“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Day 28: The God of Wednesday: Or, a Meditation on Chance Encounters and Good Hair

On my last day in India, Priyanka took me to a Hindu temple to pray.

Like today, it was a Wednesday.

"There's a Hindu god for every day of the week," she explained.  Then she wrote down all the gods and goddesses that go with each day.  She told me that Wednesday belongs to Lord Ganesha, the elephant god who removes obstacles, and to the goddess Saraswati, who rules endeavors having to do with learning, knowledge, and wisdom.  She is the divine consort of Lord Brahma, the Creator of the Universe, so she also symbolizes creativity.

Wednesday was the day I was born, so I was very curious to hear about Saraswati.  It's nice to know that if you sleep with the right god you will get a day of the week, a temple, and the realms of education and creativity all under your command. 

Wednesday's god, according to another web site I just read, is also Lord Krishna, and the day is ruled by the planet, Mercury.  In French the word is mercredi.  Mercury rules communication--writing, of course, but also chance encounters and conversations that can change your life.  Wednesday is also associated with Lord Vithal, an incarnation of Krishna. In some places Lord Vishnu is also worshipped.

So basically there are a lot of heavy hitters in the Hindu pantheon on our side today.  Plus we have a helpful planet.

(I apologize to my friends in India for anything I have botched here.  Blame it on this site: http://hinduism.about.com/od/basics/ss/sevendays_4.htm)

According to the web site above, it's good to wear green on Wednesday, although on the day I spent with Priyanka in New Delhi, I had on my pale blue salwar kameez. 

I first met Priyanka in Rouen when I was getting my hair done.  Priyanka was taking a business course that spring and like most women who come to France for any period of time, she wanted a stylish French hairdo to bring home as a souvenir.  The problem: she didn't speak French.  So I ended up serving as her translator.  I'm not exactly fluent and was afraid that with my help she'd end up with a mohawk, but we looked at pictures together and came up with a look.  "She wants those bangs, but that length, but not so many layers as this," I said, pointing to the three very different styles and cuts that appealed to Priyanka.  We were seated next to each other, and every now and then she would motion for Ludo to stop blow-drying my hair so that I could tell her stylist, Cynthia, that she needed to change the plan.


Ludo is a magician.  He works at Jean Louis David, on rue Jeanne d"arc.  I sent my sister to him when she came to France and was frazzled from her book tour.  She still dreams about her hair from that week.

I could never make my hair do this on its own even if I had eyes behind my head, and the many arms of a god in the Hindu pantheon
After we were both done, Priyanka looked beautiful, and I told her.  She still had her lovely, long black hair, the kind of tresses we see on Bollywood stars, but the bangs and slight angle in the front had a certain "je ne sais quoi" that said France. But at the moment, she couldn't see how lovely she looked.  She was on the verge of tears.  I think she was just frustrated about not being able to communicate: a feeling I knew well by now, having been served cow brains instead of trout, and boiled eggs instead of dessert, because of my atrocious American accent.

Priyanka's hair cut happened, by the way, on a Monday, when the gods of good communication were not in charge.

When we were saying good-bye I told her I was taking a group of students to India that summer, and she gave me her phone number.  "I will show you around New Delhi," she promised.

The very next day I was on the train to Paris to pick up my visa for India and there she was, looking more chic than ever, leaving the same car of the train I was on.  There are trains every hour that go to Paris from Rouen and they are huge, with multiple cars.  The fact that we happened to be at the same exit door at this exact moment and that my errand of the day was directly related to my upcoming India trip seemed to me like not just an omen but a command.

Priyanka did not look surprised.  "Life is like this," she seemed to say with her shrug.  "I'll be waiting for your call this summer," she said.  Then she went to meet her girlfriends to do some shopping before they departed for a trip to Spain.

My next encounter with Priyanka was on the night the students were leaving Delhi to go home.  Priyanka came with a friend to our hotel to meet everyone and treated us to a delicious chocolate cake.  I told the students the story of how we met at the hair salon and then I said, "Priyanka.  I'm desperate.  My hair died somewhere in the desert of Rajasthan.  Where can I go tomorrow morning to bring it back to life?"

