A Passion for Peace

Responsibility, respect and a loving connection with all beings and for this Earth we share.

My Roommate the Mistress?

Over the last few weeks as the mystery around my roommate grew, I started laying it all out to a friend:
her sheets are dirty and haven't been changed since I've been here;
she works in a department store in the suburbs where it would be much cheaper to live;
she sleeps here maybe 2 nights a week, leaving at 7 am and returning at 11 pm, often with a suitcase of clothes and shoes;
she appears to have just 1 nightgown, a yellow flowery number;
she evades yet asks me questions about family and job, which are highly popular Indian topics of conversation (the most popular is where you’re living and how long you’ve been there);
she says she has no family in Bombay;
she clicks around on her phone in bed at night and rarely has calls, seemingly only with one man and her mother;
she keeps no food here;
I’ve never seen her shower here;
she doesn’t appear to do laundry besides occasional rinsing out panties.
(Photo: totally unrelated, the cutest cell phone cover a friend gave me)

My first thought was that she has a boyfriend and works long hours and travels for work a lot, and a friend pointed out that she could be a professional mistress. As I wrapped my mind around that explanation, an American friend reminded me of the popularity in the US of websites like http://www.SeekingArrangement.com (NYT article) where typically young college women find sugar daddies to help pay their way through school. It’s a feminist debate: when women “choose” such arrangements, or when we legalize prostitution, are we empowering them or enabling the furtherance of social male dominance?

(Note: I have since learned some answers to the above curiosities: 
her sister got her the place in South Bombay to be close by and because they knew the landlady;
her sister lives near and just got married, hence some travel;
she "works like a crazy monkey" and travels a lot for work, only day off is Saturday if she's in town;
she's very shy? or slow to open up? one evening's rant about the landlady turned her on and now the tap is flowing and she is answering questions and telling funny stories about our silly college roommates;
she has a boyfriend in her home state;
she uses the other shower early in the morning;
I've spied Toblerone in her wardrobe and she is so tiny I don't think she eats much;
still confused about the laundry.)
Speaking of male dominance, the value of male and female children was instantly apparent when I volunteered today for an elementary school-style Field Day. The kids are all thin and it’s nearly impossible to guess their age due poor nutrition and the resulting improper growth. The difference is, after every race (of maybe 5 or 6 heats) of the girls’ 200-meter dash, at least two collapsed on or before the finish line, and few had to actually be carried away. Some boys fell to the floor after their race, but none passed and wheezed with such apparent pain from lack of food to sustain such unusual and extreme exertion. I thought they should not have held that event, especially in the mid-day sun before lunch. Throughout the day kids ran and played soccer barefoot, in socks, in loafers, in jeans, in dresses, in saris—they were thrilled to compete. And when they won, if they didn’t pass out in the process, they jumped up and down slapping high-fives and shrieking with delight. This was also the only such event I’ve been where the volunteers and staff raced as well, much to the delight of the children (and they also were in jeans, loafers, and other such attire).

It reminded me of Olympic Day in my elementary school, where each class was assigned a country to learn about and represent as we competed. I don’t remember my class ever being India, which reminds me of some amusing recent interactions with friends and family back home, such as, “Do you need me to mail you shampoo?” or “I got your card in the mail, and my dad made me to wash my hands after I read it.” Yes, I ride the trains, I walk through who only knows what, I eat even rice with my hands, I drink tap water through a filter; no, I don’t eat street food or use public toilets. A girl’s got to have some healthful limits. In the US I was a vegan/veg local organic free-range hippie, and here other than limiting myself to meat just a few times a week at only expensive ($4+/dish) restaurants, I know the greens from my local market are bunched into sellable bundles every morning on the sidewalk by street and slum-dwellers amidst the Dadar cows and traffic; I’ve seen the sad chicken-laden trucks trot by spewing shit; filtered (and often also bottled) water has many heavy metals and pesticide residue; open sewage and barges of trash flow straight into the sea (which also explains why Indians don’t swim). I take a low dose of a natural antibiotic and anti-parasitic, and heavy a dose of acidophilus and vitamins daily. I figure spending a little more on food is worth not getting really sick. Yes, an 8 rupee fresh-squeezed juice (17 cents) is crazy cheap, but like fast food in the US, if you wear your body down with chemicals and germs, your quality of life and medical costs will rise to probably much more in the long run. Being out on the streets, in crowded trains and eating out taxes my immune system enough. I’m still building my energy reserves to be able to regularly exercise here, something I really miss from my former hiking-biking-climbing-dancing life in Colorado. (Photo: Hare Krishna temple near my house would've been a lot nicer without the proselytizing.)

To remind me of the holidays, this weekend I made my first foray into the bazaar, where hours in a silver shop with some friends shopping for wedding jewelry, I scored some lovely holiday presents, and my first nice little presents for myself: a giraffe ring to remind me of both India and Africa, and some geometrically diverse bangles to have a reprieve from my probably-not-real-silver bracelet leaving green lines on my arm. This past week I am a mad woman, up every night until 2 or 3 in the morning writing cards and putting together packages and wrapping and being my usual overly-ambitious loves-to-give-presents-and-feed-people self. I haven’t even managed to squeeze in another grime-removal pedicure so that, as one friend put it, “your feet can be their normal shade again.”

Other than noticing the ease with which I speak in a different version of English (specific diction and sentence structure with the occasional Hindi word) and having used my first spur of the moment yar, language skills are still sorely lacking. The other day, while buying carrots my mind momentarily blanked and the only number I could think of was seven. Loathe to re-resort to holding up fingers after having completed the rest of the transaction in Hindi, my vegetable-walla raised his brows but made no comment as he counted out exactly seven long, almost beet-colored carrots and wrapped them up. Lucky for me, fresh carrot-lime raita sure is tasty.

Posted byValerie at 10:13 PM  


Ekaterina said... November 23, 2009 at 1:16 AM  
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Natalie said... November 24, 2009 at 5:22 PM  
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Niles said... November 29, 2009 at 7:25 AM  
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Valerie said... November 30, 2009 at 12:13 AM  
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