A number of months ago, a neighbor of ours in the U.S. brought home a mini-motorcycle. I don’t know how further to describe these motorcycles than their runty, cartoonish appearance, especially when straddled by a grown adult, and by the fact that they are obtrusively annoying when you hear them driven around, especially after 11pm when you would rather be sleeping. Maybe some of your neighbors have also disrupted your sleep by gunning a little whining engine down the street? Perchance you’ve even been the culprit once or twice?
Considering the neighborhood that we live in in Michigan, and one that I lived in for five years in Florida, I’ve spent time in some pretty “close quarters.” I’ve listened to my fair share of night time ballads and brawls. In addition to mini-motorcycles, I think there was some sort of late-night revival that took place this past summer, with a gentle, but prodding, call-and-response song around 3am. When I lived a bit closer to the college, I complained about late-night party noise, of course, but also this one, huge dog with a strident, interminable bark. In Florida, our backyard butted up against both “the Laugher,” and “the Screamer’s” houses, plus we lived down the street from “the Cat House,” which led to countless late night cat fights and other misdemeanors. And, yes, we bequeathed those names ourselves… but for obvious reasons! Being that I haven’t always had quiet nights, I’ve learned to appreciate them. In fact, the older I’ve gotten I’ve learned to enjoy any good stretch of quiet time, in just about any space. Quiet soothes me. It pats down my raised hackles, and calms the stress knots between my neck and my right shoulder. I find quiet to be soft like fleece, and fleece is one of my very favorite things on earth.
Well. You should have heard the noise pour in through my bedroom window last night, say around 10 pm. (Hey, I’m still getting healthy again! Jet lag is still lurking around a little. Don’t mock my 10pm bedtime!) I literally felt like my bed was smack in the middle of an auditorium that was filling up before a high school orchestra concert. There was such a din! I could hear instruments warming up, with an occasional squawk or screech mixed in, and it was like there were voices everywhere, talking louder and louder in anticipation of the concert. It was like the noise of bragging, and the shouting of hellos over tops of heads, and the murmuring of mothers to orchestral siblings. I’m telling you the truth… between the wedding taking place down the street, the neighborhood conversing, and the traffic bellowing on as usual, the pre-concert cacophony was mimicked perfectly in my bedroom last night. I was quite in awe, myself!
It has been 1 year and 8 months since I last spent time in India, which for me, is a pretty long time. Since 2003, I had been coming to India at least once a year, and it had always been less than a year’s time until I returned. This particular return to my “second home” has been remarkably odd. Add to the unusual amount of time between trips, the horrible head cold that I had upon arrival, and it has made for an incomparable adjustment phase for me. My cold was so awful on the plane that I could not taste or smell a single thing. JP asked my how breakfast was, and I told him I ate only because I was hungry, and could not give any indication of how it tasted, whether it was sweet, salty, spicy, or bland. I had put copious amounts of lime pickle on my previous meal, just so I could feel the burn on my tongue. In all seriousness, yesterday and today are the first two days I’ve been able to consistently taste or smell much of anything. We’ve now been in India for a week and four days! In one of my previous posts about getting ready for India, I mentioned that I have an incredibly sensitive nose. Truly, my nose has always led the way, for good or for ill, but not this time, not this trip. Additionally, if you know much of anything about me at all, you know of my affection for food in general, and Indian cuisine in particular. Yet, I’ve tasted very little so far. So strange. I’ve had over a week of neither smelling, nor tasting my India.
So what has it been like? Noisy, of course! I’ve always thought about India as a loud, clanging kind of place. JP and I always make a point of prepping groups for the rambunctious, honking traffic, and the extra-loud audio played on every device. I knew about the clatter of stainless steel in the kitchens, and the sudden, surprising bursts of steam from the pressure cookers. I’m even on near-friendly terms with the morning ruckus of bird call around here. Despite all of my prior knowledge, however, when my taste and smell where whisked away, it was noise that stood in their stead. Fascinating. I counted the different kinds of car horns one day, and after 11 in a short span I stopped counting. (Leila actually told me after hearing one of them herself, that it was someone’s cell phone ringing! You should also hear some of the “backing up signals” around here!!) We’re definitely close enough to hear the neighbors’ lives lived out, but only if you pay attention. For example, since my last trip, I’ve noticed that our devout Hindu neighbors must have moved (or become less pious) because I no longer hear the regular ringing of bells that were intended to invoke their gods in worship. I have heard nearly every last call to Muslim prayer, however. During the last few days I’ve also been listening to the vendors that make the early morning rounds. While I make out very little of what they shout, (just the Salt guy, the Tomato guy, and the Vegetable guy are familiar words to me…) I do hear the same familiar voices ring out day after day. It has made me wish for much fewer ice cream trucks in the U.S.(nothing new,) and way more vegetable vendors, ha!
So I guess this is the thing about quiet, right? It’s all about what we are listening for. These sounds have always been around when I’ve come to India. I think I’ve even noticed them all individually before. But, since my normal go-to senses have been out of whack, my ears have been more finely tuned this last week. I’m acutely aware of the “quiet” in India, like who wakes up when (due to some extra-loud brushing of teeth!) I am aware of the religions practiced around me. The traffic seems louder, and in my opinion, drives later into the night than it did before, but who knows? This is my India, same as always, just differently revealed.