Sunday, September 19, 2010


The electricity went out this evening at 8:45. No lights in the house and no street lights either. But I still wanted to go for my usual post-dinner walk. I put Moy Moy to bed, strapped on my glow-in-the-dark reflectors (a gift from my friend Anne Bruce) and strode out into the night.

It was pitch dark. Feeling a little creeped out and apprehensive, I was just about to give up and return home when two men on a motor bike pulled up beside me and said "Police chowki kahan hai?" (Where is the Police Station?)

No one asks me for directions. No one. Not ever.

How do I explain how much this bothers me?

Once when I was a little girl I was walking to the store with my Aunt Sheila, who was from New York City. Talk about glamor! A passing car slowed, then stopped and the driver rolled down his window and asked her if she knew the way to Arlan's - a store I had been to more times than I could count. Aunt Sheila started to say that she was from out of town when I eagerly pushed forward and said "I know the way!" I found, however, when I tried to give the directions, I actually had no idea. I could have walked there myself, but I couldn't explain it satisfactorily to another person. Aunt Sheila let me try for a while, then gently suggested that we let him go on and ask someone else.

I realized then that giving directions is an art. A vague idea of where something is isn't good enough. You have to know exactly.  And more important, you have to be able to convey that knowledge to someone who hasn't got your experience. So landmarks are important - both the ones that tell you this is the turn and the ones that you will see only if you missed it (If you see the fire station, you've gone too far!).

Giving good directions became a little hobby for me. I liked the feeling of belonging that being able to get a stranger from Point A to Point B implies. So it has always bothered me that here in Dehradun, a place I have lived for over twenty years and which I feel I know very well indeed, nobody ever approaches me for help.

I can't blame them, of course. If I were lost in a strange city, I don't think I would choose the foreign looking lady to set me straight either. But still. Try it some day! She knows the way! She really does!

So when the man on the motorcycle suddenly stopped beside me last night in the pitch dark looking for the police chowki, I smiled (even though I caught the look of disappointment when he saw my face and realized there was no chance I would know anything) and pointed him in exactly the right direction. ("Turn around, go straight for fifty yards, and there it is.") So simple.

I walked on, now not creeped out by the dark at all anymore but feeling instead like a powerful resident of the neighborhood. Imagine my surprise when 15 minutes later, two different men, also on a motorcycle, stopped to ask if I knew where the Barista Coffeeshop was.

They , too, realized their mistake almost immediately but, emboldened by my earlier success, I asked them in Hindi if it was just coffee they were after or was it specifically the Barista - because (OK, I was showing off) there's a Cafe Coffee Day which is much closer.

No, it was the Barista, they said, slowly, laughing a little. They were meeting friends there.

Well, then. Straight ahead to the gol chakka, take a left. Straight on to the Anurag Chowk, take a right. Follow the road as it winds to the right and the Barista is on your right just ahead.

"Thanks, Ma'am!" they said, laughing out loud now. "Can we bring you a cup of coffee back?"

Right neighborly of them, I think!


Natasha said...

Jo, I love how you love the little details of life. Thats where the daily pleasures are hidden, aren't they!

Jo Chopra McGowan said...

So right, Natasha! It reminds me of your observation about the days, the months and the years . . . and this is what those years are all made up of, if we can only remember it: all the tiny, fleeting little moments.