Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A day of sights, sounds, stinks and other smells

Only in India can the fragrance of a gorgeous bloom be quickly followed a few steps ahead with the stench of rotting garbage. The earthy smell of drying cow dung be quickly replaced by the reek of exhaust from an old truck. Life here is filled with an assault to all senses, everyday. Nothing is sterile to the senses here.

My morning sounds start with the rustle of the plastic bag outside the door. The milkman is leaving my bags of milk. It is 5:30. Strains of early morning prayer waft from seemingly all over the landscape. The mosque is speaking God's name over a loudspeaker. It is far away enough to be heard and yet not so loud as to be intrusive. I have a few minutes to myself before the baby awakes. Not enough even for a cup of tea. Just a few breaths of solitude.

8 am--the laundry man makes his first round for the day--bringing in the ironing he has taken in from the day before piled high on his bicycle, wrapped in bed sheets of varying colors. The crows cry out. Steel vessels clink close by. Cooking has begun for the day. Voices speak softly. As the time goes, the aroma of frying garlic and onions tease and tempt.

The vegetable supply truck arrives, crates are being off loaded to supply the small but amply stocked vegetable stand ten stories below. Young men's voices cry out urgently. They speak Rajasthani.

Late morning and the cleaning ladies for the building pick up the garbage I leave for them outside the door. The rustle of bags, the tinkle of glass bangles, the soft sweep of their broom.

The bell rings after 11 at regular intervals. First the laundry man picks up my ironing. Brings me back crisply ironed shirts, pants, skirts. Make my clothes look better than they are. My baby's shirt folded like an older man's is the size of my palm. I am in love...

Noon approaches. Cooking is in full swing. Pressure cookers sound, yet more garlic is fried, Depending on the floor one is on, the aroma of different spices fill the air. 3rd and 9th floor, pungent Korean ones, the others garam masala sometimes fresh turmeric, fried onions.

Afternoon and the cleaning lady arrives with some family drama story. I can barely understand her accent. But I nod sympathetically. She talks to the baby constantly keeping him busy as she deftly sweeps and mops the floors. Then she moves on to the dishes from the afternoon. Vessels clank, water flows.

Evenings and the swings start to move--they make a muted screeching, but rhythmic sound. They need oiling badly. But the sounds are far away enough to make one think only of a child playing happily by. Joy is in the air.

The day is peppered at various intervals with the sounds of marble being cut--a nasty grating harsh sound, getting flats ready for their well heeled owners. Strains of old Hindi film songs from the workers' radio. The lift floors covered with cement and mud that magically disappears every few hours only to re appear once again from careless feet and even more careless hands.

Night time. Parties in the distance. Some festival or the other, open ground nearby prepared for a fair. Harsh pop plays over tired loudspeakers. The sound shatters through the breeze as it floats towards our tenth floor flat. The cackle of Korean women having a party one floor below is somehow reassuring.

There is life everywhere, always.