KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
It has been a great time returning once again to the home of Manju and Kamal here in Nagpur. There was a moment of sadness when we arrived because Kamal's mother was not there to greet us as she has always done on our past visits. Mrs. Mehra passed away in May of this year and her absence is very much felt. We have always remarked on the incredible energy that runs through the entire Mehra clan, and I have to say Mrs. Mehra was the one who inspired all her children and grandchildren with her endless enthusiasm and joie de vivre.
Coming to Nagpur is like coming home - to one of our several homes is India. Manju and Kamal always make us feel so very welcome, and as this in only the most recent of many visits, we know our way around the house and its locale. A new thing that has required some adjustment is the fact that there are now scheduled power outages during the daytime. This means that we have to plan our day so that daily activities such as bathing, cooking, ironing, and television (cricket) games must be planned so that we are not caught short without power. The newspaper publishes the schedule of blackouts, these seem to change on a regular basis. There are two periods of no power - right now it's between 10:00 and 12:00 and then again between 2:00 and 4:00. So far, we are not finding this too inconvenient, but it must be another story for people trying to operate businesses. Kamal has installed an "inverter" to provide some minimal power during the blackouts. This is basically a battery that gets charged when power is available and provides power when there is none. There is enough "juice" to run a couple of lightbulbs and the television. Many companies just purchase generators to supply an uninterrupted power supply during the day. We are told that starting Jan 2007, the outages will increase to two four hours periods per day. This means that part of the time will be during the dark hours and this will certainly create more of an adjustment for the populace. I can't imagine how hard this will be come the end of March when the temperatures soar into the 40's.
Once again, we have to familiarize ourselves with demand heaters for hot water. I have always been a proponent of this type of energy efficient appliance but I do find I have to "get into the groove" of using them once again. Each bathroom in the house has a small "geyser" as they are called. They are turned on for a few minutes before a bath and they heat the water as it passes through the appliance. There are shower fixtures in the bathroom, but Anil and I both find that we are happy to have "bucket" baths. It's amazing how little water one needs to have a refreshing bath. You simply wet yourself up, lather away and then pour cups of steaming hot water over yourself to rinse. We are so spoiled in Canada with such abundance of clean water and cheap energy. That may change in the future and we may all be resorting to conserving our resources in a meaningful way once again.
There is one thing that is very frustrating for the Mehras. Although they pay for someone to come each morning and collect the daily garbage, the tenants in the rented apartments across the street are not willing to do the same. Each day the maid servants simply take the garbage down to the end of the lane and dump it on the street. A huge pile of refuse has accumulated there and the Mehras must pass it each time they leave their home. It is a stinking eyesore. The pile has really grown since we arrived because December is the prime season for weddings and there have been several in the neighbourhood. The pile now contains lots of coloured foil wrapping paper and cardboard boxes that were once filled with sweets. To make matters worse, there is a goatherd who brings his flock of goats to the refuse pile each day to eat anything that is even remotely edible. Sure, they eat the rotting vegetable peels, but leave their droppings behind. I usually walk the long way around to get to the main road in order to avoid this eyesore. The amazing thing about this situation is that Nagpur has become quite a clean city lately and this is one of the posh areas of the city.
I have been amazed at the positive changes in India during the six years since our last visit in 2000. One of the most noticeable changes is the increased access to technology and the Internet. Most of the homes we have visited have computers at home - although these are definitely upper middle-class homes for sure. Manju and Kamal have not found a need for a computer at home, but I was pleased to find a great Internet café within walking distance of their home. Everyone jokingly calls this place my "second home" in Nagpur. During this relaxing three-week sojourn here, I usually spend at least two to three hours a day here checking my email and working on this journal. I have become such a frequent customer here, that all the staff greet me warmly and have even given me special access to the main computer at the reception desk. This café is designed so that each terminal uses the server rather than a CPU at each desk. This limits my ability to upload photos easily at the terminal. I have been fortunate that they will let me use the main computer to upload my photos quickly and not eat up valuable internet time uploading them one by one at the terminal desk. I sure hope this will be the case when I venture out from Nagpur in early January. My account can be accessed at any Reliance café throughout India. The rates are very reasonable, the scheme I chose ends up costing me only about 50 cents per hour.
