I visited the “other” Aurangabad today. No high-rises, no closed doors, no pretensions.
In this older Aurangabad, single storey row houses stood erect on the banks of narrow lanes that cut through the neighborhood. No cars could pass through, only bicycles and motorbikes. Each house looked like a maverick, colored as it was in bright yellows, pinks, blues and greens, without a regard for whether it fell in line with those adjacent to it. Rangolis decorated every entrance, auspicious powdered designs to sap evil spirits from visitors crossing the threshold.
It was afternoon, and a young winter sun splashed its weak rays onto the neighbourhood. An old woman sat in the little yard just outside her home, warming herself in the meager sunshine. A tulsi plant gave her company. Squinting, she raised her head a bit to observe me, then lost interest due to the effort required.
Women were out at this time of the day. Lunch served, family members retired for afternoon naps, they were free for a few hours. They sat on the verandahs of their homes, chattering. All the front doors were open, so that the inner privacy of an individual home spilled seamlessly into the outer, public world. Some of these women were combing their hair into braids, having left it open since the morning head bath. Many of them followed me with their eyes, curious about the stranger, looking for a friendly way to connect.
I averted my eyes. I felt like an intruder, as if I had entered someone’s home without their permission. The houses were arranged in a quadrangle, with an open courtyard in the middle. Traditional houses were built this way, large enough to accommodate joint families yet designed to keep everyone connected across the way. Children scrambled everywhere, entering and exiting as many houses as there were, as if all of them were theirs. This neighbourhood seemed like one big joint family to me.
As I completed my interviews with the women who lived there, I realized the strong sense of belonging and security they feel. The camaraderie was evident amongst neighbours. Relationships flowed easily here.
I wished I had a social cocoon like this.