On Sunday evening, a few of my new friends from JNU and I decided to go to a movie. We went to the American-style mall (Ambiance Mall) across from the campus where there is a movie theater (PVR Director's Cut). None of the party had been there before. We asked about movies, showtimes, etc. and ended up selecting a 9:30 p.m. showing of the movie, "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" (the movie was really good and I would recommend it). Then we were told the ticket price- 1200 rupees ($24). Shocked, but curious, we purchased the tickets. We went and had some food in the food court area (complete with a McDonald's and Subway) and talked about why the movie could possibly be so expensive. After several rounds of speculation, we made our way back into the theater. Upon entering, it was immediately clear why the tickets had cost $24 each. There were approximately 20 to 25 seats in the room, all leather recliners with a remote in the side to call a waiter. Each seat had its own complimentary bottle of chilled juice and water, as well as a new blanket and pillow wrapped in cellophane. We were all horrified. Immediately outside the theater families were sleeping on the pavement like cut flowers and here everyone was enjoying a ridiculous amount of comfort for a two-hour movie. I am reading Atul Kholi's book "Poverty Amid Plenty in the New India" and it is quite insightful, but nothing really prepares you for reconciling such stark inequality.
Turns out that the JNU campus is very close to the Indira Gandhi International Airport. So close that every hour or so you can hear a large airplane flying overhead. Sometimes it is so loud that you have to stop your conversations. The other night, around 3 am, a very large jet flew so close that the building shook and there was a loud "boom"- I woke up immediately and thought a bomb had fallen on my hostel. When I realized it was just another plane, I cursed my luck and fell back asleep. As I am writing this another two planes have flown overhead.
I know that the insect on the left does not look threatening, but I would like to point out that it is about three inches in length and (in the picture on the left) hanging on my mosquito netting. When I took this picture, the flash apparently scared it and it flew towards me. I screamed for my life. Which, of course, brought the guards at the gate running. I think they were quite amused at my explanation, that no, I wasn't dying, but I had been fearful of a large flying bug. I pointed out the bug, which was cowering underneath my desk, probably having a heart attack. The guards seemed unimpressed. Next time, maybe I will avoid the flash. The bug followed the guards out the door and I went to bed.
When I was sixteen, I arrived home late for my 9 o'clock curfew. It was 9:10 pm. After an argument with my dad about whether being "late" should be determined according to the clock in my car, the clock on the kitchen microwave, or Greenwich Mean Time, my dad said- "You should be on time according to any clock. You have to learn how to be on time no matter what happens." Incredulous, I went off to my room to suffer through what I viewed as a cruel injustice of being grounded for a week. I can now appreciate that lesson. I have found that in doing fieldwork, and certainly in the hustle and bustle of a place like Delhi, it is essential to leave time for all contingencies- getting lost, having to wait for another metro train, having a car breakdown, having an auto rickshaw driver refuse to take you where you need to go, etc. I have adopted a two-hour rule. If I leave my hostel room around two-hours before I need to be someplace, I will certainly be on time. If I am early (which I have been), I find a coffee shop (or somewhere quiet to sit) and I read a book.
I was especially lucky to follow this rule for my first interview. After taking an auto rickshaw, two metro trains, and asking several strangers for directions, I found the building with a whole hour to spare. Unfortunately, as I had not been sufficiently lectured as a teenager about taking an umbrella with me, I had gotten soaked in monsoon rains. Since I had arrived an hour early, however, I was able to quietly sit in the lobby and read a book while my clothes and hair dried. Although I am sure the guards were laughing at the growing pool of water at my feet, the person that I was there to interview was none the wiser. Thanks dad!
Having parked the car, my hosts and I took a camel ride from the parking lot to the entrance of the Taj Mahal. The camel driver charged us a total of 50 rupees ($1) to drive us about 850 meters. I have to say that I felt very bad for the camel. When the driver launched himself into his seat, I noticed that his shirt read, "I'm surrounded by idiots." I burst out laughing. I regret that I didn't have the courage to ask for a photo, but I wonder if he knew what his shirt said or if like many Americans with Chinese calligraphy on their clothing, he was entirely oblivious.
You can see the back of the driver here- he is in the gray shirt in the right lower corner of the picture.
