Though I’ve never been out to sea, the only comparison I can draw to growing accustomed to getting around in India is growing a pair of sea legs, but for India.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have been born with a spirit for adventure and an insatiable desire to see the world (and the willpower to save the money I’ve earned, only to spend it on travel). Even after five continents, after roughly two years of living abroad, nothing was ever going to prepare me for this.
With a very thorough and infinitely helpful introduction to Delhi from a friend and a willingness to get lost, screw up, and spend a lot of time wandering, I found myself growing my India legs in time.
Interspersed with observations from my journal, here are a few pictures of growing India legs in Delhi.
“…the smells waver between completely mesmerizing and revolting. But they are mostly the former.”
On the day of Divali, while looking for leather jootis (leather shoes) in Chandni Chowk, a large man, having taken an interest in me hopped into my rickshaw and professed to know exactly where I needed to go. En route, he proffered a business card explaining his palmistry skills. He told me that I had a very good heart (a common theme I heard countless times in India), that I would develop a health problem within 1-10 years, and something about my mind and power that he couldn’t fully explain and I couldn’t understand.
As the ride continued, he put his arm around me, making me feel extremely uncomfortable. I shoved it off and told him to stop it.
I tried my best to evade him once the rickshaw ride was over. The alleys of Chandni Chowk are twisting but we both had distinctive features that made us stand out in a crowd – me, my height and my white skin, and him, his red Sikh turban.
“He then proceeded to follow me around the glasses shops and the shoe shops of Ballimaran for the next 20 minutes or so. I kept on telling him I didn’t need his help, but he insisted.”
While I’m used to doing things that other people might consider brave, it was scary being followed by an older man in a country I’ve spent less than a week again. India was full of painful and unsettling reminders of power and gender. More on this later.
I ducked down smaller passages, stopped into shops where I had no intention of buying anything. I quietly slipped into a shoe shop, intending to buy a pair of shoes for Divali that night. Luckily, this threw him off my trail. Watching him from afar, I noted his confusion, wondering where I could have disappeared to.
It was here, in Old Delhi, where I had the chance to bring back my pay-and-dash skills I had perfected in Hanoi. Whenever I know I’m being cheated, I figure out how much I should actually be paying, pay that amount, often get the driver riled up, and then dash off before anyone has a chance to do anything.
I consider myself so lucky to have the friends that I do, friends that are still willing to sit down and talk with me about this. One in particular, Kirstin, spent three months in India when she was 18 and knows what I’m talking about when I babble on and in. In talking about India, it’s easy to resort to generalities – India is an overwhelming place! There’s no place like it on earth! It’s crazy and intense!
Kirstin told me that when she was in India, people often told her, “For every generalization you make about India, the opposite is also often true.”
So take all of these generalizations with a grain of salt.