The Monsoon Time: 4 Years in India (4)

(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 text 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.)

November 2009

Takiya Chowk o piata din satul Burari
Takiya Chowk o piata din satul Burari

I feel it`s too early to speak about specific issues. I intuitively understand how things work around me, but I have a persistent feeling of aloofness. I don`t delude myself into thinking I might fathom India, I already know there are aspects of this life that will always escape my power of understanding.

               The next day, I`m expected at the University. Outside, almost 35 degrees Celsius…  Not very convinced, I drop the idea of wearing the suit I have brought with me from Romania. I`m in front of the Faculty of Arts, some minutes before 8 o`clock. The guards, unimpressive, half asleep, look at me awkwardly. I`m told no one is to be found at the Department before 9 o`clock. I walk the deserted corridors for over an hour, I look, slightly confused, at the walls, their plaster decayed, and I understand less and less this world Europe admires with a sort of mystical and ignorant gaze. On some doors rest massive, rusty metal locks… an image that doesn`t fit, in my mind, with that of a university. The courtyard has an exotic garden that seems neat and tidy.

               Indeed, a bit after 9, I step into a room with 4 blasé clerks, I introduce myself, and I enter another room. The Head of the Department is not there yet. F.I, an Indian teacher of French, welcomes me. She looks like a general on a battlefield, fighting for the army of Napoleon. Her face is chaotically moving.  The skin of her cheeks (severely tightened around her cheekbones) gives me the impression the whole face is about to crack. It seems that the surface has its own life, being able to express things the teacher herself is unable to show. F.I intimidates me from the very beginning with her nonchalance in labelling people and ideas.

               A bit of conversation follows and, then, I get to meet my colleagues. Both of them teach Portuguese. M.S is Indian and speaks to me about her country pathetically; it always scares me when someone idolises a country, no matter the country. She smiles unnaturally, as if for a casting for Bollywood. All in all, she`s pleasant, or at least she seems so. I suspect I am myself a bizarre appearance, with my confused look, struggling with the unbearable heat, trying to make sense of the English spoken to me. Later, I meet S.C. She is the Portuguese lecturer. From afar, seeing her walking, she seems exceptionally arrogant. But, once introduced, she becomes loquacious. I understand we are neighbours. I live in B1, she lives in A2.

Anyway, she is European, and I am about to discover that here, in India, there is a sense of European solidarity that I have never expected. French, Portuguese, Spanish, Italians, Romanians, Austrians, Polish, Czechs, Slovakians – we all behave as if we embrace the same set of values. In Paris, Wien, Bucharest or anywhere else in Europe, we would have ignored each other. But, here we discover how much we share, how much we have in common.Personally, I was quite a sceptic when it came to European Union project. However, in India, I have the feeling that I start understanding more of it.    

               I finally meet V.M, the Head of the Department. I know she is a communist. V.M is an intelligent woman, with strong convictions. When she believes in something, she is capable of putting up a terrible fight for her ideas, with all the means necessary. India is a paradoxical country. If tomorrow, communism will come to power, most probably V.M will be one of its first victims. She has the perfect profile of the arch enemy communists fought against in Europe: her lifestyle is burgeois, she is an intellectual, she loves the freedom of speech… Her attitude, though, doesn`t surprise me at all. It is tough to talk about the rotten ideology behind Marx`s Communist Manifesto, especially in a country like India. Moreover, even in Europe Communism still fascinates, being regarded exclusively as a system that saved the old continent from Nazism. No one seems to question that, no one seems to question the motives or the outcome.

               V.M thinks India needs a Revolution. It is the first topic we debate on publicly. In a conference, I speak about the danger that comes from having a revolution in a vulnerable social environment. When the society is not ready for the change a Revolution brings along, when there is no critical mass prepared for reforms, everything might turn into sheer violence. People are not to be significantly changed by Revolutions, but in time, slowly and painfully, through long-lasting coherent political projects, once a critical mass was created and ready for the change to come. This sophisticated, mature woman, with the qualities of a diplomat and the astuteness of a good politician, lives in the fool`s paradise. These were my thoughts back then. After, I thought I could guess in her attitude a form of respect for me. Not for me as an individual, but for a person whose ideas contradict yours, but whom you respect precisely because he really believes in something. The feeling was mutual. Many times, I suspect, V.M saw in me a young man, not yet mature enough for perceiving things as they were while I saw in her an idealist who, like all idealists, forced reality to comply with their own views. Principles can be appealing in themselves but, once applied, they escape the lab environment and face reality.

Because of the bureaucracy (both Romanian and Indian), I arrived in India 3 months after the beginning of the academic year. I am told that in one week I start teaching.

               One evening, I receive an unexpected visit. F.I knocks on the door of my flat. I find out we are neighbours. She is accompanied by A.K. She briefly introduces him to me.  A.K is a man in his late fifties who studied Romanian at Delhi`University several decades ago. He tells me he is fascinated by Romania and warns me that V.M will do everything she can to create problems for me and the Romanian Lectureship. I panic. I have the feeling of landing, head first, in a middle of a conspiracy I don`t have any clue about. But, A.K is nothing more than an ecstatic man. He has visited Romania as a recipient of a scholarship offered by Romanian Cultural Institute, and now he thinks he knows everything about Romania. When he speaks to me about the similitudes between his culture and mine, I realise he`s nothing more than a noisy, presumptuous slacker. I cant` t communicate my opinion to him simply because he doesn`t listen. He asks me questions that he answers himself without hesitations or doubts.

               Now, when I write all these words (not long after the facts took place), I still try my best to avoid A.K.  It becomes more and more challenging. He calls me using different phone numbers, he continually texts me. With him, I had to go through many embarrassing moments. I remember once, at a wedding, someone asked me something in English about Romania. Both I and A.K replied simultaneously. He, in Hindi, I, in English. The answers were completely opposite. The person who asked was baffled. I was disconcerted. The second episode that convinced me I have to avoid him at any cost took place at another wedding, in Faridabad, a town 25 km away from Delhi. Before being invited to the ceremony, I had asked him whether there are any specific traditions or customs that I have to be aware of. He told me I just have to be there; nothing else to do or say. Once in Faridabad, A.K places in my hand an amount of money (500 rupees), tells me to stay in a line formed in front of the bride and briefly explains to me what I`m expected to do. I had to place the money on a trey and to climb a small podium, to get a blessing. I couldn`t refuse… I`ve never in my life ruined a wedding, and I intended to keep my record intact. But I was perplexed and embarrassed, having the impression that everyone around had been staring at me intrigued.

               Some other time, A.K invited me to his house, in a village (Burari) 15 km north of the capital and insisted on my being there at 8 o`clock in the morning. He didn`t say it was probably 8 according to Indian time (if you need to meet someone in India at 8, you can show up at 9, you`ll still be the first one attending the meeting). A.K leads me into a narrow room, not properly ventilated, a place where his father sleeps deeply, a few centimetres away from my chair. He leaves me alone there. After a while, the old man wakes up, I introduce myself, and he starts changing his clothes. I have to admit, I`m prudish when it comes to scenes like that. I stay there several long, uncomfortable minutes, trying to avert my gaze from the image of the old man`s naked body. But, because the room was so small, my attempts were not entirely successful.

Now, the mere idea of meeting A.K again unnerves me. Anyway, there are moments when I prefer to avoid any contact with India and people. My need for being alone is more intense than ever here, in India, where the space contracts itself dangerously and too many things are public and done publicly.


(to be continued)


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