More thoughts on Delhi
May 11, 2008
|"No hello! You no hello!" - Nick writing
India's current advertising slogan is "Incredible India!". I'm not going to make too much of an issue about it, but I'd use "Indescribable India!" as a slogan. It's everything you could imaging and more, wrapped up into one huge smoggy city of 18 million (and about 20 million cows or so. They are everywhere, and are some of the prettiest things we've seen. It's hard to describe a really clean and sleek looking white cow standing in a pile of garbage eating cardboard).
Delhi is definitely the loudest, most crowded, hottest, and nerve-wracking city we've visited. You have to be on your toes as every moment - not in a "horribly dangerous, about-to-receive-gunfire" kind of way, but in a "somebody wants you to take a rickshaw, someone else wants you to buy stuff, there's a crippled beggar grabbing at your pant leg and a small child asking for money, there's big piles of garbage, a dozen motorscooters and autorickshaws are trying to zoom by you, and there's also a cow" kind of way.
I feel like I have to be a bit of a different person here - a little colder, a little less friendly. You can't say "No thank you" to everyone who is saying "Mister, mister" or "Hello friend" (though I almost burst out laughing when two different random guys on the street greeted me with "hello friend, can I clean your ears?". None of my friends want to clean my ears, even for a large sum of money). I also have to lie more - I'm normally not comfortable with lying, but ever single rickshaw driver will ask "How long in India?". An answer of "This is my first time and we've been here for two days" will cause a lot more complications than "This is our second visit and we've been here for a month." Ugh. If each little white lie means that the baby Jesus cries, he's been bawling for our whole time in Delhi.
But each bad experience is coupled (or contrasted) with an incredible experience. We were visiting the Gandhi Museum, and a young father just wanted to talk to us, because he was so impressed that we wanted to learn about Gandhi. I asked a security guard for directions, and he took me by the arm, led me out to the street, gave us excellent directions, shook my hand, and gave me a warm hug. A few of our rickshaw drivers have gone above and beyong the call of duty in driving us around to make sure we got there happy, safe, and without being ripped off.
But we also had two ... wacky rickshaw drivers. With one, we managed to deftly avoid the scam ("I'll take you for free to your restaurant. No money! We are good friends. But wouldn't you rather eat at this restaurant? No? OK, I'll sit down with you for lunch, and take you wherever you would like to go afterwards. But wouldn't you like to buy some scarves to sell on your trip? Your wife should probably by a traditional Punjabi costume - why don't we go there after lunch, instead of the museum where you want to go. No? No? OK, I'm leaving you now"), but we were caught pretty much off guard by the other driver.
We approached him and asked him how much to take us to Humayan's Tomb, a famous site in Delhi. He wasn't sure where it was, but after looking at our map, and even at a picture of the tomb in our book, he said 80 rupees. I was floored for a second, because I thought it would be 100 - I agreed, which was a mistake (it could have been 40 rupees) He then drove us a ways down the main road, passing the huge India Gate. He pulled in to a site, stopped about a 100 meters from the gate, and tried to get rid of us. "Yes, Humayan's tomb". But it didn't seem to be where the tomb was. "Yes, tomb. Please get out." "Can you drive us closer to the entrance?" "No, not allowed. Please get out." So we got out, he sped off, and walked up to the gate... the old fort. Not the tomb. He had no idea where the tomb was, and instead of saying that, he tried to con us into another site that we didn't want to see. We grabbed another rickshaw, with a really nice driver, and went to the tomb.
It's a constant battle. Each purchase, each transaction, necessitates bargaining. And not just "how about 40 rupees?", but hard bargaining, with a lot of walking away. There's a lot of talk about how low margins are, how that price is not possible, sir, it cannot be done. Until you start to walk away, and then the impossible becomes possible. "40 rupee? You make me laugh! Impossible. 100 rupees is my lowest price. No? Where are you going? Come back sir, 80 rupees. No? OK, OK, my children will die of malnutrition, and my wife will beat me, but 60 rupees. No? Please come back! 40 rupees is OK".
I will say, though, there isn't any bargaining at the internet place. It's 20 rupees an hour (50 cents), and that's that. Yahoo!
The food has been fantastic and, for the most part, cheap. Completely agreeable to our stomachs, which is nice after all of the food poisoning we got in Nepal (in fact my stomach is still wonky after the last round of food poisoning on the trek). The sites have been great, too. A beautiful park in honour of Mahatma Gandhi. The lovingly restored tombs of Mughal emperors, consorts, and even an emperor's barber. The huge Red Fort complex. Even a swift, cheap, and clean metro system.
We visited the Jama Mosque, the largest mosque in India. "Free entry!" the guidebooks proclaimed. As a mosque, it would be against their ethos to charge an entry fee. However, as we walked up, a man approached us as we were taking our shoes off. "200 Rupees for camera!" he said, as he pointed to the sign that said there was a fee for bringing in a camera, which is essentially a entry fee for foreigners and tourists. "But we don't want to use a camera" we said. "200 rupee!" We looked at each other, decided 200 rupee was too much to wander around a mosque, and so lied a little bit.
"We don't have a camera."
"200 rupees for camera!"
"We don't have a camera."
"No hello. 200 rupees for camera! No hello" (I understood later that "no hello" was his way of saying "you can't come in". Makes sense, I guess.)
"We don't have a camera."
Thats when he started to try and grab at Kyla's bag.
"Don't touch my wife!"
"Don't touch my bag!"
"No hello! 200 rupees!"
We'd had enough. We left from the East gate, walked outside, took the camera from the bag, and Kyla put the camera down her bra (we knew the small size of the camera would come in handy some day). We walked to the South gate, announced "We don't have a camera", and breezed through. The mosque was big, but not really photo worthy, and not really 200 rupee worthy, so it worked out. And I now have a favourite saying from Delhi - "No hello!"
The heat is something we haven't experienced like this since Bangkok, and even though it may only be a few degrees warmer (42 C today), it feels like a hammer driving the top of my head at times. Possibly because there are less air conditioned malls and shops, or possibly because of the pollution, which makes breathing just a little more difficult at times. I'm looking forward to the weather in Israel, which may be just as hot, but less humid and polluted.
So that's Delhi - a huge mixing pot of culture, poverty, gardens, dirt, and cows. And men who want to both be my friend and clean my ears.