Friday, October 15, 2004

Masala Miscellany/Indian Reflections

I dreamt that I was crushed in a crowd of people all talking, yelling, pushing, shoving, pulling, waving frantically, holding signs aloft, running, walking, and jogging. I woke up and found that I was at Indira Gandhi International Airport, or I.G.I. as we call it here, Delhi’s airport, with Dr. Dilli, waiting for Helen to appear out of the maw of immigration and customs. We went there on Saturday night, and the nighttime at I.G.I. is just about the worst time to come, as a number of day flights from Europe leave in the morning and arrive here in the evening. We found the Cox & King’s rep waiting for her without a name on their sign. What’s the idea, I said? How will she know you’re here, babe? “Well, sir, we found that when we put travellers’ names on signs that, uh, some unscrupulous people ‘steal’ the names from the signs, get way up in the queue, and try to take the travellers somewhere else.” Who knows where…

It didn’t matter because she soon appeared an hour after the flight landed and we spirited her away to the Taj Palace Hotel, where I moved in the morning from the YMCA, about as far apart as accommodation gets (almost – I am sure that there are more horrible places than the Y!). We were about to spend a week in Delhi together after the mid-point of my time away, me a tyro Dilli-wallah showing around the tourist, and having a last look at the city and its people and monuments before leaving myself next weekend. So this week’s blog is a bit different, a mix of some miscellaneous observations and final reflections, with some pictures from our week together – during which I did see some things I had missed on first visits to the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort, and other places!

My attachment had wound up that morning, apart from some further odd contacts for one reason or another this week. I felt tremendously privileged to work at Butterflies, which is a class act as a voluntary sector organisation, on their Children’s Development Bank project, and I hope that in the end I produced enough to make it worthwhile for them as well. Their people are great, the kids a gas, and the work they do tremendously important and vital in this sprawling, difficult, marvellous city. I intend to maintain contact with them while on the road and, when I return, I hope that I can contribute in the future to what they do, even if from afar. I have a final meeting with the Street Educators this Saturday to report back on what I’ve done and say goodbye, after which everything on my attachment comes to an end, and then I depart for Sydney on Sunday, perhaps after a final walk around the Old City before I go…

The last time I saw the Street Educators together was a couple of weeks ago together at a football match. That I was playing in!!! That’s right, I haven’t played football for 35 years and, suddenly, I’m on one of the teams. They’re all pretty young – I must be the oldest there. We all piled into autos for the trip to India Gate, commandeered part of the grounds, put down markers for the goals, and divided everyone up into teams. Having no idea what to do or where to play, I just pitched in and chased the ball and chased the people chasing the ball. I got to touch it a couple of times, the second time with a kick that nearly broke my toes!!! I had thought it would be a trial but, of course, football does consist of a lot of standing around and doing nothing, so it was okay, although I was overdressed for it.

Hilariously, every call by the ref and every foul or potential foul and every goal was hotly, fiercely disputed and discussed, which meant that ½ the game was friendly argument, ½ playing. It made me think of a comment someone had made the previous week about Indians being the most eloquent people in the world.

I managed to make everyone laugh (it usually happens) by interpolating the body check from ice hockey to football, pushing Ashfaque off the ball. We won 4 – 2.

Helen and I have been making our way around the city, during which we’ve tried virtually every mode of transport, except the bus – she drew the line at the bus, and so did I!!! We hired a taxi for a day, which was a snip compared to what a coach tour would have cost, and was very comfortable, highly recommended. In the old part of the city, Shakti, our driver, parked in Ansari Road, and got us a cyclerickshaw to the Lal Q’ila. Cycle rickshaws are good for one person, as long as you get used to having nothing around you to hold onto, and being in the middle of trucks, cars, autos, other cycle rickshaws, buses, taxis, pedestrians, beggars, and cows, doesn’t faze you. However, with 2 people, it gets a bit cramped – you huddle together against the chaos all around you, while your cyclerickshawwallah pedals hard up the hill. To see some of our pictures, click here.

Our trip to Agra, down National Highway 2, was a similar melee. As the Highway goes through all the towns and villages on the way, the effect is like an obstacle course!!! There are constantly people and animals crossing the road, tractors, lorries, etc. A somewhat inattentive driver has no chance on a road like that.

And, of course, we tried the autorickshaw. Standing at Khan Market, trying to get an auto, I had an autowallah flag me down and say, “want to go to YMCA???” Yes, it’s true, I’ve been in town long enough that people are starting to recognise me!!!

By the way, I’ve finally found out how to get around here, buses, taxis and autos notwithstanding. Early on, I displayed a typical North American’s touching belief and faith in the Power of a Map to find my way around the city. I now realise that this is wrong, and why no auto or taxi driver carries a map. I’ve had auto drivers wave away maps as if they were a piffling irrelevance to the real business of stopping 6 times en route to the destination!!! Not only are maps frequently wrong, but people prefer to ask other people and get from them where to go. That’s the way things are done here – as Adam Mynott, the former BBC correspondent in India, “everyone is so helpful, people go out of their way to help you. If you have a flat, 20 people will materialise and offer assistance.”

