Outside, Looking Inside

by Priyanka Sacheti

They had been sitting on the ledge when it occurred to Marina that she had not looked at her watch once in the entire time they had been at the temple. Anywhere else, by now, she would have checked her watch at least thrice and meticulously planned her tomorrow, eventually becoming oblivious to the surroundings in which she had found herself. Marina glanced at Glenda before furtively examining her watch. Glenda, however, was preoccupied with her photography, perpetually uncaring of who watched her while she watched the world through her camera. Marina had therefore been bemused on hearing Glenda's outburst during breakfast that morning.

"You are a pincer and a time-willing prisoner," Glenda had remarked unusually passionately. Marina merely smiled in response, though she wondered what had precipitated this outburst. "Honestly, no one would believe you were on a holiday, judging from the number of times you look at your watch throughout the day." Glenda abhorred watches and seldom wore one unless it was for job interviews or appointments-and she still invariably managed to be late to them. "Take my advice and consign that wretched thing to the bottom of your suitcase until we leave Rajasthan."

They had been in the temple for almost two hours if that wretched thing was to be believed; time had outwitted her into forgetting certain thoughts and attendant anxieties and trivialities. Marina could not recall the last time her thoughts were so inconsequential that they had become incorporeal. Perhaps Glenda is right, she thought.

The soles of Glenda's flat-heeled jootis scraped against the ledge; she stood up, frowning at her striated reflection inside the lake. Glenda and Marina had conversed little since breakfast, though conversation neither significantly defined their friendship nor their Rajasthan travels anyway. Glenda's outburst consequently startled Marina because she had not expected Glenda to be capable of such vehemence. Marina recalled the first time they met at university in a narrow, uncarpeted dormitory corridor, both of them seeking refuge from a noisy, raucous kitchen party. They both started talking without introducing themselves, and it was only when they said goodbye at end of the night that Marina remembered to exchange names.

Glenda," she replied so vaguely that Marina was almost unconvinced whether it was truly her name. Marina thought there was a leaf-like quality to Glenda, a leaf detaching itself from its parent tree and drifting and falling wherever the wind took it. Marina doubted if Glenda would remember their conversation, treating it as a dream-like interlude to be forgotten by the morning; those bottle-green eyes would presumably show no recognition if they were to encounter Marina again. While that never happened, Marina could never entirely shrug off that perpetual unease whenever she met Glenda after long intervals.

Glenda pursed her lips, lifted the camera, and Marina heard a succinct click a few seconds later. Marina often thought that Glenda preferred the world she saw through her camera's viewfinder. A disillusioned look always settled on her face as soon as she unlocked the camera from her eye-the world did not seem to live up to the promise it held in the lens. Yet Glenda never rejected the world in which she was compelled to live. She seemed at ease wherever she went, neither allowing the place to define and contain her nor willing to impose herself on it.

"I am American by birth but my parents came to the UK when I was three years old-and then they never left," she told Marina the night they first met. "I am used to thinking myself as American slash British." The description both puzzled and intrigued Marina, who lived in a strongly monochromatic world then. "Your passport?" she asked, making Glenda frown. "American-but I believe that there is only so much you can allow yourself to be defined by a passport, Marina. The journeys taken inside the passport instead have constructed me into what I am today."

Glenda's photography assignments took her around the world where she always sought to render the familiar as unfamiliar and vice versa, challenging the arbitrariness of intimacy; she was completing an assignment in Rajasthan when Marina impulsively asked to accompany her through her journey. "I hope I won't be a hindrance-although that depends on exactly you are doing."

"I am searching for that real Rajasthan existing behind all those postcard-beautiful palaces, forts, and havelis propped up for tourist display," Glenda told her. "I am determined to persuade it into emerging from its veil of cliche."

Marina stared at the sky peaceably entrapped within the lake. "Someone could be mistaken into thinking that the sky inside the lake is the real sky if you photographed the sky as reflected in the lake," she remarked.

