Angle of Repose

Do you know the term in the title of this blog?  It’s an engineering description that means the greatest vertical angle at which something loose, like sand or dirt or rock can be piled before it slides down on itself.  That’s my interpretation at least – but I think it captures the spirit, if not the letter of the definition.  I only know this because it  happens to be the title of one of my favorite books by Wallace Stegner.

I was dozing on a bus ride back from Rajasthan today and I could hear my mother pointing at something through the window, saying “look  – an angle of repose”.  I don’t know what she saw, but in my dreamy, sleepy state, I thought – that’s India!  Everything here perches just on the edge of falling back down on itself:  the temporary and permanent settlements that line the streets;  the plastic water containers and other junk piled high on the roofs;  the tangled mess of electrical wires that somehow deliver electricity;  the chaos of vendors and beggars and customers in markets; the impenetrable yet working bureaucracy;  the way people unofficially fill the void where systems fail or simply don’t exist at all, like trash collection.  There’s even a Hindi word that means “temporary solution” to what in India appears to me to be permanent problems.  Yet somehow, it all seems to work despite the precarious nature of everything here.

All of this really exhausts me sometimes, like right now – I’m in one of those moods where I could curse in every sentence, but won’t, because it would only reinforce my mother’s argument that I’m too damned stressed.   Confirmed by my stepfather who asked me the other day, “Why are we always rushing?” I love them both dearly and they are my first house guests here in India and they get special kudos for their enthusiasm.  So, to answer John’s question:  We’re always rushing because there are too many people in India.  Too many means that it takes too long to get anywhere and too long to get anything done,  which always makes me late and so, I’m always rushing… perhaps to keep atop my own angle of repose.

My favorite line this week:  Now Theo, go to your Bollywood dance class and RELAX. (Mom, are you reading my blogs?)

Relaxing is not possible in this class, but I am having fun.  I’ve decided that Bollywood dance is great for the aging brain, if not the aging body.  The moves are quick and there are lots of steps to remember – and I’m feeling wonderfully silly trying to look sexy.

Surprisingly, I haven’t been late to class once…

But I rush getting there!


It’s obvious that my parents think I’ve grown a bit edgy after six months in Delhi, but it’s difficult for visitors to understand that one really does have to be assertive to avoid being pummeled in the local fight for survival.  There are days when I feel as though I’ve lived through a fifteen-round boxing match.  You need to have heightened awareness of the intricacies of being ripped-off, know how to protect yourself, and keep good humored through it all if you are to survive years of living here.   For example – you can’t hop in a taxi and assume the driver will set the meter.  You have to tell him to do it – because if you don’t, he won’t and you will find yourself arguing over cost upon arrival.  Or this:  you call the plumber to fix one problem in the house – and when you come home he’s created a second problem by disassembling the water heater (NOT the reason for the call) because it was “leaking”.  When you say, NO, it wasn’t leaking, he reassembles the water heater and then, guess what?  It doesn’t work!  Or the imposter government gas leak checker:  You let him into the house and upon inspection, the stove has a huge hole gouged into the plastic gas piping.  I could bore you with endless encounters like this that line my days and turn me into a raving pre-menopausal bitch on the bad ones, and a fateful participant in an economy that seems to get the best of me on the good days.

Yet still, I love my life here.  Genuinely love it… even for the irritating yet funny things like this laughably classic entrance into the Sarajkund crafts fair.   Notice that the women, of which there are far more attending the fair than men, are forced to wait in the hot sun because there are only TWO security checks for them to pass through. Look closely at the FOUR empty entrances to the left.  They are reserved for the men:

Here’s another taste of the traffic.  I forget where I was heading when I shot this – but it was an insignificant morning errand last week made significant by a splitting headache from all the damn beeping.  At the time, I remember thinking how nuts this was in comparison to the relative peace I had last summer running errands in California, Arizona, Washington state, and NYC:

This video doesn’t exist

Ok – Time to brag about my kids.  They have yet to disappoint me when it comes to dragging them around a developing country in conditions less than five star (although they’re accustomed to THAT as well…).  We have just ended a trip to Rajasthan and through it all, they were brilliant.  They weathered in good spirits the 5.5 hour bus ride from Delhi to Jaipur (not as depressing as it could have been and not as comfy as it could have been);  patiently toured forts and palaces, bravely clung to rickety rickshaws in traffic many of you can’t even begin to fathom;  bargained good naturedly with pesky vendors; peed without wincing in filthy bathrooms and ate the local fare (unrecognizable meat and vegge in sauce) without whining.  George even tried to protect me when after five minutes of continuous hassle from a guy trying to sell me a wooden elephant – he turned to the man and in a loud and firm 7-year-old voice said – “Did you hear her?  She doesn’t want to buy it!”

We dipped into Rajasthan with a trip to Jaipur, an ancient city that sits on the edge of the desert. It’s one big dusty bizarre of winding streets, vendors, camels and crumbling mughal and Rajput architecture. We had fun and it was a good foray outside of Delhi.  I’m hoping to go further into Rajasthan – actually, all the way to its western border with Pakistan to a place called Jalsamer later this spring to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday.  It’s a living fort in the Tar desert.  I’m dreaming of white tents and camels and a carpet of stars and shifting sand dunes perched at their angle of repose…

And in photos – here’s what we’ve been up to – First, a tour of Tughlaquabad, an ancient fort on the south-side of the city.  I’m standing with my mother and step-father:

Beautiful, isn’t it?
The Amber Palace in Jaipur.  It’s a testament to Indian artistry.  One hall was tiled in Belgian glass and mirror from floor to ceiling – can you imagine the effect of reflecting candle light and Persian carpets?
We can’t stay away from elephants…
Mom couldn’t resist this place:
There’s never a shortage of people who hang around and watch us!  I love the guy in the background toking on his cigarette – thoroughly amused by us:
Goth and Vandal.  I can’t fathom the day they stop worshipping their mama – but I know it’s coming.

5 thoughts on “Angle of Repose”

    1. thanks for the note, anonymous! i was a bit moody when i wrote this one and feeling far from brilliant. i love knowing that someone enjoyed it…

  1. Theo, about once a month, i sit down and read every word of your blog and pore over every photo and dip into the vicarious thrill of your adventures. i’m still reading… but yes, I remember angle of repose very well. one of my favorites too.. though i think of the angle not as a point of tension.. as something about to keel over.. but as a resting place.. like when a rock stops rolling.
    the photo of you holding the umbrella with your boys on the elephant is fantastic. to have such fun with both your lovies at either side. the photo of the sunrise was also breath-taking. i’ll keep reading but wanted to see if my comment posting gets thru to you.

  2. re: the angle of repose comment.. i did like your analogy of everything in India seeming to be aout to teeter over. i salute you for raising 3 kids in such a precarious place. your challenges in india seem so different than the ones in china, no?

    1. karen – the challenges are much different, but they throw us together and we scrum through it all… and come out the other end, battered survivors. there’s a certain thrill that comes with that! i say the same about jim’s book… yesterday i hung a swing that i had been trying to get up for three months. jim has been too distracted to do it himself, i had tried and failed many times. but this time i just said to myself, i’m hanging this fucking swing, and i did it! it felt so good. silly accomplishment, i know… and it’s not a pretty or perfect job, but the swing swings, the kids are happy, and i patiently attacked the job, which isn’t usually my style.

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