By the will and grace of Durga, I have returned to South Delhi for my final three days.
Massi and I are in the car, we’re going to visit my Younger Massi. The day is really warm, bordering on hot. I feel a bead of sweat trickle down the back of my leg and catch in the hollow of my knee before disappearing into the plush car seat. Delhi with its CNG buses and parking garages is so much cleaner and greener than before. With the Commonwealth Games coming, the City has no choice but ready itself for the world stage.
“Put on the air conditioning,” Massi instructs the driver. “It is on madam,” the driver replies and blasts the fan at us. Too bad that air is even hotter than outside. “Oof, turn it off!” Massi instructs and the driver complies. He is a dark, greasy looking man with hair slicked to his skull with coconut oil. A smell that upsets my stomach.
I am thankful to be in India now, rather than during the summer. A stifling season marked by the slow creep of monsoons crossing the Punjab plains. A time when the paralyzing heat holds me hostage in my own skin, and relentless rains that temporarily freeze everything in place. Plants gasp. Cows hide. My hair plasters against my head. Raindrops catch on my eyelashes. It is the closest to blindness I have ever come.
In the aftermath of the rains, the sewers flood the streets with standing water that eventually become standing cesspools of disease. The only thing that sounds more disgusting than infested Third World water is dengue. A disease I had NEVER heard of until I watched the news this morning.
Regularly I cite the 30% rate of STDs in Manhattan as the reason I keep my legs closed. I don’t have the energy or patience to wait six to eight weeks to get over Chlamydia because I slept with Dirty Boy. But now, are you seriously telling me that a wayward mosquito could bite me into sickness? I am not a hypochondriac, but the first sign of headache, muscle or joint pain I am on the next freaking flight back to Newark.
We pass a metal and glass shopping center under construction, next to an old movie theater made of concrete and plaster. Billboards line the tops of buildings and broadcast the latest Bollywood movies. The breasty heroines wear clothes so scandalously tight I swear I can see their ribs. While the bulging heroes dressed in black trousers and open shirts, expose hairless chests. In all my desi dating I have YET to meet a hairless Indian man.
The road slims before it explodes into a highway. In that much time children run to the window and press their dirty faces against the glass. With pitiful expressions they bring their fingers to their mouths, begging for money. My aunt shoos at them and says to the driver, “Pull the car forward."
I know the driver and Massi are not heartless people. To survive in India they have learned to see through the vagrants with stumps instead of limbs, garbage, dirt, men who bathe in water retention tanks and women who sleep on the streets under moonlit nights. Unfortunately there are no manuals to prepare for Americans, even brown ones like me, for the Third World horrors I witness every time I come.