Trip Journal - Delhi




Delhi -- 18 November 1998

I woke up before the lights went on, which leads me to believe that the conductor overslept. The cockroaches were still there, as were the usual assortment of touts: chai wallas, newspaper hawkers, food sellers. Paul and I stayed in our top bunks, reading and eating Marie Gold biscuits and Polos. One roll fell down and disappeared -- suspect the man below Paul took it. This same man flicked a cockroach from the newspaper his breakfast was sitting on, but let it stay on his chair. Yuck.

It was a boring morning. I can't say I was very excited about being back in Delhi. We arrived at 11:30 and were confronted by the usual taxi drivers and travel agents posing as "helpful" tourist police. We were veteran nay sayers by now though. We emerged from the train station virtually unscathed. We'd pre-decided, as a Westerner must do in Delhi, to try and find the Hotel Downtown and stay there. The Hotel Silver Palace had really been nothing special. The touts were clinging to us like ticks though, we couldn't shake them. And we couldn't find the Hotel Downtown. We were just about to escape into a cafe to look at the guidebook when we spotted Hotel Vivek, our second choice. We gratefully went in. The lobby was the most lobby-like of any place we'd ever been in India. This was a real hotel. They had a room for us, 250 rs., with AC. We walked past a second lobby and an STD phone service upstairs past all kinds of angles other than 90 degrees and up to our room, which was very good. It had a dressing table, a full-length mirror, and a closet. Swanky. The mattresses almost fit into their wooden platform; they were a bit thin and hard, but tolerable. Almost immediately, a "boy" knocked on our door, to enquire whether we needed anything, room service perhaps? We sent him away. The second knock was someone to clean the bathroom, and to put in the light bulb we'd requested. If he hoped for a tip, he left disappointed. Where I come from, we expect the bathroom to have been cleaned when we arrive.

We had lunch at my old favorite, Cafe Appetite, for Dhal Makhani and rice, which differs from the regular dhal (lentil curry) only in that there's a little butter added. It's good though. Paul had wanted butter naan but they didn't have any and so he only had tea and a chocolate milkshake that lived up to its name: no ice cream, just frothed milk.

We walked to Conaught Place to pick up a Herald Tribune and a Newsweek or two. We picked up some back issues to see if we could get any info about the elections, but were disappointed. We had wanted some commentary about what hte American people had said about the stupid Clinton/Lewinsky fiasco in their votes.

We didn't bother to stay out long with the touts. We read and worked on the journals in the room, and had dinner at the hotel's rooftop restaurant. The power was out again; the generators were droning in the background. We had mushy pizza, and I had rice pudding (rice with milk like I used to have for cereal) and Paul had sugar lemon pancake. Of the huge selection of desserts listed on the menu, these were the only ones actually available.

Paul got involved trying to solve MS Outlook's time zone problem (as we've been changing the time zone settings, all our holidays and birthdays have been getting out of whack), and I started feeling ignored. I put out subtle signals that I was ready to go to bed (brushed teeth, etc.) and then got upset when Paul didn't get it. Of course I knew that all I had to do was say that I was ready. Knowing and doing are two different things.

Delhi -- 19 November 1998

There was too much noise last night: too many dogs yelping, too many Hindi films played into the middle of the night, too many motorcycles and honking horns. And not enough sleep for me. There was about one minute of hot water in the geyser and then only cold. We ordered room service -- butter chapati (no one has naan!), corn flakes with banana, chai and tea for 91 rs. ($2.10). Paul got into a discussion about how the world should be, something about a new global body, and I knew that what he really wanted was a guy to talk to, someone he could bounce his ideas off of and who would respond like a guy does. I'm no good at it -- it always feels like sparring, or as if Paul's baiting me, although early on in the game, I know that's not his intent. I should have just said that I wasn't interested in the discussion, but I always want to be what the other person wants -- I want to be needed and therefore necessary. So I tried to play along, but it didn't work. I saw the futility of it early on but tried anyway and then got angry because of the suspicion that Paul was sparring. We talked about it, adn the factthat I felt like Paul was in a shell phase (a Cancer allusion) since last night, which was why I felt ignored. That was all it took and everything was okay again. We're getting better at this.

Paul wanted to go to Milkfood Cafe 100, an upscale fast-food joint, for lunch. We stopped and got a paper on the way (it was used -- the crossword was already done). We couldn't find the cafe, so we stopped and each got an ice cream cone to sustain us. I got some new sandals at Bata: Dr. Scholl's at 799 rs. The fisherman sandals had worn out, the cork was all cracked adn the heel worn away. The Dr. Scholl's are a bit girly; Indian women usually wear very strappy sandals, and they probably never hike in them. But they will do. It was hard to throw out the old ones, even though they were shot. They've gone a lot of miles with me. Butin the end, I left the old ones in the shoe box in our room, in case the "boy" or someone else wanted them.

We finally found the Cafe. The lights were constantly fluctuating in intensity the whole time we were there; I think there was another brownout. We ordered chicken fillets with cheese, which came fully Indianized with tomato, hot sauce, cucumber and sauerkraut. Then we had more ice cream. Who knew what we'd be able to get in Nepal?

