India: then and now

India: first night.

Smell of almonds and condensed milk, curry powder, heat.
Ravi and Mani holding up a handwritten sign with our names on it, our familiar names in a completely unfamiliar setting spelling out adventure
They’re already our friends: we establish early on that we never expected to meet each other but are delighted we have
Friends gathering around roadside fire pits
Pretty signs in characters we don’t understand
Neatly packed row upon row of bananas and oranges and Coca Cola bottles
Colourfully painted words on vehicles say AshokLand, Safty First, Chicken Express, One Family One Child
Lines of palm trees
Two little-limbed boys repairing a van in the middle of a dark road
Large white bags of rice piled up for trade tomorrow
Dark linear forestland
Whole families on motorbikes
Wild dogs howling as we fly past
Missing or perhaps ignoring speed bumps and honking at any sign of another car, while they do the same to us
Ravi who has travelled 5 hours to pick us up’s second wind as he tells us stories of excitement and change
Hands held at first fright, too clammy to hold at every bump
Dust clouds
Temples, shrines and churches punctuate long straight roads
Cows appearing on porches
Hundreds of roadside stalls and doorless shops selling sweet and soft drinks
Neon lights draping petrol pumps and houses and signs and stalls
Tightly packed buses swarmed around by swerving smaller cars
Vans and trucks parked outside sleepy rural villages waiting for tomorrow’s shift
Thin veils of fabric hung over doorways revealing women putting away the dishes, bare feet sweeping the dust out
Host’s soft singing

India: last night.

India, you have stolen and broken and mended my heart.

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