Delhi, India A Heartfelt Message of Cultural Understanding and Oneness

I’m coming up on two weeks of sitting around doing nothing. The first week in Bangkok was well-documented. After that, on the 11th, I was supposed to meet up with my cousin Tom in Delhi. That didn’t work out as planned.

I’m gonna make a long story short here for a number of reasons. After arriving in India and finding out I wasn’t going to be there for a while, Tom decided to head up to Kashmir by himself. I won’t go into the circumstances, I’ll just say that the prudence of the excursion was debatable. Anyone who wants to know more can go check the travel warnings from the U.S. State Department.

I read up on the background behind the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir. It goes back to the final days of the Raj when the British separated the Muslims from the non-Muslims, drew some arbitrary borders, then took off. Each state in the region was allowed to choose for itself which way to go. For most states it was an easy decision, but the indecisive maharaja of Kashmir had a more difficult time. The problem was that he himself was Hindu, but the majority of his population was Muslim. By the time he finally made the decision to stay in India rather than join Pakistan, the armies were already marching and these things, once they get started, are very difficult to stop.

Anyway, I’m in Delhi now waiting for Tom to get back. I checked in at the same hotel he was staying at a few days prior. We’re in sporadic email contact. He should be returning later today.

“Tout” isn’t a word I was familiar with before coming here. It means “con artist.” The book says they’re everywhere, but to be honest, I haven’t encountered a single one. Instead I keep meeting these guys who wait outside my hotel and approach me as I leave. I know they’re not touts, cause the first thing they do is warn me to watch out for touts. They explain that they like foreigners and want to practice their english and don’t want any money. They follow me for several blocks, showing me their credentials as honest, gainfully employed citizens and directing me to the nearest tourist office where I can pick up a free map and brochures. Anyway, these guys must have scared all the touts away, cause I can’t find them anywhere.

Delhi is such a friendly city.

It’s also very poor. The overcrowding and squalor is worse than I’ve ever seen. And this is a city whose population is growing by 50 people an hour, so it’s not getting any better. Nothing is getting better.

Pollution is a serious problem. Breathing street air in Delhi is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day (Attention Smokers: Move to Delhi. Think of the savings!). Everything is tinted an orangey-brown dirt color; the streets, the buildings, the cars, the sky – on some days you can look directly into the sun without even squinting.

But the sanitation problem is what gets me the most. People dump their garbage out in the middle of the street. It’s everywhere. It’s in everything. It’s on everything. Absolutely nothing is clean. I’m not a germ freak, and I think that we in the west often go overboard in our fear of bacteria. There is an acceptable level of filth, but this isn’t it.

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Too late.

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Then there are the cows. This one is hard to believe, so I got lots of photographic evidence.

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Cows are sacred in the Hindu religion, which means they get to go wherever they want and do whatever they please. They wander into the shops, they graze on the garbage, they shit all over the street, and no one would ever dream of doing anything about it. A lot of the cows are clearly diseased, shaking uncontrollably with huge, tumorous growths along their bodies, but God has literally forbidden anyone from taking action.

India Gate. Big draw here in Delhi. People are always flocking to see “The Gate,” as they call it. Actually they’re not. And I don’t know why they call it a gate. It looks like an arch to me. But what do I know?

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Looking for a tourist office? Here’s a few.

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One thing I noticed after a few days of walking: there are many regions of the city where there are absolutely no women present. The places are crowded, guys are everywhere, but there isn’t a woman to be seen in any direction.

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It’s striking when you realize it. There’s obviously some major social stratification going on. I get the impression that women are viewed as an unfortunate side effect of the reproductive process.

This is the kind of pleasant, inviting alleyway I often found myself walking down. Friendly, welcoming faces everywhere.

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I went through the guide book and crossed off all the mosques and temples. It’s always the same deal and it’s too hot for that. Most of the museums didn’t interest me. One of my few excursions was to a place called Jantar Mantar. Mostly I just liked the name, but the other interesting thing is that it’s a park filled with giant, three hundred year old astronomical measuring devices.

