The last stop was Delhi.
There I was surprised by the clean air. Nearly every bus and truck now runs on
natural gas; even the rattiest of these vehicles has scrawled notices of the
fact on their side panels. And, Delhi
has planted a million trees – no, that’s not a superlative; they
planted one million trees. The city is green and you become acutely aware of
the trees if you try to take a picture from a moving vehicle!
I learned a bit about history there. Delhi was actually Dilli until the British arrived.
And, long before then, the Ottoman empire (centered in modern-day Turkey) had
stretched that far. The remains of seven mosques from that era are a
spectacular ochre and umber display of decorative Arabic carving. The
modern-day federal government center reminded me of Washington, DC
– monolithic low buildings set along grassy parks – but the grey is
broken up by a lot of rosy colored brick and there is much more elaborate
decoration including the omnipresent elephant.
Most of Delhi is “new” Delhi, but there’s a small corner which is
where the 14th century meets the 21st century. A rabbit-warren of streets so
narrow that one can travel only on foot or by bicycle taxi, a vehicle so small
that two women can barely fit on the seat. In the alleys, pedestrians scuttle
into doorways to let them pass and rear view mirrors mostly don’t scratch
the windows! It fulfills every reader’s fantasy of stepping back into
the assault on the senses of a medieval market. Doorway after doorway is filled
to capacity with wares of every type: thousands of colorful bangles; fabrics,
shoes, silver items, gold jewelry, spices, and more. To be fair, there are
also mountains of electronics.
In the spice market we had to step over a gaping hole in the floor
while navigating through a sea of humanity. And, we were invited up an ancient
turquoise stairwell to an inner verandah where men were sorting, weighing, and
bagging the goods, while an occasional worker slept on the filled bags.
Walking back down the steep stairs, we followed a man carrying 50 pounds or
more in a large sack over his shoulder. Outside, we passed a small group of
men smoking and chatting while a cow lounged to one side and a man on a scooter
passed on the other side – all on the sidewalk!
Here, too, there is a communal sense of excitement about India’s
ascendancy. There is a buzz among the people with whom we had contact, and a
strong sense of competition with China. I was particularly touched
by a conversation with a taxi driver who explained that he had left school
after the fourth grade. His older daughter was about to graduate from the 10th
grade and he believed that he would be able to send his much younger son to
college when the time came. Quite an accomplishment in one generation; my
grandparents had to move countries to achieve the same for their children. To
be sure, there are still very poor people and beggars approach taxis, but the
numbers were much smaller than I had expected.
also offered two simple things I had expected: fabulous food and deliciously
thin cotton clothes. I’m not a curry eater, but was never disappointed
in the arrays of tandoor preparations, saag, dahl, naans. Mmmm. I ate myself
silly. And, I must beg the folks at FabIndia to please build a website soon.
Mountains of western and Indian cotton clothes in the full palate, some in that
soft, super thin cotton that makes intense heat bearable. I did not buy
enough. Ah, well… a good excuse to go back!
MIT - Sloan Fellows,