Saturday, 22 September 2012

Part 3


            I am on the street now, and it is waking, shaking off the heavy blanket of night, and breathing a muted sigh of relief, for it has survived to see another dawn. And I want to wake with it, to breathe with it, to take the pulse and rhythm of the city into my lungs and exhale with it also, until we are one, locked in a deadly and loving embrace, heaving and breathing and sighing together. I want to stare it down, to choke it and tame it; for it is a mad, feral thing, swelling and twisting and chasing it’s own tail, howling and snapping and biting and thrashing, distrustful at the touch of man, then calming and falling back only to rise again and bare teeth. It is alive and breathing and dirty and chaotic and beautiful and feverish and rabid and wonderful, and by god!
            Nothing can prepare you for India.
I allow myself to be swept away by the seething current of bodies.

Around me is a beautiful dance: Children are naked and raising hell on the streets, darting between the giant yellow taxi cabs, whose horns blast incessantly, insisting that each has the right of way. People wash the stench of a long night off themselves, still drunk on sleep, and grey soapy water runs down curbsides, collecting dust and urine before it finally disappears into a small hole and joins the rest of the whirling, fetid torrents. Stray dogs, scabbed and flea-ridden and crippled, hunt for scraps among garbage, piled high around ankles. Peddlers work every inch of street, crying out and smiling, their eyes darting and scanning and fishing for a sale. The street urchins grind spices for their morning breakfast on an old piece of stone, worn down and smooth with age, and they grind and grind, and they litter the spices with drops of rainwater collected from a drain to make a paste, and they grind and grind, and the city grinds along with them.
The working class men, entitled and noble, press on to their burdens, their gaze down and unwavering, brows furrowed with a violent urgency. They are oblivious to the clicking and whirring of engines, the drone of horns, and the crying and screaming and laughing of the people. They are oblivious to the stray dogs, scabbed and flea-ridden and crippled, oblivious to the peddlers, reeling in sales with their eyes, oblivious to the street urchins and the heartbeat of the city. They are oblivious to the humanity, bold and proud and dignified, and ugly and unforgiving and merciless. But I am aware, by god. I see the city with fresh eyes, and I see the city for what it is.
And suddenly around me the city is a virus, cruel and resilient, just as man is cruel and resilient. It has adapted and evolved, just as man has adapted and evolved, meeting each new trial stomping and howling and snorting with rage, digging stubborn feet into the tired earth. It cherishes the scars from each new victory, scabbing and blistered, for these wounds define it and become it, and it cannot exist apart from them. And now it seems to me that its bloody victory is a fixed, luckless certainty; grim and resolute in its meaning. The city can never die. It can never dissolve and decay, for it has become decay, stark and absolute.
For a brief moment, the dance is no longer beautiful, and I see it for what it is. It is a frantic, twitching illusion, throbbing and agonizing and borne out of necessity. It is the cumulative mass of the human spirit, strong and defiant, turned on itself, blackened and cannibalistic.
Hungry and calculating sacks of flesh shift and moan. Thin eyes and thin lips and leathery faces, heavy with dust and hardened with struggle and resolve, survey me as I pass by. Hands are everywhere, bony and cupped and hopeful. Desperate, pleading eyes cast invisible nets, thin silk snaring and paralyzing me. Hands grab, fingernails tear into my skin and pull and drag me down and they are closing and growing tighter and I can’t breathe, the dust is too thick and I am smothered by hands and faces and voices crying out, smothered by the city, and smothered by need; the need for clean water, for clean air, for food and money and work and education, the need to throw off the heavy blanket of night each day, and breathe a sigh of relief each morning. I am smothered by the need to live, and it is a vindictive and wicked and urgent affair.

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