Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Summer's End

Summer this year didn’t really begin until July; June was extremely wet and not all that summery.  And then, to my dismay, it began to feel like autumn very early in August.  By now all the less beautiful autumn trees - ashes, willow, locusts are turning brown and yellow and are dropping leaves.  This summer I purchased a gingko tree and planted it beyond my ponds at a point where there was a visible opening in the surrounding greenery in the view from my window so that I would have a bright bit of color in October.  It was dismaying to find that bright bit of color striking my eye in August. 

As I reported before, I returned earlier than planned from India this year, and that allowed me to enjoy the coldest winter in local history.  There were entire weeks that did not get above 10 degrees in temperature.  Just as things began to let up a little, Mom passed away on Good Friday.  She had been to our Sunday Breakfast up until just a couple of weeks before, but since my return from Imphal, I had noticed deterioration in her motor skills.  Mom’s decline into dementia has been very slow paced, but years ago she had reached the point where she was no longer the Mom in whom I could confide, or the Mom who could make me laugh - although she remained very funny long after she didn’t know who I was.  I had had such a long period of gradual loss with the attendant grieving, that the actual passing did not seem to induce any strong wave of new grief.  We were called the evening before by the facility she was in and told that she was in her last hours.  So all of us in the area were able to visit and spend time with her, though she was not really aware.  She seemed a little agitated, kept picking at her blanket, but she did not struggle for breath or show any signs of acute distress.  I am glad I got the chance to be there.  I didn’t feel so much loss, as a feeling that there was now nothing between me and my end.  As long as one’s parents live, one feels one has a bit of a reprieve from having to contemplate one’s own end.

Although I did not feel what I recognized as grief, I entered a period of extreme lassitude.   For the first time I didn’t over-extend myself buying plants and fertilizers and the like in spring.  I ate little (just enough ready-made bad foods to keep me unhealthy), and didn’t feel like doing anything.  The Sunday Breakfasts, after something like 30 years, ended abruptly.  These were events by which I tended to mark my week.  They were where we swapped inconsequential news; the daily kind that no one bothers to call someone about.  I felt pretty isolated.  This lasted until mid-July, when I seemed to get a second wind.

Since my return from India, Priyo and I have talked nearly every day.  He is very busy at the police academy where he was, at last ranking, number one in his class.  His endurance runs have gone from 5K to 10K in length.  He has trained in all kinds of things, crime scene protocol, forensics, ballistics, rights of arrestees and so forth.  He is heartily tired of the routine and eager to be out and actually on the job.  A concerning thing for me is that the Kuki tribal people (who originated from an area in Burma) are in a state of insurrection pretty much in the area he will be posted.  They dislike the Meitei who are pretty much the majority group that runs Manipur and of which Priyo is a member.  I guess I am destined to have the full experience of one who has a loved one in the police force.  Priyo believes that he will be able to visit NY within months of his POP (passing out parade) which is equivalent to graduation.  He is constantly studying, parading, running endurance and in class, so that we have shorter calls on most days.  This is also because the internet has been abysmal at his end lately (I think; it could be my end or both).  As soon as he starts his first assignment in Senapati, we believe that we will know enough about his future situation to begin planning to meet again.  If he will be living in barracks, I can not, of course, stay with him.  If not, then we can go on as before.  I also think he said something that implied that his time in Senapati will include two-month assignments at varying posts within the district.  Eventually he will be able to seek reassignment to Imphal or his home district south of Moirang, but the Senapati posting is for two years.  There is no way we can endure being apart that long, so I may have to have him rent me my own apartment near his posting where we can visit together.  We shall see.  There is nothing we can plan until his situation is clear. 

Just before my birthday, I awoke one morning planning to get several errands done early and went out to find my battery completely dead, although I hadn’t left on the lights, nor caught the seatbelt buckle in the door which causes a ‘door open’ beeping that eventually wears down the battery.  I was so irritated that when I finally got the thing started, I went and bought a different car.  It took a couple of weeks to arrive (I use carMax and the car I chose was in Illinois), but it is here now and I am swanning around in my fourth Miata, this one with a power retractable hardtop.  This has cheered me up immensely.  The nice thing is that the newer model has running lights which turn off automatically (no lights left on accidentally), and not only does the improved seatbelt design not allow the buckle to block the door from completely closing, but even if it did, the car does not beep, so the battery is not worn down. 

