Archive | February, 2011

Olive: The Reason to Never End a Relationship on Bad Terms

22 Feb

WARNING:  To my parents, relatives, and anyone else who prefers to think of me as the innocent little girl who signed plenty of abstinence cards as a teenager, please do not read any further.  Thanks.

Want to see every person you’ve been introduced to in Mumbai?  Go to Olive on a Thursday night.  Want to flirt with that cute guy you met a party once?  Go to Olive on a Thursday night.  Want to avoid seeing the guy you went on a date with but never called you again?  Don’t go to Olive on a Thursday night.  Want to make out with someone in front of the guy who never called you to make him jealous?  Go to Olive on Thursday.

There isn’t anything special about Olive except that it’s the place to see and be seen.  The drinks are ridiculously overpriced, and you have to stick around until 1 a.m. or later to have even the slightest bit of space to dance.  The music is good, and only once have I been to Olive when  it shut down before 4 a.m.

If you want to go out with your friends, grab a few drinks, and hang out, there are other options in Mumbai, but if you want the latest gossip or to check out who’s with who, there’s no other place to be than Olive.

There are only a couple of people in Mumbai who, in an ideal world, I wouldn’t run into again.  I successfully avoided one of them when I was at Olive two weeks ago; I noticed him getting in his car as I walked into the bar.  The other …I’m never that lucky.  He and I are too often in the same place at the same time.  Just the week before, he taps me on the shoulder at the Mahalaxmi Derby to brag about winning a bet on a race.

Rewind a few weekends before that.  I arrived at a restaurant half an hour early for brunch with a friend, and he’s sitting at a booth with some girl.  I aborted the plan to sit alone and have a cup of coffee.  Instead, before he could see me, I walked across the street to a coffee shop, ordered tea, and parked myself at a table by the window so I could watch to see if they’d leave the restaurant together holding hands or something.  Of course, caffeine on an empty stomach meant that I had to pee like crazy, and they must have left during the minute I was in the restroom, because when I returned to the window seat from which I had been stalking them, I could see they were gone.

And, of course, it never fails that he’s at Olive.  I skipped last week in order to finish some work.  But, two weeks ago, the last time I was there, he squeezed into a spot at the bar next to me.  He kissed me on the cheek and said hello to my friends.  We exchanged pleasantries, and I regretted that I had chosen to not drink that night.  He handed the second drink to the girl behind him, the same girl he was with at brunch.  Then he touched my earrings.  “I found your jewelry,” he said.  “I’ll have to get it back to you.”

I have a habit of leaving jewelry at guys’ places.  It would probably make my life easier if I would just stop wearing jewelry on dates (or stop going back to their places, as my mom would probably suggest if she were reading this post, which I hope she’s not).  But, I’m learning my lesson the hard way with Mr. We’re Gonna.  As my friend says, he’s a “we’re guy,” a.k.a. all talk and no action.  “We’re going to go to this great restaurant next time.”  “We’re going to go on a motorcycle ride along the beach at sunset.”  “We’re going to go to Goa.”   After our first date and a post-dinner make out session (during which I took off the earrings), I resisted every urge to spend the night, not wanting to ruin the chance for all the we’re-gonnas.

The next week, Mr. We’re Gonna texted me to say he’d be out of town for business, but we’d hang out when he got back.  Another week—nothing.  Then, out of the blue, a text, “Sorry I’ve been out of touch lately.  Been sorting some things out…”  At that point, I had already gone out with someone else, and thankfully did not leave jewelry at his place.  And aside from the run-ins at the horse race and Olive, we haven’t been in contact.

I recently found out that Mr. We’re Gonna is now dating my friend’s roommate, which is great because now I have an easy way to get my earrings back.  Surprising, I haven’t heard from him since his offer two weeks ago to get them back to me.  So, I texted him on Friday, “Hey.  Really need my jewelry back.  You can give them to Jackie next time you see her.”  A few minutes later, he replied, “Hey.  Had the earrings in my pocket to give them to you on Thursday if I ran into you at Olive.”

