Published: November 8th 2009November 8th 2009
a photo from inside a kalaidescope
To explain the rather contrived title I’ll skip to the end. This morning (1/11/09 - which will be discussed in the next blog) when I arrived into Leh the first thing i noticed was that the sky was blue. Also, the sun was bright. Why would this surprise me, I hear you ask? Well, good question. The answer is that it’s because I’d spent the previous ten days or so in Delhi. Unless there was some weird seasonal effect going on, I can confidently report that Delhi doesn’t have much in the way of sky or sun, as they’re hiding behind the smog. It’s not like in Bangkok where you can’t see the pollution but you can smell it and taste it, or Beijing where you can only see the pollution if you find yourself a nice open stretch of road to look along. In Delhi you can see the pollution just by looking across a medium-sized intersection. If your skin wasn’t there to remind you that it’s in fact a lovely 27C or so, your eyes would have you convinced that there’s a nice wintery fog going on. I really don’t know what’s going on, why it is that everyone
something to do with the Commonwealth games
knows about how polluted the Mumbai is, or the other two great cities I just mentioned but people don’t seem to think it’s an issue for Delhi? On the airport shuttle-bus before I flew out this morning, there was a wordy sign with a list of about twenty things that can damage your brain. Among things like “sleeping with your head covered” or “skipping breakfast” was “breathing polluted air”. I bet that was written by someone from Chandigarh or some other suchlike city just trying to rub it in.
I've uploaded two blog entries today. This one ("Hazy recollections of Delhi") is the second one, the other one ("The ancient kingdom of Ladakh") comes first. This takes you up to almost a week ago. Since I won't be able to upload another one for at least 6 days, probably more, you don't have to read both of them today :-)
Anyway, back to the beginning. After flying in from Leh I spent something like 10 days in Delhi. I think with this blog and the previous one, I’ve probably only done two entries over about three weeks (whereas I normally tried to have one
ever wondered how they change a tyre on an auto? me neither. Now we know. Actually after I took this photo I saw this many times
for each week, even if not published at nice intervals). I didn’t do too much in Delhi to be honest I spent a few days taking it easy, which isn’t that different from what I did in Leh, except in Leh there were more people there to do it with. As I think I mentioned (well to be totally honest I’ve written much of this blog before I wrote the last one) the main reason I had to come back was to find a battery charger for my camera. This took about a day (well, a few hours, but all my energy for that day). I wandered around Connaught Place which is a massive series of “circuses” - circular roads - with various stores in them. The unavoidable problem with this sort of system, manifest in most Asian cities, is that it’s hard to find a big department-type store and the small stores all have the same thing, which means you have a hell of a lot of choice if you’re looking for plastic dogs that go “squeek”, or jeans (in common sizes), or beggars, but not as many choices if you’re looking for something specific like a battery charger
I have no idea what this is
for an Olympus brand which is probably not even sold in India.
I eventually found a place that would sell it to me for Rs 1700 (I think) (> $AUS 40, to put it in perspective I paid Rs 300 per night for my hotel room - such as it was). It is a universal Olympus charger kit which means I had to throw most of what I’d paid for away because it was too bulky to take with me, but at least it charged my camera battery so I could write two of the past three blogs. It was identical to the one I had had before, the one I bought in Chennai with an 18-month global guarantee. As I was leaving the proprietor asked where I was off to next after Delhi and I said I didn’t know. He said that there was something in the charger that will trip some sort of fuse/switch thingo if it finds it’s being plugged into a wildly fluctuating voltage. This is obviously what happened in Leh where the electricity was up and down like - well, you know - and the lights seemed to flicker a lot even when
it was on. The thing is in Leh I’d tried frantically to take my old one apart but I’d have needed a hammer.
Connaught Place also has (at least) two McDonalds (should that be “two McDonaldses”?). As we know, McDonalds - “the unofficial American embassy” - exists so that Americans can get fat no matter where in the world they are, so it should all be the same everywhere, but it’s not. Indian McDonalds don’t have Big Macs, CheeseBurgers, Quarter-pounders, free WiFi, etc, not to mention contrived stuff like triple cheeseburgers or the weirdly-named Double Quarter-pounders. While they still have the same well-designed marketing style emulated by casinos and the same sort of layout and service, most of their meals are vegetarian or chicken-based. They also have the fillet-o-fish. If you’ve seen the rather vacuous 2006 film “Outsourced” (which happened to be on TV when I was in my room one night) they make a big deal about this point. The film kind of illustrated to me that although I haven’t seen too much of India I’ve been here for a while now - it took me a few moments to work out why one was supposed to
India Gate park
there's some impressive buildings at the end of this but you can't see them because of the smog
be so horrified at the image of a placid brown cow wandering around a call centre.
