Despite this neighbourhood's pretensions, it takes no time at all to find a truer India, grubbier and more vibrant. Two streets away flop-eared goats nibble piles of street-strewn straw, the pink stains on their coats and on the pockmarked tarmac declaring that Holi has just passed. This is the spring festival of playful Lord Krsna, who doused his gopi-girlfriends with bright colours, a tradition kept alive today in Hinduism's anarchic carnival of colour.
Outside low houses parakeets are imprisoned in tiny cages, here a male rose-ringed and here an alexandrine. Wherever in the world I go, it seems, people delight in making wild things small, in having them and taming them. The wild and we are worse for it. But wild wildlife is here too: jungle babblers snarl from the trees, fat shiny purple bees visit the bruised mauve flowers of a downy Calotropis, common mormon and lemon pansy butterflies flit through a park, and a female Indian robin cocks her long tail in the mounting heat. A neem tree blooms, fine-flowered and white; full of healing compounds, this is India's millennial native pharmacy. With a stiff neck for days, I opt for diclofenac, dirt cheap and no prescription. This is the drug which, a residue in dead cattle, has killed 99% or more of South Asia's vultures in under twenty years, a sombre thought whenever I'm forced to take it.
At a shabby stall I'm laughed at, kindly, for limping through sentences in Hindi to a Marathi-speaking crowd. Were I Indian, offence might be taken and regional differences compounded, but in my case people are amused that a gora makes even a weak attempt to speak an Indian language. I buy tiger biscuits, what else? And disinfectant soap.
Next I have my hair cut. An Indian haircut is an act of drama, a work of art, the aged steel scissors and naked razor dancing in the barber's fingers. When done the barber massages my uptight neck, another office of his trade here, and deftly snaps it into shape, to my relief.
My laughing dove consents to sing outside my window this afternoon, his breast the same rich pink as the walled city of Jaipur in Rajasthan. Two ashy prinias make their appearance too, twirling their long patterned tails through roadside scrub. I've been hearing the call of these beautiful birds all day: such a nasty nasal noise from such a pretty little bird.
New in Nagpur
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