Indulgence in Delhi

delhi henna

A brief, business-oriented stopover in the capital brings us long-denied pleasures like beer, meat (chicken, anyway), sheesha smoking, movies, henna, and all manner of expensive (and foreign) restaurants and shopping to browse. Best of all, for me, is finally getting my iBook repaired and developing six weeks’ worth of photos, some of which I’m hoping will help sell me a few articles.

The Delhi we found was much more like Naipaul’s than the nightmarish images of Kamenetz (see quotes below). Perhaps things have gotten better since his visit. More likely is that we were sheltered from most of the crushing poverty in our pursuit of quick pleasures and air-conditioning. Still, the Pharaganj neighborhood where we stayed was a fun riot of energy, with most of the cluttered businesses along the narrow lanes and alleys geared for tourists, of whom there were plenty. With tomorrow’s flight to Calcutta (Calcutta), all that is about to change.

V.S. Naipaul, from An Area of Darkness:
“The streets were wide and grand, the roundabouts endless: a city built for giants, built for its vistas, for its symmetry: a city which remained its plan, unquickened and unhumanised, built for people who would be protected from its openness, from the whiteness of its light, to whom the trees were like the trees on an architect’s drawing, decorations, not intended to give shade: a city built like a monument.”

Rodger Kamenetz, from Jew in the Lotus
“Delhi thrusts itself in your face, your hair, your nostrils, and pores. Its smoke, sweat, noise, and flavors batter the senses. . . The streets and sidewalks have an intense scribbled-in quality, like the sets of Blade Runner—or a Bosch painting. No matter what level of detail you choose to notice, a square mile or a square foot, even outdoor space feels enclosed and saturated. . . The more you look, the more you see, like those puzzle pictures in children’s books where figures are hidden upside down in the bark of trees or inscribed in curling leaves … Beggars waited at every corner, each demanding attention and care impossible to give in such quantity. You have few choices: harden your heart or look away. Or up, at the movie billboards. They represent the celestial realm, crowded, like the Hindu pantheon, with gods and goddesses. They also represent the political realm, for in recent years, movie stars are becoming successful politicians.”

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