Temple bells, the scent of jasmine in the air, petrichor, truck horns set to the tunes of Bollywood songs: it doesn’t take very long for India to kick in, even if the country you’ve just spent a year in is almost diametrically opposite in nature.
I have had plenty of time to while away on the balcony; on a stormy evening, I saw two transformers blow up in the rain like fireworks on Guy Fawkes’ Night, plunging several streets into darkness at once. Things are slow enough for me to notice when there is a sudden drop in the number of aeroplanes overhead. But I quite like my peace: because once I go out on the roadness, the madness rushes back into my veins, reminding me of certain things I dreaded returning to.
I am learning to walk on Indian roads again: there are no yellow lights here, allowing pedestrians the right of way. Your palm, as a request or an order to a vehicle to stop so you can cross the road, is your most useful tool. When I travel on a bus, I won’t be able to slip into a reverie any longer; I’ll have to be on my guard against prying hands, and it isn’t only your purse or your jewellery they want. The dogs that yelp when caught in the glare of the headlights of two-wheelers aren’t always harmless. Just before sunrise, they are embroiled in fierce battles for the supremacy of the desolate streets. What goes on in their world? Do they have a hierarchy to submit to?
Which brings me to how astonished I am at the readiness of the people who live in these flats to smile. Coming away from Brighton, I was quite sure I’d miss the ready pleasantries and the happy faces of strangers. Thankfully, where I live now, people smile at one another: is it a camaraderie born of knowing that almost all of us have the same amount of money to spend? I am probably being unduly sceptical, but in a country where servility is entrenched in class relations, and where open doors have slammed themselves shut over the years as money started pouring in and a new middle class emerged, it is quite astonishing to see such a marvellous change in behaviour. Would they be willing to extend the same cordiality to the maids who work in their flats or the watchmen and the cleaners? We have scant respect for menial labour, but if we have learnt to treat everyone equally, I couldn’t be happier.
I have to get used to the knowledge that all the news on TV will be about corruption, cricket and downright stupid opinions on rape. The monotony will be broken by the odd celebrity wedding. Much mud-slinging, an expose or two, someone caught accepting bribes on a hidden camera, a few cases lodged in court, and life will go on like it always did.
The perennial smog effectively blots out every single star in the sky; but I do like it that Bangalore isn’t sultry. Every now and then, a breeze springs up from nowhere and several insects flutter around white lights, drawn to their deaths despite themselves. I haven’t seen the moon in ages. I miss the countryside and I miss London. But I have taken solace in a delicious book, Dodie Smith’s I Capture The Castle. I have been in seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain’s shoes, seeing London with the greedy eyes of one unaccustomed to luxury, falling in love for the first time, making mature decisions that are bound to be accompanied by misery. Strangely enough, I have enjoyed the book so much that instead of feeling sorry about having to leave England, I have revelled in the descriptions. Flashes of afternoons spent in Lewes and Southease, at the Olympic Park, or listening to a nondescript band play at the Hop Festival in Faversham, keep coming back to me- bits and pieces from a year formed of so many memories I shall have a hard time keeping count of them. I wake up at 3 am with the London skyline in my head- decide to make a day trip to the city- then realise I’m on a different continent. Was that me or Cassandra?
I wonder if anybody would read a journal I kept. What makes me different or more noteworthy than any other person in his or her twenties? I measure my successes through comparison with sportspersons: and by their mid-twenties, most generally have achieved a lot. This makes Formula One an extremely comfortable sport to follow.
The first time I returned from a year abroad, I wallowed in self-pity and regret; right now, I think I’m still overwhelmed by the year that was. I’m not relishing the idea of having to come back to earth- but I’ll worry about it when I have to.