Letter from Lucknow #3: The Evening Street

Dear Friends,

Now that I am in Lucknow, I suppose you would like a description. Much is how you might imagine it: there is overpopulation, pollution, and much poverty. But there is a subtle beauty as well. When I walk home in the evenings, and the twilight pierces through the palm leaves to cast long shadows over the road, the streets are busy as Indians making their way home: on bicycles, rickshaws, auto rickshaws, horse drawn carriages, cars, their own bare feet. Every evening is like a block party, with stalls lined up along the side of the road to sell fruits, grains, and vegetables. A woman in a burkah grills corn over a grill. A man chats at the counter of milk shop. I see the back of a head as man sits in a chair facing a mirror on the brick wall, while the barber brandishes a knife for his shave. Cows chew the grass, and swish their tails lazily.

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All day long, across the street from our flat, an auto rickshaw equipped with a loudspeaker delivers political speeches for the upcoming municipal elections. Sometime’s it is the voice of a woman, at other times a man. It is all very shud (high) Hindi. At night I can hear a political rally and enthusiastic roars erupt from behind the neighboring wall. I doze to political slogans.

On the way to school Abraham and I pass all sorts of animals: dogs panting beneath the shade of cars; cows lumbering about the street and blocking traffic; men walking goats on leashes. Once we spotted a monkey swinging his two arms at pace with us on the opposite side of the road. It pivoted its head about with its small, beady black eyes as if it, too, were taking India in for the first time. A friend of mine on the program, who lives deep in the back alleyways of Old Lucknow, was instructed by Soorat, a ten year old boy, to shut her windows in the evening to prevent monkey attacks. She doesn’t have air conditioning, so she doesn’t shut her windows.

A monkey invasion is impending.

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There is so much to tell! I will save you from further reading and relate more adventures later. But before I go, a brief word about the heat, if only because it pervades every aspect of our life here. Lucknow has never been so hot. The daily temperature in June is around 115 to 120 degrees: two days ago it was the hottest day on record, around 124. Our host family blames global warming, urban development, and the destruction of the forests—even they cannot stand the heat. We wake up in the morning to hot chai. By eight o’clock it is already afternoon temperatures in Oklahoma. Electricity is expensive; often at home and at the institute the air conditioner will be off, with only fans circling lazily above us. During the middle of the day our faces shine with sweat, and we drink water copiously. I go through gallons of water a day. Yesterday evening, after working out at the gym right around the block, I picked up a cold bottle of water from the refrigerator, and could see my skin steaming.

Now that I’ve properly warmed you up to India, I will say my goodbye. I hope all is well on your side of the world.

Johnny

(This letter was written in June, 2012 in Lucknow)

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