Saturday, June 4, 2011

A List of Things

Ironic that "the girl with the project" about preserving Kashmiri language is the girl in the room that doesn't speak or understand it. G--- and I play for the same team- the introverted outsider who would rather spend her money on traveling than on jewelry. (Except for the obvious clip-on exceptions). She had a deep and rumbly voice like hard water running over something grainy and gradually disappearing. She kept referring to her Kashmiri skills or lackthereof as a "disaster." My mother often refers to me as a disaster, and so I immediately felt somewhat of a kindred spirit with this strange woman.
I was interviewing her at the Women's College in a large carpeted room with awful acoustics so the recording will probably never be heard. It was obvious that she was respected or possibly feared by the others, but didn't relate well with other people on a general level. Throughout the interview she would go on tangents about her faulty pronunciation of Kashmiri and pull someone into the conversation so she could make fun of herself out loud and get a laugh. She would ask whoever was closest how to say something or someone would correct something she said without her asking them to.
I asked her if there was something she had always wanted to do but never got a chance. She said of course, and listed faraway things she would do in faraway countries. I always follow up this question with a question about the children, as a way of assuaging regret with the hope that the kids can have what they did not. But she had already told me that she has no children, so the list of unfulfilled dreams was left just hanging there.

I paused the recording whenever she asked me to and she maneuvered my enormous headphones over her dupata so she could listen to it over again. She was smiling and laughed at herself and it was obvious that she felt ok about it. She kept silently looking into my eyes with a somber expression and said we should hang out some time.  It was the "I can see myself in you" sort of look. I get those from older women a lot. And not only because I dress like an old woman, but maybe something about my hopefulness and willingness to let the wind take me in whatever direction it feels like, understanding that there will be a lot of tumbling involved.

We sat down for chai and she gave me a wild, intense look and said "If I could, I would spend all my money on a car and gas and drive from my continent to your continent! ... but no! You're only eighteen!"
She sounded very sure of this, but I had not lied to her about my age. There was no opportunity to do so. But it was likely because I was clearly not married and in Kashmir, youth is the most obvious reason for this deficiency. But it then occurred to me that maybe she was not married.
"Okay. When you learn how to drive, then we can plan."

I thought about whether I would want to do any of the things she had mentioned earlier. Shop in London. Eat cake in Paris. Drive a fast car. Ride a camel in the desert. Spend all of her money on traveling. It seemed like I had done most of the things she had listed. I wonder if she would add 'get married' or 'have children' to that list. Because I would rather do those things than continue tumbling around the world under strange circumstances.

Before she said goodbye she wistfully gave me the look again, which I now understand as the 'you have a list of things, go do them!" look. And I agree. And I'm doing one of those things right now. And as long as I still look like I am 18, I don't mind spending another month stealing cherries and recording stories.

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