The gray skies of dawn break upon a city rolling in its bed, stretching, yawning, bleary eyed, grubby, grudgingly waking up to face yet another day. The faint smell of coal fires being kindled with cardboard fills the air. Somewhere inside the bazaar shutters are being lifted and little clouds of dust in front of shops tamed by an occasional splash of water by a little boy; inside, the owner lights incense to a goddess with many arms. From the dark depths of the chai -pani place comes the clatter of utensils and the aroma of thick boiling chai – for the first patrons.
The new flyover takes you whizzing by the third floor bedroom window of middle class India which is still sleeping inside its mosquito net with the window carelessly open – a right earned for predating the flyover. The flyover goes down to meet its earthling friend near the hustle bustle of a ground floor kitchen. The banshee like shriek of the pressure cooker assaults the morning calm. Look closely and you might catch the glimmer of a TV churning out the latest news and a lady with her wet hair wrapped in towel reasoning with surly children in half ironed school uniforms – this is the new India, desperate to get out of its one BHK rental unit.
The taxi rushes, the lack of competition at this hour has clearly gone to its head. In this light, the open sewers and the homeless who sleep by them look romantic – very City Of Joy-esque. The crude graffiti on the walls look harmless and soon give way to that patch of greenery the municipality calls the city’s lung. At this hour retired government officers walking their morning walk are choking the precious lung.
I miss all of that today as I wander around the antiseptic cleanliness of an American suburb at 5:00 AM. Only cars whiz by – silently, politely. With a head full of images and distant memories, I head for the Dunkin Donuts with its bright neon “OPEN” sign and smiling cashier. She gives me my coffee and wishes me well. I finish my coffee slowly and look outside on the gray morning which is now choc-bloc with traffic. I suddenly feel fine. You see, after that bewitching hour cities everywhere wake up (even suburbs). The ugliness of traffic, jostling, irate humans and nauseating pollution file in and the spell is broken for yet another day.