Atmospheres of Nagaon

The first light of the day rises up from the water reservoir in the east. It’s late March and about quarter to seven in the morning. I’ve found shelter under a roof on a plinth of an abandoned house on the edge of the project site. The light is very concentrated in this small space and warms the bricks behind me—an energising sensation even though the morning temperature is already about 29 degrees celsius. Three children walk towards me but make a right turn into the open field behind the abandoned house I’m sitting by. The shortest boy stops to have a pee while the others move ahead. A closer look at the field reveals many narrow paths of both animals and humans, that lead beyond and around the edge of the village. By now the three boys have disappeared behind the trees and the houses further up the hill behind the field. The bar owner on the corner of the site showed me that the water from the river rises to cover most of the field during the monsoon which means that most of the human and animal paths are hidden during that time of the year. Then, which path will the boys take to school instead?

About half an hour has passed and I hear scraping from a house beside the corner I’m sitting on. A man peers out into the light and pushes out a small pile of dust. He doesn’t notice me behind an exterior wall beside his house. The wall meets the top of his roof where I notice a large gap between the wall and roof. Perhaps the man is able to hear everything that goes on around the house, even though it has solid walls. He continues sweeping his front step and earth outside, it seems quite funny sweeping dust from the earth, however the result looks smooth and more dignified—like someone actually lives there in this collection of stacked bricks with leaves on top. As the temperature rises a sweet smell of rotten vegetables, and much else emerges from a pile of rubbish beside the house of the old man. The pile extends from underneath the trees and out onto the road, and looks like a convenient place for passers by to rid and relieve themselves of waste. There’re plastic bags, bottles, shattered glasses, textiles, and a porridge of organic materials. A man appears further down the road. He walks up to the entrance of the house which is open, lowers his head, and enters the building. The sound of boiling water fades in. Yet another, but older man, walks up to the building and disappears inside. The smell of masala chai and other spices begin to swoop around teasing my nostrils. I get up and move a little closer to take a peek through the door. By now there should be three men inside, but there are about five figure sitting down inside. Am I mistaken? No, it’s in fact a small café where the men are having their breakfast. Only men enter the café, they arrive on foot.

Motorbikes have begun to zoom past the café, however, they all continue their journey into the village and beyond without stopping by the man and his café. The speed of the drivers is filling the atmosphere with dust giving the air a very earthy smell and taste—you can actually taste wether or not it is daytime by the amount of it whirling around. It soaks up moisture from plants and stains my skin, as if I had spent a week crossing the desert. Daytime has begun and is being paved by people.


An atmospheric essay about the village, Nagaon, just south of Mumbai in India.