What’s that smell?

This is the second time I am writing this…wasn’t going to, but it is
required to show how Indian and US are so very similar and clear some

As I wait at the Union Station for my long distance (Amtrak) train to
arrive, I think of the historical significance of it…so many have
come before me and so many will after me. Everyone waiting for
something, every single agenda defined by a time specified on the
ticket. A double decker train arrives, the steady light bathing the
tracks single handedly, the horn it blows and the wind it brings in to
the station as a way of calling attention to this magnificent modern
marvel. The bell increasing in volume says that when it pulls in to
the station, everyone better pay attention. Majestic like an elephant,
slick like a leopard.

It takes me back to standing in Dadar station, waiting for an outbound
train…eager to get cozy with a book in the middle berth of an
overnight train, no disruptions, no bothers, just the gentle
rollicking of the bogey. We would wait on a crowded platform, it would
be either raining or something would be leaking, so there would be
some water around, there’d be a lot of chatting and hawking and
hauling of bags, but when the train pulled in to the open tracks, it
would fill the space and even if not a double decker, it would look
majestic as its light paints the vermicelli rain drops and the horn
announces the solution to everyone’s worries.

But as I wallow in nostalgia, I feel there is something I am missing
here in the LA station…I can’t put my finger on it and its a good
thing too because I remember just as a board the train, that the thing
that would complete this picture is a stinky station loo. Especially
the gents. The stench that would carry for a kilometer due to our
“environmentally irresponsible” use of water instead of toilet paper
and the very lack of that water.

But just as the thought enters my mind, I brush it away. No way, I
say. There’s no stinky loo in India, I am making it up. You see, when
you are away from your country, you go blind to even the worst things
about it. I cannot think of anything bad for now. Who says long
distance relationships don’t work out?

I get down at my stop and walk towards the office. I see a gardener
fertilizing the flowerbeds and I give him a courteous smile. But as I
make my way up the stairs, a vaguely familiar smell stops me. Where is
it coming from? Why is it so familiar? Where have I had this feeling
of wanting to gag and ask questions simultaneously? Just as my eyes
start to scan for a dead rat, it hits me. It is the smell of cow dung.
5 years of working on MART’s research projects in rural India give me
a certificate to identify this smell. A smell that many people in
India wake up to and sleep to. And having lived in Matunga (read
Temple Town) for 25 years, I have understood that you cannot avoid it.
But, what is it doing in a city in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area?

The gardener says its the fertilizer he is using and I am sure they
are going organic now a days when it comes to manure. But I cannot
help but smile when I think that even 10000 miles away, I cannot
escape some bovine intervention. Just know that, the next time you cut
your birthday cake in the middle of the road, I’ll be thinking of you.

PS- The phrase Bovine Intervention, I believe is pinched from the
title of an article Ramanathan wrote for Podar Pageant. Don’t remember
if he came up with it or we did, but had to give credit.


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