Some mundane thoughts from my India trip

I have nothing amazing going on in my life. Just the mundane stuff that makes up a day, a night. Posting pretty and not-always-pretty pictures of my stay in India is fun and I like the likes on social media. But we know this by now that what is pretty to me is not so pretty to anyone else. I find my mother’s face without her dentures, trying to smile while she is crying, very pretty. Her shriveled skin curls up even more into her mouth and she shuts her eyes as she pretends she wants to sleep. She hates the night as she keeps awake. Maybe her life’s mistakes get to her and she wonders why she has to suffer so much. She is a totally new person in the morning reminding me to manage my time differently and also my attitude to things- you won’t believe the advice she continues to give. She is 86 and in great health except her legs that have stopped functioning since the last two years and are now avoiding damage. However, I won’t post pictures of my mother’s many wounds but only the ones that make me smile. The muggu aka rangoli makes her smile. And a house full of people. Fresh puris, aloo and halva make her happy and we had that for New Years Day breakfast. Staying in Hyderabad for four months is a treat but I miss being with my family and kids. It’s like I live in silos that I made to keep things separate. On a day when everyone needs my attention is a difficult one. Wisdom can deny its existence for me for some more time and I am good with that. “Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise, the Fool tells King Lear”- said a Renkl in the NYT article my friend Svapna shared with me. It sums up most of the days with my mother except when some crazy infection gets her on an antibiotic and she can’t handle the heat that messes with her stomach lining, the skin scars and some mouth ulcers.

During one of her nap times when I ventured out, I met an auto-rickshaw driver who sweetly chatted up with me right from the moment I got in. You have to bargain your price when you ride an auto in Hyderabad but not so much with Uber. So I bargain with the auto guys down to the last tenner and feel good when I get my way. But I never give them a tip. The very American-Uber has forced a tip and also “peak-fares” which means the market decides how much more we need to shell out to Uber guys when it’s more effort to be in traffic and when the demand is high. I refused to easily give that same peak-fare or a tip to the auto guys. Yesterday though was different. When I bargained with him he said, give me 150 to King Koti and I’ll take you and I said I’ll give you 120 and you take me. He said okay, 130 de do, mai leke jatoon. Baitho. So I agreed at 130 and took the ride. We chatted further and he said to me, what’s happening with corona madam? I said the news reports are right, the cases are rising. The media is not reporting how people are not dying, I said. Then I realized I should mention to him that vaccinated people are the ones not dying and upon asking he said he did not take the vax. I said if you had told me you did not take the vaccination, I would not have sat in your auto. And I gave him a loud earful on why he should take it. And how his parents and my parents have taken us to the hospital 20 times in the first year we were born just to vaccinate us. My finger wagging voice is still ringing in my ears. Kya hai ki amma, ek saal me marte bolrai. I don’t know amma, they say, we will die in one year if we take it. This conversation made me wonder if I did the American thing, and spoke to a stranger nicely? I explained how it’s important to vaccinate himself and his whole family. I asked him to get it done. I said happy new year to him and gave him a big tip. Folks here will say that I am spoiling the underclass for giving ideas about bigger tips and expecting more in life and having more. My tip won’t do much for the guy. He might spend it on a good drink. He seemed like a good guy. Maybe he won’t beat up his wife after the drink. My karma won’t be about the tip going towards his drink or his wife getting beat up, or maybe it is. Where does my karma stop and where does it start? At my significant others’, my family and clan? Or does it extend to my community, my people in my social infrastructure that supports a good life? And what happens to my karma when their karma clashes with mine?

rubaee* means a poem in four lines. My mother has four daughters.

#indiaTrip #rubaee

Published by Hema Malini

I am a trained sociologist and an archival researcher. I am the principal investigator for an archival research project on the Brahma Kshatriyas of Hyderabad and also founder of I also go by my other name Malini. I am a translator of notes that remain in the margins to bring the user of technologies into sharper focus. I use the term community researcher, immersive researcher to talk about the work I do. In the past, as a Director and user experience lead at Code for Princeton I worked with non-profits, community groups, users, and subject matter experts to identify areas of need. I translated this into conversations with brigade members, developers, potential users, and other stakeholders. The applied ethnography and social research skills got me to meet with a diverse set of people across the broad middle class spectrum in Urban India. Living and working in New Jersey for the past several years has given me a breadth and width of understanding and engaging with people adding critical diversity to my bracket of "users" and experience all rolled in one.

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