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How to spend a Holiday Devoid of Young People, and Other Important Lessons
May 11, 2017
Sometime last week I stopped counting how many days I’ve been here. This morning I started the countdown to my flight home: seven mornings left.
Suddenly it feels like a month is wrapping up very quickly—it's suffocating, actually, when I think about how much is about to happen. Yesterday was one of my two days off during my time here (the first was a sick day, to give you context on what “free time” means). I wasn’t sick yesterday, though, it was a holiday: one of the bigger celebrations during this ten-day festival that marks the transition into springtime. I had hoped to venture downtown to see (and photograph) the excitement until my mentor here, Vidya, sat me down with the uncanny air of a parent about to give you “the talk.” Despite the language barrier, she was resolute in using light words to insinuate complex content, rather than to explicitly explain. It went something like this.
Vidya: Nimaya, tomorrow is a Holiday for us, so the Centre will be closed.
Nimaya: Gotcha, any chance I could get a ride to the festival?
Vidya: Ah, well. Niranjana and Sujatha were going to go downtown, but you see it is raining.
Nimaya: I see. (She did not see).
Vidya: There will be a large crowd there.
Nimaya: Oh, so traveling might be tricky?
Vidya: (nonchalantly) Very large crowd. Some people get trampled.
This was not the end, clearly my attempt at a pleasant, understanding smile did not reflect the gravity of the situation she was trying to paint for me.
So, smiling in a Chance Cardamone-Knewstub manner, clearly hinting that much more is being implied, she continued.
Vidya: And there will be young people.
Nimaya: (Still missing it) Mmm. Ah.
Vidya: So there will be no women.
Nimaya: (realizing that “people” means “men” and “young” means “dangerous”) Oh.
Vidya: They will be having fun. So it is not a good place for women.
Vidya: (confusing Nimaya’s bewilderment over the word choice with failure to grasp the content) And when young people have fun, they can get mischievous.
Nimaya: (struggling to not verbally clarify that by “have fun” and “get mischievous” means raping women, pulls solemn, understanding expression) Gotcha.
Thus, Olivia and I did not go to the festival.
We had our own kind of holiday though, and frankly one I would much prefer to fighting through a sea of mischievous men.
I slept in past 8am for the first time in about six weeks, and we had a late brunch of yogurt and coffee (after failing to find granola or anything else resembling a Western breakfast). We played the “responsible adults” game and bought some assortment of groceries that will hopefully make something close to a cohesive meal (for all the confusion and the pile of vegetables and spices, we only paid the equivalent of about $3.75 so it was a worthy adventure). On our way to pick up the sari I was having made, Olivia tried a coconut, and after trying to throw the juice into the back of her mouth like a local and not figuring it out, settled to drink it (and carve out the fruit) with a straw. I finally got a bottle of freshly squeezed sugar cane juice with lime, which turned out to taste like a thick lime smoothie—delicious upon first sip, and not meant to be stored, as we found out that evening.
We took photos, and briefly hung out with some young boys playing cricket (though we were later advised by Vidya not to play with boys our own age, for reasons we were left to assume). Ah, keeping sexual harassment unspeakable, how free and empowered I feel.
After walking a couple miles to the tailor just to realize she wasn’t home, we meandered back to the guesthouse to boil in the sun before deciding to build a fort on the roof. We were only slightly scolded by the upstairs roommate, an Ivy League student majoring in South Asian Studies who speaks perfect Tamil and is utterly adored by everyone here (we simply call her “Harvard” for the number of times she mentions it). For the record, we call her aunt and uncle (who are traveling with her) “Ellen and Richard” because they look an awful lot like an Ellen and Richard, and we don’t remember their real names.
Anyway, like the children we are, we made a fantastic fort out of all the useless blankets and curtains around the guest house, careful not to damage anything, but all the same putting the fabric to much better use. In the shade of our fort we listened to music and journaled, read Time magazine and listened to the birds and the occasional motorcycle passing by. We had already named the white cow that hung out in the trash yard by the house “Jared the Moon Cow” when we had our picnic dinner a few nights ago, so today we named his stormcloud-colored friend, “Tony the Dark Night.”
At 2pm we walked to the Centre to have lunch with Vidya, which turned out to be a fantastic sambar dish of paneer and potatoes with a side of spicy string beans. Vidya was excited to hear our response to the sugar cane juice but told us to hurry home to drink it before it “becomes alcohol.” Not eager to walk again, we did some bird watching, talked about poetry, and hastily changed the subject at the sight of Vidya’s horrified face upon hearing that the guesthouse curtains may or may not have been used as fort building materials.
That afternoon stretched for along time. Most of the late afternoon was spent on the roof. Halfheartedly attempting yoga, writing in the fort, lying on the hot tiles when the clouds came in. When it suddenly became evening instead of late afternoon, and a massive orange moon came out between the palm trees, we went downstairs to heat up leftovers, make chapati, and dig into the most delicious pineapple I’ve ever had. We also got mangoes, but a little reluctantly. Vidya had widened her eyes when she heard about our picnic dinner of mangoes on the roof: “We call mangoes ‘love fruits.’” She’d said. “Because couples eat them at night. For energy.”
The desserts we had bought were altogether misses. Two cubes of sickly sweet fudge-like desserts that tasted like a mix of straight icing and mac&cheese power (I'm deadly serious). And one squishy thing that looked (taunting liar) like a molasses cookie and was really like an utterly bland, dry, chewy dough with sesame seeds. How can India be so amazing at making normal food bold and spicy and colorful, and have their desserts either super sweet or bland and boring?
In any case, the long, relaxing day ended and this morning I realized I have one week left. The last week has flown by so quickly. I can’t comprehend how time works here.
But before I go, things get hectic again. Despite having hit over 200 logged hours, I’m at the Centre from 8:00am to 6:00pm at least, and out at various events and dinners most evenings. The Centre’s Summer Camp is about to being this Sunday, which, I learned today, means I am going to be solo leading 5+ hours of Drama class a day, with 15 kids aged 8-14 for the first couple hours, and with college students for the rest of the time.
This is a full-brain kind of project.
But I cannot devote a full brain to planning lessons, oh no, because the photography book the Centre is printing for me must be finished (ready to print) by tomorrow, and I am spending all of Saturday working at the studio to communicate the layout and physically create the book.
And did I mention my culminating research paper for this project is due on Monday? Is it written? Alas, no. When will I write it? I will let you know when I figure that out.
But the true pressure of the moment is the fact that leaving here (finishing my time in India, mentally preparing for over 60 hours of travel, let alone the fact that on the other side I’m graduating and have to plan next year’s first semester as soon as possible)…just comprehending that is a full-brain job. And yet, I am spending the evening not writing captions for my photos, nor working on getting permission to print photos of children’s faces, nor writing my research paper, nor figuring out how I’m going to make a sari into a Shakespeare costume. I am writing a blog post, because, somehow, this has become another way to distract myself.
Well, I’ve just made a small vat of chai for Olivia and me to drink on the roof while watching the lightning storm tonight.
Maybe I care more about being in India—soaking in the awe of getting to come home to a place like this, living like a kid in a fort, and an adult who can cook dosa, and a writer who just wants to revel in the light of the afternoon and the taste of Laddu—and to hell with being a responsible student.