The quiet, yet bustling metropolis is an epitome of diversity. It is dotted with scattered houses, shiny skyscrapers and green in between; and filled with eateries that have been the inspiration behind the new word “Delhi Belly" recently added to the Oxford dictionary.
Work has taken me to quite a few towns and cities in last few years, and last week was no different. I ended up traveling to these towns of Jhansi, then Agra, briefly Karnal also, and I realized that if I were based in one of these towns, the life would have been different altogether.
I find that, although small towns in India do not have the kind of traffic jams that the big cities have, the crowded areas of the town are not entirely free of traffic. Here the traffic is of the unruly kind with vehicles, cycles, carts, bulls, cows, dogs, cats, vendors and pedestrians all on top of each other. To drive a car in a small town requires unlearning the rules that big city driving schools teach and learning new learn-as-you-go rules.
To drive a car on the road means to dip and rise as if riding a ship in a sea storm; or to ride the auto rickshaw, which is more suited to the four foot wide, tiny, ancient streets, means to be tossed about like a marble and, even after you reach your destination for a few minutes, to have your teeth clatter and eyeballs continue to roll in your head. If you prefer to take the wider roads on the outskirts of town then be ready to wade through oceans of black and white goats that often flood the roads.
Time in the small town is a different concept, from time in the big city. When people give you an appointment for 10 in the morning, it means that this is just one of the possible times that they might appear. As I wait with my big city time precision, I find instead of losing my happiness at their casual attitude, it is a lot less stressful to loosen the hold that time has held over me all these years. The next time someone says they will come at 10 sharp, I find myself saying, “10 o’clock sharp means I might meet them some time today, if not, tomorrow, or if not, sometime this week, this month or two”.
I find more than once that small towns have the capacity to surprise. For example my first such surprise comes on the very first day I spend in Jhansi. I am tired with traveling and as the evening falls I settle down for my read before going to bed. As my city trained ears prepare to fight their accustomed battle against the “whirr” and “honks” of the city traffic so that I can concentrate on my book better, I hear something I have never heard before.
This sound is so unfamiliar to me that I put my book aside and listen to it with my full attention. It is the sound of silence. So complete and deep that it caresses me like a soft velvet auditory blanket. I close my eyes to take in the full feeling of complete peace that it brings. My breathing eases. My stressed out city senses covet this experience with unimagined thirst.
After spending some time just listening to the silence, I pick up my book again. In this magical silence, reading a book, I find, is an experience not ever duplicated in the city. The book covers your senses softly with its contents in the manner similar to the beautiful, deep silence. The lack of noise, I find is truly, truly beautiful.
Next morning the auditory pleasure of the night before continues when I wake up to an orchestra of birds. In Delhi, the birds would compete with the traffic sounds. Here in Jhansi the birds compete with no one but each other. They hold center stage with their performances. And as I sit with my steaming morning coffee cup looking out at the early mist through which the birds sing, I feel as though I have a box seat to their performance: a performance of so many maestros.
A few days have passed since I came back. But I still have the reassurance that I have the magical silence and the talented birds waiting for me when I get there again. I came home and was again reminded of the comforts and the system the city has which a small town doesn’t.
I am not calling myself best suited for a small town yet, but I am at a stage where a small fond place for such small towns has developed in my heart that is growing at an alarming rate. I might yet be in the danger of turning “small town”. I do not know when, or if, that will happen, but right now, I can comfortably say I am glad I know now what it would mean, to me.