Drive Around The World (Australia)

One family, one car, one year, one planet

Delhi, India, Day 255-268

Delhi, India

20 – 28, December, 2008

Day 255-268

Soundtrack:

‘Namaste’ – Beastie Boys

‘Om’ – Trilok Gurto

‘Poor Boy’ – Split Enz

‘Territorial Pissings’ – Nirvana

‘Beggar on the Street of Love’ – Paul Kelly and the Messengers

‘The India Song’ – Big Star

‘Within You Without You’ – The Beatles

‘Deep Shit’ – Kruder & Dorfmeister

‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’ – The Temptations

‘Krishna Blue’ – David Sylvian

‘Dear Sweet Filthy World’ – Elvis Costello and the Brodsky Quartet

‘Don’t Shit Where You Eat, My Friend’ – Ween

 

“Asola Wildlife Sanctuary (Map G10): A beautiful road moving south of the Mehrauli-Badarpur Road next to Ghiyasuddin’s Tomb leads to Asola Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary covers an area of 26 sq. km. Though not much wildlife exists here, it is full of all kinds of birds and smaller animals. Next to the sanctuary is Dr. Karni Singh Shooting Range.” – International’s Destination Guide, 2007

India, as it is for many, is a shock to the senses from the get-go. A metaphoric smack to the head, asking “What did you expect?” Idiosyncratic, beautiful, frustrating, astounding, baffling. While we think we’ve experienced some rather organic travel in developing nations so far, India is a whole different kettle of fish masala.

Our wait at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul was relatively uneventful, but by the stopover in the Kingdom of Bahrain things started to get a bit stranger. The airport, while quite small, was packed with mostly men who either wore crisp white caftans with French cuffs, acres of gold on their fingers and elaborate head-scarfs, their fingernails manicured and their moustaches and goatees clipped; the rest looked like exhausted labourers who had been camped in the gate lounges for days, perhaps making a short trip back to India to see family before going back to work in the oilfields or construction.

And it was the workers in the airport and on the Middle Eastern airline we took that piqued some of our interest, as it seemed most were east Asian or from the subcontinent. Perhaps the entire economy of this oil-rich fiefdom keeps clicking over with the effort of imported labourers.

The flight to Delhi, an official ‘sister city’ of our own hometown Melbourne, was also somewhat of an introduction to Indian culture. The passengers were mostly loud, kept changing seats (especially the ones behind me who would use the back of my seat – and a handful of my hair – to get up and out). It was also our introduction to that dominant male Indian custom of clearing the sinuses and throat with a prolonged snort and hoik. Charming.

Baggage retrieval at Indira Ghandi International Airport also eased us into another Indian custom of shoving people out of the way. No more patient and polite staring at a vacant baggage carousel, wishing the invisible baggage handlers a terrible curse on their house, as here this became a contact sport. Trolleys into the ankles, forearms into the chest. I remained polite and obliging – and a lot less tolerant as the days went by.

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(Pic: Never mind the bullocks, Delhi)

Angad Talwar, a young Indian currently studying in the US, found our website some weeks before we arrived and made contact with us, alerting us to his family’s homestay in suburban Delhi. At that stage we were still unsure if we would come to India at all, given what had recently transpired in Mumbai, yet Angad kept in touch and told us all about his family and what they could provide for us. At 5.30am on a chilly, foggy Delhi morning, Angad met us at the airport with a driver, loaded us into a van as the sun rose orange through the haze and took us to the Talwar’s apartment in the west of the city. When we arrived the whole family was up to meet and greet us. We were offered tea and food, and essentially anything we liked, but between the raucous plane ride and the time difference we had arrived without any sleep. It was daybreak but we were in bed by just after six and up again at ten. We woke to the outside din of cars, trucks, markets, rickshaws of varying descriptions and states of repair, animals, and a whole lot more.

