Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Stress Involved.

I don't know. It's a long story, but the main point is really this: it takes a lot of nerve to get medical help in a foreign country. To begin with, you have to make phone calls that are only 1/2 in English, 1/2 in Hindi, and you can't be sure the other person is understanding you, especially given the habit of every person in India to yell "Hello! Hello!" into the phone multiple times instead of just saying, "Could you repeat that, please?" You have to find the doctor's office in one neighborhood, then find the lab for blood tests in a second neighborhood, and then the ultrasound office in a third neighborhood. If you don't have a car and driver, this means three or four separate autorickshaw rides, with the same number of fare negotiations, and the same number of attempts at communicating your destination 1/2 in Hindi, 1/2 in English. None of the numbering schemes are regular, no one quite knows where the offices are (although that doesn't stop them from giving directions), and you don't have the right phone numbers to confirm the addresses with the first doctor. The questions the doctors ask here are different from the ones they would ask at home, the forms are different, the medical records are handled differently, the expectations are different. To describe it all would take pages, and you wouldn't believe it, anyway. Suffice it to say that I'm glad my friend, Claire, was with me yesterday so at least I have a witness to my day. I hope this is the last time I have to consult a doctor in a foreign country. Maybe I learned a lot from this cultural experience, but I think I could have lived without that particular bit of knowledge.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Time to move on.

The route between my sector of Safdarjung Enclave and Hauz Khas Village (my photos here) runs through Deer Park. Yesterday, when I was walking along the path near the deer enclosure, I came across a couple of young men loafing in the sun. Just after I passed them, I heard one of them say to the other, "I know her. I saw her at Rashtrapati Bhavan, in the Mughal Garden."

Okay, there are something like 14 million people in Delhi, and I was at the Mughal Garden for one and a half hours only. What are the odds that one of the at-loose-ends boys in Deer Park would recognize me from my visit to the gardens? Clearly, everyone in this city knows me and my habits, so it's time to get the hell out of Dodge.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

On the third hand.

Getting back to that previous post on being the obvious white person, that same evening, my friend and I had a similar, but less happy, experience. On our way home from dinner, we stopped by the back autorickshaw stand at Defence Colony, and two of the drivers jumped up to try and convince us to use their services. Turns out that they already knew where we were going because they'd driven us both home at different times. Not sure what I think about autorickshaw-wallahs all over Delhi recognizing me, but I'm sure I'd feel better about it if those particular drivers hadn't turned out to be drunk. I think my friend had a more difficult time getting home because of intoxication than I did, but still, drunken driving on the ring road---yee haw!

I was just thinking about this because today at Sarojini Nagar Market, I walked up to a random driver and said I needed to go to Safdarjung Enclave. The answer: "Aren't you the one who usually goes to Janpath?" Yes. Yes, I am. He told me that he had driven me there before. I didn't recognize him, but once I was in the autorickshaw, I recognized his jacket because it had the word "ROCK" embroidered on it. I remember seeing it earlier and thinking it was kind of cool to have a jacket with the word "ROCK" on the back of it.

So, there you go. In Delhi, we're all just one big family, going all over the place with each other, whether we intend to or not.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Hm...what was the point of that last post? Oh, yeah: DON'T DRINK SPURIOUS WATER. I can say with some authority that if you do, you'll end up trapped in your room for several days running, afraid to stray too far from the facilities. It's not a pleasant way to pass the time. So, let's review, shall we? DON'T DRINK SPURIOUS WATER.

On Friday, I went to Rashtrapati Bhavan to visit the Mughal Garden. It is open to the public for five hours each day (except on Mondays) only in the month of February. This is one of those gardens we studied in my Rajput architecture seminar, and I could reasonably be expected to cover it should I ever teach a course on landscape/architecture in India. Friday was the day I had scheduled to visit the garden, so off I went, arriving just before noon. Long story of a beautiful garden with beautiful birds cut short, I ran into another American, and after a short chat, decided to hang out with her the rest of the day. We had a lot of fun: had lunch at a dhaba up near CP, went to see the Gandhi Smirti on Tees January Marg, Safdarjung's Tomb, and Qutub Minar. It runs completely contrary to my personality to suddenly go off into tourist land with a stranger, but I'm glad I did, as it was a pretty awesome day. It made me feel competent and knowledgable about Delhi, and I think it also helped my new friend feel more comfortable, traveling with a companion instead of trying to do everything solo.

Anyway, good day, but while we were at the dhaba, I ordered a fresh lime soda sweet, and they brought me a fresh lime soda salty. I don't know if you've ever had one of these, but it is basically like drinking sea water. I needed some regular water to wash it down. It must of been a day of doing things contrary to my usual behavior, because I bought a bottle of water. I usually just drink normal water, because it's typically filtered in restaurants. At this dhaba, I wasn't so sure, especially since we were seated in the kitchen and I could see there was no Aquaguard system or anything like that. So, I bought a bottle of Aquafina.

