What To Do With No Power In India

india blackoutToday the power was out in Bhagsu. I managed to check my e-mail at Tom Yam Tai before Shira and Junko met me for lunch. Shira complained about the price and the amount of chicken in his green curry, but my pad thai was pretty good. We walked home to the patio, where Shira and Junko sat. I told them I was going to take a nap. But I couldn’t. My computer was nearly dead and all the writing I wanted to do was on it. I lay in my sleeping bag, the afternoon sun streaming through the slit between the curtains. I thought about reading, but I felt guilty for reading too much of The Wind Up Bird Chronicle this morning, as though it were not meant to be read so fast. I don’t want to breeze through a book. I want to take my time with it, struggle with it. I used to have this feeling when I was a kid, with fast-reading books, which is why I’d start reading two or three books at once. Although today the guilt from reading so much also means I should be writing more, not that I haven’t been writing, though. So I put the book down after 20 or so pages. I had to go to the bathroom.

Shira and Junko were right where I left them, sitting on the veranda overlooking the patio. Shira said we should get drunk, and knowing how Shira doesn’t really drink  and having nothing else to do on the languid day, I took this as a sign for us to bond. After all, Junko was walking into Mcleoudganj to exchange her book at the Japanese restaurant for 10 rupee, which Shira said was a waste of money.

I tried getting beer at the corner store but they only had fruit beer. When I told him, Shira made the same face you did. Instead I bought a liter of guava juice to mix with the half bottle of vodka I’ve had sitting on my desk for the past two weeks. He offered me some American Sour Cream and Onion chips and we started to tell stories. He told me of some of his conquests, a Spanish girl, Dutch girl, Israeli girl, the American writer who came to write Gupta Singa’s story. When she e-mailed him asking how they could best save money he said we could share a room. To which she responded, I’m engaged to be married. Later he fucked her lakeside. He said he wouldn’t mess around now that he’s married, but you know, tiger by the tail.

Down the veranda that French ninny was giving a macrame class to the American I met the other day, the blonde skinny Texan with big eyes and that straight Texan nose. Another girl was there too. My neighbor Rhythm came down the stairs, feather in his hair, and tried macking it to the Texan. Then he came over to us, smiling, “Girls working, men working.” I offered him a drink and told him about my idea of rewriting the Bhagavad Gita, which he thought would be good if I read some of the Upanishads, which means to sit next to, he said, and is about that feeling that transpires over good conversation; when you make eye contact across the room; or in a non-sexual moment with a lover. He kept getting up in the middle of my talking, which irked me slightly. He said that he had read them while doing a lot of power plants, which I questioned, thinking of nuclear energy, which he laughed at, hadn’t thought of, then the Texan piped up and said, you know peyote, mescaline, that kind of stuff– great when used to learn, toxic when abused. He would read a little, get high, read a little more, get high again, peel back the veneers, as he said. He went on, telling me the meaning of the Gita, and trying to summarize some of the Vedas, then told Shira, who had hitherto been quiet, to tell me the story of the guru who slept with his feet toward Mecca who when asked to turn his feet away from God, finds Mecca turning with him, since God is everywhere. We started talking about how some Hindu temples don’t allow women on their period inside. Rhythm said men have an emotional period every 44 days. He pronounced this with the authority of a schoolteacher correcting a child’s wrong answer. Then his phone went off and he stood to take it. When he hung up, he lamented the need for decision, saying he’d have to go now or else he wouldn’t be able to later, and walking off, blah, blah blahed (his blahs, not mine).

The Texan said that she had been eavesdropping and asked about which religion we were talking. I walked to her. I offered her some vodka. As we drank she kept readjusting her macrame tied around her knee and as she did I watched where the golden hue of her upper thigh met her dress. I wondered how old she was, and deduced she was two years my senior from her ’04 silver bracelet. We started talking about the U.S., how I love it and how she resents it, Austin especially, for the exploitation of a lifestyle and the perpetuation and globalization of greed and capitalistic drive. But the culture, I argued, citing Bob Dylan and the blues, which she rebutted with the homogenization of pop music. Perhaps in the future, I suggested, we will be able to better appreciate the lasting gifts given to us by the American Golden Age.

The French woman joined our conversation on the patio along with another student, a Korean-American. Both were squatting with their legs open, exposing the outlines of their vaginas through their tights, their loose dresses flowing around them. The Korean-American kept emphasizing human nature w/r/t Western culture and a higher standard of living– I think she’d tripped the least acid from the sound of it. The French woman remembered when she gave a beggar in a train station some food and a score of other beggars surrounded her until she started crying and had to go outside to refind her center. During her ramblings, her baby started crying. She said the baby had been given to her by an ayurvedic guru in Chandigarh, who helped her after she had been trying to conceive (with a man not staying here, apparently). The baby walked over to her and she cradled her in her lap and exposed a nipple, which I tried, successfully I think, to ignore. She kept blabbing on about living with a Western standard back home in France, with all the paperwork and expectations. We agreed, because Corina, the Texan, is into eco-communities, and the Korean-American pities women who sell themselves, and I hate social norms. It was clear that I should leave soon; I had to pee and Corina was no longer playing devil’s advocate to my optimism.

