I've never been religious, but some years ago the gods began to talk
to me. I had just moved to New York City. First it was Krishna, leaving
messages for me on the answering machine.
"Hi, this is Kris," he'd say, "are you doing okay? We're worried about
you." And then he'd hang up.
It wasn't anybody I knew, even though most people who were Krishna-
something became Kris when they came here. Perfectly understandable; how
many Americans can say Krishnaswamy Ramasubramaniam? So it was Kris or
Ram, like the truck. When he called the display would say 0, but the
light would be blinking and there'd be this message. When anybody else
left a message the machine would say 1, or sometimes 2, and once it even
said 3. (But they were all from the same person, drunk, asking for some
Angela, a wrong number.) So I knew it was no ordinary Kris, but the
Beauteous Blue One himself.
It was nice to know, of course, that the gods were keeping an eye on
me, but all the same I felt guilty for not believing in them. Once or
twice I tried staying home--he always telephoned during the day, when I
was out--but he didn't call. I wanted to ask him for some pointers about
Then it was Ganesh. You know Ganesh, the elephant god, the one who
rides on a mouse. (I can't understand the logic of these things
sometimes. But that's the way it is.) I expected him to have a high
trumpet-like voice, like an elephant call, but he had this really deep,
rich, mellow radio announcer's voice. And an interesting accent, kind of
basic North Indian with a British overlay, as if he'd grown up in Delhi
listening to the BBC a lot. He came on during a half-hour commercial on
a UHF channel. They were selling fitness equipment.
"How do--you do?" Ganesh said, nodding his trunk up and down. He was
riding an exercise bicycle--it was called an Air Velocipede, $299.96 in
four interest-free payments--and his knees kept knocking up against his
belly. He was panting. "How--do you--do?" he asked again. I wasn't sure
he could hear me, but I said "Hi" anyway.
He said, "Stay away from the potato chips, old boy. Everything all
"Not too bad," I said.
He nodded, then bumped his belly with his knee. It jiggled. "Ow.
Okay, good. Well, pip-pip." And the announcer came on, quoting the many
benefits of the Air Velocipede. I wanted to order one. How many products
do you know that are endorsed by a god? Even a minor one? But it was too
expensive for me.
I didn't have any women friends, except--very briefly--Meera. She worked
in the Indian store. I asked her out to dinner once.
At the Bangladeshi restaurant I could tell right away that Krishna
had disguised himself as one of the waiters. I knew he was good with
advice on the battlefield, so I asked him to recommend something.
He said, "Hmm. Try the chicken tikka masala." It was the most
expensive item on the menu. So I said, "Maybe I'll have the alu gobi."
Krishna slouched off towards the kitchen grumbling to himself. I suppose
he had to put on an act for the manager. I could see that the back of
his neck had a little patch of blue where he'd forgotten his makeup.
At the cash register I whispered to him, "Thanks, Kris. See you
around." He played his role to the hilt: he gave me a blank look--oh, it
was exactly right--along with my change. I took it all. You can't really
tip a god. They might be offended. He slammed the door after us. Krishna
was a perfectionist.
On the subway back to Jackson Heights I said, "You know, that man? At
the restaurant? The one pretending to be a waiter?"
She turned to me and smiled. "Yes, I know, the service was terrible,
"He's left messages for me before."
"What? Who, the waiter? You know him?"
"Oh, everyone knows him. He's a god. But he leaves messages for me."
She became quiet then, and looked at me with a new respect. When the
train slowed she stood up. "But this isn't your stop," I said.
"Oh, I think I'll walk a little," she said. "No, no, don't get up.
Thanks for a--uh, thanks. Bye."
I worked at a cab company. It didn't pay much, but the work wasn't very
hard, just sitting in a booth all day checking medallions in and out,
stuff like that. My boss was also Indian. His name was Harivansh
Vidyadhar Chaturvedi. Everyone called him Harry, but the first time I
met him I said Chaturvedi-ji, and he seemed to like that.
For the first few days everything went well, but the a gradual change
seemed to come over Chaturvedi. He found a girlfriend, and he became
very rude towards me. His girlfriend was an American woman, Carol, who
always wore jeans and sneakers and a tight blouse or sweater. She was a
waitress a few blocks away. It was easy to see what was going on.
