Unearthing the living
In the late afternoon sun, dust shines in a haze over every street. It blows off of red, caked earth, mixes with petrol fumes, and veils stone skyscrapers to make them appear as ancient monuments.
Then, in the mornings, a woman sweeps the sidewalk outside. She returns everyday with a bundle of sticks, scratching away a layer of decay, an endless archaeological dig happening in real-time. I think of the cycle, day after day, the effort it takes just to keep the living unearthed.
It’s as if every floor that’s mopped, door handle polished, window wiped and bookshelf dusted is trying to remember the past, a perfection never realised because it faded, always, a moment before we finished it... and the real present isn’t the ideal we’ve been trying to exhume, that shininess, but instead it’s the dust – all dust, dust, dust.
An early snowfall set in on the ancient forests of Mariposa County in November. Thousand-year-old giant sequoia trees bowed to the oncoming storm, and mountain rangers closed off the high country roads one by one as the snow piled up to a foot.
Tokyo usually heaves at night. Lights glimmer and flush from buildings reaching high above you, pushing out the stars.
Forced out of their homes by the ravages of the earthquake, tens of thousands of evacuees in northern Japan remain in welfare centres 11 days later.
A man points out his house - an undistinguished patch of rubble on a whole coastline of them.
The woman next to me on the bus said she didn't know where to evacuate to.
It's dire for Fukushima - Ground Zero. "Taihen desune." That's what they say in a line of cars snaking around three bends, past shut shops and service stations, queuing almost 2km at dawn for petrol.
When our bus pulled over a ridge, to a view of the city’s full expanse, there were sighs as cameras flashed.
“As always, objects of luxury are admired by many, possessed by few” – A billboard for tower apartments. (No tall poppies here.)
My daily commute is a 15-minute assault from honking horns and great offers of trinkets, increasingly sun-dried pineapples, and auto-rickshaw tours that, admittedly, pass by landmarks on the way to shops.
The state leader here will try praying naked to elude a corruption scandal.
The country’s brightest prospects escort me into a law school auditorium, for the inauguration of a national competition. There are future high court judges undoubtedly among them; but their suits, like their futures, still don’t fit quite right.
“We are proud to work for our organisation” – A banner in the newsroom. (The organisation does, in fact, serve free food several times a day.)
“AG faces more SC fire on CVC” – A front-page headline. (WTF)
You often suspect it, seeing stray dogs lying comatose among hundreds of stamping feet. But I’ll take a closer look to see their eyes closed peacefully and their chests gently heaving. They frequently yawn and stretch their skimpy bones. (Why they pick the busiest sidewalks to sleep on remains a mystery. Though technically wild – and free – they can’t cast off their domestication.)
Those saris, their coloured fabrics flowing, make every ordinary action seem a ritual; a mere walk down the street looks imbued with magic. They tempt me to take photos of women grocery shopping. But imagine: a tourist, armed with a camera, positions himself at the entrance to New World, ready to shoot anyone coming out – because he’s enchanted by the proliferation of big, black sunglasses in New Zealand.
“Deccan Herald: News that makes you a winner” – A billboard. (My articles shall reveal the secrets.)
The morning felt like I had slipped off of time. The sunlight was white and slender, and even if I closed my eyes to dream, my watch kept on 5.20am.
It’s a shock when a beggar starts haggling your charity.
“Be an army man, be a winner for life” – Below the billboard is a warning against scams that promise easy entry. (You can’t buy victory.)
“Foreign language courses: Accent and personality development (UK, USA)” – A poster on MG Road. (Fear this industry; no doubt the personalities produced are not only effective but plausible.)
“Brindavan Hotel: Know your future, adjust your way of life”
I never knew the charms of spring, never met them face to face. I never knew my heart could sing, never missed a warm embrace...
At the stroke of five music rang through the neighborhood. A 30-second jingle broadcast from scattered loudspeakers reminded all children on the playgrounds and in the parks that it was time to go home. I listened to the familiar melody, echoing with delayed renditions from distant speakers, and I felt the urge to get away. Maybe it was a reflex I learned from growing up here, an impulse to find my way home. But more than that I think it was the hint of a reflected sunset in the fringes of the clouds and the calming of the darkening streets that was too much for me. The beauty of it all made me restless.