A day in Delhi, India 14.10.2009

Soul: the principle of life, feeling, thought, and action in humans, regarded as a distinct entity separate from the body.

Some people need a deserted beach on The Maldives to chill, for me it’s a city of 15 million, the chaos a sort of therapy within itself. I still can’t get over the fact that i’m in India, but at the same time I feel like i’ve lived here for years. We woke up and switched on the television, everything in India seems to be “Breaking News”, blahblah has become the CEO of a corporation “Breaking News”, the economy is in a malaise “Breaking News” this gloomy cliché makes it impossible to take the news seriously anymore. Goa seems to be turning into the new Ciudad Juárez, they are finding women’s bodies all over the place and reckon it’s all the work of a serial killer. Boy, am I glad to be in Delhi!

A little girl who was doing acrobaic tricks on the train from Amritsar to New Delhi

It must have been early afternoon before we got it together and started to explore. We decided to head to the prepaids for a rickshaw to Connaught Place (my boyfriend wanted to stop off at the ‘poisoners’ to get something to eat). Main Bazaar was already packed, we must be yesterday’s news as the shop keepers don’t bother us as much, Hallelujah!! While we were walking I noticed a gang of transvestites working it, one of them must have been the guru of the house, it was obvious she had paid alot for the chemicals as her hair was very blonde and very perfect, she was dressed in a pair of blue jeans and a tight, white top. Her chelas stood nearby but they were faded, somewhere in the background. This shattered my illusions of what hijra are, I thought they all wore sari and carried tamborines? It was obvious that blondie was showing her boobs, she was surrounded by a pack of men (western tourists included) who were jeering.

Street scene on Gupta Road, Paharganj

We got to New Delhi train station where we played our “Help! We-are-LOST-TOURISTS-at-New-Delhi-Central” game, we managed to mislead a few scammers who were trying to mislead us before we jumped into a rickshaw and headed for C.P.,  My boyfriend munched down pizza and pasta but I knew I had somehow offended the poisoners so brunch for me was a sealed bottle of Bisleri and a packet of those orange flavored cookies. Afterwards we walked to the prepaids at Palika Bazaar (Tip: In Delhi figure out where the prepaid rickshaws and metro stations are and you’ll never need to haggle for transport ever again). As the rickshaw headed through New Delhi we passed by the frangipani and rows of gulmohur until we arrived at 1 Safdarjung Road, the bungalow of Indira Gandhi. It was strange to see her home, looking through glass and into spaces that were all suspended in an October morning 1984. The furniture was western, the height of mid-Eighties design but at the same time unassuming . I thought of the riots that had engulfed Delhi and tried to imagine what it must have been like, so many had died, after all Delhi is a city of refugees, Sikhs who had fled here during Partition. I tried to find answers only to realise that India and the world had moved on long ago and all of this belonged in another era, in a time of Challenger and Gorbachev and Halston.

The sign near the path where Indira Gandhi was assassinated

Every city no matter how large has it’s own hotbed. Unlike the Lower East Side or Harajuku who have been hijacked by the corporations and are witnessing their own demise Paharganj has yet to be discovered. It’s difficult to explain the second in which this area is in, it could be pre-war Kurfürstendamm or a 19th Century Manhattan, full of energy but still trying to find it’s feet. The signs are already there, some cafe’s are playing chill out, popular with the internationals, and I have already noticed some people sitting on the street trying to sell their handmade artwork. If only they could move into abandoned stores declaring them galleries and the chill out cafe’s try harder in their presentation. I believe this district has the potential to transform itself into something spectacular. The danger though is that in it end it may lose it’s essence becoming a carbon copy of every other melting pot.

We walked along Main Bazaar and went to our hotel’s rooftop restaurant. My boyfriend went to get the drinks and came back chuckling to himself. “What is it? Tell me!!” I said laughing. “Nah, nuthin” he said. This went on for a while and eventually he admitted to me what had happened. He had gone and asked what sort of Lassi they had. After hearing all that was on offer he had whispered “Lassi Bhang?”. The boy working had said he would send someone out to get the ingredients and would make Lassi Bhang for him. The drinks turned up and he drank his Lassi Bhang, he said it tasted weird and kind of gritty. We waited for about 15 mins, he said he couldn’t feel anything. So, then he went back and ordered another three. Still nothing.

I walked through the alleyways of Pahar Ganj, suddenly I could hear gun shots and then turning the corner towards me a group of little boys wearing shorts and vests appeared, they were running through the alleyway waving their toy guns in the air, it was the opening (and best part) of Slumdog Millionaire, the cheekiest one pointed his gun at me and on cue I grabbed my heart and pretended to collapse onto some stairs. It was brilliant, this is exactly why I love India. The little cheeky one then came back and apologetically asked me for some money as he wanted to buy more gunpowder caps for his gun. I just laughed and handed him the cash. I wandered further, past the holes in the walls that had been turned into barbers…hmm, come to think of it where are all the beauty salons for women?, anyway I wandered further through a vegetable market and through more alleyways and as I turned a corner more brilliance appeared, this time it was a little girl running through the alleyways with her friends, she looked like her hair had never been combed and her face had never been washed, her clothes were ripped but as she ran past me she looked right into my eyes with the best and purest smile I have EVER saw and you know what? She was truly happy. I thought about all the times I had watched documentaries about the street children of India and realised I had only ever watched them from the perspective of a westerner.

On the steps of the Jama Masjid Mosque, Old Delhi

I knew I was getting nearer to the hotel. I noticed something roll out from under some stairs, it was a little ball of wool, only when looking closer I realised it wasn’t, it was a little ginger kitten! “Huh?”, I thought, where did that come from so I sat down and peered under the stairs, there were two more of them living on some rags. One still had it’s eyes closed and was wandering out of their home (and no doubt into danger) and the other one was picking it up with it’s mouth and dragging it back into safety. I was amazed, their mother was no where to be found, and the kitten had already took over as head of their house. I noticed they had a saucer of milk so knew someone was looking after them and again I was overwhelmed with feelings of hope. I wandered on and was looking into a shop selling books

“Madam, would you like to sit down?”

I turned and noticed a familiar face, it was a little boy who was holding a wooden chair. I had seen him around Pahar Ganj. I could see he must have gone through some tough times, he had a wound on his face and sullen eyes. I didn’t need to sit down but just to be polite I agreed. We spoke about the country I live in, he had never heard of it “Oh, it’s not all that great anyway, India is much better, you are lucky to have been born here” I said. He went on to tell me he is fifteen and lives with his mother in a small room in Pahar Ganj. He told me he wanted to show me the work that he does so I agreed to walk. Every now and then he was climbing up pipes and walls and with his bare hands trying to unscrew light bulbs, I could see he was trying not to burn himself. He told me that the shopkeepers pay him to collect them in the evenings, he was really proud of his job and I thought of the time I had researched my genealogy and discovered some ancestors had been lamp lighters “Cool, you’ve got a great job!” I said.

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