Everyone’s ordinary is someone else’s exotic. And fascinating. This is what ordinary looks like in Puri, a town on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, and one of the four holy cities in India. A white cow, a crow on a handcart. People walk towards some huts. Another group of people stand in a clearing. In the foreground big slabs of – something. Dry mud? Cow dung? For fuel or for building? And there in the distance, a more substantial looking urban environment – marginally more substantial, at any rate.
Puri was a gently fascinating place. The beach was very wide, and dotted with majestic old houses, most of which had long been abandoned. There was one across the road from the lodge where I was staying; I sat on the roof and watched for hours as a goatherd lazily chased one of his recalcitrant charges through the courtyard of the house, into the door of a room and then out another door, around the back of the house, back into the courtyard... I could see all of this because the house had no roof, and I could see what the goatherd couldn’t see, from my perch. I bet this went on every day, probably for years.
The beach itself was the scene of a strange ritual of its own. It seems that visitors - pilgrims? - to Puri are compelled to swim in the ocean. Many of them can’t swim at all, so there’s a cottage industry of young men in strange bathing caps hiring themselves out to escort the brave into the waves.
Of course I’m writing this on my train commute back home - the first real snow is falling outside and I’m worrying that my car will slip on the hill up to the house. A few rows in front of me a young man wearing a fleece jacket with “Denali” emblazoned on it stood for about ten minutes carefully cleaning the lens of his camera. He kept looking around the carriage, drinking it all in.
Everyone’s ordinary is someone else’s exotic.