First Light, New Delhi

Trip Start Jan 22, 2010
Trip End Feb 14, 2010

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A musical whistle wakes me at 5 am. There it is again, a brief, bright motif of half a dozen notes a few blocks over. Some peddlar selling papers or something? It comes a few more times, receding. I lie awake for an hour letting my mind wander, then dress and walk out into the pre-dawn.

Last night's fog hasn't gone away. The rough calls of crows come out from the misty tree tops, and further off I can hear the stirring of what Dickens would call all the noise and bustle of a great city.

This residential area, the Defence Colony, was laid out by the British along with all New Delhi. There's still a sense of stately elegance amidst the decay. Last night Emma and Mariah laughed at my comments on the state of the crumbling roads and buildings. These are some of the best they've seen in months.

A few streets away I meet a broader avenue and other signs of life. Solitary men walk down the darkened street, some pausing to pray at a mist-shrouded streetside shrine lit with gaudy strings of lights. Occasional bicycles roll by, their mechanical complaints following them after their dark riders are lost from view.

The sound of a train, close by, shakes the bridge I'm crossing, and I suddenly see its dark bulk move across what must be another bridge, just downstream. There's something other worldly about all this, as if the whole scene has been conjured up by Hayao Miyazaki.

I nod at the morning strollers I pass, with no reaction from anyone. Finally, one old guy puts his palms together in front of him and says a greeting I can't catch (and no, it isn't "Namaste"; reseraching this after the fact, I think it is likely "suprabhāta"). But now I've figured out the good morning greeting, and sure enough, everyone I pass now returns the gesture.

I walk down as far as a raised motorway, then retrace my steps and continue past my turnoff until the larger residences of the Defence Colony on my left give way to bleaker dwellings. On my right, a wall fronts a series of what once must have been fancy facilities, like the Subhash Modern Sports Club, now fallen on rough times.

I pass under another raised motorway where a family sits around a lit brazier in the dawn chill. And on the other side of this underpass the buildings grow smaller still. Piles of rubble dot the roadside. A woman sweeps the dusty road in front of a shrine with a gathering of twigs. A cow appears out of a passageway five feet in front of me and ambles past. All I can hear, for a moment, is the sound of its four hooves clicking on the stones. This is the oddest part of the morning, but it just seems fitting somehow.

By now, people are more numerous along the way, cleaning their courtyards or buying bags of chips from the the occasional vendor's stand. I about face at the All Day Milk Stand and make my way back to our dwelling to find the girls still sleeping, so go out and write up this entry on a little patio set in the garden, now that the day is here.

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