Shinin’ down like water

I woke up twice last night, it was raining that heavily.

With a month delay, winning once again against global warming, the monsoon is back in town. Exotic, wonderful. And discomforting.

When I woke up this morning, late because of the dark sky outside, it was raining inside my bathroom too. The ceiling failed once again.

It happened last year as well, and although I paid for it to be fixed, six months ago, I wasn’t really expecting the ceiling were going to make it through the monsoon. It’s one of the first things I learned here: you must try to get things fixed – because you must – but you also must not expect that they will be – fixed.

A year ago the first sight of a ceiling shower in my bathroom caused me a mix of distress, anger, sense of impotence and a tiny bit of incredulous amusement.

Today I emptied the bathroom, locked the door, and almost seamlessly proceeded to my morning tea routine.

Roads in Delhi become rivers after fifteen minutes of regular rain. Monsoon showers are just too much for the city’s poor drainage system.

For days, after the rain you’ll see papers, chairs, tables, computers covered in mud and water emerging from flooded basements, carried in the sun by people who don’t really hope to save anything, but are simply following the rule: you must try to get things fixed, because you must, but you also must not expect that they will be – fixed.

In my block. It took three days to empty the basement.

Drenched paper always breaks my heart

Walking out of your home is out of question. Well, unless someone you know and trust talks you into a walk in the rain in shorts and slippers, but that is a whole different story (and one whose memory will have the power to disgust you for years to come).

Anyway today was no day for adventures, nor for auto-rickshaw rides. So I called the taxi stand to learn that “Today is very jam day, sorry”.

No taxis. Again, what would have made me angry and restless a few moths ago didn’t really hit me much. I hung out in my living room, enjoying the unusual fresh air that was coming in from the balcony.

When I finally – not too long later – got into a cab,  it wasn’t for a smooth ride. Traffic was blocked. Broken cars would jam the roads.

Broken, yes. Cars, even expensive imported German cars, break here, when it rains. That is a mystery I will never be able to solve, and a reality I will never believe.

Slowly, I made it to the office. Past pools of mud and rain in which half naked children were -my goodness- playing. Past goats, and cows and calves (cows always seem to multiply, during the monsoon). Past the stray dogs. Past crowds of people seeking shelter under bus stops. And past all the street people that were, instead, just staying there, under the rain that no longer that heavy. Getting wet. With their polyester pants. And their polyester bright saaris.

My drive was like a slow-motion tour of the chaos. Dreadful but somewhat wonderful.

It made me remember something I was told about India, way before I moved here: “There’s so much life, there. So much. Most of times, there isn’t much more than that – a lot of life. And it’s beautiful”.

And it is – beautiful. In the only way I have ever experienced in which beautiful has nothing – nothing at all – to do with pretty.

Picture by someone else

Picture by someone else

I was in Ladakh a few weeks ago. It’s the most incredible place I have ever seen in my life. I reached it by jeep from Manali, driving over the highest (and scariest) motorable road in the world. My car crossed streams on the edge of the mountains, climbed up above 5000 meters and jumped and bumped on roads that you can’t really call such, while the landscape around became progressively deserted. Ladakh is a high altitude desert.

At a point my car drove up and up along the side of a mountain, and when it reached the peak I was naturally expecting a descent. Instead, it was like the entire valley had come up: on the other side of the peak there was a huge flat desert, and while the altitude sickness made my head lighter, I felt like I was on the moon, for I had never imagined a place like that could exist on Planet Earth.

This just to give you a vague idea.

Anyway, while in Ladakh I visited the Nubra Valley, which is a desert. Above 3000 meters. A real desert, with sand dunes.

On that desert it rained, while I was there. I saw one rainbow, two rainbows, two rainbows and a half. It felt unreal, as if something – someone – was looking over my life and nodding at the perfection of that very moment.

But back to the real desert. There are real camels there, too. Bactrians not dromedaries, silk road leftovers with two humps, a furry head and a funky smell. They hang out in a group, right at the beginning of the sand dunes, and wait for tourist to go ride them.

Funny animals, those camels. Lazy. When they’re not carrying anyone they lay down and roll on the ground until, with their belly up, they release the biggest farts. Loud, hilarious camel farts.

