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Archive for the ‘India outside of Mumbai’ Category

I have to confess that I’ve never really known a lot about Sikhs. I hadn’t really taken the time to understand what made a Sikh different from other Indians. I knew that their men wore turbans to keep up the hair they never cut; I knew they had wanted an independent state; I knew that separatists took over the Golden Temple and were killed in a violent military campaign in the 1980s. In response, two Sikh bodyguards had killed Indira Ghandi for revenge and then subsequently thousands upon thousands of Sikhs were murdered in Delhi and across India.

But with all this I didn’t know anything about the religion. So before we went to the Golden Temple, the most holy Sikh shrine, and the site of that terrible siege, I decided to read up. Sikhism is actually a combination of Hinduism and Islam that began in the 15th century as a rejection of caste and idolatry. Sikhs believe in reincarnation and karma, like Hindus, but they worship only one god, like Muslims. I liked the concept already.

Golden Temple at night

But by going to the Golden Temple I really felt like I got a sense of what Sikhism was about, and I have to say it impressed me.

Obviously the most inspiring and attention-grabbing element of going to the Golden Temple is the structure itself – inside a large rectangular wall-like building sits a lake, and in the lake is a temple made of marble and gold (750kg of gold in total). We went both at night and during sunrise and at both times the temple itself shone like the sun. Especially at sunrise, when the rising sun hit it directly, you almost couldn’t even look straight at it. It was incredible. As you go closer you notice the detail – the marble base and interiors were inlaid with stones set in beautiful and intricate patterns. A door leading into the temple is made entirely of silver. Painted frescos cover every inch inside. The mastery of skill that it must have taken to build the structure is staggering.

But once beyond the physical structure, I noticed that there were many elements that were different in visiting a Sikh temple than other temples or mosques across India. First, we were completely welcome everywhere. We paid nothing to get in, we were not barred from any place and we could go and do as we pleased. Most historical and religious sites have fees to enter and require that foreigners not pass through certain areas. The Sikhs didn’t seem to mind if we went in as far as we wanted – we could even watch as men prayed from their holy book. It was an incredibly spiritual place, alive with singing over loudspeakers and hundreds of worshipers praying day in and day out; and we were invited to take it all in.

Cooking food for everyone at the Golden Temple

Secondly, this kindness and acceptance of strangers extended to their own people – every Sikh temple is encouraged to serve food to the poor, and the communal kitchen at the Golden Temple is a sight unto itself. Huge vats full of dal and chai are stirred over large fires. Large buckets full of utensils sit next to steel boxes loaded with plates or bowls. And inside a large hall dozens of people sat eating meals at any given time of day. Even we were encouraged heartily to eat or drink chai if we desired. There was a donation box but no one asked us for money or indicated we were required to give a contribution. It was not something you see everyday.

I still wouldn’t claim to know much about Sikhism – but having seen the beauty of their holiest site and the acceptance of others within its walls I’m certainly glad I came to know a bit more.

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There are days when I feel like I understand India. And then there are days where I sit agape, wondering how on earth I came to live in this country.

The sign near the border

Yesterday was one of the latter days. We had arrived in Amritsar in Punjab and decided to make our way to the Wagah Border to watch the evening border closing between India and Pakistan. We’d heard it was a spectacle not to be missed and so we left our hotel early to get good seats.  I knew the scenery was changing when I saw a sign letting me know that Lahore was only 23 kilometers away (apparently, before partition Lahore was part of Punjab with a thriving Hindu and Sikh community. After partition the non-Muslims fled the West and the Muslims fled East).

We approached the border and were swarmed by a sea of hawkers – this was not a solemn or serious occasion. We could buy DVDs, Indian flags or popcorn. We made our way through an immense crowd, in and out of security checkpoints and on to the ‘VIP’ entrance. Apparently being a foreigner makes us VIP. The Indians want anyone not from their country to have an excellent view when they put Pakistan to shame.

The inda crowd

We walked into a stadium that was already full an hour before the ceremony began. We took our seats as a bus was crossing from the India side to the Pakistan side – the Indians in the crowd cheered and waved.   The Indian guards in their fantastical fan-shaped hats stood stoically, trying to keep the crowd under control.

I looked to the left and saw Pakistan – they also had a stadium but it was mostly empty.  I kept wanting more of a glimpse; I wanted to somehow understand India’s neighbor from across the gate.

