Two days later, Rohit is still in the hospital and I am wondering what the protocol for visiting is. I’d like to see him, but do you call and say, “Sorry about your abs, so glad your tumor wasn’t cancerous. And by the way I have some free time tonight, can I come see you?” Clearly this is not a party, celebration yes, but party no, so it’s not like I wait for an invite, right? And who do I call to ask if I can visit? Does Rohit have his cell phone? Or does it interfere with the machines monitoring his recovery? I am sure Meera has to work and is not reachable right now. And I could pester Meera’s mom, Auntie, who is in town. Luckily around lunchtime Meera calls to ask if I am able to swing by tonight. Of course.
* * *
Rohit is at Sloan Kettering on the East Side and Meera has given me directions. And while I love her dearly, I am a little nervous she will get me lost. Directions are not her forte. Rohit must know this too, and he texts me with exact directions and a note that he is looking forward to seeing me.
After consulting my map, I determine the best way to get to the hospital is by taking the A train to Columbus Circle, walking along Broadway and then hopping the M66 to Sloan. I cannot imagine this commute will take more than an hour so I leave home at 445 pm to get to the hospital by 6. Unfortunately I would have been better off walking from Columbus Circle to Sloan because the cross-town buses are crawling soooooo frustratingly slooooowly through the park.
When I finally get to the hospital, Auntie, Meera’s mom is sitting and reading a magazine. Rohit looks pretty okay considering what he just went through and the room is FILLED notes and gifts. How I wish I had brought something other than MTA angst, but I was commuting for 1 hour and 52 minutes. In that much time I could have been half way to Phillie.
“Hi, sweetheart,” Auntie says when she sees me and sets her reading materials aside. I like that she has a term of endearment for me. “Hi Auntie, hey Rohit,” I say and squeeze his hand. “How do you feel?” “Like they took out one of my abs," he replies dryly. A nurse comes in to check Rohit’s vitals and Auntie offers to give me a tour of the floor.
“Meera said she should be here around 8, why don’t we get something to eat and bring it back,” Auntie suggests. This must be tough for her too, spending all day in a hospital, worrying for her daughter and son-in-law. “Sure, but I left my purse in the room,” I say. “Don’t worry,” Auntie says. I won’t realize it until we get to the restaurant, but she had intended to buy me dinner all along. Indian hospitality even when her son-in-law is recovering from surgery.
We go around the corner to a place called Taava. The guys who are working at the restaurant are speaking to one another in Hindi. Auntie waits to catch their eye and in English, orders dinner for herself and Meera and then nudges me to order. As soon as I finish, Auntie and I continue chatting but are interrupted when one of the guys says to Auntie, “Aap ko roti chahiye?” Here’s where things get a little bring out your desi dictionaries so Desi Girl can translate. Auntie speaks English and Tamil. I presume the servers can speak English but are choosing to speak in Hindi (and hello are we still in America?). I speak English, can follow Hindi conversations and when push comes to shove I can fake Hindi, and I can fake it pretty well.
Despite being desis from India, Auntie and the servers have a language barrier. Auntie is South Indian and the servers are North Indian. She doesn’t respond to them because she doesn’t understand their language, and keeps talking to me. As the token American desi amongst desis, I ask, "Auntie they want to know if you want a roti.”
“No, thank you sweetheart,” she replies. I nod and turn to the guys and say, “Auntie ko roti nahi chahiye."
Auntie and I return to chatting and we are again interrupted. “Auntie, aap ko kati roll chahiye?” The server is now asking if Auntie wants a kati roll, a very devilishly delicious treat of naan, stuffed with paneer or chicken or lamb, onions, spices (think of a desi burrito). Auntie again declines. And I am left amused, wondering in what universe can a Hindi-illiterate American Desi from Minnesota became the translator who bridges the north / south Indian divide in the name of dinner, in Manhattan no less.