We would spend the next week in the Talwars’ care, being treated to extraordinary home-cooked delights (Raffy struggled a bit with the spicy delicacies but Maddy was in bliss) and conversations with the Talwars about all things Indian, Australian and the world. While devouring chappatti, pappadums, dahl, pilaf, khichdi, pakoras, aloo puri and gobi – the menu seemed endless – Angad’s father, Rakesh, provided us with some fine suggestions for things to see and do, and assisted us in preparing for our north India circuit.

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(Pic: Under a heavy load near the apartment, Delhi)

Yet there was something about living with a family in suburban India that took us by surprise, and that was the hired help. We were never officially introduced to the two boys, who were about sixteen and thirteen years old, but they were ever-present. They worked from early in the morning to late at night, and, while actively engaged with the family at all times, were obviously a separate entity. Responsible for most of the cooking, shopping, cleaning, serving, clearing, washing and preparing guest rooms, there was little down time. They lived in the building, but away from the rest of us, and ate the same food as the family, yet long after the family had retired. We, and the Talwars, would eat at the large dining table, but the boys would take their food on the floor of the kitchen. There was a sense that there was a degree of altruism in the Talwars’ choice to take them in as servants, providing them with a stable home environment, good food and the ability to learn important skills, and it became clear that most middle-class Indian families had servants, yet we found this system difficult to reconcile, and sometimes uncomfortable. We were often tempted to ‘subvert the dominant paradigm’ by engaging more directly with the boys, yet it was clear that we shouldn’t take too much notice of them.

Still, it seemed the boys were happy, and the little bit of mischief they got up to to entertain the guests demonstrated that. They were kids at heart, but perhaps they had a better future in front of them than they otherwise would.

It got us thinking about the issue of class and gender, and I tried recalling the Modern India subject I took at university a few lifetimes ago. The notorious caste system is officially history, being relegated to text books by the independent Indian constitution, as formed by Mahatma Gandhi himself. Yet the vast expanses between the haves and have-nots are as plain as the smog and litter filled day. India boasts a rampaging official economy (predicting annual growth next year of around seven per cent while other world economies are decidedly stagnant or doing backstroke), with a plethora of billboards, newspaper and television advertisements enticing potential customers to fantastic investment opportunities and the latest electronic gizmos. Yet the vast bulk of the population don’t even bother dreaming of such unattainable offerings and instead worry about where the next meal is coming from. We spent our Delhi down time in the comfort of clean beds, hot running water and full bellies, while during the day we brushed shoulders with the hungry, ill, disabled and desperate.

The next few days went by in a blur, as there was just so much to take in and attempt to process. This is nothing new to seasoned Indian travellers, but to the novice it takes some time to adjust.

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(Pic: Carry that weight, Delhi)

Of course, the most glaringly obvious thing about Indian environs is not the traffic, the clothes, the poverty, the beggars at intersections, the stares or even the smog; it’s the garbage. We found it profoundly difficult not to immediately judge Delhians for the way in which they lived in amongst the filth – and wholeheartedly and robustly contributed to it – without wondering why they simply couldn’t see the litter for all the rubbish. I would watch in sheer wonder at someone sweeping dirt and debris away from the front of a home or shop only for the next vehicle to tear past and blow it all back again, or for the person next door to do it. Obviously a simplistic and naïve response – perhaps quixotic – but a very real, raw and emotional one nonetheless.

The contrast between our life with the Talwars in their large, tidy and orderly apartment and the chaotic melange of paper, plastic, dust, rubble and sewage a couple of floors down was tough to reconcile.

The juxtaposition between rich and poor, and the ever-present, glaring, overt poverty cannot be overstated. People living under bridges in makeshift hovels, skinny boys and girls imploring you to hand over some cash to help feed them and their families, mums not that much older than my own daughter, clutching emaciated babies, crying in your lap, pleading for something to sustain them. It is always affecting, it is always unfair, and it is always a dilemma as to how much, and how often, we, the privileged, should help out.