For example, I had a difficult time getting somewhere for dinner about 2 weeks ago in Vasant Kunj, D Block, 7845. After negotiating with the autowallah, etc. we headed out – it’s quite far away near I.G.I. We found D Block. We found the 7000s. But we couldn’t find 7845, or even the 800s. It was diabolical – they’d had a power cut and what few street lights were there, were off, and there were no lights in front of or in most of the houses (some have generators). We asked about 3 or 4 people outside shops or walking in the street, and they all offered directions. Finally, we managed to make our way to the 7800s. By that time, I was late by 5 or 10 minutes…and we only found it because my host had come out in the road with a torch looking for me!!! There he was in resplendent kurta-pyjama, Maglite in hand…thank goodness!

I never really got to cover the power cuts and the electricity problem, although I think I mentioned it in describing the Monsoon Mystery. Essentially, the water problem is duplicated in electricity. During the summer, it gets sweltering, and lots of people turn on air conditioning to survive. Power usage soars. The monsoon being late makes cooling off later, which makes it all a lot worse. And, as with the water problem, there are loads of illegal taps by encroachments and others on the electricity supply – anywhere from 25 – 30% disappears without being paid for. One state has just decided to give it away, perhaps mindful that a lot of it was going free anyway!

Although there have been celebrated power blackouts in both the U.S. and Canada in the last year, this is India. So we’re talking a completely different order of things from other, minor countries. The worst day this summer was when it went off 5 times in one day. Luckily, I wasn’t there that day. But it has gone off 3 or 4 times in a day, then twice the next day, then nothing more for a day or two, just to lull you into a false sense of security, then back to 3 or 4. The blackouts finally began to ebb, with the summer heat, about September.

When I was on the battery-powered laptop, I was sitting there serene and unaffected while all about me were losing their work. When I had my hard disk crash, I began to lose whole files or work as well. It is amazing how the blackouts would be timed perfectly to take advantage of one’s memory fading of the previous occasion, so that you forgot to save the file you were working on every bloody minute!!!

So if you can imagine having water most of the time, but sometimes not, and electricity most of the time, but sometimes not, you get the picture. But, of course, it’s not all over Delhi, but in different spots all the time. There are areas where the water supply is not very constant, or very clean, most of the time, and other areas will have no problem. So it is with the electric.

Apparently, as with water, the Delhi authorities are doing something about it, expanding power production and power plants, but it’s not happening fast enough to cope with this constantly expanding city of 14 million.

Did you know that a migrant comes to the city once every minute? Every minute someone comes here for work, medical treatment, to join a relation, because things are too bad where they live. No wonder the city has grown to 14 million, no wonder it has massive problems, no wonder it has the land mafia building illegal buildings with no planning permission at Sainak Farms that are subsequently being bulldozed.
Everything in India is outsize. I gave the example originally of the number of seasons – there are more here than everywhere else. I said that there were 5. However, I want to correct that. The rest of the world has 4. India has 6. I kid you not!!! There are two autumns here, I found out, when I looked at one of the Butterflies lesson plans used by the street educators. Children are taught that there are 6 seasons: spring, summer, monsoon, autumn, winter, autumn again.

Love is more complicated here as well. I found this out when I bought my first Sunday Times of India. Lonely Hearts pages in Western newspapers and magazines major on gender, sexual orientation, and other stuff that they reduce to a series of numbers and letters (for example, ‘34-45, B.A., bi m’). Not in India. The land of 6 seasons (2 autumns), over 1bn people (one t-shirt slogan declares, “come to India – 1 billion people can’t be wrong”!), over 1,000 languages and dialects (18 of them on the currency), and countless religions, belief systems, philosophies, over its 4,000 years of civilization, would find such a simplistic approach insufficient.

So it’s by brides/grooms (this is called ‘matrimonials’), then there’s a general category that includes ‘cosmopolitan’, then there are classifications by caste which, to convey my amazement (and fill out some space in this narrative!), I list here:

Agarwal – Bisa/Brahmin/Chaurasia/GSB/Garhwali/Gujar/Gujarati Vaishnav/Gurjjar/ Jaiswal/Khatri/Kumauni/Kashyap/Kshatriya/Kurmi/Kayastha/Maheshwari/Pal/Paswan/
Sah-Teli or Sahu-Teli/Saryuparin/Swarnkar/Saini/Vaish-Jain/Vishwakarma Panchal/ Yadav.

And these are the ones by language:


Notice – no Hindi!

Then, there are divisions by profession, disabled/handicapped, Manglik, Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes/Second Marriage/Senior Citizen.

Now on to community:


And nationality (NRI/Green Card), and religion:


and, lastly, age!!!

I don’t even know if that’s all the categories – heaven only knows. And what happens with cross-categories? I suppose most Sikhs are Punjabis, or vice versa…or are they? You can’t tell the communities/castes/genders without a programme…
I could write for hours about my scratch-the-surface impressions of this city and its people, this land and its endless variety, but I must draw this to a close, saying goodbye tomorrow to Helen – we are not due to meet again until just before Christmas – and on Sunday to India. I visited it with high expectations of what I would find and, needless to say, they have all been fulfilled, many times over. I want to return – I think that the place and the people get under your skin – and I feel that someday, I will.


Blogger Big Mama said...

And you laugh when I taxi in London...

October 16, 2004 5:41 AM  
Blogger Crazy_Sister said...

Farewell. Hats off to
you. Enjoy your next

October 18, 2004 4:14 AM  

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