Return to India – Delhi

Vasant Kunj via Google Maps

As is tradition, I am once more blogging this year’s trip to India.  Click on the “india” tag to see the earlier visits when, frankly, I had more time to write.

I’ve just spent two weeks in Europe, meeting friends and exploring some aspects of the European assisted reproduction community.  I’m in India for two weeks to attend a wedding, give at least one lecture, and have some research-related meetings.  There’s also going to be some time to see the sights, which is why my old grad school friend (and hedonist) Adam will be joining me.

My economy flight from London through Frankfurt to Delhi was predictable.  As a seasoned world traveler, I know to check-in online the night before to make sure the solo traveler isn’t given the middle seat or the non-reclining seat.  I deliberately chose a spectacular aisle seat with all sorts of room in the most spacious section of the economy fuselage.

On schedule, as is the Indian way, some dude is busily trying to get me to switch seats with him so he can “sit with his wife”.  Of course, the options he was offering were all, as expected, middle and non-reclining seats. I’m well past the days of casual generosity.  I barely acknowledged him except to say twice, “No, this is my seat. I want this seat.”  But he kept at it for what felt like 30 minutes.  Sit down, motherfrakker!

So, I go into Delhi last night.  I hate Delhi, I really do.  When Adam arrives in a few hours, our first order of business is to get the frack to Mumbai.  When I was here last year, the city was gearing up for the Commonwealth Games.  The new subway was being frantically built, and Indira Gandhi Airport expanded.

The new airport is stunning.  And huge!  It still smells bad, though.  You know, that standard tropical smell: sweat, heat and fungi seeping into fabrics.  As I said at the time, “it smells like ass.  Indian ass.”  I wonder where the electricity is being generated to power this monstrosity.

Of course, passport control still suffers from leftover Indian idiocy.  There’s actually a first class line, but no way to actually tell if someone flew in first class.  So why have the line at all?  For a country that subsists on queuing, India (and most Asian nations, to be fair) doesn’t know how to create queues efficiently.

This is what I mean: if  you have several desks or kiosks servicing a queue of people, it is more efficient to have a single line waiting for the first available desk, than to have a separate queue for each desk.  Why?  Because you never know which person in line is going to hold up the whole affair, and if the line can then go around to the next desk, it’s not an issue.

See?  Most banks and men’s rooms (think urinals) have figured it out.  Tim Hortons and Indian passport control have not.

Anyway, I was met by my driver from the hotel, who never said a word or looked at me through the entire procedure.  Amazingly, he picked up his car from a modern, automated parking lot.  I was very impressed by it.  On the drive to the hotel, I was further impressed by how much Delhi traffic had matured.  There was a strong police presence, well marked lanes… and drivers actually using their indicator lights!!  Where was I?  This was not the Delhi I’d come to dread!

As an aside, there was a terrifying moment during the drive when a strong wind blew several hundred pounds of dry concrete across the highway, completely obliterating all visibility instantly.  My car screeched to a sudden halt– luckily, since it turns out there was another car just inches in front of us!  The improved quality both of Delhi cars and roads allowed this safe and sudden stop.

I checked into the Hotel Malik Continental, your standard concrete block of over-airconditioned budget accommodation in the suburbs of Delhi, in a neighbourhood called Vasant Kunj.  (See misleading map above.)

Now, my room had only one bed, but Adam was going to join me the next day, so I requested one with two beds.  They said they’d take care of it in the morning.  This is where more Indian hilarity ensued.

This morning I got up late and began my routine.  I do my 90 minute workout each morning.  Halfway through, I get a phone call from reception, “Sir we are sending a boy up now for your bags to move you to the new room.”

After a moment of confusion (I’d assumed they’d forgotten about my request), I said, “Okay, give me 5 minutes.”  I threw everything together furiously, and waited.  And waited.  After 20 minutes, I called back down, “Um, where’s the fellow for my bags?”

“Oh sir, room will be ready in half an hour.”

Okay, okay, don’t get mad, Ray.  It’s frakking India.  I unpacked my stuff and got back into my workout.  Of course, 2 minutes later there’s a knock at my door: they’d come to move my stuff.

Sigh.  Frakking India, with its inefficiencies and miscommunications.  Anyway…. all that is behind me.

Today I took a walk through the neighbourhood.  This is a new industrial development near to the airport.  The roads are busy, and the sidewalks are crammed full of typical Indian activity: naked toddlers, endless scooters and motorcycles, and that ubiquitous Gangetic plains dust.

I did get a close-up view of a dog-catching exercise, like something out of a 1950s cartoon.  A truck was driven by some small, ill-mannered men carrying nooses.  The men were literally lassoing stray dogs and dragging them into the truck.

Around the corner was a sign of the new India: a condo and shopping centre development.  It’s all vacant still, of course, except for the very visible security guards keeping interlopers and squatters out.  And just like every other Indian construction project, adjacent to it is a slum in which live entire families of construction workers.

The young slum boys, all barefoot and some naked, were playing cricket on the pristine empty streets of the condo development.  Atop piles of sand and rock, old men slept.  I’m pretty sure that a field of rubble between the condos and the slum are an outdoor open-concept toilet, as several semi-concealed women were squatting there, covered strategically by their saris.

Most amazingly, no one took any notice of me.  This is a remarkable development.  On my first trip to India 15 years ago, any foreigner would be greeted with, at the least, stares.  At the most, there’d be gaggles of kids begging for change, following you about or waiting for their photos to be taken.

Today, Indians are inured to foreigners.  Either than, or I have grown to look more like a local.  Quite possibly a bit of both.

Okay, off to the airport to get Adam.  Then we eat curry and drink gin!