Ladies and gentlemen,
I know you expect me to start with apologies, so first of all, I’ll apologize just so that I meet your expectations. But let me tell you this one…As you all know, relocating to India wasn’t my first relocation ever. I’ve gone through it already when our family has emigrated to US. And it seems like all these moves around the globe follow the certain pattern, where at the beginning you feel the absence of your dear ones the most, whereas everything is odd and strange at your new place. Little by little you acclimatize with a couple of weird things changing their status to normal every day. Before you know it you surround yourself with a network of new acquaintances which grows exponentially (yeah…you know me ), nonetheless the bandwidth of your communication device remains the same and if you spend time with your new network, somehow the communication traffic has to be restricted otherwise. And whether you want it or not, your connection to the old world slowly becomes thinner and thinner. Plus, believe it or not, but I’ve already acclimatized to India so much, that slow pace of life became a norm to me (I’m sure this would be the hardest one for you to digest ). I sleep more, I eat slower, I walk rather then run everywhere (maybe I’m just getting old and don’t want to admit it…just yet) and at the end I barely have time to write my reports. Plus, on top of that all I’ve got myself involved in theatrical activities lately, and last two months were pretty much packed up with numerous rehearsals which finally culminated in two shows last week…but yes, I know you’ve been waiting long enough for this report and aren’t quite interested in reading my revelations at mount Bangalore which would shed some light on why the heck it took me so long again
This time it was scorching hot Delhi, even hotter and dustier Kanpur with Punjabi wedding at night, Lower Himalayan range and finally almost Tibet, northern-most tip of India, close to China, Afghanistan and real Chinese Tibet. I think it would be brutal both for you and for me to have everything in one report, so most likely I’ll break it into chapters.
My journey began on bright and early Sunday morning. The flight was scheduled for departure at 7:45AM but since the previous night was full of different interesting events which kept me awake till about 4:30AM (like Italy vs. USA world cup game which started at 12:30am and finished at 2:30AM or last minute packing) I barely made it right before the gates closed. Leaving home at 7:05 AM and crossing the gates at 7:28 to take off at 7:45 was exciting to say the least. Just a little over 2 hours later, I got out of the plane to step into a gigantic oven. I must say, people have warned me about Delhi weather around this time of the year. But if picture is worth thousand words, reality is worth thousand pictures and here I was, getting baked alive in that oven. Strangely enough, I was coping with the heat pretty successfully and only realized how hot it was when a friend of mine who’s just arrived from NYC, told me how she could barely survive the temperatures. Well, we were lucky to miss the worst of the worst – usual May temperatures of 50C (not Fahrenheit, mind you ) . By June it’s already started to cool down, and so air temperature was only about 5-6 degrees above the normal body temperature. Not that bad.
We spent the day visiting Old Delhi and its historical and architectural highlights, Red Fort and Jamma Masjid. Both were built by Shah Jahan. Who is it? The same guy, who became famous for his other palace, namely “Via Agra - Man's greatest Erection for a Woman” (as one of the T-shirts in those tourist shops stated). The name Red Fort comes from the massive red sandstone walls, some up to 110 feet high, which surround this outstanding piece of Mughal architecture. The palace is made of white marble and decorated in gold and precious stones. Shah Jahan's throne lay in the middle of the palace, and on the ceiling above was written in gold lettering "If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this." Apparently Shah Jahan was famous for his humbleness, with the rest of the Indians to follow, proudly considering Red Fort to be one of the most magnificent palaces in the world. I suppose that’s because they haven’t seen Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Though frankly speaking, the whole structure is pretty impressive. And more so due to the contrast between the shabby, dirty and extremely congested market area adjacent to the Fort which makes it stand out even more than it would if the streets where wide and clean and the density of population per square yard/meter were at least a bit lower.
We didn’t go inside Jamma Masjid, but from outside it looks very grand too. White marble makes it light and elegant and hard to believe that 5000 people were involved in that construction.
