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India Trip Notes

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4-29-11 - The Hero of the Yellow Light

"Dhanam!" I called to my landlady. She was on the street and had already locked the gate. I was on the other side, my key upstairs. "Look," I said, pushing my face up to the gate and trying to see to the side, "The light! Clay did it!"

"No!," she shook her head. "Don't. Can't do anything."

"It's done," I said.

"Don't do. No."

"No, you don't understand. It's already done!"

But she didn't get it, kept telling me don't do anything as I kept telling her it's done.

"It's finished," Clay broke in.

"Finished?" She turned to look and then looked back at us and looked at the light - and looked at it some more.

Clay took the bus out a few hours ago - on his way to stay with eager young Renuka and family in Chennai where he'll get a train to Pune and then a bus to Ajanta where he's been studying dola and some other types of drums. He's got two drums and a violin tied on his backpack - and two pillows of mine plus another bag of crystals and stuff to leave with Renuka and pick up on the way to the airport. The plan is to meet up again an hour from there in Mahabalipurim on the 21st. Nice Beach and the stone carvings. We fly out at 4:15am on the 25th.

Clay arrived on the bus from Bangaluru, once Bangalore, Sunday morning at 3:25am. The conductor woke him up and they dropped him and gear in front of the Ramana Ashram where I'd been standing in a drizzle for fifty minutes watching the trucks and packed busses slow for the speed humps and pass by.

He brought such great weather - in the middle of what's supposed to be the hottest time of the year in the hottest part of India, the time when people flee from here, it's been rather moderate with some thunderstorms in between. Maybe one is going to happen tonight. From the roof the setting sun is obscured by red and orange clouds, rumblings come from beyond the holy mountain, that smell of impending precipitation.

We went walking in the wildness behind the ashram after watching a tiny snake on some steps there. A dark adult snake on the path slithered away. "Only fifty of the 250 species are venomous," passed through my head. We paused to watch a large black beetle with yellow medallions cross the path. Surely all propitious omens. Another day late afternoon we walked up the stone path to Skanda Ashram and Virupaksha caves where Ramana sat back in the day. On the way ran into David Godman of Ramana books who said they lock the gates to both caves at five. No matter. Beautiful view of Tiru and Arunachala Temple with its nine gopurams rising like the ancient pyramids they are. Then bouncing down the stones through a stinking garbage heap with wild pigs that leads to narrow path through a steep village with hands held out and children chasing. Old women selling flowers at the North temple gate kept our sandals and we entered - it's like a city in there. Could spend all day. While Clay paid to enter the inner sanctum I sat and listened to the chanters drumming to the right, further chanting to the left, narration for film of temple on big screen straight ahead for a virtual temple inside the real one.

Ran into sadhu Sekar on the way out hustling an Italian couple. I'd enjoyed watching one half of that couple walk across an inner courtyard not long before. Our chatter with Sekar lent him credence to maybe gain a few hundred rupee for guidance.

Outside waiting for Venka rickshaw pretty young girl with flower ladies smiles wide listening to Clay beat box and when he goes off to smoke a beedie at a proper distance mother points to her and then to Clay and says, "Make baby." Clay returned there on his 100 rupee a day motorcycle an hour later to pick up his key to my apartment that had slipped out of his pocket while sitting there on a stone ledge.

So that didn't add to the cell phone he lost in a celebratory birthday stupor, a crystal he left on a table, or the thousand the man took promising to come back with whatever it was he was trying to buy in Goa, or the five 500s taken from his boulder crevice hidden clothes while swimming in the pond in Hampi, or the REI shirt and the yellow pants lost to two separate laundry places (always make a list), or the camera Clare gave him and pro quality wave recorder in the zip-off day bag left in the tuk-tuk in Pune (don't forget it, don't forget it) thus breaking the rule we'd memorized not to let go of anything for a second you might want later. That last one was painful to me, the thought of him running after the tuk-tuk then taking off after it in a taxi only to realize it had probably made a u-turn then three days of reporting and looking out for that driver and vehicle with the distinguishing marks. But that had put an end to his determination to buy a laptop and software to make dub-step with the samples from birds, traffic, and the zoo of abounding sounds. I'd begged, cajoled, reasoned, written impassioned emails not to buy that laptop, travel light, input not output, and can't afford it and on and so forth. Then the angles of finality stepped in and saved him the trouble but it still hurt me worse than him he says.

