(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.)
My room looks like no other room I`ve seen before in my life. All the furniture is grouped together by an invisible hand in the middle of the room, the kitchen smells like a public toilet, the shower seems to be a paraphernalia of a Hitchcock movie. The driver leaves… No matter where I go, a speck of dust follows me everywhere… Everything is dusty, fallen into a state of irreparable decay. I`m strongly convinced there has to be a mistake somewhere. The previous Romanian lecturer had lived here before and she had told me that this is one of the most… functional flats in the entire building. I`m in the middle of the room and I simply can’t think. I can`t think of anything; whenever I try to utter something, to express a simple thought, I realize all my sentences are broken, suspended, discontinuous…
I open a meat can I had brought with me from Romania (just in case!) and I eat beef, with no bread. I remember the cow is sacred in India and I eat even more tenaciously. For now, this is the first form of protest! My cardinal coherent thought is to take the first plane back to Bucharest. Fortunately, I gave up a long time ago acting on impulse! I fall asleep, fully dressed, on the edge of the bed. When I wake up, I realise I `ll stay in this country at least one year… I have to do something.
For a start, I need to clean… I discover, relieved, that electricity works and the fridge produces some familiar noise which I distinctly heard from under a thick layer of dust that covers it. The water runs in the shower with a lack of vigour that concerns me. I need to change some dollars into Indian rupees and, then, to go shopping. At the gate, I see some of the guards. They start talking gibberish. I guess it`s English, but I don`t understand it. They are nice, though.
I ask one of them to write for me, on a crumpled piece of paper, the address, in case I get lost. I start walking. The streets are a maze, all the cars run on the wrong side of the street, all the streets look the same, no visible names, all the intersections seemed to be specially designed to confuse you (and it works!). And, above all, filth beyond imagination… The shops are nothing but dirty kiosks, people eat on the streets, the flies comfortably rest on their paper plates. I look around and I see Indians using their hands to eat and eating hastily as if this would be the last thing they do just before dying. After they finish eating, they noisily burp and men touch and scratch their genitals.
I`m completely aware of the fact that right now, I`m the intruder; my perplexities, even if I obviously don`t express them out loud, might seem out of place for them. I walk as if I have just awoken from a general anaesthesia. I know it`s impossible to keep my bewilderment contained; it must be visible. I`m convinced I`m in a coherent universe, it`s just that I seem incapable of figuring out its coherence.
The next day, I wake up with my face covered in small red dots that burn intensely. I had slept without paying too much attention to the mosquitoes and, naturally, I`m paying now for my carelessness. I fiercely stare at myself in the mirror, not knowing exactly how I am supposed to go out in this state and, moreover, how I am supposed to survive the following nights.
India from books and websites is not India that I`m seeing now. From books and movies, I know that here you need to bargain for everything you buy. I give it a try. No success at all… No one listens to me, it`s as if I weren`t there. After hours of wandering to and fro around the neighbourhood, I manage to buy detergent and some other things that I urgently need.
I know very well that, in time, this dirty flat will become home, this dusty, aggressive and Kafkaesque country, surreal and intrusive will become tolerable… I also know it will take years to erase or just dissipate from my memory the things that I so intensely feel right now, the despair, the hopelessness of my first encounter with this gargantuan country.
I have had the misfortune of apperceiving this country, not as a tourist, comfortably sitting in an Air-Conditioned bus, cosily accommodated in a 5-star hotel, but as a sort of a deluded alien who lands on a planet that he thinks he knows and has to pay a high price for his ignorance. Precisely this one is India I`m going to write about. If you desire Forster`s India, Eliade`s India or Rushdie`s India, read them! To their India, I don`t feel the need to add anything. My diary would be MY diary. It is very probable that my India would remain for many of you, unknown (I hope so!) and unfamiliar. I will not be objective, I will not intellectually distance myself from what I see, from what I experience. I will sometimes judge, even if I clearly know I`m Europocentric and biased. After all, this is a diary, my diary and nothing more than my diary…
(to be continued)