The sharply accented dialect of Hyderabadi Hinglish fills the dead night’s air. The clink of a toast pierces the chatter as the privileged youth of Hyderabad celebrate life and love. India. The originator, the inventor, the whorehouse for love and life. A place where love can be found on the boom box of two scraggly men, sitting on broken steps, gleefully singing along of taking his imaginary lover to a land far away. “Lejaaingee Lejaaingee, dilvalee dhulunia lejaingee!” Love can be found under the soles of your shoes, stepping on photos of Salmaan Khan charming one more woman with his gorgeous smile. Love can be found in the shake of a servant’s head, as he smiles in acceptance and appreciation of your simple hello. Love is simple. Nothing is necessary but love.
I gaze upon the small woman as she bundles her child up and swiftly boards the moving bus, naked feet, pierced nose, pearly white teeth. She sits next to an old man at the front, leaning slightly so as not to be rude or promiscuous, of which I am not sure. The bus rattles along, lacking of any true definition of safety but filled with the warmth of security. She’s thrown from one side of the bus, stumbling over herself and falling to the ground. Ten concerned hands impulsively reach to help her up. Moments later each impassive face stares longingly into the distance, for a better day to come but quite satisfied with the today’s work passed.
I run up to the rooftop of the guest house to catch a glimpse of the city, bouncing off each low wall to see what the other may bring. I throw my head back to the sky and I’m jolted back 15 years, holding a spool and scampering behind my elder cousins, watching the kites as they dip and soar, rippling in the air, tails flapping wildly in the spiced wind, hands happily bleeding from the glass studded yarn. The skill, the excitement, the camaraderie. It had been so long since I’d let that memory sweep me over and engulf me in its perfection of innocent happiness. I swooned in its reminiscence a few moments longer before letting it slip away.
My eyes plunged downwards below the horizon, delving deeper and deeper into the abyss of this wonderful city, as they settled upon an entire world apart from that of my blissful dreams. Rows and rows of concrete huts, covered with tin foil and cloth held down with large rocks line the ground below me. Saris draped over every bare rod, women walking skillfully as they balance large silver matkas on their shoulders containing water that will last them the week. The small compound filled with cows and their dung sends me a whiff of familiar air; the pungent smell of India. My eyes and heart are transfixed into a state of oblivion. Is this India?
Which India is the real India? Which India is going to be my India. Which India will I let into my heart, sweep me off my feet, and dance all night with? Which India will choose me, take my hand, guide me through the crowded streets, and force me to get lost in her imperfect perfection?