Waking up around midday after a fitful sleep, I ordered in a terrifically bland Palak Paneer from the restaurant on the roof of the hotel. Nice place, with a view of the area and plants all about the place, but rubbish food and service. No matter.
When I finally ventured out into the madness that is PaharGanj, I was greeted by not less than five drug pushers in a 20-minute time period of walking up and down. “Hey man, still in Delhi?” Yes, and you don’t know me. “Yo, you smoke hash?” No. “Hey man, where you from? I can get you anything man, hash, H, E, you name it.” I’m from New Zealand, now go away. Etc.
Admittedly I only spent a short time on those streets, but I felt like everyone, whether their business was legit or not, had nothing but rupees on their mind. I stopped and talked to a couple of shopkeepers, and in both cases I didn’t detect any flicker of genuine empathy in their eyes. It was all patter, all opening lines and techniques and always-be-closing, in a way that is hard not to admire because it’s so slick but puts you at such a distance from them as a person. I came to India because I’d been told it was a far more open culture than pretty much anywhere I’ve been but especially Japan; here in PaharGanj, with the dozens of sets of eyes that never smile, I felt like a true outsider, like I wasn’t really welcome.
After a few moments of embarrassing, Kit Moresby-esque mania in my hotel room (brought on by the prospect of having to stay a lot longer than 2 days here, which was looking likely but thankfully didn’t eventuate), I started to get the hang of social interactions and how to get things done. By the end of that second day, I felt like I could cope here for as long as I needed to, but it required a closing off of the more loving parts of my heart in order to remain on top of things. Several folks on the train and in Bangalore would go on to tell me that my instincts were pretty much right, that life in Delhi is quite different from most other Indian cities and that you do have to regard pretty much everything with a suspicious eye. Shame.
Onto the train, then, which I had been looking forward to so much. Nearly 40 hours, well over 2000km, all in a packed air-conditioned space! Ahh, this is real travel. I was lucky enough to sit with a group of men who, in various ways, were extremely friendly and open people. They asked me many questions about New Zealand, about Japan, about my purpose for being in India. I noticed in these men that they were able to be honest, genuine, completely open and friendly despite rarely offering a smile. It’s all in the eyes.
One was a Swami of the Sivananda Order, based in Ajjampura, and he very quickly saw through my happy veneer to the unease rumbling beneath. I had a lot on my mind about things I won’t detail in here, and it was written all over my face and body language, no matter how many times I extolled the virtues of being in India. “Too much feel,” he said. “I think you have too much feel. No feel, no worry.” And then, with a calming gesture of both hands lightly falling, “everything is clearing”. Again, this man rarely smiled, but he had an aura of positivity and simple calm that affected everyone around him. I asked him if he had any brothers or sisters; he replied, “No. Before I did, but now, no… you are brother. He (points to another man in the carriage) is brother. She is sister. Everyone.” He gave me his phone number and address and instructed me to come and see him. I think I will.
The hours – well, days – passed swiftly thanks to Swamiji and my other companions’ ideal attitudes. I got sick, a sickness in the bowel which has only just passed, but I didn’t care – I was experiencing India as I’d hoped I would, and that came as such a relief after that brief episode in Delhi. To Bangalore, then, and even more positive experiences to be detailed soon…