(Between 2009 – 2013, I was a Lecturer at Delhi University, teaching the Romanian language. My 4 years experience in India resulted in a book, published in 2014: “The Monsoon Time: 4 Years in India”. I translate now into English passages of my book. Several years have passed and I think many of the real characters of my book can now safely read about themselves and the experiences we all shared while I was in India. For those of them whose image might be affected by this translation, I apologise in advance.)
The Monsoon Time: 4 Years in India
End of October 2009
One year and a half ago, I had applied for a position as a Lecturer at Delhi`University, India. I didn`t think I stood any chance of getting the job. The idea itself that I might spend at least one academic year in India seemed as absurd as imagining Romania being the seventh European Union economy (that was the speech of our politicians in 2008). I simply could not imagine myself in India and, all this year and a half, I hadn’t spent much time thinking that one day I could walk on the streets of New Delhi.
Now, I`m in Bucharest, at Henri Coanda International Airport, waiting for my plane to Istanbul. From there, I`ll fly to the Indian capital. I don`t have any expectations… The thought of leaving Romania in a moment when, in a dramatic succession, we have presidential elections and an imminent economic crisis is enough for making me feel better. I might be a coward…
I ask for a seat near the window. The plane departs and Istanbul seems so close! For many years, the city I have been born in and the house I have been living in since childhood have both appeared to me as gigantic spaces; they all had shrunk over the years. I read, in „The Book of Whispers” (Varujan Vosganian) that I`m not the only one having this feeling. The shrinking of the world we occupy by the time we grow up appears to be a redundant feeling. That`s the human nature…
When each and any distance on this planet grows smaller by the day, it`s completely absurd to watch the Romanian news on tv. Pretty much everything is about us… What happens around is presented as irrelevant and insignificant. The world news is being expulsed somewhere in between forecast and the sports news. I think about all that while flying over Romania.
From Istanbul to New Delhi, I start realising how my life will look like from now on. Here, thousands of meters above the ground, no one speaks my language. Evey time I want some wine or coffee, I have to think in Romanian, speak English and, afterwards, when someone addresses me, translate everything in my mind. It will be my life for at least one year. Next to me, a young Indian woman speaks about her country. Later on, I realise nothing of what she says sticks to me. It happens quite often; when I`m stressed or get emotional, I block. When I do, any conversation I have with people turns into an incredibly dull one. I can`t say anything interesting or even meaningful. It scares me a bit…
Anyway, I don t think it`s important to pay attention to what the woman says. I have too many things to think about, too many feeling to cope with, too much bewilderment to manage.
I know in New Delhi someone is supposed to be waiting for me and take me to my flat.
The lassitude that I feel, after so many hours of flying and drinking wine at high altitude results in a new sort of… deluded epiphany. I think about my still mysterious flat in Delhi as if it were home, I think about New Delhi itself as being home. For so many generations of Romanians (my grandparents, even my parents), moving a few kilometres away from their native village was a total displacement. What might they think of me now?… I don`t know exactly and I`m not convinced I care.
For me and for many from my generation, patriotism is a bit more pragmatic. I suspect we might have a different definition of belonging. When Ceaușescu, the shoemaker Communist president, banned abortion, in 1966, all of us (who came into existence after) had every right to feel different. We will never know if we were desired or just tolerated, perceived as an inevitable result of a series of mistakes (bad condoms or just bad timing). We don`t live, like our parents and grandparents did, in houses that we own. We rent rooms and we change jobs more often than they changed their shirt, after a working day.
Take me, for instance… I am flying now over Asia, I have three decades of uninterrupted existence on this Earth and no significant possessions.
Indira Gandhi International Airport… an upsetting heat. The first step outside the plane, into the open… An indescribable scent of piss, dust and dung. It`s the scent that you feel hurting your nostrils when you go to the zoo and spend some time with the elephants. And the noise… the noise of a crowd the kind of I hadn`t seen but on tv. People rush in all directions, security is tight and everywhere, soldiers have rifles on their shoulders, rifles that seem from the colonial time… About rifles, I might as well exaggerate, after all, I don`t have any military experience whatsoever.
So, finally… India. Try to picture it… At the first hours of the day, a baffled Romanian of 181 centimetres and 100 kg, dragging along heavy luggage, trying to find his way out of the airport. The Indian who awaits me doesn`t know English at all. A myth falling apart… Many others will fall apart in the days to come. My driver smiles foolishly and says yes, no matter what I ask. I could curse him in Romanian without him reacting in any way. I think about doing it, just to release part of the nervousness that I feel, but I give up. It is just a silly idea…
Here I am… Lost in the vastness of a city with more than 20 million inhabitants. From my car, I see the filth of the streets, people sleeping on the pavement, children barely awaked running through piles of garbage, holy cows and not so holy dogs (although peaceful) cohabitating all harmoniously in an asphyxiated city. I`m strangely sure that we are on the outskirts of Delhi and I anxiously wait for the real city to appear out of nowhere in front of my eyes. After more than an hour… the landscape doesn`t change at all. Everyone honks around, most of the cars I see have scratches and serious signs of damage, the Tata trucks we pass appear like old rusty metal beasts, no doors or windows. Eventually, I have to acknowledge that this is the city.
We arrive… The car stops in front of some heavy metallic gates, the driver asks the guards for a key, we go around the first building, the car stops again, the driver opens another metallic door, unlocks a new wooden one and here I am… at home… My flat looks like…
(to be continued)