Life is just a bit too easy here in small-town south India. The newsstand man now knows to keep aside a copy of Deccan Chronicle for me (you have to get to the newstand early to get an English newspaper - most of them are in Telugu. By 9am, the English papers are all gone). By now, the Auntie at the tiffin hotel knows my regular breakfast and doesn't even have to ask. She just hands me my idlis (steamed rice cakes) and special, double chai with a quiet smile and switches on the "Divine Voice" - an electronic box containing loops of 30 odd different Sanskrit mantras. Because it's morning, Auntie plays the mantra for Ganesha, the lord of beginnings.
I stand at the counter under the fan, hovering over my "plate" (a banana leaf and a slice of old newsprint), and read horrible headlines that seem completely at odds with my surroundings. "Couple stoned to death in Bihar for marrying between castes." "Two commit suicide over financial difficulties." "BJP tortures Christians in Madhya Pradesh." These are sandwiched between feel-good , "lifestyle" pieces aimed at the growing Indian middle class - like "10 Items every urban male must have"(pair of black denims; black loafers; personal dig-assistant). They even use the word "metrosexual." Everywhere there are ads for self-improvement - spoken English, personality development, all manner of certificates and diplomas and private tuitions. India is a country on the way up and out. Everywhere I meet young people slaving over their exams and studies - the competition for seats in colleges, as well as jobs, is fierce.
Elbow-to-elbow with me are men in shirtsleeves on their way to office or school. I've never seen a woman patronize this (or any other "tiffin hotel") except to take home a "parcel" (Indian version of "take-away" or "to go"). One reason I like this place (besides the MantraBox) is Auntie's feminine presence - a rarity in a culture where women don't often work in direct contact with the public. This is changing, but to find a lady running a restaurant is still rare.
Tiny shoeless girls in school uniforms, eyes bright as buttons with their hair hanging in heavy, black braided loops, scamper up to get their tiffin packets before class, then scamper away like rabbits. A woman comes along with a shining silver bowl brimming with bright pink roses for sale. Dosa Auntie buys two. One for herself, and another for....? Auntie was quite a looker in her day, you can tell. She has broad, even features, a beautiful smile, and four Mangalagiri saris with matching blouses that she rotates. My favourite is grey with maroon border.
Everyone in the neighborhood wants their photo taken with my digital camera, which has its up and down sides, but it does keep me popular- and in demand. My hosts stay up late, and don't care if I do too. (Though the boys do keep the Hindi film music blaring constantly...the same 6 songs over and over and over... somehow, they never seem to tire of them.)
For some reason, contrary to the usual Indian customs, it seems to be okay for me, a single woman, to be staying in a house with 2 young men (21 and 24 years respectively) and their father with no other females around. Vijay says "they give respect to the foreigners." Or maybe they just figure foreigners are beyond all comprehension anyway?
I do have to wear my chunni nice and demurely, completely covering my bosom. But I like the way it floats along behind me when I walk, tassles trailing regally in the breeze.
Today, Vijay and I shot his Kungfu videos on the rooftop. My favourite is the one with the short staff - very cool. I finally got my Irfan View program, a working disk drive and my photo CDs all in one place at Subramanyam's. Madhusudana Uncle will have homemade carrot soup waiting for us. It's all quite idyllic, except fighting off the mosquitos at bedtime.