New Delhi : Early Indian Daze
New Delhi Travel Blog› entry 215 of 268 › view all entries
I'm not sure when I actually arrived in India. Or whether indeed I have yet arrived. When can one fully and finally declare 'Yes I am here. This is India.'?
My flight touches down at Indira Gandhi International Airport at 4.00am. An arrival of sorts. I collect my backpack and calmly sit in the baggage reclaim hall chewing biscuits and learning to count to 100 in Hindi. I've bundled out into the bewildering night blackness of a few of the world's major cities now - Kathmandu, Bangkok etc. It's a disorientating way to arrive in a new city. A new country no less. I'm used to this, but am not going to do it in New Delhi.
It's at 7.00am that I gather myself and step into the hazy early morning light, 10 Euros worth of Indian Rupees hastily exchanged and stuffed into my wallet. The benevolent grin of Gandhi beams out from the infinitely rumpled and begrimed bank notes. The sky is blindingly bright in an unusual, impenetrable manner. Hot light. My eyes fail at first to fully adjust. I am only gently propositioned by the posse of taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers that wait to snatch rich pickings from inexperienced and disorientated new arrivals.
But I don't know. I don't think I've arrived in India yet. And again, when might it be said that this has occurred? Is it by the time of your 3,000th rickshaw proposition (that's about half a day in then!)? Your 5,000th invitation to be directed/ taken to 'The Government Tourist Information Office'. (Pull the other one mate, it's got bells on). Is it when you've been offered your 7,000th belt, bag, henna tattoo, hand shake or watch? The third or forth time that Arthi, a young dark skinned beggar woman with large gold nose stud and earrings clutching one of her (apparent) four children to her shoulder follows you the entire length of Paharganj despite your persistent polite refusals? ( 'M'baby no milk milk Mista.
Or actually is it when you have your first experiences of those two qualities of suffering India is sadly so synonymous with? Pain - both personal and external - and poverty.
I had arrived in India quite consciously smuggling two grossly arrogant assumptions about myself that India loses no time in slapping down. One : that I have, if not 'guts of steel', then a fairly sturdy immune system that I am proud of and that I hope and suspect may be able to see me through six months in India without too much loss of face (or bowels). But more of that in a bit. Two : that over a decade of consuming literature, information and images about, and on occasion campaigning against the causes and consequences of poverty will have immunised me psychologically against any 'shock of the real'.
This is not so. After a long day of strolling up to and around the insanity of Old Delhi, Chandni Chowk and its attendant ‘must see’ sights (India's largest mosque, Jama Masjid and The Red Fort - both of which fail to make an impression on me) I am inflicting bad Hindi on people by way of practice ( ’Metro station kathaang hai?’ ) when I spot an upsetting family tableau. A young lady (girl?) sprawled in a crumpled, emaciated ’S’ shape on the pavement of SP Mukherjee Marg encased in dirt - almost as if her body were absorbing the sidewalk via a process of osmosis or vice versa - and covered in flies. They dance across her closed, unflinching eyelids, play a thousand kisses upon her lips and congregate in large numbers upon her backside, she having freely defecated for sometime.
Truly she strikes a repose of death. ‘Is she? Isn’t she?‘ You can’t tell. Poverty in such extremity has a way of garbing its victims in the aesthetic of terminal decay when - unbelievably - life trickles on. Beside her another girl (a sister?) in a likewise state. An older man too sits slumped and folded in upon himself, hands clutching ankles, utterly static, head bowed right down like a large, scraggy teddy bear who’s cotton-wadded spine is unable to support the weight of its sorrow-filled head and so sags in perpetuity. A clock work guardian for the girls who’s run out of wind and juddered to a halt. India moves on from such sights. So you do too. India sweeps you along. A part of the patchwork of everyday existence here.
My personal ‘pain’ earlier alluded to? Well, the much vaunted Weselby immune system lasted all of four days! Not too impressive. Following a murderous one hour plus auto-rickshaw ride out through the worst traffic imaginable, and sat in the foyer of the Saptagiri hotel awaiting an impromptu mini TB Meetup with Anna (Delfijn) and Jos (Jos-nijenhuis), I realise that not all’s well down below decks. Nope, I’ve definitely been here before. Listening to those distant jungle drums of an immune system fighting a losing battle on your behalf. Irony of ironies, I'd actually purchased some 'just in case' Ciprofloxicin antibiotics for my trip earlier in the evening.
Basically as the guys kindly fight on through heavy fatigue (having flown in from Varanasi and only hours away from a night flight home to Europe) they have to put up with me constantly disappearing; yo-yo-ing from table to toilet and back again as Round One of Stevie Vs Delhi Belly gets underway! The guys (now dubbed ‘my TB angels’) kindly continue to ply me with both survival goods for my present (Imodium, re-hydration sachets, water, Pepsi and sweets) and my future (a long list of travel tips, anecdotes and recommendations).
Yes, India requires adjustments at various levels of the self. First Physical. I daren't even begin to consider what menagerie of molecular malevolence constitutes the unique 'quality' of air that permeates New Delhi. Whatever it may be, 'it's got body' as those of an oenological persuasion might say. A thick vegetal-chemical soup that the tin-can battered Delhi Transport Co.
So it's all been good fun! No, seriously.
I've met good people. My TB Angels. Been offered great generosity and insights into the pressures of life as a young New Delhi lady by 'S'. ( Please 'S', please be here next year! If you're reading this, ya know what I'm sayin' ). Reunited with my former house mate of 7 years Nick; a professional historian out here for 6 weeks to do archival research on the last British Governor of the Punjab, and to present a revisionist thesis of the context of the infamous Jallianwala Bagh or 'Amritsar Massacre' to a classroom of keen New Delhi University students. He holds his own well although many of them (and I) don't buy it all. Beers to celebrate nevertheless.
Reunited too with my great South Korean travel companion (of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam provenance) Heung Chan or 'Gray' who's been doing NGO (Non Government Organisation) work for 3 months trying to elevate the spirits and, to some extent, education of street kids in the Dwarka Sector of the city under the auspices of a large Korean Christian church body. I'm invited to their celebration of one years work in the city. Fun is had by all.
The dizzying British civic planning vortex of Connaught Place; currently a nightmarish mess of lacklustre regeneration (read demolition) ahead of New Delhi's role as host to the Common Wealth Games in 2010.
And I've followed the final 200 yards of the footsteps of the Mahatma and shed a tear or three at the rather sad collection suspended behind glass and marked 'Worldy Remains' that sit in his final rooming in Berla House. A 144 day residency attempting to assuage inter-communal post-Partition bloodshed ending with his death at the hands of a Hindu zealot, 30 January 1948.
It's been a crazy week or so. Adjustments. Arrivals of the body and the mind. Six months to go. That's a long time right? Arrived. Here to stay. Where to go? I don't know. But should be fun! :)