No Place As Home
Contact Daniel: noplaceashome at yahoo.co.uk
General Musings (2)
Guide to this site
At home in the world
Not very heroic
Small town West Bengal
An ending approaches
Sights, frights and memories
Everyone's cup of tea
Introduction to Gari
In the hate period
Don't take this too seriously
Making the bag
Things which make me angry
September 12, 2004
In the hate period
The last few days have seen a huge amount of exploring from the back seat of rickshaws, and I feel a little bit better attuned to Delhi now - distances, neighbourhoods etc. Each day in Delhi generates so much fresh "material" (strange sights, arguements, moments of bewilderment), it is hard to know which incidents to report.
It is a hard, dazzling city, the long low red brick walls, broken down houses, the many markets for either rich or poor, the suddenly appearing ruins. One day in the main bazaar's long narrow central street, I looked up over the taxis and rickshaws for a moment and saw an immensely tall elephant walking towards me. I merely shrugged and let it and its riders pass.
I would tell you more about the secrets of the city, but actually I'm feeling too weary from the heat and have a growing sense of ill health. There's an ache in my stomach, just below the solar plexus area, which only goes away when I lie down, I have little energy, and this morning my appetite has completely gone.
These complaints are nothing, however, to Gari's, who has spent the last night in hospital, taking in fluids through an IV drip.
His decline over a few days went from just an upset stomach, to shivering, to a muttering night long fever (he pronounced once in his sleep, "It's Star Wars..." - this mystified him (post fever) when I told him about it, "But, I don't even like Stars Wars.."), then just an ever accumulating lack of strength and energy. Both of us were stupidly going on our previous experiences of being ill while travelling, and didn't appreciate the seriousness of his condition. By the time we got to the "East West" clinic, he could barely walk straight; by the time the doctor finished his initial diagnosis, Gari tried to stand and his legs gave way like falling skittles. He had developed, they told us, baterial dysentry, and as the infection had prevented him from eating or holding in any liquid for the last few days, he was on the edge of collapse. We were a bit shocked when the doctor recommended one or two nights in the clinic on IV, but by that point there was no other option. I supported his climb up the stairs to his room, helped him lie down on the bed and untied his shoes. His face had turned a pallid alabaster-grey, except for his lips and eyelids, which were now a weak purple. I sat beside him as a nurse set up the drip - within a couple of hours he was massively recovered.
I went back to the hotel to get some things for him: toothbrush, books etc; a journey that quickly turned into disaster.
My irritation with my hapless driver grew as we drove on into the night. A few times I stormed off and tried to get another rickshaw, but he followed me and begged me to get back in. The final straw was when he had driven all the way back to Khan market, close to India Gate, back in the north end of town. I just thrust the originally agreed one hundred at him and strode off, he followed me asking for more. I turned and shouted at him briefly, and walked on. A gleaming white taxi slowed by my side, one of the heavy set vintage style "Ambassador" Indian-made cars. I got in the back seat, the seats and ceiling were softed padded, the lighting was low. I could see the side of my Sikh driver's face - tightly wrapped turban, bristling beard, heraldic moustache. "Where to sir? - ah yes, East West Medical Centre, I know it well". The car growled smoothly into motion, the air conditioning cooled my irritations.
I gave Gari his things, and went back to the hotel, feeling too tired to do much. The next morning, I had the symptoms I described at the start of this piece, and realised I should see one of the doctors myself when I next came over to visit Gari. The female doctor did various tests on me, and I went up to Gari's room, feeling increasingly weak. Sitting in a chair became uncomfortable, so I ended up sharing the narrow hospital bed with Gari. We lay shoulder to shoulder watching Galaxy Quest on TV. By late afternoon, Gari was vastly recovered and ready to check himself out - my tests came back, and, perhaps rather embarrassingly, there was nothing wrong with me. Not sure what was going on there, perhaps some stomach upset that had worked its way out naturally.
Sitting on the front step of a nearby shop, post hospital experience, Gari and I reflected on our first week in India. We were both a bit stunned, quietly reeling from how difficult it had been: health concerns, the heat, the oppresive pushiness of Delhi. I expressed my sadness at how few Indians I had been able to converse with; non tourist focused people have seemed far less interested in chatting than I had hoped.
A saying about India is that you either love it or hate it. Another saying is that in the first three weeks, everyone hates it - it takes three weeks to adjust enough to give yourself a chance of loving it.
1. How is it every other country in the world (well, the twenty-thirty odd I've been to at least) can organise safe bottled water (it seems in India one should check with each bottle that it's been properly sealed, and even on popular brands, the pesticide content may be one hundred times EU recommendations)? How is it so easy to get sick from the food, when grimy shack diners in rural China can routinely produce healthy meals?
2. The way Delhites treat each other seems brutal - people physically push around and through others, with no apology or acknowledgement. Watching a queue for the cinema, everyone stands completely chest to chest, not an inch of air inbetween, sometimes with hands on the next man's shoulders, even the very first people in line for this huge cinema - because they know if they give an inch, another Indian will push in and take their spot. To my outsiders' eyes, there frequently seems no trust at all between strangers in Delhi, no fellow feeling.
There is something about Delhi that forces you into aggressiveness. Being assertive, calmly saying no, has no effect - the tout will keep following you, the shop assistant will keep proffering. Gari had wanted to get a couple of made to measure suits while in India, we had visited a tailor, and today on Sunday we returned for the first fitting. While the suits were begin fetched, the staff of the shop showed us a seemingly endless array of scarfs, table clothes - then after the fitting, tried to get Gari to spend four hundred pounds on three wooden elephants. Saying no to one table cloth just meant another would be immediately rolled out, expressing a lack of interest in an elephant just brought indications that they could discount it for us. It was a life saver that there had been two of us.
It's strange. Aspects of India seem so incredible: the art, which each region seems to produce in a unique style and technique (and I suspect I could buy a suitcase full of rugs, wall hangings, pashminas and bedcovers - and most of the expenditure would be the suitcase); the history: ancient holy Varanasi, the Bengali merchants who traded with the Roman Empire, the desert Rajput kings; all the different environments of the sub continent's incredibly varied geography; all the different peoples and unique cultural areas like the Gujarati Kutch. But right now the obstacles are undoubtably daunting us, making us wonder whether uncovering these wonders will be too costly.
Gari and I went to the cinema on Sunday night, as a final treat for our departure from hospital, to see a Hindi "bloody thriller" called Racht. It was a wonderful time - absurd sound effects and odd editing to make things scarier, then a sudden cut away to a pumping song and dance number (one song was a Hindi version of Blue's "One Love"...). In the cinema, we sat on the balcony area in the more expensive seats. Around us were male and female groups - in the cheaper stalls below, the audience were entirely young and male, and cheered and shouted at the screen. The film was in Hindi, but every so often a character would say a couple of words in English. Worst of all, the English was frequently a teasing pregnant word like, "actually...", or "by the way...", then straight back into Hindi, leaving us desperately suspecting that we had missed something vital plot-wise.
Gari had, by coincidence, earlier read a newspaper interview with the actor that plays the woman puncher. The (female) interviewer asks him about his latest role as a wife beater - he corrects her, no, my character is merely "aggresively assertive". The interviewer then asks him, which does he think is the lesser of two evils, to be a violent husband or a hen pecked one?
He thinks about it, and concludes: they are both as bad as each other.
Daniel, 12 September 2004, Delhi
Posted by Daniel on September 12, 2004 07:23 PM
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