Sunday, August 7, 2016

Leaving India is harder than they say - Fourth and final chapter - You are allowed to read them all

Thanks for staying tuned to what may be...we hope...the last chapter in my alternate universe of India.  Sorry for the delay, I've had a cold, yuk!

Some of the references here probably won't make sense to you if you haven't read all 3 past chapters, so best to start with chapter 1..wink,wink

As I said in the last chapter, we were winding down and beginning the heart heavy exit from the dream we had been living.  Stay in a dream long enough and it becomes your reality, until suddenly it isn't.

Things were kind of quite while staying at the hostel (see last chapter) but there were a few adventures still. Like an evening spent in the marble halls of a government officials home with his spoiled son and some of his spoiled friends. We were stopped by what would now be a vintage Mercedes, while taking an evening walk from the hostel and asked if we would like to go to their "house", read that as mansion, for a party... well,well,well.
To say this house was lavish is not an exaggeration. Government officials, unlike the majority of the population are paid very well. It was top designer 1970's.  White leather sofas, white marble floors, white fluffy rugs and ... gold, some of it may have been real!  The bathroom was as big as my kitchen here (biggest kitchen I've ever had, I get dizzy turning around so many times because I always forget something) and it was my first introduction to a bidet. I could not figure out why a toilet would not have a seat, especially when there was one right next to it that did?! Who are these people that would opt for a cold rim???  There was a lot of pot and booze and we wiggled our way out of there pretty darn fast as it was obvious that "free love" was on the agenda and who wants to get caught smoking pot at a government officials house? Prison was the word that came to mind.

(there aren't going to be as many pictures here, because I am just tired of looking for them, ha!)

I did meet a charming and handsome young Indian guy (guy is what I guess you have to call them when they are 1/2 way between boy and man)  one day while walking across the maidan to eat at what could actually be called a restaurant, usually they were street stalls.  His name was Krishna Krishna Puri and one of the first things that he said to me, after the de rigeuer "you are so pretty" was that he would be very happy to marry me because he really loved America and he was sure we would make a good marriage...5 minutes after introductions.  He then wanted to know if I was a vegetarian. One always aims to be so in India but it doesn't always work out. The lust for meat niggles at the back of your mind (at least mine, my grandfather was an old time butcher) and you eventually cave.  I had shooed him away and promptly ordered a vegetable pulao with chicken.  Half way through he pops his head in and when he spied the chicken I could tell the wedding was off.  A sunny day, marriage proposal and delicious rice with chicken, what could be better?!
                                     I could not resist...Krishna Krishna Puri, sorta.
                                      actually, pretty darn close. Maybe I shouldn't have had
                totally gratuitous, Indian actor - Hrithik Roshan...sigh

But the most outstanding (outstanding, give me a break, batshit crazy is more accurate) memory was, a few days before we were to leave with our "hot" tickets, I walked to the American Embassy one morning. You could get your mail there if you were registered which was a good idea if you were naive enough to think that you would get any mail. Leaving the Embassy that morning, I stopped on the stairs and look down at the unusually quiet street and I had that beautiful feeling that every day in India is sunny and  the mornings  especially seem light and hopeful. So no mail is ok.
But there was a conversation going on on the steps between two men that sounded a bit anxious. I got the gist of it and - fucking shock - the airport was closed! No one could leave for at least a week because of the war between India and Pakistan.  War??  I didn't even know where India was on the map, let alone that it had a war going on! There was shooting at the airport...bullets! And I felt like I had just been shot.  My ticket was for a couple of days later and because it was "lifted", it could not be changed.  Holy Mother of God!  I have no money and I have no place to stay in two days. Panic. Heart feels enlarged to bursting point. Feet seem cemented in place. Scene in front of me is frozen, no one is breathing. Oh wait, that's me, I'm not breathing.  Then snap! my NY friend, Bruce, is there in front of me.  He had the same kind of ticket and was in the same pickle. The look on my face needed no explanation and he just took my hand, led me down the stairs and said, "I have a friend". Walking along a tight alley with masses of electrical wires dangling and radios tuned to the music of the people, we entered a courtyard that seemed misplaced. Quiet and clean, a fountain in the center, gentle sprays of water catching the sun, green, a tree and plants and flowers. Walking into calm and suddenly everything came into focus again.  His friend's office was up three tight, steep stairwells into an office straight out of Ivory Merchant. Slightly balding. Indian men can seem so clean as to be holy and superior and I wished he were my uncle, I felt so safe with this clean man.
A ticket agent.

