Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Supporting Cast

In life there are people that you don't really know but interact with on a daily basis. It might be your mailman, it might be your coffee barista. They're the people that make your life easier or simply give you a familiar smile each day. There are no shortage of these characters in my life in India; in fact, they seem more prevalent here than at home. Perhaps it's the comfort of learning a familiar face in an unfamiliar place. Perhaps it's just a coping mechanism to make myself feel more a part of this place.

I often ramble on and on about my trusty driver Kailash (and he'll be mentioned a time or two); these are the other "characters" that make up part of the supporting cast of my daily life.

The Yo Dimsum! Guy
At work there's a guy that mans the Yo Dimsum! momo stand. He speaks more English than I do Hindi but not by much. When he sees me approaching, he can pretty much guess my order by the time of the day. If it's before 2pm, he knows I've forgotten to bring my lunch and will be ordering chicken manchurian and a Diet Coke. If after 2pm, it's only a Diet Coke. He knows I want the coldest Diet Coke possible. He had a new helper one day that pulled a Diet Coke from the fridge. Yo Dimsum! Guy quickly pulled the soda from his hand an fished around for the coldest can in the back of the cooler. He also has the coldest Diet Coke and he knows the only American in the office is an easy target. I also appreciate the trust we've built. At any given time, depending on the availability of change (which is always in question) we have a plus or minus 5 rupee line of credit, and he actually remembers when he owes me.

The Little Caesars Guy
Before I made the obvious realization that Yo Dimsum took a lot less time than pizza, my food vendor of choice was the Little Caesars Guy. In India, in addition to chili flakes and oregano, it's not uncommon for people to put ketchup on pizza. I find this ridiculous and wrong on a number of levels. Little Caesars Guy knows that I find this ridiculous. Yet any time I order a pizza, he'll start to laugh and hand me the bottle of ketchup. I respect that.

The Head Locker Room Attendant
This guy is one of my favorites. He greets me every morning with a smile, polite nod, and a "good morning, sir." After I empty my bag into a locker and turn to head for the treadmill, he passes a hand towel to me in stride. He's very efficient. After my workout, he'll place a towel near my locker as I get ready to hit the shower. When I return from the shower he empties my belongings from the locker onto the bench, waits for me to dry my feet, and then dries my flip-flops before packing my bag. My Dad witnessed this entire scene when he visited in March, and I could see him visibly shaking his head with a "I can't believe my son's life has come to this" kind of look on his face.

The Head Locker Room Attendant's Helper
To make it even more ridiculous, he has a helper. The helper is equally friendly and always gives me a smile. The helper has taken it upon himself to basically be my dopp kit concierge. He'll take my dopp kit from the shower to the sink and routinely wipe off my shaving cream bottle for me. I never asked for this nor did I ever expect it. But who would I be to turn down this type of service? He recently took some time away from work (I would assume he went back to his home village which seems to be the usual reason given for extended absences). After about the third day of him not being there, I felt this strange void. He was part of my routine and it had abruptly ended. I had no explanation nor would I ever get one. Finally last week, he was back. And I was genuinely happy to see him again.

The Building Maintenance Guy
My apartment building has a general maintenance guy that does odd jobs around the building, keeps the hallways clean, and empties the trash. He'll frequently greet me with "good morning, sir" (yes, everyone calls me sir; it's just the way it is, I can't change that) and then will switch over to Hindi with "ab ka se ho" (how are you?) before he starts a friendly laugh, knowing that I can respond to that and not much else. I've got my trusty driver Kailash to thank for telling this guy he was trying to teach me Hindi.

Birendra the Guard
There's a rotation of five or six guards at our building. Some are friendlier and engage a little more readily than others. As a result, you tend to create "favorites". Birendra was unquestionably the favorite of both Lindsay and myself. He always had a smile, always made sure to either hold or give our drivers any delivered packages, and just had "that" look that made you think he was a genuinely good person. We hadn't seen Birendra around in a couple weeks. I asked Kailash, who may know more about the inner workings of our apartment complex than any other human, where Birendra had been. Fortunately for Birendra, he had found a better job in Lucknow, which is much closer to his hometown where he could live with family. Unfortunately for us, we never got to say good bye. Something tells me, his fortune is more important than our disfortune (if that's a word).
Birendra with Lindsay
In addition to the friends we've made and the professional relationships we've built, when we leave India at the end of the year, there's a whole host of other people that will more or less disappear from our lives. It's not much different than what happens when you move at home or simply change your daily routine; however, for some reason it seems more significant here. And you're probably thinking, "maybe it seems more significant because there's a person in your life that dries your flip-flops." While that's entirely possible, that person is simply performing a personal service like your mailman or your preferred Starbucks barista, it's just a personal service that, out of context, seems ridiculous. OK, it's actually a little ridiculous in context as well.

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