Tag Archives: enough metaphors already

The one in which I am grumpy and brilliantly uninspired

I am sick of these metaphors. It’s 5 am, my god fate, do I have to give everything an aesthetic, hm?

I am leaning onto my bookbag on the Airtrain between terminals. The plane slid in Newark by dark, but now dawn is rising for me a second time today. On the horizon, the New York skyline rises, too, like in all its fictions. The Empire State Building pierces the exact middle of the generating sun, as if its syringe tip is coloring the sky’s pink and orange tissue. I have never been to New York. From this distance, it looks like Delhi, or Delhi looks like it. I don’t know if the haze is morning fog or constant pollution. A highway slits the metaphors lower half – it is busy already at this hour.

I guess the literary world is trying to tell me something about my arrival with this image, about my inevitable new dawn of life after such an incredible trip. The scene longs, lingers, yearns to become bad poetry. But the image is like morphine on my own culture. Culture shock, that is, and the pain of trying to sleep upright for half a day and too many security checks and the loud, white everyone everywhere in this passport place. I slump against my backpack even more and turn away from the shining scene. I’m home, but not completely.

Aesthetic. Anesthetic. Another cappuccino, please. This last flight will be long, too.

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(Co/a)mputation

I know I have been getting some quiet chastisment from everyone for not updating in a while, but I should explain that my hard drive crashed the second day I arrived here. I have been wandering around a bit lost, reading books, attempting to write out full descriptions in my journal but failing, scribbling “blog post?” next to certain incomplete phrases, for later times. I am thinking of you, just unable to type.

My laptop feels nearly like an organ. I am used to the warm drone on my legs as I sit ankle-crossed or Indian-style on my bed, writing. Peeling its slightly sticky bottom from my legs always signals the end of time spent typing a paper or an e-mail or looking at things other than the papers and e-mails I should be typing. My thoughts didn’t flow succinctly from my brain to the clunky hostel computers I have been using;  my neurons have fettered my thoughts to the synapses of my fingers and my keyboard. This organic disruption troubles me some, but I am also a fast typer and I like to watching Arrested Development online too much to give the idea much weight.

The thing is as disposable as a kidney but retains all my inherent flaws. My folder files are disorganized, my keyboard lacks two keys I never bothered to replace, and the hinge of the screen wobbles. I failed to love it in the way I fail to love everything with any working order. By all means I had this coming, but the separation disoriented me even more than expected. I have spent most of the last two weeks biking into main campus to use the phone, which allows me to interact with call center employees who are well-intentioned but unable to understand me when I say, “I don’t know the service tag. Doesn’t the thing run on fairy dust?” My abhorrent lack of knowledge about this machine that I rely on for everything isn’t new or unrealized before, but now an added level of mistranslation. In some ways my computer couldn’t have crashed in a better location. It’s a homecoming, really, as I am sure many of these parts were manufactured here. I just don’t want it to become a buriel.

In yoga I am learning about muscles I didn’t even know my body had, and when the Dell repair man came he unscrewed and etherized parts of my computer that I weren’t aware unscrewed and separated in less time than it took me to say hello to him. Within five minutes, I had a new hard drive and he was gone.

But my computer was still by all means a corpse, which is how I ended up sitting the tiny windowless room of the campus IT office all afternoon yesterday. The place had a total of three outlets and above me, a fan spun with such devotion that I feared it would unbridle itself from the ceiling at any moment. I listened as three busybodies around me chat in Hindi or maybe Telegu. Their lilt of language was wired with some generic, technical terms that I recognized by ear but were just as meaningless – ram,driver, cd.

They had given me a harsh once-over when I burst into the room asking if they could upload Windows XP to my brand new hard drive, sweating and exasperated from my bike ride there and the situation in general. But tenacity and a sheer doe-eyed look of desperation does pay off. “You will have to wait three hours” turned into “Come back in an hour” and then “we can do it now that you sat across the hall and  realized we were done eating lunch but not telling you that.”  And within the two hours comprising the uploading process, “Find internet drivers yourself” transformed into “Come back tomorrow when we have finished downloading this for you!”

So now I am sitting in the familiar position on my bed, trying to regraft this cold metal device back to my life, but something is askance. The screen resolution isn’t just so. I don’t have any music or photos identifying this hunk of wires and boards as my own web of needs.  I need to re-invent it, re-format it to the circumstances, and decide how much of my old self I am willing to include in this blank, foreign existence.

