The First Day
13 January 2013
Foresight came in London. Snaking inside to outside the High Commission of India in London was a humongous queue of Indians, fifteen minutes after the place had closed. Further foresight was when I was putting in my contacts in Delhi airport. The cleaner stared the whole time.
So you have all these ideas in your head, then you actually step outside. That smoky dry smell. Your ears tell you part of the source of that smell because everyone is honking their horns. Another idea that’s in your head is about ‘agreeing the price’, so in you get into a taxi without agreeing the price to see if every person who’d travelled in Asia was just paranoid.
I can’t remember the taxi driver’s name, but I do remember that his nephew is being sent to the US to study science, and I remember that horrible dry feeling in my throat after finishing the cigarette he gave me.
‘I don’t like Delhi. So dirty. So bad.’
They say trains are everything in India, and it seems they’re right. People carry everything from hessian sacks of potatoes to shoeless children to hand carts with wobbling stacks of those old Victorian suitcases on top. The train station seems to be a bit of a theatre too, since everyone is staring at me. ‘Everyone’ is a lot of people too. Most salient of all: the train station is also the toilet. Stale piss is mixed in to the grimy dusty ground.
It didn’t take long to admit to myself that I had no idea what I was doing. It took even less time to admit this to one of the station staff. He grabs my hand and directs me through a maze of luggage and heaps of garbage to the metro station. Somehow, all the chaos is organised down at this station, but only by all the assertive males keeping no distance between each other in the queues.
Off the metro and at New Delhi station, there is much the same chaos. It’s indescribable chaos, actually. Everything from buying a tickeet to simply walking a few metres is similar to those videos of Tokyo rush hour. Similar, but not the same, because there actually seems to be some sort of acceptance and flow to it all here in this station. It’s accepted that there’s a man half-dead on the staircase, so the crowds shuffle past efficiently, all in their shirts and trousers. Is this the class system we hear about?
The other class that you hear about is ‘General Class’, for which I’ve just bought a ticket for. Hordes and hordes of Indians board many trains, and sometimes only just board. I wonder how long you can actually hang off the side of a train for. Before they all rush on, the people with power, the station guards with wooden sticks smack the metal roof supports, sending a sea of people tripping backwards.
This repeats itself over and over, and of course there is literally not a single square inch of space, so I can’t get on any trains, exceptp for the hallways of a 1st class carriage for a few minutes until I get kicked off.
Another big overwhelming thing about India already is the number of stories that you can see happening right in front of you, and that have already happened to those playing out their lives in front of you. The squatting family eating curry with their right hand from trays that they’ve brought from home, the stick thin legs peeking out of the mucked up cloth on the platform.
There’s no train for me tonight anymore, so the last bit of my little story starts and ends in Paharganj main bazaar area looking for a hotel. Full of touts and garbage and piss and cows and dangling telephone and electric lines. The last bit of my little story here is definitely, I can be sure according to all my senses, in India.