The Miracle (08.12.2003)

My last day in Bombay before heading back to the USA is a Sunday, the beginning of the end of the week. I just had a big lunch at Golden Thali, a dive near Marine lines. They serve khichdi of several kinds out of vast vats and bring it to your table with a little kadhi and pickle and it makes for a fine meal.

Then I wander around Grant Road buying incense, drinking a masala Lassi, and looking for cast-iron vessels to take to Boston.

Cast-iron vessels aren’t in fashion these days; people prefer stainless steel or aluminum or nonstick. The few people I meet on the road profess not to know about any shop that sells them and tell me that if by some miracle I were to find one, it would be shut anyway.

It is a Sunday afternoon when Bombay exhales. In these parts, they have had their mango pulp and coconut curries and are supine under the fan.

Then I inquire at a used-paper seller, and he sends a boy to rouse a man living above a shop with its shutters down. The man comes out in a lungi, and I tell him what I am looking for. He disappears behind the shutters and comes out again with a set of four little cast-iron bowls for tempering. They are 65 rupees each, really nothing, and I buy all four.

He has risen from his Sunday-afternoon slumber to sell something that makes him very little profit. I don’t know why he would make an exception to his business hours for me; maybe he appreciates the fact that I am out on this quest in the July heat. But he has done something important, on my last day, for my sense of my place in the city I have grown up in.

The country of No has become, in that one small gesture, the Country of the Yes. I now realize that if you refuse to understand the No, pretend it doesn’t exist, was never said, then, slain by your incomprehension, it will transform itself abruptly into its opposite. Or it might never become a Yes but will turn into a wagging of the head, which can mean either No or Yes, depending on your interpretation.

You will interpret the wagging generously, charitably, and proceed. I went home and they opened the door and took me in, my family, and made them feel it could be their home too. They gave me the food I liked to eat and played for me the music I liked to hear, though I had forgotten how much I liked that music and the chatter.

How are you going to go back to Boston after this?” Lawyers, watchmen, bar dancers, and my Chinese foot cart owner ask me.

“Boston will be boring.”

It’s a valid argument one made by countless entities around.

I have no answer for them.

The way I see it when all is said and done, each person inhabits his own world

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Life is represented by two distinct sets of people: The people who live it and the people who observe them. These are their stories.