Delhi will be hosting the 2010 Commonwealth Games. They seem excited about this. Good luck to them. No-one seems surprised that they’re doing “the traditional Indian way of leaving preparations to the last minute”. “Give them circuses and a little bit of bread”, one Indian politician was shown on TV as criticising the games. Meanwhile the Hindustani Times reports that several hundred (I forget the details) auto drivers are being given special training courses in manners, English (memorising a few stock phrases), “gender sensitivity”, road safety, etc., ahead of the games, since they will be the first taste many people get of India when they arrive for the games. “The aim is to remove the image of Delhi as ‘the rude city’” - unless they’re comparing themselves to Chennai, they have a fair way to go. On another note, the same newspaper reports that a leading Indian writer stirred up controversy by suggesting that ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi had nothing to say about climate change; and that after destroying thousands of trees to prepare for the games, Delhi was going to green up again
by planting literally hundreds of trees in other parts of Delhi.
In walking from Paharganj to Connaught Place most days I passed what I think must qualify for the world’s longest urinal. Obviously all of India is one giant urinal, but this spot in particular is a long, high, wall probably a hundred metres long at the junction of two major roads, and although it’s not marked as anything it seems to be a bit of a place where a lot of people have to wait to change buses. Every time I went past there’d be at least, I guess, four guys peeing against the wall. Some days it was actually wet like it’d been raining frothy yellow rain. I wished I’d got a photo, but I didn’t have my zoom lens with me at the time and it would have been rude to walk right up to him with my big Digial SLR, but the image in my mind is of a tall middle-aged Sikh sort of standing by himself with his trousers unbuttoned and a massive amount of bumcrack showing. Like I said everyone does it, but it seemed particularly incongruous because Sikh men have this
India Gate park
(I think the park has a real name but I forget).
People hanging around, someone selling something that looks like fairy floss.
sort of aristocratic bearing.
And what’s the story with beggars? I like the ones with serious physical disabilities more because they’re allowed to smile. Part of the game is that no-one’s going to give money to someone who has everything going for them, so if you’re a beggar, the less you have physically wrong with you the more despondent you have to look. A lot of them seem to have their feet facing the wrong way around which I understand is a pretty easy thing to fix if it gets picked up at birth. Even being a contortionist is a benefit in the begging game because they you can make yourself really skinny and hide a leg making it look like you have one or zero legs or that your legs are all deformed. Then there’s guys like the one who obviously had his left arm broken violently at some stage. His forearm is held as if it is fused at right angles to his upper arm, and there’s a sharp point where the bone ends not far back from where the wrist would have been, a compound fracture long-ago healed over with a bit of skin. His
India Gate Park
boys playing cricket
intact hand dangles uselessly, limply, below it, actually back from the end of the bone. It dangles back and forth like a rather comical piece of bling. Did he at some stage break his arm in a nasty compound fracture and decide it wasn’t worth bothering with going to a hospital or even putting the bits back into a semblance of order himself? Or is there really some truth to the claim perpetuated in “Slumdog Millionaire” (which I haven’t seen) that some beggar parents purposefully mutilate their children so that these children will have more lucrative future careers as beggars? How many people even survive an untreated compound fracture?
Connaught place isn’t as snazzy as the shopping centres in Chennai. I guess it’s more for the common people, I don’t know. There’s certainly enough tourists and fancy hotels and restaurants, but it looks a bit half-baked. I think because it’s so big it becomes more like a suburban area with a few shops, rather than a shopping centre (which it’s not). There are some good stores but you have to look. There’s heaps of book stores like everywhere else in India with all sorts of interesting titles (books
about Google, about India’s place in the 21st century, books about what the world will be like when China takes over, a controversial but scholarly new book about the 1947 partition and its horrible effects, etc. etc.) and lots of boring titles (something like “Banking Information Standard For Middle Management” or “Teach Yourself Accountancy”). There’s also a guy sitting on the footpath selling second-hand books which look like they were printed in the 1970s and 1980s, on topics such as homeopathy, astral travelling, Krishna consciousness, etc. There’s very few books anywhere in Hindi. Speaking of homeopathy, I passed a large homeopathy store. I find this strange. Certainly homeopaths would believe that the smaller the store (and the smaller the turnover) the larger a profit; right? Stands to reason. There’s a lot of ads for homeopathic cures too. It’s true - India really is the land of 30004 superstitions.