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Peac(e)ock

Since the train station, Anne and I come to expect a certain level difficulty when getting from place to place. Today we depart our Kanpur haven for Hyderabad, a sort of benchmark because it is our longest stop. “When we get to Hyderabad…” or “We just need to get to Hyderabad…” we have prefaced our sentences. You would think this place springs chocolate rivers the way we talk.

On our last day here we woke to see the peacocks. Our walk started at 5:30 am, but it was as if the sun never set; the heat was in its crescendo already. They are the national bird and they infiltrate the campus. They symbolize peace, I learned from a Delhi shop keeper during my rebuffs in buying his marble carvings of the creature.

Rahna, Dr. Harish’s wife, told us the birds shed their reticence in the morning. If you rise early enough, she said, you can catch the shy creatures with their guards down and their fans up.

“Why do they congregate here?” I asked.

“I think it must be spiritual.”

They forget their piety when they call to each other, however. As we were sitting in Dr. Harish’s backyard the first night in Kanpur, we heard a sound like a crow-themed car alarm. This one memo activated the rest of the peacocks in the neighborhood and soon we had a serenade of passionate whoops.

“And they eat everything, anything,” Dr. Harish said. The ornithological version of a goat, I added. Whoever consecrated the peacock must have only seen one from afar.

On our walk we saw plenty in their usual state. Their feathers constricted as they cautiously and tiptoed, for they do really tiptoe, in fear at every foreign movement. We started home a bit disappointed, but we had only walked a block and a nap sounded too promising.

I turned my head right for no real purpose. On the roof of the nearest building, a peacock turned in circles with his alluvial wings outspread.

“Oh, look,” I stated to Anne, as if we were always expecting it there. A good blessing for the long, long coming hours.

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A moment of silence, please

We hired a car to take use from Agra to Kanpur, where I would be visiting the Indian Institute of Technology doing some work for CReSIS for the next week. I was excited to see the countryside. The train had come too late to the station that all we had seen during our ride were the fluorescent lights of houses and passing cities.

Except, there really is no “middle of nowhere” in India. Some is always selling something or chugging along on their bicycle, carrying impossible loads of everything. Even when cities seem kilometers apart and clearly we are speeding past farmland at 80 mph, shacks line the road. Along the way, it was obvious that the rural isolation of Kansas doesn’t translate here. And I have yet to count beyond 10 in between car horns, even in the countryside.

This part of the highway was called the Grand Trunk, or GT Road. It begins in Pakistan and extends all the way to Calcutta. The government recently renovated this road as a part of its Golden Quadrilateral initiative. Last year, I completed a semester project for my metaphor theory course on this road. Riding on the highway completely edified that all-nighter. The term “commuter village,” which Western media coined to describe mass amounts of people commuting on the highway between cities each day for better work, took a new meaning when a multiple buses crammed full of Indians careening between the roadway lines nearly hit us, or us them.

All the way, we saw women sitting side-saddle on motorcycles behind men. They steady themselves with poised, straight backs and dainty hands placed on the motor in back. They remain motionless even as their hair whips from their golden berets and their drivers weave between everyone. Farther off, in the fields, two or three figures in bright red, pink, blue, move through corn or lounge in the shade of a tree. These solid drops of beauty against the red clay brick masonries, the dull brown of the fields, and the cracked grey buildings appear unexpected but not out of place.

While in Kanpur, we took the highway again, this time on a day trip to Lucknow which is a city about 2 hours north. On our return, our driver suddenly stopped. Although the road congestion seems awful everywhere, we have only gotten stuck in an actual traffic jam one time before. Now, a train was coming.

I have never seen this place so silent. Cars idled. A few people roamed about, bored. A beggar in red tatters sat near an intersection, hand extended. When we returned to Lucknow a few days later to catch a flight, he sat in the same place deserted.

The train whizzed past in no time. The minute the tracks bars lifted, every single vehicle started honking, as if on a laugh track. Those unencumbered in the front lines honked for the sake of happiness. Those at the very back honked in frustration. All those in between honked because suddenly they couldn’t wait idle another single minute. We joined into with our own beeping refrain. We twisted into some impossible space between two large trucks, and it was off again into the loud, mad journey of India.

