For the next two days, Bangalore Cousin, Massi and I attend matrimonial pujas in the mornings, go home for lunch and shop in the afternoon. In Chandni Chowk, a very chaotic and bustling hub in Old Delhi near Red Fort, Bangalore Cousin and I follow Massi from shop to shop. Mom and her family grew up in Mori Gate, not far from this area, so Massi has her chosen shops, venues and merchants who know her by name. Despite being in her 70s Massi expertly guides us through the catacombs of the bazaar, zigzagging through the crooked corridors where I ultimately buy suits, in Punjabi we call it a salwar kameez, the loose tunic and pant ensembles worn by Indian women.
The following day I’m at Select City Mall, which is in stark contrast to Chandi Chowk. Bangalore Cousin and I are meeting her friend from the Indian State of Assam. I find everything about the mall and Assami Friend fascinating. Assam is one of the most eastern Indian states (near China) whose people are fair and their features are softened like the Chinese. In my general observations of the way Indians treat one another, I’ve noticed that Indians have a hierarchy. The South Indians don’t associate themselves with those in the “Hindi belt” i.e. the states in the North were Hindi is spoken. North Indians seem pretty content to let the Deccan separate them from the south. And it doesn’t matter if they are from the north or south, Indians treat those who look less “Indian” like the Kashmiris or Assamese as less Indian. I think the Kashmiris can’t be bothered with desi discrimination because they spend most of their time worrying about Pakistani invasions. But I think the Assamese are treated like foreigners by their own people, which is something I can completely relate to.
As we wander around the mall I am stunned by how much India has changed. This mall is Western in every way. It is enclosed, and really, really, clean. It’s a multi-storied, massively air-conditioned structure with escalators that work better than the ones I take to the subway platform at the 181st Street A train station. The stores are Indian and European chains and the mall food court is filled with Indian millennials, like those Dad has on staff in the Dwarka office, eating french fries and talking on their cell phones. I mean, take out all the Indian people and replace it with Americans, and it feels like any Midwestern mall.
“Let us stop for smoothies,” Bangalore Cousin suggests. Smoothies? What alternate universe is this? This India is SO different than the one Mom and Dad left behind and the one I was forced to visit, when we “summered” in Delhi and we drank boiled water, Tang and Instant Carnation Milk. I read over the drink menu and find the flavors to be Jamba Juice worthy --- acai berry, pomegranate, pina colada. We get our drinks and go outside to sit on the concrete sidewalk. At some point I stop talking and between sips, I draw breath into my lungs. The evening air is unseasonably warm and I look up into the sky. For a change, I see the moon full surrounded by thousands of stars. I haven’t seen stars in so long that I wonder if they are brighter here or if everything I have been starving for, is finally being fed to me in India.