Running with the flags

As we waited we got a preview of how silly the whole ceremony would be.  They started a relay race with large Indian flags. Children ran giddily, gripping the flags. For some children the flags proved too heavy – and when even an edge of the flag touched the ground the guards would sternly chastise them and take the flag away, handing it off to the next participant. As music blared I started to notice that the Pakistan side was coming together. They too were playing music and someone was waving a flag around. As time went on both sides of the music grew louder and louder, as though diplomatic superiority could be ascertained by the decibel of sound blaring.

Dancing to Jai Ho

As the time grew nearer we were treated to a round of India’s favorite song – ‘Jai Ho’, which Americans know as the song at the end of Slumdog Millionaire – and a spontaneous dance party.  While the guards were blowing their whistles at anyone standing they seemed completely okay with the dozens upon dozens of women who had come down to the center to dance as vigorously and excitedly as they possibly could, as though their dancing could drown out the sound of Pakistan’s music.

Marching guards

But then it was time to begin. The eccentrically festooned guards marched into a line, legs kicking and hands saluting. They then began a call – it just sounded like someone seeing how long they could make a sound without taking another breath – that was immediately replicated on the Pakistan side. Indians cheered; Pakistanis cheered. I really couldn’t make out that it was anything more than a contest of lung capacity.

I looked over to the Pakistan side, which by now was mostly full. The men and women were separated on either side of their stadium. But I was struck with how similar the Pakistani women looked to the Indian women. Where I expected to see a sea of black, instead I saw mostly colorful saris and kurtas. Most of their heads were covered, unlike on the India side, but I wouldn’t have been able to easily differentiate the crowd. It was strange to see a place that we read about so often in a negative context or hear of as a place of danger. At that moment they seemed just like the Indians that they used to be so close to.

Flags lowering, with Pakistan in the background

The absurdity continued with long high-stepping and fast paced marching.  It was like something you’d see in an over-acted Gilbert and Sullivan spectacular. Their movements were so highly choreographed and theatrical I wondered how they did it every day with a straight face.

The gates between the two countries were opened so each side could furiously untie their flag rope, as though doing it faster than the other was another sign of dominance.  As the flags came down both sides tried to drown out the other with their cheers.  And then, with a flourish, the gate was slammed shut as hard as they could do it.

As we walked out I saw a sign proclaiming: “Welcome to India, the World’s Largest Democracy.” There would always be another opportunity to try and make the Pakistanis feel inferior. I’m not sure which side ‘won’ (or whether anyone could actually win at a display of complete silliness), but I certainly enjoyed the effort.

(I didn’t get a great video of it, but here’s a link to a good one if anyone wants to witness the craziness:)

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When you’re out of breath, it doesn’t take a lot to take your breath away. But coming over the hill on the hike to Triund and seeing the snow-capped mountains of the Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas would certainly have had that effect on anyone.

A view from above of Dharamsala

I had arrived in Dharamsala the day before and stepping off the airplane was like entering another universe after time in Mumbai. Instead of the oppressive, dusty heat I was hit in the face with cool, crisp air and a view of mountains all around me. Everything was clean, the trees and flowers had changed from tropical to mountainous, and the people were no longer mostly Indian.

Dharamsala is most well known for being the home of the Dalai Lama and over 35,000 Tibetan refugees (number according to the Dalai Lama’s website), who moved here following the 1960 takeover of Tibet. The Tibetan government operates here in exile. Everything here feels far more Tibetan than Indian – Tibetan faces, Tibetan temples, Tibetan food, Tibetan prayer flags every way you turn. Monks in bright crimson robes walk past the backpackers and tourists without so much as a thought. When the Dalai Lama and his followers left the real Tibet they certainly created a convincing version here in India.

But beyond the cultural experience the most notable part of a visit to Dharamsala is the Himalayas – towering above the city, the Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas is a good layman’s viewpoint. Dharamsala boasts the ‘easiest’ hike to a Himalyan snow-line and we wanted to experience the world’s greatest mountain range.

A view of the mountains on the climb up

We set off in the morning with a rag-tag crew: myself and my two friends; a friend from Mumbai who also happened to be here this weekend with her friend; a guy I’d met at the airport; and a group of three we’d encountered at dinner.  Everyone wanted to hike and we figured we’d all take it in together. We began hiking and I was keen to not stay at the back of the pack – I am obviously not the best or most experienced hiker and I was worried from the get-go about rocky terrain and high elevation.

