I spent the flight relaxing my muscles and jiggling back and forth due to turbulence. It felt like the pilot had hit a washboard on a dirt road, and was refusing to back down. Judder judder. As the captain prepared for the final descent, and we all tightened our belts for a rough landing, the clouds parted and we steadied. Below me slept India.
It was 12am in the middle of June and a tiny amount of moonlight leaked through clouds high above us. The land below was dark and forested and undulating. The woods intermingled with lakes and waterways, the only part of the land that accepted the light of the moon; patches of silvery graphite in an otherwise black world.
As we drew closer, the cabin dimmed and my eyes adjusted to the night outside. I suddenly saw what looked like a cloud of fireflies: strewn throughout the forest were little bursts of yellow light, flickering and moving. It could have been a summer’s evening in Vermont, except for the hum of the plane and that everything was miniature.
I stared and stared, trying to work out what my eyes were conveying. It then made sense: these were homes, tucked into the woods. They were flickering due to me soaring above them, leaves and boughs blotting the lights out then revealing them again. But it still looked strange. I have landed in the dark before, I know what lights look like. There was something missing.
With a start, I realised there were no roads, at least not visible. No street lights, no careful lines of public illumination. The calm of it appealed to me: sleeping houses and trees and waterways. It was also a reminder that we were landing in the least economically developed nation yet in our journey. Street lamps are a useful indicator of a country’s growth. Here, the lack of lights is an beacon of information, telling the world that India has grown faster than the government can manage, that it is a country where 2% of people pay taxes and whose economy is nestled between France and Italy by size even while being the second most populous nation in the world. There are more children in poverty than in all of Africa. It is also fourth on the list of countries with the most billionaires.
It was beautiful, peaceful and thrilling, from the air. On foot, it would be intimidating, disorienting and unsafe, at least until we gained our sea legs (albeit on land).
Then, as we neared the airport two roads of lights appeared, and then the runway. Sitting back into my seat, I wondered if the captain appreciated the darkness as it helped guide our plane towards the only light available. And then we touched down with the soft bump of tarmac, and disembarked into our new home.