Allowing Sleep

October 17th, 2005
The hot smell of diesel mixed with fermentation fills my nostrils. The familiar airport smell-that blend of cleaning fluid remnants and stale paint-is not present. This new smell in the Indira Gandhi International Airport has no resemblance to any odors stored in my olfactory memory. Soon I will recognize this smell everywhere, omnipresent, hidden, blunt, breeding, until it disappears.
*
December 5th, 2005
Have you ever been to a rave before?
No I have not, why? Have you?
No but we’re about to.
What do you mean?
We’re going to a rave.
I don’t think I want to do that.
Yeah let’s go. Hop on, Clo.
On what?

*
October 17th, 2005
New Delhi. New Delhi, India. I have not slept in more than a day. I am here for under twenty-four hours before my next flight leaves for Jaipur, but I have to get to a hotel. I made a reservation at a twenty-eight dollar hotel on my laptop from Paris.
*
December 5th, 2005
This is Rashik. He has a motorcycle.
Lola, I don’t want to ride on that.
It’s okay, just get on the back.
No, Lola. I can’t do that.
Really?
Really.
Why?
Because it’s a terrible idea. What are you going to ride on?
On Abdul’s motorcycle.
Don’t let Abdul drive far away from Rashik. We have to stay together.
Here, I’ll get on Rashik’s. You ride on Abdul’s.

*
October 17th, 2005
After picking up my tiny green suitcase from the conveyor belt, I search for a cash machine. I am walking slowly, and am getting offered a taxi and rickshaw with each step. I take my time and ask nobody where to find a cash machine. I find one, and I take out three thousand rupees. Sixty-six dollars. I know that is more than enough. Swarms of eyes look at me, and the floor feels sticky. I am happy that I peed on the airplane.
*
December 5th, 2005
The hot air whips through my hair. I have no helmet on, but Abdul has a turban. The dust-black sky is illuminated by the two motorcycles’ cylinders of light spreading through space. Maybe there are stars but I cannot see them. I am closing my eyes sometimes and gripping onto Abdul’s light cotton sleeves. We breathe warm air but there is too much of it. The motorcycles fly uphill we climb up a less groomed dirt road. Nobody is here except for us; the distant moon owns the view ahead, and we own the pitted road. I pray for the rave to exist.
*
October 17th, 2005
“Okay, how much? Do you know where the Royal Palace Hotel is?” I ask the eager driver.
“Yes yes, no problem. Three fifty.”
For some reason, I assume he means three dollars and fifty cents. He tells me he wants three hundred fifty rupees. I pay him four hundred.
*

I am not taking malaria pills but maybe I should be. No malaria pills bad idea why didn’t you just take the stupid pills what kind of side effects could be worse than malaria? Well actually the side effect of nightmares sounds terrible and scary hallucinations no thanks so maybe I am doing the right thing. But I have to sleep in a mosquito net then and have every piece of skin covered at night so that the mosquitos have no way

*
December 5th, 2005
Cloooo how are you baby? Lola’s voice whistles through the speed.
I’m good. There is nothing else to say.
*
October 17th, 2005
The driver is lost. I know it already.
“How far is this hotel from the airport?”
“Only seven kilometers.”
I want to ask him, “Are you sure?” But I decide that it is a useless question when we stop at a travel agency so that he can ask for directions.
“I will come back,” he says to me.
*

to bite me because even though the chances are low I still could get that one scary mosquito that festered in a hot swampy puddle near the sewage of Tilonia and will have contracted malaria in this desert setting even though it is dry and hot and

*
October 17th, 2005
For twenty minutes I am sitting alone in the backseat, clutching my small green bag. The honking on the road is an appropriate chorus for the rattling buses, swerving rickshaws, sedentary cows, goat carts, children begging between vehicles, and other automobiles dodging the infinite obstacles in their paths. I am wearing my hiking boots and my feet are swimming in my socks. Then he emerges from the travel agency and stands outside the front, propping open the rickety screen door with his shoulder. A scrawny man with legs that appear to be twice the length of his torso stands very close to him and strikes a match on the wall. He simultaneously lights two beadies and they each take one between their lips and inhale.
*
December 5th, 2005
I see a structure in the near distance. And I hear voices. Whether or not this is a rave, there are other people here. My finger grip loosens and I try and forget how I was just feeling.
*