Hiking up!

But we moved slowly, taking in the scenery and stopping to gaze out at the beautiful view as we climbed higher and higher. At a few points along the way there were chai stalls where we could stop and have a break. We walked up and up – we started to feel we were getting close when we encountered a a snow covered area. My legs were starting to feel a bit like jelly but I wanted to continue on.

A few of us with our first snow sighting!

As the elevation grew and the slope became steeper I started to hope that the top was close. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could balance myself on varying rocks along the way and climb up. But just as I started to wonder how much further I’d have to go, I came over the top and saw the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas.

The sign letting us know wed arrived

We were at Triund, 2,827 meters above sea level. And the view in front of us was like something out of a postcard. I think I audibly gasped. One minute we had been climbing and then suddenly, there it was. Every step had been worth the journey.

A shop at the top of the hill was happy to sell us more chai and some noodles. The two men who ran it lived on Triund 10 months out of the year in nothing but a small hut. I wondered how they managed. A few dogs ran around, happily enjoying their surroundings. How could they not? It was as though we had escaped the rest of the world and all there was was the sight of the Himalayas.

The Himalayas and a happy dog

Eating our very well-deserved noodles

We could have gone further up to the snow-line, but clouds started coming in quickly and we decided that our view was quite spectacular enough. I had to admit I was relieved- as much as I’d wished they would, I wasn’t sure my legs would carry me up much further.

We came back down and had a hot bowl of Tibetan noodle soup. I felt victorious – we’d achieved what we’d set out to do. And beyond that it gave me a greater context to the Tibetan culture and their home away from home. I may not be able to comprehend the depth of their plight, but I do know one thing now: if you had to find a new home for a spiritual movement, this would certainly be an inspiring place.

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Our crew with our jeep

“We need to be taking this smaller car because it has more swang swang,” Dharmin said after rolling up in an open-air jeep instead of an enclosed van.

I didn’t really know what swang swang was (swing swing?) but I was certainly excited about the possibility of celebrating from the back of a jeep. We’d met Dharmin the day before when his taxi picked us up at the airport. When we told him we wanted to find a place to celebrate Holi with the locals the next day, he came prepared.

Happy and Holi-fied

Holi is a holiday that reminds me a bit of Halloween in that it has its roots in many religious and spiritual elements, but it has morphed into a day primarily to have fun and be a bit silly. It is alternately described as an agricultural festival to celebrate the arrival of spring and a commemoration of various events in Hindu mythology. Mostly though, it’s a day to celebrate life by throwing color on one other.

It sounds a bit crazy but it truly is primarily an excuse for people of all ages, castes and creeds to throw neon-bright powder or water onto their brethrens. And we were determined to celebrate even though we were outside the familiar confines of Bombay. We’d played a little bit early with some children in Varanasi. Now after spending a day in Khajuraho looking at temples we were ready to truly play Holi.

After our first round of Holi in Varanasi

Dharmin assured us he would bring us along while the local people played – after all, in a town of only 11,000 people he was a guide who knew any and everyone and could find us the right spot. We drove through small stone villages, divided up by caste, with water pumps determining the town center and houses painted bright colors. It was a distinct change from our usual lives in Mumbai and certainly from the crowded dirty streets of Varanasi. We started mostly by squirting colorful water from our jeep at people and exclaiming ‘Holi hey!’ as they smiled and waved back, but then some children finally caught up to us.

The Holi madness

In a flurry of water and color we exchanged multihued fire, patting powder on children’s faces as they squirted us with makeshift water guns fashioned from plastic bottles with holes cut into the tops. More children ran towards the action. They tried to involve puppies and baby goats as water buffalo slowly sauntered past the revelry. They’d trick us by asking for a little bit of our color and then laugh as they smashed it back onto our clothes and faces. I certainly got enough in my eyes and mouth to need a few moments of wiping.

Children coloring me as a water buffalo walks by

But the joy was palpable. The children’s laughter rang out at the hilarity of being allowed to not only throw something onto an adult, but being able to joke and play with some of their town’s ubiquitous gora tourists. You couldn’t help but laugh and laugh at the absurdity of seeing everyone colored head to toe with abandon.