I understood right away that he had already taken care of Bruce, but that for helping me there would be some serious payback, of what nature I never knew and still wonder about because nothing was asked of me, except how do you want to go and would it be alright with you if your ticket included an overnight stay at the Frankfurt Intercontinental Hotel, expenses included. I go, but thankfully with Bruce. It is just a bit too uncomfortable for an untidy hippie girl to ride 1st class alone. But for some reason Bruce's ticket didn't include an overnight stay in Germany so I was gonna make the last leg alone anyway, gulp.

The day before all this happened, my hostel mate, Joe P. had asked me if I could take a necklace back with me and then mail it to his friend in Philly.  He wasn't leaving for awhile and wanted it to get there as soon as possible and the mail was so undependable and slow.  Sure, why not?  The necklace was made of Hash.  Marble sized beads strung together and painted red, resembling a 2nd grade art project by a kid who wasn't really into it. I'm not really a necklace kind of person but, OK.  When things had finally, (I got to stay at the hostel for reasons I can no longer remember) quieted down at the airport and we were actually leaving, we of course had to go through customs. I'm wearing this crude string of red beads, I am instructed by a short, heavyset, older Indian woman with a very serious demeanor to step into a small area that looked like a dressing room with a shower curtain.  She was shorter than me, and that is short! She looked me up and down and then, wait for it, she picked up a bead of the necklace. With a "What the fuck are you up to girl?" look, she stared straight into my eyes, well, up into my eyes. One second, two seconds, I just smiled that slight smile when you are being polite to someone you know is just passing through your life and you are too stupid to take anything seriously.  She dropped the necklace. It gave the tiniest little bounce on my chest annnnnnd, we're done.  For one slightly foggy moment I thought, whew! But then that passed.
             Yeah, that's pretty much her, but without the smile.

                                                     I'd never been in a fancy hotel,
                      Pretty much looked like this then, overwhelming.


 and was speechless at the size and thickness of the huge bath towels, towels, of all things! I'd never seen anything so luxurious, they were like rugs! I was too intimidated to ask for an extra blanket, it was freezing in Germany, so I slept with the towels spread out over me for extra warmth. And yes, I stole one. It should be embarrassingly noted - I did not take a shower - I did not want to get the towels wet.... Somehow I had assumed that all expenses included meant that there would be a meal.  (just an aside here, I am still in those Chinese slippers and patched jeans) I went down to breakfast the next morning, ordered, ate and when the check came, what?why is a check coming? and the waiter stood there waiting for me to anti up - I started crying.    I think the whole thing had just been too much, now I was alone, and all of a sudden it dawned on me in the most profound way that I was sitting in a nice restaurant in a strange country where I didn't speak the language with no money, in slippers, albeit pretty slippers, (I'm very careful with shoes, it's just my nature) but still. This very German waiter, that kind of looked like my grandpa, put his arm around my shoulders and said, in his thick grandpa German accent, "It's alright, don't worry, I'll take care of it."  I sort of melted.

The last leg of the journey took me to England for a two month layover, again, built into the ticket. I remember eating Chinese food in a movie theater with a man who had two alias's and feeling scared that we were going to get thrown out because we were stinking up the place.  The English are so proper, no on said a word. While in England I wore a sari most of the time, what are you going to wear when coming back from India.  Wouldn't you?
Three of use were going somewhere one day on the Tube, which I loved, it is so easy and so clean.  We were walking down a sidewalk in duck file, I was bringing up the rear and I glanced over at my image in a shop window as we women are wont to do.. occasionally. It just struck me as hilarious - my sari had, unbeknownst to me, unraveled and was trailing behind like a wedding veil. Two little girls holding it up would have made the picture, but what actually did it, was that I had been wearing white long johns underneath and now that was virtually all I was wearing.  This is typical me, 100% true.  Once when I was on a flight with a stop over, years later, I had gone to the ladies room wearing a mid calf length sundress. I heard the boarding call and scrambled to get out of there, moments later realizing that most of the back of my dress had fallen into the toilet. So an unraveling sari was par for the course.

