Side Trips in the Interior

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March 1, 2014 by The Citron Review

by Tara Deal

 

The stonecutter in the gutter next to the shop that sells mosaic tabletops to tourists who can afford such cobalt offers up a chip of ruby, smoothly shaped heart, and I take it, almost an afterthought in the passing afternoon, when there’s no need

to question

the gesture

as the man rubs his fingers to suggest coins or paper, which I can’t read anyway, such flimsy pastels among the gold dust of the day, smoke and turmeric, settling

into silver, which

fluctuates.

The exchange rate changes daily.

At the Red Fort in Delhi, little girls target me and my husband. They can see what we’ve come for, and they force bracelets into my hands. As if once I hold such remarkable souvenirs, I won’t be able to give them back. Guards half-heartedly search our bags before allowing us in to view the magnificence. Old women in wrinkled saris stand around the edges, asking for dollars. Monkeys watch us from ramparts.

Inside the compound, I stop to look at my guidebook. In order to understand the Mughal ornamentation in marble, the gilded ceilings, the lavish decorations of the private apartments, all the beauty of the past. Whatever we can no longer have. I touch the patterned columns, as if they might teach me something.

Scattered uniformed schoolboys (navy jacket and shorts, white shirts, short ties) lounge in the sun, tired of these lessons. The leader of the group, with two mates hanging behind, approaches us. (He and his friends have discussed this maneuver in advance, apparently.)

“Excuse me, sir,” he says to my husband.

“Yes?”

“Are you enjoying your trip to India?”

“Oh yes, very much,” I reply, for both of us.

“What do you find to be the best?”

“Well, the food is delicious, for one thing.”

“Which dish, sir?”

“Biryani,” I offer, having had, the night before, that fragrant rice dish stuffed with tender lamb and spices.

“Ah, yes, a royal dish,” the leader of the boys says, almost looking into my face. He seems pleased that my tastes are sophisticated.

And then he bows, slightly, or so I imagine, and tells us to enjoy the rest of our journey.

The modes of transportation are various.

A woman in a blood-red sari streaked with gold becomes a shimmer on a motorcycle, down the dusty road.

She flickers off to the side as I watch the silver-leafed cardamom pods sit in a pot by the door to a restaurant. Are they for eating, for cleansing the breath after dinner—or simply decoration? I don’t dare to disturb the arrangement.

I take a picture instead. Something to make other people believe. And when I get back home, a friend asks me if I found India to be incredibly spiritual, because she is looking for just such a place to visit herself. And I tell her no. Not especially.

 

Tara Deal is a writer and editor in New York City and the author of two books from small presses: Wander Luster is a poetry chapbook from Finishing Line Press, and Palms Are Not Trees After All is the winner of the 2007 Clay Reynolds Novella Prize from Texas Review Press. Her writings have also appeared in Alimentum, Blip, Conium Review, failbetter, Freerange Nonfiction, Sugar House Review, and West Branch, among others. And her shortest story can be found in Hint Fiction (Norton). 

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