’t know exactly what the dhobi’s washing/drying procedures were, and in case I ever have to go without a washer/dryer again while I’m here, I prefer to remain ignorant.
I have two doors leading into my apartment.  The first door is unlocked during the day, but the second one is always locked when I’m gone.  This came in handy when I had a dhobi, because he could leave the finished clothing in the entryway whether I was at home or not.  One time, though, I was home when he made the delivery. 
Except he didn’t ring the doorbell, as he usually did, to let me know he was there.
Instead, he just walked in and left my clothing in the living room.  I must have been in the kitchen during this process.  When I entered the kitchen, there was no bag of clothing; when I left the kitchen, I immediately noticed the foreign item.  I felt like I was in a scary movie… but in a scene just near the beginning, when a mysterious object appears out of nowhere and the lead actor is mildly concerned but doesn’t want to overreact.  You know, the type of scene where the camera would be down where the clothing sack was, aimed up toward my bewildered, yet stoic, face. 
Like that character in a scary movie, I saw the clothing and then went about my normal daily business.  After all, this wasn’t the first time I had entertained a quasi-intruder.
Enter: Breadman.  Literally.
Breadman and I have a complicated relationship.  It’s one that started out quite enthusiastically.  I was immediately smitten with Breadman when he came to my door—like a true gentleman—and tantalized me with the promise of a weekly loaf of whole wheat bread.  The man of my dreams!  I put in my order and looked forward to the next week with the giddiness of a schoolgirl.  A schoolgirl who really likes whole wheat bread.  But then, when our “first date” came, it was… just okay.  I guess you could say that the bread didn’t rise to my expectations.  I’m sorry, that was a crumby joke.  Hahaha.  Hehe.  Hm. K
So now, I still buy the bread because I don’t want to be a heartbreaker, especially when the bread is edible and the supply is reliable.  When he says he’s going to come on Monday morning, he always comes… but the goods aren't always delivered to my liking.
And that’s as far as I’m going to take that analogy.
I very seriously considered a Breadman breakup when, one morning, I didn’t feel like answering the door.  When I first moved here, the doorbell rang about ten times a day because various ayahs (housekeepers) around the area were keen to pounce on fresh staff members.  I didn’t feel like dealing with such shenanigans this particular morning because I was grumpy and not appropriately dressed, so I ignored the bell as I got ready for school.  Except, the bell didn’t stop ringing.  I became vaguely annoyed and considered opening the door to stop the madness, but I felt that would encourage the behavior.  Plus, the bell had already been rung so many times that I wouldn’t be able to open up without providing some kind of awkward explanation.  So I continued to pretend I was not home.  I was upstairs getting changed, when suddenly…
I heard the door open.
Remember earlier, when I said I had two sets of doors and that both are usually unlocked when I’m at home?  Someone had obviously broken past the first barrier.  I was back in that scary movie, but this time toward the middle of it, when the lead actor is definitely aware that she is being stalked by something undesirable.  Then I heard someone yelling, “Hello!  Hello?”
I was not about to drag my half-naked body down the stairs to buy some half-decent bread from a man who had already halfway entered my apartment.  So instead, I remained sandwiched (teehee) between amusement and terror as I heard the second set of doors open and someone come inside. 
“Hello!  Hello?!”
I was somewhat amused by the blatant disregard for personal boundaries, but also terrified by the possibility of sneezing or otherwise being caught… ironically, in my own apartment.  But he didn’t loaf around (bahaha) for long, and I was able to remain incognito.  I finished dressing, went downstairs, and found this:
So, to reiterate my main point, Breadman and I have a complicated relationship, full of ups and downs and breaking and entering.  Let’s just say that we are star-crossed.  Or hot-crossed… get it?
I might come back and explain the veggie boys and coolies in a later post, but I seema to be worn out from all of those puns… get it?
Maybe not that last one.  I spoke of Seema in an earlier post, in which I wrote all about my first awkward and painful massage.  I need to make a clarification about that post, in order to restore Seema’s professional reputation and my own blogging integrity.  Because there was some confusion, I want to make it clear that it was my twisted ankle that caused the pain, not Seema’s massage itself.  If I had not been temporarily handicapped at the time, the massage wouldn’t have hurt at all. 
It still would have been awkward.
But, since that post, I have become really comfortable with this whole massaging business.  Maybe a little too comfortable; I get a massage every Tuesday night!  I appropriately prepared myself for the first massage—shower, shaved legs, the whole shebang—but since then, I have decided that I should not have to work so hard to enjoy something that is meant to be relaxing.
And I haven’t looked back since:
Don't act like you're not impressed...
When it became apparent that the little stalks on my legs were growing into a full-fledged forest, I apologized to Seema.  In response, she pulled up her own pant leg and showed me her hairy legs, with a smile.  “Me too, ma’am.”
Have I mentioned how much I like Seema? 
A few weeks ago, I was cooking dinner right before she came over. I bought an Indian cookbook and tried my hand at rajma (kidney bean) curry.  I was quite proud of myself—it didn’t taste half bad!  When Seema arrived, she was attracted to the smells emanating from the kitchen, and I proudly announced that I had tried an Indian dish.  The minute I said it, I regretted it.  I knew that she would ask to taste it, and I knew that she would hate it.  It’s like on Top Chef Australia, where I recently watched the competitors make traditional dishes for Italian taste testers who used fancy and deliberately confusing words like “toothy” to describe their pasta.  Attempting to cook ethnic dishes and pass them off as authentic never works.  And, because America doesn’t really have a food culture to call its own, I won’t ever get a chance to be that snobby. 
Unless you shamelessly count McDonald’s as America’s most important culinary contribution to the world, in which case…
 I like India’s McDonald’s better.  Vegetarian sandwich options!  Hmm.  Point disproven.
As expected, Seema took a sip of my curry broth and made a face like she had just sipped the blood of a 4-year-old boy.  Then she managed a polite half-smile, as if to say, “Well, at least I wasn’t related to him?”  I was somewhat discurryaged.  But superwoman Seema, who wears many hats throughout the day, immediately put on her chef cap and started rummaging through the fridge, scouring the shelves.  After a flurry of chopping and pouring and stirring, Seema looked pleased with the resulting concoction and left it to pressure cook during the massage.  Afterward, I had one of the best meals of my life; she completely resurrected my curry when I didn’t even realize it needed to be saved.  I don’t understand the trickery that is Indian cooking.  I only know that my taste buds approve.
I was honored to be formally invited to a dinner at Seema’s house on Saturday night, along with Melanie/Chris, Kelly, and Amy.  Her husband was out participating in a religious ceremony of some sort, but I got to meet her three adorable children (ages 10, 8, and 6) and see where she lived.  It was a very humbling experience.  Though her husband is employed through Woodstock and she has some impressive entrepreneurial skills, all 5 family members sleep in the same small room—the only room aside from the kitchen area.  It makes me wonder about the living arrangements of so many Indians who don’t have such lucrative employment.
It was a fantastic night.  The food was delicious.  Amy (who grew up here and returned as Academic Dean) served as translator.  Seema showed us her wedding pictures.  Then, her daughter started showing us her older brother’s baby pictures.  When asked where her pictures were, it appeared she didn’t have many.  I took out my camera and took a few photos, which she seemed to like, but what she loved was when I gave her the camera to take her own photos!  I’ve been meaning to find a place in the bazaar to develop pictures, and now I have extra impetus to search out such an establishment.

I also need to print out a copy of this photo, as per the merchant’s request:

Blog post to follow!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Ju,

    What about having Seema giving you cooking lessons once a week. You could work it out that you two prepare the meal togeather and feed her family at the same time type of deal.