KAAABAM! I jump a foot in the air as another earsplitting blast goes off in the residential street beneath my apartment in North Delhi in the middle of the night. A series of resounding cracks that sound like machine gun fire follows with a chorus of howling and barking from the stray dogs that prowl the neighborhood at night, along with a few odd car alarms.
Contrary to my first thoughts, that’s not another one of the terrorist attacks that have rocked many cities in India, including Delhi, in the past few months. No, it’s just toddlers and other small children lighting off firecrackers — so big and loud that they are very surely illegal in America — all under the benignly unconcerned gaze of their parents.
As I write this, Diwali, the five-day Hindu festival of lights, is about to reach its apex. I clench my teeth and try to keep myself from screaming out the window at them to shut the hell up and go to bed. It’s just another one of the many unpleasant surprises that India has had for me in the course of my six-month study abroad program here.
As I near the end of my program, the novelty of this place has begun to fade and the constant annoyances and unpleasantries of everyday life have begun to wear on me: the mind-numbing monsoon heat when we arrived that made every movement during the day unbearable and every sweltering night sleepless. The ninja mosquitoes that I never see, yet leave dozens of horrible welts the size of silver dollars and make me wish I could chop my limbs off rather than endure the torment. The dirty, naked street children and disfigured beggars with matted hair and open sores that look up at me with sad eyes and say, “Didi (older sister), I’m hungry,” making my heart cringe with discomfort and guilt at my seemingly random good fortune and the deliciously greasy samosa nestled safely in my stomach.
Even the little things like power cuts, water shortages, no hot water when there is water, street corners that reek of piss and rotting garbage and men on the street that take pictures of me with their mobile phones and then turn around and covertly try to grab my ass as I walk by are all taking their toll. I’m not going to lie. I’m feeling a little worn out. Seriously, what was I thinking, leaving the paradise on Earth that is Santa Barbara for this crazy place?
But no, that’s not entirely fair. As I look down from my balcony at the kids dancing around in the light of the ridiculous fireworks, a 20-person marching band moves in adding drums, trumpets and trombones to the cacophony of sounds already in the street. The band is followed by two floats with huge, brilliantly lit images of Hindu gods electrified by generators pushed behind them both on bicycle carts and happy people throwing orange marigold flowers and fruits to the neighbors who flock out their doors to watch the procession. Just now, despite all the mosquitoes, bad smells, obnoxious noises and poverty, I can’t help but love this place. I love the bright colors and lights, the loud music of celebration, the crazy traffic that whizzes around pedestrians, cows, dogs and water buffalo all somehow without crashing and the fact that I never have any idea what’s going to happen next.
BAAM! As a 3-year-old lights off a particularly large firework that blasts into the sky sending a shower of yellow sparks over our neighborhood, I roll my eyes and smile. Oh, India… I’m going to miss you.