Tailored Trackies - The Story of my Return to Domestic Life
I told the store attendant that I wanted some tracksuit pants, and immediately three men surrounded me. What design would sir like? Half a dozen tracksuits were tossed onto the bench in front of me, each still wrapped in plastic packaging. Perhaps one of these? I shook my head. How about these ones? A man appeared from behind me, two more in hand. I pointed at one, and was ushered into the change room to try it on. I came out, and the three men tapped their index fingers on their chin as they considered the suitability of my fleece pants and top. I was getting as much attention as the man across the store being fitted for a suit jacket. 'The trousers are too long,' one of them said. 'Let us alter them for you and you can pick them up in a half hour.'
My trip to the men's clothing store was one of my first forays into my new domestic life in Lucknow, which will be our home for the next month. After five months of constant, dizzying motion, E and I suddenly find ourselves paying attention to the most mundane details, such as what brand of milk to buy, and how many coathangers to stick in the closet. We are living in the upstairs room of a house in the north of the city. Judging from the stares and open mouths we encounter when walking to the supermarket to buy a loaf of bread, our suburb is not accustomed to the presence of Westerners. Lucknow itself is off the tourist trail, although there is much of interest here for those tourists who choose to stop by. The city is known for its Muslim Nawab architecture, and its tasty Nawab cuisine which is said to be so delicious that it just might pierce our vegetarianism. It was the site of a five month seige during the 1857 Indian Uprising, when 3000 people sought refuge in the British Residency, disease and bullets eventually claiming the lives of two-thirds. And Lucknow is also the capital of the province Uttar Pradesh, whose population of 176 million makes it the most populated sub-national entity in the world.
But these facts and figures form a distant backdrop to my new domestic life, which in its first week has involved getting acquainted with my home suburb. I have a local coffee shop, which lets me sit for hours over a black coffee, writing in my notebook and reading the local press. It is a trendy place, a spot for Lucknow's youth to chat, flirt, and watch television as Sachin Tendulkar, the man who carries India on his shoulders, takes on Sri Lanka in the home test series. Nearby is the supermarket, where E and I were double-teamed on our first visit - one man to find out what we wanted, the other to fetch it and put it in our basket. And across the road is a restaurant that serves wonderful masala dosai. My slim hopes for anonymity were ruined on my third visit when the staff started chatting with me about Australia, and a few days later I realised that a true connection had been forged when they changed the television channel to live coverage of the Australian test series.
And on the way home I wander past sights that, although quite common in India, have certainly not featured on any other 'walk home' that I've ever taken in Australia or elsewhere. In a stretch of two hundered metres I encounter a variety of shops that you would normally only find in a major shopping centre, each located in a patch of dirt at the side of the road. Among them there is a florist, a barber, a fruit seller, a tailor, a bicycle repair man, and several chai stalls serving up glass upon glass of the sweet, milky drink. If I want to cross the road I have to watch out, for the traffic is dense and wild, cars, motorbikes and auto-rickshaws screaming past without a thought for pedestrians. And sitting at the side of the road is the ubiquitous cow, relaxed as it chews on the odd bit of grass, unconcerned about the human traffic around it.
At nights we do much as we would at home - relax, read a book, or watch TV with the family downstairs. Last night my ears pricked up at the sound of some familiar music, and I looked up to see that 'Indian Idol' was on. Just a few nights earlier we had stayed up to watch the final of India's version of 'Dancing with the Stars'. It is much like the Australian version, except most of the stars are drawn from Bollywood-type productions and would put most of our professional dancers to shame. Just two couples were left in the final, and the hosts kept promising that the winner would be announced after the next commercial break. As I found myself falling asleep in my chair, I decided to head up to bed. I had to get up early the next day - there was, after all, no milk in the fridge, and we needed new towels for the bathroom. I fell into a deep sleep, exhausted by my return to domestic life.
Photos of Taj Mahal, monkeys, Marharani living and Lucknow