apparently has practically no malaria. Who am I believing though? Who actually knows if mosquitos contract malaria in a whole entire region of a country? All of Rajasthan has no malaria? That tropical disease doctor has a clean office on Park Avenue with air conditioning and secretaries and I am here wrapped in a mosquito net sweatshirt and have my Aladdin cotton pants tucked into my brother’s socks that I borrowed for well uh two months and this sheet as far as I know has not been washed in ten years so I don’t think I can fall asleep on it and my bug spray smells good to me so why should the mosquitos hate it? I mean citronella is definitely not as gross to a mosquito as poisonous deet. If I eat more raw onions with my meals maybe I

*
October 17th, 2005
“Is this a joke?” I say out loud. I am speaking to myself because nobody can hear me. It is not a joke. I watch them smoke and talk for five minutes before taking action.
“So!” I call from the car, with the door propped open. “Do you know where to go?”
The driver looks at me as if has forgotten that he is taking me somewhere, and that I am paying him for that. I don’t know what I look like right now, but it is probably not a pretty sight.
After some more chatting in Hindi with his friend, who has now flicked the beadie onto a patch of broken clay cups, my driver walks towards me and says, “You go in there, you talk to him, he will make you a call.”
A call?
*

will taste worse to them. But no, probably not, even the cats here lick the leftover delicious daal that is not supposed to be delicious to cats because it is as spicy as hydrochloric acid and I cry and cry and inhale bottled water every

*
October 17th, 2005
I step outside and leave my green bag in the car. The scorching mid-day sun blazes into my retinas but I decide not to put on my sunglasses. On the small patch of pavement between the car door and the travel agency is a very skinny cow with horns, and it turns its head to watch me with lazy eyes as I walk in its direction. It does nothing, so I walk around it.
The scrawny man is sitting at a wooden table with a very old telephone and a stack of papers dividing the table’s rectangular surface into thirds. Next to him is a very fat man leaning against a dark corner, staring at a boy. The boy, wearing bell-bottom jeans, is watching me.
I address the scrawny man. I show him the piece of paper that came out of my mother’s printer back in Paris, less than twenty-four hours ago. The Royal Palace Hotel, 14 Palace Road, New Delhi. Three stars. A little picture of the hotel accompanies the address. Even while I was in Paris, I could tell from the awkward tilt of the photograph and the cryptic angle of the building façade that the hotel would not resemble a palace. I did not care because I assumed that it would be well known to a taxi driver, and that it would be safe.
The scrawny man looks at the paper and says, “I see.” He holds it towards his face because there is little light in the room. The fat man walks over from the corner and the boy joins them. All three men scrutinize the sheet and exchange long monologues in Hindi. The scrawny man lights two beadies and hands one to the fat man and sucks on the other one.
While they continue their dialogue, I peer out the front door to make sure the driver is still there with the taxi, and that my bag is still there. I do not see the driver, but I see the car and my bag in the back.
*
December 5th, 2005
A whir of light leads us into a field and finally I am alongside Lola again. We are exhausted and alert. A smell of sweet peanut oil wafts from a crowd of people clustered in clumps on the grass. Small gas stoves dot the landscape and illuminate the faces of white and brown people, some with eyes rolled into their heads, some asleep, some singing, some moving almost rhythmically, some with foreheads pressed against other people, speaking intimately. Oh yes, the music. The penetrating sound that is associated with the word rave is the sound I hear.
*
October 17th, 2005
Then I spot the driver. He is engaged in a histrionic conversation with a bicycle rickshaw man, who is lounging in the back of his parked open-air vehicle with his bare feet dangling over the edge of the yellow seat. The rickshaw man suddenly sits up and brings his body upright, and begins to share some chapatti with the taxi driver.
I decide not to worry about the taxi driver. He is eating.
*

time I dip the chapatti into the daal so yeah maybe the mosquitos don’t care about hydrochloric acid or raw onions or anything else I could emit from my pores while sleeping on this mattress made of pure wood. Lola will be here in how many days now? In seven days. One week and she can help me get over the cockroaches in this house so that I don’t have to sweep alone and be scared of the spiders and the dogs that want to kill me every night on my way back from dinner in the dark. She will calm me