"Depending on what you assume to be the real sky," Glenda responded, sitting down next to Marina. "This will sound funny coming from me, Marina. I had seen many photographs of this temple before we actually visited it today-but there is nothing quite like actually being in the place itself, is there?"

"Yes," Marina agreed. "In a sense, you are paying tribute to that fact through your photography-unlike me, merely sitting and looking."

Glenda shook her head. "On the contrary, you are doing justice to the beauty by allowing it to exist as it does-whereas I subject that beauty to yet another configuration through my photography, following those photographers who have previously come here. Marina, the trouble with you is that you never actually live the moment; you always want to do something with it instead. There is nothing wrong in simply luxuriating in the moment itself."

Glenda's fingers traced the outlines of the temple cupolas, lake, and horizon with such seamless intimacy that Marina experienced the recurring envy that pursued her throughout their Rajasthan travels. Glenda never allowed the place to define her because she made herself welcome in whichever place she inhabited, no matter how brief or prolonged the encounter. It mattered little whether the place was Rajasthan, Louisiana, or Gloucestershire, for perhaps these places ultimately became whatever Glenda made of them when viewed through her camera. Marina stared at the sky before scrutinizing its lake avatar; it comforted her that the sky, at least, remained identical in whichever versions she had seen of it throughout the world. She turned to repeat her thought to Glenda but her friend's eyes were closed, fingers steepled together as if in prayer. A breeze blew her hair onto her face, tendrils unfurling and temporarily obscuring her eyes; she tucked her hair away, eyes still shut. Marina also tried to close her eyes but they agitated themselves into opening again.

"What were you thinking about-right this moment?" Glenda asked, having opened her own eyes.

"Trying to photograph my mind?"

"Ha! Seriously. I have been meaning to ask whether you have decided to return to the fields of materland and start the fox-hunt?"

Marina shrugged. "I thought I had decided that I was going to return to Britain and start looking for jobs-but I arrived here and my plans decided to fall apart."

"Does it have to do with what you once told me about feeling like a foreigner, an outsider of sorts, whenever you return to India for holidays?" Glenda asked. "Although you also admitted that you would never cease to feel anything but a foreigner in Britain as well. You described it rather pithily, for once. What was it? Ah, yes. I am visible in India, yet still foreign; I am invisible in Britain, yet still foreign."

Marina aimed a pebble towards the lake's center; it collided against the wall below before meekly surrendering to the lake's vein-tinged edges. "I have resigned myself to be a citizen of the gray nation, therefore neither visible nor invisible. Home is an unforgiving carousel, claiming that those who have left it must forfeit their right of participation as well. The carousel has moved on without them, intolerant of those attempting to pause or disrupt or even coincide with its movements. You see, Glenda, where do I go? I might as well just seek refuge inside a plane, suspended between sky and earth," she finished, sighing. Glenda closed her eyes again, shutting herself away as effectively as if she had worn a pair of sunglasses instead. "Sorry. I sound incapable of perceiving my world beyond the metaphor, but it is the only way that it makes any sense..."

Glenda snapped her eyes open. "That's tantamount to declaring that I am a more perspicacious spectator of life than others because I happen to possess double-vision, seeing the world both through my eyes as well as the camera. But I am just an ordinary photographer-that's all. I appreciate that you have a difficult decision to make, Marina, but remember that decisions are unconscious entities that occur when you least expect them. Could you try being a passive spectator for once?" She stood up, interrupting the water's reflection of herself. "Anyway, shall we now activate ourselves into making a move?"

It was difficult to believe that three weeks ago Marina had been sitting in a black cab, hearing gray, unmusical English winter rain drum above her. "You going back home then, love?" the cabbie enquired as the taxi paused at the traffic lights. Her eyes met his in the rearview mirror and she could make out the canals of blue beneath his skin. Why did he ask if she was going home, rather than for a holiday?

"Yes."

"I have never been in an airplane, never been to India either," he added as if it were a confession. "I have been down to the Middle East though. Took me months, it did. Went down in a truck with a friend."

