"The city is being swept away by the metropolis. This action does not just replace one noun with another, but radically turns one state of affairs into a state of perpetual motion. As a collective action -- a verb more than a noun -- the metropolis destabilizes our concepts of time and place. With the dissolution of the city into the forever- emerging metropolis, our existence slides into permanent mobility." - L. Lerup, in After the City


eight. pause.
1.30 -2.4 Mumbai-Jalgaon-Ajanta-Lonar-Ellora-Ahmedabad
the rock & sway of long-distance trains through north-central India has lately quietened my mind. that, and the growing sense of safety I have found away from the hawking streets of colaba. the long-distance trains are a universe unto themselves, and my first-day-Lonely Planet-toting self (“lock your bags to the seat and never accept food from strangers..”) has been pleasantly proven wrong by the world of families and friendly strangers with whom I’ve shared cramped quarters in the sleeper class cars. amazingly designed, fitting 8, sometimes 10 people comfortably into a 2.5 x 1.5 m. space, the sleeper beds stack and fold on top of each other, becoming chairs or cot as need be. and at $4 for 500 km, a more democratic long-distance travel mode would be hard to find. in the drawn out rhythm of a train moving through a countryside of dark reds and blacks, pale yellow-greens, and always the expanse of unyielding blue, families wait to arrive, husbands’ and wives’ legs intertwine, children snuggle into bellies made round by the constant eating that everyone seems to indulge in – it is always snacktime, especially en route. many many sweet grapes later (even India has her own wine country, through which I traveled) I am now in Ahmedabad for a few days.

but not without the staccato sites of absolute immovable stone between Mumbai and here, connected by the smoothness of the train and the horrendously jarring local buses. (a la yellow school bus, minus 60% of the green padding...). I spent a few much needed days of quiet in the ellora-ajanta area, where my mind had a hard time conceiving of the feat before me: 800 years and fifteen generations of craftsmen carving gaping sanctuaries out of a near-vertical swath of solid rock, the first completed around 200 BC. debris at the mouths of the hand-chiseled caves protected the tempera paintings within, which even now reveal the faces of large-breasted sensual princesses, disheveled beggars, weeping mothers, and the Buddha’s human manifestation. soft cups in the stone floor reveal the small scale: bowls where colored mineral pigment was mixed to make the paint. unfinished caves (about half of the 30 total) remain as they were left, the pockmarks of metal which never completed a corner, elaborated column, or delicate statue. these unfinished rooms were oddly the most poignant, revealing the effortful process that humans endure in the name of worship and remembrance. ellora is even more spectacular (though lacking the quiet reverence of ajanta’s monastic residencies) : a mutli-storied temple carved from a monolithic rock, such that floor, interior wall, exterior sculpted facade, colonnade, roof, doorframe – are one. concrete without the pour. it seemed as if the sky had simply been revealed to this structure hiding inside of a very big stone, and reminded me of michelangelo’s attitude towards his sculptures in marble.

so between the mass movements all these quiet monuments, and even within the movement so much calm. there was a coffin aboard my first train, and cartful upon cartful of cargo. the long distance trains are not precious, they are for moving everything. once off the main spines of the national trains there is local bus territory, hot, dusty and long. they pretty much fill in where the trains leave off, and where the buses leave off there are the communal taxi-jeeps, squeezing 10, 12 people into a space made comfortably for 6. it is in the taxi’s best interest to have as many passengers as possible, limited only by the teetering of the off-balanced vehicle as it rambles down the road. rural traffic is even more of an elegant mystery than urban traffic: where Mumbai has some semblance of structure (stoplights, unheeded crosswalks) out here it is 100% situational. a 2 lane road is usually 3 or 4, in multiple directions. as the mind marvels at the surprising lack of disastrous collision, i realize that people drive awake, gliding within a few inches of each other, at 40 mph, constantly. I admit to not looking forward down the road too often.

the meteorite crater at lonar, ‘near’ the caves (9 hours by bus round trip), well worth the excursion to be truly in the middle of nowhere. in these areas children seek autographs and I feel ridiculously like sally struthers (?) in those aid to Africa commercials, skinny children congregating around blonde. climbing a water tower in moonlight I had the unsettling chance to see concrete, rural-India style, up close and personal : a foot-wide ledge, 70 feet high, mighty cracks and crevices. vertiginous and windy but the ground below so dark and still, as the power at lonar is out every night between 6:30 and 8:30 -- an enforced time of candles and hushed voices. the crater, below which scientists believe the meteor itself is still lodged within the earth, is surrounded by a trail which connects humble and decaying temples, some full of the fruit-rich smell of guano and the chatter of a hundred + bats (revelation: they get quiet when the flash goes off). a few scattered cultivated fields around the meteorite’s lake basin yield radishes and bananas, which end up in market stalls in town, where crows eat anything they can get their pointy beaks into, including roadkill dogs.

the long trip away from this central country to ahmedabad began with a head-sized papaya overripe and sweet, cupped with both hands, eating like porridge from the bowl of its skin, shrouded in a generic black plastic bag. the metal bus seat, so discernible beneath the gauze of cushion, bruises but the fruit is good and soon a dark orange moon rises, as local bus turns to long distance bus turns to train speeding north.

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