A trip to India is certainly incomplete without a trip to the Taj Mahal. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit this Wonder of the World during my first week in India and on the day that the monsoon began. Although many monuments fail to live up to their reputations, this was not the case for the Taj Mahal. It is one of the most awe-inspiring and beautiful structures that I have ever seen. The Taj Mahal was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The construction began around 1632 and was completed around 1653.
Emperor Shah Jahan himself described the Taj in these words:
Should guilty seek asylum here,
Like one pardoned, he becomes free from sin.
Should a sinner make his way to this mansion,
All his past sins are to be washed away.
The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs;
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.
In this world this edifice has been made;
To display thereby the creator's glory.
The ticket for international visitors was 750 rupees (about $15). To fully enjoy the tour, we also hired a guide for 500 rupees (about $10) and it was well worth it. He was excellent. A few fun facts about the Taj:
The entire area/building is perfectly symmetrical. The only exception, our tour guide pointed out, is inside, where the tomb of the emperor is located to the left of his wife. The emperor had planned to have his own mausoleum, but his son decided against the expense and buried his father in the Taj Mahal. Since the entire building had been built under the premise of one tomb, the sanctuary is the only place in which its perfect symmetry is marred.
As another fun fact, in the picture above (where I am completely drenched from the monsoon rains) you can detect that the four minarets are leaning out slightly. This was to ensure that if they fell, they would fall outwardly and not destroy the main building.
The calligraphy on the Great Gate reads "O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you." As the writing increases in height, the size of the inlay changes so as to always appear consistent from the perspective of the ground. The writing is created using inlaid black marble.
The Taj Mahal was constructed using materials from all over India and Asia. The translucent white marble was brought from Makrana, Rajasthan, the jasper from Punjab, jade and crystal from China. The turquoise was from Tibet and the Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, while the sapphire came from Sri Lanka and the carnelian from Arabia. In all, twenty eight types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white marble. Our guide also pointed out that one flower took hundreds of individually cut and inlaid stones. The craftsmanship was just breathtaking.
It is truly an amazing place. Since we had to remove our shoes before entering, I had the added pleasure of walking across the smooth fitted stones barefoot in the rain. What an experience!
I apologize there aren't more pictures. I had to limit my camera use due to the rain. If you want to learn/see more, I recommend: http://tajmahal.gov.in/home.html
The beginning of the Indian monsoon is one of the most anticipated weather events on the subcontinent. I was waiting in the ticket line at the Taj Mahal when the monsoon hit north-central India. Immediately everyone began to rush for cover. I was delighted and stepped out to enjoy the cold, soaking rain. After determining that the rain was unlikely to stop anytime soon and without an umbrella, my hosts and I decided to brave the water and see the Taj Mahal in the rain. It was glorious. I took the picture on the left of fellow revelers enjoying the newly formed pool. I think it was a very special way to see the Taj Mahal and I will always remember it. I regret, however, that the same rains that day brought such devastation farther north. I am keeping the people of Uttarakhand in my thoughts.
My Purdue alumni friend took me (and my ripped pants) on a whirlwind tour of Delhi two weekends ago. We visited Qutub Minar, Humayun's Tomb, India Gate, and Red Fort. In the process, I had the opportunity to view old and new Delhi. The differences were quite striking- from upscale American-style shopping malls, to open markets with vendors hawking their wares, from a streamlined metro to bicycle auto-rickshaws, from McDonald's to back-alley food stalls- Delhi is certainly still negotiating the line between old and new, rich and poor. I enjoyed my time, although it was quite exhausting. If you decide to take in the sites yourself, I would not recommend the audio tour as it is akin to a theatrical production and not very informative. In addition, I would give yourself sufficient time to admire the craftsmanship and architecture of the many World Heritage sites in and around Delhi. Each site charges 250 rupees for admittance, or about $5. Here is what we saw:
"Qutab Minar is a soaring, 73 m-high tower of victory, built in 1193 by Qutab-ud-din Aibak immediately after the defeat of Delhi's last Hindu kingdom. The tower has five distinct stories, each marked by a projecting balcony and tapers from a 15 m diameter at the base to just 2.5 m at the top. The first three stories are made of red sandstone; the fourth and fifth stories are of marble and sandstone. At the foot of the tower is the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the first mosque to be built in India. An inscription over its eastern gate provocatively informs that it was built with material obtained from demolishing '27 Hindu temples'. A 7 m-high iron pillar stands in the courtyard of the mosque. It is said that if you can encircle it with your hands while standing with your back to it your wish will be fulfilled."