I stood and walked to Shira, who was standing on the steps above the patio, near Chorash’s, where I first met Coral. She was there and she told me to come sit with her and the Indian guys from Rajasthan. The handsome one with the shorter gelled hair, the slight underbite, and the scar on his nose told me I should order some coffee. I did kind of owe them from the other night so I bought a round, which I was overcharged for at 150 rupees, but I hoped the proprietor split the cash later. That’s how it works in India. One person takes the white man’s money, everyone else in the chain gets a cut. And 150 rupees is a lot for them– Shira told me how when he was younger, working as an apprentice making fans, he used to make 25 rupees a day. Granted he was an apprentice, but fifty cents a day? We drank our coffee. Coral stood to leave. I told her I had written about her, which made her smile, and pull up her elastic dress, and pull out her shirt and straighten herself out. Scar-nose guy asked her, what’s this, and imitated her fixing her dress. I realized I no longer like him. When she left, he suggested I stay in Dharamshala, tear up my passport and just get high all the time with him, write big books and become a local legend but I said I can’t, it’s not my dharma. The little man next to me laughed. I finished my coffee and left, back to Shira and Junko.

Shira had bought a bottle of whiskey for tonight, since the guys at Chorash’s were going to throw him a little chicken wedding dinner. He said I could join. I imagined Junko and he and I sitting on the cushioned floor and being served chicken butter masala with a steaming plate of rice, all on tin plates to keep them warm. We sat and I noticed flower petals strewn on the veranda, which was a nice touch, but it wasn’t done by the hotel. It was done by the French woman’s baby. After a short while I went downstairs for my harmonica and some water.

I was feeling musical, so I played a little upstairs and the older hippie woman who’s from I don’t know where walked past and said, “Nice,” which made me feel good. Then the hotel owner came around. She spoke to Shira. She said that that French woman’s baby was really bustin’ her balls. That it was spoiled and it walked around untended and now picking flowers and before the French lady’s leaving the baby’s diapers on the veranda. The dogs got in it and then she had to clean up the mess! And then the Frenchie has her friends over on the veranda and they sit there all afternoon macrameing, making a mess. Perhaps most disrespectful of all, this hippie doesn’t even say hello to her. She ignores the hotel owner, when everyone else at least has the common decency to say Namaste. Anyway, she came over here because she wants Shira to translate for her to tell this lady to put her baby’s diapers in a plastic bag and dispose of them properly.

I hate that baby, and that idiotic French woman, always calling out, “Leezaaa!” letting it roam the garden. I once saw it standing on the other side of the veranda, looking at me for attention, as though I should care she might fall the four feet into the grass and tell her to stop the way her impotent mother does, but I just gave her the evil eye and hoped she’d fall. She didn’t.

I felt bad. The hotel owner, who you can tell was pretty before she had her babies and now has a belly, she’s such a hard worker. Earlier was cutting the grass with a hand-scythe. I thought about the trouble it would cause her to use a lawnmower instead. Down in a squat, her pink sari wrapped around her head to protect her from the sun, she moved with her enormous breasts jiggling in her low-cut wrap, one foot at a time, gathering all the grass and leaving it in piles.

Anyway, she was venting. After she finished, Shira and I walked up to Chorash’s and sat on the floor-pillows. That Russian girl who I kissed goodnight on the cheek the other night walked by and since I hesitated when I leaned forward and saw her turn around from playing with the black cat, I didn’t talk to her. We sat there for a little while longer and then went into the backroom. There were five other men there now, sitting around the little TV, couched on cushions and styrofoam mats on the floor between two beds lined parallel to each other and perpendicular to the door.

There was a little bowl of chicken in a spicy onion sauce, a plate of sliced cucumber and Black Stag Indian whiskey, which is far better than most bourbons you can get in the USA for under fifteen bucks. We watched the end of an Indian movie from the ’70s about a corrupt police force that went around killing all the town’s pretty women. Luckily, we witnessed the end, when a bad cop strangled a famous Indian actress and the townspeople went berserk, stabbing and decapitating the rest of the force. During this time I had a piece of chicken. It was a good piece, whitish meat, little bone, chunk of skin. I polished it off with a cucumber slice and some whiskey soda. I hadn’t had anything to eat since pad thai at lunch; it was now past nine. But it was Shira’s dinner and I didn’t want to be greedy.

The littlest man, who spoke the best Hebrew, but was the butt of most of their jokes, perhaps because he was from a Southern state, judging from his height, dark skin and greasy black hair, he kept smoking. The smoke billowed like a dust cloud in the desert, directly into my face. I tried to hide my nose in my whiskey glass, which helped, but only made me drunker. On one piece of chicken I wasn’t feeling strong. The second bowl of chicken arrived. The other men ate hungrily. I took another piece too. This piece wasn’t so good. There were bone splinters sticking from it, but it’s not like I had a choice– all the other pieces looked even worse. It was greasy and hot and the grease dribbled down my fingers and onto my white linen pants which I had changed into earlier. I folded the now two chicken bones in a napkin and deposited it on the cardboard the whiskey had come in that was sitting in front of Shira.

