I miss most: the shrines everywhere; the animals everywhere; the color everywhere. Manhattan streets seem hushed to me now. I keep expecting to see a cow or a goat or a donkey amble up, brushing past me, gently nudging me out of the way. There is so much room in these city streets for people and animals; where once I found the city noise and crowds an assault, now they seem empty, a waste of space.
And perhaps, having all those dumb beasts around, makes people a bit more careful about how they move too--though you wouldn't think so from the frenetic pace of the traffic in Indian cities and villages. All those dogs on the loose, too. Our friends there told us they wouldn't dream of letting dogs in the house; they're dirty. The dogs are kept communally. Everyone puts out dishes of food, leaving them on carts and on the ground by their doors. Any creature who comes along hungry is welcome to the kitchen scraps. We rarely saw a starving dog; the cows snuffle through piles of food, daintily plucking stray blades of grass--a real treat, you don't see much of it. Sometimes the cows are tethered, if they belong to someone who will use their milk. Hardly anyone eats beef (sacred cow, holy cow)--or pork. Hogs run nimbly through the alleys, rooting through heaps of garbage, helping themselves to choice morsels. The animals have as much right to the street as the people, somehow "right of way" is established to everyone's mutual convenience and safety.
And the shrines, everywhere, traditional as well as modern, almost minimalist. What does it mean about the texture of daily life that every morning, on the way to work or school, people buy garlands of roses and marigolds, and drape them over their favorite god figures. They pause a moment, bow, touching their foreheads to the ground or the plinth on which the god sits.
They might leave food, or honey, or light some incense. However people choose to honor their gods, the point is that they stop to do so, throughout the day--and somehow, that makes everything feel gentler. It seems insane to say that, given how rowdy and rambunctious life is in Indian cities, and yet, there it is. There is something softer about it too.
And the color. I miss the vibrant splashes of pinks, oranges, golds, and greens. I am not exactly doing my part to bring that exuberance of hue back into these city streets.
It will have to be the memory of that riot of color that sustains me until the daffodils here begin clamoring for attention.