The Other Side of the Street

Arzoo Gupta

Has anyone ever told you that watching you cross the street is terrifying, no? Well, I have been, MULTIPLE times. Apparently, I cross the road as though my eyes are closed or I have a death wish. Someone once said that everyone has this one friend that does not know how to cross the road, if you do not know who that person is, chances are it is you (cliche? I know). This is about the good ole' days, back when I could still get momos of the street ( THAT red chutney, I think, I just melted. You just can't get it right at home, can you?). That particular day it had just finished raining. Perfect day to get a plate of steaming momos for 50 rupees. We decided to do just that. As someone lazy, crossing two streets was a lot of work, honestly. Though for momos, I was prepared, and
we set out.

Things were quite different from the quiet slumber of the roof with only the sound of our pounding music, out on the road, it was loud, noisy, and bright-it was late in the evening. My friend and I stepped onto the busy street's broken sidewalk. Honestly, they are never completed or are narrow. So, with one foot on the cracked pavement and the other on the filth infested waterlogged street (seriously it's flat ground, how even??), we walked. Strangely enough as often as it occurs, two grown men were fighting, and a typical crowd enveloped them.
Without realizing what we were doing, we ended up walking through the wall of men. One of them drunk, the other slightly less drunk as they shouted obscenities at each other. Two other men clung onto these men, in hopes of avoiding violence (there was none). So, as someone who loves drama, you could see how this made me stop in my tracks. Now I stood in a unique position that placed me between them as my friend called out to me from outside the embryo-like structure. Wanting to see how it ends, I refused to leave and ignored her (obviously). Provoked, she dragged me out from amidst the mess.

Now came the part of the evening I looked most forward to, crossing the road. I've noticed something strange about Indian drivers, especially the ones on the bike. As soon as the bikers see you on the road, they make this intense eye-contact with you and get this crazed look, which says I am going to run you
over today. This is why I still maintain that when I cross the road, it is NOT MY fault. You know that moment when you're standing at the edge of the pavement and feel the rush as ongoing traffic glares at you. Another fact about me (not really relevant), but I never cross if I spot a bus or a truck even if it is far down the road. I chose the perfect moment, but the biker saw me and accelerated. That is when it all happened, that film-like moment, as everything slowed down (so did he). So, actually, nothing happened. We just ended up stopping all the traffic and glaring at each other, as my friend stood near the divider exasperated. The nightmare continued for her as she watched me cross for the second time. I was surprised to learn in the 7th grade that jaywalking is a "crime" in other countries. Whereas in India, this is a skill taught to every child apart from asking the auto driver to "go by the meter" no matter what price they
quote. We reached the crowded momo stall outside the fancy "Heart Beatz Pan Palace." The infamous "Kathmandu momo stall" stood there in all its glory. The half-cooked momos steamed away on the metal contraption, as we stood there hungry. Then the man shoved two plates into a tiny plastic bag with two
pouches of THAT red chutney. Next to the stall stood a beggar, and we handed her our loose change. The strange part is that this is my favorite place to eat despite the various other restaurants present on the street. There is nothing better than eating on the street amidst the haze of cigarette smoke and the
constant sense of danger (more lightly put a harsh element of "surprise"). The broken divider stood in front of us as I peeped through the open manhole cover.
The sound, the smells, and the people make the street, not the tar or cement (I'm not being metaphorical but literal when I say this. A lot of times, the roads are held together by the sheer will power of people, and not mortar or cement).

The flavor of India is best absorbed through these crowded streets where personal space is a foreign concept. The road in itself is a little community, as close to 300 small businesses litter the one-kilometre street. It is decorated with shrubs and trees just to the point that makes tourists believe the city is relatively green and the residents of the city that their government cares about the environment. The humid air hangs low as the stars disappear under the vanilla light of the street lamp. The sense of urgency and speed is only combated by the ever still landscape. The manhole cover remains open, the cracks in the road permanent in their transience as the broken sidewalk lies in wait.

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