~ From Delhi Tourism (http://www.delhitourism.gov.in/delhitourism/tourist_place/qutab_minar.jsp)
The iron pillar was blocked off when I was there. I was, however, told a story of local University students committing suicide by leaping from the top after failing their exams. Apparently the suicides, along with stampeding deaths, led to the closure of the stairs leading up the monument. It turns out at least part of the story is true. See: http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/Delhi/31-yrs-after-tragedy-Qutub-Minar-s-doors-remain-shut/Article1-968002.aspx
Despite its tragic history, the monument was quite beautiful. I took the picture above while laying on the ground at the base of the Minar. My hosts assured me that they were not embarrassed.
"Located near the crossing of Mathura road and Lodhi road, this magnificent garden tomb is the first substantial example of Mughal architecture in India. It was built in 1565 A.D. nine years after the death of Humayun, by his senior widow Bega Begam. Inside the walled enclosure the most notable features are the garden squares (chaharbagh) with pathways water channels, centrally located well proportional mausoleum topped by double dome."
~From Delhi Tourism (http://www.delhitourism.gov.in/delhitourism/tourist_place/humayun_tomb.jsp)
This is one gem we almost missed. Upon entering the site we had went to see the tomb pictured on the right. This particular tomb, while still impressive, was quite small and only took us a few minutes to walk through (be sure to remove your shoes before entering and do not take pictures of the tomb itself). As we were about to leave, one of the party wanted to see what was on the other side of a sloping wall. I agreed to accompany him. Upon walking through the gateway and a short way down the lane, we came across the magnificent building above. If not for his youthful curiosity, I might have missed it. Be sure to thoroughly explore an area before leaving!
"At the center of New Delhi stands the 42 m high India Gate, an "Arc-de-Triomphe" like archway in the middle of a crossroad. Almost similar to its French counterpart, it commemorates the 70,000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the British Army during the World War I. The memorial bears the names of more than 13,516 British and Indian soldiers killed in the Northwestern Frontier in the Afghan war of 1919."
~ From Delhi Tourism (http://www.delhitourism.gov.in/delhitourism/tourist_place/india_gate.jsp)
This was as close as we got to India gate. The road leading under the gate was closed that day for an unspecified reason. I was also immediately mobbed by four little girls who wanted to sell me alphabet letter bracelets. They each held out a small notebook for me to write down a name and told me 10 rupees, or 20 cents. Not wanting to disappoint, I gave each of them a different name (which I will not reveal here- it will ruin the surprise for the recipients!). They worked quickly, confirmed the spelling, made any necessary corrections, finished the bracelet and showed me how to tie it in about 2-3 minutes. Suddenly, however, the price went up- now it was 10 rupees per letter. Okay. Fine. Then it was 100 rupees ($2) per letter. That is when my gracious host stepped in and told them they would be paid 10 rupees per letter. The girls accepted the money and went off to ply their wares elsewhere. I am still unsure what I ought to have done in such a situation. My host pointed out that it was child-labor and they clearly had "handlers" nearby- I saw them monitoring the interaction closely- but what about the girls themselves? It is a difficult question for me.
"The Red sandstone walls of the massive Red Fort (Lal Qila) rise 33-m above the clamour of Old Delhi as a reminder of the magnificent power and pomp of the Mughal emperors. The walls, built in 1638, were designed to keep out invaders, now they mainly keep out the noise and confusion of the city. The main gate, Lahore Gate, is one of the emotional and symbolic focal points of the modern Indian nation and attracts a major crowd on each Independence Day."
~ From Delhi Tourism (http://www.delhitourism.gov.in/delhitourism/tourist_place/red_fort.jsp)
By the time we reached Red Fort, we were exhausted. The picture above was the extent of my sightseeing there. It reminded me of the line from the recently released movie "The Guilt Trip" with Barbara Streisand and Seth Rogan. Upon arriving at the Grand Canyon, Streisand (who plays Rogan's mother) asks, "How long do we have to look at it?" to which Rogan replies, "At least 10 minutes, any less than that seems disrespectful." If I have time, I might return to Red Fort on India's independence day, August 15, to enjoy the full effect. As it was, my feet hurt, I was dripping sweat, and it was well past lunchtime. Delhi in a whirlwind indeed!
