Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

India, Take One

It's not the poverty of so many people, living their lives on the side of the road. It's not the dirt, the misery, the noise, the human being lying in the middle of the sidewalk, competing with two dogs for some scrap food. What I don't get is the so called civilized Indian, a man or woman with nice clothes, taking her children to visit a historical site like Red Fort, then throwing the entrance ticket on the ground when she leaves. Not drop it by mistake, they rip it in 8 or 16 pieces and throw them all on the ground, in front of the symbol of their independence.

They would stop to grab some street food and throw the plate on the ground, under their feet. Not just the plate made of leaf, but the one-use metallic one. The lady in a new fancy little car, coming out of the fashion store, throwing the labels from her new clothes out of the window. Little things like this I cannot comprehend, how could I even attempt to understand the dirt of Delhi? So even if there's a sidewalk, I chose to walk closer to the road, away from the wall, the liquid marks are urine, but that's not the danger. The danger is to step in human excrements, or even worse step on some limb from what seems to be some human living on that side of the side walk. The road side is safer, even with rickshas, bicycles, tuktuks and cars coming from all directions.

I am really impressed by the quality of roads so far. I am impressed with the traffic, it seems much less congested than Nepal, at the right time of the day you can go long distance quite fast, even find a seat on the bus. We live next to the ring road, I don't know how old this is, but it seems like an amazing feat, it makes everything in and around Delhi attainable. I should have checked better the location of our apartment, it is advertised as five minutes by car from this and that, this means there is no immediate access to the Delhi Metro. This seems to be the really great thing that happened in Delhi this century and they will continue to develop and expand it. Once, we got out of the metro where they have a little museum and we could understand better what an amazing accomplishment this is. The unique thing about the Delhi Metro? The only one in the world that uses broad track and standard track in the same time! And how nicely they explained it, it was a political decision to use broad track, despite the fact that 90% of the world's city subways use standard. Then a few years later, other government, another political decision, the next sections of the track will be standard...

Otherwise, during the first days here, I had the impression that there has been no new construction in 50 years. Everything is crummy, dirty, run down, it seems to break apart if they sneeze too hard. Everything is covered by a thick layer of dust, everything everywhere. The commercial complex next to our apartment is alive but looks like a deserted scene from a science fiction movie, the ones where they show the cities some years after a nuclear blast. After a few days and tens of kilometers travelled by bus, I did see here and there some new constructions, nothing great but looking like a building. On the main street (what a dump!), we found a McDonalds. We were happy to have ice-cream and later returned for dinner. The first McDonalds we've seen without a toilet. Everybody knows, while in US these are the cheapest and dirtiest of the restaurants, in foreign countries they are luxury or mid level and you can always find a toilet. Not in Delhi. This one had a bucket by the front door for washing hands. But it had flat screen TVs (and it was fairly clean and with good food).

We found our apartment on Airbnb, a "luxury" one with 3 bedrooms. Besides the problem with the location, there was the ring road just in front and they were demolishing the building next door. People were working there round the clock, one night there was the back-hoe loading a long line of trucks with rubble. We had a lot of dust and a lot of noise. The owner of the apartment was very nice and helpful, a retired mathematician and a published poet. When the children first saw the apartment, their jaws dropped, they haven't seen anything so luxurious before. We weren't quite as excited, but we liked it.
The living room, view from the dining room...
The kitchen was old and we had problems with the appliances, the water was on every now and then, it was also cold at night. The internet worked sporadically, letting some of our electronics connect randomly. Having internet was essential - to get on Google Maps and find our public transportation options around the city. Another listed quality of our apartment? Next to the chain store, Big Apple. This is a store smaller than the living room in this apartment, is the worst general store I've ever seen, but after walking all the area for hours, I know: it's the only store. There are hundreds and hundreds of little stores on the streets surrounding us, but none of them is better, none of them has any edible food, sorry. I guess I could have them sacrifice one live chicken, but looking at the hygiene in the store, I gave up. Hoping that I would eventually forget what I saw, I will skip the details of how the meat or food is kept and handled around here. I do remember courses from medical school, we even had one called "the hygiene of alimentation", so I probably know too much. I also read recently a very good book "How to shit around the world", despite the title, it is a book about hygiene and how to stay healthy while traveling. So I do know a bit too much.

They charge foreigners 250 rupees at a monument, it's about $5. Not too much, but consider this: it is 25 times what an Indian pays. In Nepal, the price for foreigners was 4-5 times more ($2.5 compared to 50 cents). Here it is 25 times. Some might make the argument that obviously foreigners can afford that, and the Indians deserve to see and value the treasures of their country. This raises two interesting aspects. First the government of India sends the concerted message: "foreigners have money, let's rip them off" and all over, from a banana to a bus ticket, to taxi or clothes in the bazaar, the price is inflated at least 3-4 times. The Indians feel they are right to do this, the government says so. The foreigner doesn't believe anybody or anything, they shouldn't, and at least in my case, takes all the joy or interest from an interaction with any local. The second aspect is that probably the Indians don't really appreciate the value of what they have and what they see. When they pay 10 rupees ($0.2) to visit the Red Fort, this is how much they value it, and they will throw their tickets and their dirt on the ground.
How can we develop the skills of interacting with Indians? We should not trust anybody or anything that anybody says. They stop you on the street, "Hello sir, where are you from?" and we are supposed to ignore them completely and just move on. People come in your face, want to sell you something, cab drivers want to take you somewhere, store owners want you to "just look at my work, no need to buy anything", beggars want just 10 rupees or some food, and on and on and on. We both feel uncomfortable with ignoring people, looking through them like they wouldn't exist, teaching our kids to do just that. We are pretty good at it, but we really don't like it.

Back to the government. We are now visiting the biggest democracy in the world. Or so it's called. It is a dynasty, one party ruling all, a mind blowing bureaucracy, an antiquated society, a corrupt government. They can afford to have a nuclear bomb and spend $10 billions for fighter jets, but cannot afford to clean the streets and put their people in some decent ghettoes. The anti corruption campaigns and well publicized fasts of a crusader, Anna Hazare (a frail old man) seem to raise awareness and maybe start to change something. The government is making a commission to address corruption but the parliament is still fighting over the casts quota in the commission and what domains would be shielded from investigations.

Security detail

"Civilized" urinal
They do keep track of their cultural places and what we've seen so far has been very beautiful. Some of these monuments could take just a little cleaning or maintenance, but we've seen some work of restoration and there is some clear effort. We spent one week in Delhi and we had a busy schedule. Check it out!


  1. I've heard the same account from several people. As you have said, incomprehensible. I understand this way some phenomena that I saw happening in USA. We will talk about them when you come back. Good luck in the next coming weeks.

  2. We like India, and by now, it doesn't seem incomprehensible anymore. Thank you for your comment. THis thing doesn't allow me to see who posts anonymous comments so you'll let me know who you are when I come back :-) And we'll talk about it.


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