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Published: March 6th 2012
This group of women came up to me at the train station. They all shook my hand and asked for, "Snap snap?" They were the first group of several since that have wanted pictures with me - at least they asked.
Before my arrival here, the mention of Delhi conjured an image of too many people and too many rickshaws, of crowds and traffic struggling for space, of staring eyes and blaring horns. It evoked the smell of spices, frying oil, and human excrement. To be sure, Delhi is all of this, but it is also much more. As my host Vidhi told me, “Delhi is built on the ruins of seven different cities and more than 50 different empires. It has over 1,400 monuments, most of which are over 400 years old.” If you don’t know where to look, it can be easy to miss the secluded shrines and tucked-away temples; to walk right past the history. The most surprising thing about Delhi, however, is all of the green – the tree-lined roads and parks where people go to eat, pray, love – and walk their dogs. It seems Delhi has a new surprise for me everyday.
It took me over a day to realize that I was in India. I’d already eaten several plates of spicy curry and drank several cups of sweet, milky chai. I’d almost been hit by a rickshaw, a bicycle and a scooter, but it
still hadn’t hit me that I was in India. It wasn’t until I took an evening stroll through the Muslim quarter of Nizamuddin that it began to dawn on me. The air was pregnant with the scent of thousands of roses, and the fat of roasting meat. Crying toddlers squatted in the middle of the narrow, unpaved streets. Young children with old, tired eyes and dirty bodies sniffed glue from a rag held over their mouth and nose. There were blind beggars and hunchbacked hags – everyone with their hands out and palms up. And, besides me, no one noticed. I, too, am going to have to learn to turn my eyes away or I’m not going to last in this country – my heart will break and I’ll turn bitter from my inability to change an unchangeable situation.
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