A splash of color

As we drove back to our hotel, jeep swang swanging around the corners and with every crack and crevice now dyed a variety of colorful tints, we all felt exhilarated.We thanked Dharmin and his various friends who had joined us for allowing us to be a part of their Holi. Even after showering off, with bits of dye still clinging to our inner ears and elbows, it was hard not to giggle at the memory of our faces covered with colors of every shade.

Our Holi crew at the end of the day

There’s no holiday greater than those that extract pure delight from us all. Happy Holi. I hope to play again soon.

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There’s certainly nothing that makes you consider your own mortality more than viewing the body of a person who has died. But watching the continuous and never-ending Hindu process of dipping bodies into the sacred water of the Ganges and then burning them in order to further their soul in the rebirth cycle makes you reconsider your entire thought process surrounding mortality.

The Ganges at sunset

Being in Varanasi is like getting a crash course in one incredibly important cultural difference. There is no ritual more essential to human life than the way we bury our dead. And in the West we see death and burial and the afterlife in a wholeheartedly different way than people in the East do. One of the friends that I’m traveling with pointed out that its one of the biggest differentiators between East and West – we see life in a linear fashion. We are born, we live, we die, and we go to the afterlife, whatever that may be in our belief system. Time is moving forward. Hindus (and other Asian religions) believe in a cycle of rebirth in a more fluid version of time. This life is just one step in our long and winding journey to an eventual nirvana. And as such the burial process is incredibly different.

The crowded streets of Varanasi

Varanasi is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the World and it is the most auspicious and holy site for Hindus to purify themselves and, more significantly, to die. It is India at its most chaotic – its is crowded, dusty and filled with animals, shops, sellers, street children and pilgrims bathing in the holy (but undeniably filthy) water of the Ganges. It is at once overwhelming and awe-inspiring. You can stare at the sun rising over the water and feel intense calm and then moments later walk through a dense, dirty crowd packed in like sardines and feel as though the world is crashing in on you.

A man bathing on the Ganges at sunrise

We spent a lot of our time walking through the crowds and watching the bathers and pilgrims on the banks of the Ganges. But nothing hits you harder than witnessing the city’s famed burning ghats.

Every day hundreds of people from across India bring their dead, as quickly as possible, to the holiest place where their soul can re-enter the life cycle. While all Hindus are cremated, to be cremated in Varanasi after a final soak in the Ganges is the most preferable way to allow your soul to move on.

Our boat with the burning ghat in the background (as close as you can appropriately take a photo..)

We took a boat along the river in order to witness this holiest of rituals. In the main burning ghat family members wait as workers from an untouchable caste shroud and carry their deceased loved ones on a wooden platform down to the river. The bodies are then dipped in the river, covered in colorful cloth and adornments. After an hour to dry, the bodies are then placed in a pile of wood. The burning is an art – too much or too little wood can cause a body to burn improperly. Wealthy families can spend a small fortune purchasing the more expensive sandalwood and poor families can purchase a portion of the huge stacks cheaper wood. After being surrounded by wood the body is then burned over the course of two or three hours.

The scene is not overtly depressing – as a general rule only men come to watch the ritual because there is a fear that women would cry, thus disturbing the soul as it moves on. So men stand stoically for hours, watching as their wives or parents or friends are moved on to their next life. The eyes of tourists from the water or from buildings above do not seem to be intrusive – on the contrary, while tourists are not allowed to take photos (understandably) the waiting families often amuse themselves by taking photos of the watching white visitors. A dozen piles burn at once, each representing the entirety of one human’s life – but a life that their family believes will continue on into another.

As we slowly rode in our boat away from the burning ghat it was hard not to widen our view of humanity and the rituals that make each segment of humanity unique. To be so open with such an intimate portrait of a people is a unique experience for a visitor. It raises large questions and sears images into ones mind. It is like Varanasi itself – overwhelming and peaceful all together at once.

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The roads in India are different...

Driving in India is like playing a large and very real game of chicken. The roads are full of every kind of transportation imaginable: men on foot pushing carts give way to carts being led by buffalo; small pedal bikes are skirted by whole families perched on one motorcycle; small yellow Tata Nano cars get passed by larger Innovas which honk as they go around a gargantuan colorful Goods Carrier. And when they all share a two lane highway the result is like an elaborate dance sequence, with everyone mostly knowing their part until you get to the number that’s a little too complicated and the group hasn’t practiced enough. Two dancers are bound to make a wrong step and crash into each other.

My parents had been shocked throughout their trip by the insanity of the roads. But in Aurangabad the roads were even more precarious.