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(Pic: Green parrots make their home anywhere in a decent historic building, Delhi)

Nevertheless, we set about exploring this colossal, congested conurbation and went in search of its gems. On our first morning we made our way along ostensibly a dirt road towards the metro station, past shouting shoppers in the local market, past the reeking pissoir, past touts and hoards of rickshaw drivers wanting a fare. The cycle-rickshaw drivers were engrossing – stick-figured, usually dark skinned and sinewy, straining under a heavy load, throwing their pelvises forward in great arcs in an attempt to get more power from their weary legs down to the fixed-wheel pedals, straining to get the often overfed passengers and their shopping home.

The relatively new Delhi Metro system was clean, slick, efficient and always stuffed with people, and we made our way around the city with some support from cycle- and auto-rickshaws. In the train we rubbed shoulders (and, inadvertently, other parts of the human anatomy) with rugged men on their way to work, funky young students in gaudy jeans listening to the latest Hindi hit on their mobile phones, middle-class women with bags full of shopping and Sikh men with strips of narrow white material wrapped under their chin and tied on top of their turbans to keep their beards out of the way, giving the impression that India is in the grip of a toothache pandemic.

Hitting the streets, we made our way to various imposing sites, paying substantial tourist entry fees, as opposed to the miniscule prices for locals. We found our way to Purana Qila, (I couldn’t help thinking about the Victoria Police taskforce) Delhi’s Old Fort, with some of the Delhi Zoo visible from some of the fort’s vantage points.

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(Pic: Raffy assesses the Old Fort, Delhi)

The heart of British New Delhi, in its attempt to distance itself from the madding crowds of old Delhi, is Connaught Place, where a large, circular common is ringed by wide boulevards lined with stately buildings boasting grand façades and towering columns, and where we spent an afternoon. In its heyday, Connaught Place would have seemed an expanse of calm, white, Anglo-Celtic order only a short distance from the gritty, frenzied hubbub of old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk market, but since then bricks and mortar have become decidedly cancerous, cars have taken over and detracted from the terraces and broad avenues, and gaudy billboards now hide the once distinguished buildings. Some remnants of small, yet proud businesses still exist, but the rest is western-style food chains and a continuous barrage of touts wanting to point you in a direction you have no intention of going. Indeed, some of their suggestions may have been helpful, but they were rejected simply out of mistrust and spite.

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(Pic: Connaught Place, New Delhi)

Our visit to the Jantar Mantar gave us cause for a decent number of ‘wow’ moments. This extraordinary, antique, open-air observatory combines concerted astronomical study with bizarre, elaborate construction that is now considered less science laboratory and more adventure playground. Each structure was designed to measure, gauge and observe the movements, distance and size of the sun, moon and stars, and by doing so have left us monuments of graceful, arresting beauty. Most of the intricate detail has disappeared with years of exposure to the elements and the gallivanting hoards, and given its current state of disrepair it’s hard to imagine it surviving more than a few more decades.

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(Pic: Raffy discusses some of the finer points of astronomy with Maddy, Jantar Mantar)

Humayun’s Tomb, some 400 years young, is the original prototype for the Taj Mahal and built as the final resting place for the Mughal emperor by his wife (it seems she reckoned he was really grouse). The red sandstone took on an almost wraithlike glow from the orange setting sun, giving the sheer walls and bulbous domes a stately, comforting aura, and sweetly juxtaposed with the twitching green parrots that seem to make Indian historical sites their home.

The Crafts Museum gave us some insight into traditional subcontinent dwellings, while the plethora of aging artefacts, though impressive, gave us little indication of what they were or where they were from.

