A bluish-grey smog has hung over the city all day; no promise of rain, but just a perverse reluctance of the weather to break into sprightly rain or sunshine. For first-timers in India, this might not be the best welcome: Bangalore isn’t necessarily where the sun-splashed pictures in tourist brochures originate.
However, through several minutes spent on the balcony of the thirteenth-floor flat my parents rent now, India has seeped back into my veins again. I spent the first few hours of my return dazed and confused. The skyline here lacks green hills and chalk cliffs, and I’m hundreds of miles away from the sea. After a year in a quiet English village, India is quite an onslaught on more senses than one. There is a lot going on at once- much hooting on the roads, children yelling in the corridors of the building, women scraping at well-scoured pans in their kitchens- a jumble of noises that so entangle themselves that dissociating one from another in less coherent moments, like the zones where sleep turns into wakefulness into sleep, becomes difficult.
Our windows look out on just one portion of a very large city: row after row of houses, some coloured a garish pink or blue or yellow. A set of chimneys over a factory eternally spews out two plumes of dark grey smoke that merge into one somewhere at the top. A narrow garden runs by the road, patches of green peeling off to reveal a rich, red soil. The lone sprinkler that waters it sends half its showers onto the pavement: this in a city that has seen a few shutdowns recently over a water-sharing dispute with a neighbouring state. A very hazy line in the distance could be a line of low hills, or just the tops of a chain of trees, it is very hard to tell. Somewhere in the distance, a whitish hillock rises from behind the buildings, quarried, gashed and completely disfigured. I miss the countryside.
The flight home was largely uneventful; a window seat and a quiet co-passenger do wonders for your mood. I kept pressing my nose to the window, looking at the map, feeling a thrill every time we were in a new country- Holland, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan! As long as the light lasted, I marvelled at how similar Germany looked to Poland from up there in the sky, green fields broken by rows of houses. Every successive body of water looks like the previous one, but there is still something quite charming about knowing that one is called the Persian Gulf and another the Atlantic Ocean. Somewhere in what I took to be Ukraine, a long snaking river stayed in the glass for ages together, and I named it the Volga. As night fell, there was a grand explosion of lights underneath, dense veins of yellow lamps that thinned eventually as the map indicated that we were moving into desert territory. I made a hash of geography, rearranged the map in the few hours that I was in the sky, realising that one of the first things I had to do when I reached home was to find an atlas.
I enjoy reading on aeroplanes. The most riveting memory I have of reading on a plane is that of Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. The protagonist was on a bus, running away from home, embarking on various adventures, but just to know that he was on the road was reassuring. He felt like a kindred spirit. And this time, so did Antoine Roquentin of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea, preparing to leave Bouville for Paris, visiting his favourite haunts for the last time, just as I had wandered around London on my last day there, checking places off an endless list. I view this trip home only as a break; maybe there is another country I need to see first?
Thirteenth-floor balconies are splendid for sunsets: just last evening, I was treated to a spectacular wash of pink spreading across a rapidly darkening sky- and then the lights of the city blazed on. A day or two, and things will be normal again; it greatly helps to come home to a city you have lived in, which hasn’t always been the case for me. But would I want England to fade out of my memory? Not for the world!