Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The following piece was published in the IHT/NYT a couple of years ago, and while much has changed, many of the issues discussed still seem current. On the personal front, our daily rituals and the weather today in Delhi are surprisingly the same. On the social front, just one of the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks has been caught (that happened during the event itself), scams abound in India (such as those related to the Commonwealth Games and telecom licences), the Middle-East stalemate remains unchanged (more unauthorized buildings and more deaths), and Obama struggles with the hand he’s been dealt. And we still search for clarity.
Winter days in Delhi are to be savoured.
The intense dry heat of the summer is gone but not fully forgotten, and so the coolness is greatly appreciated. And to add to the coolness, this morning has dawned clear as well. The sky is actually blue, without having yet been stained by the day’s pollution. The trees are full of leaves that look moist and refreshed, and the bougainvilleas are blooming. The Muslim call to pray is long over, and the morning songs from the Hindu temple in the village behind us have played out.
As I walk my daughter to her school bus, our little colony is quiet and we have the street to ourselves. Our energetic elderly neighbours who are normally out for their morning constitutional, a hang-over term from the British colonial days I think, are nowhere to be seen. Maybe the social rigours of the previous evening were too much for them or they’re simply enjoying their tea at a leisurely pace. Even the dog walkers have not yet emerged. We enjoy the silence, knowing it won’t last for long. My daughter breathes in deeply, links her arm through mine, and says, ‘It’s such a nice day’: she seems to feel that, in spite of her initial inertia and her destination being school, it may have been worthwhile waking up after all.
With a quick good morning to the security guards at our colony entrance, we step out of the gate to wait at our usual spot on the roadside. Over the past months, we’ve come to recognize some of the regulars and look for them. There’s the newspaper man who cycles by, head down, carefully navigating the uneven road. There’s the friendly milk man, who also cycles by, only somewhat more erratically. I know later, when he comes to deliver our milk, he’ll press my doorbell several times with much enthusiasm, in spite of my having told him that once is enough. Our favourite is a little boy who lives in the village. He looks about five years old and we see his father walking him to school each morning. Rather, the father walks purposefully, with a serious face, thinking of his day ahead, bills to pay, and other of life’s troubles, while the boy always skips. Somehow seeing the boy skip seems to lighten our spirits as well.
After seeing my daughter off, I return home to have breakfast with my husband. We split the newspaper equitably, and toss out interesting tidbits to each other. He gives me an update on the scandal at the IT company Satyam and the latest Israel-Palestine ceasefire. I mention something about the unreal worldwide expectation surrounding Obama’s presidency.
I also note several advertisements for weekend getaways at some top hotels. There have been perceptibly fewer travellers in India this winter. Despite the string of bombings through 2008 around the country, it took the cold-bloodedness of the Mumbai attack in November to really bring the issue to the forefront of people’s minds. That combined with the global financial crisis have left both airlines and hotels in India hurting. We discuss whether we should make the most of these offers – perhaps plan an impromptu trip to Goa or Chennai, or even Mumbai.
My daughter was supposed to attend a math competition in Mumbai next month but her school cancelled their attendance, stating security reasons. My husband thinks that was an over-reaction. However, the school is cautious, putting student safety first. Immediately after the Mumbai incident, there was a lot of talk in the press about the inefficiency of the government, the necessity to take responsibility, and the urgent need for action, but now, nearly two months on, nothing obvious or concrete seems to have happened, nothing that would prevent such a thing from happening again.
Well, if not a plane trip to another city, at least we could go out for dinner. We talk about timings and logistics – all conflicting -- and finally decide to discuss it later. My husband leaves for work and I go up to my study to begin my day’s work of writing and editing.
Initially I hear the children in the village school somewhere behind my house reciting their multiplication tables in unison and in top volume. Perhaps they sit outside the school or on the flat roof-top trying to make the most of the warmth from the gentle winter sunshine. Finding myself anticipating the next line of their recitation rather than focusing on my work, I try to drown them out with the Brandenburg Concertos. But, later, as my concentration deepens, I hear neither and it’s only several hours afterwards I notice that the music has long stopped playing and class is over.
I leave to pick up my daughter from school. On route, I stop to buy some vegetables at my favourite roadside stall. The shopkeeper knows me by now and nods a respectful hello. His assistant, who cannot speak, makes a noise to attract my attention and gives me a big smile. I ask him how he is doing and he motions that he’s just great. Phil Collins song ‘Just another day in paradise’ comes to mind.
At school I need to park the car a block away and walk the rest: since the Mumbai attack, security measures have been increased and cars are no longer allowed to drive up to the entrance. I meet other parents who have come for their children. We gripe about our kids but also about the increased security, the ineffectiveness of the Indian politicians, the general state of the economy, and if one man can solve the world’s problems. Talk is cheap and fun.
Going back home, the winter sun is already weak and the air hazy. I run the idea by my daughter of going out to eat but she insists she has too much homework. I suggest she may finish her homework faster if she’s not also on Facebook and MSN messenger, all at the same time. She turns away, implying I’ll never understand the complexities of a twelve-year old’s life. Anyways, my husband phones to say he may have to stay late for a video conference with his US office.
By the time we reach home, daylight is almost gone, the temperature seems to have suddenly dropped, and the infamous Delhi winter fog is fast rolling in. Objects lose their certainty and it’s difficult to see what’s in front of us. But I’m glad we’ve at least had the clarity of the day.