At the post office, I watch the brown-skinned man behind the counter light a stick of incense. The tip catches flame and burns gloriously. He holds it, head turned, talking to another man.
Once it has burned for a moment and a thick ribbon of smoke unfurls and scents the air, he seems to remember he is holding it. He turns his head with a jerk, raises his other hand slowly, and then brings it down in an expert swat, as though he were killing a mosquito. The flame swooshes out immediately and smoke gushes forth.
The man runs the incense under his desk, and then gives the alcove behind him a general sweeping out. The smoke burns and unfolds in clouds, scenting the air pleasantly. Finally, he tucks the incense into the drawer of a file cabinet, and comes back to sit at his post.
Momentarily mesmerized, the Indian crowd now surges forward. People push up against each other, hands on backs, breath on necks. Everyone is trying to be served first. Now that the obligatory incense cleansing has taken place, it is time to get back to business.