Rolling up on the outskirts of the city—the country air is replaced by smog I can taste when I lick my lips. North Calcutta abruptly accumulates around me like a giant sack of toys turned upside down in the sky, an unparalleled apocalyptic beeping, honking hawking, mooing and screeching—a wailing sprawl of sooty crumbling tenements, leprous billboards, flea markets, wailing children, hawkers, sweepers, bearers, beaters, pushers and waterboys, wobbly buses and dented trolleys, suitcase kitchens, fluttering poultry disappearing in potholes, squint-eyed wandering goats, skeletal cows, swerving Chinese three-wheeled work trucks, tiny donkeys carrying pitiless loads of bricks and sand, bloody-fisted sidewalk dentists, lopsided lepers spitting on coins hoping to spread their disease, families taking communal Saturday night baths at curbside pumps, open fires, open sores, Burmese kite makers and caged birds crying, civet cats with singed tails, holy fools, flat fixers, candle makers, women selling night-flowers and half-glimpsed djinns spinning in the smoggy traffic. It is a kingdom of crumbling masonry and moss-eaten facades, a dream that heroically refuses to acknowledge it's own death, a throbbing Brueghel on to which a divine graffiti artist has painted millions of flowers in all the dark spaces, and golden Bengali smiles onto infeasible lives. Like a leaf in the wind I was swept away in the Kali fugue, transfused with the spirit of the surging crowds, meshed with the sea of pink noise and warm bodies, in a state of sensory cushioning; anonymous, fearless, like a small boy from a farm town, my hand in the hand of the invisible mother—perhaps Kali Ma herself.

[Christian X. Hunter/writing] [K. Basic/drawing]

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