"That must have been nice."

"One of those things that I did when I was young. Couldn't do it now!" His grin in the mirror revealed his lower set of teeth, jagged, as if fencing his mouth away from the world.

"You glad to be going home?"

"Glad to be going home?" she asked herself before realizing what she had just uttered. She watched the cabbie indulgently smile at her in the mirror and wondered if he thought that she would repeat the sentence again, albeit erasing the tone of query. But she did not. They had pulled up at the coach station and she just smiled instead.

Now she was riding in a different taxi in a different country. They had hired one of the diminutive chrome, yellow and black autorickshaws standing outside the temple and Glenda asked the driver if he could take them to a Jain temple en route to Jaisalmer City.

"Why this particular temple?" Marina asked.

"Well, it's situated in middle of the desert and I was hoping to juxtapose the temple's ornate beauty against the desert's rawness-in an entirely non-cliched way, of course!"

The driver intently followed their conversation, muttering a few English-sounding words beneath his breath. "Hindi mein boliye aap," Marina suddenly interjected, asking him to speak in Hindi. The driver stared at her, his eyes lingering upon her skin, her mint and lilac striped kurta and jeans, and his ears trying to navigate the amalgam that was her accent. He folded his lean brown arms against his untucked purple shirt and Marina felt nicotine in his breath linger upon her cheek as if he had just cursed her. "Foreign people not allowed there," he frowned. "No point going." She had not thought to say then, "I am not foreign. I am Indian." She instead irritably glanced at Glenda before saying, "Tell us the fare and we can worry about that later."

A large, white-lettered blue sign hung on one of the temple entrance's ochre pillars; the driver glanced at it before pointedly looking at them in the rearview mirror. Marina waited until he left the autorickshaw before stepping down and walking towards the sign; for some reason, she felt that it was imperative that she, rather than Glenda, read the sign first. The sign was bilingual, a solidly printed Hindi passage positioned above the cursive-lettered English one. Marina found herself reading the English passage:

                IMPORTANT NOTICE:
                FOREIGN VISITORS PROHIBITED
                INDIAN NATIONALS ONLY
                CAMERA - Rs. 5 VIDEO CAMERA - Rs. 15

Marina had to fingertip the straight lines and curves and dots of the Hindi passage before confirming that the English passage was indeed only a translation of the Hindi one above. "Damn," Glenda muttered behind her. Marina knew that Glenda would now refuse to enter the temple even if the seeming absence of any relevant authority to enforce the rule was pointed out to her. For all her vagueness, the undetermined way she drifted through life, Glenda had always harbored an unbreakable rule towards not breaking rules. "I can't help it," Glenda told Marina, when she once refused to participate in a university rag. "Some people delight in plucking flowers or touching sculptures in museums when it is expressly forbidden to do so. I always feel that something-I don't know what-will happen to me if I break those rules. Imagine how popular I was at school then!" Marina could still hear Glenda's brittle laughter freeze in that bitterly cold January evening, the harsh notes suspended in the air like a miniature chandelier. "It's okay," Glenda said after a while. "I'll just photograph the outside: the temple cupola rising upwards, the walls, and the temple itself framed inside the archway. What do you think?"

"It's an accurate caption," Marina remarked. "I am sure many people will relate to it."

"Marina, you can go inside though. You don't have to remain outside with me."

"I can't," Marina said, surprising both herself and Glenda. "I mean, I don't know if I can go inside."

"Of course you can," Glenda replied, looking puzzled. "What's stopping you from going inside?"

"I'll feel bad leaving you out here by yourself."

"I'll be fine!" Glenda exclaimed, already reaching inside her shoulder bag for her camera. "Now go on."