I am sorry that I do not have a great deal of wildly amusing events to liven up my writing, but the days, though pleasant enough, are not newsy (thank goodness!).  I have had a spate of new great nephews and nieces born - one three quarters Mexican, one three quarters Native American (in Dubai of all places!), one one quarter Native American and one half Indian (of India) - this last when asked which kind of Indian he is can answer, “Both!” which will no doubt annoy the asker and not be believed. 

When I got my school tax bill this year, I cringed, because it came just when I had to put a big sum down on my new car.  Imagine my surprise and joy when it was only one-third of the amount of prior years!  It turns out that the form that one files in NY each year to obtain the reduction for seniors has a couple of lines that I had previously not paid attention to, and which would have reduced my payments to this smaller sum for years.  I happened to bring my taxes in together with my form for next years reduction, and the Assessor himself was there and pointed out how to maintain this lower assessment.  Yippee-ki-yo-ki-yay!  I don’t think many other people left the office after paying taxes with such a smile as I did.  I don’t know if the Assessor is elected, but if so he has my vote for life!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Priyo and Imphal

I returned to India on a visit scheduled to last from Oct 1 through the 17th of March, cleverly designed to avoid not only the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, but also much of the worst of the winter.  As before, Priyo was waiting just outside the terminal (as close as the law allows), but unlike last time he had quite a wait while I navigated the dangerous shoals of Immigration and Customs.  Apparently no one from outside India had ever before visited Manipur (Priyo's home state) for nearly six months, except as a missionary or businessman.  There were a couple of tables set up for foreign arrivals, which included, in this case, me and a couple of Japanese or Korean businessmen.  The businessmen were handled relatively quickly by one agent, while I was handled by another agent who was so overwhelmed by the unprecedented wave of visitors dealt him - i.e., one - that he hardly knew how to proceed despite having a cheat sheet right in front of him.  Laboriously, he asked each question, mulled the answer, asked it again a couple more times and then proceeded to write something (almost certainly not my response).  Another man informed me that I would be required to be tested twce a day for the first 30 days for signs of illness - ebola was a big fear there.  As I stood there being interrogated, the luggage came, was picked up by the other passengers who then departed.  Time passed; lights began to be turned off, and on and on droned my intake person.  Finally someone who seemed to be in charge of the terminal came and asked me if I had any luggage.  I said yes.  He then zipped through the same list of questions through which my other interlocutor was wading and said, "Come with me."  As we left, my agent seemed still to be continuing the intake process alone, possibly unaware that I was no longer present.

The luggage carrel was entirely empty, so my rescuer took me to an office where unclaimed luggage was kept.  A half hour or longer process began where it was ultimately discovered that my luggage had been held in New Delhi because it contained what might be a weapon.  This was a cordless drill I had brought as a gift for Priyo - a gift that I would be VERY glad I brought later in the visit.  All the time, dusk was falling outside and I was very concerned that Priyo might assume I had not arrived and had gone home, since the airport was closing and I wasn't sure he had seen me, although I had seen him outside.  I filled out a form listing the contents of my luggage in order to request my luggage be released and sent to Imphal - the capital city of Manipur where I was staying.

Priyo was there when I finally emerged; I have yet to encounter a single situation where he has not been absolutely reliable (other than a tendency to leave me for longish periods trying to socialize with friends of his who speak little or no English).  We bounced over broken streets to Chassad Avenue where Priyo had finally found a place for us.  Absolutely no one advertises rentals in Imphal;  Everything is found by word of mouth.  Almost no tourists ever go there and those who do or who travel there for business usually stay at hotels or have relatives or acquaintances to take them in.  Priyo had found this apartment by walking around and going into each larger building he passed and asking if they had rooms to let.  We were on the bottom floor of a building labelled "Haokip Enterprises" in an interior apartment (one window opening into a dim lobby) with two rooms and a bathroom.  The kitchen was to be along whichever wall we chose.  It soon became apparent that the only electric power, aside from that lighting the ceiling fixture in one of the rooms, was to be provided by a wire Priyo strung from the nearest outlet out through the window and plugged into an outlet in the hall off the lobby.  This outlet had an on/off switch, and from time to time during the length of our stay someone in passing would switch it to "off".  Unlike our bright airy apartment in Panchkula, this place was dark, unheated and pretty grim.  The walls were two shades of lavender and orange.  The floor was painted bright blue.  Woodwork was dark brown.

