Movie Stars, Marble, A Sitar Player. India, 1982.
In Delhi I continued to research the film industry. One day I went to a movie theater. I saw a Bollywood version of "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers." It was 3 hours of men in overalls, dancing with women in saris. By then I understood that mine was not to laugh. I just watched, and noted.
The next afternoon, I interviewed the actor Shashi Kapoor. His father, Raj, was responsible for establishing the Indian commercial film industry. Shashi was a movie star. Second in fame only, in those days, to Amitabh Bachchan. Mr. Bachchan is the one who arrives by helicopter in Slumdog Millionaire.
We met in the lobby of the Taj Hotel, New Delhi. I was wearing my pale blue, skirted, seersucker suit. We drank tea.
Mr. Kapoor was terribly gracious. He told me all about his family and the meaning of the film industry for his country. He was right, as it turned out, but during that time in India how right he was or was not didn't matter to me. Whatever I was told, I entertained as possible. Tigers fed nearby on rubies, for all I knew. The Indian film industry would threaten Hollywood's world dominance, for all I knew.
Then Mr. Kapoor invited me to a party. If we'd been in Hollywood, I'd have recognized the host's name. But in stories, the famous often play the part of scenery.
I had to go all the way back to my hotel and change. All I had that looked like evening gear was my sky blue rayon salwar kameez printed with gold ink. I wore my pearls, though, in hopes. Left my hair down my back.
Mr. Kapoor and his assistant picked me up in a black Mercedes. Mr. Kapoor in the front, me and his assistant in the back. We drove through the streets of Delhi. I remember walking up the stairs to the second floor of the house, thinking, wait, these floors are marble. Wait, everything is marble. It turns out that marble is quite soft and cold to one's feet.
There were somewhere between 70 and 120 people at the party. It's hard to count when your faculties are consumed with making sense of new data. I appeared to be the only person not Indian. I suppose I talked to somebody or other.
Dinner was served. Buffet. No chairs. They didn't do chairs. Everyone ate more quickly than I would have expected, standing, holding plates, or sitting outside on the marble balcony. Then a couple asked me if I wanted to smoke marijuana with them. I declined. Again, some things one learns early.
After dinner we were called with a bell to sit on bright silk pillows scattered all across the floor. Orange, yellow, fuchsia, gold. That picture remains very clear in my mind. Pillows. The marble floor. A sitar player, again, a name I would have known, were I at home. But I was halfway across the world in a country and civilization that cut the word foreigner down to its bright bones. I remember everyone there had very shiny black hair. Except me.
And so we listened. Until the evening ended.
It was a generous night. I do not know who gave more to whom. Nor how I was glamorous or how I was not. But I felt beautiful. I was 25, when we are all beautiful. Looking back, I also see, I was so out of place. I didn't realize until years later that my cheap tunic made in a street bazaar, of a gold block print that would wear off sooner rather than later, was inappropriate to the occasion. To my shame. Or that I was probably saying silly things. What I remember is the polished surfaces, what I think is that the movie stars were all quite nice to a foreigner, and made sure I had enough to eat, and a place to sit.
The value of memories isn't known at the time. Nothing is a memory until it is remembered.