Today, a Purdue alum took me on a tour of Delhi with his family. He cam around 8 a.m. to pick me up at my hostel. I spent some time getting ready and deciding what to wear- should I wear traditional Indian clothing or western clothing; what will keep me cool and looking presentable all day; etc.? I finally settled on a loose orange western-style top and brown linen pants with a long scarf. The clothing was western, but still similar to the Indian style. I also thought that the loose pants would keep me cool as we trekked through the sights of Delhi. When he arrived, I proudly hopped in the left side (I finally figured it out). The only trouble was that in my eagerness, my billowy pants caught on something in the car and I heard a distinct ripping noise as I sat. Horrified, I reached back to see what (and were) the hole was. Turned out it was in the back on the seat of the pants. I couldn't be sure, but I guessed that the hole was about 3" round. Great! Thankfully, the driver was still outside the car and missed the whole thing. What to do? Do I ask him to wait, so I can go inside and change? If I do that, how do I explain what happened? Before I could decide we were speeding off to his cousin's house to pick up the rest of his family. When we arrived there and exited the car, I pulled my purse down and around and held it over my backside. I then asked to use the restroom. Assessing the damage in the privacy of the bathroom, I decided the only thing to do was to tie the hole into a knot and wear the pants backward (with the knot in the front). The knot would be reasonably well-hidden by my long scarf and no one would be able to tell that the pants were on backwards. Mission accomplished. I spent the entire day like that with no one the wiser. Keep calm and carry on.
This is a picture taken of my pants after I arrived back in the hostel and took them off- the knot survived 10 hours of walking around Delhi, taking numerous auto-rickshaws and the metro. Who needs a sewing kit?
From the back of my auto rickshaw.
Before arriving in Delhi, I was told that the JNU campus was an "oasis of calm" and that has certainly been my experience. JNU is a research university that caters to an elite group of 7,000 graduate students from all over India. There are no swarms of undergraduates here and the atmosphere exudes a sense of peaceful purpose. Yesterday morning, I ventured out of my jungle oasis and into the world immediately surrounding the concrete walls of the University. I was on a mission to find a sim card for a phone that had been lent to me. I was again given vague instructions as to the direction of the mobile shop, but I figured I could ask along the way. After setting off and finding myself rather alone at 8 a.m., I realized that perhaps this wasn't the best plan- I didn't have a phone, I didn't tell anyone I was leaving or to where, and I didn't actually know where I was going. No one, however, bothered me so I pressed on (thankful that I was wearing traditional Indian clothing, which made me less conspicuous). I had a few nervous moments when I passed through a shanty town area, mostly because I could feel the stares of all the community members as I passed, but nothing serious.
Upon arriving at the market, I was told by a helpful pharmacist that I was in the correct place, but the shop didn't open until 10 a.m. He offered me his chair and allowed me to sit there while I waited. Since I had nothing else to do, I wrote down my observations:
"I am sitting in a small shopping area waiting for the mobile store to open. Apparently not much happens in the way of official business before 10 a.m. The sky is dark and it looks like it might rain. I have heard that the monsoon is on its way. Delhi has a percussion-like sound... a woman in a bright coral shawl is sweeping the plaza (swish, swish), a bird is steadily thrumming, cars are beeping, and sandals are slapping the pavement as people walk by. This is all punctuated by an older woman nearby who was calling her son in Hindi. The woman sweeping the plaza is quite beautiful. She has on an embroidered turquoise pants, a long maroon kurta, and her dark hair is pinned in a tightly wound bun at the base of her neck. She has gold babbles in each ear and her skin is smooth and rich. She caught my eye when she first entered the plaza and we shared a twinkling smile. I wonder what she is thinking?"
After waiting for nearly two hours, the mobile shop finally opened. I selected a sim card and took it to the counter. The clerk said, "I will need copy of your passport and a passport sized photo"- neither of which I had on me of course! Okay, I thought, I will come back later. Now tired, I decided to brave an auto rickshaw ride back. The ride was actually quite nice and I enjoyed the breeze. Upon arriving back at the hostel, the driver told me the fee was 35 rupees (about 65 cents). I was told later by my hostel mates that I had overpaid by about 10 rupees. Okay, I can live with that.