Marina turned around and faced the ornately carved archway, beyond which stood the temple within the walled courtyard. She walked forward, pausing beneath the archway to admire the skill and beauty through which the ancient sculptors had wrought a magical, fantastical world. Never again will I think that stone is mute, she thought, it is like a pen, the stories and worlds inside it awaiting liberation. The breeze at the earlier temple turned into wind here, its mournful sighing discordant in the desert stillness. She neared the temple, seeing the wind hover above the dusty, rose colored square tiles, lifting the sand like a magic carpet centimeters above the surface before slapping it against the stone again. It suddenly veered in her direction, grit entering her eyes and embedding the inside of her eyelids. She stood still, firmly clamping her eyes shut to prevent further sand from entering.

"What's wrong?" Glenda was besides her.

"The wind," she murmured. "There is sand in my eyes-"

"Oh, hell," Glenda said. "Wait-"

Glenda led Marina into the auto rickshaw and poured water from her omnipresent water bottle into Marina's cupped palms; Marina remained sitting there after Glenda had left, rubbing her eyes although the stinging had long dissipated. The narrow strip of the rearview mirror showed the driver smoking his bidi beneath an elderly acacia tree, his expression of a surly satisfaction. She watched Glenda kneel and take photographs, her complete immersion in the task rendering her oblivious to the wind, the vinegar sun carving into the back of her neck, and the ubiquitous taste of sand upon her lips. If only oblivion had been my gift, she thought, leaning back against the seat.

The air suddenly grumbled-she peered out of the autorickshaw to see a purple-striped white tourist coach driving up the incline leading towards the temple. The coach halted at the temple entrance and immediately its passengers disembarked, chattering, laughing, and yawning. American, she guessed, attempting to deduce their accents from their laughter, perhaps a few British. What difference does nationality make though when they are all pink? Some of them had already begun to freeze-frame the temple facade inside their cameras' beady, digital-eyed gazes.

Glenda began walking back to the autorickshaw, stuffing her camera into her bag; she could never bear to take pictures when other tourists swarmed around her, decapitating the place with an irresponsible look or a click. A wiry, saffron-turbaned tourist guide walked past her, enthusiastically leading the group towards the temple. They collectively paused before the sign, some members silent while others looked at the guide for assistance. The tourist guide shrugged and briefly contemplated the group behind him before walking beneath the archway and towards the temple. The tourists glanced at one another before obediently filing in behind him. In the rearview mirror, Marina saw the driver looking away from the autorickshaw, stubbing his bidi twice beneath his left jooti. Glenda sat down next to Marina and shook her head as soon as Marina opened her mouth. "No," she said, making no effort to tuck away the hair that the wind once more blew into her eyes. "We might as well go back. I can't concentrate now that they are here."

Glenda was silent during the journey back to Jaisalmer, her fingers continuously fiddling around with the numerous stone necklaces she wore. Marina's watch said it was almost three-she instinctively looked at Glenda to see if she was watching-but Glenda's eyes were shut again. Was she thinking about those tourists who blundered their way into the temple? Marina saw them in the courtyard, following the guide as he encircled the temple, conducting a parikrama of sorts. She wondered if that temple had been spared the ruin that time had cruelly inflicted upon many other temples. Would these tourists notice that a sculpture's face had been amputated or a woman's fingerless hands gracefully suspended in the air? Would they be able to acknowledge and appreciate the sculptures' inherent beauty despite time's obvious mutilation? Would they put their cameras down, for once, to actually see whatever they had been previously viewing through the camera's veil?

Perhaps, they would secretly wish to pile back into the coach and return to their hotel comforts. At the hotel, the temple would fight for a place in the cornucopia of their tourist memories as they unloaded themselves onto plush beds and prepared for exhausted, dreamless sleep. They would eventually find it impossible to distinguish that temple from another upon returning home, developing their numerous rolls or downloading multiple digital images onto their computers. Marina sighed, watching the land watch them speed away. Distant groups of brilliantly veiled woman, laughing children, and stubborn clots of goats immediately fragmented upon seeing the autorickshaw's approach. I would not remember these women and children's faces if I were to come here again-nor would they remember mine, Marina thought, but would that necessarily mean that neither of us had ever occupied the same space at the same time? What will become of us? What has already become of us? Are we always doomed to be strangers wherever we go?

