Saturday, March 8, 2008

Old New Delhi

From Rajiv Chowk, the central green within CP, there now exists a Delhi Metro stop. As we liken Gurgaon to the Gold Rush of 1849, with the daily boom of chaos and productivity creating change that is visibly measured in days and weeks, one can similarly observe the creation of the Delhi Metro. Three years ago it did not exist. Today, though photography is not permitted, it rivals Bangkok or Asia in its efficiency. And at six rupees per ticket, it beats New York in cost. Entering the station at Rajiv Chowk we shuffled over marble floors to an uncrowded ticket window. Handed a magnetic coin imprinted with an image of Qtub Minar, we pressed into the station where smoothly running cars glided in each minute. It was blissful, though Indians cannot handle the give and take necessary to efficiently board a train. Many Indians cram to board the car when others simply wish to exit. I’ve never tried it, but perhaps I should try to put my shoes on before my pants. That would work about as well.

Exiting the metro at Chowri Bazaar in central old Delhi, we emerged into the haze of the city and into a different time. At the top of the polished steps stood an idle cow, and we were immediately propositioned for a dozen cycle rickshaws. Inevitably in the way of someone, we dodged our way down a crumbling sidewalk past thousands of others. Men with twenty-feet of copper pipe would emerge before us as two children would clip at our heels and a moped would blast at us with its horn. Holes in the street would emerge, bricks and piles of dust would stand as obstacles, and men with hot pots of chai would careen past. As Tim paused to smoke his cigarette, a pensive and furrowed brow, the surrounding chaos made his casual stance look Guy Noir.

The walk before Jama Masjid and into Chandi Chowk is a journey that impresses itself into memory in a visceral, tangible, uncomfortabley sad and powerful way. A series of moments can outweigh the gravitas of novels, the words of authors, and the photos of magazines. It’s a sight, a smell, a wave, a smile, a whiff, a scare, and a moment that changes you. It’s a series of moments that comprise a minute of your life, and an eternity of theirs. It’s each passing life. It’s your transience and their permanence. It’s their home and your intrusion. A leper sleeps in the middle of the filthy street, face down on the concrete as rickshaws circle his crumpled mass and black feet; A man sweeps trash and dead dogs into a pile, the stench of death and garbage welling inside your nostrils; a child laughs despite poverty, tossing a rag into the air as a game, and stuffs it into his mouth after it lands on the road; a pool of frothy yellow urine pools around the feet of a man who turns to you and smiles with a head bobble; A beggar grabs your arm beckoning to you with her eyes, and her tout of "baba;" Four men shout "hello sir," and award you a grin worthy of welcome to the neighborhood; A rickshaw squeals its horn, and a woman brushes past you, her face mangled and nose missing, likely her terrible punishment as an unfaithful wife; A heroine addict stumbles into your shoulder as three men gape at you from their road-side mattress, hands clasping glasses of chai; Are you entertainment, or a target? You consider danger; you flex and smile. You engage, you glaze over, you reflect, you try, but you can't fully understand.

And then you enter a rooftop lounge, reflect over a Kingfisher, call an AC car, and return to a marble apartment.