Saturday, 6 November, 2010
A friend once told me that it is important to enjoy the university lifestyle as much as possible, because once those three years are up, all that’s left is the reality of the real world. So, I did. I became a borderline alcoholic living off instant noodles and occasionally dressing like a plonker to cater to a party theme – it was great.
These are the kinds of things that are harder to do with a mortgage and kids. Imagine how the other parents would react should you turn up to the school gates dressed in gladiator gear with a bottle of whiskey in your hand. I wasn’t quite ready to give up on plastic helmets and swords just yet. Not to mention, a liquid lunch should always be at least an option. Therefore, Ruby and I decided to work part-time jobs throughout university and live on a tramp’s budget.
We saved enough money to delay the real world once more, and instead, plan to have some fun living in the ‘fake world’ just a little bit longer. So, here we are – Delhi, India.
After only a few days in the nation’s capital, I have probably learned more than I did throughout my entire university experience. I guess my social experiment of eating instant noodles for three straight years proved costly – as it goes, that particular cuisine doesn’t overly enhance one’s brain power. You live and learn!
The key to survival in Delhi is actually pretty simply – become an arsehole. It’s sad, but true. To a selection of locals, we are automatically placed into a certain bracket – foreign, young, naïve, and rich. Our ‘overflowing’ wallets evolve into treasure and we receive pleas, offers, and demands no matter where we turn.
In many ways, it has been a challenge to adapt. However, once we exchanged our traditional, friendly greeting of ‘hello’ with the sterner, colder, arsehole response of just ‘no’, the days started to become that little bit easier.
Prior to our groundbreaking revelation, I almost wound up in a fight over money; the altercation being with a man carrying a snake. My pride proceeded to defend my corner, but facts are facts, the bloke was accompanied by a frigging cobra, if it came down to it, the odds were not in my favour.
We were heading to the India Gate fully in tourist mode, camera in hand and a gleeful bounce in our step. As we made our way through a beautiful park, we noticed the man playing with his snake. This had me slightly intrigued, so I took a quick snap. Truthfully, we can’t have been in his proximity for more than three seconds before walking away.
A few metres down the line, I felt a tap at my shoulder. It was the snake man, and now with an animal cruelly stuffed into a bag resting over his shoulder. “You must give me one thousand rupees for that picture!” He demanded. Bloody hell, that is more than a tenner! That amount could pay for twenty university meals!
We squabbled for a bit, before he eventually left our side around thirty minutes after initially approaching us – haggling is pretty darn tiring! I gave him twenty-five rupees in the end, which converts to about 35p. Perhaps that makes me sound cheap, but I was paying for one photo taken on my camera. I feel like it is a very reasonable fee.
While that experience was somewhat amusing, other occurrences were far less so. I have had two different mothers shove their naked, teary-eyed babies right up against my eyeballs, in an attempted sympathy plea. Naturally, it’s very hard to contain arsehole mode in those moments, but, the sad reality is that signs of kindness translate to weakness. The proposed donation will never be enough, there will always be a cry for more. It then becomes a lot tougher to gather up space and leave.
There was another instance where a bloke rammed the remaining limb of his chopped off arm in my face. The guy sawed a body part off to gain money, that’s how rough his life is. As a statement, it puts a lot into perspective. The year I was made to wear braces, I truly believed that nobody in the world had it worse than me, this trip to India has changed my mind.
Unfortunately for him, a man waving half an arm in your face and shouting at you in a language you don’t understand is pretty frigging scary. The natural reaction is to increase your pace and get the hell out of there. You then reflect on the situation and develop sympathy when he is out of sight. So, by chopping his arm off he probably actually makes less. Still, at least he didn’t have to go through the embarrassment of wearing a brace at school!
Of course, there is more to Delhi than fending off armless men and blokes with snakes – but, witnessing the extreme levels of desperation and in-your-face poverty will leave more of a lasting impression than viewing a gate or a temple ever could.
Last night we nipped out for a couple of drinks and a curry. When we returned shortly after twelve, we were greeted with quite the surprise. A member of staff was sleeping on the wooden floor outside of our room. We had been presented with the difficult task of climbing over him without interrupting his sleep, hardly a cakewalk after a few beers.
While it has not been uncommon to spot people sleeping on floors – both sheltered, and unfortunately, otherwise – seeing somebody that was in uniform offering city maps and arranging travel only a few hours ago in that predicament, struck me harder than anything else – amazingly, even more so than the man with one arm.
On a side note, you would think that a hotel would be the perfect place to find a bed – particularly as the majority of the rooms were empty. Perhaps he just really loves floors.
Delhi has also supplied us with our five-a-day – I’m talking near death experiences, not fruit. The roads here are terrifying. We’ve done most of our travelling around in a rickshaw (a small three-wheeled cart, which is used in the same way as a taxi) and each time it feels like we’re going into battle.
After a twenty-minute haggle, the bloke will give his services by driving around like a lunatic. That is not an exaggeration, at one point we had a driver that bumped into two other rickshaws over the space of, well, what should have been a half-hour ride. Sadly, each crash apparently required him to get out of his vehicle and have a lengthily shouting contest with his victim. Therefore, our journey was increased by an hour. That said, I had no plan to complain, the man was clearly insane.
Also, the rules of the road are pretty hard to fathom. The red light seems to be based on the individual’s own judgement rather than a required regulation. While I can only feel sorry for the poor guy whose job was to draw the road lanes because nobody uses them. Vehicles also seem to get priority on pavements, too – it’s all mind blowing.