My newfound appreciation for Zodiac signs has got me reverting everything back to “Well, its because I’m a Cancer.”
Cancers, commonly known as the crab, are supposed to be hard on the outside and soft on the inside. Emotionally closed off and skeptical. Constantly feeling, emotions are the trademark of this sign and yet what I oftentimes struggle to deal with. Extremely sensitive (though I have my defense shell in place.)
Place this crustacean in the middle of Bombay. Rickshaws flying at my face, shop owners trying to swindle me for spare change, people flooding the streets day and night. My emotions running high, but my shell slowly starting to crack.
In my cozy little neighborhood of Bandra (say, the Prospect Park of Brooklyn) I have been meandering, sometimes aimlessly and sometimes purposefully, through the crowded and muggy streets. It’s been almost two months now.
The honeymoon phase is…over. Frustrations have set in, but what I find so interesting is how quickly they disappear.
Bombay is broken down into neighborhoods, and in my neighborhood you will find a close-knit group of Mumbaikars who have become set in their lifestyle, relationships, values. Intimidating for a foreigner, and Cancer like me.
But, I observed. Persisted. Made a routine. Formed habits.
I go to the same vegetable stand when I find myself having the energy to prepare a home-cooked healthful meal. He knows me – he picks the ripest tomatoes, juiciest limes, cleanest, (and this is a feat,) sweet potatoes – and always charges me the same amount … a dollar and fifty cents for two days’ worth of dinners. We exchange laughs, mainly because of my broken Hindi.
At the 24-hour chemist is where I buy my late-night chocolate bars. One night, they passed me my change, along with a mini Cadbury bar. A present?!
A smile and head shake. “No ma’m. No change.” This would be irritating in any other circumstance … but these guys are my buddies. And they gave me more chocolate.
En route to the gym I pass a street vendor selling gum. I always buy from him. One time, I was carrying a 500-rupee note on me.
“No … I’m sorry.”
“It’s ok. You pay me next time.”
Granted, a pack of gum is 5 rupee. But the trust and sincerity he displayed surprised me, and made my heart fill with empathy. I came back the next day and gave him extra change.
Many sights make my heart swell. Two friends walking through the streets holding hands. Uniformed schoolchildren guzzling sugarcane juice after school, while their mothers chat nearby.
Some days I find myself in heated, lengthy conversations with absolute strangers. Back home, it’s a curt nod and smile to passerby, or a “have a nice day” from the clerk at the grocery store. Last night, the Indian man sitting next to me at dinner handed me his business card and talked for half an hour about Silicon Valley. Me nodding the whole time like I had a clue about technology.
And then there’s the head bobbing. My first encounter with a head bobber was at a restaurant. I like to ask my waiter how a dish is before I order – if they have tried it, what customers say, just general annoying customer procedures.
“It’s okay, ma’am,” he says as he bobs his head.
“This is not selling it for me…”
“No, it’s not bad.” *head bob*
“Is it not bad or is it good?”
“Ok…I’ll get it.”
Me: WHAT DOES THAT MEAN
And now I am the resident head bobber. Hypocrite.
India is a complex succession of contradictions. I find that I am as well.
I am also (slightly) moody and temperamental. There are moments I walk through the streets and find myself hating everything.
“Why are all these people in my way?”
“WHY IS THIS CAR SWERVING TO HIT ME?”
“It’s hot and it smells like fish.”
And then, I finally arrive to my apartment, where I greet my watchman with “namasteeee…” He rips out a belly-
“Oooookay,” he says, opening the gate for me.
I shake my head and smile. My façade softens.