One of the main drags (Janpath) in Bhubaneswar, as seen from an autorickshaw
Traveling somewhere for the first time, the intensity of the sights and sounds is magnified. After a while, a filter develops to keep out what’s normal and allows through only things out of the ordinary. India’s so different from what I’ve known up until now that the miniature filter I’ve begun to develop is clogged; I’m still hearing and seeing everything. It’s making me a little jumpy.
Some random observations on the sights and sounds in this (new for me) city:
I’m struck by how different the sounds are, both what I hear and what I don’t hear.
I still hear TVs -- and they’re still annoying. (Hindi’s easier to tune out than English because I can’t process it, but it does sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher on steroids.) Thank god for my ipod to drown them out. What I haven’t heard the whole time I’ve been in India is a siren (an ever-present sound in New York City) -- fire, police, ambulance. I certainly haven’t seen anything of the kind in Bhubaneswar. What I do hear: Car horns, all the time. I read somewhere that the constant horn honking in India isn’t always to warn other drivers that you’re coming, but rather to announce your presence, saying, This is the space I’m occupying. There are no stop signs, a handful of traffic lights, and few lane demarcations, so the horns are critical.
Another view of Janpath. The fruit off to the side of the road is the "market"
Sound: Wild dogs howling and yelping.
Wow. They get each other all worked up and it goes on for a long time. Sight: The dogs look awful. They’re often curled up on the ground, looking listless. I did see one man out walking a dog on a leash (as a pet), much to my surprise. I hear the people downstairs yelling at the dogs, chasing them away from the front gate of the hostel. I saw a puppy, dead on the street, its entrails spilling out, flies buzzing all around. I thought, No one owns that dog, who will mourn it and clean it up? But it was gone the next morning.
Autorickshaws along Janpath. Note the cow chilling on the street divider.
Sight: My feet, covered with mosquito bites. Sound: I hear a lot of spitting, hacking up loogies, and belching. It’s okay to let it rip in India. Also lots of slurping noises while eating, made by men and women alike.
Close-up of an autorickshaw
Sound: Firecrackers at night, no idea why, not that far away, on more than one occasion. Scared the bejeezus out of me. Sight: Last night when I looked out the window, I saw the fireworks, and they were beautiful. Sound: Live music outside that gradually grew louder as it got closer, until it was so loud it felt like it was in the hostel. Out in the hallway, one of the college students explained that it was part of a wedding celebration, which I then saw pass by. Cool.
Absence of sound: Almost no one speaks to me. They just stare, silently. The few words spoken to me -- The security guard at the Citibank (!) ATM: Which country? And Good morning, ma’am from a store clerk at 3pm.
Most of the time when English is spoken to me, I can barely understand it. I wonder if my supervisor has noticed that I hardly look him in the eye because I’m watching his lips, trying so hard to follow what he’s saying. Otherwise what I hear is all Hindi, all the time. (There’s also likely some Oriya in there, but I wouldn’t know. Ignorant American here!)
My first glimpse of Bhubaneswar's temples...
Sound: My heart thumping in my chest because people keep staring at me. Sound: My internal voice, saying Just breathe. Sound: Me, letting out a little chuckle at the absurdity of it all.
Sound: A cow mooing every once in a while. Sight: The cows look terrible -- they’re skinny, and their teats look like they have long hairs growing out of them.
There's no trash pickup; instead, you bring your trash to this central location
A frequent sight: Men peeing outdoors! There’s no attempt to hide it, no embarrassment. I saw it literally the first time I looked out my window at the hostel. Just standing in front of a wall, on the side of the road, or just about anywhere. Yes, my neighborhood is a giant toilet. I keep saying to myself: Just observe, don't judge. Just observe, don't judge. Just observe, don't judge.
Absence of sound: No construction noise! I haven’t heard a single hammer or jackhammer in Bhubaneswar. A sight: People removing dirt at a construction site manually, one basket at a time. I also haven’t heard the long beeps of a truck in reverse, or the whoop whoop of someone activating a car alarm.
Checking out a crafts fair in Bhubaneswar, with stalls representing different rural districts of Orissa
Sight: The beautiful colors of women’s clothing. Sound: In Big Bazaar, the Walmart of India, a screeching, echoing male voice over a tinny loudspeaker: 50 par-cent discount, going on right now, 50 par-cent. Sound: A bird every morning; I don’t know what it is, but it’s beautiful. Also every morning, the singing of prayers, always by a male voice. Sight: Boys (and occasionally men) holding hands, a social norm (of friendship) here.
Sound: During the day, what sounds like a duck, but is actually a man on a bicycle, honking a horn. He’s selling something, but I’m not sure what. He also shouts what sounds like “brick,” which is how you say the Hindi word for bread. So maybe he’s selling bread.
Sound: Intermittent scratching, coming from somewhere inside my room.
Sight: Realizing it’s a creature, something that looks like a gecko, up near the ceiling. Sight: “Keep your city clean” signs amid what seems to me to be a city with much bigger problems, though I’m glad to see the effort. Nearly every morning on my two-block walk to work, I see (and smell) a pile of burning trash off the side of the road. The other day I read about the slums of Bhubaneswar; I haven’t seen them yet, but I want to, just to get the full picture of the city.
I'm keeping my distance from these guys
Sight: Barefoot girls on an unpaved, rocky road -- ouch! Children out on the street with their mother at 9:30am; shouldn’t they be in school?
Sight: The fingernails on my right hand are yellow from eating with my hand. The last manicure I got in New York is g-o-n-e. Sight: My dirty feet, after walking around in the office (including the kitchen and its wet floor) all day without shoes. Sight: Flies all over the grapes at the fruit market. Also at the market, long, gorgeous strands of yellow and orange flowers.