We took a chook-chook (auto rickshaw) to Qutab Minar, a World Heritage Site, mosque, column, ruins, very sacred, 800 years old, and as soon as we bought our tickets, Dad realized he didn’t have his hat.
I had taken the bag from him in the chook-chook, and the hat was in the bag, he said, so it must have fallen out in the cab. He was very upset. His anger sprayed everywhere, at the cabby for not checking or telling him he had forgotten it, and at me, for my lackadaisical attitude and for not caring that he had lost his things, especially after he had looked out for me by getting the airline to deliver my computer (the security check at El Al found it suspicious that I was flying through Tel Aviv to Mumbai and so had detained me for questioning, despite the fact that I had been in Israel just months earlier on Birthright; they made me pull down my pants, found the passport photo of an Egyptian I had forgotten about completely, and the guy who’s in charge, who’s really Israeli looking with deep dark brown eyes, and a bald, badly peeling head, he looks at me all hard and asks, “Why would he give you his picture?” I’m like, “I dunno, must be an Arab thing.” “I don’t think so,” he says, and then almost as if punishing me for having a beard and being happy and having this Egyptian’s picture, there isn’t enough time to check the battery of my computer, so they have to send it to me separately. Long story short, it didn’t arrive in Mumbai, but got to Delhi the other day and they put up a song and dance about sending it here, so yes, Dad having been around the block managed to get them to bring it to the hotel for 350 rupees).
I was trying to read the informational sign about this large minaret when he started to get really upset. “It’s just a material possession,” I said, “Don’t worry.”
“I’m not worried,” he said, “but it pisses me off you don’t give a shit about my things!”
I was brimming but I contained it, “I’m sorry you lost your hat, okay!?”
“Come on, let’s go.” I finished reading before I caught up to him.
“It’s just a material object, Dad.”
“I don’t care about the hat, it’s that I need it to protect my skin and my eyes. I don’t want to squint. It’s uncomfortable (he showed me by squinting) and you don’t even realize you’re doing it.” He was wearing sunglasses, as he normally does, but I know how he gets about the sun. I said, “Dad, I bet you dollars to doughnuts you left it in the hotel.”
“No. I didn’t.”
“How sure are you?”
I thought of Anthony‘s bicycle keychain his mother had given him for his 16th birthday, all the bottles of beer I’d opened with it, and how after going through airport security in Istanbul with Holly, he patted his pockets and couldn’t find it. He had told me earlier in the week that he loved that keychain, that it was one of the only things treasured and kept through the years, and that if he lost it, his mother would probably cry. Later that afternoon, he found it in his bag.
I was almost sure Dad had left his hat in the hotel, which is why I didn’t sympathize with him as deeply as he would have liked. I said, “I’ll buy lunch if the hat isn’t back at the hotel.”
And for the next hour, as we looked through the red sandstone screens, which have a similar function to stained glass, creating beautiful lighted patterns on the ground; as we touched six hundred year old columns and learned about the medieval Mughals who dedicated this area as a shrine to their empires, the old man was still sour.
Our next stop was the Lodhi garden where women rested their heads on lovers’ laps. I felt a little jealous. I remembered being in love, being happy in a garden with the comfort of a soft woman, and I felt desire sneak upon me. Then I became conscious of this and said to myself, “There is no dichotomy between pleasure and pain, cold or heat, love and not-love. This feeling too will pass,” and I felt better.
India’s not really the place for museums. After we ate a delicious lentil lunch, which was inexpensive, not because I was thinking about the bet but because I had seen the restaurant in Khan Market the day before and it had been full of people, we went to our next point of interest. I had forgotten what it was supposed to be, although it proved immensely satisfying.
The best parts of India are when you see the poverty, and the people living in it, not desiring anything else or focusing on anything but their work and what’s in front of them, when you walk into neighborhoods where flies buzz, and men cut heads off chickens while the live ones wait their turn in cages; shanties are built on top of shanties; children play marbles in dust; men stand on their vegetable carts full of garlic, squash or tomatoes hawking; the crows, always the crows making themselves heard, and the people look at you neutrally, wondering, curious, until you smile and they do back, waving, doing that characteristic sideways head roll Indians have which I believe is a kind of bow, or way to relieve tension. And in these really rich moments, where all my senses are stimulated, there’s nothing to think or worry about because I am entirely preoccupied with this.
Across the street was the walled garden of Humayun’s Tomb, the precursor to the Taj Mahal. After we explored the dome, we sat under a large specimen of the Indian linden, watching the sunset, hearing the chirp of chipmunks, watching parakeets dip into trees, and I began to think of all the things that will remain after I die, while Dad tried to get a picture of the green birds from just the right angle. He took about ten, none of them quite good enough, and then sat with me and worried about his hat. I could have sat for another hour, but the park was closing, and a man in a khaki uniform blew his whistle for us to leave.
When we arrived back at the hotel, taking off our shoes after walking miles around Delhi andseeing two World Heritage Sites in one day, a man from the concierge rang our doorbell. I opened the door and when I saw what he held, I thanked Humayun that I didn’t have to pay for lunch.