The brevity of the driver's tone suggested that he was informing them for the umpteenth time that they had arrived at the hotel. "What's your plan now?" Marina asked, after paying the driver and watching his autorickshaw vanish into the maze of streets. Glenda started and looked around as if unable to account for the time that had lapsed between leaving the temple and arriving at the hotel. "Glen-are you okay?"

"I don't know, Marina," Glenda said. "I can't stop thinking about those tourists we just saw at that Jain temple. They unsettled me, the way they were photographing the place-as if they were swallowing food whole without even tasting it. I always feared transgressing upon some rule or the other when I first started taking photographs. I felt that I needed to take permission before I photographed anything because I was afraid I would otherwise become a trespasser, infringing on an invisible, magical world. Yes, it has been years since I have stopped looking over my shoulder, afraid to be caught trespassing. But days like today happen-and I am wary once more, feeling that I have turned into an interloper, like those tourists. It then becomes easy to believe that the world should remain unseen rather than circumscribed within myopic viewfinders."

Glenda had never previously elaborated on her photography to such an extent. Marina tried to feel touched but she found herself beneath the carved archway instead, sand blinding her eyes towards what lay ahead. "There are many different kinds of interlopers, Glenda; you are not one of them though, believe me."

"I am sounding like you and you are sounding like me, Marina," Glenda said, smiling before deciding to frown. "You sound as if you are one of those interlopers, Marina."

Marina shrugged. "Glen, you reminded me of myself when you mentioned feeling like a trespasser whenever you took photographs. I told you that I feel split between two selves, one refusing to renounce India as home while the other disagrees, believing home to be a carousel in which I have forfeited my right to participate, a trespasser if I try to do so. Do you remember those sepia-tinted windows inside the air-conditioned train compartments over here? I am akin to those tourists viewing India as if through those sepia-tinted windows, ultimately unable to access India as it actually exists."

"Yes, you can. The train stops and you get off it," Glenda commented blandly, studying Marina's face as if she were planning to photograph it. "Marina, to speak your language, you claim to have forfeited your place in the carousel because you left it-but the truth is that you seem reluctant to commit to any place. I can see you examining your watch, waiting for the time when you can move on elsewhere. The situation is not always about seeing, Marina-it becomes one of staying instead."

Marina stared at the numerous paths that overlapped one another on the surface of her palms. "Okay, Glen. It perhaps boils down to this one fact: I am desperately searching for that elusive moment in which I know that I am at home-and that I belong."

"Marina, I also aspire to achieve that one perfect photograph in which I feel like I am inside that world I am attempting to access through my camera. However, didn't we just agree that a moment couldn't be frozen anymore than life can be stopped from flowing? I can't understand your insistence upon wanting to imprison the idea of home within you, whether physically or metaphorically, Marina. Just let it go."

There was nothing more to be said after that. They went inside the hotel, collected their room keys and went to their rooms. Inside her room, Marina slipped off her jootis, placed her watch on the bedside table, and lay down on the bed. She shut her eyes but all she could see was the temple and the surrounding blue sky burning the blackness of her shut-eye world. Her eyes opened and she found herself staring at the delicate dance of blue and green flowers on the ceiling. Some flowers appeared faded while others appeared freshly painted on; the effect added rather than subtracted from the room's lived-in shabbiness. Glenda discovered this reconverted haveli-hotel in an Indian travel magazine and insisted that they stay here, rather than those homogenous, sanitized, tourist-friendly hotels. "Generations of the same family lived in the house before the present owner decided to convert it into a hotel," she told Marina. "It isn't terribly luxurious-but I think its rawness is what we will like about it."

At the reception desk, the haveli owner had briefly told them about his decision to barter his home for a living, sounding apologetic as if offering leftovers from a meal. Perhaps there were similar stories to be found everywhere: there were no dearth of hotels or lodges in Jaisalmer carved out of havelis and modest houses, offering chili chow mein, French cheese, spaghetti, and English wine, rooms with a view of Fort and Palace and WC. But there was nothing to be learned about those who once inhabited those homes. Marina had acceded to Glenda's enthusiasm but she felt reluctant to lodge in a place that was still redolent of memories: a place that had been a home. Marina still could not help feeling that someone would walk into her room and pronounce her as an intruder.

