I'm not one for going on about the ghastliness of towns I visit, though I've been in some ghastly armpits. Still, this one I'm in right now takes the cake.
There's dust everywhere, like a haze. Construction everywhere. Piles of rubble. Unlaid concrete pipes. Piles of mud. Open drains flowing with some dark-grey stuff you don't want to look at. Piles of filthy trash -- bottles, plastic bags, tetrapacks, whatnot -- dredged from the drains from time to time so that the dark-grey stuff can flow. Mosquitoes large enough that you feel the impact of colliding with them as they seek their next blood meal. Construction unfinished for months and years, metal bars sticking out of bricks and concrete. Not a pavement in sight.
The part of town we are staying in is, I'm told, a relatively upscale colony. Mostly standalone houses, the gates all have little yellow signs saying "HIG", "MIG", "LIG" or "SMIG". Why the need to identify the income group of each owner, I'm not sure. (I'm also not sure what "SMIG" is). I also wonder just how low someone's income is if they can at least afford one of these little houses. We passed one such gate whose owner was on the inside, locking himself in with a large padlock, glancing incuriously at us as we passed. Along the top of his high wall, barbed wire. But only on one of the four sides. What's it, they expect bandits only from that side?
One open drain runs down the middle of a small open area with a few decrepit concrete kids' slides. That's where I saw the pile of dredged trash, just left there. Adjoining this playground of sorts is a Saibaba temple. Why don't its faithful take an interest in keeping this ground clean and usable by their kids?
One street away from the ground, we step carefully over another open drain and walk along the porch that fronts a strip of shops, now closed. At the end is a tiny shrine against the base of a tree trunk, with several candles and a woman kneeling in front, paying her respects. I cannot help noticing, it sits not even two feet above the drain with its noisome flow.
Preparations for Holi are on. Walking back tonight, several women in excellent finery are gathered on the road, a red car making a U-turn in front of them and kicking up a cloud of dust that settles nicely on their finery. The front door of the next-door flat is elaborately decorated, complete with a set of blinking coloured lights. These get power via a long cord, stretched tight against the wall to plug into a communal plug near the stairwell. Why would this family not feed this cord that lights up their own door into their own flat?
I was told that there's a ranking of 200 Indian towns in which this one figures 4th from the bottom. Not hard to believe. I'm not one for going on about the ghastliness of towns I visit. Really.
But this one really does take the cake. And the pudding and the kulfi as well. Happy Holi, all.