I have tried so many times to write about Delhi – mad, fast, insistent, persistent, unrelenting, intensely vibrant Delhi – but I can’t. There is no stopping the life in all of its colour, smells and noise. No place of greenery or space to relax and write. No place of mental solitude to think. In other capital cities, life swirls around you, indifferent to your presence. Delhi is different. Delhi comes looking for you and attacks you with its unforgiving vibrancy. I am not even sure this piece will make the final edit.
There is a constant bombardment on all the senses. The spices and human waste seeps into your nostrils as much as the heat seeps into your skin. There is the constant cacophony of traffic and people. The stark majestic colours of nature contrast acutely with the shocking soul-curdling poverty. Events come second-place to the activity of just being in Delhi. Yet, what a what fun this place is! What a crazy joy of emotional challenges each new day, each new moment, brings.
The noise is, without doubt, the number one characteristic of New Delhi. It never stops. At night the fans whirl away to fight the heat on your behalf. They are so loud, you feel you are sleeping next to a small plane nearing take-off. Yet, you cannot live without them; the heat is too intense. It clings to you like an over protective mother. Your only defence is the light film of sweat that covers your entire body, making your skin feel silky-smooth to the touch. I enjoy letting my fingers glide with ease over the nape of my neck. It’s a small and private comfort in an otherwise over-demanding atmosphere.
The daytime noise and madness is the traffic. If the world needed an example of the useless application of paint, New Delhi road-markings would be it. The familiar white lines that denote lanes the world over are an offer to New Delhi drivers to straggle the middle of the road. Vehicles of all descriptions and condition then demand the right to pass-by, constantly honking their horn. What should be two lanes of traffic often become three or four. Traffic sneaks passed, using the tiniest of gaps that appear to expand to only just slightly larger the size of the vehicle. Bikes, rickshaws, cycles, cars, buses and even cows go past using this method.
On the back of most vehicles are painted messages: ‘Slow down’ or even ‘Stop’, but the only one that anyone ever takes notice of is ‘Horn Please’ Honking horns is THE sound of New Delhi.
On my first day here, in the middle of all this dis-organised chaos, I saw a woman, dressed in an elegant sari, sweeping the road using a witch’s broom! New Delhi beggars belief!
Not even leaving the city is easy in Delhi. It feels like you have to escape – catch the city unawares. At the train station, you battle with the touts that peddle lies in order to get you to buy their tickets and their package deals. It’s mixed with the confusion generated from the well-meaning who give you mis-information. You queue in front of window after window in order to track down information as to how, when and if you can get out of Delhi. It is impossible to find the truth, as there are no signs.
People pick their way through the overwhelming mass of sleeping people sprawled like a on the platforms as if the result of a sudden and deadly chemical attack. Intermingled with this human carpet are the cows. They wear condescending expression that seems to say, “I’m sacred, you know.”
We eventually found the right ticket office and realised it must have been there for decades. It’s windows as clear as the lack of information. Its woodwork, creaky and drab.
If the train reservation form is another unnecessary hurdle designed to keep you in Delhi. A questionnaire that is comparable with interrogation; if isn’t completed correctly, they won’t accept it. The issue is the endless choices for the most mundane of things: Seating position, type of cooling system, with or without food, and an abundance of classes of carriage.
It was a pleasant enough journey, although we were given different times for its journey – everything from 2 to 5 hours. As expected, the longest time proved to be right.
When the train pulled out of the station, I think we both gave a silent sigh of relief. Delhi had taken its toll, and we were glad to be leaving –and doing it in style: Air conditioned carriage, prepaid food and water. They even provided us with face towels and piped western music played Hindi style. I didn’t even recognised ‘Hotel California’ but Dan was foot-tapping away.