Saturday, October 14, 2006

Mother India

No one said it was going to be easy and one friend said in the nicest possible way 'I hope that mother India destroys you and then puts you back together again' and perhaps that is the most accurate way to describe the effect this place has on me.

Can anything prepare you for the absolute insanity that is simply India? I asked myself that question when I was in Bangkok about to board my flight and I ask myself it again now as I sit in a ridiculously hot and stuffy Internet cafe.

The answer is no.

On arrival at Indira Gandhi airport the first thing I noticed was the grotty carpet, I suspect it was originally grey and now it is a putrid shade of brown. I also noticed that everything appeared to be happening in slow motion.

I joined an excessively long line to go through immigration and waited about one hour to be processed, worried that my luggage would have been stolen in the intervening period I realised how naive I was being.

On approach to the baggage claim I noticed that there were very few bags actually
going around and mine was not one of them. Immediately I panicked until I then noticed that no one had got their bags yet.

I waited for another 40 minutes for it to come off the plane. What happens from touch down to that point is one of life's little mysteries. On exiting the airport I was surrounded by a hoard people and I was thankful that in amongst the crowd was a sign bearing my name.

Immediately I noticed the smell oscillating from the majestic to the revolting. At times beautiful, full of flavoursome spices and delicious incense and at other times all I could smell was burning wood mixed with curry farts and excrement.

My driver and I walked through the sea of people and approached a black miniature mini van. Not quite a mini van by Australian standards more like a mini minor turned into a van.

We drove in silencve to the hotel. It was in a plush suburb of New Delhi and was spacious and quiet, I awoke the next morning and enjoyed an engaging conversation with Avnish and Urvashi Puri the owners of the Master Paying Guest House.

They explained that the city is dived into two parts; New Delhi which is quite modern and hip (by Indian standards) and; Old Delhi which is absolute madness, full of winding alleys, overcrowded with people and bazaars but home to two of Delhi's major tourist attractions the Red Fort and the Mosque.

The divide between New and Old Delhi is extreme and Old Delhi feels like it hasn't changed in centuries on the other hand New Delhi is home to the affluent, a few skyscrapers and foreign expats.

India is difficult, today I went shopping to buy some Indian style cloths in an attempt to play down my inherent femininity and try an avoid a lot of the unwanted attention I can't seem to avoid. After one hour of being pushed, pulled, yelled at and directed dubiously I lost my cool in a typically KP kind of way.

Suffering from a massive dose of culture shock, pollution, heat and exhaustion when I got into a debate with one tout too many I automatically started to cry. Fearing the vulnerability that my tears would bring I sat down and took out a baby wipe and tried to wipe my tears away. Whilst I did this a group of about 100 people gathered around to watch and for the first time on my trip I wished I was at home with my head under the doona.

Old Delhi is cathartic, it is bursting at the seems with people and full of energy. Crossing the road here requires my skills from Vietnam but also my patience, as waiting for the hundreds of cars, buses, horse and carts, cows, people, cyclo's and auto rickshaw's (tuk tuks) to pass takes time.

Old Delhi feels like it would be better off without me spatially as maneuvering yourself to avoid being touched (rudely) requires a great deal of strength and stamina that I am unsure if I possess. The city is dusty and dirty with rubbish piled up everywhere, most parts look like they could do with a dose of domestos.

After aborting my shopping trip earlier than expected I decided to get the metro home. Catching the train here is an experience of another kind, which involves going through tough security checks where people actually look in your bag. The subway is very new and sparkles and modelled on the London tube, coming complete with a posh English accent that says ' please mind the gap'.

I felt like a sardine in a very small can and the stares continued. White single girls are in a minority here. What strikes me the most about India is the lack of women on the streets. I'd estimate that men out number women here by about 200:1 and aside from often being the only white person I am also the only women.

I wanted a challenge and that is why I came here, I just hope that I become more resilient as just being here makes me fear my own weaknesses.

Mother India, I hope you put me back together soon.

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