September 2007


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Late in the year, with the monsoon season still lingering over Bombay, the sun breaks the heavy cumulous cloud cover. The big brown puddles the size of small reservoirs glimmer with the agitation of one million tires running through them. Umbrellas are tucked away, but most of the Indians don’t use umbrellas, so the difference on the street isn’t much. There is a girl, who is dressed in her western fashions; she could be an extra in the new Avril Lavign video, but Avril doesn’t shoot her videos in India, though if she had a better sense of global markets, perhaps she would speak to the executives at her record company with more seriousness. This girl on the street has a name that she shares with sixteen million of her countrymen, Priyanka; so in this respect it is difficult to individuate her. Her hair is off to one side as she pushes open the door to the Nokia phone shop on a corner in Prabhadevi, across from the temple of Ganesh. The processions have already started though it is only the fifth day of the ten-day celebration. Boys are covered in a red powder and there are eight drummers each keeping their own beat. The idol of Ganesh slowly tools behind the drummers who are behind the dancing swarm of the boys who are covered in powder. Priyanka is not enraptured by the pure paganism of this scene. It is only another obstacle on the way to the store. The procession has stopped and a gong has emerged from somewhere. The drummers increase their rhythms, and the gong scores the mayhem with its stoic ringing. The dancers are working themselves into frenzy. Hyperextend the elbow, whiplash the neck, do the Ganesh. A man jogs towing behind him concrete blocks stacked on each other one hundred times over. It is heavy and inertia makes him take twenty more steps before he can stop. This procession is really jamming up the street. The man who doubles as an ox yells in Hindi, or in his mother tounge, they are all hard to tell apart from each other. It doesn’t matter what he yells because the gonging has increased in speed and the drummers overpower anyone’s wish to be heard. The taxi’s are stopped and all the brown skinned faces hang out the window, the rains have made this day humid to the point that one is wet regardless of if the rain has stopped or not. The drivers do not know what else to do, and so they lean on their horns with their elbows or thumbs. Some of the cars are newer and the blast of sound the horn emits is a strong disheartening bellow, while the other older and far more numerous taxis let out their whimpers that are as sad as the naked babies who have taken the pause in traffic to splash around in the brown reservoirs.

Priyanka does not wince at the noise, or smile at the chaos, her face is blank in her desire to consume. The men behind the counter seem to know her, but Indians are friendly and they understand the importance of customer relations, so maybe she is a stranger. The three men are immaculate in their grooming, their shirts are pressed and tucked into their trousers; two have of them have nice broom-like moustaches. She is not interested in the sales pitch, she has done her research in the confines of one of the infinite cyber cafes. The men try to sell her this phone or that one; this one has a three megapixel camera, this one records video in a .mov format ready to be uploaded over the WiFi broadband to her Facebook page. Priyanka does not post many videos on her Facebook page though, and does not think she will begin too if she had this camera. Her sense is more attuned to the aesthetic side of things, and has selected this Nokia model for the sliding keyboard that lights up and has tracings that snake around the individual digits. It is undeniable, this is a cool phone.

Her old phone is not yet outdated, or by any means unfashionably old, but something inside of her has clicked; and this one that she pulls from her camel colored leather handbag will never again suffice for the daily rituals of text messaging. Perhaps one her girlfriends had recently updated her phone, or her parents had given her some money, and Priyanka wanted to be the first girl among her friends with this new model of Nokia. She would be setting the standard in her own little circle, and for the first time she would not be playing catch up. Maybe, despite her wrists lacking golden bangles, Priyanka is the daughter of one of these newly rich Indians. Maybe her father has been put in charge of some outpost of UPS, directing the department of IT; or perhaps the father has merely moved up in his call center, and wished to celebrate his good fortune by showering his daughter with this gift. It is no matter, Priyanka expertly unlocks the battery casing and ejects the SIM card and looks bored by the sales man who is fumbling to open the box of the new model.

Deeper inside the purse is a small wallet, emblazoned with the signature Louis Vuitton brown and black check; clearly it is a fake, a good fake, and still significant of Priyankas rapid ascension to the consumer class. From this she produces a gold ICICI Mastercard. While the salesmen go through the physical necessities of this transaction, the swiping of the card, the signing of the receipt. It costs eight thousand rupees and strangely there is no joy in Priyankas’ hand as she signs off on the line beneath the total sum. Her mind doesn’t race back to her mother, or her grandmother, who is ninety-two and lives in the apartment block as the rest of her family. She doesn’t think of the cotton mills, or the stomach when it bubbles out of hunger or dysentery; or how she spent for many, what is a years worth of wages. She plugs the old SIM card into the new phone and texts one her friends “This is from my new phone.”

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It is a mash of cauliflower, dry mint, coconut, and some other stuff, it is weird and good.

Also, often when i wake up she is staring at me, wondering who this white man is, and why is he sleeping in her house …

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In the Hindu Religion, they believe in cremation.

Everyday in Bombay a building collapses, a train derails, there is a shootout, and so on and so forth.
It is not reported in the international news, it is hardly reported in the local news, because in a country of 1.4 billion life is cheap.

However, for those souls that do not make it passed their first year on earth; they are returned to the soil.

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