Posted by: janpierce | February 14, 2009

Up on the Rooftop

We spent three days in Delhi with our friend Rodrick Gilbert. It was just a time of resting, conversation, and enjoying one another. His wife, Neetu, is due to have their first baby in a week or two. It was a sweet time. Rodrick’s training center is a four-story building and often his trainers and other large groups of people come to stay for a few days so it is roomy. There are four little apartments and we stayed in one of them. There is no heat in the building and the temperatures were only in the low sixties so my toes were cold most of the time.

We often climb up to the rooftop there and have an amazing look out over the gargantuan city. Most of the time the smog layer makes the view very hazy, but this time there was a rainstorm the first night we were there and it cleared the air somewhat. There was also morning fog which was why our plane to Allahabad was delayed four times, but that is another story. When the fog lifted yesterday I spent an hour or so on the rooftop observing the sights and sounds of the city.

The sounds are so different from our American suburban life. We may hear lawnmowers, distant freeway noise, children playing– but in India unless you are in very remote villages, there is always traffic noise. It is loud motors, lots of honking in all tones and then the smell of diesel fumes. If you can see the traffic, you also get the confusion of many little vehicles clogging the narrow roads and all trying to go in different directions at once. It is a bit like a dance until someone makes a mistake and they bump and then there are loud, yelling arguments. In a neighborhood like Rodrick’s there are also vendors walking through the streets selling their wares. They sell vegetables, fruits, greens, candy and balloons, milk, and even some clothing. They usually have their things lined up neatly on a little flatbed cart pulled by a bicycle. They call out what they have to sell as they walk slowly through the narrow streets. People walk out to make their purchases, often they send the children out to make the purchase. There are various strains of music, especially in the evenings and the regular Muslim calls to prayer throughout the day. Sometimes if you walk through the streets there are cooking smells to enjoy.

So on the rooftop there is the ever-present traffic noise. Then there is the noise of workers. Everywhere we went this time from north to south there is construction of new homes and buildings. They build stick structures all around the new building and climb on them to do the work. You often see loads of cement, sand or bricks being carried on their heads and then dropped to the platform of the workers. You hear hammering, and the conversation of the workers as they do this intense physical labor. The diggers are especially hard-working as they use metal bars to break up the soil or rock or cement and then others carry out metal pans of the material.

A good deal of Indian family life is played out on the rooftops. As I watched yesterday I saw women and children freshly bathed and then sitting in the midday sun to comb and dry their hair. Sometimes they stroll around, sometimes they recline on the woven cots they use as beds, some of them are slowly hanging their daily wash on the lines that are seen in all directions. They water their plants, prepare vegetables or clean herbs for the evening meal. They move at a leisurely pace and sometimes spend a lot of time grooming their children (who are not in school!)

There is “wildlife” on the roofs of the buildings and overhead. There are hawks, pigeons, parrots, songbirds, cats, chipmunks, lizards and bugs. On the roads are goats, cows, and lots of dogs who fight and chase one another. There is a lot to see. Children play like children anywhere with whatever they find. Yesterday I saw a little boy dropping pebbles down from his roof on unsuspecting people or animals below until his mother caught him and made him stop. She began combing his hair vigorously and continued for a long time which made me think it was more of a bonding thing than the need for combed hair. Another little girl had an old razor blade from a long-gone razor and she was cutting up little leaves into pieces. I suppose she was playing at cooking. I’ve seen kids using bicycle tire rims as a hula hoop and they play with the rubble lying around–pebbles, bricks, dirt, etc. It reminds me of the way we play at the beach when there is the feeling of being carefree for just a little while.

There is all the rhythm of Indian  city life on the rooftops. There is always something to observe and enjoy. Work and play are mixed together, and never a feeling of being in a hurry.  These are the slices of Indian life found on the rooftops.



  1. hi, jan. reminds me of the James Taylor song about “Up on the Roof.” what a different world you’re in over there. i can hear the sounds as you describe them. see the mother combing her son’s hair. thanks for the taste. love, ang

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