delhi – an introduction to india
- There’s a dust in Delhi that never really settles. It goes up your nose and in your ears and covers your skin in a subtle way that’s almost imperceptible until you wash your feet and watch the dirty water swirl down the drain. It coats everything, this dust, only to be wiped with a wet rag or swept with a grass broom and land on something else. The sky is sand coloured and the sun is filtered and the air is golden, which softens everything. The dust adds to this softness and perhaps this is a good thing. Delhi is overwhelming enough. If everything reflected its actual vibrant colour, my retinas might pop out of their sockets.
- Indians honk to say hello, move out of the way, I’m coming, I’ve gone. They honk at cows and potholes indiscriminately. They honk to the rhythm of catchy songs if the fancy takes them. And there are as many different varieties of horns as there are vehicles: tuk tuks, taxis, mopeds, motorcycles, bicycle rickshaws. And that doesn’t count the quadrupeds: dogs, goats, donkeys, and cows – barking and bleating and braying and mooing up and down the narrow streets. The noise levels are deafening.
- The smells… some you drift towards – rose petals and sandalwood incense and samosas frying. And others are like walking into brick walls. Without warning, the hot air suddenly wreaks of garbage and cow poo and urinals. I’m not gonna lie to you, it’s pretty vile.
- You will be a minority (especially in the smaller villages) and it will feel strange and unnerving as the Indians have perfected “the stare” but when you understand that it is curiosity that lies behind those dark brown eyes and not hatred, it becomes easier.
- Nothing happens quickly here, the faster you realize this the better off you will be. You will also quickly learn that queues do not exist. Elbow your way into the crowd, like everyone else, grab your bag of chips and wave your 20 rupees in the air until the shop owner grabs it. Don’t wait for your turn. Your turn doesn’t exist. It’s each man, woman and child for themselves. If you stick to your polite ways, you might never see that bag of crisps.
- When you walk into a shop, you will likely see 5 people standing around, seemingly doing nothing, waiting for something to happen and when you arrive, one will be there to greet you and one to show you the scarves and one to make the sale and one to wrap it and one to take the cash and another to give you the receipt.
- The stray dogs will break your heart. There are pills in India that are hard to swallow. Most dogs are skeletal, flea infested and injured, many of them with limbs awkwardly bent or missing, . But how happy they are for a little show of affection. A quick scratch behind the ears will show you their utmost gratitude.
- Your western mind will not be able to wrap itself around all the garbage. The tracks and streets are littered with plastic bottles and styrofoam containers and candy wrappers and paper cups. At the end of the day, each shop owner will sweep his little section and pile the rubbish in a corner for someone to burn, generally a homeless person in need of warmth or hot water for chai. At first, you won’t know what it is you are smelling until you see the plastic burning. You’ll want to grab a bin bag and go to town but it would be useless. It will all start over again in the morning.
- It doesn’t take long for you to learn that you should carry toilet paper with you everywhere you go. You wouldn’t want to be in a situation where you are stuck using a Cafe Coffee Day receipt. Ahem. Just sayin’
- I thought Montreal drivers were aggressive. Pfft. They have nothing on the Indian driver. Zigzagging, honking, swerving and breaking at the last minute are the norm. And you can forget about signalling – that is what the honking is for my friend. Honk Honk! I’m here, to your left, overtaking you at 100 miles an hour, yeap, that little spot in front of the tuk tuk and behind the cow, I’m going in. Honk. Hoooooooonk! But hey, they have the talisman of Hanuman hanging from the rear-view mirror, like the flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz so they are well protected, as are the petrified tourists in the back seat. But I must admit to being impressed by their driving skills. No matter how mad, they seem to have it all under control. Though it is slightly disconcerting when the speedometer is stuck at 0 and you have no idea how quickly the speeding bullet is actually going.
- So many times we thought “this would never be allowed back home”. Sitting with legs dangling out the train, 4 people to a motorbike with a baby squished between 2 women sitting sidesaddle, people smoking next to the non-smoking sign and spitting next to the no spitting sign (another thing to watch out for)… so many rules but nobody abides by them. Mere suggestions. Not applicable. One mustn’t concern themselves with such things is the Indian mantra and I soon learned that that’s all I really needed to know.
India is not for the faint of heart, the home body, the silence seeker. It will challenge you. It will shake you and pluck at your nerves like a banjo player on gin and juice. It will AWAKEN you. It will be impossible to take it all in, of course. It is the casino of Las Vegas and London’s Piccadilly line at rush hour and New York’s Time Square on New Year’s Eve all bunched into one cacophonic city. And you will occasionally need to nip into a bar and order a big bottle of warm Kingfisher beer just to escape the madness for an hour.
But it will pull you back in. Every time. It’s like an addiction. You miss it when it’s gone. And if you stop resisting all the waves crashing into you, you’ll quickly learn to float.
I suppose the feeling of not knowing how it works when you travel throws you off-balance, which is the same thing that feeds your sense of wonder. So I soon let go of everything I knew and jumped into India with an open heart and tried to learn not to concern myself with such things, whatever such things may be. And boy was I ever rewarded.
NOTE: I have more photos of Delhi on one of the five rolls I sent to Jessops last week, which, as fate would have it, is currently under administration and I have NO idea when I will ever get my film back and whether or not it will be processed when I do. But I’m not panicking #totespanicking