She wrote down the place and the number, and I went there the next day.  If you ever find yourself in New Delhi with hair the consistency of broom straw, go to Looks salon in Khan Market and ask for Yashim.  It took steam, serums, and the help of two trainees, but my hair rallied.

I was leaving for the Himalyas that night to do research for my travel memoir, On Temple Road, but of course I booked this same hairdresser for my return trip to Delhi, which was to be my last day in India. 

That Wednesday happened to be an auspicious day for Buddhists.  It was Sakadawa, a Buddhist holiday in the Tibetan calender.  Many of the shops were closed and the Khan Market had a barricade across its entrance.  I wondered if the salon would really be open.

When I arrived, the salon had lost its power and I was shampooed in the dark.  My phone had gone kaput too.  The thing was useless. I needed to text Priyanka because we were meeting for lunch.  But lucky for me, I was in the capable hands of a hairdresser who could bring more than hair back from the dead.  He had been a student in the best technology program in India, the MIT of India, when he realized that he wanted a job that put him around people, (in his words, " lots of beautiful women") and not a job that kept him hidden away in a cubicle.  But he hadn't lost a jot of his techno-savvy and after he had helped his employers get the power back on and reboot their computer he had reprogrammed my phone--all before the conditioner could travel to my scalp.

Only a master stylist could make my hair springy like this without chemicals or torture instruments.

This man is a genius.  His name is Yashim.  He works at Looks Salon in Kahn Market, New Delhi, and he might even fix your phone.

Mercury, being the god of communication, was able to function properly and Priyanka and I found each other at Connaught Place, Stall A.

The nearest temple, however, was devoted to the god of Tuesday, the monkey god Hanuman.  Hanuman Mandir is just a few yards southwest of Connaught Place.  It's an unusual temple for many reasons, among them the crescent moon on its spire, which is more a symbol of Islam than of Hinduism.  Inside, the main hall tells the story of Ramayana.  There are shrines inside to Shiva, Parvati and their children; there are also idols of Durga, Lakshmi Narayan and Ganesha.  We had removed our shoes and slid on bare feet from idol to idol, dipping our hands in the water from a running fountain and touching our foreheads with it.  I also touched my heart.  And although I didn't know this until I did some reading,  the idol of the goddess Santoshi Mata (the wish fulfilling goddess) was also there in an annex we didn't see.

With so many gods and goddesses to pray to, I don't think it mattered that we were not in a Wednesday temple.

Priyanka is a business student.  She's smart and pretty and open-minded and frank, and makes an excellent tour guide.  We ate lunch together (delicious chicken at Colonel's Kababz, at Defence Colony) and sipped tea and juice and went to an elegant cyber-café and watched people check their Facebook pages and sip wine and cappuccino or inhale from grape-scented hookah pipes while they listened to a French indie band sing in English.  Then we rode a rickshaw past many temples and gardens, and exchanged our life stories, all in a single afternoon. When we spoke about the caste system, and arranged marriages, and university life in India, and internships in India, and the new rich, and the old rich, and the poor, and how globalization is transforming the economy in India, I learned more from her than I had in all my reading.

Now, whenever I think of Wednesday, I think of the lovely Priyanka, and the Hindu temple where we prayed together for the health and happiness and prosperity of everyone we know.  And I think of heat and dry weather, and hair and phones brought back from the brink.  And the luck that can come when you bring endeavors of teaching and knowledge and creativity together.  And chance encounters that link one continent to another.

I hope all of Priyanka's wishes come true, and I hope one day to attend her wedding.  I'll have to track down Yashim to do my hair, although by then I suspect he'll own a chain of salons (that fix cell phones on the side.)

The next time you get your hair done, whatever day of the week it is, I hope that you too, gentle reader, meet your next host from the other side of the world.

Priyanka's friends took this picture of her in France, when they discovered the American coffee chain.  This was a month before I met her.  So many symbols of globalization in one place!


  1. LUDO!!! How I long to see him again! Sigh.
    Another great post Nat. Keep 'em comin'! xoxox

  2. Natalia, I love reading about your time in India...I've been so curious. Beautiful pictures (love the hair...and the hairdressers)!

    Karagre vasate Lakshmi
    Karamule Saraswati
    Karamade to Govindaha
    Prabhate karadarshanam