Well, I am back. Eden kicked me out, so now India. New Delhi is about as far from bucolic Bali as one could imagine.
We have been very well cared for here. Sanjeeb, Vijay, Mausami and Manik, have seen to it that we are safe, looked after and have gotten to see everything. Also, Dr. Upender and his staff have tended to my teeth and oh boy wait till you see em! Thank you all.
(Ed. Note: this is Manik, our driver for the week…his skill behind the wheel is unparalleled unless, of course, you are from Delhi)
Here are some things I have seen this week: Monkeys, Elephants, Camels and Cows on freeways, and this is without even leaving the city.
I have also seen the most beautiful people…more than any other place I have been. Folks, they know how to do it here. There are eyes here that look like there is nothing they haven’t seen.
I have had a hard time not staring but they have stared at us a bit so I don’t feel too bad. Back to those eyes, imagine a Labrador in love, or a Labrador looking at you when you are about to eat the last scrap of chicken. Longing, loving, gentle and searing all at the same time. There are other qualities worth mentioningas well. People here have been good to us, I can’t say it enough, India is a place that wants you to visit and wants to take care of you. Nowhere on our journey have we found people more eager.
Now, back to the beautiful part, I have been quite impressed by the fabrics. Indian women are most often seen draped head to toe in the most amazing Saris.
It makes your breath stop for an instant to see the brilliant colors: Hot pink, lemon yellow brilliant green or blue…as bright as you can imagine. The men’s shirts are from a similar pallet…no one is afraid of color.
Here is something that puzzles me. It is not uncommon to see three or four passengers on a motorbike. This is particularly thrilling to witness when the person sitting side saddle on the back is bedecked in one of those aforementioned Saris which dances around in the breeze and, magically, never seems to go anyplace it shouldn’t (like in the spokes for instance). And, I have repeatedly seen cars transporting more than double the recommended capacity.
My impression has been that the people of Delhi have taken public transportation into their own hands…or cars as it were. It is not an exaggeration to think of those contests we have seen, you know the “how many people can you fit in VW” ones. I saw the tiniest little car the other day and counted five men in the back seat. They looked like they were all headed off for a day at the office and were chatting away amongst themselves and the three people who shared the two front seats. It seemed as if there were nothing in the world unusual about the situation and I suspect, there wasn’t.
So, back to my puzzlement…on my best day, I can often be seen with a dribble down the front of me.
I usually start spilling on myself first thing in the morning and save specimens from my intake for the rest of the day…and I am a sweaty thing, so even if I didn’t spill, and started out with a perfectly pressed shirt, it gets kind of wilted looking almost immediately. As you read on, you will understand that the Indian people have every reason to appear bedraggled…life is not easy here…but (Back to the puzzle), I have never seen so many people dressed in crisp, clean, fresh from the laundry garments. End of the day…beginning of the day, same-same. The men’s shirts never seem to get smudged or wrinkled…how do they do that? and the women’s Sari’s always look like they smell like flowers and weigh absolutely nothing. Hmmmmmm.
But, sadly that is only part of the population.
There is another side to this city. The population here is seventeen million. Just for reference, the entire state of Washington has about 6 million, so, nearly three times the population of Washington State living in one city and they are not all dressed in clothes that smell like flowers. I have no idea how they would begin to count noses because there are a very large number of residents of this city who have never had an address. India was described to me before I came as a city that hides nothing and it didn’t take long to see what that means. When you stop at a street corner people come up to your window…desperate, bone thin, wretched, sad people holding infants that look like they are sleeping but who’s eyes are open. It feels like I am in a submarine, all safe and sound, privileged and clean with our driver and our nice air-conditioned van. Outside we see all these people who are drowning and desperate for a sip of the air they see us enjoying. You see everything but you can’t even begin to roll down that window or…This is one of those places that is fascinating but heart breaking.
The saddest place I have ever seen. It makes me realize how privileged I am to live in a world where I can be annoyed by bad architecture, weight gain and Republicans. Here is an eye opener…what I see here is closer to what most of the world experiences than what we all see everyday at home. When they call the U.S. the richest country in the world it is hard to understand what they are talking about if you are having trouble coming up with the money to fix a broken car or buy the newer computer. These needs seem real if that is all you have ever known and you only have your neighbors to compare yourself to. But I am here to tell you we are fat and over-privileged.
It is also not hard to understand why so many people resent us…so this is an aside to that person that threw the squished up dirty lime at my head at the market the other day. I forgive you. I did not appreciate it, but I can imagine that if you are struggling the way I suspect you may be, and you see a big fleshy overfed American having a holiday and looking around for stuff so that he can take it home and show all his fat friends and family that he has been to this ever-so-exotic and fabulous place where you can get the coolest stuff for hardly any money and blablablablablablah…Yea, I might want to pick up a used fruit and hurl it. We hear about the needy people in far away places but to see them is quite another thing. So folks if you have got it, give a bit…ok, so off of my soapbox.
The other night our van got a flat tire in the middle of one of the major thoroughfares. Ron and I watched the press of traffic as Manik (our driver, and hero) changed the tire. I tried to count how many lanes of traffic the street was designed for but it was impossible. No one pays any attention to lanes anyway; often they don’t even bother to paint lines. We in the U.S. would have probably allowed three vehicles to travel abreast on this particular road and had a space on the left and right to safely pull over in case of emergency…this piece of pavement was about the width of three U.S. of A standard lanes with no safety shoulders. There we were, semi-permanent residents in one of the three lanes watching the most unbelievable dance of all manner of moving objects. There were never less than five vehicles between us and the other side and remember that there are now only two remaining lanes. They drive here like they are all about to miss the final episode of The Soprano’s.. FAST, they allow about 2 centimeters in any given direction for grace and they move into the smallest of spaces at alarming speeds. Driving in Delhi is a constant game of chicken. And let us not forget the pedestrians that are in abundance, running up and down the sides of the road and (no kidding) across the lanes of traffic. It’s Madness! I don’t think we could learn to drive here anymore than we are going to learn to like Lutefisk or Blood Pudding. You have to grow up with it. I am surprised that the traffic situation has not been more effective at population control. While we were sitting there, we saw cars, motor rickshaws, pedal rickshaws, bicycles, busses, trucks large and small, a backhoe, and a horse.
We did not see a cow, pig, goat or mangy dog this time but they are often part of this mix. It is not unusual to see a great big cow or even a whole gaggle of cows meandering across any street in the downtown core or lazing about with their buds on the traffic island just watching it all happen. They are sacred and protected and so get beads and bells around there necks and free run of the place.
Finally, you can ‘t really understand what its like here without some sensory aids. So here’s what lets do. Go into the smallest bathroom in your house with several people who you don’t know (enough so that you wont be able to move without touching someone). Now bring in some animals, cows, chickens, pigs or any poor wretched near death critter will work. In order to really get the feeling, you will need to crank the heat up and everyone will need three props, a loud horn, and a bag of vacuum cleaner sweepings, and an onion. Now, close the doors and windows and empty the sweepings on to the floor. Begin blowing your horn… no really blow it and don’t stop… keep honking and now, dance around a bit, really get your dust up. Now we need to engage the nose so grab a wad of hair out of that dirt on the floor and set it on fire. Or better yet light one of your attendees’ hair on fire it will add to the general feeling of wretchedness. Now cut up the onions and everyone take turns using the laundry hamper as a toilet. Now if you can emerge from this looking perfectly pressed, Welcome to Delhi!