It was 5:00, although it seemed much later because of the low-hanging smog. It had settled over the streets during the rush hour that still continued. We were going to see a Hindi film at 6:30. Until then, we sat on a stone wall, eating Polos and people-watching, especially the very aggressive quilt sellers lined up between the columns of the building. A couple of tourists haggled with one of the women -- better them than me. The woman's daughter sat down next to us and said hi. I thought she wanted a Polo but she declined when I offered. Maybe she was people-watching too.

For the first time since we've been here, I noticed that there are hawker "police". I don't know if they're real cops or security hired by the shop owners, but they had bamboo canes and seemed willing to use. Where had they been all the times we could have used them? You probably have to pay a bribe. On the way to the movie theater, I was followed incessantly by a balloon woman and her baby. I think the idea is that you give a little something and she gives you a balloon. I couldn't shake her, and I'd had enough of beggars. She would follow very closely behind, letting me know she was there with a hand on my arm. I stopped and turned to face her very suddenly. "Please go away," I said firmly, but she stuck like a burr. By twisting and turning through the dark streets, we finally had ourselves to ourselves again.

Not for very long though. We were a little early for our movie and so we sat on the low rails with everyone else. We were the only ones graced with a visit from the squeaking balloon children though; they must have liked us best. Their game was to rub the balloon to make it squeak right in my ear, perhaps hoping I would pay them to go away. I wasn't an eldest sister all those years for nothing; I'm remarkably skilled at the ignore tactic. I pretended to read the newspaper and they eventually went away.

The movie theater opened up, we had to go through a security gate and Paul was frisked. All the guys were. There was only one other woman in the queue, neither of us had a hand laid on us. I guess they're looking for weapons, but I can't imagine a fight breaking out in the movies.

Of the three films playing in Conaught Place, we'd chosen Prem Ageen, pretty much randomly. In hindsight, I wish we'd seen Fire, which we had joked when looking at the movie poster, oru only clue as to the film's story, looked like a lesbian film. But this was India, it couldn't possibly be. As it turns out, it was. The Hindi Fundamentalist women's groups are trying to get it banned and claim to be morally outraged. Indians love movies. "Bollywood," the movie industry in Bombay, puts out nearly 1000 films every year, in 23 different languages. Some may be in English but not this one. Gareth had told us it hardly mattered because the plots are so easy to follow. The theater was really nice, although I could see cockroaches walking on the balcony during the film. After a few commercials, most of which were shown twice in a row, the film began.

Apparently, every Hindi film has a love story, forbidden of course, a killing and a rape. Here's the basic storyline of Prem Ageen:

Sapna is a filthy rich girl at college who loves Suraj, a member of the school's white-uniformed karate team (there are two uniforms, black and white, how subtle), and the son of a poor military man of high rank, and a mother who's beautiful and in a wheelchair. They wish to marry but Sapna's father won't allow it. They run away, intending to consummate the relationship, but in the end, decide to wait until they're married.

Sapna's father's thugs find the two two asleep in Suraj's bed and suspect the worst. Papa gives orders from his cell phone to kill Suraj, but Sapna agrees to marry a nephew of Papa's rich friend in Sydney (an Indian guy who drinks too much and is scum) in exchange for Suraj's life.

Switch to Sydney where there's a lavish engagement party. Sapna refuses to drink the toast, then changes her mind and gets drunk. It's the only way she can cope. Suraj somehow scrapes together enough money to come to Australia and may or may not have posed as a singer for the band at the party. (It's hard to distinguish reality from fantasy in Bollywood.)

Suraj doesn't know that Sapna saved his life, he's angry at her for leaving him. They fight, the truth comes out, Rajish the Scum hears every word, kidnaps Sapna and beats up Suraj, who's still recovering from the beating Papa's thugs gave him.

Suraj runs back to Sapna's house to warn the family. The brother, who is on the black-uniformed karate team, has been beaten by Suraj and hates him, and now proceeds to beat up Suraj. But the mother believes Suraj and finally the father does too. They all race off to find Rajish and Sapna, who are easy to find because they are on the most beautiful coast in Australia, which may or may not be anywhere near Sydney. Rajish is attempting to have his way with Sapna. Papa kills Rajish, is reconciled with Sapna and Suraj, and agrees to their marriage. Then the police take him off to jail. THE END.

It was a very long film, over three hours plus an intermission. It's amazing how little it had to do with the reality of India. All the girls wore really skimpy outfits, this in a country where it's okay to show midriff butnot shoulders or ankles, much less knees. There's an aerobics class scene in the beginning of the film and all the girls have on trendy workout clothes. There were dozens of costume changes, many, or most, in the middle of a scene or a song and dance number. They probably had symbolic meaning, but it was beyond me. There were also a lot of location changes, again right in the middle of a scene. One second Suraj and Sapna were singing their undying love for each other in the mountains, the very next in the sand near the ocean.

It was really hard to tell when an even really happened and when it was just the imagination of one of the characters. As Sapna is being transported to her doomed marriage in her father's helicopter, she imagines a fight scene between Suraj and her father's thugs. In her imagination, which looks exactly like real life, Suraj is killed. The next scene, Suraj arrives too late, beats up all the thugs despite his weakened state, and swears to find Sapna. Song and dance numbers happen all the time. All the top 40 songs in India are movie tunes. What a great business to be in.

Back home, our laundry was back. We'd sent it out that morning, and most of it was dry. The jeans were cleaner than they'd ever been, but everything else was just so-so. Still it only cost 252 rs. for the laundry and two Cokes to be brought to us. We packed, read and went to bed.