Culture & Conversation

Old ideas, new Delhi


So my cellphone claims that I was actually in Pakistan. Let me explain: I bought a French SIM card in order to have a cheaper European number throughout my trip. But every time I cross a border, the cellphone knows and sends me a text with new pricing for calls, area codes and dialing instructions for each country.  As I was flying over Iran and Pakistan, it suddenly texted a “welcome to Pakistan” message. This is not going to help my security file.

Anyway, with the plane change I had very little time to alert everyone of my new arrival time. Of course, I relied on the most dyslexic person I know, my father, to convey the message to the family when to pick me up from the airport. Just in case, I thought I should look for them first.  So I popped outside the airport to look for them. But the problem with the Delhi airport though is that once you leave, even if it is for five seconds, you are not allowed to come back.  I had no Indian currency, no phone number, a dead cellphone, and let’s just say that Delhi right now is not the place of brotherly love and good will.

Finally, a long while later, a group of Punjabi men offered to help me out by letting me use their cellphones to call my father in Canada. I asked him for the address so I could take a cab in Delhi. My father screams, “No! Under no circumstances leave the aiport. They will get you.”

I eventually find a working bank machine. With some convincing, I am allowed to reenter the airport, but without my luggage. I have visions of dying on the street in Delhi.

My cousin turns out to be a wonderful woman, as is her husband and the family. Very compassionate in a country that needs compassion, and very accomplished yet humble at the same time. They give biscuits to the beggars, especially the children on the ride home. They explain that if you give money, you might be giving money to a beggars racket. But biscuits are something that the children always need.

We talk about the problems that women on the street face in Delhi and the recent story about the woman who was gang raped and murdered on the bus. Instead of New Year’s celebrations, the restaurants are closing and encouraging people to go to the vigils in different neighbourhoods asking for justice for the woman and better protection for women on the street. Many people are seeking simple solutions: hang the perpetrators. Others are asking deeper questions: how do we treet women and girls? As one woman said, “Why do we think that sexual harassment is just normal, like bad weather or traffic?”

There are a lot of men at the vigil because many woman will simply not go out in Delhi at midnight. My cousin’s husband accompanies me, and he is very kind and supportive. It is difficult for the organizers to get women to the front of the rally, in spite of the slogans that say “The day belongs to us, the night belongs to us sisters.”

The next day we go to a street theatre organizing by the Communist Party Marxist in a village close to Delhi.  In India, the Communist Party is not a bunch of freaks who want to convert you to dialectic materialism, but a grassroots organization that does a lot of organizing amongst the poor and has some states ruled by it. Every year, they perform a play in the same village square named after an incident where a street actor was killed by police. His widow participates in the play. It was a bit didactic, but sometimes creative. And it was nice to be in the village and to understand what people were doing in Delhi.

While most people would rather lie on a beach and relax on their vacation, Sujata Dey, political attaché and freelancer, decided the time was right to orchestrate a multi-country tour through Paris, Munich, Vienna, Budapest, Bucharest, Istanbul, Sharjah, UAE and Delhi mostly by train. Come back to check future posts from Sujata as she makes her way through great train stations far and wide.

You can read 12 Commandments of Travel here.

  • 5 Responses to “Old ideas, new Delhi”

    1. Donovan King

      Sounds like an amazing adventure, filled with social activism to boot! I like the idea of giving biscuits to begging children instead of money because there are a lot of unethical rackets in India involving "baksheesh", including rumours I heard when I was travelling there of desperate families intentionally mutilating/handicapping children to transform them into more sympathetic beggars. New Delhi is a crazy, yet fascinating place, and I wish the author all the best in her adventures! Be safe, have fun, and I look forward to more stories from the road!!

    2. everglades safari

      Brilliant idea!!! Sujata I appreciate you for this great writing as well. I was seeking forward tyo know about this special thinking. Thanks the head up!!!!!!

    3. Elli Braines

      I read from a friend's sojourn that traveling the public transport system of India is being one with its people. There is a certain charm where we are at its heart and soul.


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