When I opened the bottle, it was overfull, and I even thought, "Oh, it looks like Neeraj [the boy who works in my guesthouse] filled this bottle!" Both Neeraj and Sonu fill my water bottles to the very top, but you know, bottle manufacturing plants don't do that. Clue 1. And then I looked at the lid of the bottle and thought, "You know, that looks like it's been glued." Clue 2. A smart person would have abstained from drinking the water, don't you think? But a fresh lime soda salty is horrendous, and I thought I needed to take drastic measures to save my taste buds. Big mistake. Sick by Friday night. A small recovery Saturday in the morning, sick again by late afternoon, trapped inside through Tuesday a.m. Such a dumbass thing to do.

So, just in case you haven't gotten the point of this little story, let me remind you: DON'T DRINK SPURIOUS WATER, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU SEE OBVIOUS SIGNS OF ITS SPURIOUS-NESS.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Spurious Water.

Don't drink it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

On the other hand.

There are a few good things to being distinctively white. For instance, last night, I was supposed to meet a friend for dinner at Sagar in Defence Colony. Half way there, I realized that we hadn't clarified which Sagar--North Indian or South Indian--and I had forgotten my mobile on my desk at home. Where would I meet my friend? Once at Defence Colony Market, I went to the North Indian Sagar, and when the door man motioned me inside, I asked "Meri saheli kahan hai?" ("Where is my girlfriend?"), and he replied, "Oh, she is standing by South Indian Sagar." So, it pays to be the short, round white person who always walks around with the tall, thin white person, because there are a lot of white people in Defence Colony, but the door man still knew who my friend was and where she was standing.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


As it turns out, I've walked right by the entrance to a Lodhi-era step well every time I go to the USIEF office on Hailey Road. After spending some time with the satellite image feature of Google maps last night, I figured out exactly where it was, and stopped by today to take some photos. You can see it pretty clearly to the upper-left of the red "A" marking Hailey Road in the satellite view:

You'd think this would be a peaceful place: a seldom-visited, centuries-old architectural ruin in the middle of the embassy neighborhood of New Delhi. But, no. For one thing, like most monuments in Delhi, the stepwell is where teenagers go when they don't want adult supervision. A lot of snuggling, a lot of giggling, a lot of horseplay. Added to the shrill sounds of boys and girls trying to impress one another was the tremendous racket made inside the well by pigeons and bats. The deeper you go, the louder it becomes, like two aliens humming different songs underground. I could have sat and listened to this weirdness for a long stretch of time, actually, but the stares of the teenagers began getting to me before I even started my descent into the well.

Also, just as you would expect, a local fellow was hanging around inside the gate when I arrived, and he instantly offered his services as a tour guide. When I told him I wanted to explore on my own, he said that wasn't allowed. I pointed out that no one else was with a guide. True, he admitted, but he could show me things they wouldn't be looking at. I demurred as politely as possible, but insisted that I didn't need a guide. When I came back up from the bottom of the well, he jumped up and tried to talk to me again. I just shook my head, took some photos of the attached mosque, and left. He actually followed me out through the gate, asking for "baksheesh" and "tip". Seriously? I have to pay you now to get you to leave me alone? Please. It's an ASI-protected monument. If they want to me to pay an admission fee, fine, I'll play by the rules. But I'm not paying you to not give me a guided tour of a staircase, okay?

Anyway, my photos are now available on flickr.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Two Things Only.

I've just finished my first field report for SSRC, and I think it represents accurately my first two months in Delhi. The research process is incredibly slow and laborious, so the direction of my project hasn't changed dramatically; I'm still working on ideas I brought with me from the United States. Socially, I'm well-connected with local and American friends in the area, and other than transportation problems, which come and go unpredictably, I have absolutely nothing to complain about at the moment.

But that's never stop me from complaining before, and it's not going to stop me now.

Actually, not complaints. I just had two "interesting" experiences, and I'm not sure what I think about them.

The place I'm staying is full up this weekend, all three rooms rented. What this means for the two boys who work here is that when they have time for a break, there is no available television, as all the televisions are in the guest rooms. I was gone for a couple of hours today, and when I came home, Neeraj was taking a break, sitting on the floor outside my door, watching my television from a distance. Instantly realizing what was going on, I told him to stay put. I had planned on reading on the couch in the sitting room, anyway, so he might as well finish up the Amitabh Bachchan movie. But the young man of the house (I think he's fifteen), came over and gave him a "Come on, yaar!" speech and made him turn off the television. For all I care, he could have been sitting in my room enjoying the show from two, rather than ten, feet away from the television. Seriously, I'm gone so much that if he was going to snoop or steal or anything else, he would have have had 5 lakhs opportunities to do so by now. He can watch my television any time he wants to, especially since I NEVER watch it. Someone might as well enjoy it. But, no, he just moved off to sit in the dining room instead.

