By Manki Patel:
I am beginning to believe that there are certain places in the world that leave you with no time to be alone — to think, to dream, to wonder. While driving by the road you see a man lyingÂ unconsciousÂ on the divider with people walking right past him and the next minute you see a bunch of school children in uniform having a scuffle with a huge crowd of spectators gathering around them. The shock element is so grand for someone coming from a more regulated country that there is a need to sit quiet more often. On my trip to India, I have been struggling to find those staccato seconds to fully absorb all that transpires. And to be fair this struggle actually started from the second I stepped foot on the plane carrier that flew me to India.
Unfortunately or maybe fortunately my seat was beside a man who originally hailed from Pakistan but had been living outside of his home country for over a decade. Having promised myself to be chatty with all strangers I meet, I gathered the courage to exchanged a few pleasantries with Mr. Khan obviously not realizing what I had got myself into. For the next eight and a half hours of listening agony, I probably didn’t utter more than 10 words in total. And in concise Mr.Khan’s un-engrossing tale circled around the deplorable economic and military condition of Pakistan, caste system in India and Pakistan, his royal linage with links to Delhi, his desire to visit India, some Punjabi couplets I can’t remember a word of and lastly but most importantly his french white montreal based girlfriend he had dated about 10 years ago. Intially, it was refreshing to hear honest remarks while discussing sensitive issues about ones home country, until I realized Mr. Khan’s sense of loyalty was displaced due to a wannabe white complex.
I didn’t experience any trouble at the Indira Gandhi International New Delhi airport on arrival but then having someone receive you at the gate and brisk you past immigration and customs is not usual. Let’s just say I was lucky to have an escort. But if you insist on me being a prissy stick up my ass “foreign returned” then I would say the long wait for the baggage and the stern looking unsmiling faces of airport employees could do with some changes. The next few days are a little foggy in memory with barely 5 hours sleep in a total of 72 waking hours. Human population around me is not fully responsible, feasting mosquitos might have had a small but significant wing flap in my sleep deprivation. There was a wedding in the family which probably explains the main reason behind my visit. There is not much I can speak about those initial days except for the fact that I spent maximum time in pre wedding ceremonies, shopping, eating, meeting relatives I hadn’t met before and being unreasonably irritable to the horror of my family.
It wasn’t long before I realised that the moment you step foot on Indian soil you loose a little control on your life. There are so many people around you familiar or unfamiliar, related or un related taking decions on your behalf whether you like it or not. I was a little bewildered and annoyed at first until I started to see comradeship in those trying to take control. At home there are relatives dictating the rules of rituals and outside even a sabziwalla knows what sabzi you must buy that day. Regardless of age, stature or profession everyone here is drifting in some small way, which explains their eagerness to direct other people’s lives because they lack full control of their own life. There is something else that takes a little getting used to and that is being touched invasively. While entering malls or other toursit spots being brisked and touched by security is common practice.
In between the sleepless days, there was one slightly more densely foggy day on which I completed the third decade of my life and began the fourth. It might sound redunant word play but I like to see my travels as journeys within a larger bigger journey of which age represents milestones reached. In the first one week itself I got my fill of different chaats, paani puris and kulfis from all the age old places that I visited as a child. Roshan di Kulfi was my most favorite place for kulfi, paani puri was good at Nathu sweets in bengali market near tansen marg and aloo chaat was good at a popular stall near UPSC building near Kota House. I admit there were a few days after the food extravagance when my stomach finally decided it had had enough abuse and started to protest. I hadn’t had enough time to recover when it was already time to taste some wedding food. Grazing past the topic of Indian marriage and just summing up the experience I would say, it left me with a mixed bag of emotions. Atleast 99% of all marriage rituals are ingrained in gender biases and superiority.
One of the most ubiquitous things about delhi has been it’s crowd. I was often warned by concerned relatives to be wary of them as there are bag snatchers, pick pocketers, molesters lurking among them. Riding on a cycle rickshaw in the most crowded streets I realized crowds also represent security.