36 Hours in Delhi

by Amy

I have never felt as vulnerable as during the 36 hours I spent in Delhi.

Men stared. And I mean really stared.

Men in this part of the world often hold hands or walk arm in arm and as a result they take up a fair portion of the street when they go by. So if you happen to be, I’m guessing, young and white, then walking toward a group of five or six of them with eyes entirely and aggressively focused on you feels like walking at a wall and somehow trying not to crash into it. I think at certain points I actually ducked from the sheer force that is an intent human stare. Michael called it looking at me like an alien they wanted to rape. And that was when I was with him. The couple of times that I unreasonably insisted that I wanted to go walk around Karol Bagh alone, they got even bolder and would make sure to pass in a way that allowed some part of their bodies to brush against some part of mine. I lasted about ten minutes.

More on vulnerability: sleep deprivation has an incredibly adverse effect on the brain and one’s cognitive functions. In loosely scientific terms, it can make you clumsy, irritable, confused and impaired. In plain terms, it just makes you stupid. And so after cleaning, packing, subletting, inoculating, painting (we decided the day before leaving for six weeks in India and Nepal would be an excellent time to paint Michael’s long hallway) and flying…we were incredibly stupid.

We arrived in Delhi around 4:30pm and were at our hotel about an hour before sundown. During this hour, we managed to take a rickshaw half an hour out of the way to a random train ticket window where we completely failed at communicating our need for tickets to Kalka the next day. Soon after realizing how completely pointless this journey was, we also realized that we were outside at dusk without mosquito repellent and with billions of mosquitos buzzing around, all of them infected with malaria or bengal fever in our minds. We booked train tickets online later that night at the hotel. We cancelled them the next morning. We were not functioning well, nor did we sleep that first night (see previous post written on the floor of the bathroom).

The next day, again on no sleep, we succeeded in getting train tickets to Kalka that night where we were told we could get a connecting train to Shimla. This, however, is all we succeeded in. We were failures at even going for a walk. Michael grew up in New York and I’ve lived there for almost five years, yet we walked around clumsily. Rickshaws were constantly almost running us over, the sidewalks were too polluted to traverse (even the locals avoided them), begging was constant and overwhelming. At first I was giving out rupees to everyone who asked, feeling too guilty not to. Michael bought a mother milk for her gaunt baby. After a while, we realized there were just too many of them. An ill advised nap later, we were at the train station waiting for our overnight journey to start.

Old Delhi Rail Station. If you’ve ever been there, you can comprehend the filth. If not, I’ll do my best to describe it, but will very likely fail to get at its extent. It’s a seething mass of human and animal filth piled together and somehow, miraculously facilitating enormous masses of people getting from point A to point B. It started with the car ride there. We sat in the back of a taxi engulfed in a stench that seemed to be some combination of human feces, rotting garbage, exhaust and I don’t even know what else. We passed empty lots that were piled six feet high with garbage – apparently Delhi’s idea of a sanitation solution – and realized at some point that the masses of garbage were moving. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that they were filled with feral dogs, all trying to scrape together an existence off the discarded mess. They were interspersed occasionally with cows, and were eating, roaming and shitting in the piles of filth. The rail station itself seemed to me some extension of this. Families of six, seven, eight were strewn everywhere, laying on the ground, many asleep, presumably waiting on trains. The tracks apparently doubled as toilets as men and women, both, would wander out into them to relieve themselves. Dogs roamed everywhere digging and scraping for scraps of food. And the smell. I can’t describe it but it’s worse than anything you’ve smelled and inescapable.