Day 2 – June 19, 2008
Today, I ventured out into Delhi on my own and explored the Red Fort, an old Mughal palace that was converted to an army fort in the 20th century. Then I headed into Old Delhi, where I was expecting historic buildings and monuments but found the most overwhelming mass of people, cars, shops, wires—even the buildings appeared to have built by heaping one upon another. After the sun went down, I went out with another Indian friend of a friend who took us to an area so Westernized they had, not only a Pizza Hut, movie theater, 24 hour convenience store, but also a Ruby Tuesday and a Bennigans. And the phone number for McDonalds McDelivery ended with 666…coincidence? It was in this very street that I had my first authentic Indian food, which was swadishth (delicious).
There are so many stories within each of these seemingly simple activities its hard to know where to begin. So brace yourself, I may be here for awhile…
I’ll start by transcribing my journal entry I wrote while lolling about the palace gardens:
“I’m sitting at the Red Fort under the shade of a tree because the rain has begun. Yet the air has cooled and the breeze picked up, so it is not unwelcome.
In the distance, I hear what sounds like an Islamic call to prayer—a sound I’ve missed since I left Istanbul.
Here the Indian tourists outnumber Westerners by at least 400 to 1. And the young men with cell phone cameras seem to consider me to be more interesting photo material than the palaces that I am walking around. A woman, as well, wanted my photo with her two young children.
The people I’ve met are very friendly—the women as well as men. Everyone has cautioned against constant scams, so I am hesitant to be trusting, but I think its important to be open enough to experience the kindness and mutual curiosity that seems to arise.
* * *
There is a series of pools connecting three monument-like buildings. Well, they would be pools if there were any water. At the moment they are filled with dust. A red building stands in the middle of what would be a large square pool, maybe 4 feet deep. Then surrounding it are little outlets into delicately carved pools that would create a scalloped water edge on all sides. Long ‘reflective’ pools with little bridges lead to the white marble structures on both sides. I am enjoying imagining how exquisite this scene would be if the pools were filled with water and the white marble was clean and bright."
From the Red Fort, I walked over to the Old Delhi where I quickly gained a new friend. I’ve found that it is very easy to make friends here, but far more difficult to get rid of them. This very nice man seemed determined to become my tour guide even though I insisted that I had no money to give him. At first I was wondering if it was a bit sketchy as he was leading me through these narrow streets that a half crushed mini could not pass through. I stuck to public areas and soon I noticed how much less I was hassled by ubiquitous salesmen when they saw I was accompanied by a guide. He led around and told me about the buildings, pointed out the very old Mughal architecture that I may have missed by forgetting to look up. He was happy to help me find an ATM and then he seemed to decide that I needed to do some shopping. After stopping at a few places, I fell in love with a fine silk brocade and was measured for my first sari. I was starting to feel overwhelmed by the place and decided it was time to head back to a side of town where life did not scream its reality as so incredibly stark and grueling. He helped me into an auto rickshaw and I gladly tipped him (I imagine he also made a good commission off of my purchase).
It is hard to imagine not being able to leave such a place. Those who can find work are lucky, but usually you have to have something to begin with to be able to make a living. My rickshaw driver was 65 and had started driving rickshaws when he was 18. The shopkeepers and tailors have some sort of capital or skill. But many appear to have nothing. Truly nothing. I’m here to study carbon emissions and as I looked out on masses of people who built their houses out of trash, and wonder how on earth such a country could ever be expected to curb its impact.