December 5th, 2012


The Well

These days, I am a much less angry person. Even into not-so-young-adulthood, I had tantrums of the kicking-and-screaming, I must be heard variety. I have curled up weeping on the floor of a hair salon bathroom, overcome with the awfulness of a new cut. I have driven a houseguest to another city when he could no longer stay with my then-husband and I and our screaming and smashing of objects.

I can’t remember the last time I screamed, the last time I was in a rage.

In Varanasi, some streets are narrow and crowded even by Indian standards. The twisty Old City lanes leading to the ghats, the steps by the river where bathing and ritual and tourism takes place in a damp and dirty mass. The main shopping street leading to the main ghat, so thronged with tourists and touts and sellers of bright silk-mix sarees that no cycle rickshaw can pass. Where, in fact, there are traffic barricades, sections of waist-high metal fence blocking the head of the street, and traffic police with rifles slung over their shoulders and sturdy 3-foot wooden rods in their hands.

My rickshaw rider pulls up to the barricades. I swing down and rummage in my purse for the fare. I’m contemplating whether I am about to be irritated, whether he will claim he has no change, but hoping he will hand me twenty rupees for my fifty-rupee note, so I can hand him back ten as tip. So that his earnings from me, my mile and a half ride, my twenty minutes, will be brought up to a dollar.

As my rider peels the correct change—I’m smiling—from his small wad of notes, the nearest traffic cop begins to shout. He’s jabbing his stick into my rider’s ankles, yelling sternly about not stopping here, hitting—hard—the man in whose meager living I am complicit.

The switch flips. “Stop it! Cut it out! Stop hurting him!” at top volume and with excellent theatrical diction, and then I am tipping the driver and apologizing to him and a non-uniformed flunky is apologizing to me and the cop is with his cop buddies saying something smarmy in Hindi and smiling his “oh, women,” or maybe his “oh, tourists,” smile in my direction.

Whatever you need to save face, buddy, is my thought, twinned with you can’t shoot me, I’m a tourist, but I still dismiss getting into this any further and walk away.

I do not have a gun. I have height and white skin and a lifetime of my parents and teachers telling me I can do anything I set my mind to instead of, it’s better to keep your head down.

And while on the Previous Lifetime Anger Scale this is only a 4 in Intensity and a 1 in Duration, it is still the top inch of a bottomless well. There is still in me the ability to dissolve in rage, to be consumed.

I breathe mindfully. I shake. I allow a tout to usher me in to a restaurant for strong, sweet, milky tea. I write.