Delhi 18-20 April 2011
(Pictures at https://picasaweb.google.com/109837841352688899289)
Maybe it’s because I like to think I have manners that I therefore expect manners from the rest of the world. That could also be a conceit of mine, a preposterous presumption and pretention which nobody in the slightest gives a damn about, a thin veneer between the civil and uncivilized. But what is civilized? I had joked I suppose about the old saying that ‘the cloth maketh the man’ and twisted it to “The boots maketh the man” but they are in flames around my feet and the clouds are tinged Red with the flames that burn around my preposterous heady idealized heights. Really though, I used to think that manners maketh the man. Manners to me showed a certain consciousness about a person. Lack of them displayed a lack of it, I know I know I’m English and we set great store by them, it is a cultural thing, did the great creator care, I didn’t know anymore I didn’t think so. Did India care? For sure, no she did not.
And so India what about her, well right then I’d say, nah, not for me mate, far too selfish self centered and unconscious, nobodies fault or nobody who you can clearly point the finger at. Just the way it is. What ever!!
I had gone out into the world an idealistic northern Englishman armed with the knowledge that manners would take me a long way, well they have and it was my choice to be here, but manners, here? I haven’t noticed many, they are not important, they have no value in the sub continent and I suspect they are seen as a weakness. Today I have honestly been reduced to a virtual Neanderthal. Though from what I’ve read, apparently they were quite gentle and it was the Humans who were the aggressive ones, figures.
I had arrived in Delhi braced, I had been quietly not looking forward to it, though trying to be British and just take it as an exotic experience. In fact dreading being in another country is definitely foreign to me. The plane was delayed an hour of course but I had been surprised to find a gleaming airport that seemed way more slick and stream lined than Heathrow. Out in the city I found wide tree lined avenues, scents and smells of the warm breeze that were really pleasant, traffic systems that people appeared to stick to, I saw road sweepers and public latrines that people actually used, not at all like the India I had experienced for the last 2 months, I was hopeful, I was optimistic I was cautious, then I got food poisoning.
I stupidly ordered and omelet from a place that said ‘German Bakery’ which gave it an air of ‘a place you could trust’. I have been really sick. The moral of the story is never trust a German Bakery that does not have any Germans in it, not in Europe or the US (and in retrospect) has no Rye Bread or Malt Loaves in sight, just heavy looking dry croissants and some biscuits. I should have known. I probably did, but I’d let my guard down, nobody had hassled me and had wanted to trust and relax.
I also booked into a place called the Vivek Hotel and suspected the manager had stung me. I’d had a long journey was tired and just wanted to drop my bags, but there had been something strange when he’d said ‘standard price for all the rooms’ I’d believed him, I’d wanted to believe somebody. But then when I came back down to sign all the usual blah. You know, name – Mickey Mouse, address- Disney World, Scunthorpe UK, all the usual high security stuff, the other desk clerk had said
“How much did he say you pay for the room?”
So I checked the hotels prices around the area and realized that he had. So I packed up and next day moved across the road to a better cheaper hotel and with wifi, which meant he’d made 200r extra out of me but now had in all probability an empty room for the next 3 nights, which is in all honesty is typical.
It just gets a little wearing and yeah, disappointing.
Today I walked up the metro stairs a man was leaning against a wall inside the station, not some gaye pickup type of thing either, at least I don’t think so. I was trying to drop my guard, he kept looking, so I simply nodded as I passed by, obviously going to the ticket counter. He looked like he’d been struck by lightning and came running up behind me.
“Where are you going, where you want to go?” he asked all breathless.
“On the Metro mate and nowhere you’re going, so back off” I snarled
It has happened over and over all day a guy had said
“I give you good Indian price”
I said “My price is the Indian Price mate” at which he actually blushed. I got my price.
The manager of the new hotel I booked into pulled up in a rickshaw in the street at one point, I hadn’t recognize him. I just said no thanks mate type of thing and skipped around his wheels, but he jumped out and said
“I don’t want anything I recognize you from the hotel.”
“Oh hello” I said and shook his hand like you do. Then he started going into a big sell about going to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, I said politely but firmly.
“Mate, I don’t want to see the Taj Mahal. I’m feeling really quite ill and don’t fancy a long bus journey. But thanks anyway”
At that point he started getting really exited
“No no you don’t understand, you don’t understand, bus will come to the hotel and drop you back, the heart of India” he said
I have to tell you I really was quite ill. He could have seen that I was green around the gills, had already said no and I was trying to walk away, but no.
“You don’t understand you don’t understand” he kept on “Agra the heart of India, the heart of India”
“I understand perfectly well, Mate” I said “Now back off and please leave me alone”
I know I know, they just can’t help it, but it wasn’t for my betterment, it wasn’t for my education, it wasn’t because I was a god in his country or for my spiritual growth, he simply saw me as a cash cow and I had began to see him as a goat that was always hungry. Everything is negotiable here I was told. But I found if I stuck to my price I would get long child like expressions like I’d done them a bad deed, when in fact all I had done was defend myself and exposed them. At one place where I had stuck to my price I was told with a raised and wagging finger that some god or other was watching me, I told him to F**k right off. Sorry about that, ish.
But the prolonged effect of all of this was that I had begun to dislike myself. I didn’t like it that they would see me coming, I saw the rupees in their eyes and I would have to brace myself to defend my space again and all I wanted was wander and look and see. It felt that I wasn’t allowed, they mostly had other ideas, about who I was where I came from and what I had on me and so I became fierce.
