Drifting Through the Streets of Delhi

While walking around in the blazing hazy sun, I  lost track of time.  One moment blurred into the next. Subcontinental multiculture abounds.  This capital megacity seems to attract people of different ethnicities and language groups.

As mentioned in a previous Panama post, I love street food.  There are endless food sampling opportunities.  I planned to wait a bit, to settle in, to not come down with the infamous Delhi Belly too early on.   Starting last night, I just couldn’t resist.  A man asked if I wanted an omelet.  A young German couple told me it was delicious, so I joined them.    The omelet came in a sandwich, and was fried right in front of me, so I wasn’t  worried about it making me sick.

Taking heed of what a Brit told me a day before, I pulled out my hand sanitizer as I’d needed to eat this sandwich with my hands.  There are a lot of people and animals and dirt.  Who knows where my hands had been.  I looked at the Germans:

You guys don’t do this anymore do you?

No.

They said this while laughing mildly.  Their travels around India had them in a very merry mood.

The man, as many street vendors do, offered me a cup of Chai.  I’ve had a few cups since I’ve been here;  it’s a delicious staple drink.   Coffee is not common. Often only instant coffee is available; thus, I’ll stick with the heavenly tea.

After checking into a new hotel at around 1pm, and taking an unexpected two-hour jet-lat-induced nap, I got up and hit the streets of Delhi on foot.  This would prove to be my biggest exploration in the three days here.

I instantly came across another guy selling omelet sandwiches and Chai.   A woman in a beautiful outfit was asking me for something.  She had two kids with her.  I figured I’d give her some very small change.  I told her that I’d need to get some change first.  She and her two kids waited for me.

Upon getting my sandwich cut in four pieces, I gave her two of them.  The young woman and the older of the two kids ate their piece happily and easily.

She said she needed milk for her toddler of about a year and a half.  I thought: OK, I can buy a little bit of milk for the child.  We walked a short way and into a store where she ordered in Hindi to a man behind a counter.  The man produced a huge round container of powdered milk.  He bagged it, gave it to her, and said to me:

410 Rupees

My first thought was: That’s around $9 WTF!  I figured that there was nothing I could do but pay.  We then left the store and she clung to me.

Rice, rice, for baby.  Baby need rice.”

Look, I just paid 410 and gave you some food.  That’s it.  Bas!”

Baby need rice, rice for baby.”

Look, someone else is gonna have to help you.  I just gave you a lot.  I wish I could do more.  Seriously, bas.  That’s it.  We’re finished.”

Thank you a lot.  Thank you a lot.”

You’re welcome I wish you luck.”

We parted.  Moments later a young woman in similar attire approached:

Milk for baby, milk for baby.”

I just bought your friend a huge thing of milk.  Can’t she share with you?

OK, 10 Rupees for me please.”

No!  I’m finished for today.”

It’s hard to walk for very long without being accosted by someone.

Hey you, are you from France, are you from France?

I thought: I look French?.  I’ve never heard that one before.  I kept walking, alertly manipulating myself  around cows, people, scooters, motorbikes etc.

Mr, how long India.”

You have one dollar for me?

Please can you help me?”

Hashish, you want hashish.”

Excuse me, where are you from.”

Rickshaw ride, you want ride, 10 rupees.”

Upon walking I stopped at a stand that sold little fried hollow balls filled with chickpeas and a spicy-sour sauce.  It was absolutely delicious.  Five little balls cost 10 Rupees ($.22).  The people there were happy that I liked the food and could handle the spice factor.

 I then stopped at a stand selling  plates of noodles, also for 10 Rupees.  I thought: This is the cheapest street food I’ve had since Indonesia way back in ’98 when I found an amazing stall selling a huge and delicious noodle soup for ($.17).  I remember eating it for many consecutive days.  I showed the stall to other tourists.  After doing this a couple of tmes the man gave me a succulent bowl for free.

These 10-Rupee noodles were fried well with some veggies and perspiration provoking chili peppers.  Since I could see him cooking it, it shouldn’t be dangerous, unlike the fried hollow balls that were filled with a tepid sweet and sour sauce that was sitting in the heat.  I’ll know tomorrow.  My guess is that I’ll be fine.  Let’s hope I’m right.  I’m gonna go with my gut here, literally.

After that I walked, trying to remember my tracks, my direction, so that I didn’t end up totally lost, which eventually happened anyway.

After ignoring at least a handful of touts, I was parked taking pictures.  I was trying to get a shot of a roadside liquor store when a boy came up to me saying what I thought was:

One-for-two, one-for-two.

One what for two what?  What?”

He said it again.  Then it registered.

Photo, photo.”

Ah, you want your picture taken.  OK, why not?”

I took his photo as you can see.  Then he said again:

One-for-two.

The English dialect can be strong.  Again, he was really saying:

Photo.”

