“It’s the Delhi equivalent of Fulham” said my brother of his new neighbourhood. To my knowledge, the solidly affluent middle class London suburb doesn’t often have cows napping in the middle of the road. Everything about India is a surprise, a shock, an assault on the senses. From the eye watering, throat constricting chili market, to the bum numbing journeys on rickety buses, the stench of open sewers, the unwelcome advances from seedy men with wandering hands and the regular plunging into inky darkness as the electricity supply fails again. India is frustrating, magical, filthy, baffling. And hot, so hot that the air burns your lungs, walking down the street induces nausea, and emergency blackout candles melt in rucksacks.
Days before the much anticipated rainy season, the air in Old Delhi is thick with dust and pollution and shimmering hot. An afternoon of exploring has left us exhausted, sweaty, overwhelmed. Our last stop of the day is reputedly the oldest mosque in the city, a modest, single story building. I’m underwhelmed, there is little decoration, just a tatty carpet and grubby plastered walls. It may be the oldest mosque in this ancient city, but it certainly isn’t as grand as others we’ve seen, no sufis, no ornate jewelled walls. All I want is to retire to a fan cooled cafe for an iced lemon soda, I can almost feel the condensation on the cold glass, taste the sour fizz. But we are here, and my brother has promised me a good view.
The caretaker rouses himself from his afternoon nap on the floor, head pillowed on a turban, and after a few words with my brother, produces a key and unlocks a small door in the wall. We follow him up a steep, narrow staircase and out on to the roof. The air is cool and fresh away from the close, maze-like streets, the city spread out in front of us, a carpet of low level dwellings, mosques, shops. And in the sky, pigeons, thousands of pigeons flying in numerous small flocks, soaring and diving, as choreographed as a ballet, their stage stretching as far the eye can see.
We watch, mesmerised by their synchroncity and grace. “They are pets you know” the caretaker says, “look around you, their owners are on the roofs of the buildings, they fly them like kites, have done ever since the city came into being.” As we listen to the men calling the pigeons, and watch their extraordinary swooping flight in the falling dusk, the dirty, smelly, frustrating city recedes. I am a still, silent point in the swirling vortex of history as the birds keep tracing their ancient map in the sky.
This post was written for the writing workshop at Sleep is for the Weak. This week, Josie asked us to ‘Talk about a time where you found something magical in the mundane.’