Brown iron bars partially block my view of dilapidated walls illuminated by the flashing “Hotel Tara Palace” neon sign. Classic Hindi music floats up from a home hidden somewhere under a mass of aluminum sheeting and tarp surrounded by three, 5 story buildings, inlaid with bricked-in windows, drying laundry, and the flashing lights of T.V.s from within. Lining the inside of these frames is a ring of 2 and 3 story buildings, each with its roof sloping towards the center of the semi-circle, vacant windows looking in. At the center is a mat of 2 story roofs, sheets, and drying clothes covering maybe 50 homes, ranging from four room, indoor quarters to open air homes visible from my balcony. I can see women laying blankets, washing clothes, cooking, all under the flashing of “Hotel Tara Palace.” A clothes line runs diagonally over the center of home-filled courtyard, adding blues, oranges, and purples to the grey and brown of the tin roofs. A solitary bright blue light sits in amid a tarp-covered roof, hardly denting the overall dusty ambiance of the scene.
In the distance, a brightly lit, white building is garnished with gaudy lights of red, blue, green, and white, and topped with three triangular flags flowing against the dusty purple sky, like an imitation castle in Las Vegas. The building is a Jain temple. It complements the neon sign illuminating my scene, serving both to make visible and contradict the otherwise antique cityscape.
Above, a few stars fight the city lights, the haze, the smog, and the dust to twinkle dimly in the graduated navy and lavender that is the Delhi night in October. I imagine them as a group of onlookers, seeing Delhi through their own brown, iron bars, trying to make sense of the anthill of motion, even in the dead of night. I imagine myself as one of those onlookers- seeing, through my own dusty lens, a city and a life I can only ever strive to truly understand.