Posts Tagged ‘Gun Hill’

The Swastikas are Starting to Bother Me

October 25, 2011

A long time ago, when few people had watches to tell the time, a British soldier would stand in full dress uniform at the top of Gun Hill in Musoorie, proudly daring the Indian heat to sweat up his face. Every hour, on the exact moment of the hour’s birth, he heralded PROGRESS, the continuity of his country’s successful taming of India, the powerful mechanical moving forward of his stodgy world.

Or maybe he suffocated within his wet blanket of restrictive clothes, trying to cough out the impurities spewed by his time telling rifle. Maybe he cried at night and whispered his mother’s name as a thumb sucker, self soother: “England, England, England.” Maybe he was 17 years old, having lied his way into the army so he could leave his wooden dinner table with stale bread and butter and milk and not much else. His growling stomach became a mouth. It fought battles with his brain and took that over too. It fought his heart and won. The hunger empire. And now here he was, the skinny boy child, hoping he wouldn’t have the runs as bad as he did yesterday. It had taken him twenty two minutes crouching naked with the lye bar and bucket full of tepid water. And of course the uniform had not dried fully. Damp folds of cloth rubbed the open sores of his armpit. Poor chap had tried to buy talcum powder in the market, but the language barrier had been too great. Or maybe the people here just hated him.
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In 2011, few people have watches to tell the time. Yes, some men sport status on their wrist and some grandmothers still use the wristwatch for its originally intended purpose. I, myself have a cell phone, but don’t want to flash it in advertisement of my supposed “rich westerner” status. I can’t afford to have it swiped with two small children depending on my ability to differentiate naptime from 25 minutes before naptime.
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Someone speared a 4 foot long supple branch with dead leaves on the wall next to my new apartment door. They continued their decorating by chalking a white swastika at eye level on my wooden door. I think it was to make me feel welcome. For those of you that don’t know me: I am Jewish and am keenly aware that the swastika is an age old symbol. But in my mind, its corruption by Hitler is irreversible and I will never be able to see it as a symbol of anything but hatred or death. Swastikas are everywhere here: painted on cars and vikrams, adorning jewelry, and proudly displayed on people’s front doors. Even after 3 weeks here, I always shudder when I see one. They are one of the many reasons why I just can’t get comfortable here.