She examined the whitewashed walls, large, wooden-shuttered windows, and the colored glass slabs above the windows, meant to soften the blow of afternoon sunlight. For some reason, she did not find it difficult to imagine how this room had been when it had functioned as part of a home. She positioned imaginary cupboards, dhurries, and mattresses around the room, beginning to see those who had once inhabited it. A woman looked out of the window; a man played with a child, raising her till she could trace the flower tendrils on the ceiling with her fingertips. A baby crawled across the floor, learning about its new world; a mother and her son talked about a prospective bride. It had once protected and shaped lives in its capacity of home; now, it had become a caravan, a temporary home for temporary guests. No one remained in the room long enough to discover and understand that it too had a character; it too had a history, it too could speak of the secrets that had reverberated within its walls. But what am I amid this melange of shadows and caravans and secrets? She lay down again, closed her eyes and tried to sleep. She dreamed of another dance of flowers and a disembodied voice, similar to that of the haveli owner, asking, Are you glad to be home?

She was momentarily disoriented after she woke up, unable to remember where she was. It was only after she checked her watch that she recalled she was in Jaisalmer. The watch said quarter to five and the afternoon rays were beginning to slant through the windows. She washed her face, strapped on her watch, and walked down to the terrace coffee shop.

The terrace was sunny and spacious, a welcome contrast to the dim interiors of her room. Another place populated with memories, she thought, weaving in and out of the white plastic tables and fat terracotta pots of blushing bougainvillea, except this place seems more cheerful. She turned around, observing that most tables were unoccupied except for one in which two men huddled over coffee cups and sheaves of papers. She spotted an isolated table in a shaded corner that she knew overlooked the tiny quadrangle of the haveli garden. She swiftly walked across the terrace to claim the table, though there was no one else present on the terrace.

The haveli garden was drowned in a chiaroscuro of shadows and light, fortuitously able to erase itself away unlike its neighbor, the terrace, which was permanently exposed to the visitors' gaze. Few visitors knew of its existence, for it was only visible from a certain angle on the terrace; Glenda had accidentally discovered the garden while exploring the terrace just after dawn-break. Marina peered down into the reluctant embrace of the fuchsia-splattered white bougainvillea, champak, chameli and neem, her thoughts swimming from one world to another. She reluctantly pried her gaze away only when she heard someone speak to her.

It was the haveli owner. "You haven't ordered anything?" he asked bemusedly.

Marina had forgotten about her desire for coffee. "I was just enjoying the silence," she said, gesturing towards the garden. "I would love to go down there."

The haveli owner smiled thinly. His face briefly misted over before adopting a concerned, avuncular expression. Marina suspected it was an expression he wore often. "I am afraid that I can't take you down there. The entrance to the garden has long fallen in disuse."

"Oh," Marina said, a little disappointed.

"My grandchildren also pester me to take them there," he grinned. "It's the only part of the haveli that does not frighten them, for some reason. My son lives in Delhi while my daughter is in Bikaner," he said. "They bring the children here during vacations. My grandchildren have only known the haveli as a hotel-and as for my children, well, whatever happens, happens. You have to learn to accept."

"And for you?"

