Bye Bye, Swaraj Terrace

8:53 PM Tuesday, January 25, 2000

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The biggest difference about the place I'm at now is that the dirt is not petroleum-based. Ok, that's not the biggest difference but it makes a big difference. Because when you put the nice, clean inside of your forearm (you know, the place where dirt shows up the most) down on the desk, it gets dirty. Yeah, and real dirty if you move it, but it's just a little dust. It's dirt dust. Smack, smack, and it's gone. That's here. The place I was at before, which was great, don't get me wrong, had had oily particulates that *smeared* when you tried to wipe them away. And I know why: it was Hughes Road. The hugest road.

A huge road that has lots of cars. Diesel cars that humans have specially designed to create little chunks of carbon that float through the air and land on your desk. And on your mouse, and on your face, and on CD jewel cases, and on magazine covers, and on the phone and even on the poor rag that you use to swat all that stuff daily.

If I grabbed something, like the top edge of some furniture that was usually out of the way and seldom dusted, my fingertips were blackened like I'd just been fingerprinted. And this stuff is just as hard to wipe off. I'm not usually a clean freak. I'm not. But I like my fingertips grease-free. I want to be able to stick them in my eyes and mouth occasionally.

Where am I at? Mehta Hospital for Women Care. At the foot of Babulnath Mandir on the eastern end of Malabar hill. I'm about 45 seconds walk from the Arabian Sea. I'm about 3 minutes walk from Kotak Kunj on Hughes Road, which is where I used to live. Babulnath is the oldest Shiva temple in Bombay. It's well used. On Mondays the place is kinda crazy. I hear you can get thandia (milk and bhang (pot) cocktail) there on that day. Sometimes it hard to live next to the temple because all the people think I'm walking by as a tourist and not just getting back from going to buy soap or something, and they pester me for alms.

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It's an honest attempt, but it's kind of feels like the pseudo-sadhus who work the area around the Taj Hotel where Brian works. They come up to me when I'm minding my own business and try to pour these little balls of sugar into my hand. They hold them in their fingers like they're gonna drop on the ground if you don't put your hand out. I point to the little red piece of string tied around my right wrist to try to indicate to them that I'd just had a blessing and I'm "not interested" but they won't hear it. They want to give me sugar, make me eat it, put a big dollop of some orange paint on my forehead, tie a red, yellow and orange thread around my wrist and say a prayer for me. They want me to fork over 10 bucks when they're done. That's the point really. It's the mandatory money thing that bothers me. If it wasn't for that, I'd probably like it. And I'd probably give them more than 10 bucks. As it is, the paint is like a mark of shame and I have to grin and bear it. I could tell them "no" I suppose but they're just spiritually scary enough to make me tolerate the little ritual and give them the equivalent of a quarter.

The first time it happened it felt kinda special when the skinny, half naked, old guy worked his mojo on me. But then somebody, I think he was selling hash right next to the priest, said, "Don't give any more than 10, he's not a real priest." So I'm conflicted because I don't believe in priests anyhow. I mean, I believe that it's good to be a priest and that they do good stuff but I don't think they have the power to dole out salvation. So why should it make a difference if they're fake or not if I want to believe it? Anyhow, it's usually too much to figure out when they're all up in my face with the sugar and orange paint. I give in and promise myself not to wimp-out next time. The last pseudo-sadhu that hit me up saw me again on his rounds as I was walking home, and from about 15 feet away, held out his palm in the "Yo, don't leave me hangin' bro" gesture and I slipped him some skin even though he had the same look in his eye as the hash dealer. He's like, "Yeah, I know I worked ya, but a guy's gotta make a buck."

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I've been back in India for a week now. I live in a PG. A paying guest accommodation. Which is what you get when people rent part of their house out so they can make some money. This place has a few extra rooms hanging off the hospital and I've got a beautiful one. It's not like a US hospital. This is more like a big house. My landlords are Obstetrician/Gynecologists. There's Ajit Mehta, the old man, and his wife, and their son. It's the family business in more ways than one. I have this desk I'm typing at, cleaned of dust by my forearms, and 2 beds, yellow-ochre and white parquet floors, a terrace with a sink, no pigeon poop, and an incredibly beautiful drawing of a woman breastfeeding a child on the wall. I especially like Mrs. Mehta. I think she's about 70 and she's very cute and very nice and business-like and I want to do stuff to show respect to her and I want to be a good boy when I'm in her house.

I'm going to spend my spare time getting my 150 scanned photos up on the web. I've got a lot of work to do and so far I'm averaging 3 a day. My non-spare time is occupied with going shopping for bangles and going to dinner at the hot new restaurants au gratis and going swimming at private clubs and eating delicious feasts at my friend's houses (all of which has happened in the last 24 hours) and being chauffeured or taxied or bussed or motorcycled all over this crazy land-reclamation project.