Imphal was at least a half-century behind Panchkula in every way.  If anyone ever again laments to me about "the good old days" I will listen no further until that someone has spent a couple of months in Imphal.  The terms "old days" and "good" are not so easily joined as one's fond memories may have it.  The roads were largely unpaved, or at best, paved long ago with paving that had broken up and largely disappeared.  As a result the air was filled with thick dust from the constant stirring and powdering of dried mud by the endless noisy traffic.  There were no sidewalks except here and there where building owners had laid large slabs of cement (each with protruding loops of steel rebar that served as handles for lifting.  These slabs were laid atop the open sewers that ran along each side of the street.  Between the treacherous handles and the sudden ending of sidewalk where landlords at the next building declined to lay the cement covers, one had to look mighty slippy to avoid disaster; so much so that the general preference was to walk in the street instead.  This was an experience that involved mud and puddles after a rain, and at all times meant keeping a wary eye on traffic.  Since the road were so rutted, the prudent drivers wended their way along the least potholed part of the street, which had them on the wrong side of the road as often as they were on the right side.  Any walk I took featured me making sudden panicked leaps into the air when a car or motorcycle approached me from behind and suddenly honked.  There were chickens and dogs and, of course, cows here and there in the roadway.

Priyo had built up his medical transcription online business into a busy six-day-a-week affair that earned more than he had made in Panchkula as an employee.  However he worked at home and his days were very long ones.  So much of our days were spent with him in one room typing rapidly and me in the other room reading or watching TV shows on file sharing sites.  Sometimes I'd go out for a stroll and I made some friends of local merchants.  Had the nearby bridge not been closed for repairs, I could have walked downtown in just a few minutes, but as it was, a trip downtown meant hailing an autorickshaw and bouncing up and down on a looping route that took us a kilometer or so to the next bridge - often jammed in a gridlock - and then back up another kilometer or so to the point directly across the Imphal River from where our apartment lay.

So despite Priyo working from home, we had far less together time than we had before and that was in  rather grim surroundings.  Nonetheless, it was wonderful to be together again.  Still, any thought I had of relocating to India permanently was laid to rest.  Most of my life I have thriven in primitive conditions but I found to my dismay that I am no longer that guy.  It doesn't have to be like America and it doesn't have to be super up-to-date, but I want to be in a place where I don't have to spend two days in search of the most common tools or supplies, where toilets work and water runs most of the time.  Were the option to live in Panchkula again, I would still be tempted, but as things turned out, it would have to be Imphal, or some other, smaller Manipuri town.

Things were limping along; Priyo and I made a number of sorties into scenic or historic areas.  After avoiding it for a month, I finally was persuaded to go to Priyo's home village and meet the family.  I made Priyo swear he would not leave me alone for long periods with people who spoke virtually no English.  Within ten minutes he had vanished into the house and wound up taking part in some Hindu ceremony which, he said, he thought would bore me so he left me outside with Dad.  I am not sure, but I don't think Dad entirely approves of me - that is, he has no objections to my continued existence, but he'd prefer that existence to be elsewhere and not influencing his son.  I am pretty sure Dad more or less knows that Priyo is gay or interested in that direction, and that probably is unfortunate in his view but acceptable so long as Priyo gets married.  And that is something Priyo stoutly refuses to do.  Nonetheless, Dad is a courteous man, but one who speaks almost no English.  Our attempts to communicate were pretty awkward, but he did show me around the gardens.  The main reason I resisted visiting the family was that I knew I would be plied with food and so it transpired.  I hate this in myself, but I find eating strange food extremely difficult.  In fact I really hate eating.  Alone, I often don't eat until three or four in the afternoon - it is just such a boring process.  There are foods I really enjoy, if they are already prepared, preferably by someone else, but I would willing give up ever eating again, if I could find a way to survive without it.  Priyo is really a sweetie, and he really managed to deftly intervene to see that I only wound up with food that I was sort of familiar with.

