Monday, July 2, 2007


Delhi doesn't leave a very good first impression. Actually, that's drastically understating the case - in reality, Delhi leaves a dirtycrowdedfilthysmellynastynastynastydisgustingOhmygodIdon'twanttotouchanythinggetmethehelloutofhere first impression that won't be soon forgotten. We came, we saw, we ran.

To be fair, I can't say that it was all Delhi's fault. The main issue is that Delhi is in India, and India is not Turkey. Nor, for that matter, is it Canada, America, Nepal, Guatelmala, Peru, Thailand or anywhere else in the world I've ever visited. More importantly, India bears almost no resemblance to any of the aforementioned countries, and requires a completely different set of travel skills than those aqcuired in those other places - skills you don't have when you're fresh off the boat, so to speak, and trying to take your first halting steps into the thriving, writhing mass of humanity that's India's capital. You quickly learn that India is India, and India is fucked up.

I slowly reach my foot out, and, closing my eyes, brace for the impact as I take a tentative step into the abyss of the Delhi street. I'm expecting first my sandal, my foot, my leg, then the rest of me to dissolve upon impact, but the uneven cobble takes my weight, and I'm resigned to taking a second step, then a third, a fourth, until my body takes over and my mind is free to contemplate what the hell I'm putting myself through. I open my eyes, and attempt to make sense of what lies before me.

The street occupies a narrow space between two rows of buildings, teeming with activity. The buildings rising on each side are a patchwork of concrete and rebar, some painted, most crumbling, and the ground floor spaces open into shops of all shapes and sizes. Cell phones, samosas, fruit, pens, paper, pop, wires, pipes, tires, motorcycles, stoves, pots, toothbrushes, rice and spices - I'm amazed at what's for sale in the fours shops visible from where I'm standing. The road itself is thronged with opposing currents of life moving in opposite directions. Pedestrians, bicycles, carts, rickshaws, motorcycles and delivery trucks are all trying to share a 10 foot wide space that's further narrowed by the vendors lining the edges, wedged between the shop openings. The rule seems to be might makes right, everyone constantly trying to get out of the way of everyone else. Progress is slow.

Interspersed throughout are a handful of cows, casually grazing through the piles of refuse that are everywhere. The currents open now and then to expose the ground, the pavement nowhere to be found under the mix of piss, shit and garbage that covers the entire city. Mangy dogs weave their way through the openings, snarling and fighting over the rotten scraps of yesterday's leftovers. The smell is revolting, a toxic miasma that permeates everything, alternating clouds of scent that come in waves. I want to throw up.

I have to somehow figure out how to get to the phone around the corner without making contact with anything. Maybe I'll take up meditation so I can float above it all. On second thought, that wouldn't help. The air is oppresive, a solid wall of heat and humidity that's full of the same disgusting grime lining everthing. I don't want to breathe. I feel like I'm being consumed by the filth of India, and I can hardly bear it. I'll never be clean. What am I doing here?

This place is crazy.


Phillip said...

Excellent writing. I've read it several times and still enjoy it. And certainly I am not planning on visiting the place.

Anonymous said...

While India is definitely a shock the first time around, the country grows on most people. Yes, the garbage is a problem, but the colorful saris are a delight to the eyes. It is a country of superlatives and contradictions. I hope your trip improves.

Carey said...

Yes, you described it perfectly! That's my experience with Delhi. Jaipur is nice, still dirty and smelly... but you are spot on with your description - I am sending it to my parents, they will appreciate it!