Sunday, February 10, 2008

One Goat Head, Please

On Saturday before my Hyderabad flight departure I spent the morning wondering the grotesque alleys of Old Delhi near Jama Masjid. Dusty blankets mark personal plots of concrete, a frenetic sea of traffic slithers through the streets, jamming up against the slower bullock carts of fruits. DVD shops blast Bollywood hits. A three-year-old finds empowerment as he drives pigeons into the sky, and an 18-year-old mother in a brilliant salwar chemise giggles. The steps are littered with beggars parading pitifully before the shaded and stoic tourist with an SLR camera. Their hardship is, however, not exaggerated, but the artifice in their positioning makes even missing limbs a hard sell. The sadness and frustration well up, but a dishonest tout quickly transforms this to anger. I offer a smile and a Hindi greeting to an elderly man, but he demands more.

On the street men sit around a small radio pulling back the facial skin on a pile of severed goat heads. I pause to stare in curiosity. I look down and realize the softness under my New Balance is a goat ear, flavored with the spit of a passing driver’s betelnut paan. The squeeling horn of a rickshaw clipping my heels quickly refocuses my attention. I shuffle through the crowd behind a cluster of women in burqas, and locate the rusty steel sign that points to Karim’s, an alley-side restaurant.

As we enter Karim’s, a famed meat restaurant, and we purchase our lunch, I’m able to separate my plate from the outside world. Compared with the mall-lined friviolity of Gurgaon, Old Delhi is, if not trendy, at least authentic. The men and women who line the streets live their own lives, not pandering to tawdry Western style and mediocre clubs. Despite the palpable squalor that manifests itself in sights, sounds, and smells, somehow I find that the encountered cultural authenticity is sufficient to refresh me.

No comments: