Saturday, 3 December 2011

Incredible India: The Streets of New Delhi

Out in a rout

Now, I know I have lived in Europe so long and have become inured to life in other places that appear palpable but quite abstracted on National Geographic or other documentaries showcasing distant and non-Western lands.

So, finally, I thought I will venture out to get a few things, drinks most especially because even in the Netherlands I hardly ever drink tap water and probably some snacks.

Once again, I failed to be inconspicuous, I had a hat on, that was obvious enough, then a jacket, a day cravat and the apparent immobility of air travel left me seeking the security of my cane for support.

Help provided

The concierge had the good heart of having someone take me to the supermarket and show me where the nearest metro was and so we went for a walk.

My hotel or inn as it is called is on a quiet street, it even has a green quadrangle that I saw people picnicking on from my 1st floor window, on reflection, it probably was as idyllic as you will find a place in New Delhi.

We stepped out and turned a corner and the aromas and odours of New Delhi first hit me and then the people. Many people; looking with interest and some even shouting out greetings that I acknowledged gently without being too forward.

Babel of India

By the time we got to the main street, I suddenly realised people do not use the pavements but walk in the streets, horns blaring to a cacophony I once remembered was redolent of Lagos, decades ago.

Then this boy who apparently shines shoes latched unto me speaking one of the 10 or so Babels of India without pause for breath with sign language to boot; cupped fingers to mouth as he appeared to plead for my custom. No amount of shooing off by myself or my chaperone seemed to work until he realise I just would not budge and then he left.

I thought I will walk around a Wall Mart type supermarket considering the India government recently passed an order allowed for a chunky ownership of department stores – it was what you might call a kiosk than a corner-shop since you could not step in. You had to know what you wanted or be giraffe-necked to look around – I doubt I got much of what I wanted, c’est la vie.

A strained neck

After shopping, we walked further down towards the metro, I, heart in mouth thinking I was going to be run over, my chaperone literally oblivious of the precarious state I thought I was in. The rickshaws and car hustling and bustling, people walking in front of moving cars as if they were not there – it was a pace of life I had not seen in a long time.

As if to bring me back to earth, I could see signs of encroaching Western capitalism, the shopping streets had various hoardings on the electric poles but the one that stuck out the most was, “If you cannot keep our jobs, don’t take them away.” Others referred to the boarding up of shops and actions that usually affect small businesses.

Massaging a bargain

Then, I had to be alert to the fact that you might be offered all sorts of stuff on the street, all looking like a deal that you honestly do not need even if it is cheap. Yes, I was offered a 64GB USB stick for a European pittance and though it looked like a deal, the honest truth is, I did not need it.

It took a while for me to make myself clear and as we turned off into a quiet street my chaperone went through the exhaustive pains of showing me a massage parlour. Somehow, tourists that have visited before me must have given the impression that we are all sex-starved, sex-crazed and sex-addicted looking for a quick rub down. I really had to shake my head vigorously.

Soon we were back at the inn and what is normal to them had me looking all melodramatic – now thinking of that main road, though India drives on the left, I could for the life of me decide what side they were driving on – chaos simply defines the order of things on the road.

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