India, an Introduction.

Morning. And, just like every morning, I am woken up by the fruit sellers who roll past our bedroom window between eight and nine.  Their piercing ululations enrage me, reminding me how lazy I am by still being in bed and sewing the seeds of a headache which the shrill Delhi traffic does its best to compound for the rest of the day.

Our route to the metro station winds inexplicably through a vast medical complex, where no one seems to know what’s going on but everyone waits patiently for something to happen.  Babies doze in their parents’ laps.  Old people clutch at the hands of younger relatives.  And we bumble through, looking lost and very much out of place as our quest for public transport takes us past the pharmacy counter.

The metro is cool and clean and cheap. This is important.  It took us about two hours and several different ATMs to get hold of just short of £90 at New Delhi airport and so, with no cash to waste, we have counted up our 100rupee notes and stashed them in case of emergency.  Everything but the occasional auto-rickshaw will have to be paid for on card.

We’re lucky, because we can do that.  But every day we walk past the queues as they snake out of the banks and down the street; ordinary people just trying to get hold of their own money.  The effects of Modi’s demonetisation are everywhere.

In the centre of town we thread through motorcycles and beggars, young men pushing trays of roasted monkey nuts and rickshaw drivers trying to sell us a ride.  Eventually we make it to the Red Fort, centre of Mughal rule for 200 years, and produce a bundle of precious notes for our entry tickets.

They’re worth it.

The fort is a veritable oasis compared to the bedlam outside.  We stop to admire the red sandstone of the outer walls, the inner buildings with their inlaid marble, the intricate metal work on the pearl mosque’s door.

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In the relative peace I wonder why I ever thought to come back to Delhi and its shrieking, acrid chaos.  But in the small and slightly claustrophobic museum near the exit, I get to look for a moment or two at one of Remi’s original manuscripts and at the delicate, faded art of the Mughal empire.  Before, of course, being jostled out of the way by 100 excitable school children.

On the way home we are ripped off by both auto-rickshaw drivers and harassed more than once.  But we also walk past the flower stall where Terry bought me roses on our first night, catch a glimpse of the man who irons laundry with an iron full of hot coals from our window and hear, somewhere around the corner, our friendly neighbourhood fruit seller still doing his rounds.

There is no making sense of this country.  But after three and a half years I have finally answered the pull to return.  I guess we’ll just have to see what happens next.

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