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Out on the Street

MUMBAI—I ventured out on foot for the first time today. I put the boy in the backpack, filled a canteen, pulled on my cap and sunglasses and headed out with a somewhat hazy idea of how to find the nearby shopping center. The street leading to our apartment is lined with trees and fairly quiet, but take the requisite left onto the main street, and all notion of quiet is gone. The street is a constant flow of cabs and cars and lorries, scooters, and motorcycles. The sidewalks are a constantly changing chess match of pedestrians, people sleeping, businesses spilling out from one tiny storefront after another. There are people sleeping, sewing, shining shoes, cooking, cutting hair, feeding cows, feeding themselves and all the other activities of daily life. The smells come at you in distinct waves. You smell perfume, then incense, then dung, then frying food, then spices, then a different perfume, then a different dung, other spices, rotting garbage, a wave of diesel fuel. Horns honk, rats scurry, crows screech from piles of trash and you try to look everywhere, to remember that cars drive on the other side of the street, to look for holes in the sidewalk, to duck a wire full of hanging orange and red saris and return the British style salute of the traffic cop who smiles at strange sight of a tall foreign man walking the streets of old Bombay with toddler in a rucksack.

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