June 10, 2010
Why I should/should not try to find my way around Delhi
On Saturday, I decided it was time that I try to get out and see some of the sites around Delhi. So, guided basically by which ones I could find on my map, I settled on Red Fort and Jantar Mantar. Given that I had reserved the entire afternoon to the outing, I also decided that I should try to walk to Red Fort—a distance a little over a mile and a half, I believe. This turned out to be a poor choice.
Based on my reconstruction of the journey after returning, I believe I overshot Red Fort by another good mile or two. At this point in my life, I really should have learned not to trust my sense of direction too deeply anywhere, let alone in Delhi, where street names are often not marked, there are relatively few straight roads, and construction and closures in preparation for the Commonwealth Games are virtually ubiquitous. In any case, I eventually conceded defeat and turned back. Returning, I somehow ended up on a raised highway that had no exits near the guesthouse where I’m staying, so I had to overshoot my destination once again. Now five hours or so into my afternoon of supposed tourism, I defiantly boarded the metro toward Jantar Mantar and arrived just in time to spend the last 30 minutes before it closed there in the failing light and threatening rain.
Still, I would be hesitant to call the time I spent walking through the backroads of downtown Delhi a waste. I got a view of city life in Delhi that I suspect many visitors could easily avoid—intentionally or otherwise. For instance, I saw a hub of humble bike garages on a dirt road in the shadow of some Mughal archaeological relic. Each consisted of essentially a blanket with tools laid out on it in rows. Local bicycle riders and cycle rickshaw pullers apparently came here for replacement parts, small tune-ups, a new paint job, etc. I even saw one shop that seemingly specialized in autorickshaws. I suspect that if you know where to look, you can find most services in Delhi in small informal markets like this one.
On a more somber note, at any point on the banks of the Yamuna, I learned, you can also find small masses of homeless squatters, I assume so located for the availability of water. They are scattered wherever there is shade or sometimes apparently at random. The more fortunate have a cot and some scant possessions. Most do not seem to own much more than a blanket to sleep on. There are many children and disabled people. It was a tragic sight, and I won't pretend that it was even close to exhaustive.
While I don't want to relegate the daily deprivation of the millions-strong masses of urban poor in India to an "opportunity for growth" on my part, or worse, an "interesting experience", my unplanned excursion into the underside of Delhi certainly was both of those things. Witnessing it up close can easily make you feel shame at the privilege you enjoy so casually. My hope now is that this "opportunity for growth/interesting experience" can be used productively somehow. That is, that I don't shelve it away in the back annals of my mind where I keep most memories for use as stories at some later date. I suppose, though, that this will be up to me. On that note, I think I will sign off. Until next time.
Posted by jeizenga at June 10, 2010 01:07 AM