I stayed at the ashram in London too, with a little bit of money in my pocket.  It was a very nice neighborhood, Hampstead, beautiful brick house with lattice windows, surrounding brick wall and double iron gate...sigh.   Lovely places to walk in London and Hampstead is full of leafy green trees and charming little neighborhoods.  There are small bungalow neighborhoods too and wandering through one there was a house, just a normal house in the middle of the block with a sign in the front yard that said "Breakfast", seemed so odd, but I love quirky things like that so I walked up to the door, a bit hesitant, and tried the knob thinking this was a joke and the door would be locked, god forbid - you are opening the door to someone's home! But it opened into a long narrow room with small tables on either side of a long aisle.  Everyone was very quiet, no one looked up.  There was a pass-through at the end of the aisle, a long aisle, with a small menu taped to the wall and the pass-through was shut.  What do you do? Someone noticed and said "knock", that's it. So I did. Quick flick up and a not friendly face said "what?" I very quietly said "one egg and toast please", slam.  Sit down, pass door bangs open, egg and toast on a plate, sit down quietly at a table alone.  Did I mention every one was seated facing the door, so that when you entered you saw, immediately, every face. I sat face to door and ate my egg in silence with all the other diners.  It was the oddest thing I had ever experienced, like being in a Wes Anderson movie.  And equally as odd, it is one of the sweetest and most charming memories of England that I have.  I loved it!  I think the egg and toast cost about 1/2 a dollar, which was at a very good rate at that time.

                                   The beautiful blonde boy who-I-think-loved-me, etc.

 and I got to spend a lot of time together. Eventful day -- we went to lunch with his parents (Beverly Hills people can do whatever they want jetting around from country to country) at one of London's most posh hotels, the Goring!!  Look at me, I finally remembered! Gorgeous !
I will never forget standing on those steps and saying goodbye because he was leaving with them the next day.  It was one of the last times I ever saw him and never again as close and caring.

Anyway,  I can not imagine what our conversation with his parents was like, I was so shy and inexperienced and more than probably ate with the wrong fork, spoon, knife, etc. The most unforgettable moment was when his mother, gorgeous woman as I remember, got her full length mink coat stolen. The whole "meet the parent's" thing went right down the drain because she blamed me for not being more observant when I went to the ladies room and noticing whether or not it was still hanging at coat check. I'm not Scotland Yard, thank you! And it's a fucking full length mink coat !! --  Karma's a bitch.

I almost missed the flight from Heathrow airport to LA, because we could finally smoke pot and were too loaded to hear the loud speaker announce departure.  When we finally got it, the stairs had been taken away from the plane and I had to run down the terminal with the stewardess flagging me frantically while they put them back.  What they would do for a 1st class those days.  I doubt you would get the same treatment today.

I landed in LA without a dime, well I think I probably had a couple of bucks. I was too dumb to be able to figure out the bus system, jet lagged and trying to reenter earth like someone trying to get their land legs, so I actually begged a stewardess to lend me $10 for the taxi fare to the Wilshire house. I promised her I would pay her back, god I can't believe she actually did it! But the most amazing thing was that I did!  I left it at their check in point because I didn't know her schedule, I slipped it under the door with her name on the envelope. I've never known whether or not she actually got it, but it was the nicest feeling slipping that envelope slowly under the door.

So you see, he was right. I had his Grace and I was taken care of every step of the way.

There were so many things that happened that I couldn't include here: Indian men climbing eucalyptus trees at sunset gathering leaves as the last of the sun rays shined on them and the trees swayed in the breeze, singing folk songs in a slow sing-song.
Babies with khol rimmed eyes and tiny little red bindis (that little red dot)
Burning cow patties, a smell you get used to and finally come to enjoy.
Roasted spiced peanuts from roadside vendors and chia! how I would love just one cup of chia poured with a high, long stream by expert hands.
But it's a blog and maintaining attention is not a common, so it has to stop somewhere.

Thank you so, so much for reading. I hope you enjoyed these 4 chapters as much as I enjoyed writing and remembering them.