We were watching cricket now. I was trying to understand how a player gets on strike, or rather, what exactly it means to be on strike. I was having mild success. Baseball is a a game that requires much more strategy and skill, I thought, based on how the distances are closer in cricket, the bowler gets farther to run before “bowling” and instead of taking sixty pitches for each side before switching, with the captain choosing who gets to hit when. Baseball is more democratic and difficult; it requires greater precision from the pitcher, more strength and strategy from the batter, and generally more concentration and athleticism than simply preventing a ball from passing a boundary. But it was fun to watch. There was a Jamaican batter who kept hitting home runs, or “sixes,” and it got kind of boring after he hit three in a row, but he finally got out and they switched sides. During this time I had a refill of my whiskey and reached for a final piece of chicken. I tried nibbled it but it didn’t have much meat– it was all fat and skin and bone. I rested it on Shira’s cardboard box. I saw him looking at it and I apologized for being so bad at eating chicken. “It’s Indian chicken,” he said, picking up my former piece and putting it into his mouth. “You left a lot,” he said, sucking it clean. I pointed to the grease spot on my pants, “Even in America I’m bad at eating chicken,” I said. I had to get out of here. That little guy was smoking another stogie, the cricket match wasn’t nearly over and even though there were only a few fingers of whiskey left in the bottle, my hips hurt from sitting Indian-style for so long. Even when I stretched them out on the styrofoam mat, and extended my arm onto the bed, I hurt. And now there was a little kid behind me so I couldn’t lean back on the bed…

I told Shira I forgot to lock my door, that I should go do it. He said, whatever you want. I felt bad thinking that I wouldn’t come back but I was starving. Shira would understand, or at the very least he would blame it on my being American, which was fine with me. I came home, locked the door and went back up to Om Star. There were many shoes on the ground before the seating area. Too many. I couldn’t deal. I walked back up to Chorash’s, debating whether or not to go back in to the smoke-filled cricket match. One of the workers stood behind the glass bar that held candy bars and warm Cokes and had Hebrew bumper stickers slathered over the front. “Is the kitchen open?” I asked. I knew they had good Israeli specialties. He looked towards the room I had left. “Hmm. All the men are watching the game. It’s okay. I’ll go to Munchies.” “Munchies?” he said with a smile. I nodded and left, thankful I didn’t have to stay.

I walked straight in and ordered some chicken and veg momos, (Tibetan dumplings) then sat across from a couple of Israeli girls and next to a French couple. I kept my  eyes low. Everyone was here with someone. On the other side of the pillowed seating  area hippies lit up. There were many, including the Gypsy girl who wears the same white wedding-style dress every time I see her. I thought about whether she changes her underwear, and how this is one of the few places where the longer you wear the same thing, the cooler you are. The French left after they finished drinking their mint tea and I took advantage of the open space, lying down after watching a hippie across the way doing the same. Munchies was a restaurant for lying down. I stared at the Chinese lantern, imagining if I could write a book about it. Then I looked at the ceiling covered in sheets of fabric to give the place a cozier feel. Lightning flashed outside, illuminating the outline of evergreens in the distance. I looked above everyone at the ceiling, thinking about how to rewrite my novel. I saw the owner bring out a couple of watermelon juices. That was what I needed. Since there were so many people there I knew it would be a while before she brought out my momos. They make them fresh, after all. So I ordered a juice, and when she brought it out a few minutes later, drank it down, barely pausing. I lay back down with more energy to contemplate. The Gypsy lit a stick of incense and stuck it into the soil of a potted plant behind her, where all the shoes sat on the gravel path. It was musky, not sweet. Lightning continued to flash. The momos came. I ate them, hardly looking at the Israeli girls across from me. Evidently they were new in town; I hadn’t seen them before. There were ten momos, boiled and filled with carrots and chopped green beans and onion and chicken and they left a greasy trail on the plate when I forked them, dipped them in the curry paste placed in the middle of the plate, and bit them in half. Good to soak up the alcohol, I thought. I worried for a moment about finishing them all– they were filling– but I had little trouble. When I finished I left.

As I walked up the path I fingered for my keys. They weren’t in my pockets. They must have fallen out while I was lying down. I went back into Munchies and picked up the cushion I’d been lying on. There they were. I was pleased I didn’t have to make a fool of myself in front of the hippies by picking up different cushions and not finding what I wanted. I walked out with a smile, up the path, over the hill and down the steps onto the patio, past Shira and Junko’s room where the light was on but the curtains were drawn and downstairs into my room to digest and write about the day.


By Daniel Ryan Adler

Daniel Adler writes fiction and nonfiction and is finishing his MFA at University of South Carolina.

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