So I'm in India. But

by francine Hardaway on March 23, 2004

So I’m in India. But I mean I am REALLY in India. I landed in Delhi two days ago (maybe three), after flying to Hong Kong and Singapore, watching four movies, reading a book, eating seventeen meals, taking a shower in the Singapore Airport spa (yes, spa), buying a new Motorola cameraphone in the Hong Kong Airport, and entrusting my wellbeing to my friend Sri.

Delhi is, as everyone says, heat and dust. Everyone lives in the street; as a consequence, you don’t move very quickly. But you wouldn’t anyway because of the intense heat and humidity. I took a long walk through the market area around our hotel (the Metro Heights in a section of Delhi called Karol Bagh), looking at the people selling merchandise to each other. Chai is the beverage, potato cakes of various kinds are the menu, and intimacy is the word of the day. There is no personal space in Delhi. After they delivered my bags to my hotel room, the two “bellmen” left, came back, and walked right in again uninvited an unannounced. They weren’t waiting for a tip, because I had already done that. I think they just wanted to see a blonde woman up close.

The hotel is old, although it’s being renovated, and you have to be an electrician to figure out how to charge a cell phone. Every outlet in the hotel presented a different configuration of holes, defeating even my Sharper Image “universal” converter. I had to borrow a converter from the front desk.

What’s being renovated about the hotel is its public space, not the amenities in the rooms. And the same goes for every building in Delhi. The public buildings are beautiful, because the labor to maintain them is a dollar per man per day, and the government is the largest employer. However, all those dollar-a-day men go home to places that are little more than cardboard boxes.

It’s a mystery why everyone stays there, when so much of the rest of India is so beautiful. Last night we took a train north to Pathankot, near the Pakistan border. Pathankot used to be the railhead for trade from Afghanistan, and it is little more than a market. But there is so much rural land around it, that half of Delhi could probably live there in peace and splendor. The problem is that the opportunity used to be in the cities, and everyone from the rural areas went there. It was like being the last person to buy in on a hot stock — millions of people got left holding the worthless piece of paper that is opportunity in Delhi.

Remember, Delhi isn’t Hyderabad or Bangalore. The outsourcing revolution is invisible there, and it certainly hasn’t hit Pathankot.

On the train, we spoke to an Indian army careerman who told us he had been stationed at the Pakistani border, and that the most difficult aspect of his life there was trying to decide who is the enemy. He said everyone looks alike, and he has to avoid making a mistake and must also be responsible for the fifteen hundred men heis managing.

Right after that conversation we visited an ashram, and from there we set off on the best part of the trip so far: the drive to the headquarters of the Dalai Lama, Dharamsala. It’s a mountain town not unlike a ski resort, although the amenities, once again, leave something to be desired. The toilets are holes in the ground, there’s no toilet paper, and little electricity.

And yet, there’s cellular. Even at the ashram people had cell phones. Not only that, they could sell me the special SIM card I needed to identify myself on the local cellular network and put it into the phone for me. I was also able to find, although this was back in Delhi, a flash memory card for my camera. In India, I find, when you want something, you express your intention to your host, who goes and obtains it for you and then sells it to you.

India is definitely a land of contrasts. It�s all here somewhere, but only if you know someone who knows someone. And now I have found I am two degrees of separation from the Dalai Lama. Who knew?

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