On my way back and forth to the Internet Café, I pass a mochi (shoe shiner). On one of my daily excursions, I stopped to have him polish my faded brown shoes. He took such pains to bring them back to life. I was amazed what he had packed away in his little wooden box sitting on the street in front of him. Not only did he polish the shoes, he reached in and pulled out some brown dye and coloured them first. Then he noticed that the rubber on the heel was coming loose and that the insole was lifting. He glued the insole and the heel cap. Suddenly, my beat-up brown shoes looked like new. When I asked him how much, he replied "20 rupees". Can you imagine all this fine work for less than 75 cents? I told him I had other shoes that needed his attention, well I indicated this using sign language as he doesn't speak English and I don't speak Marathi. I have kept him busy with small jobs each day as I pass and now he has completely resoled my brown and my pink shoes. Anil has stopped by for a polish and the mochi refers to me as "memsahib". Anil didn't have small change to pay for his shoeshine, but the mochi said "no problem, memsahib will pay me tomorrow". Sweet. I have taken a picture of his gentle man. Another simple soul that is no easy to overlook when walking along the crowded streets of India.
Every day there seemed to be errands to do. Ishani wanted to get some tailoring done while she was in India so I often tagged along to keep Ishani and Manju company and this took me into the small lanes where the tailoring shops are located. I took some photographs on one of our excursions there. Manju had some pillows that were too hard to sleep on comfortably, so we stopped at the mattress shop to have some of the cotton removed. I took a photo of the workers beating the mattresses with sticks to fluff up the packed cotton. In this way, housewives can have old mattresses rejuvenated. Farther up the lane, we came to the tailor's shop. The workers were only too happy to pose for a picture too.
Yesterday I took a photo of the traffic circle near our Nagpur home. The road at this intersection has to been seen to be believed. Part of the ring road that diverts the truck traffic around the edge of the city has been closed over a land dispute and for the past six months there has been huge trucks lumbering by day and night. The noise is deafening and dusk choking. Manju and Kamal's home is really a duplex, the Khurana's side faces out onto this road. This afternoon (Jan 2nd) Anil and I were alone in the house when we heard a deafening boom. I leaned out the upstairs balcony to see the Khurana's son out in the middle of the road with several others from the shops opposite. I learned that a truck tire had exploded and a piece of the tire had blasted a huge dent into the side of the Khurana's car which was parked in front of their house. The truck driver had stopped a half block up the street, but there's nothing to be done, they will have to pay for the repairs themselves as the truck owner will not be willing to pay for the damage. I'm just glad that no one was hurt, there are many pedestrians who walk along the road and that hunk of rubber would surely have killed anyone hit by it. Kiran tells me that the trucks won't be rerouted until after the upcoming municipal elections so they will have to live with the noise, dust and now danger for the foreseeable future.
One day while we were home in the afternoon, the gardener "mali" arrived to tend to the garden and the potted plants. He parked his bicycle just inside the front gate and set to work watering the hedge. A few minutes later he noticed that his bike was gone. We were shocked to learn that a thief had entered the gate and quietly slipped away with the mali's bike when his back was turned. He was beside himself - this was his only form of transportation to his work from his home sixteen kilometers away. To make matters worse, his bag with all his tools was gone as well. There was almost zero chance of the bike being recovered - we contributed some money to cover the cost of a new bicycle and learned that one of his other employers had loaned him the money for a replacement. I was happy to see that a loyal employee was helped in this way - he would have no way to get credit from a bank on his meagre earnings.
One final note about Nagpur. As we were leaving for the airport, we passed an unassuming stone pillar at the side of the road. Kamal told us that this point is called "Zero Mile" or "Center Point". This pillar marks the exact north/south and east/west point of India. Nagpur really is the heart of the nation.