Not a huge amount happens when I’m here in India. I stay in the building next door to the Nightingale Block, where the people with high dependency needs are housed in their own comfortable rooms. We’ve made sure that my mum’s room has air conditioning – it does get very hot here at this time of year – and she has a Tata Sky subscription, which enables her to watch soaps on hundreds of channels.
When I went to see her this afternoon, she was watching a Hindi serial, surrounded by about 5 nurses and carers who had been trying to persuade her to go and join the others in the day room for a bit but, faced with her iceberg implacability, they’d one by one surrendered and sat watching television with her.
It would have made a great photo but my camera wasn’t primed to catch the moment and I’m a little wary of taking pictures of the nurses spending relaxed time with ther patients. It’s an essential part of their job, in my view, and most of their other residents were still not awake from their afternoon nap, but an employer might not agree. It looks unprofessional, perhaps, even though I firmly believe that it isn’t.
The sky has clouded over and the sky is rumbling and grumbling. It looks like rain even though none is due until the end of June. [Edit: It IS actually raining! Unbeliveable: I came twice in the rainy season last year, fully prepared against the deluge with a waterprooof raincoat and nary a drop fell either time.] My driver was talking about the change in climate: Mumbai and its satellite towns, now cities, have grown up so quickly with such a density of concrete that sits suffocating like millions of storage heaters. People here are talking about how much hotter it has become in recent years. I’m not sure what the repercussions will be but the visible and invisible pollution is apparent.
When I’m here, I wake at about 7 and shower using the minuscule amount of warm water that my geyser has spent the last 18 hours heating. I have breakfast in the dining room, usually a masala omelette (hold the chillis) and toast. People in India can’t quite get their heads around us putting cold milk in tea and coffee. “But that would make the tea/coffee cold!” Generally, they just boil up coffee or tea with milk and water and sugar until it’s piping hot. As it cools it forms a beautiful custardy skin, the thought of which still makes me retch.
As usual today I asked for coffee with cold milk and was presented with a cup of hot water and a bowl of strong coffee (was it Nescafe diluted in water?) and a bowl of milk, each with Chinese spoons to spoon according to taste into the hot water. I was a little taken aback, I must admit, but at least I didn’t have to part the skin on the coffee, River Jordan-like, to drink the remaining beverage underneath. Tea? Best not go there yet.
After breakfast I go and sit with my mum for a while, but she’s often drowsy, and then there’s usually some admin to do at the office. Today’s involved wrestling for ages with a poor internet connection to try and top up a mobile phone SIM which I think might have expired, as is its duty after 3 months with a foreigner. The wretched Vodaphone website refused to take payment on any of my credit cards. It could be that my SIM is no longer valid; or that my cards aren’t valid without endless passwords or that the wifi connection here is too weak or that the Vodaphone server was down. Any of those things. I actually called Mastercard to check that there’s no block in my card triggered by me being overseas but even that was not the case. So I still don’t have any phone coverage and nor, do I think, can I use my iPhone as my personal wifi hotspot. It’s a blow.
I try and see my mum a few times a day for half an hour or forty minutes or so, which is as much as she can manage really. It feels terrible coming all the way only every couple of months to see her so little but I don’t want to disrupt her daily routine and if she can’t tolerate longer visits, I can’t really see how things can be any different.
I spend the rest of the time reading or writing or trying to do a reasonably unobtrusive singing practice. Today I’m going to try and learn a couple of songs by Duparc and Richard Strauss. Then there will be another visit to my mum and supper time.
Tomorrow, I’m fasting, which causes some amusement. I pre-order an apple or and orange, from the catering staff who then search for them in Neral market. There are days when apples aren’t in season and unavailable. Can you imagine that?
I keep driving past stalls piled high with sweet limes and jelly coconuts, which must be in season now. On my way back to Mumbai tomorrow afternoon, I’ll try and ask the driver to stop and buy one. You can get sweet lime juice in the major hotels, but not the jelly coconuts. I remember being intrigued when my dad introduced them to me on one of our trips out here: you select your coconut then they take a huge machete and chop off the top. When you’ve drunk the coconut water through a straw, the machete comes out again to halve the nut. The unsolidified flesh is parted forcibly from the nut and you can then eat its jellying mass. It’s delicious.
I’m off back to Mumbai again tomorrow. I’m staying for the first time in an hotel near the airport so I don’t have to struggle through too much Mumbai traffic for my Thursday morning flight. I expect the wifi will be a little more reliable at the Hyatt.