I love watching people. I am one of those people who could sit on the sidewalk all day and never get bored. I find it interesting to observe people from all walks of life, different in appearance, behaviour, walk, body language, the way they do the things they do,that little quirk of character that makes them unique, makes them different from everybody else. I don't know the English equivalent, but in Mizo it's called "hawkdak". I think you could call it "visually inquisitive". Which I am. If I am travelling and a crowd is gathered around an accident scene I would crane my neck as far out of the window as possible to get a glimpse of what is happening. If there is blood spilled then my upper torso leans out of the window. If there is a body lying on the road with a lot of blood around it I might even get down of the vehicle and take a look. If I happen to be walking by, oh boy I always stop and look. If I hear sounds of a noisy parade I always run to my balcony and stare down at the road searching for a scene which I've seen hundreds of times.
But being hawkdak has its advantages. You see more things. You hear more stuff. And Lord knows our Indian roads are full of interesting stuff. Take today for example. I saw this man perched on top of his bicycle, his stationary bicycle, coolly staring at the traffic zooming past him. Nothing wrong with that. But he was positioning himself in the middle of the road, resting one leg on the road divider, facing the traffic, probably waiting for it to thin down a bit so he could cross the road and would thus be saved the trouble of having to travel a few metres in the right direction and then taking an U-turn. And all the time he was digging for gold in his nose. Multitasking. Just after him I saw a man cross the road, it wasn't so much of a road-crossing as it was a dance/hop. I saw him from afar, carefully tucking his shirt inside his loose shorts as some kind of a pre-battle ritual, and then he jumped directly in front of the traffic and after a series of twisting and hopping he was safe on the other side of the road. And of course how can one not notice the innumerable cows/buffaloes that block the roads from time to time. And the family of five or more going out for a family outing - all travelling on one bike. And people driving any way they please without any regard for traffic rules and policemen not doing anything. Funeral processions, wedding parties, political rallies - masses of people blocking traffic and inconveniencing everyone.
I love looking at signboards, posters, billboards, ads. I see the same signs everyday, but still I look at them with fascination and wonder, as if I've just got down from a village bus and is now let loose in the city. I am one of those irritating people who read out signs that everyone else also sees. Or comment on movie posters. And store windows! How I love staring at store windows while travelling. I know it's only for a few seconds but I still stare at them. What sale is going on where, what clothes the mannequins are wearing, what theme is the window dressing, what seasonal/inaugural/anniversary offer they are having etcetera etcetera.
Travelling by train also gives you some pretty good sights; you have your usual paddy fields, little hamlets, mountains in the distance, people going for their daily constitutional, bridges, rivers, lakes, dried up lakes. I once was on a train during the monsoon and in one of the overflowing lakes I saw a dead cow floating. One of the most beautiful things I had ever seen from a train was a field of red chillies. Sure I'd seen flower fields from time to time, but this field, this vast flat field full of big bright red chillies, with a few heaps of harvested chillies here and there, that bright red spot in the middle of nowhere surrounded by green grass and trees, that view simply took my breath away.
This January I was returning to Hyderabad after spending a few weeks at home. It was dark when we approached the city, and as I looked out of my window I could see a few lights far below us. I suddenly felt very alone. I was travelling alone, the plane was quite empty, and seeing the dark sky this sense of homesickness and loneliness suddenly came over me. I felt like crying. A few minutes later I looked out of the window again and suddenly I saw this brightly lit city. I could clearly see the roads and the cars and the buses, and it felt like coming home. Although there was no one to meet me when I exited, I didn't feel alone anymore. I heard people speaking in the local language and saw the familiar buses and cabs and the familiar license plates and it didn't feel strange anymore. And then I waited for a cab and watched the crowd.