As much as we love our guesthouse, it’s still a concrete block that acts like a heat sink. But leaving the door open at night, created a nice cross draft which cooled the room off. Gerard hung our mosquito net as a curtain in the doorway and we secured it at night with a chair and a heavy jar of peanut butter. After six years in Agonda with no incident, we had developed a false sense of security. Our room, and two others, on the second floor has an exterior staircase, with the landlord or his son sleeping right underneath. What could be safer? We had heard rumors of theft a few years ago but nothing recently. And of course, as Frank Zappa used to say, “I’m telling you my dear, that it can\t happen here!” We believed it! Drank the cool aid and went to sleep.
Somewhere between 12 and 4 – the hours of which Gerard manages to sleep, the intruder stealthily did his business. At 4 am, Gerard wondered why the chair and peanut butter had been moved, but dismissed it as our new neighbors who had arrived that night may have needed it. But in dawn/s early light we noticed an empty space on the table where the computer used to lay. With heart in mouth, Gerard noticed the fancy recording device that he’d borrowed from a friend had also gone, along with my camera. We went down to tell the landlord and all he could say, was Shit! Oh, Shit! The landlady muttered something about paying us which we didn’t really understand. As more people joined the conversation, it became clear that going to the police would be no good. We would have two problems – one, our lost property, and two, the police! Whenever possible, DO NOT get the police involved. They would also insist that the landlord pay us some ridiculous amount as reimbursement. But why should they pay? They didn’t leave the door open. Others told us we should make a police report, but when asked have you heard of them recovering anything,they admitted, No.
Many of you expressed kind thoughts and they were appreciated. One dear friend summed it up by telling the short story of having his shoes stolen off the beach in Sri Lanka many years ago. He said for a short time the landscape became dull. We also felt the sun had gone under a cloud. But really as Gerard reminded me, all we needed was an attitude adjustment. The losses just made our life a little less convenient. I couldn’t write the blog while Gerard hovered over my shoulder doing his editing…and no morning raga with breakfast, or jazz hour at lunch. As the Indians like to say, What to do?
A French friend of ours from three years ago who we first met up in a little town in the mountains, arranged to meet us here in Agonda. He was not using his laptop and was quite happy to use his iPhone for email and let us borrow the computer for the rest of his stay. Our good fortune! Only thing is that getting used to his French keyboard is a bit of a hassle. So please excuse punctuation errors while I struggle to find the right keys. Who would have thought the letters would be arranged in a different order to qwerty! So for the time being our schedule has resumed quite interrupted.
We first met Frederic in Rewalsar – he was eating his dinner buried in his newspaper. When we asked if we could borrow his paper, he looked up over his wire framed glasses and gave us a stern look. It wasn’t particularly welcoming but the restaurant was the only one in town, so he couldn’t avoid us! A fiercely private person, we broke through the barrier. Over the next few days, we quickly struck up a relationship, spending a lot of time together in Rewalsar, and visiting nearby Manali together. He began telling us a fascinating tale = a true story of love, abandonment and reunion that began after WW1 and spans several generations.
Ten days later we met up at the Delhi airport, we were both on the same flight to Heathrow, and he continued to expand on this story about his girlfriend’s family. We both had hours to spend before catching our connecting flights. The idea was that I would write it up when I got back home. But when I started, I quickly realised it was way too confusing and I needed to hear the details again. Unfortunately our paths did not cross until this year. Frederick was very happy to retell this complicated tale, this time with even more sidebars! We sat together for several afternoons in the loggia at our guesthouse while I typed up copious notes. And then….as the story was finally taking shape, the computer was stolen. And of course I’d failed to back up. Maybe there’s a lesson here. But losing this writing was the hardest loss. Anyway, Gerard is helping me to start over. And as often happens, the rewrite is better than the original.
My good friend from Boston reminded me that Hemingway.had a similar experience. While he was traveling, his wife came to meet him by train. Without telling him she brought a novel he’d completed but only had one copy. She thought he might want to show it to people. She went to the restaurant car to get tea and when she returned the suitcase with the writing was gone. So all his work for months was erased. When she told him what had happened, he freaked out for a while and then decided it was a good editing tool – that he would remember the substance and start over again.
There are many stories in Agonda and some are not happy at all. A few days ago Gerard and Frederic took a rickshaw into Chaudi, the neighboring market town. The rickshaw driver agreed to wait while they shopped and then bring them back. On the return trip, the driver suddenly said, “One minuter, sir.” and stopped at a house. He called out, and a young girl came over to the rickshaw; he embraced her and said, Happy Birthday! Back in the rickshaw Gerard asked him if it was his daughter. ‘ No, it was my niece.” “Do you have children?” Frederic then asked. The rickshaw driver indicated that he had one. Struggling with his few words of English, and also it seemed his emotions, he resorted to sign language to indicate that both his parents and wife were gone. They didn’t understand what he meant and eventually it came out that his parents had died from cancer and his wife had also died – but he did not explain how. He also managed to convey that his daughter was living with her aunt 25 kms away and saw her very infrequently.
When they reached Agonda, Frederic joked, “Should we pay you or should you pay us for our wonderful company?” With a long face, he said, “No sir, I need the money.” Frederic gave him three bills. He kissed them and then touched his forehead with them. Frederic was now aware that the man was very upset, most likely from telling his story. Frederic reassured him. “This will pass and you will also have a life of your own.” He continued, “I had cancer two years ago and I survived it.” Out of the rickshaw and facing the driver, they could see tears running down his face. They both did their best to console him saying, ‘You have to deal with today only, and tomorrow will take care of itself.”And then Frederic cautioned, BUT NO ALCHOL! The driver clasped both their hands and thanked them.
When I heard the story, I immediately had terrible thought, that maybe his wife had been murdered and, God forbid, raped. This was prompted by of a horrific incident in the same town of Chaudi that happened last week and was reported in the newspaper . A fish seller, a woman of 51, was on her way to work early one morning when she was murdered and although the papers have withheld this, also raped. There has been a huge outcry and criticism for the police’s inability to arrest anyone. A few days later there was a strike in the town, meaning all commercial operations were stopped, no shops were open and no public transportation operated. There are demands for a public hanging. Beginning with the much publicised rape in Gurgaon last year, there has been a surge in the reporting of rapes. Every day there are reports of rapes in the newspapers. But it begs the question, are there more rapes or is rape just being more publicised? Women are becoming more confident in reporting abuse. In the past, they were afraid that their community would reject them and their family. A raped woman lost her good reputation and was no longer be able to marry. There is a history of abuse towards women in India that is finally receiving public attention. Women have had enough and want it to stop. Before much change can take place, however, there has to be a change in attitudes.