He didn't loose the caves for long - went back up up up the next day to join Ramana. And he didn't really loose anything by not getting a laptop, for now he's working on music at Internet Cafes and downloading his work onto a tiny thumb-drive.

Sadhu Sekar who found us at the tea shop across from the Ramana Ashram. Sekar wanted help getting to Mumbai because he had a cough. I've fallen for him twice but not again I told him - try Clay and walked off. Clay parted with 100 there and was not happy with my role. The gruff guys who run the tea shop smile when they see him. He was here five and a half days and knows more people than I do. He's also good at negotiation and finding where to sleep and eat cheap when on his own. Out early one morning got four cups of milk from the cow off the road for ten rupees, a ruby for 280 that started at 5000. He says the savings have been canceled out by the loosings but as he wisens the ratio will shift.

Upon returning to my place I see he left his passport. Oh well, if he needs a copy I can email a scan. And what's this key? I asked over Renuka's mobile. Oh, it belongs to a motorbike in Goa.

All that considered, today, in my mind, he's the most on top of it guy in the world, my can-do hero of the yellow light.

The yellow light down a ways is brighter than all the others. It illuminates my late way home from Guru Internet and makes the street in front bright amber. It shines into what I call our bedroom remembering Katrinka's time here. She put up material to block the streams of photons but with the open windows and fan they'd fall and we learned to live with it like a cheap city apartment with a neon sign outside. When the so-called German Bakery on top went away and took the bamboo and coconut roof, the night view was dominated by that glare. It was a deal-breaker for KC and Kama when they checked the place out for his brother later.

I looked at the large bulb in its protective cover, missing the lower shield plate, attached to a pipe in turn attached to the cement pole, high power lines running just above. Could locate that missing part or an apron could be built to replace it. There's a metal shop nearby. Could they do it? It was tilted up to the left. If that side of the fixture came down the existing cover would block intruding rays above the street. Standing on a truck maybe I could adjust it with a spanner (they don't say wrench) or heavy gloves.

I talked to Dhanam about it, to her brother about it, to Arun at Guru about it, to friends on the streets, the tea shop, the ashram about it and was assured the city would not take note, that the ashram which owns the adjoining property wouldn't and couldn't help, that no bribe would work. What if I threw a rock and broke the bulb? Then the city would take note. Every Indian assured there's nothing that can be done. Get curtains, build a wall on the roof.

This really doesn't seem like an easy place to get things done. There's often a "that's the way it is" attitude. On the other hand, I'm sure India has more can-do people than we have people, so - just give them time. But I didn't have time to do anything but give up on the light.

I told Clay about my dilemma. Yesterday he went into the lot behind the wall behind the light and got a long bamboo pole. Last night Dhanam, her mother, and the thin neighbor man, and I were watching the wonderful musical numbers from old black and white Tamil movies that play every night ten till eleven. Clay was late for his evening snack. I called Guru Internet. He'd already left. I stepped outside. There he was pushing a pole up against the right side of the light housing. He came in and Dhanam brought him some sort of sweet mush, maybe millet. Then we went up the narrow stairs to check.

I told my Indian friend, fellow senior, Reddy, what Clay had done and he said, that's the only way to get things done here - do it yourself. He said the Tamil word for tomorrow is naliki, which can be used to mean to put it off till tomorrow. The British used to say, "None of this naliki now, no naliki nonsense!"

Now the bedroom is dark, the roof is for the stars, silhouette of the neighbors' palm tree. and moonlight on Arunachala.

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