There are 2 times in the day when we must go out into a new town in India: early morning and early night.
In the morning, the town makes a groggy beginning with little kids in school uniforms spilling into the street, streetside shops pulling up their shutters and the locals cleaning the verandah and the entrance to their houses in a practice that seems to have been handed down centuries. There’s the steamy aroma of chai wafting about in the air and there’s the anticipation of breakfast. There’s also the fragrance of incense sticks slowly making their way into the day.
Nights are something else altogether. If mornings were about traditions, nights are about the warmth of camaraderie. There are bunches of friends – young and old – huddled together, there are the elders offering advice to the young, there are those who sit endlessly staring into space perhaps reliving the day gone by or dreaming of a better tomorrow. There are little kids playing cricket and, increasingly, football. There is the smell of incense from the temple, the church and the mosques we pass. There is the pulling down of the shutter, a sound that though always the same changes meaning from morning to night. There’s cackling laughter, there’s a tired sigh. It’s the end of the day, so let’s squeeze out the last bit left out of us, and out of the day.
Getting to know a new town is like getting to know a new person. It’s easier though because the town’s rhythm pulses like invisible energy through the little twisted streets exuberantly breathing out local flavour, enveloping the visitor in a welcome hug.
Hello, Fort Kochi. I love you already.