*
October 17th, 2005
Back in the agency, the three men continue speaking. They are agreeing with each other by moving their heads from side to side, bringing each ear to each shoulder. The scrawny man repeats, “Ha… ha.”
“Chai?” the boy asks me, standing by my side. I did not notice him move towards me, but he stands there holding a tray of metal cups filled with steaming milky tea.
“No, no thank you,” I say. I cannot yet remember the Hindi word danivat from my list of useful travel words. The scrawny man dials into the ancient phone on the table to call his cousin, a tour guide.
Suddenly I am calm. I am in no rush to get anywhere. Despite the time zone change and hours I spent in the air, today I will not sleep.
*
December 5th, 2005
The four of us approach the bodies. Behind the matted grass is a risen wooden stage with no roof, and enormous speakers stretch up towards the stars. Now I can see the stars clearly. I can maybe touch them if I stand on top of the speakers. The moonlight sheds heavy shafts of light, illuminating the DJ. The pulsing mass of dancers are as crowded as water molecules.
Abdul leads us to a circle of people he knows. They speak in Hindi and English. I forget what I am wearing and look down. When I notice that my arms are bare, I shiver. Lola finds a bag of green grapes, and begins to eat them.
Don’t eat those, Lo.
They’re so good.
I know, but we don’t even have bottled water let alone dirty water to wash them with.
We can buy bottled water.
Where?
I look around. I realize that next to each gas stove, an Indian woman wearing a sari boils water, cooks, and sells packaged snacks to people like us. They stay out here through the deep hours of night and linger with the morning sunrise. A few steps away from me, an old woman wearing a vibrant orange headscarf sings and rocks her heels into the dry grass, surrounded by a few porcelain cups, groundnuts, rice puff candy, and bottled water. All I want is the delicious chai she is brewing in her blackened pot. The euphoria of cardamom flows in my direction.
*

down and make me forget about all of the other diseases it is possible to contract from these mosquitos like Dengue Fever and Chikungunya. At least I am vaccinated for some fatal diseases and at least the food here agrees with me entirely I never thought I would like this whole vegetarian thing but

*
December 5th, 2005
Lo, I’ll buy some bottled water and chai.
Okay, get me a chai also. Chai masala.
I doubt she would even make it without spice.
Yeah, you’re right. Oh, and bargain with her. Abdul says these women can get away with murder. They sell water for forty rupees because-look at these people-they are all tripping out.

I make a reasonable offer and receive the two boiling cups of magic. I burn my tongue, as usual, and the sweetness numbs my palate. I realize as I continue sipping and inhaling that these cups were not washed in between drinkers. I look around at the other consumers-limp faces. I stop thinking about them and finish the chai.
Lola is speaking to an Australian traveler about Shantaram, the book we are both reading. I am almost done with it. Her words are evoking images I invented or merged from personal memories while reading the scenes she is describing. In the backs of my closed eyelids I see them and relive them. I relive Gregory David Roberts’ India. My ear rests on her knee. I curl my body into a ball and the thump and electricity of the music lulls me into a sedentary state, like the cows on the road when the motion and cacophonous surroundings give them no need to move. Just like the cows, I am still, but I cannot sleep.
*

they do it so well and make it so delicious. I have to bring home so much chai. Remember that remember to bring home so much chai and email mom from an internet café and ask her if we have a lot of cardamom and saffron because there are so many things I can make with those now and maybe we can cook chana masala at home. Okay, sleep.

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2 responses to “Allowing Sleep

  1. I know this has probably come up already, but I thought that the sections about the taxi driver seemed to recall some of the techniques and ideas that we talked about when reading “How to Get There”…was this intentional? In my braided essay I have a few lines that reference a pretty memorable moment from “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely,” but I didn’t really understand that I had done this until I was re-reading a draft…kind of makes you wonder where all of your inspiration comes from. It seems like the story is there, but the way in which you tell it is up for grabs…

  2. Funnily enough, when we read “How to Get There,” I was actually reminded of my own experience in India that I wrote about here. But you are probably right—subconsciously I may have been influenced to write about this experience in the way that she wrote it. Now that I look back it, I especially notice the resemblance when I wrote “Is this a joke?”
    Thanks for this comment, because I may not have really thought about it fully had you not brought it up.

    I am going to read your braided essay now.

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