Monday, August 14, 2006


By definition, the capital of a country of almost a billon inhabitant cannot (and will not) be a pleasant site, I knew that, but besides my wishes, New Delhi was the place to obtain Pakistani and Chinese visas. Being the Indian Himalayas, where I had already spent two weeks, a culturally diverse region I comforted myself by saying that now, traveling southwards, with the unforgiving heat of the plains growing closer, I was in an exploratory mission. Thinking ahead, I imagined an overpopulated metropolis, poorer than Cairo maybe, and surely with more rickshaws and street cows. But I was being distracted by frivolous differences. New Delhi, the heart of the beast, was going to let me with recurrent fantasies of a trip to a South Pacific Island as Cook or Tokelau.

I had always read travel guide authors empting the dictionary when time comes to describe how hospitable Turks, Kurds and Iranians are. En route through such grounds I had found comments of the kind fair, and I had started to such amount of generous adjectives wouldn’t have sense without any of the neighboring countries being hostile or at least sensibly less inclined to help strangers. With its widely acclaimed pacifism and spirituality, India ranked as the applicant less likely to incarnate such eventuality. And yet, I am convinced, acknowledging all what the country has to offer in terms of culture and history, India is, as regards hospitality, the element that allows for the contrast.

After such a categorical statement I know some of you will be wanting proves. It may be enough to remember the rickshaw driver who, on learning that I wouldn’t pay him seven times the fare of my trip, preferred having a nap to driving me for the real price. Or shall I evoke that friendly local who, seeing the coming bus that we should both board overloaded with passengers hanging from the doors as bunches of banana, sent me to the wrong one and literally ran towards the correct one. In any case, it’s their poker face and deep apathy what now, with hundreds of Iranians and Afghans still mimicking invitations for tea in my retina, makes me miss Muslim countries.

Having said this, I must make clear that no specific resentment towards foreigners operates in Indian people, but they are rather democratic: they treat you as bad as they treat each other. The whole picture is both sad and comic, that of a nation regenerating daily their own suffering. Saying that Delhi inhabitants have an unchallenged capacity to turn unnecessary stressing the simplest events of everyday life would be to oversee far more alarming aspects. We are not expecting the vendors of the Paharganj Bazaar to throw their rubbish in the bin, because the haven’t been taught the trick, but then it’s funny to see them throwing rotten fruit in front of their stands and chasing tha happy flies with giant fans soon after. In fact, the average Indian seems to take an immense pleasure in being in close contact with filthiness. When the first monsoon rains hit Delhi, the narrow main street of the bazaar became an Olympic pool size swamp, and mother tenderly waved their children who set off to play and swim, dodging if lucky the open drainage mouths, where hundreds like them drawn every year. By night, control of the area shifts to gangs of rabid looking dogs (one of which sharpened his teeth with my right ankle) and homeless sadus (holy men, most of the times disguised beggars) whse only friends are those dogs.

It turned an immediate question to me, where does the famed spirituality of India comes from? After only two months in the country I am less than qualified to write an essay about the issue, but I suspect it has more to do with the spiritual vacuum of western new agers than with prevailing local state of facts. Many of the travelers I come across arrive to India with an a priori fascination and rapidly derive spirituality from the polychromatic simplicity of life. As for me, I still can’t find any depth in the abundance of incense and the mechanical worship of Shivas and Kalis. I am the first one to admire India for its theoric developments in the course of history, but it is quite obvious that little of that wisdom has filtered to present days. No need to say it is the of yoga and meditation, of the clever assets who wrote the Uppanishads, but this bulge of knowledge seems reserved for a tiny learned minority.

My arrival to Delhi overlapped with the Bombay blasts. Thousands of Indian in the streets stopped harassing each other to watch the news and vengefully exclaimed: “Pakistani people!” In the aftermath of the tragedy, even the noses of the street cows were pointing across the border, and the temptation to strike back was stirred by the contiguity with which TV channels broadcasted Israeli retaliation in Southern Lebanon. That’s within comprehension, but I am still trying to understand how can Indians ride in panic when the death toll is caused by the enemy and be so indifferent to the much higher number of casualties caused by their sole negligence. The supporters of spiritual unearthly India should have a closer look at statistics, and learn about the thousands of cases of parents murdering their newborn daughters to avoid paying hefty marriage “taxes” in the future. As women are considered worthless, the family of the bride has to pay thousands of dollars in compensation to that of the groom for taking their daughter. That also explains why pre-born analysis is forbidden in India. The slightest hint that it is going to be a girl is enough to result in abortion.

In perspective, levels of internal aggression, silenced and accepted, seem to more than enough to stop speaking at once about a land of mystic tolerance. The pacific strategy of Gandhi to drive the British away was emotive. Yet, I wonder, wouldn’t they value more the consequences of their actions had they had to fight for independence? In any case, any attempt of to understand Indian indifference requires looking further back at the emergence of the cast system. The cast system must be the most efficient social control device in history. In this way, the exploited low casts comfort in their misery, and those who receive the legal minimum wage of 7 dollars a month don’t blame anyone, but just believe that they are going through the punishment for bad actions committed in past lives. In India, logically, it’s more realistic to expect advancement from reincarnation rather than from the less than flexible social frame. While the higher casts –the businessmen, or waisha- continue to base their wealth in the management of an underpaid working class, the future remains hazy. Cows are, by far, the ones who result always unscathed from the struggle of Indian existence. The Hindus consider them the second mother of all India, since their milk replaces the mother’s breast. This turns them into untouchable beings who dwell victoriously around the city, smelling at the sign of Indira Gandhi International Airport, as if claiming the few areas not yet under their realm. Being native from Buenos Aires province, where probably the best steak in the world comes from, I can only regret so many cows are not on the right side of the fence (and in the menu).

After two weeks of waiting for Pakistani and Chinese visas to be issued, for anti rabies vaccines to be shot in my arm, and for Delhi citizens to show a more kind side, I left the city for the far North. The Buddhist valleys of Kinnaur, Spiti and Nubra – and the highest roads in the world- were waiting for me.

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