"Well, it used to be my home, Madam," he said, his face misting over once again. "But now-I have trained myself to merely think of it as a hotel-nothing more, nothing less. At the end of the day, I see my home as those three rooms clustered around a courtyard. It used to be the servants' quarters in my time. Imagine! I used to play with servants' children over there. How could I ever have dreamed that it would eventually become my home?" His voice faltered. "I remember that I once told about this-how shall you put it-twist of fate to a British visitor of ours. She thought it was like a fairy-tale: the master compelled to become the servant. I was upset that she reduced and transformed my plight into a story, but it then struck me that she had essentially uttered the truth. That's what we are. Servants." He shrugged, adjusting the beige shawl that she always saw residing around his shoulders. "Take this terrace. We spent our evenings here, playing and flying kites. We would never have dared to come here during the nights though. Our mothers would terrify us with stories about our great-grandfathers' ghosts haunting the terrace. But now-" He glanced around as if still wary of an ethereal presence lurking behind him, "the terrace no longer frightens me. In the night, when I am talking to our guests, I have a feeling that everything has been stripped away, including my great-grandfathers' ghosts. I have seen it as a hotel for so long that I have now stopped seeing it as my home, and that's that. I see the haveli as a machine, an enterprise, and I am entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing and maintaining its well-being."

"But how? This was your home. How could you so quickly allow yourself to reduce the haveli from a home into a mere machine?"

"It did not happen over night, Madam," the haveli proprietor said. "It happened slowly, but it had to happen. I had a living to earn."

He fell silent. Marina bit her lip, looking up at the many-windowed haveli facade, their shutters resembling closed eyelids, whether asleep or meditating.

"Where are you from?" the haveli proprietor asked, appearing to resume his duties as a host.

"India-well, Delhi. But I have been studying abroad in England for many years."

"Will you return to India?"

"I don't know," she answered. "I have to make a decision during this holiday itself about whether I want to return to England or remain in India."

"Have you been able to make a decision?"

Later, she would not know whether to attribute her certain clarity of thought and speech to the haveli owner or the haveli itself; at that particular moment, though, she found herself paring her thoughts away, flesh excised from the apple until only the core remained. "Not yet. India has changed so much during my absence that I feel I am running behind and attempting to catch up whenever I return for a visit. It has become a home that I no longer belong to."

"Why do you feel that you can only belong in home? Belonging can happen anywhere. You can visit an unknown place and suddenly experience a deep sense of belonging to it."

"For me, home has always been a place where you know you belong," she said. "I don't know whether I have lost or been denied that knowledge. But what I do know is that I feel like a tourist in my own country, hovering on the outside, unable to get inside, no matter how much I try."

The proprietor wrapped his shawl even more closely around him and stared up into the sky. "Perhaps, inside is not where you are meant to be then. For some of us, it is the outside that eventually becomes the inside-and you eventually think afterwards, this is the only place in which I could ever have been."

The haveli owner had told her that the roof was accessible through the topmost haveli chambers. The door leading up to the roof was unlocked, opening into steeply-cut, spiraling flight of stairs; she opened another door at the end and stepped out onto the floor, her footsteps agitating the thick carpet of dust, gray pigeon feathers, and droppings into miniature sandstorms.

It was her favorite time of the day: dusk. She had not realized this fact until she had moved to Britain and experienced its curious summers, skies remaining light until hours before midnight. She began learning to anticipate that moment when the sun distilled the world with its radiant, auburn gaze before leaving behind residues of still, fluid lavender. She was able to realize the peace and perfection that she had so urgently sought throughout the day-how she longed that moment to be prolonged. However, night would gradually resume its mantle, taking away the moment only to return it the next day. The sun gradually soaked the world in its gaze, almost as if it were intent on laundering its world, rose, peach, and gold notes quietly making their music.

Perhaps, the sky is our only refuge for those of us who live amid the gray, she thought, watching the day's theater conclude beneath the sky: kite-duels, little girls chasing each other around on terraces, old and young men arguing during card-games, and women conversing with each other across roofs, their faces only partially veiled, treating the distance that lay between them like a fading bad memory. The sky gradually became the mauve of a healing bruise; the world outside retreated inside into a different daylight world of sorts. She could see women cooking and children sitting cross-legged and studying through barred windows and netted doors. She was about to turn around herself when she saw an old woman standing in front of a tulsi plant, her eyes fastened shut as she murmured incantations, holding rosary beads in her hand. They appeared to be the only ones left outside in the world, and it struck her that she had never before felt so alone and yet so complete.