It is not a city’s responsibility to present a new side every time you return to it. Ahmedabad is no exception.
Alighting from the air-conditioned Shatabdi Express onto Platform # 1 yesterday my first thought was ‘Oh, this I have seen before.’ This, in this case, would be this, that and the other that one sees at railways stations. What I had not seen before were properly equipped janitors. It is heartening to note that Indian Railways has invested in mechanized floor cleaners and largely retired those long-handled wooden brushes with bristles made of coconut remnants which tired and listless janitors once used with palpable indifference. They cleaned as much as they left long streaks of dirt. So they cleaned again and created streaks in new places. And so it went on. Cleaning was merely shifting streaks along the platforms. That has changed now.
Emerging from the platform I was asked by two security men to step aside. They went through my two duffels with courtesy. Have you noticed how when bags are made to open at airports and railways stations underwear always manages to somehow rise to the top of the pile even though you had carefully kept them at the bottom? I suspect underpants think that it is their only chance to be noticed and to make an impact since they spend most of their life in the dark netherlands. The particular security man who ended up confronting my underwear had the detachment of a lifelong clinician. He just brushed it aside.
With a porter right behind me and my elder brother Manoj in front we stepped out only to be instantly cooked by a particularly assertive wave of heat. If we were beef patties, we would have been lightly roasted on contact. And it was not even that hot. It was around 100 degrees F or about 38 degrees Celsius. Add to that an 83% humidity and you are ready to be uncompromisingly seasoned. It was the kind of heat that Manoj says makes you want to reflexively scratch an itch you never knew you had.
Coming back to how a city feels no obligation to surprise you on every visit, as I came out of the station about a dozen rickshaw drivers surrounded me, each asking where I was going and how they could go there with much less fuss than the rest. Accosting rickshaw drivers have been a constant both at the city’s airport and railways station for the past decade at least. The good thing is that they do not linger on once you say no. Those who do, do so in the distant hope that you might change your mind. “Is that your final answer?” is what they seem to be asking without really verbalizing it.
Before I sign off, a quick word about something that most visitors to India obsess over—the traffic. I think I have finally discovered the best way to deal with it. Do not look at the diversity of the vehicles and the diversity of their directions and the diversity of their speeds and the diversity of their drivers’ skills individually. That would completely fuck up your brain. Treat the entire vehicular movement as one organic beast swirling through the city and yourself as a small part of it. Once you know that you are merely fulfilling a small task in a little corner you would begin to understand how the traffic flows. There. I think I am on to something truly original.