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Death. It’s Part of Life.

16 Feb

I’ve been reminded of this cliché all too well over the last few days.  It all started late last week after quite a long day.  I was exhausted but not ready to go home.  What’s a girl to do?  Take advantage of her spa membership, that’s what.  I opted for a pedicure, my first non-DIY one in over six years and desperately needed after months of walking around India in flip-flops.

The rickshaw driver veered toward the curb half a block away from the spa.  Instead of asking him to drive to the corner, I was going to walk the rest of the way.  I fumbled around my wallet, looking for exact change.  He started waving his hand in my face and pointing toward the rear of the rickshaw.  I thought he was pointing toward the meter.  “Yes, yes, one minute.”  Jeez, this guy is impatient. He kept waving his hand and pointing.  I looked behind the rickshaw, thinking someone was standing there, waiting for me.  No one.  He pointed to the ground, right where I was about to step out of the rickshaw.

“SHIT.  SHIT.  CHALO!  CHALO!  CHALO!”  Go! Go! Go! He just laughed; he wasn’t taking me seriously.  I began hitting him on the shoulder.  “Chalo!  Chalo!  Shit!”  He pulled forward a couple of hundred feet.  “Ok, stop.”  He was still laughing.

The image is still in my head.  A cat was hovering over a rat, which I presume it had just killed (not that I’ve seen many dead rats, but this one looked freshly dead), and was about to eat it.  I don’t think the cat would have appreciated my stepping over it and its dinner so that I could get to the spa.  I’m not sure how the rickshaw driver assumed I would react to that, and I’m still unsure about whether or not he pulled over where he did on purpose, but I either gave him exactly the reaction he had hoped for or he was very amused at the way I freaked out over something that didn’t phase him a bit.

Then this morning, as I walked out of the house to go to the bus stop, I noticed a procession of men dressed in white coming from a few houses down.  As I passed through the gate, four men passed by carrying a wooden platform.  A dead body lay under a white sheet and garlands of flowers.  I walked along side the crowd as they carried the body to an ambulance, parked near the bus stop on the main highway, waiting to transport the body to the crematorium (yes, an ambulance doubles as a hearse).

I stood at the bus stop. Four men filed into the ambulance after loading the body into the back.  I scanned the rush hour traffic to look for my bus, and was interrupted by loud sobbing coming from the ambulance.  I haven’t seen many men cry in my life, and I definitely haven’t seen an Indian man cry.

I looked into the ambulance.  A young man, maybe around 30, hovered over the platform, his hands on the body, and wailed.  It was a heart-wrenching sound, one that seemed to silence the hundreds of honking cars and screeching brakes.  If you could define true sorrow and heartbreak with a sound, this man’s cry would have been it.  I looked around at the bus stop; no one else seemed to be phased.  In a country of expert starers, I was the only one in the group entranced by this scene.  The man continued to wail, and I continued to stare until someone in the procession closed the doors of the ambulance and it began to drive off.

Extreme

3 Feb

I’m currently reading Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss, a book about the author’s search for the world’s happiest places.  About India, he writes,  “I hate it.  I love it.  Not alternatively, but simultaneously.  For if there is anything this seductive, exasperating country teaches us it is this: It’s possible to hold two contradictory thoughts at the same time and, crucially, to do so without your head exploding.  Indians do it all the time.”  Now, I often feel as though my head could explode at any moment, and I’m not sure if I’ve managed to love it at the same time I’m cursing it.

Mumbai is a city of extremes.  Take wealth and poverty, for example.   The rooftop bar at the Four Seasons, one of the city’s best, overlooks a slum.  In this city of extremes, I have discovered my personal extremes.  I have been the best and worst version of myself.  And, as much as I hate to admit it, I am my worst version more than I would like to be.

