Night and the city

Slumbering cities have a surreal charm. More so, if it is drenched in a day’s shower. When fully awake, the city is a clamour of footsteps, a cacophony of vehicle-horns, and if you have nowhere to go and nothing to do, you stand aside to wonder: “Where do all these people go, why are they all busy, how did they all get in here…”
At night, again, nothing to do, nowhere in particular to go, the city, under its neon lights, silent but for the retreating voices of the last revelers, makes you wonder: “Where did all those people go…?”
My pacts with most cities are ordained by the nights, and it isn’t the cloistered, tipsy, cigarette-smelling nightlife that I mean. I love or hate cities for the nights I walked through their arteries, listening to their snoring heartbeats.
Whatever it does and bears during day, I can never come to hate a certain city, a big township of expatriates actually, where I spent much of my youth. In being the nerve-centre for all practical administrative affairs, the city had long been an abode of ‘outsiders,’ who adopt it as home, but forge no sense of belonging. Now, I understand them better.
Night in that city has the smell of jasmine flowers, fresh ones loaded out of lorries. I carry that rich waft with me as I walk down the streets… It is a heady association: Silence and the scent of jasmine; neon lights and their pearly reflections in the rain puddles; the long streets and their loneliness.
One city remains a nightmare. Pushed out of a crowded train by unruly military men, a friend and I had found ourselves in a North East Indian city, where, we recalled, an acquaintance lived. We did the dreadful mistake of checking out his place. Caught unaware in the midst of scatter-brained junkies, we ran for the little money we had through the streets, panting to a stop back at the railway station… I don’t remember seeing a neon light. The city, forever in my mind, is clouded in the darkness of fear.
In bigger cities, strolling down the streets by night, I watch lights go off in the flats that we are forced to call – for lack of any other name – home. I wonder if we all here can “fall to sleep with the memory of some last pleasant sensation in our mind.”
Spanish writer and Nobel Prize laureate, Camilo Jose Cela lists some that you could take to sleep: “A stork flying past, a child splashing in the backwater of a stream, a bee sucking the flowers on a thorn bush, a young woman walking in the first heat of the summer with arms bare and hair loose on her shoulders…” (From the Henares to the Tajuna).
By day, I see birds, bees and sprightly young children, but I take to my sleep little of them. Cities, large and forever growing, by force of habit, lend out more nightmares than dreams.

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