Monday, December 24, 2012

An Assault on the Senses: Days 20 - 21

Day 20

I’m obsessed with mehndi (henna) and I was so excited to get it done because it’s never the same when I get it done back home.
I sat on a stool on the sidewalk next to a shopping center, rolled up my sleeves and spread out both my arms, as two artists painted intricate designs on my hands using a cone of henna with extraordinary ease.
The whole process took about 15-20 minutes. (Imagine how fast they were working!)
I’m in awe.

Day 21

One of my favorite parts of the day is my ride to work.

I take an auto-rickshaw, otherwise known as a three-wheeler. The body is bright green, and yellow and black fabric drapes over the sides, acting as doors. There are two benches inside; the driver sits on the front bench and I climb into the back and sit on the left side, keeping the “door” open so I can see outside during the drive. My hands are glued to the seat from the moment we start, trying to keep my body still as the auto bounces on the bumpy roads, sending my body flying about.

Traffic in Chandigarh is not something you get used to easily. Most of the cars are stick shift, and the driver’s seat is on the right. There are barely any traffic lights, and no such things as stop signs or yield signs or really anything of that sort. The funny thing is on some main roads, there’s a broken white line running down the center separating the lanes, but people drive on top of it. At first, the traffic really scares you. (Especially the intersections.) Cars just weave in and out and it looks like an accident is going to happen at any moment, but it rarely ever does. Instead, the mob of cars, bikes, trucks, scooters, autos, and rickshaws somehow manages to make itself work, as people honk their horns to warn surrounding vehicles of their next move. That persistent honking is one of the many distinctive noises of the streets of India.

Chandigarh is one of the most organized cities in India. It is divided into sectors, and each sector is given a number. Within each sector, there are subsectors, typically “A” through “D.” Sectors A and B are usually residential, while C and D contain shops and such. The heart of Chandigarh is the famous Sector 17, well known for its shopping plaza. Sector 17 is also home to the High Court where I go to shadow an attorney.

On my way to the law firm, I absolutely love watching what goes on outside. In addition to the honking, other noises of the streets include the occasional man calling out from his vegetable cart, Punjabi and Hindi songs blasting from cars passing by, and fireworks and the sounds of a dhol coming from colorful tents in which there are wedding festivities going on. We pass by shops lined with shelves of colorful fabrics for traditional Indian clothes, chemists from whom you can buy medicines after telling them your symptoms (with no need of prescriptions), tailors, grocery shops, and much more. Men sit on stools on the sidewalk, and facing a large mirror, get their beards shaved by barbers. Students dressed in navy blue uniforms chitchat on their way out of large schools. Men and women on scooters pass by the auto, their faces covered with scarves, their sleeves flapping about in the wind. At times there are whole families squeezed together sitting on those scooters. Men selling sweet potatoes, colorful fruits, and snacks line the sidewalks.

The streets of India remind me of the streets of New York City. Vibrant and alive, they are pulsing with culture and energy. I find myself in wonder sitting in the three-wheeler on my way to work, bouncing around on the bumpy roads of this beautiful city, gazing out onto the ever-entertaining streets, trying to take it all in. I don’t ever want to forget.

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