Lal Qila, the massive, decaying Red Fort is almost a caricature of its former imposing and pompous self. (SK: The British have some explaining to do – seems they did some serious damage while using it, and also diverted the course of the Yamuna River, which ran along the Fort wall and fed its moats, and replaced its natural flow with a road.) Its emperor builder, Shah Jahan, didn’t end up spending too much time here as his son locked him away in a tower in Agra. Raffy eyed me deviously…

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(Pic: Maddy, Raffy and Sandy at Lal Quila)

The Gandhi Smriti, the Mahatma’s memorial and place of his final hours on this mortal coil, was initially difficult to locate as a succession of rickshaw and cab drivers had no idea what or where it was. A number of driver conferences ended in shrugs of the shoulder and surrender. Odd, we thought, given that the old man with round spectacles is considered the patriarch of modern India and is somewhat saintly in his reverence. Finally we approached three uniformed soldiers who were slouching in the shade of a large tree in front of the stately manor of some undoubtedly noble and honest government official, and, again after a conference, we were pointed in the right direction, a mere ten minutes walk from the taxi rank. Given so many locals didn’t know what or where it was we weren’t expecting much, but upon arrival we made our way past a number of school groups to a compound that preserved Gandhi’s final, meagre possessions, his final stroll from his room to his place of prayer, and the spot he met his maker thanks to a rifle shot from ostensibly one of his own.

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(Pic: Raffy takes a moment at the World Peace Gong at the Gandhi Smriti, Dehli)

Old Delhi provided us with a much more organic and disorderly Delhi experience that was perfect in its pandemonium. The antithesis of the English attempt to create order out of what they saw as anarchy, we were plonked by a rickshaw into thousands of stalls, shops, awnings, boxes and trolleys, and people, all eating, buying, selling, dealing, trading, conning, yelling, arguing, laughing, shuffling, pushing, watching. The power would come on and off, almost at will. Raffy spotted an aging petrol generator with Australian power sockets; the bare stripped wires leading from a textile shop forced into the plug holes, with one wire jammed in with the business end of a live match. And we couldn’t help thinking, “But what if it sparked?” I looked around at the potential mass inferno and quivered. We could easily have spent days plying the streets, alleys, passageways and nooks, but, while for Sandy and I it presented a melange of all things vibrant and alive, for Maddy and Raffy it was a place where they could only see as far as the backside of the person in front and the grimy cobblestones below. Still, we equally devoured a portion of ‘jalebis’, as it’s difficult to go wrong with circles of deep-fried batter smothered in sweet syrup.

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(Pic: Chandni Chowk market, Old Delhi)

Our young host, Angad, it seems, was somewhat of a celebrity, being the brilliant student studying in America, and so it was he who was invited to his old primary school to help judge a student dance competition, and we were the honoured guests from the antipodean British past who were invited to tag along. The other judge was a Bollywood dancer wannabe who initially paid us no quarter but who eventually got to strut his gyrating, bouncing, flouncing dance moves for the enraptured children. We never really got his name, and were told that until he made it in Mumbai we shouldn’t really worry all that much.

The children put on a masterful performance, dancing to Bollywood hits old and new, in elaborate costumes recently stitched for the occasion. The rest of the school sat on the floor and watched for almost two hours, cheering and hollering at all the appropriate opportunities.

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(Pic: Bollywood 101, Delhi)

Finally, the judges submitted their results and the winners took their bows. Afterwards we were invited for tea with the school’s principal and then to meet with the school’s newspaper journalists, along with the judges. Much to the Bollywood dancer’s chagrin, Angad and we were given much more attention. After Bollyboy left for ‘an urgent appointment’ we spoke with the student journalists and some of the dancers about our home, our travels, our impressions of India and, naturally, cricket! “Ah, Ricky Ponting!” We were enthralled by the dancing and the attentiveness of the students and wished them all the best.

Aside from many historical sites of major significance crumbling before our eyes, we were amazed to find graffiti scrawled and scratched into walls, doors and any other available surface. Interestingly, though, it seems it wasn’t obnoxious western tourists or past colonialists responsible – it was the locals. “Sanjiv loves Shivani” and “Arvind” and “Parvati” writ large in a caricature love-heart, and variants thereof, are scribbled large in every monument, shrine, temple and mausoleum. We were also miffed at the large number of people who would whoop, screech and holler in places of supposedly reverential tranquillity (in front of signs asking for quiet). We found young men trying to get their voices to echo in the Taj Mahal, and competing with over-officious guards continuously blowing pea-whistles in an attempt to control an unruly crowd, and all the while just contributing to the racket.