Everyone I met during the entire visit was very polite and friendly and generous.  I encountered no one that seemed to be a hustler, although I was aware that some autorickshaw drivers were charging me a premium.  I really don't mind stuff like that - I have it and they need it and so long as things are reasonably open and I get what I paid for, it is just one of those things, a mere ripple in the pond of my days.

In the end, when I was leaving, Priyo's Mom and Dad made the long journey by public transport to meet me outside the airport entrance, Mom giving me a quantity of fruit which came in very handy during the long flight delays when I got hungry.  At all times they treated me very generously, and made no sign of being less than delighted with my presence.  The visited us a few times and I noted each of them looking a little longer than one might ordinarily do at the only bed in the apartment.

Priyo and I were doing fine - we even bought a used Hyundai for less than $3,000 - and I was about to make a serious push to find nicer lodging when, just before Christmas his Dad called and said the police academy people called and wanted Priyo to report for a physical.   You may recall that Priyo had applied for a position as a subinspector in the Manipuri police (this is sort of akin to a state trooper here in NY) - a well-paying, fairly prestigious job.  His family had paid an enormous bribe to be considered, and then things just came apart and after five years Priyo had given up all thought of actually getting into the academy for training.  Last year, when I left Panchkula, he left a day later to return to Imphal, believing that finally he would be called.  A huge scandal at the corrupt hiring process blew up and he had relinquished all thought of becoming a cop; in fact, he really didn't want to become one any longer.  He concentrated on growing his medial transcript work and was doing quite well.  In fact, because of the demands on his time which kept us from enjoying much time together, he had given up one client and still made enough to live on and we had much more time together after that.

Priyo reported for the physical and was told he must next report to Senapati in early January in order to discover what the next steps were.  Senapati is a somewhat picturesque city up in the mountains sixty kilometers north of Imphal along a gorgeous but poorly maintained difficult road that wound past tribal villages ("This is a Naga village"; "This is a Nepali village"; "These are Kukis," Priyo would inform me as we passed by small settlements.)  To our dismay, we discovered that he was to be taken to the academy in the fairly distant state of Meghalaya within a week.  My return ticket was for March 17 and I couldn't see living alone in Imphal for nearly three more months.  I checked the cost of an early return, and were I to leave before Priyo was to depart, I would have to pay up to $3000 for a one-way ticket.  I discovered that if I stayed in a hotel for 9 days after Priyo left, I could return for only $580.  So this I did.

Priyo is now at the academy and is doing very well.  I sense a happiness and a pride in himself that is very nice to see.  He is undergoing rigorous physical training as well as huge masses of book learning.  He has trained in rock climbing, fire fighting, weapons - he recently had an endurance run of 5 km carrying an assault rifle.  We talk almost every day, but he is so busy, most calls are fairly short.  He believes that he can get a month or more vacation soon after he completes his training in mid-December.  Because he now has good documentable reason to return home after a visit, he probably will have little problem getting a travel visa to the US since I will write a letter vouching for him as I did for my friend Papa who visits once or twice a year.  But it will be so long before we see each other.  I had planned to spend each fall and winter with him in Imphal, but now I am not sure what will happen.  Priyo will be  assigned to Senapati for the first two years after the academy and it is not yet clear if he will be in police housing or not.  If not I can stay with him, but if he is in police housing we will have to work out how to proceed.  I know I want to be his partner for the rest of my life.  And I am confident that he feels the same.

It is bad enough to know we will not see each other before the middle of December, but that at least is a finite period.  The difficulty is not knowing how long after that it will be until one of us can visit the other.  Still, it is enormously buoying to my spirits to know there is someone for me.  Priyo's great dream is to build his own house.  He is saving all that he can to this end.  Land is very expensive and difficult to find; building a house is relatively cheap.  Now that he is going to be a cop, he will almost certainly remain in Manipur for most of his life.  It is I who will be doing most of the travel, and it is well worth it.  Having a house to leave my necessaries in would be ideal to lighten the luggage, and create a sense of home.  Priyo is honest, kind, attentive, generous and loving (and patient and tolerant!).  I just really want to know how soon that travelling can begin!