September 11, 2010

Yesterday I went to the Meridien Hotel to have my hair cut and the grey colored.  Yes, the streak is natural and I don’t cover that bit.  It surprises me how many people think that it is contrived.  Mine is well-earned and celebrated.

I’ve had one lousy hair cut after another since leaving Beijing, so I decided to upgrade and try a salon inside one of the many fancy hotels in Delhi.  The salon was staffed with men – the hairdressers, the assistants and the manicurists.  They wore khaki leisure suits, except for Saleem, the gentleman who worked on me.  He wore slacks, a tie and a vest;  he was reticent and imperial.  I suspect he was the boss.

Saleem quietly dyed my hair and afterward, trimmed the problem areas.  As he was cutting, I saw him look at his watch and sigh.  We made eye contact.  It was six o’clock, Friday and I was the only customer in the salon.  “I won’t make it home in time,” he said.

Ah, how silly did I feel sitting in that salon, indulging myself and keeping a devout man from evening prayer and the shared breaking of the last day of his Ramadan fast?  He smiled and reassured me – “It would take me a long time to get home in the traffic, anyway.”

I couldn’t sit there in silence.   I asked Saleem if his body adjusted easily to fasting.  He said missing lunch was very easy and that when he’s not fasting, he still takes a light snack only.  A lack of energy was the most difficult part of his fasting though.  He said that he was exhausted in the evenings.

My interest seemed to relax him and he went on to tell me about Ramadan, how he rises very early for prayer and breakfast and how he devotes the entire month to God.  Ramadan is all about prayer, he said.  He continued, offering this – that so many people share a common God and the struggles between degrees of belief are senseless.

He finished my hair slowly – deliberately attending to every detail, never rushing.   As I left, I asked Saleem, “What does one friend say to another on Eid?”  He smiled, slightly and said “Eid Mubarak”  or blessed Eid.  And so, after keeping Saleem from beginning his celebration of Eid, the holiday that marks the end of a  holy month of prayer and devotion – I simply offered back, “Eid Mubarak” and left the empty salon.

Today is September 11th:  Eid here in Delhi, a sad anniversary in the U.S., and George’s birthday.  He is 8.

My children know very little about the events of September 11th.  They knew nothing until a few years ago, when Olivia’s Chinese teacher called the date the “day of death”.  Lala came home from school that day with one question: Why is George’s birthday the day of death?

It’s not a birthday that Jim wanted his son to share.  As the first anniversary of September 11th approached and as I grew ever closer to delivering the nine-and-a-half pound boy in my belly – it became possible and then probable that we would spend 9-11 delivering George.

We all have our memories of our whereabouts on that morning in 2001.  For Jim, it was the day that he left to follow the footsteps of Mohammed Atta through his diabolic path to destruction.  He went on to write a definitive profile of Atta and the months leading up to the tragic flights out of Boston for the NYT.  Crazy anthrax stories followed.

It was a strange autumn for us – Jim was gone a good chunk of it.   And like so many, we were in a bit of a daze from the events.   Georgie was conceived Christmas eve-ish – he was a salve to our own tragedy a year earlier and to a crazy, crazy world that fall.  That he was born on the anniversary of 9-11 is coincidence, of course.  But instead of spending the day reading the papers and watching endless reports on TV, we labored.  Joyfully labored.

And so for us, September 11 is a time to Remember the victims of that fateful day, a time to give Thanks for the many blessings in our lives, and time to Celebrate the birth of our extraordinary son.

Happy and Blessed Birthday, George!


Continuing the birthday celebrations, this time outside of the bubble:  My readers who have been with me from the beginning (http://www-standupcomedy.blogspot.com) will remember that my driver has two sons, one who was born last August 26th and another who turned four on September 8th.  Here they are, Deepu sitting next to me and Tusar on my lap.  I can’t resist yummy baby feet:

On Friday (a school holiday) I took the kids to climb the ruins of Tuqlakabad, an ancient Turkish fort and the center of one of the early cities of Delhi:

It’s still raining here – raining raining raining, always raining – which is why Tuglakabad is so green above.  The rain has swollen the sacred Yamuna river and is flooding villages along its banks in Delhi.  The river is a half-hour drive from my house, but I wanted to see it this morning – a bit of a reminder of the life that swirls outside of my own.  In the bottom photo men are moving plants from a nursery that was flooded.

And finally – I shot this photo quickly from the car on the drive back from the river.   Clearly this is a family living on the street and Delhi is desperate to hide scenes like this for the Commonwealth Games.  This bit of sidewalk is not far from one of the stadiums, so I imagine they will be uprooted soon.  The families that the city cannot make disappear will be housed in parks.  Papers report that these designated safe zones will be hidden behind banners promoting the games.  To make sure that no one leaves, the city will provide tents, food and bathrooms.   It would be nice if Delhi could use this opportunity to organize more meaningful support – to move the homeless from the streets to employment and into schools and real homes.  Notice the tarp rolled up on the back wall.  This is pulled out when it rains.

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