And it is this seeming disregard for eminent edifices that grated on us. We understand that, coming from a western mindset, we perhaps place a greater importance on inanimate constructions than those of a more spiritual or ethereal focus. However, even discounting the rejection of overtly grandiose evidence of past colonial rulers (Moghul, British) we found it difficult to reconcile the lack of respect afforded to some people’s own places of work, worship and residence.

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(Pic: Exploring Humayan’s Tomb, Delhi)

But here’s the thing. To be blunt, the bulk of the outdoor India we saw, and in particular urban Delhi, is knee-deep in crap, and worse. Between the stains of ‘paan’ spit, the tonnes of household and industrial waste, rubble and sewage (and the male glamour sport of the one nostril block-and-snot-blow), there’s not a lot of natural India to speak of. For us this was anathema. As far as the eye can see garbage and effluent is on display like a nation’s national flower in bloom. And it was this very issue that got us wondering about the Indian psyche; that is, the question rattling around in our heads for two weeks: “Why doesn’t somebody do something about it?”

Sandy and I spoke at length about this, and I have had a few email conversations with friends and family, about this topic. Not necessarily about the sheer volume of garbage scattered about the country, but rather if we have any right to judge. And to be honest, I have found it extremely difficult to not be judgemental about a topic I see as relatively straight forward: living in your own filth.

We thought about our recent visits to Roman ruins in Europe and further east, and thought about ancient civilisations’ capacity to understand the dangers of not disposing of organic waste and, furthermore, respecting the place where you live. As Ween said, although perhaps more metaphorically at the time, “Don’t Shit Where You Eat, My Friend.”

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(Pic: Everyone else does, Delhi)

Why was it that everyone found it most sensible and apposite to discard any kind of waste exactly where they stood? Why did people find it appropriate to relieve themselves then and there, and did they think of the consequences? These dilemmas would stay with us for our entire time in India.

The issue of excretion in the open is not only an issue of health but, as a friend pointed out, gender. Stinking, open pissoirs line thousands of Indian streets and, given human anatomy, it is much easier for men to take a leak against a wall than women. While Mr Gandhi had high hopes for women’s emancipation, India remains steadfastly chauvinist.

One theory is the mindset that is described as “it’s not my job.” Historically, the lowest caste, the ‘untouchables’, were only permitted to scavenge garbage, and so perhaps if anyone else does it then they might affiliate themselves with this unwanted badge of honour. Perhaps this theory extends to the lack of significant social movements for change that focus on the environment, gender, workers’ rights and the like. Perhaps, as a friend explained to me, the focus is on the reincarnated life, not the current one.

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(Pic: “But soft…”, Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi)

One of the strangest tourist experiences of this trip by far was our visit to the Sulabh International Toilet Museum. Yes, you read correctly – a museum dedicated to the thunder-box – and nothing could have been fart-her from my mind.

Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, the genius behind the museum, is not only responsible for heading up an NGO that provides public loos around the country, but is also a massive self-promoter. He may do good work, but boy does he want to tell you about it.

Wee had high hopes for this museum and it had come highly recommended. Given that human excreta is so obviously a topic of concern in these parts, or not, as the case may be, it’s no wonder that an entire institution is dedicated to WCs through the ages.

Museum curator Sandy was most interested in visiting this strange collection, yet I initially poo-pooed the idea, the septic that I am. To be honest, I thought she was pulling my chain. I mean really, you’d have to be half-tanked to think of such a turd-gid concept.

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(Pic: The neighbours don’t seem to mind – Sulabh International Toilet Museum, Delhi.)

