Old Delhi was the zaniest place I’ve ever seen. A neverending river of humanity flowed through in both directions on Chai Chowk, the main street. The shops were stacked on top of each other like egg crates. One good shove would knock the whole pile to the ground. There are whole shops which only sell different fried treats. Every street we looked down seemed just as chaotic, just in a narrower space. The buildings loom up on either side and everyhthing moves in between. Garbage and wires climb uip the walls like ivy. Some telephone poles have been so thoroughly knotted and pulled by random cables that they lean crazy to the side, on the verge of crashing over, only held up by tension pulling the other way. Every surface has been painted. Signs, religious symbols, text. Very little of what you or I would consider “graffiti” or “street art” – most of the street painting that goes on here has clearly sprung indigeounos. Every food cart has lavish handpainted signage and script, and a dangling chain of marigolds. Some have a small iron urn where coal or incense is burning. Honks from autorickshaws and motorbikes and vespas and regular cars barrage the air. Here, someone stokes a fire to bake pottery. Here, a potter sitting on the ground with his wheel shapes small cups. There’s a tea joint, or perhaps a yogurt place, a depo cut into the wall where a man with a huge cauldron and a ladle serves yogurt in the same ceramic pots. There, a street dog drinks out of an abandoned cup. The cycle of life is accelerated here. Things are produced, consumed, discarded within the space of a glance. *
Harriet started picking up on the bizarre gender discrepency here. First off: mostly men out in public. Second: we were crossing the street across a drainage trench under construction. A little old man asked me for help, and I (along with three dudes who materialized out of nowhere) all pulled him up and over the dirt bridge. A little old lady, not two seconds after the little old man appeared, also came up asking for help. Everyone ignored her save Harriet.
At the Red Fort, what struck me was that everyone was waiting in patient lines to get their tickets. And that “everyone” was a loooot of people, all in really tight queues with zero personal space, ass to nose. Curiously, all Indians! Just to compare again to Turkey, Turks do not really visit their own historic or cultural sites — that’s mostly done by foreign tourists. Here, at probably one of the biggest tourist attractions in the capitol of India, we saw…probably only three other groups of foreign tourists? We got to skip the lines because you can pay the locals’ price of 50 rupees (50 cents)and wait in the long lines, or pay the tourists’ price of 500 rupees (5 dollars) and not wait in line at all. Easy choice there.
It was a beautiful old palace grounds, a strange mix of tourist trap shops, empty spaces, and mughal architecture crowded with people talking selfies.
The highlights were probably rescuing a chipmunk who’d trapped himself in a trash can (I tipped it over and let him out) and then it was suuuper weird to walk past a few of the laborers doing restoration work. It was a whole family — two old people, two younger people, their kids, a baby on a tarp. They were chatting to each other and ignoring the tourists. This was my first encounter with what I think was a job handed down through family. Oh, and people stopped us and asked for our pictures all the time. I snapped a few with them in return. Our flatmate Nina had warned us people would be excited to take pictures with foreign tourists, but I was not aware of the scale of it. As soon as one person got up enough courage to broach the polite social barrier and ask for a photo, about six other groups would converge and ask for the same.
At the mosque, we took our shoes off but were outside the whole time? Every other islamic place I’ve been is very fixated on, y’know, cleanliness, as it’s built into the prayer ritual. You wash your feet, your face, your hands before you pray. Here at the Jama Masjid you took off your shoes and then walked all over dirty pigeon-poop-coated sandstone. It made me thoroughly confused.
The most interesting episode in the bazaar — as we’re wandering around, we see a bunch of very dirty dudes all squatting on the ground in the middle of the road (unusual only because it’s a lot of dudes). They’re eating stuff out of paper plates with their hands (normal). Why were all these four restaurants giving food to unpaying squatting dudes? It took us a second to clock it — this was Friday, Muslim holy day, and they’re feeding the untouchables and other poor people.
* There’s this quasi-autobiographical book called Shantaram by and it’s the classic male India adventure story of an Australian criminal in Bombay. And, I hate it. It spoke about India in these grandiose ways, but that I’ve been to india and am trying to describe it, now I find myself using these same gradiose conversational patterns, which is super frustrating. Everything the guy wrote was just full of these pregnant pauses – “Little did I know this one insignificant friendship would become the basis for the rest of my years in india”, etc, bullshit like that. But then here I am, writing about how “the cycle of life is accelerated, observable in a single glance”. I’m making the place as exotic as Gregory David Whassisname was. Ugh.