22. besant nagar slums

The streets wind like a spool of thread dropped on the ground, unrolling and tangling before me to weave between ragtag houses and stacks of rotting wood. Sunset streaks itself across dirty windows and mothers go to wipe it away. Doorways gape wide to swallow the children from their alleyway games of tag.

Above me two little girls giggle from their balcony, tossing me kisses as their braids sway over the line where concrete hugs mango sky. Their mother rings a dinner bell and shouts huskily.

“Dhal rice, akka! Vaanga!” They tell me, lighting their lamps.

Today is Karthigai, a reminder to worship the six stars in the sky who once raised Lord Karthik, and the girls call again, “Vaanga, akka!” to light one with them. She brings a clay villakai and a single match.

I strike it, and set it carefully down, watching it become part of the rows and rows of flame perched on corrugated metal roofs, surrounding sleepy three-legged dogs with divinity.

I must leave, I cannot stay for dinner. I throw a kiss back to her sister on the balcony and hope it sticks. And as I leave, all around me is deafening light.

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