Tuesday, August 18, 2015

In Which I Probably Should, I Don't Know, Take Up a New Hobby or Something

Not that my life was frantic before - I've always made a point of moving at a pace that could best be called 'desultory' - but it has calmed the heck down living here in the Indian countryside.

I became vividly aware of this yesterday when I spent 20 minutes watching an ant drag a dead bug out of my apartment.

Why was there a dead bug in my apartment that I hadn't picked up, you ask? Or an ant, for that matter? You're missing the point, I answer.

Anyway, out of the corner of my eye I noticed what looked like a dead bug moving across the white tile floor. Scuttling over to investigate, I saw a single, tiny ant, easily 30 times smaller than the dead bug, pulling it slowly but resolutely toward the crack beneath the front door. It was a mesmerizing effort.

I mentally composed rhapsodic odes to Hard Work and A Spirit of Never Quitting, going so far as to become misty-eyed over this ant's determination. It disappeared under the door with its prize, so I waited a few minutes before opening the door to check on its progress.

Which, OK, oops, that's when I remembered there's a plastic guard at the bottom of the door, so I cruelly snatched the dead bug away from the ant.

You can imagine how terrible I felt.

The ant scurried off, even though I tried to nudge it back toward the dead bug, which I'd liberated from beneath the plastic guard with a stick. Nothing doing.

So, I poked the dead bug to a prominent and visible spot on the tiles of my front patio and went to have some lunch. To my delight, when I came back I saw that seven or eight ants were now pulling the dead bug toward wherever ants take dead bugs. Teamwork! Perseverance! Hooray!

All of which is to say, I'm spending quite a bit of time in the company of ants and clouds passing and birds soaring and the idle meandering of my drifting thoughts. In a country of 1.2 billion people, I'm learning to open my eyes and take the deep breath that lifts me just off the ground, so I can float beside the loneliness instead of bashing my forehead against it.

Besides, all it takes is one bus ride into the city and I'm ready to be back with the ants pulling their treasure home.

In Which I'm Running for Public Office, Apparently

I read the other day that Pope Francis speaks something like nine languages, but instead of sending me into further raptures over my favorite modern-day hero, my first thought was, Oh, yeah??? Well, I'd like to see you try Kannada, pal!

Once again, I find myself facing a language that seems like nothing more than an elaborate practical joke, designed to make me blurt random, poorly pronounced - and wrong - words at hapless strangers.

Kannada is not going into my brain. It is not rolling melodiously off my tongue. Whenever I try to stutter a word or two that I've managed to memorize, I'm seized with antiperspirant-defying nerves that cruelly shove me into gibberish. Gaaaaa! Leeeehhh! Eeeooom!

I've grown used to politely puzzled looks and alarmed side-eye: Is she OK? Should we put a pencil in her mouth so she doesn't swallow her tongue?

So, I compensate with the ol' thumbs up.

On the bus and trying to tell the conductor where I need to go, I mispronounce a few words and then give him a winning thumbs up. At KR Market and attempting to indicate that I don't, in fact, want to pay 100 rupees per kilo for pomegranates, I say 80 rupees and get that thumb in the air. Trying to tell akka that I'd like a bottle of water, I point confidently at the shelf with the water and give her a double thumbs up.

Go big or go home, I always say.

Oh, occasionally I mix it up and flash the thumbs up's equally convivial cousin, A-OK - index finger and thumb forming a circle, three remaining fingers arrayed in a jaunty sunburst of support - but I like the decisiveness of the thumbs up. It's like an exclamation point on the top of my hand. "Yay!" it says. "I may not technically 'understand' what you just said, if we're being persnickety, but maybe I do? Subconsciously? On some sort of 'we all speak the same language as members of the human family' level? I mean, check out this optimistic thumb!"

I also pair my thumbs up with a smile so friendly it borders on manic. I smile my mouth practically off my face. If anyone's trying to cultivate an image of America as a land of intellectuals, I'm doing nothing for the cause. Sorry.

You know what, though? I may be some goofy golden retriever of a foreigner - one with opposable thumbs, luckily! - but the thumbs up also says that I'm trying, I think whatever is going on right now is awesome and I'm really happy to be here.

And I get quite a few smiles, and even a few thumbs ups, in return.