And honestly I’m not really bothered about a few rupees, it was the disrespect and sneakiness that was hard to stand and stay calm against. It had been a relief to go into a Costa Coffee at Carnegie Place and see the price list was on the wall. I could make up my mind if I wanted to buy something or sit and spend my time there. The fact that there is an ‘Indian price’ for just about everything is offensive, I understand it is maybe bred from desperation but I have never yet been in a rickshaw where I haven’t beat his price down and then left it as the tip at the end, or a tip anyway if the price was fare, my choice you see, my money. It feels better to give than to have taken. All boils down to that manners thing again. Don’t rob me of the chance to give.
The conniving that went on definitely shut me down at times and so created ‘the void’ between the two worlds they imagined in the first place. But that is how realities are created, underscored and set in stone, right. I had to work hard on myself, at times in all honesty I failed, but at least I looked at it and at the end of the day I strive to be an honest man, my thing and my values, that’s all.
Now when all this is said and done I have to say and balance up the picture that it could be that I was really feeling very ill and actually hadn’t noticed and if you know me well enough, you’ll know that that is a distinct possibility, a little trooper I am, but the fact that I had been poisoned I think made me really angry.
I had had ‘the’ breakfast as I said then gone to take some pictures of an old Indian Christian Cemetery that my hotel room looked out onto. I found it fascinating but I had begun to feel strange within about half an hour of being there. I tried to put it down to various factors, change in time zones, coming from the freezing cold into the blistering heat all and just general fatigue. I had then gone on to Carnegie Place and snapped at anybody who tried to stop me. Though again I genuinely did pull myself up after each time and asked myself
“What on earth was going on with you Mick?”
I was so consistently fierce which is out of character.
I then went off to the 17th century Astrological observatory ‘The Jantar Mantar’ which I’d wanted to see. I believe it gave pretty accurate results and is genuinely a wonder for its time and really it still is. But by that time I had sea legs and was out of breath. I still put it down to the heat. I felt like a freshly cut flower in an empty glass vase within a glass windowless room under the blazing sun and still I couldn’t accept that I had food poisoning, I had been so careful. But then when I could only just make it up a few steps I had to accept that something was really wrong and I was mighty mighty unhappy about it.
I went back to the hotel climbed slowly and exhausted up the stairs, fumbled for an infuriating age with the key and the door, finally stumbled into the room and onto the bed and fell asleep. I woke later reasoning that I would not be coming back here and so should go and see what I could of the place in the 3 days I had there. So I forced myself back out and onto the metro in a strange dream state, arrived at some hideous part of town that reminded me of the canning town flyover with less charm even. I walk along the side of the roaring road then back along the other side got back on the Metro and somehow down another long road made it to India Gate and drifted amongst the multitude of families out taking photographs of one another. I was expecting something amazing at the Raj Path, but I simply laid down and fell fast asleep on a grass lawn that smelled of sulpher. I was woken I don’t know how much later by a stray dog jumping on me, begging. I couldn’t believe it I actually snarled at him, he looked stunned. I got up, noticed the sun was setting and decided I should walk the whole length of the path just because I thought I should, I don’t recall seeing anything except arriving when I gratefully at ‘Central Secretariate Station’ fumbled my way down the steps and onto a train and was back at the hotel for about 8pm. I was simply exhausted which I am just not used too.
I sensed that ‘all’ my energy was being used up to fight what ever aliens had been introduced into my body and boy they were putting up a fight. I left them to it confident that I had help and I’d be ok.
I was much the same the next day I was really furious at being ‘poisoned’ I had thought of going back to the café and letting rip at them, but in the mood I was in I decided I’d best just go and try to be quiet. I thought I should go and see the Red Fort ‘Via Skinners Horse Church’ The story of James Skinner had fascinated me. The son of a Scot and and Indian Princess who had been unable to serve as an officer in the regular British Army due to being ‘Half caste’ had founded the irregular cavalry regiment in 1803 in the service of the East India Company and had made himself indispensable and unbeatable with dashing victory after victory until the establishment had to recognize him. It is a great story of determination and courage against the injustice and foolishness of the morals of the day.
Once at the Red Fort I just fell asleep on the lawn inside. One or two people were sweet but if people starred I returned the stare and in retrospect I am ashamed of myself, but as I said I was really sick and just wanted to be left in peace, which of course many people wouldn’t no matter what my wishes were or what I said. The Red Fort though did seem like an oasis of calm, everybody just there to just be with their family and so I was left mostly to my own devices which was mostly a few steps they laying down fast asleep on the lawns. It was interesting seeing the barracks the British had built inside there. I recognized the Masonic design of it all. I had a feeling that my Granddad had been stationed there back in the mid 1930’s He had been in India with the horse drawn artillery and I was sure it was Delhi, something I will double check on when I return to England.
That Night I made my way back across to the Paharganj feeling a little better, I simply sat up on a roof top of the Krishna Hotel across from mine, I stuck to Museli and yogurt from then on and began to regain my strength and began to write again, even began to go and take a few photographs which is always a good indication that creative Mercury is returning from the underworld. I kept my guard up from then on though. I am sorry for my behavior, I was simply defending my space and I am trying to be honest about what I found in Indian and within myself. India is not for the faint hearted, I had lashed myself and said that I was, but in fact, I didn’t turn away, I stood my ground, I gave back what I was given, whether it was kindness, curiosity or hostility.
To finish this off, I had been looking around at the hotels, I had never been very good at bartering, it always embarrassed me but India has certainly wised me up as far as that is concerned. I had gone into a hotel, asked the price, he had looked at me and given me a price out of the sky, I had come back at him with a lower one. He was affronted and said
“No battering at this establishment”
I asked, my voice loaded with humor
“Mate it is the Indians who have taught me to try, and if it’s set where is your price list?”
He gave me that hurt child expression and explained that that may be the case in other establishments but here the price was what he said it was. No exceptions. I thanked him and walked out chuckling to myself.
The tables were being turned the bark and the snarl had gone, it was fun, it felt good and I was feeling much better.