Chaturvedi wanted to give her my job.
One day Chaturvedi flung open the door to my booth and threw a bunch
of receipts on the ledger. "The hell were these doin in my office?" he
I looked over the receipts and said, "They needed your authorization,
He glared at me. "Don't Chaturvedi-ji me, you lil shit." Then, in an
undertone, he said, "Fuckin Indian crap."
"Ya berrer getcher ack together. Lotsa people waitin fer this job."
And he slammed the door.
I was shocked. This man used to be an Indian. I sat there for several
minutes just staring out through the glass. Then somebody came up with a
medallion and I had to get back to work.
There was simply no pleasing him. Over the next few weeks I did exactly
what he told me to do; I did more; I did less. It made no difference. He
had convinced himself I was incompetent.
So the next time I saw Ganesh I asked him what advice he had for me.
He was on cable--Channel 47, I think--touting some diet milk shake. He
pondered my question, taking a deep slug and crinkling his trunk in
"Well, old son," he said finally, "I think this Chatterjee fellow--"
"Chaturvedi," I said.
"He's got to go."
"Yes, quite definitely. Simply causing too much trouble."
"Where will he go?"
Ganesh chuckled and took another swig. "Jolly good stuff," he said.
"--Don't worry about Chatty. I'll see what I can do." And he put down
the empty glass and waddled away.
I waited anxiously. But nothing happened to Chaturvedi. He went on
yelling at me in front of everybody for things I hadn't done. So at home
I began flipping through the channels to find Ganesh. I stayed up later
and later. But he seemed to have gone undergound.
One night when I returned home from work, I found I had a visitor.
Sitting on the wing chair in my living-room-cum-bedroom--I hadn't
refolded the sleeper sofa--was Durga. The chair seemed to be a tight fit
for her, because of her ten arms, but she had a smile on her face and
said to me, very pleasantly, "Ah, there you are. Sit down."
I straightened out the sheets and folded the mattress into the sofa.
It was old and heavy and took some effort, and for a moment I thought
Durga might help me--she was the one with ten hands, after all--but she
just sat there and smiled at me beatifically as I wrestled with the bed,
finally getting it in. It was okay, I suppose. She's a goddess. I put
the cushions back and sat down.
"I hear you have a problem," she said.
"Did Ganesh tell you?" I asked.
"Yes, he's one of my most reliab--"
"Where the hell is he?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"I mean, I've been going crazy trying to find him. I've looked all
the way up to Channel 87. And he's nowhere."
"Oh yes, didn't he tell you? He's moved out of television. He's
thinking about Hollywood. He thinks he'll be seen more on the big
"Okay, are you going to help me out or what?" I knew I was pushing,
but you have to assert yourself. That's how you get ahead.
"Yes, yes, all right," Durga said. "You know what? You're a little
short on faith."
"Faith? Don't talk to me about faith," I said, feeling a bit guilty.
A lot guilty. But I went on. "You see my life?" I waved at the tiny
room. "And on top of that my boss is going to fire me. And you want me
to have faith?"
Durga looked around. "Hmm," she said. "I see what you mean. The gods
haven't been very kind to you. I mean we haven't. But you know how
things are. Lots of politics. Always someone wanting more boons, more
powers, all sorts of back-biting and nastiness. And sometimes the Big I
plays favorites.--But you're right, we've ignored you. But that's going
"I'm glad to hear it," I said. All these excuses! "When can we see
She thought for a while. "Let's see." She bent down to the gym bag at
the side of her chair. "Remember I can only support and advise. Most of
the actual work you'll have to do yourself." She was rooting around in
the bag with at least five hands, clanking and rattling various things.
"Ah! Here it is." And she took out a ferocious-looking, straight-
handled, curved-headed dagger almost large enough to be a sword.
"Whoa!" I said. "Now just hold on! You're not saying--"
"Well, if you want to be rid of this Chatterjee--"
"Chaturvedi," I said.
"There it is," said Durga, hefting the dagger and running a finger
around the inside of the curved sharp edge. She put it on the table.
"You'll find it's just the right size." She smiled. Then she stood up,
picked up her bag, and walked out through the open door.
--Brought you by RK