My roommates and I decided (I think on our first day) that the space-time continuum needed to be altered to the space-time-heat continuum–a few hours in Kolkata bring home that point abundantly. Heat changes the way your body experiences both space and time–they both lengthen. For example, what I’m convinced is a five minute walk in 40F weather is a 20 minute walk in 99F, and my experience of time in the sun feels much longer because it weighs on my body so much more. So while things are taking longer, and feeling hotter and more weighty, there are all the other assaults on the senses afforded by life in the city.
First and foremost: The Color. There is vibrant color everywhere. The paint merchants must be rich. The flowers are bright white jasmine or golden marigold, the saris come in every hue, the taxis are flashy yellow, the ad signs are of every color, and emerald greenery abounds. There are of course many smells, most both familiar and unrecognizable. There must be hundreds of different kinds of street food available, each with its own distinct odor.
As I walk, I go from smelling limes to smelling curries, to smelling jasmine, to smelling urine, to smelling human sweat, to smelling garbage to smelling car exhaust, to smelling jasmine or incense. I smell the air expectantly, a little nervous about the next strong odor to come wafting by, but many more are pleasant than I expected.
There are the sounds of Kolkata, mostly honking, but also banging and knocking from construction, the patter of feet on the streets, human conversation, not so finely tuned motors of all sizes and power. There is the whistle of the policeman occasionally guiding traffic. There is the constant beep of the ceremonial security screenings in the subway.
It’s like every major metropolitan conglomeration I’ve visited except it’s India. It flows and shifts, behaves and then swells into chaos and recedes into order very quickly. It’s this fluidity–saris, traffic, sudden shoves forward in the metro and prayers to many faced gods–that I will remember.