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In Between Spaces

“Why do you always get sick when you come home?” An old friend whom I had arranged to meet a few days ago asked.

I hadn’t realized the pattern until he said it. My times at home are now parentheses scything off moments between stressful semesters or vacations. Home and family have their own obligations too and sometimes the weaving of all these realms suffocates me to the point that I just have to watch six episodes of Flip That House! in a row. My body catches up with my schedule here, and home becomes a junkyard for both my material possessions and physical malfunctions. I had already canceled on Justin twice before to recuperate; TiVo and green tea seemed to be the natural remedy for a speedy recovery.

Wichita always makes for a bizarre platform on which to depart, especially for the other side of the world. Growing up here was directed towards escape. I told myself engaging possibilities were elsewhere.  Success meant leaving the 316.  When my family first moved here, our neighborhood included one subdivision, a 7-11 gas station, a gymnastic center, and miles of countryside. Now, with urban sprawl, one can subsist entirely within a five-mile radius of my house.

Every time I return, even just to visit, I still have a small fear that I won’t ever leave again. The months away seem to erase entirely in lifestyle and memory. I miss my friends and my autonomy, but I regress too easily into my slippered shuffling through the house and eating food in as many pounds as hours I nap. So, I am not entirely surprised that whatever energy that kept me operating at bizarre levels of productively and sleep for the past four months has deflated into complete lassitude over the course of a few hours. I feel fossilized in the amber cast of my house with little motivation to go anywhere. I find forward projection difficult. After a few cloistered days, I wonder, is my default human setting really compulsively eating pudding cups while watching re-runs of America’s Next Top Model? Compared to the 8 am bus rides and ten-minute lunches during the school year, I can’t decide which mode is the bigger façade.

This time, however, planning for departure truncates relaxation. My preparations find an appropriate analog in the Game of Perfection in every sense of the reference. I am scrambling in these last days to find all the finest pieces for my trip: strongest antacids and padlocks, most effective rain cover for my huge backpack, highest-resolution webcam, etc. I do this all the while knowing that none of it exactly matters. As soon as my Keen-clad feet hit the cracked pavements of Delhi, I imagine all of my best-laid plans will come popping up with culture shock and potential scams and beggars and the torrential rains and everything else I know of but cannot begin to internalize.

I am committing mistakes already, the first occurring when I bit into my malaria pills. They looked a lot like a Tylenol tablet, and I failed to swallow them upon first try, so I thought maybe they were chew-friendly and the white color could indicate a “vanilla” flavor. I may as well have poured an entire jar of margarita salt down my throat. Only fifteen more to go.

My search for appropriate clothing repulsed just as well. I need lighter, less restricting t-shirts and blouses than I currently own to combat the inevitable waves of heat and Eve-teasing. Right now, about 0.0005 % of my wardrobe fits this criteria, with my pajamas comprising 0.00025%. The hunt did not lead me far. Near my neighborhood, a Super Walmart sits shoulder to shoulder with a SuperTarget, which is across the street from a Dillons Superstore, which salutes a soon-to-be Jumbo Best Buy. By fitting such huge spaces into such limited geography, the city planners complicate my decision. For multifaceted errands I usually settle for Target, because it abuts an open field that somehow hasn’t been developed into a neighborhood with a throwback name to the pastoral scene its sewer system now roots through. Also, the Starbucks next to the “Fresh Produce” is a big win.

After meandering around the hygiene section for some time, I found my way to women’s clothing. Basic tees: $7. Bullseye.

I grabbed one in every color, and then I came across a flowery, more detailed and embroidered blue top. Thinking it perfect for my needs, I pulled out the tag to find the right size. Small, okay. But I didn’t even get to the price. In slightly larger print: Made in India.

My hand recoiled, and I wasn’t sure why. I owned plenty of products made in India. Shirts. Shoes. Probably some bits of the computer on which I am typing this. But the current convenience in buying a shirt in a chain store with the intention to diminish the future inconveniences of the home country of someone who, probably in derisory conditions, made the shirt was a gross juxtaposition. I was sick, indeed.

The moment electrified me into recognition. My encounters in superstores and street market stalls will supplant what I buy in them. I know my life is about to change with dramatic moments and sweeping actions, but also in the tiniest of observations. How can I even begin to prepare?

Well, I am still taking Pepto-Bismol, just in case.

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