Friday, October 23, 2009

A Delhi Story

I assume that a lot of people will want to know, “What’s India like?!” and honestly, I have no idea. One would have to spend several lifetimes in India to accurately illustrate the depth of her temperament. Looking at India from the West, it is…unpredictable. It is impossible to make any sense out of the cascade of contrasting images. You see something that you think might represent this country, and then you turn around and see something that completely contradicts your previous generalization. I refuse to limit India to any sort of line of adjectives. At first, all you hear is, “This is India,” as an explanation to any questions that are written across your face. Then you just start to adopt the phrase as your own explanation as to why you are doing the things that you are doing.

Delhi was a whirlwind, but I think that I can muster up a couple of snippets of my time there, just to paint some sort of picture:

I flew into Delhi from the States around 9 PM. A few other people in the program had arrived around the same time, so Keith, the program’s coordinator, split us up into two groups to take a taxi to our hotel. Had I been left to coordinate this by myself, I would either be still at that airport, back in America, or completely off the radar. This was my first taste of my own severe helplessness. With three months worth of luggage, I waddled out into the muggy night air of the airport’s taxi service station. This was also the first time that I would feel the weight of people staring at me. I couldn’t have looked more out of place.
True, I had been running on no sleep and had just got off a plane ride that was long enough to skip an entire day of my life, but nothing could have prepared me for the chaos that was about to ensue. As horns blared, pre-paid paper tickets for the taxis were flying all around me, and men repeatedly throwing my bags into cars while someone else would pull them back out while arguing in a language that I don’t know a single word of, I stood there blankly, uttering, “uuuuuuuuuummmmmmmmmmm…am I…in the way?”
Eventually, my bags were loaded up into a van and as I climbed in, I introduced myself to the only other girl riding with me. Keith was not going to ride with us, so he explained the directions to the hotel to our driver. Even though the driver hadn’t a clue where our hotel was, he was insistent of driving off, which caused my heart to get a little excited, and inspired a whole new sound from me, “aaahhhh…?” So Keith jumped into the moving vehicle and explained further in Hindi where to take these disheveled American girls. Keith then jumped out and said, “If he takes you anywhere else besides the Blue Triangle, call me.” Haylee and I replied with a soft and nervous, “k,” and we were off.
This taxi-van was a beat-up piece of metal that sounded as if a jack hammer was running the engine – purely exhilarating. As the young male driver weaved in and out of traffic, he turned back and asked us, “You speak Hindi?” We shook our heads, “Nope.” He smiled. “I don’t speak English,” he said. “Well, at least we’re all on the same page,” I joked. I looked out the window with excitement. I had been looking forward to the experience of driving in India. I made the observation to Haylee that lanes are not really acknowledged by drivers here. A number of times I could have stuck my head out the window and licked the car beside me.
Once we were in what seemed the heart of Delhi (but how the hell would we know), our driver pulled over on the side of the road. “Hmmmm,” I poignantly remarked. “Are we…in Delhi?” Haylee, a much braver character than I, poked her head up to the driver’s face and asked, “Why did we stop? This isn’t right. That sign has a red triangle on it. We need a blue triangle.” The driver ignored Haylee’s English words and started to talk with a man in the driveway of this red triangle place. After talking with each other for a few minutes, the stranger got into the seat in front of me. “Who’s this guy?” Haylee asked, raising her voice a little bit louder. I could only smile. As the driver turned the car around, we suddenly hit a curb and our bodies smashed against the seats in front of us. Oh, I forgot to mention that the seat belts that once were in Indian cars are now in some vortex, never to be seen or hear of again. We resumed driving. Haylee’s body was now squeezed in between the front two seats as she demanded answers. “Excuse me? What’s going on? Where are we going? WHO IS THIS MAN?” The new guy turned and smiled at us, confidently telling us he knows where our hotel is. “You work for the hotel?” Haylee interrogated. “For how long? What’s your position in the hotel?...etc.”
Two minutes later, I was practicing my ‘thank yous,’ in Hindi with my driver and driveway-man, for we had made it to the elusive, “Blue Triangle.”

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