One of the caves at Ellora

We were in Aurangabad to see the Ajanta and Ellora caves. They’re a full plane ride from any other place worth seeing in India and my dad had been wondering throughout the course of the trip why we were leaving Delhi in order to go see some caves. The answer is very simple: these rock-cut ‘caves’ are magnificant. They are a combination of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain structures (they would be amazing just for detailing the relgious tolerance that existed in this part of India during that period). They all are large rooms, temples, and art carved out of sheer rockface from the 2nd century B.C. to the 10th century A.D. Ajanta, the older group, is renowned for its carvings and well-preserved paintings.

One section of Kailash Temple in Ellora

But Ellora holds the masterpiece: Kailash Temple, built from approximately 600 A.D. to 900 A.D. The temple was created by vertical excavation, meaning 200,000 tons of rocks were slowly chiseled from above to build and form a temple larger than the Parthenon. There are many levels and areas but in the center stands a gargantuan and intricately carved singular temple, made from just the one piece of rock left in the middle.  It is the largest monolithic structure in the world. It would be unbelievable to create today, but to that the whole thing was carved out of a mountain from above with only a chisel and hammer is truly staggering.

One of the ancient paintings of Ajanta

Of course, to get to these staggering, incredible feats of human artistry you have to drive along some pretty small and terrible roads. It was nerve-wracking to say the least. Our driver on the first day was a man with places to go and things to see. He swerved around in his large white Innova, honking to alert everyone in his path that he was going around them. Hairpin turns or traffic jams didn’t stop him. He only slowed down for potholes and cows, deftly braking while moving around them.  On our way to Ajanta – which is a much longer trip from Aurangabad than Ellora – we were secretly quite happy at all the time we had saved.

The infamous goods carrier truck

But on the way back, as the late afternoon sun started to dip towards sunset, he clearly was in a race of his own making. At one juncture in the road we saw a huge Goods Carrier truck trying to make a three point turn. It was stuck: every little motorcycle, every small car was trying to go past it as it turned and in essence it couldn’t move.

“No one is going to let that guy go!” my dad said, as we started approaching. But there was a large gap between the cars that had just passed and our car – and there was clearly the first window for the truck to move back. But our driver decided to make a go for it.

Unfortunately, so did the other driver.

Our sad smushed car

Sitting on the drivers side of the car, I saw it coming like in slow motion. He thought he could make it. He thought he could slickly pass beyond the truck and keep going at the pace to which he was accustomed. But the truck had seen his moment and he wasn’t letting it pass. They both played chicken and they both failed.

The truck came at us with a crunch. I let out a little yelp but thankfully none of us were hurt. The driver jumped out and we rolled down our window to look at the damage. The side of the car was badly dented and it couldn’t even open.

Immediately the conversations started between the truck driver, our driver and a few other men who had materialized out of nowhere to discuss the action. The drivers traded information and then the truck driver left. But our guy kept scheming with the men on the side of the road. We sat there, watching women working in the fields and cars driving by, and it started to seem like something was up.

“Sir? What’s happening?” I asked, even thought I knew he wasn’t listening and didn’t really speak English.
“Ek minute, ek minute,” (one minute, one minute), he replied, ignoring the fact that the sun was going down and we needed to get back to the hotel.

It started to seem like we were part of a cover-up.

After a few more minutes I called my friend D and asked if she could speak with the man in Hindi and get a sense of what was happening. The cover-up became clearer – he was waiting for paint. It was kind of hilarious that he thought paint would cover the big dent in his car. We didn’t want him to lose his job (he worked for our hotel) but on the other hand we didn’t want to be standing on the side of the road in the dark.

All of us in one of the Ajanta caves

We finally convinced him to go and we piled back into the car (not using our smashed door, of course), and made our way back to civilization. It was a fitting end to our travels – my parents had seen some of India’s greatest sights, met a lot of great people, gotten a little bit of food poisoning, and now had gotten into a roadside altercation. It doesn’t beat spending a year in the place, but it certainly was a good overview!

 

We’re all back in Mumbai now and it’s going to be very difficult to watch them go, but it’s been so wonderful to have them experience India. And at the very least we all came out unscathed!

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We drove around slowly looking every building up and down for some clue to the past. Twenty years is a long time in any Indian city to hope that traces of a particular taxi stand would still exist.

