Sometimes, in the hour or so between awake and asleep, I can hear the thrumming of a ceiling fan. That’s all I remember from India unless I put my mind to it. The consistency of the fan. It cuts through the spitfire caws of crows and ambient buzz of fruit flies. It harmonizes with the slow chop of vegetables and circulates our sweat, around and around and around the room. It harmonizes with the television, the angry television. We eschew quiet for that damn breeze. And we only realize it’s there when our hair is ruffled.
We have to stop the fan occasionally, for some activities. Baiyee turns it off, room by room, when she sweeps. We wouldn’t want dust kicked up. We switch it off when we have to fetch this pillow or that suitcase from the high cupboards in paati’s almirah, for fear of hitting our heads.
On the nights when sleep escapes me, I lie on my back, left leg dangling off the small bed, feeling the fan hit me, beat after beat. I think, how wonderful it is I have a country. I slowly make circles with my big toe, feeling for the marble floor that I know is there.
And I wake up the next morning, coffee in hand, reading the Mumbai Mirror. The fan can’t get enough of those pages, rifling through them, forcing me to turn to the pages it feels good about.
There’s something ancient about that fan, that motorized thing that can’t be older than electricity. It has always been there and it will always be there. It’s a beat. It moves so fast, but so evenly. In its movement, in its oscillation, it is steady. It is a top. It is white noise that we can trick ourselves into believing is not there. A whitewash over the dreadful silence of our lives, of radio silence from something bigger. A ticking down. You’re one rotation closer to a more sinister silence.
There’s a certain complacency hidden between its fins. The fan seems to be telling me, it’s ok, there’ll be another rotation. This is temporary, this is inevitable. I wonder for a moment why I’m hearing an inanimate object talking to me, but then it says, It’s ok because you’re in India. You go a little crazy in India.
I go a little crazy in India. The plodding consistency and the bat-shit crazy of the street like oil and water. People keep their heads down, their eyes averted. They carry om around in their hearts, or at least they try to. They’ve been told to do this. Something, anything, to anchor themselves. But in Mumbai, money is religion. Maybe this is just a product of urbanization. Maybe in the village you can find some peace. But I suspect that those are just the pipe dreams of educated men, of the high-caste, of the 1 percent who have the cache to find peace in the village.
Another property: things dry when you put on the fan. Our bodies out of the shower, and the floors after they’re wiped. Everything wet and heavy evaporates eventually. Everything desiccates.