I am living on the top floor (read: roof) of a Tibetan guest house in Majnu Ka Tilla, sharing a bathroom with the staff. The neighborhood is so expensive that without this spot, I would have to leave.
I take over both of the twin beds in my room, stringing the mosquito net over the one I’ve designated for sleeping, and piling books, papers, and random onto the second — my office.
The television is immediately banished to the corner, and its table commandeered for other purposes. I fill in the insufficient curtains with scarves and the travel sheet, because my window opens onto the open space of the rooftop. The second window has equally limited curtain coverage and faces the narrow alley; monks often occupy the rooms across the way, but I figure that the window which folks walk by is more important. A water stain stretches across two of the four walls, a draping cascade of peeling paint which floats down around my head in the night — it takes days of suspecting crawling creatures to realize that the crinkling crunching is only paint abandoning the wall.
Photos of my family and Chicago postcards scatter across the walls in strategic spots meant to catch my eye. A map of India with the penciled-in route lies flush with the floor-length mirror, and postcards with Dalai Lama quotes finish the decorations.
This is home, next door to the always-absent receptionist’s room, and the respectful young Indian men with whom I share the roof space do not distress me. They come on their lunch breaks in twos to sit and eat beneath the laundry lines, topped off with a nap. More than make sense come to wash their clothes, sharing several large buckets, pushing brushes into familiar scratching sounds. I add my clothes to theirs, draped on the strung ropes.
The same is quietly matched on other rooftops, clothes echoing prayer flags, a person appearing now and then to rest or arrange something — the water vats, potted plants, or sporadic furniture.
Our view includes a giant construction site, a marble gurdwara, and the green sweep along the river — our avenue of stars where the city would normally have drowned their weak light. People and dogs ebb and ease in the narrow streets below, and the vehicular chaos rumbles along the not-so-distant main drag. Life surging through the city, from top to bottom.