During my evening slow-walk on 3rd Cross, a tiny something fell on my head, wetting a spot. Bird piss, I thought, taking care not to touch my crown. As I turned the corner into 2nd Main, two drops fell on my swinging hand. “Again!” I thought, and realized just then: “Rain!” After I’d gone a few yards more, I felt the cool nick of a raindrop glancing off my forearm. That was all — the sum of all the rain that this morning’s forecast of 50% precipitation brought — the total rainfall this summer, in fact.
It strikes me now: There’s no more the scent of first rain. I cannot recall when I last inhaled that smell in this city, of soil sending up its mating signal to the clouds. Concrete has carpeted our entire urban sprawl, even round those trees that remain, where concrete circles close the trunk.
It’s hot this summer. We haven’t known this persistent heat in Bangalore.
The richest employ guards who sit before the gate intent on their phone screens. The most guards are on 1st Main, where the largest mansions are. A tall, erect, well-built maid passes me with a white Labrador on leash. She stops before a guard sprawled on a steel chair. “My madam has got the (garden) pots your madam wanted,” she says. “Yeah?” says the guard. “I’ll tell our madam.” But that’s not all. There’s other stuff to tell about their respective madams, and they begin. The guards from homes on either side approach. It’s a summer evening, there’s a breeze about, it’s the setting for leisurely gossip.
I stay a foot away from the edge of the road. My wife always implores me to beware the meagre patch beneath the trees, on which grass and little shrubs grow. We’ve once seen a snake emerge from there, and wiggle and struggle on the asphalt. My wife is not walking with me tonight, but I heed her warning. Also, there’s another reason for caution: Dog poo. Picking up the pet’s mess is not yet done here.
I hear the scrunch of dead leaves close behind me — a young lady, her phone to her ear. She meets my eyes and looks away, embarrassed at having come close. I’m sheepish myself: I’ve been staring at a lit balcony ahead of me, with much curiosity. This lady is a regular, walks the same time as I in the evening. Today she is in black n’ white polka-dotted tights, and as always she is on the phone, speaking a mix of English and Kannada in the lowest tone she can manage. I make room for her to pass. We are all kinds of walkers here: Sometimes we make way; many times we make sure we don’t, right up to the point of collision.
Up at the end of 2nd Main, on the corner with 5th Cross, a mansion is coming up. At any time two or three large homes are rising in the neighborhood, each replacing a magnificent home that last stood there. This construction on the corner of 2nd Main has gone up three stories, and daily in the evening when I walk past it, two workmen sit slouched on plastic chairs, immersed in their phones. Today they have brought their chairs well into the street. Their women are in the hut before the upcoming building, they’ve lit a fire for dinner. Their accent and conversation is of the middle class; they speak the pleasant, lilting Kannada of North Karnataka; this life on the street in a shutterless hut is not what they deserve. Yet in their light banter there’s no bitterness.
During my morning speedwalk, when I pass the same spot, the chairs are gone and at 05:30 a fire is already going in the hut for breakfast, and the smoke from it is out and about. At the edge of the street a figure is sleeping, blanketed head to toe. There’s a lamp post ten feet away from the sleeper, making the spot safe from a few dangers. But the light from the lamp requires that the face be covered. A man’s snoring issues from beneath the blanket. It is the predawn hour, but it is not cool enough to warrant a woolen blanket. Maybe that’s all the blanket the man has.
What’s cooking smells good. The folks can afford masala in their meal, I note.
There’s still in the air the fragrance of hongè, they are shedding the last of their seeds. That’s very nice, but there’s also a burning in my nostrils, and dust drying there.
We need some rain soon.