The weather here in Delhi has been achingly beautiful. Rains followed by bright blue skies and the sort of mellow temperatures that make us want to just stand still in the sunshine forever…or at least until the heat of summer drives us to seek every shadow, every pool of water, every air-conditioned nook we can find.
For now though, we are enjoying shivering a little in the shadows and lingering outdoors until the sun falls behind the trees.
Its spring time here. I can’t look up without seeing 5 birds’ nests and a twittering throng of flirtatious parakeets, pigeons, crows and disconcertingly large hawks.
There’s a tree near our house in full spring bloom. Tiny oranges, bracingly tart, dot the branches; but the blossoms are so sweet I could practically drink them. We can’t walk past that tree without Will requesting a lift to smell the flowers and reach for a tiny orange to roll and sniff and ultimately squish between his pudgy fingers.
My parents left last night. I think we all cried a little. They are on their way home to snow and sleet as I look through the photos of their last few days here, playing in the sunshine with Will.
We’re moving into a new season in Delhi, the real begininning of our brief tour here. Those busy first few months in a new place its easy to feel like a top spinning wildly on a random path while everything else around me stands permanent and still. It’s easy to forget that, just because everything around us feels more permanent than we do, doesn’t mean that any of it actually is. Just as I spin and spin, so does the rest of the world, impassive to my desire for sturdy things to hold onto.
I remember now that, two months after we arrived in Chengdu, Chris and I stumbled into a tiny little French cafe in the middle of Sichuan. The owners were a quiet French and Chinese husband and wife team, unexpectedly talented and so unfailingly gracious and welcoming that they made our Saturday morning visit to their “Xiao Xiao Jia” the ritual we looked forward to all week long. More than once, as we sat sipping our perfect cappuccinos and making plans, we imagined what it would be like to spend two whole years with our new cafe friends and all of the fun we would have. It seemed that, as long as we had the cafe, we could get through anything in Chengdu.
Until, 8 months into our tour, our friends sold the business and moved back to France. It’s hard to really explain how a simple little cafe could have had such a profound impact on our experience in Chengdu up to that point, but it did–perhaps precisely because we found it so soon after we arrived. The cafe predated us and we assumed it would outlast us. We thought it would be a permanent fixture in our lives in Chengdu. After the cafe closed, our weekends changed, the direction we meandered while out walking changed, the people we saw out and about changed. Chengdu, at least for us, changed.
And so too, in Delhi-the changes are unceasing. The chai-wallah at INA whom I photographed a few months ago and whom I always looked forward to meeting is nowhere to be found. When I ask around for the chai-wallah now everyone points me to a new man who has set up shop just across the alleyway from where my friend’s counter once stood; as if the chai-wallah I knew–the man with the raspy voice and the loud blue shirt who was so short that he had to stand on a box to stir his chai–never existed. Except we all know he did. I’ve wandered down that alley half a dozen times now, trying to determine how a structure of wood and metal and a man so memorable could disappear so quickly, so perfectly, seemingly overnight. At least once a week, I think I see him on the back of a rickshaw or walking down the street, but its never him.
In the neighborhood next to us there is a man who has been selling flowers for at least the last 20 years. His flowers are beautiful and his prices more than fair. Every Friday I used to visit him to buy flowers for the house and he seemed to relish always adding one extra flower to the bunch— just for Will.
The last time I went for my weekly dose of gladiolas, there sat another man cutting stems and quoting four times the normal price. I walked away slowly, waiting for him to call me back with the “real” price. Instead, he just shrugged. And he’s been sitting there every time I’ve walked past ever since.
I’m still holding out hope that these men are simply out of town, on a visit home that has lasted far longer than they intended. A few weeks ago the wrinkled, toothless old woman who sweeps the compound in the early morning and who always reserves a special smile just for Will, disappeared. I panicked. I was afraid she had died. I asked her replacement what happened to her and very nearly asked Chris to call HR. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw her sweeping again about a week ago, seemingly as healthy and happy as before.
But like a kid clinging to a father’s coattails, begging him not to go to work, I find myself stepping out everyday, hoping against hope that all of “my” other people won’t “leave” me too.
As much as I love the seeming unpredictability of our lives, as easily as I get bored, I must admit that I much prefer change carefully chosen over change unexpectedly foisted upon my poor control-freak soul.
To the vegetable wallah and the paratha maker and the kid who prints my pictures, I’m nothing more than an occasional oddity, bumbling around their wares. But to me, these people are Delhi. Their kindness and fairness make me love this city, make me feel at home, even on days when that would seem otherwise impossible. Without them, I am more lost here than they could ever know.
The seasons are changing and the way we experience Delhi is always changing too. In the coming season we will welcome new babies into our “crew” and say “see you later” to good friends. We’ll find new haunts, new walks, new rituals that will take us through our time here–or for at least a few months.