It’s funny and almost cute (if you can say cute of something that involves a fart). A group of camels lazying about, chewing on grass, rolling around. Some twenty camels, small, big, and very big.

Twenty camels, and a donkey.

A donkey, yes. He hangs out with the camels, shares the slow life of the group, only he doesn’t carry tourists around because they don’t find it interesting enough (their bad, I say, because donkeys are very cute creatures, with those eyes).

And – this is the story I heard – he believes he’s a camel. Same laziness, same rolling around, (almost) same farts. The camel owners don’t seem bothered by the stranger: if the donkey feels like a camel, he has the right to live as one.

This reminded me of a similar story, which is the first funny Indian story I heard when I moved here.

As everyone knows, there’s no better place in the world than India, if you’re a cow. You’re respected, somewhat worshiped, and people really do take care of you. So much that there is a thing called Gaushala, which is a home for “retired” cows, that are old and no longer make milk.

One of this Gaushala is right outside Delhi, and I had just landed in India when a friend told me about it. I must say the thought of a shelter exclusively for cows amused me quite a bit back then, whereas now it feels like another of those Indian things that are just normal, even if maybe they aren’t.

Anyway, I asked whether the shelter seriously only admitted cows. My friend confirmed that yes, only cows were allowed. Well, with one exception.

In the shelter, together with all those cows, lived a deer. Just one.

Because the deer believed he’s a cow.

And the people at the shelter respected that. If you feel like you’re cow you should be free to behave like a cow, live with cows, and be treated like a cow even if you don’t look like one.

It’s not bad, is it, for a conservative country?

Slippers in Delhi

Black, cheap, dusty summer footwear. In this city, it has a life of its own.

I see a slipper, alone in the middle of the busy street. It’s melted by the sun and flattened by hundreds of cars, bikes, autos, cows, eventually elephants running over it.

And I see a slipper, alone, hanging from auto-rickshaws or trucks’ bumpers. A lace around its tip, it swings back and forth, it jumps up and down, exhausted and weak in the noisy traffic.

I wonder. Are they two heart-broken half-apples? Did they use to match, were they walking side by side, until one disappeared, leaving a naked foot and an inconsolable partner behind? Which destiny happened first, if ever the two were connected, the hanged’s or the run-over’s?

Look in the middle of the road, for a wandering slipper. And under the bumper of the truck you’re stuck behind, for a hanging one. A trivial Romeo and Juliet that Shakespeare’s feet will never care about.


Behind this.

The India Tube

The India Tube

Part magazine, part community, part media gallery, The India Tube is a space for everything that’s incredible about India. With its daily updates, it’s the directory for the inspiring and the unbelievable, the cutting edge and the bizarre. We have new stories and pictures every day, go check it out!

Holi hai.

And then, it was Holi.

Holi is the festival of colors, which of course is way too innocuous as a definition.

Sure, colors, how sweet. To celebrate the arrival of the spring, how cute. Except there is nothing cute, or sweet, about Holi.

Holi is primitive, animal. But purely, supremely, insanely fun.

Holi is wild. It’s a huge street-fight in which colors are the weapons. People throw colored powders and liquids, made of god-knows-what, at each other. Buckets filled with yellow, red, blue, green (often mixed together in a nice brown)  liquids become the shower, of the day. A shower everyone ends up taking way too often.

Better be prepared. You don’t want to be covered in blue and have nothing to fight back with, because nothing more than that would make you feel a loser. You’ll regret, I know I did, not to have invested in that water gun connected to a backpack/tank.

Most people add insanity to Holi by drinking bhang lassi, a milk based drink thickened with fruits and enriched with cannabis. Yes, laves and flowers from female cannabis plant. Which here is sold as a mouth freshener. That makes people high. And Shiva happy (people drink it to honor him).

In Indian families, even grannies drink bhang. And they play holi. Dancing in their perfectly plited saris, high, even old ladies throw colors at each other. Old ladies play, in a restrictive, male centered, judgemental society. Which of course is one of those “in India only”inconsistend and truly wonderful things.

