Tonight, the electrical current flows onto Plot #18 ‘Santhoshi’, C.R.O. Colony, 2nd cross street, and then fades out, as if electricity were never here. Then again, all of a sudden, a sunrise on fast-forward replay generates and, once every two to three minutes, repeatedly eclipses itself, leaving only doubtful memory of its existence. Waves interrupt my navigation through this new space, Plot #18; single-minute long pauses pace my ambulating between rooms as I gingerly—elbows at seventy-degree angles, hands out; safety foremost in mind—stumble through doorways that, even soaked full-spectrum glory, appear approachable only in the same, unsure way, to shut off the lights in order to conserve back-up energy or, in the best of times, to turn on the fans.
“Power’s expensive in India,” appaṭinā solluvāṅga, ‘other people say it’s like this:’ As valuable as oiled, black-braided locks, some long & others short, pierced through with aged silver shackles descending from the rusted, mettled golden-brown crown like latches on luggage. Were the common contents of women, locked in cultural memory here, as ubiquitous as the progeny they nurture and protect, then the thinking people of this land may one day actually solve the world's philosophical problems; unlikely as we are to witness the world's end is translation alone likely to become the proper and sole action of humanity.
Until then, all sensitive souls must deal with these tremendously rusted-yet-retractable gates that guard many an entrance, like the one to my own apartment here in Madurai. You can see through it and all, just as well as you see the neighbors’ babies’ bottoms & dirty dishes, or laundry, and you plainly see that it opens onto an iron-ensconced terrace. My good-vibes rockin’ space, the apartment where I’m settlin’ hugs—on a slightly off East-West axis—this less-than-quaint space with eight rooms that I will describe in no apparent, successive order.
Despite the presence—immediately after entering, turning to face south—of another, more rusted who-knows-yet-if it opens ‘cause-I-haven’t-tried folding gate of the same ilk as the actual guard gate that comes after a smaller, less intimidating iron swing-gate just over a stone bridge that crosses a stagnant sewage moat, which adds something of a viscous olfactory texture to your first impression of the place as a lover of India, is a beige wooden door. It's locked.
Squarely opposite of what you may be thinkin' 'bout all these barricades, you're reading neither the prose of a known felon, writing from his prison palace, nor the ornate words of a rich man. This is the language of an addict. This is the shit you step in, sore, tired, and almost outta money & drugs, if you abuse ‘skrit, kids. Snort enough o’ that formerly ashenlivened, citronella smellin’ palm leaf and birch bark wizdom into your heartmind, and you, too, may end up in an eight-room flat above an elderly brāhman couple, about a twenty-minute, fifteen rupee bus ride away from the river Vaikai, Maduraile speakin’ Tamizh.
Due north from the second-that-I-take-as-first Lazer lock-bolted guard gate are three-quarter open-air, svastikā-embellished grate-iron doors. Locked & bolted closed. Still locked, the antechamber is only teasing your eyes.
At this point, with another beige wooden door identical to the one opposing the rusted, folding-guard iron gate, you still got six little, chiṉṉa keys plus one big, appā key to go until you’re free—home at last! Locked in securely (at least you feel that way inside… in the heart) and now at the mercy of the Indian criminal spirits’ courteous habit of not locking their victims in from the outside, even as a practical joke, not to mention aiding the accomplishment of crimes! It just doesn’t happen.
Six little keys, in all, is whatchyou got between yourself and Madurai village, folks, where ev-er-y-one knows your name and when you’re home and what you were wearin’ last time you left and expresses to you their curiosity about why you didn’t lock the first gate last night,
“nettuki rāthiri, Rao, enna moṭal gate lock paṇuvillai? koi bhī uppar jā saktā thā!” in a generous cocktail of Tamil, English, and Hindi, ‘Why didn’t you lock the first gaṭe last night, Rao? Anybody at all coulda gone upstairs!’
“Ahh… Uh,” I grab for the crown of my head as I slowly unlatch the still-lock-free first iron gate, after I just crossed the bridge over the muck moat to let myself in. Only the sound of the latch clanks on the rusty metal gate, “nāṉ gatai lock… paṇuvillai? innuki rāthiri kaṇṭīpā lock paṇuvēṉ. ‘I didn’t lock the gaṭe-ā? Surely I’ll lock it tonight.”
“Ahh…,” he’s all smiles now, “cherry, sir,” thinking that that’s alright, “cāppitthīṅgaḷā? O.K., sir. Have you eaten?’”
“Oh! Yes. āmāṅg. nallā cāppittēn. ‘Yes. Yes. I ate well,” I reply, “pāppom. ‘See you!’” and I turn to climb the bank of stairs up along the east-side of the house to my flat at Plot #18 ‘Santhoshi’.
A bay of windows 18” X 40” and 15.5” X 40” are ensconced in some wall space of the first, dimensionless room—to the West the room opens to the outside. More iron grate, less svastikā and an unfortunately ill-hung clothes line jams the third-least conspicuous, beige wooden door mid-outward swing, and you can’t open it fully. The nail, too, yeah—it doesn’t budge.
We’ll skip the kitchen. Truly, it’s unremarkable. Tonight only I stocked the second highest of four inbuilt, concrete shelves with sanitizer, bleach, soap, whiskey, roach poison, and chocolate chip cookies.
Buckets weren’t on sale tonight. For a bucket I had to buy a too-big bag of Tide; settling for the right size bag, I recused myself from bucket deal eligibility for the first time in one night.
That’s right, for the first time. And there were at least three times as many plastic buckets in at least two patterned varieties of at least four sizes in more than, I’d say, seven colors. But I wasn’t gonna argue
I mean, at first I just went for a jog to the gym.
But the manager at the gym has yet to determine a membership rate, so only tours are available during the daytime, before three o’clock. And the manager had just stepped outside as I was being sent away, which is why he approached me, fumbling to offer me his card with a cigarette in his right hand, his mouth mostly full, salivating on something, his chin ever-so-slightly pointed upward, preventing drool, with eyes peering out and almost downward, he managed to exchange his cigarette with one hand to give me his card.
“Oh! Herrro! Uh, I am miṣhṭer Kuldeep,” struggling only insofar as his mouth was full.
He offered me his card while, now with his right hand, he replaced the cigarette in his lips, and went in for the handshake.