As Time Goes By
July 7, 2009
I know it is hard to believe, but sometimes you find peace in the busiest, dirtiest, shabbiest places.
Yesterday I had one of these days. With the painters still in the house (they are now officially my roommates), the maid moaning over her cut finger (she broke a glass), my bank screwing up transfers, the factory getting mixed up in samples and my landlord desperately trying to get involved in the painting process, I was really at my wits end.
I had to pick up stones in the old city and so I hopped, in the mellowing heat of sunset, onto my little auto-rickshaw. It was a bumpy ride, I was pissed off, I was stressed out, I was tired.
I climbed up the windy stairs – and really one day I will take a picture of this fabulously scary alley – and reached the tiny little office where I have sat for hours, probably days.
It was too late for me to go through all the packets of stones. There wasn’t enough light any more, and I was too giddy. To look at stones, you need peace. I told the man to write down all the weights and let me look at them at home in the morning light. While he wrote, I sat back and looked out.
It was sunset and the sky was turning tangerine, the old city’s color. The street was busy, but it was this time of the day when things come to a halt and everyone sits down for a cup of chai. It was hot, but with the hint of a breeze.
I looked over the roofs and then I saw, right in front of me, behind the Palace of Winds, the graceful silhouette of the samrat yantra. This giant sundial built by Jai Singh II in the 18th century as part of his astronomical observatory (Jantar Mantar), is said to be the world’s largest. It has been giving the accurate time for nearly two hundred years and if you visit the observatory you can indeed see its shadow move.
How come I had never noticed it? I spend so much time in this tiny office, how come I had never noticed Jai Singh’s sundial, tall and mysterious, a few hundred yards away?
The samrat yantra, I promise, winked at me. Time goes by fast enough, he said, don’t forget.