I had to physically drag my daughter out of bed to come with me on the Temple Tour. She never spoke to me until we got to the Sealink and that was only to tell me she hated me for ruining her Saturday. A couple of hours later we found ourselves in a hall at the Radhagopinath Temple surrounded by hundreds of people plucking the petals off tens of thousands of marigolds. The hall was filled with baskets of orange petals and the smell was heavenly and fantastically intense. It was a shock to my senses- as was the smell that assaulted me when I opened my window that morning, I can only describe it as rotting fish and corpses. This is India, doing her thing with extremes.
A model agency has just taken an apartment in our building for foreign models to use whilst here on assignment. They make the most of the sun and sun bathe poolside in tiny sequined bikinis below our third floor balcony. Both my husband and son are delighted with the new, improved view which was pleasant enough before with its manicured lawns, hot pink bougainvillea and swaying palms. I only have to walk to the window at the other side of the room to look out onto a slum made of corrugated iron and dirty black plastic. There are no models here, just a few kids scratching in the dirt and a rat on a roof, bold as brass.
We do have something in common though, the models, the slum dwellers, the rat and I – we are all forced to listen nightly to the god-awful music that pumps out of the function hall next door. If I never hear ‘Anjaana, Anjani’ again, it’ll be too soon. This abomination is usually followed by ‘Mr. Lonely’ (“I have heard this song lakhs of crores of times” complained my neighbor) Both tunes are played seemingly alternatively throughout the evening, punctuated, only briefly, by a horrible recorded version of ‘Happy Birthday’ where instead of saying the name, it just says happy birthday throughout, making it anonymous and cold. And on the flip side (are you getting my theme here?) I am often struck by the enchanting call of the Iman as his call to prayer floats across the air and makes me feel all is well with the world. Actually, a new Iman has recently taken over and sadly, he is not so blessed in the voice department. He is more of a ranter than a songbird and I wish the other fella would come back. As I write I can hear at least two power drills and a banging hammer and now, a new, odd sound, a plinking, like someone is dropping a glass marble on the floor above me and it is rolling across the stone floor. Also, I can hear little children playing in the playground below, which I like.
I am fed up with rice and dal (you see where I’m going with this) Sometimes I just want a scotch egg or a Tesco’s Finest pork and leek sausage. Don’t talk to me about chicken sausages. They have no right to call themselves sausages. “Bland, bland, bland” I want to scream. But then take me to a five star buffet in Mumbai and I’ll delight in each and every flavour until the cows come home. I have never known a fig to taste so much like a fig or a cauliflower to taste so much like a cauliflower until I came to India. I can spend all day Sunday gorging myself into a trance until my taste buds explode and then go to Hypershitty (sic) the next morning and find myself gagging in the meat hall, vowing to turn veggie.
And finally, touch (there, I’ve spelt it out for you). I didn’t know what sanitizer was until I came here.
What I miss most about England, even more than scotch eggs, is my dog. Tickling and stroking him was something I did a lot and found enormously comforting. On holiday in Goa last time, we fostered a beach dog. She came and sat by me every day and we fed her. I grew very fond, but the ticks hanging on for dear life all over her coat, put me off even stroking her. I considered going to find some rubber gloves and burning the ticks off with a match, but what was the point? They would come back. She tried to get in the taxi with us when we left. It broke my heart.
Mother India, you have it all. I hate you and I love you at the same time. Much like my daughter’s feelings for me. After the temple tour we had lunch and did some shopping. Delving into the Zara bags on the way home she said: “Thanks mum, it’s been a great day. I do love you really.”