I left Head Quarters on Sunday (for a week) for my new job in the country’s capital as an ethnographer. Yes, there are people who get paid to watch other people live their lives. I will shortly be changing my About Me page to say, “Paid Ethnographer” rather than “Unpaid Sociologist”. More on how that goes when I get to assimilate it all. This new job involves a lot of travelling around the country so there should be plenty of personal observations about people and places as I explore the urban jungle. It also means that I will be leaving Head Quarters in the able hands of my dear husband and our Abroozi. This will be the first time I’ll be leaving our Abroozi alone without any one to look after him during the day. Sure, I may pop out for a few hours in the day leaving him alone at home but he knows I’ll be back in a couple of hours. So he’s bound to be a bit gutted when I don’t come home at night. He’s used to my husband going away for two days to a couple of weeks when he has to go sailing but I’m always at home – the immoveable mother. Latest reports are that husband and dog are doing well without their amma.
Leaving Head Quarters is an exercise to be undertaken with military precision. The planning, the logistics, the victualling, the strategic placement of food and snacks in the fridge and cupboards. There are things I cook and freeze to be defrosted when is required and there are things that are bought to be heated up. Things I’m freezing this time are Sambar and idlis; keema muttar; Lasagna and a mutton curry. There are tons of ready to eat goodies sausages, bacon, fish fingers, Maggi atta noodles and Cup O Noodles. We have come a long way. I’ve discovered that Priya’s brand of Punjabi Chole while a tad too oily for my liking is not at all bad as long as you coarsely chop up some onions and chuck those in.
I’ve been in New Delhi for 4 days and I’ve plundered the shops with some much needed retail therapy after Vizag’s slim pickings, only to discover the many malls I’ve yet to visit. And unlike the looters and rioters in London, I have paid for everything that’s come home with me. I’ve also eaten with a mission to sample all the foods I can’t get in Vizag: delicious dim sum at FU: Better than Chinese in M-Block market, GK 1, melting kati rolls at Khan Chacha’s (Uncle Khan’s) in Khan market, Mediterranean dishes at Cava in Defence Colony and a wholesome simple office meal of dal, aloo gobi and rotis. I shall go back home armed with Monterey Jack cheese and New Zealand Kiwis – screw the food miles, I’m already flying. As I’m eating for one with no alcohol, it turns out quite cheap.
I was here in Delhi 10 years ago and boy has it changed. It is so disorienting to know that you are somewhere you were once so familiar with, streets you trod on hundreds of times a month and now you don’t know which way is North. I have no bearings and the metros, railway lines, well lit bus stops and broad streets, even bus lanes are too shocking to believe. My awe with Delhi’s much needed (80 million dollar) facelift began at the airport. As we had come from Vizag, we didn’t get the fancy aerobridge, we had to take the bus. Small town, small treatment.But the airport is the same no matter where you flew in from. It was filled with almost unreal looking green palms. I actually had to touch a leaf to convince myself it was a real plant (with passengers staring at my village style behaviour in these plush surroundings) A fantastic art installation near the ceiling greets you – ginormous copper plates interspersed with equally gigantic palms of a women whose fingers show the various mudras in bharatyanatam.
So here I am , dragging the jaw behind me wondering if the recycling bins are really being used and I was suddenly brought squarely back to good ol’ India when I booked my taxi at the Delhi Tourism Authority’s PrePaid Taxi counter. None of the, “How may I help you this morning madam…”. Instead an unshaven grumpy hoarse man with pan stained teeth saying, “Kya Chahiya” (What do you want?) There have been similar moments in my 4 days here where Delhi’s facelift has shown the staples holding it in place. For instance just as I thought these broad, posh, well lit main thoroughfares were too good to be true, the auto driver took me down a side street and bumpty-bumpty we dipped and dived in and out of potholes. Ah! How good reality felt. This was still India after all! My advice is to look ahead and Delhi looks perfect – look too far left or right and the illusion fades.
It saddens me that the motorists of Delhi have been given two and four lanes of road and half of them can’t drive. The other half are being driven by chauffeurs. There is no dearth of BMWs and VWs while the Honda in all its avatars is clearly the favourite. But they just can’t drive. I’ve seen people struggle with simple clutch and accelerator exchange on the barest of inclines and everybody has one hand on a mobile phone while steering with half an elbow. The number of cars on the roads has exploded exponentially. One traffic light at a single small crossing broke down last night when I was travelling back from Rohini in North West Delhi and chaos ensued, I was in 30 minute stagnant traffic with not a traffic cop in sight. In true Indian style, some poor chap off the street decided to take traffic control upon himself. Thank god he did or I’d still be in Rohini!
I’m sorry to say that the great roads have led to an explosion of cars, traffic and horns blaring. The noise pollution (and air pollution) in Delhi is nothing short of ridiculous. Even the restaurants play music at a decibel that can only be tolerated in a club where you are off your face. I had to leave Yo! China in M Block Market, GK1 because there was no way I was going to pay money to eat uncomfortably with my ears ringing.And when you tell them to turn it down a little, they look at you like you just drank the contents of your finger bowl. I live in a place where I hear no traffic but only the sound of birds and the water filling in the overhead tank. The intense auditory and visual stimulation in Delhi is a bit too much for me to handle – horns blaring, lights flashing, constant megaphone announcements, loud music everywhere… It must affect the quality of lives of the people who live here. Someone do a study – or point to one that’s already done.
My negativity towards the city, any city must really show my true colours as a small town hick. I love small town India – it’s quiet, it is fresh, it is uncomplicated, life is simple, not too many choices. Perhaps I’m showing my age…I just can’t keep up with Delhi. But I will soldier on, eating different food and window shopping, observing people and places.