In his book, Weiner talks about “going native,” when someone moves to a foreign country and completely immerses herself in the local culture, lets all of her “old ways” die, and adopts the new place as her own.

I have not gone native in India.  In fact, I resist things more than I should, and although I try to stay calm and collected, sometimes I snap.  If I had gone native, sitting two hours in traffic to go six miles wouldn’t irritate me; it wouldn’t bother me when people show up 30 minutes late for an appointment; I would barely notice the constant honking.  Seriously, why honk when traffic is at a stand-still?

And, if I had really gone native, I probably wouldn’t hate traveling on India’s trains.  Most of my friends who work here love the train.  It’s the quickest way to get where you need to go.  True, it is.  But, I don’t know, there’s something about being shoved onto an already-packed train by a group of 20 women then standing with someone’s un-deodorized armpit in my face for an hour that isn’t appealing.

Last Wednesday was Republic Day, a national holiday in India, and since my working friends had the day off, we planned to spend the afternoon in south Bombay.  I went to the train station, bought my ticket, and waited at the front of the track to board the First Class Ladies’ Car.

When I was in India back in 2007, we took an overnight train from Chennai to a village for our homestay.  The program coordinator told us that we would be in a First Class Sleeper Train.  I pictured a hotel room on wheels, basically.  A plush bed in a dark, cozy little nook closed off from the rest of the train.  “And, waiters will come by so you can order food,” the coordinator said.  I imagined room service.

I soon learned that First Class, by Indian standards, is not much different from Third Class.  You get the same bed (a bench that folds out into a bed) and the same coarse blanket, but in First Class there’s a curtain for privacy.  Trust me, it’s going to take more than a curtain to get privacy, especially when the room service I imagined turned out to be a guy walking up and down the aisle, pulling the curtains back, and yelling, “Chai!”  “Samosa!”  “Peanuts!”

And the bathroom.  Far from First Class.  A sign near the bathroom entrance says, “Please refrain from using the toilet while the train is stopped.”  That’s because the toilet is a hole in the floor of the train.  Better to pee while the train is moving than leave a puddle at the station.  My first time using a squat toilet was on a moving train around midnight somewhere between Chennai and the middle-of-nowhere.  I peed all over my leg, returned to my bench/bed, GermX-ed my entire leg, and changed pants.  No one was going to convince me that Indian trains “aren’t so bad.”

The only good thing I can say about overnight trains, or long-distance trains in India, is that you have an assigned seat.  Not on the local train.  Every woman for herself, and these Indian women are ruthless.  If you don’t shove your way onto the train, they’ll do it for you, or leave you behind trying.

Last Wednesday, when the train pulled in, I moved to the front of the platform so that I could be one of the first on.  Before allowing the dozens of people off the train before trying to get on, about 20 women, who had formed a group around me began pushing me and each other onto the train, against the hoard of the people trying to get off.

As the train started to roll, someone grabbed my neck and pulled me back toward the center of the car.  Before I could get my balance, check to make sure I still had my belongings, or regain sanity, I felt a woman grabbing at my shirt, pulling it from the shoulder.  I was still being pushed further back into the train as the woman started pounding on my arm with her fist.  I looked to the side.  With her free hand, she was doing the class beggars’ sign language, stretching her hand out toward me then motioning to her mouth.  I lost it.

“Stop touching me!”  I yelled, as I grabbed her arm and flung it off of me.  She pushed her way into the crowd.  There’s no way she even has a first class ticket, I thought.  And, then I felt awful.  I hated myself for thinking that and for taking my frustration out on that woman.  And, I really hated India at that moment.  And, no, I didn’t love it simultaneously.   I really just hated it.  I hated that something seemingly simple as getting on a train wasn’t simple.  I hated that most things that should be simple aren’t.  And, I really hated the person I was in that moment.

I’m sure that woman was used to people treating her worse than I did–I’ve seen how some people treat beggars–but that was no excuse.  I wanted to apologize, to make it up to her.    I looked around, but she had already been swallowed by the crowd.