The museum’s custodians saw this behemoth as something of a cistern chapel. However, in reality, it is one person’s rather disturbing fascination with the commode, and its rather limited variations on a theme. The very idea of a celebration of the dunny could leave you rather flushed, and, suffice to say, while the concept may have been sound, in practice the place stunk to high heaven. Think of the paperwork! An interesting idea, but poo-rly implemented. Lucky we didn’t have to spend so much as a penny on it. I am intent on wiping my hands of the entire concept, even though an expansion is in the pipeline. Still, when asked what I thought about it, and I replied “shithouse”, the museums staff seemed chuffed. I bade them “tootle-loo”.

To top it off, I got a chuckle when I read the brand names of many of the ceramic bowls and cisterns in this country – ‘Hindware’, and the taps – ‘Trot’.

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(Pic: Maybe they didn’t think of ‘Tush Flush’)

Some other uniquely Indian pursuits raised our eyebrows, too. It seemed almost all vacant wall space as well as a good proportion of the streets and some feet were liberally splattered with a thick, red film. ‘Paan’ – betel leaves mixed with areca nut and often tobacco – is chewed by most Indian men and is cause for firing its juicy extract anywhere and everywhere in the country, like dogs marking their territory. Every road-side stall sells it in plastic packets akin to condom wrappers (and here I was thinking how progressive India was until I was put right) and some stall holders make it up fresh on the spot. We weren’t sure what was worse – dodging these perverse putrid projectiles, being spoken to by men who were reluctant to prematurely eject a mouthful of rank fluid, gargling their incomprehensible answers or questions, or dealing with men with teeth so red they seemed to have either internally haemorrhaged or had recently been smacked in the cakehole.

We observed a lot of people standing around apparently doing nothing except gossiping, smoking, littering, sitting, lying or sleeping on charpoys (like a daybed), snorting, hoiking and spitting, urinating, touting, scamming and generally being a nuisance, and they all had one thing in common: they were all men. Have a look around in any given Indian village, town or teeming metropolis and the only people you don’t see kicking back and making a mess with bodily eruptations are women. Sure, all of the cycle- and auto-rickshaw drivers, deliverers, carters and business owners are men, but the rest of the hard work behind the scenes are done by their wives and daughters.

Indeed a hot topic in the press while we were in India was the euphemistically titled “eve-teasing”. In Australia we generally call this phenomenon ‘sexual assault’, ‘rape’ or ‘violence against women’, but in India there seems to be an endorsed effort to paint this appalling male behaviour as something playful, inconsequential and perhaps inherent in the subcontinent condition. In response to the increased reports of ‘eve-teasing’ in Delhi, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit announced that “women should not be adventurous.” What, like entering politics?

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(Pic: Maddy and Sandy do some ‘salwar kameez’ shopping at the oddly named ‘Hanukkah’ store, on the fifth night of the Jewish Festival of Lights, Dehi)

In terms of gender politics I was also astounded to learn that not only is there no such thing as ‘no fault divorce’ in India, but that there are different laws depending on the religion to which one belongs. Ultimately, in India, if someone can’t prove (prove?) adultery, desertion, cruelty, impotency or chronic disease, then a divorce will not be granted. Coming from a western mindset I found this scenario difficult to fathom, especially considering that this is the largest democracy in the world, and that, theoretically, there is supposed to be a distinct separation between religion and state. Between the abolition of the caste system, a dedication to free education for all and support for women’s rights it seems much of Gandhi’s work is still to get off the ground sixty years after his death.

Our experience of India is one in which the entire country seemed to be bathed in a golden glow, however this is not something to be celebrated. The smog is ever-present and a constant reminder of how quickly, and perhaps detrimentally, this country is changing. It seems all reasonably horizontal surfaces are perpetually covered in a thick, russet dust – the result of an increasingly industrialised and mechanised nation. We fear that entire generations of people will grow up thinking that the sun is always orange, the atmosphere browny yellow, the air acrid and that cough natural.