I got my hair cut; it cost me Rs 70, from memory (about $AUS 1.80). The guy did a good impression of a number four razor with just scissors, and it would have been all good but he then started attacking my moustache with a cut-throat razor (which does leave
three-metre-high statute commemorating the little man who wanted no monuments
a very clean finish, by the way). I don’t know what inspired him to do this but by the time I noticed he’d taken off the top bit of the moustache, looking nothing like Indian moustaches and also looking a bit strange, like a kind of cross between a Frenchman and Hitler. I normally go by the theory that the difference between a bad haircut and a good one is only two or three weeks, but I think this is going to take longer and look pretty silly until then.
Main Bazar, in Paharganj, as I think I mentioned two or three blogs ago, is colourful. Sometimes you have to suspect that there are paid actors just there to add colour. Just random little things like amidst the tourists, touts and throngs of Indians on foot, autos, cycle-rickshaws, motorcycles, cow-drawn carriages, and even (rarely) cars, there’s a guy carrying a probably five-metre length of metal pipe down the street. Why? Or how come a taxi has a hell of a time getting through the throng but a four-wheeled cart full of hessian bags full of who-knows-what, pulled by a beautiful Brahman bull only a couple of inches shorter
than I am, has no problems getting through? Then suddenly there’s an Indian in some weird pseudo-religious garb with a cane and dreadlocks muttering incantations at random people. Even the tourists are disparate - the ones who try to dress like locals, the girls who (presumably) don’t hear what the Indian guys think about them wearing about one-quarter as much as any of the local women, Koreans with dreadlocks, or the tall westerner with the beginnings of dreadlocks and clothes only a backpacker would wear suddenly dropping his package of food (wrapped in newspaper) and kicking it violently into the crowd splattering rice everywhere as he grunts and walks away. There’s the intersection of sorts where about 6 or so cows live. People think human beings are adaptive, but that’s nothing compared to cows living in the permanent glare of street lights when there hasn’t been a blade of grass within kilometres in the last few hundred years. What do they drink? At one point there was a huge truck (how did it get there?) with some fancy motor doing God-knows-what but the result was that water was spilling over the area leaving it inch-deep in mud and reminding me
another statute - Gandhi famously made all his own clothes and encouraged others to do so, to encourage national pride and stimulate the economy.
that I want to visit Dhaka before I go home. Oh, and the school bus that I don’t want to write too much about in case I was dreaming. A friend emailed me a photo of this and I thought it was one of those doctored photos that people send around. I only got a quick glance (at two separate instances) but it was definitely a school bus for some English-language school on the back of something similar to a cycle-rickshaw with a sort of wooden cage filled with about 10-15 kids. At least that’s how I remember it.
Anyway. You want to know what I did in the few days where I actually did stuff. Well, just the mandatory tourist things. I went to the National Museum. It’s just a museum really. They have sculptures and artwork. Good place to go if you’re into sculptures, artwork and standing on your feet for a few hours. I went to Gandhi Smriti, the national monument to Mohandas Gandhi, not to be confused with the National Gandhi Museum which is a few kilometres north in Old Delhi near the site of his cremation. It’s well done, particularly the outside parts.
the beginning of Gandhi's final footsteps to his death
Inside there’s a sort of art gallery with lots of modern artwork, some tastefully done with nice quotes from the Mahatma. Almost all of them incorporate lights or audio or something interactive. Mostly it even works. The whole thing is free too. Likewise the outside area has few remains of Gandhi himself, but a nice walkway full of quotes and then a very wordy, disjointed, walkway with a detailed history of India from the company period up till Gandhi’s death. It’s probably a fitting tribute to a man whose legacy was his words, more than ideas or political structures. Raised concrete footsteps trace his last steps from his study to the prayer meeting where he was assassinated by a fellow Hindu. This was educational for me as for some reason I’d thought he was shot on a visit to West Pakistan.
I went to the India Gate, a large war monument in a large park with grass and empty space and a few trees, which sounds idyllic except that you have to remember that any empty space enables you to see the fog-like smog. It was a huge park though and fun to walk though. There’s even a
.... Gandhi's footsteps continue
small pond where families can go and paddle around on little boats just like English gentry.
