A Foreigner At Home

Car horns blast perpetually like an amateur band rehearsal, the monsoon rains coax fog off the roads and the sunset over watches over it all, its pink and orange sensibilities reminding me this should have been my home.

I came back to India to find out who I might have been.

Vibrant posters of Bollywood’s A-list featuring the whole rainbow, are plastered on taxis that plead “horn ok please” on their bumpers. While sitting in a taxi, a Hijra (transsexual woman) waltzes up to my window, adorned in an immaculate sari, vermillion in her hairline and genuine gold jewelery despite her homelessness. She politely asks for spare change and upon receiving it, struts away head held high, demolishing my preconceived notions of India’s poverty.

Day has a habit of turning into night with a single thunderclap in Hyderabad. The rain flooded the streets in seconds, forcing me to pay the driver and find another way home. I run inside a sweets shop to wait out the weather but life continues under the torrential downpour, uncaring. I watch children still in blue-black uniforms with pigtails intact, encourage a tire downhill with a stick and I think their giggling must power the city, it is so persistent. Their laughter does not heed the flooded streets or muddy clothes or Angry Birds waiting on their phones.

I step out when the clouds clear but I am carried along throngs of shoppers in the Charminar bazaar. I hear Urdu, Telugu, Hindi all at once. I hear the languages small-talking, bargaining, tempers rising until settling on a final offer and then ending the transaction with a jovial “thank you sister, have a lovely day”.

I observe more of these delightful surprises all around me.

A pack of street dogs, lean and yellow, lounge with a homeless toddler under the watchful eye of his mother: her skin bronzed and her hair bleached from life under the sun. Across from their makeshift teepee are the Oxen who direct traffic by refusing to move from the middle of the road, munching on grass. An Ox’s droopy neck flaps in the wind making the toddler giggle and at this exact moment I take the first full breath of my life. The smells of chicken kababs and cardamom chai insist their way into not only my nostrils but my hair and clothes in a way no other city begs to stay with you.

And I succumb to it all. The people, the horns, the ginger-garlic in the air. My doubt falls away and I bask in the atmosphere of my birthplace feeling right at home.

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