Some Indian Reflections

Hello everyone,      

     It is our last evening in Delhi.  We are catching an overnight train tomorrow to Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh to visit Anjali’s grandmother, uncles, aunt and cousin.  We had a really sketchy experience on an overnight train in central India on our last trip, so I’m hoping I won’t have a gang of rough-looking dudes try to steal my berth.  It’s OK if the aisles fill up with village women sleeping on the floor, however. 

     I didn’t need any reminding, but I just ate the best home-cooked aloo gobi and mutter paneer (which I usually hate), so dense and rich with concentrated flavors; which proves to me yet again, that the best food in India is served in the homes.  Although, I had my first paneer masala dosa from a grimy storefront food stall the other day, and it was fabulous. Indian cheese stir-fried with spices, tomatoes and onions on a hot griddle, then wrapped in a rice and lentil flour crepe fried on the same griddle.  Served with sambar (hot and spicy lentil soup) for dipping.  It tasted like an incredibly flavorful and spicy scrambled egg wrap.  Yum!  I’ve had a ton of dosas in my time, but never the paneer masala dosa.
     A little note on my dosa eating experience.  Anjali was shopping at a Jaipur block-print boutique, when I went and bought my dosa.  I didn’t think the guard stationed out front (guards are veeerrry common out front of nice stores in Delhi) would appreciate me eating my dosa on the fancy steps, so I went and sat on a filthy curb by the street.  I had my dosa in one hand, and had a rubber-banded shut plastic bag of hot sambar in the other.  I was somehow trying to get the rubber band undone so I could dip my dosa in the lentil broth goodness, without setting my dosa down on the dusty ground.  The guard saw how much I was struggling, and waved me over to sit on his bench.  He took his own food bowl out of his day pack, rinsed it (how could I worry about tainted water and spurn such a kind gesture?), and opened up my sambar baggie and poured it into the bowl.  After offering him some food, which he refused, I ate my scrumptious snack, and then went to tip him, because I am trained to tip every service in India, and he recoiled in surprise from my offered bill.   What a sweet man, just like our cycle rickshaw driver tonight, who when he couldn’t find Anjali’s cousin’s apartment, waited with us at the Mother Dairy, while we waited for her to come meet us.  He then offered to take all three of us in his cycle the short walk to the apartment.  Such thoughtfulness and concern.    

     A few random thoughts:
     If you go to a cocktail lounge in Delhi and order a mixed drink, it will be brought in two glasses.  One is the alcohol by itself, so you can inspect the pour, and the other will contain the mixers.  Once you have verified the alcohol to your content, the waiter will mix the two glasses in front of you.  Anjali’s cousin Sheena claims this is because high-end hotel bars, which used to be the only places you could get mixed drinks, were so stingy with the alcohol, that now bars have to prove they are serving you a decent amount of liquor to earn your dollars.  And while prices have gone down, drinks at a fancy bar are on par with average drinks in America.
     Most pants don’t come hemmed here.  I thought I would never be able to find pants long enough for me here, since the population is generally shorter than in America, and  I often can’t find an inseam long enough in the States.  I learned that even cotton pants are sold unhemmed here, since tailors are so numerous and cheap. 
     Even in the fanciest bakery in Delhi I watched a rat peek out at me from under the display case.  It didn’t seem to be phased by all the rich Delhi-ites buying Christmas Cakes (like fruit cakes, only good, apparently) and plum puddings.
     All of the buses and auto rickshaws in Delhi were forced to convert to CNG (compressed natural gas) for fuel.  The bus fleet advertises itself as the world’s largest eco-friendly bus fleet.  Apparently this greatly lessened the air pollution for a while, but now so many reach Delhi-ites are buying imported German diesel cars that all the improvement in air quality is gone.  The sun at sunset is a orange-red ball, but the haze around it never changes color, staying a filmy gray.
     The word “diversity” means something very different in India.  We use diversity in the States to mean people from all over the world living in one place.  In India it is used to talk about a place that has Indians from many different Indian states living in one place.  Delhi is therefore, very diverse.
     People throw trash everywhere.  There has apparently been no successful consciousness-raising around the issue of litter.  There are piles of plastic trash on the sides of the road, and even in a fancy shopping district I watched a girl through her fast food plastic soda cup right over her shoulder and into the parking lot, to be quickly crushed under the wheels of cars looking for parking.
     Modern tattoo studios have invaded Delhi.  There are ads for visiting tattoo artists from the States.
     Lots of Tibetans and Nepalis are living in Delhi.  They are often salespeople at stores.  You can also order veg and non-veg, fried or steamed momos (Tibetan or Nepali dumplings) at just about every restaurant, and roadside stand.
     Anjali can’t believe all the whiteys she is seeing in Delhi this trip, far more than in all five of her previous visits.  There are still hippies traveling to India, but now the hipsters have joined them.  We blame the “Darjeeling Limited.”  Wes Anderson has much to answer for.  I took pictures of the Shatabdi Express bathrooms, with the hole open to the tracks, so people can see what trains in India are really like.  Unlike our visit to the Qutb Minar, when we were surrounded by Indian tourists, our visit to Humayan’s Tomb shocked us with the sight of dozens and dozens of white tourists exploring Delhi’s Mughal past.
     Delhi girls and tourists alike choose to wear super tight jeans on their matchstick-thin legs.  Fashion is universal.  Style is hard to come by.
     Indians don’t touch water bottles to their lips when they drink, but pour it down their throats from on high.  It is considered more hygienic.  I am trying to redevelop this skill, but I still end up with water spilled over the front of my shirt.  Sodas you can place to your lips.  Maybe its the ads. 
     Because labor is so cheap, there are often dozens of salespeople hovering over you in shops that are far too small to hold that many people.  They will want to assist you with every little thing, and not everyone understands “just looking.”
     There is allegedly a plastic bag ban in Delhi, but you would never know that by how many bags the store people want to use for even your tiniest purchase, and how difficult it is to convince them that you don’t want a bag.
     If you are shipping items back to the States from India, keep in mind that you can’t ship gold jewelry, edible items, currency, passports (?!?), soap, or incense.  I guess they are afraid of scents contaminating other shipments. 
     You might recognize the name of a dish on the menu, but that doesn’t mean you will recognize what is served to you.  Anju ordered “minestrone” at a cafe that appeared to be run by Nepalis, and what she got didn’t have any pasta or beans in it, but was a far more flavorful and delectable soup than anything served in America by that name.
     If you are in Delhi, and you have the advantage of having Indian locals as friends, make sure they negotiate auto rickshaw prices while you are hiding, and you will end up with a far better negotiated fare, having sneakily avoided the gora (whitey) tax.
I hope the Portlanders are staying warm, 

Leave a Comment