My 8th Indian visit has not been as Incredible as Incredible India would like.
To be sure, I love India. It is my favourite place in the whole world.
Nor should have a simple haircut ended so badly. But then I can only blame myself – jet lagged, little sleep in three days and riding a cycle. I rushed into a pair of trousers – with a hole in the pocket it turned out.
I lost my wallet – and credit cards, and a host of Aussie ID. Atleast I had paid my rent, and my Passport resides in a money belt.
Four weeks on the replacement has not arrived. Tours had to be postponed. Trainfares could not be paid. A few great online offers ignored without the ever needed Mastercard. Bendigo Bank refused me a second card before I travelled.
My new Pin number was sent. Another two weeks and still no card. No money. No fun.
So I have inhabited the Trilanga Post Office, tucked away a story up from a side street, round the corner from & Coffee, down from construction and round the corner from Reliance Fresh.
I pass fruit wallahs, a line of auto-rickshaws aside the rubbing swipe of sandpaper smoothing a new patch to a small tyre.
I had been unlucky enough to waste my time first with the Bittan Market PO – the wrong one for my 462039 pin code.
Khan Bhai (Khan brother, used effectionately for our Muslim driver whose name inevitably mispronounce) had previously driven us around side streets until we found the hidden building.
Up two flights, past parked cycles carried up stairs lined three in a row, (why not leave them chained down stairs, there was no lift), my inadequate Hindi led me nowhere.
“Engrezi?” I ask to narrowing eyes. “Kya aap Engrezibbodhi hai? Mai Engrezi shamasta hun” adding for good measure “Mai Australian hun.”
Pointing silently to the next counter, the process repeats. A young man perpetually smiling beneath moustache and a glistening hairy mop comes forward and translates.
He wants a docket.
A docket? Why would I have one for a delayed – lost? – letter from Australia. Three times I explain the first letter arrived. But there was two: the second was important. A sudden glimmer of recognition.
Soon another man takes over, he is unhappy at having his conversation disrupted. A cursory flipping of envelopes piled on the floor are followed by an assurance there is no foreign mail.
He will tell the postman if it comes.
Leaving , I know the giggling chatter is good natured. It is well intentioned. Still, with the throbbing rise of the flu, I must fight the urge to think I am being laughed at.
I have heard upset Indian tourists say similar of Australians who have also misread the gestures and depreciating humour of my home land.
It is too easy to instinctively assume the negative.
It may appear unreasonable to expect Western efficiency in the rabbit warren of slums and societies, named not by streets, but “near Dana Pani Restaurant”. But this is a nuclear missiled society, (Abdul Kalam, who headed the missile program even became president – he was so popular a move was recently made to give him a second term), and in the warrens of Mumbai the delivery of home cooked hot tiffins , with nothing but cycles, trains, and a colour coding system (most of the dabbawallas cant read), are delivered with triple sigma efficiency. All for 450 rupee a month.
“Mai ek sau adrak chahie” I call to a wallah, returning home, I have never seen before.
I am preoccupied with balancing the bike behind a car that, stopping for subje is blocking the whole left lane. From sunset it may as well be a carpark. Squeezing past cycling can be hair raising.
He replies something I cannot hear through traffic. Pointing to my ear he repeats “Das” – ten.
When I get home I realise I have been given chillies. How can he confuse with Adrak? Perhaps its my accent, or the road noise.
Returning I first decide to relax. There has been enough stress lately. Meditation had done wonders to control my epilepsy, but now the flickering behind my eyes, the vice grip on my skull, again warns me to be careful.
Filbrils of cotton threads dance behind my eyes as if my body has decided to persecute my soul and punish me for my inability to accept my own choices.
Eventually the PIN number arrives in a letter but no card. For security the card is sent separately.
Each day I check any other deliveries for the household. On another occasion, I see the postman on his cycle in the lane behind my house, where my bike is chained. He sees me so I lock the back door to leave, but he rides off. Then explicably he goes to my front door, waving for my attention through front and back windows.
Unbolting two doors, I stormed though the house I am furious. He was right besides me, why not give me the letter then?
As it was, it was not for me, but another tenant, who I sign for.
“Please don’t be troubled” he says. I am overly reacting. But he had just stood right beside me.
Of the mail, no one knew why or cared.
“Was it stolen?” I fume later with friends – inactivated, a debit card was useless here. I had debated the possibilities.
Perhaps he is right. Why worry?
Eventually I again unwind on my cycle, and return as the sun declines. Stainless steel canisters rest against a traffic police booth newly set on the corner.
Two teen girls catch my attention flashing broad smiles, their legs skinny in tights beneath kurti . Rounding the corner I dodge a scooter pulling out, like everyone else, before he decided to check the traffic.
Relax, I tell myself Traffic in India is like taking ring road. You follow the flow until its time to get off.
So I just let go, and somehow, as if by magic, a wonderful refreshing, turn of events seem to come your way. Instead, I experienced the kindness of people who saw for six weeks I never lacked for anything.
A 130 year old system of 5000 Mumbai dabbawalas may deliver 200,000 tiffins a day with only 3.4 errors per million.
A meal is missed and all hell breaks loose.
The mail? It never arrived.
Oh well…. In Bhopal, we’ll leave that to the gods.