You see, we were on a literary adventure of sorts. I mentioned in my last post that my dad had become particularly enamored with a book about Delhi called City of Djinns (I’m now mostly through it and I really can’t put it down). While the book mostly focuses on Delhi’s history during the Mughal Empire it is sprinkled with stories of the writer’s present day experience. Woven through the book are stories of the various people he encountered including Balvinder Singh, a lothario taxi driver who provides humor and perspective to the story (My dad’s favorite line: ‘May your mustache never turn gray!”). He quickly became my dad’s favorite character.

And so he decided that we must find Balvinder Singh.

The magnificant Humayun's Tomb

The book was published in 1993 but the author’s year in Delhi was 1989, so I thought this was a bit of a fools errand. Beyond that, the only locational clue we had was that the taxi stand was at the back of the International Center (which gave the taxi stand its unintentionally hilarious name, ‘International Backside Taxis’). We’d spent the majority of our day in Delhi going to the main tourist sights: the Red Fort, Jama Masjid and Humayan’s tomb. And each one was spectacular and breathtaking. But after every stop my dad would say, “Ok, but lets not forget we have to find International Backside.”

A view of the Red Fort

So finally, as the day wore down and we were headed back to the hotel, we decided to give it a shot. Maybe Balvinder Singh and his father Punjab Singh were still running their business with the rest of the Singh family?  My dad thought that since the book had given us so much depth to the historical sights we were seeing – allowing us to imagine the feel of each place during its time of Emperors and great architecture, war and prosperity – we should also want to give life to the details of the modern elements of the book.

As we drove around we finally spotted the International Center; it felt like a large victory until we realized that there didn’t appear to be a ‘backside’. We took a left and then another left to see if there was anything on the other side – in this particular area of Delhi the blocks stretched on and as we drove around I started to get the sense that maybe the whole area had been changed too much. Maybe one of the beautiful bungalows we were looking at had required razing the local taxi stand to the ground. We came back around the corner, deciding that we would stop into the International Center and show them the book to see if they knew anything. But as soon as we had made this new plan, my dad suddenly shouted out: “Stop, stop! There’s a taxi stand, look!”

I couldn’t believe it – down a very small gravelly alleyway, in the midst of a posh road in Delhi was a small line of old black and yellow Ambassador taxis with a group of Sikh men sitting around on stools drinking chai. We stopped the car and my dad jumped out.  He opened his book to a page detailing Balvinder Singh and held it up to one of the men, who had stood up and walked over in his curiosity. Our driver (who probably thought we were crazy) got out to translate. They talked animatedly until the man nodded his head and walked away.

Showing the book

He came back with another older man, who spoke a bit of English. He wore a bright orange turban and was missing most of his front teeth.

“You are looking for a Singh?” he asked. My dad explained about the book and that Balvinder and his father Punjab were characters. The man squinted and looked at the pages of the book, as though some person was going to spring to life right out of its type. He laughed.

“Very interesting this book!,” he replied, indicating that he was well aware of the Singh family. And he had an update on everyone.

Dad and his many new friends

“Punjab is died three months ago. Very sad. Balvinder moving to Canada about ten years ago. The other Singh brothers is now driving taxis in South Delhi. But they used to be working right here.”

I was astonished. We may not have been able to meet the Singhs, but we were able to extricate them from the page – we saw with our own eyes the taxi stand described so frequently in our newly beloved book and we had a twenty-year-later update on a family that until moments ago remained vaguely fictional.

My dad and the man continued to try and chat – talking about chai, their ages and Ambassador cars. Eventually we said thank you, shook every single cab driver’s hand, and got back in the car.

I don’t know why it was so thrilling – perhaps being able to bring to life a person from a book that had so effectively brought old Delhi to life made everything we had read seem so much more tangible. If Balvinder Singh could be real, couldn’t I better picture Shah Jehan listening to an audience of subjects in the Red Fort? Or perhaps even trapped in the Agra Fort by his bloodthirsty son Aurangzeb?  Could I suspend my imagination and see Chandni Chowk with elephants strolling down its length and shopkeepers selling their wares at a time when the buildings looked new and fresh?

It was just a small slice of Delhi – and yet for us, the city seemed a little bit more knowable.

 

(Addendum: A lot of people have written and asked how my mom is feeling after her sojourn with Delhi belly: She is completely fine now! Back to her old self and enjoying the rest of the trip)

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