Letter to Son No.1 – Delhi

Note: Before setting off on my circumnavigation of the world, I promised to send a monthly letter to my then 9 year old son. This would be photocopied by his mother and sent on to other family members and friends.
Saturday May 11th 1985
Main Bazaar – Delhi

Dear Sam.

I have been here for a week now, but am about to move on. The city is a little like London was 30 years ago. The cars are Morris Oxfords, there are Vespa and Lambretta motor-scooters, Royal Enfield motor-cycles, cycles and buses that look as if they’ve been attacked by a stampede of the many cows that wander the street.

Other than the traffic lights which everyone seems to ignore, I have seen only one traffic sign. That said A Little Care Will Make Accidents Rare. The one rule I haven’t seen yet, one I’m sure is the most important, ‘Might is Right’.

Picture all the traffic, add in the hundreds of pedestrians who aren’t clinging on the sides of the buses, give everyone a hooter, horn or bell (and voice) to help their motors go, and you have some idea of the chaos and cacophony.

There is one other, vital, ingredient: the weather with its heat and dust.  When I described the weather in London just before I left – wet, cool, flurries of snow – they sighed with fond memories.

It is impossible to travel far without drinking copious quantities of liquid. Heat leaves you drenched with sweat. The dust leaves your inside dry. Luckily there are many drink sellers on the roadside, and in the market areas are many small shops. My favourite thirst quencher is a hal-litre of mango lassi, which is four rupees (26p.) Lassi is yoghurt based, with lots of ice. There are many sqeet fizzy drinks which are guaranteed artificially flavoured.

Fruit is for eating.

I have not yet worked out the prices of fruit in the market because I think I’m charged more as I am seen as a rich tourist – which in many ways I am!

The fresh fruit drinks are just that – fresh. Mangos, pineapples, apples, papayas and sugar cane are crushed and strained in front of you and poured into glasses that are not very clean. That doesn’t seem to matter though when it’s imperative that you drink something,

I have not yet learned much about the food. Here in the Main Bazaar where I’m writing this, there is a variety of ‘restaurants’. Some cater for the many travellers from all over the world who come here. I have eaten a Chinese meal, has ‘porage‘ and ‘omlates‘ for breakfast, and eaten a full vegetarian meal with a family who are friends of M. They were careful to explain how things are cooked, with ingredients given their Hindi name. (So I can’t tell you what I ate.)

Of course, India is a country with many different cultures and climates, and hence many different ways of doing things. The country is also very class, or caste, conscious; it could also be described as racist. The meal I had with the family was cooked by their housekeeper/baby sitter. They hardly spoke to her and she didn’t join in the meal. It also seemed impolite for me to speak to her.

All the time I try to be aware. Aware of the traffic if I want to get to the other side of the road in one piece. Aware of different ways of living and behaving which seem to change with each step I take.

Partly because of the heat but I think more because of the many different encounters which assault one’s senses I try not to do too much in one day. It is a major adventure to catch a bus, for example. They are very cheap. But with their destination boards written in the, for me, indecipherable Hindi script, I’ve no idea where they are going. A metered taxi, while being more convenient, can cost 90 times as much. Bargaining the fare for a tri-shaw can take ten minutes.

At times I wish I were back in my hotel. However, beneath my hotel room window are three garlic sellers, and no-one else. They sit there individually peeling each clove. That smell, combined with the drains, is overwhelming.

All the time in this extremely crowded city, people are trying to sell you stuff: a cheap airflight, postcards, cloth, jewelery, ‘antiques’, drugs, or an ear cleaning service.

Then there are the beggars. Some are severely handicapped. Others seem to only approach tourists. I’ve made a policy of not giving, or buying. Although admittedly rich in Indian terms, to give to one person will not help much. and it would only start a queue. It is very difficult to steel one’s heart this way, but until I begin to understand this very complex country better, it is probably best to remain a little detached. Many fellow travellers say they feel this way.

Perhaps, like them, I will make a donation to a charity before I leave tomorrow for Kashmir and Ladakh, which is something I’m really looking forward to.

I hope I’ve given you some impression of life here in Delhi. I am bemused, a little confused, excited yet content to have started this journey. There are many adventures ahead and many friends to make and meet. I look forward to it, and will write to you in a few weeks.

Until then, have fun and take care.



About Jakartass

A Brit Abroad
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