I went into the old city of Baroda yesterday because I needed to buy some material for myself that I could only procure from the gullies and by lanes of this teaming other world. I went with a friend who equally delights in these sudden "out of the routine-lets take a walk-and who cares it's hot" plans; and so armed with independent water bottles and my newly needed sun protection all in place, we sailed to a berthing destination in my little Skoda Fabia; and then took to the streets on foot!
I always dive back into the nostalgia of when I was six years old on such occasions, and would drive about these very areas with my mother in our shining polished red herald as we shopped for this or that, whilst I lazily looked around in wonderment at old wooden architecture with a romantic eyes that far preceded my actual age. Today of course the city is no longer full of those exquisitely carved wooded buildings, and the few that are sandwiched between concrete and glass new age bling, look forlorn and unkempt and tragically forsaken.
But what hasn't changed is the charged energy that buzzes like the stock exchange floor at the peak of trading! I love that realness of the old city. I immediately become like the guest in this space and am always careful to use the etiquette and behaviour that represents my respect for what is the norm and expectations within this other world. Courtesies are different but don't for a second believe that they are absent. They are just packaged differently. The engagement of human interaction is bald and obvious; warm and genuine: and very comforting.
You are of course from time to time, assaulted by odious smells that leave your nostrils quivering; but if you can leave your chi-chi attitudes aside for a while, you will be embraced by the stories and spirit of the lives of people who have so much to share.
With my odd Hindi and almost non existent Gujarati I enter into conversations with all and sundry, and what emerges most times are interludes that give me an insight into worlds that are genuine and essential, and though different from mine, connected non the less. The air-conditioned shopping mall will never provide me with such rich experiences that can teach me to know myself better. The joking, the laughter the promises to share a meal - all this lies in those shaded gullies where cool breezes hover and business is transacted in ways as though no livelihood actually depends upon it! It's a special world out there and I love it.