It’s about six o’clock and cool, there’s a gentle breeze from the east and it’s bringing the sound of trains crossing the bridge wafting in. The city is waking up, there are already horns beeping amidst a wonderful dawn chorus of birds. The sky is lightening out of the kitchen window which is wide open, the dust and pollution in the air give us marvellous orange, pink, and purple sunrises over the blocks of flats on the far side of Subhash Bridge. The muezzin’s call to early prayer from the Muslim quarter to the north has been and gone, soon the sounds of people getting up and beating their washing to death in our building will intensify, at the moment it’s quiet. Cat is sitting in the balcony doorway; she’s had a tidbit already, and has one eye open waiting for more… this morning she took one from my hand, which was a first. Scrawny, timid little thing. There’s a vet along the road, and I am wondering what it will cost to have her de-sexed. I have to walk up that way this afternoon to collect stuff from the tailor, so maybe I’ll see.
Speaking of the kitchen window, I had a definite “You know you are in India when…” moment the other night when I noticed a long monkey’s tail hanging down outside it – he was sitting on the ledge above, just chilling. I had watched five of them in a large tree to the side of the meadow below the balcony, finishing off the fruit the birds and bats had left. They were chased out of it by a resident of the flats close behind, and loped over to our building, eventually climbing up the front of it, one was on our balcony at one stage but by then we had shut the door knowing they were about. Dave tells me an early warning sign that they are ‘in the house’ is the sound of doors banging in the building; the Indians thrust a plate of food at them if they come visiting, and then slam the door to keep them out! They are big, about five feet tall, with black faces, and are all over the city, I saw a troupe of about a dozen in the Gandhi Ashram grounds the other day. Languurs I believe. Nice. I don’t like monkeys much, but our flat has bars on all the windows so they can’t get in unless we have left the balcony door open. There’s also chicken wire across the windows, that’s to keep the pigeons out!
Another and rather special India moment was hearing a strange sound outside last night, and realizing it was a mongoose calling… rikki tikki tavi – just like Rudyard Kipling said! I can’t express how excited I was, it was magic.
A couple of questions I have raised in previous posts and not answered come to mind this morning. The bamboo guy down by the shop? It’s not bamboo, it’s sugar cane, he has a large iron crushing wheel and sells freshly squeezed cane juice. He also sells watermelons, big dark green ones that he stacks neatly every morning on a pile of sand under the shade of an old tarpaulin. Delicious.
The lack of boats or any other sign of life on the river? It’s wide but extremely shallow, and very very polluted, the words used to me were “it would rot the bottom out of any boat on it”! Certainly the stream running through the Tekro, which must empty into the river, is black and evil, containing raw sewage at the very best. It reeks. I read an article in the Ahmedabad Times the other day where municipal officials were complaining that people were still chucking offerings off the Gandhi Bridge into the river despite the special receptacles that have been placed on it for the offerings… seriously, I don’t think a few garlands of flowers are the main issue here. Ah well.
The sun is poking itself up over the buildings now, it’s a glowing orange ball in a pastel pink sky, the newspaper boy has just delivered the Times of India and the A’bad Times, there are sounds of metal crockery being banged about. Any moment now the regular morning music will start, someone somewhere plays the same song every morning, faint but there. Dave’s up and on his computer, coffee is brewed, I have a day off from MS today so we are going to the movies for a bit of Bruce Willis! The water will be switched on soon, signal to leap into a cold shower and fill tanks and buckets. I want to clean my room though so will have a bucket bath afterwards, and clean the bathroom at the same time – I have a squatter loo in mine, a small hand basin, and all tiled with a raised sill to the door way so I can splash around happily in there. Dave’s has the showerhead, and a Western loo but still flushed with a bucket.
The tailor. Last weekend we walked through the old city, and Dave took me to a glorious fabric shop, its run by a Muslim family, and stocks such wonderful stuff! Batiks, blockprints, kadi which is ‘homespun’ heavy cotton, stuff called mashru which is silk lined with cotton, developed so Muslims could wear silk as they are not allowed to have it next to their skin. Colour everywhere, spoilt for choice, I bought three ‘kurta’ lengths to have made up for my brother in law, a couple of lengths to be sewn into loose pants for me, another length of beautiful soft almost quilted cotton for a blouse. We were given tea, sitting on low stools and having swatches of stuff displayed for us. Heavenly. Later, we went to the tailor – there are separate ones for men and women, and today is collection day – I can’t wait! Getting clothes made could easily become an addiction, especially at 300 rupees to get a pair of trousers and a top sewn.
In the old city you can buy almost anything. Stalls abound in front of the shops, heaped with plastic ware, clothing, fruit and vegetables; bicycle parts, spices; vendors hawking pani puri and samosas (best avoided by non locals), people everywhere. Off the main streets are winding alleys with ‘pol’ opening off them, a pol is a dead end, it’s like a little gated community where families live and each had a speciality, families of dyers or potters or metalworkers living in them. Old buildings jut out Elizabethan-style over the alleyways, each story built out further than the one below to provide shade. They have wooden framing, elaborately carved, with shuttered windows and sturdy doors shaped to fit their apertures, and where an attempt at restoration is taking place, bamboo scaffolding writhing up them. The alleys are interspersed with small clearings where there is invariably an ornate and large bird feeder, like a cupola, six sided and some painted in a riot of colour. Cows amble freely around, as do goats and chooks, businesses operate from tiny dens at street level, barber shops and shoe repairers, paan stalls and pharmacies, I watched one man in a barbers shop having his face massaged with oil, it looked wonderful but sticky!
There’s a wonderful old stone undercover fruit and vegetable market where I bought beautiful fresh produce from a little old Muslim perched up high amongst his display, a kitchenware shop nearby selling everything you ever thought you needed in stainless steel where we found a new waterpot with a spigot, a row of spice sellers which entranced me for some time, trying to work out what was what! I’m going back, armed with the Gujerati names for the things I want, the shop owner was letting me sniff and taste all sorts of things I have never ever seen before.
Today however I have a day off from MS, and so we are off to the movies to see Bruce Willis, that will be a culture shock after two weeks immersed in India. There’s a huge supermarket underneath the mall where the theatre is, interestingly it stocks a limited quantity of Waitrose products, and I also spotted Comfort Fabric softener in there the other day – nice! There is also, and this was surprising, a Hamley’s toy store! Amazing. Western prices too. Alpha One, the mall, is close to where most of the expats live, way over to the west of us, so it’s catering to them plus the young educated locals who dress in Western clothes and eat at Subway and McDonalds. I do prefer the old market, but want some of that Comfort today, so that’s after the movie.
I’m still waiting for my dongle to work. It’s been harder to get a post paid internet account than it was to get a residency permit, but hopefully today will be the day, and I will get some photo’s in here for you all. Two weeks to the day since my arrival, I am happy, settled, comfortable, I have travelled around by motorbike and auto rickshaw, had an auto break down on me and the sweet old guy driving it flag me down another, am beginning to recognise landmarks and know where I am – Judges Bungalow Road, CG Road, Gandhi Road – no signposts to speak of anywhere much, but that’s OK.
Postscript – Bruce Willis movie was utter rubbish but did have an amazing car chase…..