I spent a tranquil few hours wandering around Humayun’s tomb, a large complex with a large entrance fee something like ten times as expensive for foreigners as for Indians, like many things. This is a Mughal monumental tomb, well preserved and with many of the ornamental watercourses in the garden renovated. Almost as good is the smaller tomb of Isa Khan and the adjoining mosque, in the same compound. Apparently until early last century a whole little village lived here, I assume they were chased off. Other than one or two self-styled guides (not enough to be too annoying) hanging around trying to get tips for gratuitous snippets of information (apropos of nothing, who decided that the word for the atomic unit of spoken information would be a “snippet”, it sounds silly, can’t we call them “datagrams”?). It’s fairly unrestricted and you can climb around on it. They don’t have any silly rules about safety rails here, and while there is a raised wall around the top of both the tomb and the mosque, in many places it’s only a few inches
high. The other cool thing is that there’s four (I think) openings into the inside of the dome, near the top, with little platforms jutting out into thin air for a metre or two, where you could fall off to your death if you weren’t paying attention (that didn’t happen to me) or you could sit and get a pidgeon-eye view of the tombs probably seven metres below.
I also visited the Red Fort, built in the 17th century and used by the British army and until fairly recently by the Indian army. It’s massive so it’s impressive from the outside, but it’s not necessarily worth paying the foreigner price to get in past the Sikh guards with automatic rifles hiding behind large piles of sandbags, unless you want a place to chill out I guess, or like standing in queues. Maybe there was more to it that I didn’t see, but really it’s just a lot of old buildings. There is a “child martyrs gallery” or something like that, with drawings and paintings, with detailed captions in English and Hindi about young Indians (mostly under 19) who’d died in, broadly speaking, the cause of independence, and also
where he was shot
in the various wars with Pakistan, including a 13-year-old girl reportedly tortured to death in the 1920s by the British military for not divulging the whereabouts of a terrorist/guerrilla/freedom fighter. Luckily Western Society has moved on and we no longer do that sort of thing although no-one seemed upset when U.S. forces killed Saddam’s 14-year-old grandson a few years ago.
Near the Red Fort, still in Old Delhi, past the Jain temple and the bird hospital and the cycle-rickshaw drivers and the bustling main road, is India’s largest Mosque, Jama Masjid. This is quite large and fairly popular with tourists, who are charged Rs 200 to bring in a camera. The worst bit is having to carry your sandals around with you, since every time you put your hands to your face to take a photo you can tell how bad they smell. It has two 40-metre high minarets, one of which you can climb up for an extra price, if you can stomach the rude ticket-seller, for a good view of the old city - as good as the smog will allow. They didn’t seem to regulate the traffic very well and I found the tiny area
hold hands with the bronze hands at the bottom and the display lights up. Not sure what this has to do with Gandhi but there's a lot of this stuff there
at the top packed with tourists and Indians. Also the tiny winding staircase inside the minaret is only just wide enough for one person so it’s annoying that they allow two-way traffic. Unfortunately my camera battery went flat (it doesn’t seem to last as long as it used to) before I got to the top so I don’t have a photo from up there. Outside the mosque, the area to the North is quite poor, there’s an open area where people were just lying around, some guy was showering himself from a public water pump, and some guys were smoking something under a blanket looking around surreptitiously. Leading up to the temple proper were a few shops, and then the beggars, grouped together. You can’t get a good look at them because you it’s rude to stare and if you do they hassle you for money, but there seemed to be a lot of dwarves. There was a man and a woman that looked like a couple, each about a metre tall if you stretched them out. The woman seemed to have legs of sorts but the man was lying on his back and if I noticed correctly seemed to
have no workable legs and not much of a right arm. His left upper arm was muscular but his forearm looked all skin and bones, although he himself wasn’t skinny. He seemed to be able to use it fine though. They seemed to be chatting happily. The mosque has a large plaque in Hindi, Urdu and English, telling about Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, an early/mid-19th century holy man who helped the independence cause and wrote copiously about the putative unity of all religions.
With all the mosques, temples, museums, and various incantations to various gods and Gods, Delhi sure does make you think. I left Delhi with a burning question I couldn’t quite shake. The question is: If you had a cycle-rickshaw and you had to use it to transport a two-metre-high mass of carefully wrapped second-hand cardboard, why on gods’ green earth would you choose to drive it the wrong way up a massive arterial road? There must be a reason, lakhs of cycle-rickshaw drivers can’t be wrong! Is it that an Indian cycle-rickshaw driver, like a soldier, would rather face death head-on? Or is it the law that while cars, trucks and buses should spend most
of their time on the left hand side of the road, bicycles, motorbikes, pedestrians, autos, cycle-rickshaws, human-drawn trucks, cow-drawn trucks, horses and those hand-powered tricycle things so popular with the India’s hip young no-legs set, should drive on both sides of the road - at once, if possible? Vietnamese are fond of saying that Americans drive on the right, Brits drive on the left, and Vietnamese drive on both sides; but in their case it’s a joke!
There are more photos below