Again, what?  Why?  OK?”

I had a small backpack attached to my back. While about to take a second picture of the poor punk, I felt someone unzipping the backpack.   The boy’s accomplice was behind me.  This was a scam. I turned around instantly.  The other kid had 30 Rupees in his hand.  My first instinct was to swipe at the money.  He scattered quickly saying:

My money, my money.”

Indeed it was his money.  I had two emergency $20 bills stashed back there, and my cell phone that shouldn’t have been there as it’s useless.  It should have stayed in my room.

I mainly carried the backpack for water.  Copious water consumption is mandatory in this heat.  I have no idea why the three, 10 Rupee bills were in they boy’s hands.  My phone and bills were still in tact.  I was carrying only the $40 and  about 1,000 Rupees in my shorts and shirt pockets.  I’d left everything else in the hotel.

I learned a valuable and empirical lesson.  There really are pickpockets here.  It’s  not hearsay anymore.  It’s the real deal.

While checking my bag and realizing that nothing had been taken, I laughed along with the prank and actually thanked the punk in the picture for putting me on my toes, for reminding me that scams galore exist in India, especially in the huge cities.

A few minutes later the same boy from the picture caught up with me and asked for a dollar.  I said:

Look!  You and I are finished!  Go!”

Moments later I walked past a beggar and fumbled in my pocket for a coin.  I turned around, pulled my camera out, and walked up to the short, traditionally dressed man.  He posed for me as you can see.  I walked up and showed him the picture.  Then I gave him a meager one Rupee coin (2 cents).  Instantly, out of nowhere, two people appeared. They could have been the two you see behind him.

One Rupee brother?  Only one Rupee brother?”

I was out of there in a flash.

There are people everywhere.  This is more intense than NYC or even Tokyo. Tokyo is equally crowded, but nobody accosts you and the chaos functions phenomenally well.

After wandering a bit more, past all walks of life imaginable, I took a picture of a homeless person.  Again, because there are people everywhere it’s impossible to go unnoticed when doing anything.

I saw absolutely no tourists as I drifted aimlessly with my camera in hand half the time.  I can’t blend in.  At least half of the thousands of people I passed and saw looked dirt poor.

On the streets of Delhi, it’s often hard to not be the center of attention.  I often caught people staring at me.

Just as I took the photo of a homeless guy lying on the sidewalk moving his head around in the hopes of shaking off the many flies buzzing around him, a decently dressed man said with disdain:

Yes, this is India.”

I said:

No, this is the whole world.”

Actually I lied as I’ve never seen 10 or 20 flies buzzing around a living man’s head.  In Delhi where flies are ubiquitous.  I’ve even had to kill a few in a three-star hotel room.

I tried to follow the decently dressed man to tell him that I wasn’t trying to disrespect his land or provide bad publicity.  I wanted to explain that the tragedy of homelessness exists everywhere.

I thought:  This is the biggest democracy in the world.   This is capitalism juiced up with a billion-plus people.  There’ll never be enough to go around.  The man slipped into an alley and that was that.

I wondered if he was thinking:  Darn western tourist.

I randomly cut down a side street which is what eventually got me lost.

At one point I had to dance around a rickshaw, a bicycle, and a person.  While accomplishing this, I had to cut in front of two boys on a scooter.  After they rode around and by me the kid on the back turned around and flipped me off.  I laughed.  He laughed back.

I saw kids playing a pickup game of cricket.  Nobody cared where the ball was hit.  Nobody minded them playing in the midst of endless people.  The crowd made room for the kids.

I stopped to take a picture.  It was then that they stopped the game and posed for me.  I walked up and showed a few of them the shot.  They were polite, telling me their names and asking me mine.  Adults, maybe their parents, were looking on.  I said:

Hi”

I smiled simultaneously.  No one was trying to scam me.   I was getting more looks than usual in this area as I didn’t see one tourist.

I kept walking.  A boy yelled out:

Hallo.”

I said Hi back.  He said:

F*uck you.”

I smiled and half laughed and then got smiles back from the people standing around.  I realize that he probably got that from a movie.  I instantly pondered: When a person uses vulgar language in a tongue that’s not their first, the strength of the meaning is heavily compromised.

While drifting the streets of Delhi,  you’re constantly walking into a new surprise.

A minute later I walked past a tanned uniformed cop.  They’re all over the place.  The burly looking cop was taking turns beating two bicycle rickshaw drivers with his long brown lathi.   I witnessed another police officer beating the hell out of a homeless man two nights ago while walking through the Bazaar at about 11pm.

These guys seem to get plenty of use out of their long, rounded, brown clubs, or sticks.

You can hear the whacking sound when the cop connects cleanly.  I thought: Nasty!