With all the grandeur of Shah Jahan’s monuments, my first impression of Old Delhi wasn’t bright at all: a giant waste basket, enormously dirty, congested and hot. Somewhat similar to Bombay, only hotter and not as humid (well, temperatures compensate for that absence of humidity and you slowly evaporate anyway). But if Bombay stands out with its wide shady and spacious streets and general infrastructure built by British, Old Delhi has neither wide streets, nor infrastructure (nor tree shades). Looking at my newly arrived friend I couldn’t help it but smile thinking about myself going through the same shock when I’ve landed in India in October 2004. This disappointment with the capital of the second largest nation in the world, however, lasted only till we descended to underground to take Delhi metro. The contrast was probably even more intense than that of Red Fort and surrounding market area. With the first line being launched just over 3 years ago, this is a certain masterpiece of Indian public transportation system. Fully air-conditioned, impeccably clean, embellished with marble and granite … Everything is so nice, quiet and clean, you can’t believe you’re still in India. Perhaps only numerous security guards wearing turbans still remind you of where you are. The token price depends on the distance, and you have to swipe it both upon entry and exit, just like in Washington DC. The fares are a bit more expensive than the bus ones (we paid 8 rupees each, that is about 17 cents for a few stops ride) but they’re worth every single rupee. I think during 10-15 minutes we’ve spent underground, I’ve mentioned it about 1000 times, how much I liked what I saw. From the beautiful and cooling marble and granite floors and walls, to quiet escalators, to spacious train cars and enough room for everybody (in India??!!), to people actually speaking English (unlike those on the streets, even the ones who look pretty decent), to no difference between the temperatures at the train station and inside the train, to electronic map in the cars to show you were you are…and yes, absolutely no dirty homeless and beggars. Sounds like the place to be . We got thoroughly checked by metal detectors and our bags by security guards before we were even allowed to swipe our tokens. Yes, unfortunately in Northern India and especially in big cities chances of terrorism are higher then in Southern India.
Among the most memorable impressions of my first day in Delhi was the vista of sunset. I love sunsets, and my collection of pictures is full of red fire-balls going down into the waters or mountains. This fire-ball however wasn’t red or even orange. It was bright yellow, it was descending into some grey-yellowish haze and to our great disappointment, it didn’t take the heat of the day along with it.
I stopped in Delhi on my way back to Bangalore, and this time it was mostly New Delhi, and a totally different package of impressions. I couldn’t stop clicking my camera at empty roads. Traffic and noise pollution which is an integral part of life in Bangalore (at least between 8am and 11pm, literally don’t exist in New Delhi. The roads impressed me almost as much as Delhi metro. Wide, in good condition, they leave NYC roads pretty far behind. Moreover, just roads can make the whole city outlook totally different: spacious and structured, no congestion or dirt to be seen.
This time around I was lucky to meet my Russian friend, and so we spent time exploring the “Russian” Delhi: Russian restaurant (the one and only in Delhi), Tolstoy street in the very center of Delhi (yes, Indians are big fans of Russian literature) and Russian bazaar where the assortment of goods is that to satisfy needs of Russian shoppers (fur and leather and all kinds of precious and semi-precious stones). Obviously, fur looks pretty awkward especially when the outside temperature hovers somewhere above 40C (105F), but this is not the only awkward thing you get to see at the market. Indians shop-keepers speak Russian, you see Russian books in the shops and Russian signs on the doors. All these almost made me smell kolbasa in the air . For those of you who get to enjoy the luxury of Russian culture so close, it probably would be difficult to understand my excitement, but I was literally jumping up and down feeling oh, so nostalgic about Russian bread, books and music...and cold weather too. This time around it seemed to be even hotter and stickier outside, than it was in late June. Maybe it had to do with me coming from cool and crispy Himalayan air at 3500m above sea level (that is about 11000 ft). The truth of the matter is, that monsoon was supposed to arrive on July 1st, and bring so sought-after rains and freshness, but just like about everything else in India it was late, and so I got to go through roasting and melting and evaporating circles of inferno again.
At this point I’ll stop and wait for your questions.
Some of you were asking me about theater activities, and so if you’re interested I can postpone the reports about the rest of travels up north and write something about our performances.
P.S. I am attaching four pictures. The process of choosing the ones to present as a Delhi show-case was long and painful, but at the end I decided to go for more personal ones. I’m sure you can always find excellent pictures of Red Fort and Jamma Masjid and even Delhi metro on the net, yet you won’t find Anya sitting almost inside that police car with the coolest and funniest ever sign on it .
Try to pay attention to details. They matter anywhere of course, but even more so in India. The names of the pictures speak for themselves. View from Sheldon Hotel was taken in Old Delhi, the rest - in New Delhi. Finally Sun&Clouds was taken by India gate, a local version of "Arc-de-Triomphe", a war memorial, which commemorates the 70,000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the British Army during the First World War