Dark, muscular women carrying mountains of wood on their heads walk with downcast eyes along blisteringly hot roads. Their faces are barely visible under their saris and they turn to look at me as I cycle past. Their pink, spiral motif saris revealing small slices of their waists that ripples with the weight. Small children shadow them dragging bundles of sticks along the floor.
On either side of the road I see the real India. There are small thatched dwellings with pink walls cracked from the heat, mangles chewing on storks of sugar cane, goats tied by the neck to a mound of bricks, donkeys scratching their heads against ploughs, women sculpting cow dung into flat circular disks and laying them down in rows on on the floor. There are pools of stagnant water, waste and garbage festering on the roadside and slender white egrets perch on the rough hind of buffalo, nose ringed and chewing methodically in the sun.
As I cycled past bystanders they stopped and stared in amazement. Some open mouthed and baffled, some shout something inconceivable and point. But it was the children who went crazy as the sight of me peddling through their town. Through almost very village they would run or turn round on the bicycles and chase me, screaming and laughing giddily, ‘hello sir, hello, hello, hello!’ continuing to chase until their legs could go no further. Whenever I would pass a school and the children would be having an outside class and they would see me over the wall outlining their playground, it would only take one to turn and point and the whole class would run up and spill onto the road waving and shouting.
I alleviate some back pain by resting my palms in the centre of the handlebars, (there’s only three positions which I’m restricted to for 6 months) I view my surroundings from a slightly altered angle, below average eye level and look out into the open mist of palm groves and mustard fields that stretch on as far as the eye can see. Occasionally I can make out the small roaming, bent-back figures of farmers deep amongst the shrub, they have no idea that I’m passing through their remote town unaccustomed to any foreign appearance.
The air is perfumed with a thousands different smells. Every few kilometers brings with it new intoxicating smells. Roasting sugar cane (it has a strikingly similar smell to Heinz tomato soup) the hind of cattle, goats, horse, pig, buffalo, camels, burning wood, rusting metal, diesel fumes, coal smoke and beedies. I breathe in India and her immensely fragrant body…