So what happens on holi is you cover youself in oil (colors stain the skin), put on your clean and hopefully disposable clothes, and get out. And a few hours later, you, and all the people around you, look like this:


(Thanks Emilia for the picture)

Which, of course, doesn’t mean it’s over.

This picture has actually been taken quite early in the day. After that there have been baths in a swimming pool in which every swimmer had discarded a bit of color (you don’t want to see that). Mud fights (thank-god-not-me). A few kilometers walk to hop on a rickshaw at the end of a congested road. An expedition to a neighboring state because Delhi is dry on Holi. And more, more, more colors. More dancing. More screaming. More running. More laughing. Did I say more colors?

And then, finally, there has been the longest shower I’ve ever had. After which, thanks to the riddiculous amount of Vaseline that was covering my hair since the morning, I had only a few red and green wisps. Being blond on Holi is no easy business.

Now, a week later, even the last fuchsia stain is gone from my back. And even the green that was contouring my nails has disappeared.

My whole body is back to white. Ready to be stared at for the next twelve months.

It’s funny, isn’t it, the the only day I haven’t caught anyone’s attention has been the one I was going around with my face and hair covered in blue and red color?

Z for /zɛd/

India, English is British English.

Colour. Analyse. Fulfil. Centre. Catalogue. Mediaeval. Cheque. Licence. Judgement. Excelling. Pyjamas. Spoilt. Aubergines.

It’s not weird, it’s refreshing. For 1.2 billion people, American spelling, and words, and -in the end- language count nothing. And the language has a nice vintage and classy feel. Just like vests. Or polo. Or a gentleman (he’s not a man, nor a guy).

British English – of fifty years ago- just makes people sound nice, and polite. Just like /zɛd/ sounds so much better than /ziː/. It’s more proper, in a way.

Of course, the truth behind this /zɛd/thing is that I have nothing to say about Z.

Z for nothing. No ending. No closure. Call it imperfection. I call it potential.

It took me almost one year, and the whole alphabet, to walk my way to a scary, wonderful love for India.  A love that’s lucid and fool at the same time.

I should have known better. Yet here I am, thinking this place is just beautiful, in a way that has nothing to do with pretty.

And I am glad, oh so glad, that there’s no Z. That my India is still open ended.

Just like this:

A to Y. Why?

Y for the five Y

I wish I had something interesting to say about the Y. I really wish, and I say it with all the guilt of a western girl in India who is too lazy to do Yoga for more than a couple of weeks in a row. Give me one more year, and I might provide a serious Y for Yoga for the pleasure f all of you, my friends who come here and to go A for Ashram-ing.

Meanwhile, I’ll dedicate this post to something that any tourist knows very well. But something that never ceases to amaze me, and I will never stop to find irresistibly cute.

As journalism has the five 5, India has -at least- five Y. They are questions that your daily life must answer to make any sense.

1. Yes madam/sir? – Yes is not an answer. It’s a question. This question: “How can I sell you something you don’t want nor need and possibly ask you for twice the right price?” (Actually, despite what I said a few lines above, this question isn’t cute, nor amazing. Just annoying, but in a funny sort of way).

2. You from? or, extended version, You from which country? –  Any answer will lead to a smile and an appreciative “Oooh”, followed by a repetition of the name of your country. If you come from Italy, as I do, most time the “Ooooh” will  be followed by a “Sonia Gandhi also”.

3. Your good name? – No, this question doesn’t mean: choose the good one of all the names you have. And it is not an advanced compliment to your name. Good name just means name, and if someone knows where this expression comes from, I’d be happy to know.

4. You are husband/wife? – The question is not if you are a husband or a wife, it’s if you have one. Needless to say, the right answer is “Yes”. But feel free to be as honest as you want.

5. You’re having how many children? – Pretty straightforward, but the question doesn’t refer to future offspring. It’s about how many children you have. At the moment. And again, it’s up to you how honest you want to be.

So prepare answers for question 2 to 5, and a lot of patience to deal with question number 1 and you’ll be set to have many interesting conversations. Of course, the interesting part comes when you ask the questions back: the interviewer is most of the times much more interesting than yourself. No offence, it might just be exhotic charme.