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(Pic: Sandy and Maddy at the Old Fort, Delhi)

From the Office of The Sublime to the Ridiculous: while waiting for dinner at the Talwars one evening we flicked on the telly and watched the fabulous British program ‘The Kumars at No. 42’ – a surreal experience. An Indian family in London trying to be English while still firmly entrenched in an Indian milieu being broadcast in India. It reminded me of a friend who once watched Hogan’s Heroes, dubbed in German, in Berlin.

Of course, India is synonymous with the art of the tout – someone wanting to make a rupee from you in some tried and true or novel fashion. At first it was a quirky game we played every couple of minutes or so, but it soon tired. starting with the ubiquitous “Hello!” it was there followed by a selection of “taxi sir” all the way through the golden hits of “shoe shine”, “come into my shop”, “post cards”, “pashmina”, “tea, coffee”, “for your babies” and everything in between. “Ear clean, sir” from men with seriously tainted cotton buds and rusty metal rods was one of the more distasteful, yet the most persistent was from cycle- and auto-rickshaw drivers wanting to take you to “the emporium” for only five rupees. It seems thousands of touts are on the take for one or more of thousands of shops, agencies and businesses. Even the seemingly innocuous “I am a student and just want to practice my English” still gets a good run, but to date we haven’t come across the notorious ‘gem’ sellers – the original Nigerian spam scam. And I did get considerably riled when Raffy saw a scarf that he thought a friend might like, but upon discovering it was very expensive, the salesman accused me of being a bad parent for not purchasing it for him. One of these days…

I wondered if a bloke named Richard Shaw ever toured India and ended up being taken unwittingly all over the country because every few seconds he would hear “Rick Shaw, sir?” and he would naïvely reply in the affirmative.

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(Pic: Recording an eventful auto-rickshaw ride, Delhi)

The other old favourite, known throughout the world, is “where you from?” We learned from our time in other countries that touts were the least bit interested in our place of origin and more interested in drawing you into a conversation that would end with an offer too good to refuse. But in India, a reply of “Australia” would automatically be matched with either a “Ah, Ricky Ponting!” (perhaps we should change the name of Australia to “Ahrickyponting”) or, for those less comfortable with English, the Commonwealth-wide salute of a flat back of the hand pointing outwards, towards the ground and moving forward. If only the scammers engaged with us with as straight a bat.

To our great delight, we began making up our home country, which kept us on our toes and kept many Indian touts guessing. Scotland, Switzerland, Ireland and Canada all got a run, though a favourite was “Botswana”, to which a tout responded “Ah! Botswana!”, and then turned to his accomplice and asked “Where’s Botswana?” Of course, not to be outdone, one tout tried guessing, and guessing. After trying all the standards – Italiano? Francais? Espaniol? – he finally hit us with a most unexpected and desperate plea that we in turn met with a doubled-over guffaw: “Japanese?”

The game of cricket that enthrals the Great People of the British Empire while confusing the rest (my grandmother still thinks the whole game is an excuse for grown men to rub a ball in their groin) is nothing short of an obsession in India. The papers and TV are full of it, all the time, and all the boys talk about it and play it. Any day of the week you can find a band of boys (always boys) in an emaciated, dusty park, field or backstreet with a bat, or a splintered plank of wood, thwacking an ancient ball for four through the covers. I sent a few down to a group of boys near the apartment late one afternoon and received big toothy grins in reply.

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(Pic: Did that kid call me ‘Monkey’? – Danny sends one down, Delhi)

Approaching the end of the Gregorian calendar in the west is fraught with confrontations with large, elderly, hirsute fellows in red suits, moulting pine trees in homes, shops and offices dressed up with bling and a liberal dash of commercial coercion for this ‘time of giving’. However while it seemed a little out of place in Turkey, for us it was downright absurd in downtown Delhi. Celebrating the birth of Christ in India seemed like overkill. I mean, don’t the majority Hindus have enough gods to go around? Greetings of “Merry Christmas” seemed entirely incongruous in streets surrounded by temples and shops selling religious icons and necessities. It was obviously a rather brash attempt at cashing in on the worldwide season of “ka-ching!”, and it detracted from our attempts to experience a culture that is said to be the oldest religious tradition.

