Sun down and sun up in India is renown for the light switch effect it has on the world. One minute it's light and the next it's dark, there's no slow descent or waver on the horizon, it's been and gone in a matter of minutes.
Everybody likes a sunset, it's the iconic backdrop of every romantic outing but for me it's a slightly more fanatical fancy. I find Solace in those moments before it sets and rises, a signal that the day is over or another has begun. The colors act as a tranquilizer, the air chills or warms, the world seems to stand still, the only thing of any significance is what I behold before my eyes, my whole body is filled with joy at the magnificence of the moment. A thrilled enlightenment that can only be bested when you add sheer height to the equation.
I believe that we appreciate something truly if we are able to share it with someone, but only a scarce few of my friends have ever wanted to follow me up the buildings, trees, cliffs and hills that I have found for the perfect viewing of our daily eclipse.
As it is such a momentary thing here, I initially thought it better not to wait for anybody rather than not get to see it at all. But to my surprise I was far from alone, here they flock to see the stunning sight of the setting sun.
Every night thousands attend this ceremony; as I peer out over the monsoon eaten roofs and houses of New Alipore my gaze blackens and ears flatten to the beating wings and squawking rush of hundreds of Grey necked crows landing for their daily communion. These scavengers who tend to roam in groups of 3 or 4 and mate for life are obviously not the solitary type but it was still a shock when I first witnessed this occurrence. Upon every rooftop, for as far as the eye could see, all sitting together, now in total silence, they watch the fall of the day and coming of night.
As a child with an air rifle, trouble, I was always told that there was something magical about crows, something that shouldn't be messed with, that they remembered. Well of course I listened but I always took this as being a more intriguing way of saying: "please don't shoot the crows darling, they've done nothing to you. Shoot the magpies instead, their evil."
Perched up on my own rooftop with a few of the braver ones accompanying me I wondered back at that and even if they weren't magic so to say, there was definitely more then met the eye. What was sure was that at that moment I felt an odd attachment to them for our joint and ritual appreciation of the setting sun. Was it possible that like ancient humans some animals worshiped the sun?
Just when I thought the moment had passed and the world was gloaming into it's second and obscurer cycle, the Indian night had yet another sensual trick up it's sleeve.
Blown on a soft warm wind came a voice that reverberated through the air. It was a chant that seemed to seep right through me, washing over the city, the different pitches acting like layers. One continuous sound, but reaching the ear as if bits of the song had detached themselves from the main flow, each carried on a different wind to serenade the ear symphonically. Then other voices joined themselves to this beautiful yet eerie incantation and a language became apparent to the noise. It was the Arabic call to prayer; the muezzin.
If you've ever heard it, then you know what it's like the first time you hear it. Now try and imagine it after the sight of the setting sun, on a rooftop. The crows fly off to roost and your left on your own again, you know that the moments of serenity you stole from the normal chaos and racket of India will soon be overthrown. But the muezzin continues, preserving the moment with it's ancient magic.
I turned around and stood to face that music coming from the East. Closed my eyes and stretched my arms wide, as if I could absorb some of the energy seemingly pulsing through the air. I stood there until I had sucked up the last sounds of the Arabian night.
When I opened my eyes, nothing could have prepared me for the sight I saw. In the now Dark sky, hundreds of pitch black shapes, growing bigger by the second rapidly advanced on my now not so impressive vantage point. This nightmarish invasion was soon passing over my head however, leaving me in awe. I'd rarely seen such a wide wing span in my life, on par with a vulture's I think. They drew a shape in the sky known to any child who has ever experienced Halloween.
Yup, India's vegetarian Dracula, the Fruit Bat.
Sadly my camera isn't very well equipped for the night so I wasn't able to catch this on photo but if you like sunset-sunrise then there will most definitely be more of those.
Now, as is the way, the novelty of this experience is wearing off but what won't be lost is the knowledge that where ever you are in the world you can still feel and share the magic of the daily see-saw battles between the forces of light and dark.