Whilst I lived in Kolkata, the rooftop of the apartment building became a place of retreat, refreshment, and of reflection. I look down at my hands now, and I still recall vividly the grittiness of the wall I rested upon, of gently running my fingers across the top of it to feel the grain shifting beneath them, and of the sun’s residual warmth within the concrete.It was up there that I felt my heart skip a beat as it truly dawned on me where I was on the earth. How had I found myself in this crumbling, yet thriving community? From the height I could observe the numerous activities individuals would go about, whether it be the ritual public bathing, two elderly men perched upon a rooftop of their own and having an afternoon chat, or the interesting way in which a car is parked in the tightest spaces; the car is reversed into a tight spot where the driver had no hope of exiting the car, then driven out straight… the driver jumps out, leaves the handbreak off, and proceeds to push the car back into its park! Genius!
Up there we witnessed some incredible skies, particularly the days after an electrical thunderstorm in summer, when the rain and wind erase the smog and haze for a few blissful moments, and it was these days that I remembered just how blue the sky could be, and what clouds looked like.
The sunsets were my favourite, when the entire sky seemed ablaze with a golden and red hue that made everything the same colour for a little while as we watched the giant red sun lazily sink into the horizon – due to the pollution, you could look directly at the sun… pretty amazing regardless of the conditions.
On the rooftop of our building, it was a sanctuary, where for once we would be the ones watching, instead of being the central attraction on the main road. Up there we would be nearly invisible, and it was refreshing to be able to take in our surroundings without the restless anxiety that 50 pairs of eyes on you at all times can create.
Our rooftop was our escape from a cramped, bustling, loud, and exciting community on the streets (don’t get me wrong, I love all of this, but at times this is just a tad too overwhelming). With confidence we could rock out a pair of shorts and a singlet, knowing our modesty would be kept thanks to our vantage point.
On the days where the weather was not so great to an outsider’s perspective i.e. torrential rain, lightning lighting up the entire city, and thunder that could rattle the teeth out of your mouth, it was one that was welcome to us, especially on a hot, humid summer’s day where the thermometer broke 40 C. You’d always know it was coming because the humidity would be at an extreme, and over another sweat-drenched ‘family’ dinner, a sudden wind that could knock a child to his backside would flood into the apartment, ripping paper from walls, and would have us running about excitedly in the coolness.
In the creeping darkness, the tell-tale signs of electrical art in the sky would begin to start its performance in the distance.
And from our apartment we would run up the stairs, crawl through the gates that were locked at midday, throw open the roof’s door, and leap out into the refreshing bite of the cool rain – just don’t let it into your eyes, the acidity is high! With the swirling wind sending chills down our spines, the heavens above would grumble and crackle, and flashing lights left stars in our elated eyes.