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(Pic: “You kidding? I love all that Christmas cheer stuff,” Delhi)

SK: We spent a week in Delhi, longer than we had originally planned partly because I had succumbed to the cold that Raffy had been carrying around, but also because every time we sat down to plan our round trip to Jaipur, Agra and Varanasi, we found ourselves stymied by our inability to make definitive sense of the train timetables (despite help from the Talwars), and co-ordinate days and accommodation for the four of us at this very busy time of year (school break – everyone seems out and about, but maybe that’s normal?).

The city also kept pulling us in; there was so much to see, to process, to absorb and discuss, and then each night we would come back to a fabulous home cooked meal. I wonder if some of our inertia in leaving was a converse reaction to the frenetic activity generated by the city.

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(Pic: At Delhi railway station even the monkeys didn’t know where we should buy tickets)

Eventually we sorted out something, and against our better judgement, we booked through one of the shonky travel agents that attempt to convince hapless tourists that they are the legitimate government “tourist information”, when in fact they are just another business overcharging for basic services. We succumbed, only because the clock was ticking, and we needed to get on the road, and we knew at least we could get everything sorted in one go. It went against the grain, however, as we were knowingly feeding the beast that preys on the unwary, and we were also putting ourselves in a position where we weren’t guaranteed of what we were paying for.

The driver would pick us up at 7am the next morning. How bad could it be?

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(Pic: Now that’s a horn!)

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  auntiefranny wrote @

What an amazing feel you give us …I can taste and smell all the aromas(smells)…so vivid.
Last night we saw Slumdog Millionaire…I guess all of those images are fresh in my mind still.
Enjoy your travels, love reading your blogs
Stay safe
Fran xxx
p.s Carly comes home next Thurs. after 7 months…can’t wait!

  David Taylor wrote @

Hi Guys, long time getting around to reading this blog. As always, a great read. Been busy, last 2 weeks, have a new house guest, a 20 yo Swiss lad. New experience for me, but so far enjoying it.
Luv, David.

  Hilary wrote @

my fingers are currently crossed that you will in fact make it out of india, which here reads just like it always does (most recently in ‘the white tiger’, last year’s booker prize winner, set in delhi). i was thinking of that book, and of ‘slumdog millionaire’, which does need to be seen on the big screen, and in your current state of satiation, obviously not now. when you’re swallowed up in delhi it must be hard to remember that it’s merely a corner of the vast carpet that is india.
good to see you didn’t waste the cistern chapel’s word play invitation. very funny!
fondly
hilary

  Guide on Travel wrote @

Wow pics are looking very nice….and given infomtion is also look good..

  Liz wrote @

Hi All
Thanks again for such wonderful descriptions of your travels – all the effort you put into your writing is so much appreciated. I got around to reading about Delhi last weekend – especially about the rubbish – and then in Sundays Age there was an article about Dehli attempting to get rid of it by placing a ban on plastic bags – apparently even carrying a plastic bag will be an offence with large penalties. But it sounds like there needs to be a whole new culture change to make effect. Regarding the toilet museum – my son says it should be a punishable offence to put so many puns into such a short section!! Keep safe and enjoy
Liz

  Mikki I wrote @

Ive been to India and whilst most of what you mention is true, I cant help but think that spending one week in Delhi was too long for you and heading down south might have allowed you to enjoy the beauty of Southern India! You either love india or hate it , I’m a lover of all things Indian as a result of my visit even though, I do understand people whom think otherwise. In my view you were sceptical about going so from the outset you didn’t start of with a positive outlook and maybe you were just homesick!!!

  green tea health wrote @

I’ve been following your blog for 3 days now and i have to that say i am starting to like your posts.
how do i subscribe to your blog?

  drivearoundtheworld wrote @

Hi there. Just subscribe through the RSS function, or keep checking regularly!


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