RED SHIFT (III) — Connection

November 6, 2009

The Green Hotel, Mysore

November 6, 2009


Here it is 3 a.m. and I have just awakened.  It is as quiet as it gets in India.  I know it is likely that I will still be awake when the big birds start crowing at 6 a.m.  I still haven’t seen them, and probably couldn’t identify them if I did, but they are reliable whatever they are.  And they only seem to crow at 6; I don’t hear them at other times of day.  When they coo and warble I know the emptiness of the nighttime will soon end.

When I write, I am doing it mostly as a balm for loneliness I think.  Not the “I don’t have a friend in the world” type of loneliness, but more the “search for connection” type.  Tucker works for the SETI Institute, SETI being the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.  They are searching for human connection in the universe.  My search is on a far less grand scale.  I just want to find the love right here.

When I am writing, it is Sweetie Pie to whom I am speaking in my head.  She is my lifeline; where I find the love.  She is the grand master of connection, loving her people with a depth of feeling that is beyond my understanding.  I observe it, value it, but its essence eludes me.

The hotel travel agent did not make good on his intention of finding me a motorcycle rental yesterday.  In fact, when I returned in mid-afternoon to the place where his desk had been just hours before, there was only a pile of dust on the floor.  That is what happens to evil witches, I thought.  The maitre d’ later told me that the manager would soon have a desk in that spot, which is at the foot of the staircase to what is really the main floor of the palace.  The travel agent is now located by the door that marks the craft shop.

Feeling lonely and somewhat discouraged I decided to find an internet café to see if I could scare up SP.  I have ripped out the Mysore section of my Lonely Planet guidebook and stuffed it in my messenger bag.  It mentions an internet café called Netzone at 1266 Narayana Shastri Road, across from the Sangreeth Hotel.  Thank you, Lonely Planet.  That is very specific information.

But still, I do not end up there.  My auto rickshaw driver cannot find the address.  We wend our way down Narayana Shastri Road through the crush of traffic, dodging motorcycles, trucks, pedestrians and cows and make several abrupt 180 degree turns that have me counting my remaining lives, but there is no discernible order to the addresses if indeed they are addresses at all.  Most are written in that beautiful Hindi script that looks like a line with rose loops above and below it.  My driver pulls over, hops out and consults with a shop owner.  He slides back into the driver’s seat, reaches down to the long lever on the floor, and pulls up abruptly to start the engine. It works every time, I have observed, unlike my lawn mower which takes three tries before it perks up.

We lurch back into traffic, reversing direction and turning right onto another street.  Halfway down he points to a building that says “New York Pizza” on it.  “There,” he says.  I protest that it’s a pizza joint, but he looks at me as if I am daft and explains gently that the internet café is inside the building in the back.  Resigned, I tumble myself out of the back seat, thank him for his effort and wander over to New York Pizza. I am longing for familiar food.  Maybe I’ll just have some pizza, I think.  But I am not completely comfortable with the cleanliness of the place so I push through a glass door next to the shop and walk down a dark hallway.  A door to the side opens and a man pops out.  He is the owner of New York Pizza and wants to know where I am going.  “Internet café,” I say.  He points down the corridor.

There is a heavy odor of male sweat in the hall.  I cannot believe that God intended this odor to attract females, but certainly there must be many mildly aroused women hereabouts if it does.  I stare at a dark office that says CYBERNET on the door, but the odor is not encouraging me to go in.  As I am equivocating the door opens and three men come out.  One asks me what I want.  “Internet Café?” I ask.  “Closed,” he says brusquely, as he shuts the door and walks down the hall with his colleagues.  Mostly, I am relieved.  There has been much talk in the news about potential bombings as the anniversary of the big Mumbai bombing approaches.  Armed soldiers are everywhere.  Most such drama is overblown, but still, I can’t completely ignore the fact that not everyone here regards Americans as friends.

I begin my usual wander down the street.  I want to walk slowly enough to take it all in — the strangeness and color.  But not so slowly that the shop owners will come running out to herd me into their shops.  It is a fine line.

A ways down the lane a young boy running a Xerox shop tells me proudly there is an internet café across the street.  He points and I see it.  The second story balcony of a grungy building has a banner advertising internet access and five or six men standing on the narrow balcony.  I mount the cement staircase and join them, but instantly feel uncomfortable as if I have just crashed a party to which I would never be invited.  Inside the shop there are a dozen dirty carrels crowded in a tiny room.  There is a man sleeping in the first one, but no sign of the owner.  I go back outside to the balcony and find a spot by the rail. None of the men say anything to me and I am feeling like bolting, but don’t want to admit I am scared.

Travel for me involves a certain measure of faith.  I push forward with the day even when I am not confident of a happy ending.  Things usually work out.  So, I rally my courage and ask one of the men where the owner is.  He looks directly into my eyes and tells me to wait, he is not here but will show up in 15 minutes or so.  I do.  I hike one cheek up onto the rail of the balcony and watch the street below, feeling lucky that I have a spot where I can examine people without being observed.  I feel instinctively that staring, particularly at women, is somewhere between impolite and dangerous, but I want to soak it all in, figure these strange and wonderful people out.

By now several more men have arrived.  A few drape a jacket or a bag over the edge of a carrel, then come out onto the balcony.  They are reserving spots the way people drop their bags on a table in a crowded café before they go to stand in line.  It seems a little unfair, like line jumping, but I do it, too.  So counting the carrels and the men waiting, I realize there is little chance I will get a seat even if the owner does return.  Still, it would be weak just to give up and walk away, wouldn’t it?  So I stay.

A man walks by below on the street balancing a tray with artificial flowers on his head.  The flowers, in fluorescent colors, extend upward at least six feet.  He looks a little like a circus clown and I can’t keep from chuckling to myself, but I can see that this is serious.  This is his living.

When I turn around the crowd on the balcony is gone.  The owner must have slipped in and everyone is grabbing a carrel and getting down to business.  I stand alone, looking in, feeling slightly defeated.  Then the man I spoke to earlier comes to the door, beckons me in and shows me to a carrel he has saved for me.  He smiles a little, then sits down with his friend and they get to work.

Ah, connection.

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