I still my check my mailbox for a last minute call, but no, it looks like I will not be teaching this semester. All the regular profs are back on campus, returned from sabbatical and guest posts, leaving me with a free fall. Pun intended. Yet, not quite accurate. I’ve got some writing to do, and a little travel, too. Still, how strange not have felt the general anxiety over the booklist (wanting to change everything at the last minute), the chagrin that not all the typos on the syllabus were caught, and frantic scheduling of office hours to coincide with bus schedules. O the commute! No more six hours of travel, no more skipping lunch for a big dinner once home, no more grabbing snacks at Starbucks( I’ll take those almonds too.)
I find I am sitting on the balcony, staring into space, recharging unconsciously. The garden does not need tending. I vacuum, wash dishes, do the laundry, scold my cat for jumping onto the tv. Why does she do it again and again? Has she decided that in fact this is her “playtime”? I am clearing the cobwebs, cleaning the windows, reading and taking notes.
My father had a government job once. On the first day (let’s say it was his first day) he retrieved the mail. An hour or two later, he had opened and answred everything, and taken care of the tasks requested of him. He went to his boss, and asked for more to do.
“What about the mail?” asked his boss.
“I did it already.”
“What! Today is only Monday. Listen, you are new to the way we work. You get the mail on Monday, and on Tuesday, you answer a letter; and on Wednesday, answer the next letter; and so on until the week is done!”
The silence within my walls is profound. In India, there is quiet punctuated by the sounds of activity: the vendors, the motorcycles, the cook coming in, the incessant phone. Here my silent cats sleep, and as there is a chill, my windows are shut. The noise I hear is the fridge, mildly roaring. I miss my family, the hundred daily things that makes middle-class life in India so livable, from the coffee served first thing to the hot water available through the geyser switch. (I wished I fared as well here, where warm water is now a rarity in my shower, which seems to have gone on vacation.) Yes, there were the power cuts, the unbelievable humidity of an August day in South Chennai, the stickiness from the heat one feels before sleeping, but daily life needs are taken care of. Suffice to say I did not have to clean or cook for myself for eighteen days. Here, I am faced with endless days of grilled cheese and pickle, and a hankering to window shop online. But all is never lost. There is a stack of books waiting to be read, and recipes to be followed. I brought back a trove of new clothes, so perhaps these days, I can get back to the rhythm of life in America as a single woman.
Indira Ganesan, The Curtain, 2017
There is already an oxymoron in the title, for how can one get a cold in India? Yet, here I am, sniffling, sore throated, and tired. Luckily I am at my aunt and uncle’s, where I recover in an airy room, with a thick volume of Hercule Poirot stories nearby. There should be something romantic about this recovery, but for the physical discomfort. Outside, a crow caws, a dog barks, and the rumble of traffic is punctuated by the noise of motorcycles. A vendor calls out his wares.
Reading about Poirot, a Belgian in England, and a war refugee, a dandy who is poked fun at as he meticulously cleans his suits, as he gets the better of English policemen as well as criminals is an Indian pleasure. That is to say, Hercule may as well be Indian. I know these stories, but read again for the comfort. I read The Guardian to keep up with the current cruelties occuring in our world, the vile responses espousing hatred and ignorance from the elected officials. Christie herself expressed prejudice and racial stereotype in her work, but somehow I do not think the Belgian detective could. Somehow, I can see him throwing contemporary newspapers down in disgust, with deep distaste for what we have become. Mon Dieu, Hastings, I hear him say, what animals we are.
Enrolled as a first year at Stella Maris College, when I was seventeen, I was a freshman abroad. I studied in the Fine Arts department, which encompassed both art history and studio art. We began with Mesopotamia and Assyrian, learning to diagram Buddhist stupas, and number Buddha’s attributes in sculpture ( a top-knot, elongated ears, and our favorite, loti-form lips.) I found my notebooks on this visit back, which I haven’t seen in almost forty years.
This time in my aunt’s house, in Chennai. Can time be measured in circling ceiling fans, beating back the heat? In the afternoons, perhaps, but mornings, papers rustle, the breeze cool. It’s been almost ten years since I’ve been here last. The family has gotten smaller, and grief leaks. My father; my uncle. Meals are served, the rustling papers read. Outrage over the news. Could not a million be spent than in the personal acquisition of Princess Diana’s private letters? Imagine if that money was given to produce a play based on the letters instead. The best line I’ve recently read is in Interred with Their Bones, a novel by Jennifer Lee Carrell: “If you must choose a church, go to the theater.”
Yes, in India, musing about the royals, reading about Shakespeare, under a circling ceiling fan. Outside, the air is thick with the noise of traffic, worship, capitalism. The indifferent cows only come out at night.