Don’t worry.  If you come to Delhi you won’t get beat up by a cop.  I promise.   Just don’t try to stop him from beating a lower-class local.  My guess is that that’s the only way you’d end up on the awful end of the stick. It seems that people realize just how big the tourism industry is.  For the most part, people seem to like out of towners.

After asking a couple of nice people for directions to the Bazaar, I easily found my hotel again, brushing off a few more touts and bicycle rickshaw drivers.

I was taught that the word ‘bas’ in Hindi means ‘Enough, all set, finished’ and many other similar meanings.  This is easy to remember because basta in Spanish or Italian means enough.   Now, when I can’t avoid eye-contact or get away because of a rickshaw, car, or cow in front of me, I just say:

Bas.”

It works well.

–   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –   –

It’s my third day in India.  Do I like it?   I don’t know yet.  I do know that I’ve never seen anything remotely similar. 

Is India interesting?  To describe it using only that word would be a gross understatement.

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12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by pc on June 14, 2011 at 19:14

    Wow! This is a really fascinating tale of your intro to India. Looking forward to hearing more.

    Reply

  2. DARREN: Thanks! Yes I’ve begun reading Shantaram. Gregory David Roberts is a great writer.
    Careful: Yeah! One big thing here: be careful of parting w/ your money. Everyone wants it. Hard bargaining is often mandatory.
    Quick FYI: Madras is now Chennai

    Reply

  3. Posted by Darren on June 14, 2011 at 15:10

    Riveting post! I was hooked through to the end, brought back memories from my trip to Madras. It was intense. Keep up the great descriptions of your experiences. By the way, have you begun reading Shantaram yet?

    It goes without saying but be careful.

    Reply

  4. AL: The Americas have tons of awesome stuff too. Of course India’s another world in many ways. The history here blows ours to shreds. Anyway, for traveling, yeah, India’s the real deal.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Al on June 13, 2011 at 20:36

    You’re in India, awesome! It seems fascinating so far. I bet it makes the Americas seem pretty dull by comparison. I look forward to many more postings from that incredible land. Thanks for sharing your earth drifting endeavors.

    Reply

  6. Good to know that you’re out of the bazaar. Seeing the Himalayas would be grand. Go for it!

    Reply

  7. DAVID: I’m completely all set with this area now. The problem is that the Bazaar is where all the cheap hotels are. Tons of tourists = tons of touts. I just took the subway a bunch of stops to another part of the city. People were super friendly and helpful, not trying to scam me at all. They gave me genuine advice about India. While walking around in the Kashmir Gate area of the city, not one person harassed me. It was mobbed with people but not one tourist except for me. It felt ultra-safe too. Please don’t think that the above post reflects all of India or even Delhi. It’s only in the area in and around the main bazaar.

    Tomorrow I’ve gotta arrange a way out of this city. The tentative goal is to figure it out in the morning. I want to head north towards the Himalayas. The trekking must be phenomenal, ntm I’ve always dreamed of seeing this mountain range. The best thing will be that it’s not hotter than a sauna up there. The climate is supposed to be perfect this time of year.

    Reply

  8. Wow! You’ll be saying bas a million more times for sure. I wouldn’t like that place at all. But like you say, it must be fascinating. Stay safe!

    Reply

  9. I wanna to get out of this city, or at least to another part of it. As I walk outside in a few moments I’ll be accosted for sure. It gets old fast. But the area is still super interesting and it’s easy to ignore the touts. I’m in my third hotel now. This is because my connection wasn’t good in the other two. Finally I have a good Internet connection.

    Reply

  10. Posted by Mamma on June 12, 2011 at 22:13

    It was just amazing reading your blog. I know I’d be looking forward to getting out of the city, but of course you have to experience it. Hope you’ll have Internet service wherever you’re heading.

    Reply

  11. Actually I’m not too tense walking around because the whole scene is so fascinating to take in. Even though the tout/beggar situation can be overwhelming, they still seem harmless. I’m getting better at shaking people off as time goes on. The situation should be much better outside the huge cities and in less touristy areas. Yes. I hardly got hassled or accosted in Central America.
    I’m thinking about heading north of Delhi to the mountainous areas to escape the oppressive heat and maybe the coming Monsoon too. There are so many places and transportation has to planned in advance. The trains apparently have six classes. The whole ordeal is a bit overwhelming. I’m leaning towards going to a place called Rishikesh. I’ll need to figure out how to get there as I’ve heard different things from different people.

    As for getting sick, nope. All is well. No Delhi Belly yet. But I know that there’s a great chance I’ll make a mistake and eat the wrong thing one of these days.

    Reply

  12. Posted by Annie on June 12, 2011 at 11:03

    Wow! Are you tense walking around and being approached by all the beggars and scammers? I have a feeling this adventure won’t be as laid back as your Central America trip. Where are you headed after Delhi? Did the stomach survive the street food? 🙂 Have a great week!

    Reply

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