Just a few minutes later (and this is the second thing), another guest came out of her room to greet me. She was a PIO (Person of Indian Origin), but grew up in the U.S., now resides in Thailand. She asked me how I liked it here, and I said the usual (good winter chaat, nice weather, lousy transportation system). She seemed pretty distressed, and I had overheard a phone conversation in which she described the horrible experience she had had earlier in Delhi's over-crowded Metro. But it wasn't just that, as it turns out. She told me that she was here for a wedding, and that she thought it would be good to come "home," because in Thailand especially, she always feels like a foreigner. However, now that she's arrived, she feels like a part of her has died. For one thing, the upper middle class spending is out of control, and it seems as if everyone is flashing money right and left. I can see her point, as being in South Delhi is like watching the victory flags of neo-liberalism unfurl before your eyes. Multiple houses are going up on every block, flashy new SUVs are plying the streets, and everyone is staring blindly down at their Blackberries as they walk. But mostly I think she was trying to express how frustrating it is to always be marked as foreign, no matter where you go in the world.

So, the experience of the dislocated and the comparatively poor (Neeraj from Bihar, working in the kitchen and sleeping on the roof), and the dislocated and the comparatively affluent (PIO returning home only to find it's no longer, or maybe never was, home), all in the same five minutes. No clever wrap-up for this post, just the observation that maybe I shouldn't go out to the market on Saturdays, lest I open myself up to more complicated scenarios surrounding the process of coming home.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


I stayed up too late last night, counseling friends through various personal and academic crises. In the end, I don't think I helped anyone, and I woke up groggy and cranky this morning, so I probably should have stopped trying to be suppportive about two hours before I made the decision to knock it off.

The only exciting news for the week is that I saw a tree full of Yellow-Footed Green Pigeons when I was in Defence Colony on Monday. They are kind of awesome, but probably not worth an entire blog post.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

You are looking TOO GOOD.

I've somehow managed to string together nine days in which nothing traumatic has happened to me--I haven't been in an auto accident, I haven't fallen, I'm not sick, no one has driven away with my money in their hand, I haven't gotten lost. Of course, one of those days I worked at home. It's difficult to be traumatized while sorting bibliographic citations in EndNote. Also, of course, today isn't over yet. I might still go for a walk in the park, exposing me to the damning forces of gravity, but hopefully, I'll stay upright and uninjured.

Yesterday, I spent the day at the Delhi Zoo (NZP). You have to love a zoo at which the signs warn visitors about the animals outside as well as the ones inside the cages. At the gate, bags are checked to make sure you don't bring in food. I think this is supposed to protect the animals, and probably helps boost sales at the snack counter. However, if you're going to buy something at the snack counter, you have to be a lot quicker than the monkeys if you want to eat your snack. Case in point:

Aside from the monkeys, the zoo is really nice. It is on the banks of Yamuna River, and a lot of breeding flocks make their homes here, close to the water. The zoo's own water habitat is full of birds, especially waterbirds like painted storks, egrets and herons. The number of raptors is also impressively high, especially when they are headed straight toward your head (perhaps they don't like blondes?). Also, I saw a white tiger, which was it's own kind of awesomeness. Definitely worth the 50 rupee admissions fee.

Since I was in the neighboorhood, I went up to Purana Qila after I left the zoo. This is my second trip, so I was mostly just wandering randomly, taking photos when I felt like it, and not paying attention to much of anything. Mostly people left me alone at the zoo (except for the one billion plus school children who all had to say "Hi!" and give me high fives when they passed). At Purana Qila, people watched me more closely, starting with the women at the gate who tried to convince me to give them "a donation."

At one point, I saw a young man hovering nearby while I was taking a photo of the mosque dome. I kept my eyes down and tried to ignore him, but it was clear he wanted to talk to me. Eventually, I looked over at him, at which point he smiled and said, "Madam, you are looking TOO GOOD in your Indian dress!" I had to laugh and just say thank you. Not even ten minutes later, another young man wandered into my path. It was pretty clear that his group of friends (male and female both) had put him up to talking to me, so I just kept walking toward him to get it over with. And then he, too, said, "Madam, you are looking TOO GOOD in your Indian dress!"

I don't wear salwaar-kameez every day, but probably something like 5 out of 7 days, simply because I arrived here from London only with winter clothes. I had to buy some lighter weight clothing once I arrived, so most of my wardrobe this season is from Fab India. I don't think much about it, I wear what I have in my closet. But it seems clear that even if I look stupid in salwaar-kameez (my dupattas tend to turn into dirt rags by the end of the day), people generally appreciate that I'm trying not to look like a slob. And truthfully, while young women in Delhi usually wear jeans and kurta, women my age wear salwaar-kameez or saris. At least I'm dressing age appropriately most days of the week. And, hey, popular opinion seems to be that I am looking TOO GOOD for the first time in my life.

A few zoo photos here; Purana Qila photos [will be] here.