This one is called Samrat-Yantra.

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It’s an equinoctial dial consisting of a triangular gnomon with the hypotenuse parallel to the Earth’s axis. Duh!

It was used to measure the time of day, correct to half a second.

Here are some pictures that would’ve gotten me an A in my high school photography class.

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Here’s one that wouldn’t have.

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And here’s a random kid who was standing around and wanted his picture taken.

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So that was about it for me and going outside. Delhi wore me down. I declared defeat. I’ve spent the last few days holed up in my hotel room waiting for Tom.

Power is intermittent. It’s a city-wide problem. My room has electricity for maybe half of each day. They have a gas generator that they turn on from time to time, but it gives out after not too long. The heat gets pretty unbearable in the afternoon. Delhi is in the middle of a massive heatwave, so it can get up to 120. The air conditioner would be a lot more useful if I had windows that close.

They put on a street festival the other night and held a concert right outside my bathroom window — the one that doesn’t close. It started at 8pm and went on until dawn. It sounded like cats being murdered. They supplied power to the event by diverting it from the entire neighborhood. This left me and, I would imagine, thousands of other people, lying awake in pools of sweat – which was okay, cause we had eleven hours of ear-splitting tone deaf chanting to keep us company.

I’ve started my malaria medication. It’s that heavy-duty stuff called Larium. I only need to take one pill a week, but they kind of suggest that you leave the next day open for side effects. Here is the list of warnings from the packaging:

"Larium may cause dizziness, fainting, headaches, irregular heartbeat, numbness of the hands and feet, aches, muscle weakness, upset stomach including nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, fever, chills, skin rash, drowsiness, a constant buzzing noise, hearing loss, depression, confusion, seizures, and possibly dementia."

…this is the part where I usually confess to making some of that up, but I didn’t. It’s all right there on the little sheet.

It actually says this:

“If you are taking Larium for the treatment of malaria, you may not be able to distinguish between the side effects of the drug and the disease itself.”

It seems to me that Larium doesn’t treat malaria so much as it conceals it.

The day after I took the first dose didn’t go so well. It coincided with the fact that I hadn’t really eaten in a long time. I swore off meat while I’m in India to avoid dysentery, and I’m having trouble finding clean meals with enough nutrition to keep me going. And because of the smell, I’m having trouble finding the appetite to finish them. When I realized how run down I was, I found the nearest food stall and sat down. While waiting for my food, I fell back and passed out.

No one noticed. I don’t know how long I was lying there, but I think it was only a few seconds. When I woke up, I was cold, sweaty, and too weak to stand. I grabbed the waiter guy and told him I needed whatever food he could give me immediately. He didn’t speak English, but he understood the international language of I’m-about-to-throw-up-on-you and grabbed me some papadums. I forced myself to eat a lot and eventually got my act together.

On my way back, I was grabbed by a guy who identified me as American. He told me he was going to Massachusetts and he wanted me to come back to his place and show him where it is on a map. Situations like this are fairly constant here, but I kind of snapped on that one in particular. He desperately wanted me to come with him, and even though it was obviously some ridiculous scam, I felt terrible for flatly denying such an ostensibly simple request.

“No, I’m not going to offer you the uncommon courtesy of going to your house and showing you where Massachusetts is on a map. While it would not inconvenience me greatly, it would be silly to treat you with any degree of trust or decency. Sorry, that’s just how it is.”

I don’t like the way it makes me feel to be like that. It’s callous and mean.

Another issue I’m handling with confused emotions is the many horribly disfigured people begging for money on the street. I know it makes no rational sense, but I feel angry at them. I want to yell at the lepers with stumps for arms and feet. It’s not bec ause they’re pestering me or anything – it’s because it didn’t have to happen. It’s because they didn’t know any better than to live in conditions where diseases fester, so they have to carry on in these unfathomably miserable circumstances. I don’t understand why I have that reaction. It’s just how I feel.

I read in the newspaper about an eight-year-old child who was brought to the hospital because he was shitting live insects. Thought that was worth mentioning.