Delhi in the Evening (India Blog 3)


India Blog Three: Delhi in the Evening

5 December. Wednesday. 3:00 AM. I have developed a sore throat and I think it is from being a little cold on the plane. And the flimsy blanket they gave me was not enough. After that long march through the airport, my T-shirt was damp from perspiration. That is one of the perils of travel. I woke up now at three in the morning, but got a good sleep since last evening. I am feeling much better. I was quite out of it yesterday.

Man! I am not sold on this society. It seems that so many people are trying to leech off of you. Not everybody. But almost. But maybe I can handle it better coming from Turkey than if I was just fresh from the USA. I think that is probably the case.

I was able to shoot a roll of film in the evening yesterday, with a minimum of molestation. But one must be very careful walking on the uneven pavements and curbs. All of the surroundings are quite rough.

I crossed the big street over to the old Regal Cinema Building. There is an underpass, but I did not realize it at first. There is massive traffic on these streets now, so it is not easy to cross without using the underpass. Almost all are cars, with a few auto rickshaws. There are no old pedal rickshaws now in this area of Connaught Place, that I can see.

I walked and made some evening pictures under the lights. But some of the white lights are just too bright. The old Kwality Restaurant was starting but customers started coming around eight o’clock. So I decided to wait. I walked around to the other side of the building. There is a new Punjabi Restaurant on the corner called Pind Baluch. That place keeps changing. It was a sports bar ten years ago, when I was in Delhi. They have a door-man dressed in a turban and robe. The place looks expensive, but that is deceptive. Perhaps expensive by Indian standards. Middle class.

I could not see any sign of the old Gaylords Restaurant. Is it still there? It used to be close to that cinema. I went there the first night that I was in Delhi in June 1968.

But that was nothing like the scene now. A lot of markets are set up in the evening outside. They are selling woollen things, like sweaters, that look good. They must be cheap. However, I am not in the market for them.

I walked farther, and there the place has really turned into massive saffronization, I can say. There was a whole array of shops selling sweets and Hindu bric-a-bac. It was colorful and a good night for pictures, even black and white. I do not use a flash. I am pushing black and white film for evening shots.

People were walking and sitting around everywhere. Lone individuals too. They stake out a place for themselves on the pavement, making something or selling something, trying to live. Somehow or other, I would say.

In the daytime, young guys just set up a small stand along the walkway, selling something. Things like golies or other sweets or food. Also drinks. That’s what the economy has produced, it seems.

They are part of the surplus army of this society. Karl Marx understood the future.

Back to the night scene. I walked there and took pictures without being heckled much or harassed. As one walks around, some guys or women call out to you, saying “hello” or something. One can just ignore them. What can they do when one does not respond? When one acts deaf and dumb. So that is what I did. I took several pictures of the street shops. There was generally not enough light to take pictures of the people. One needed a flash. But I don’t think that it would be very easy to use there.

Near that old Bobby’s corner, where the restaurant is now, a guy and his friend asked to make a picture with me. I didn’t mind. Another guy took the picture with his cell phone. Cell phones are the only cameras that I have seen here, so far. No one seems to use film. But I know that there are a few in India that do. It is next to impossible to find in India.

After that, I asked to take a picture of these guys. It was a good chance, and one cannot do it with everybody. Sometimes I wait and get a shot of someone that I want. If I am lucky. And they do not even know. That is what I want. Candid shots. I pretend to be taking a photo of something else. That generally works. Last evening, so much was happening there that few people were noticing me moving around to frame shots.

The masses are eating cheap things off the street from all kinds of small vendors.

I finished the roll of film and went to the old Kwality Restaurant. This restaurant has been upgraded, since I was here ten years ago. Now there is an upstairs section. It is elegant inside. There are framed black and white pictures along the walls. Historical pictures of figures who have eaten there. So it has some taste. Some people started coming in after eight o’clock. There is a door-man. Maitre de? He takes one in and shows them a place.

I ordered a beer. A kingfisher. It is from Mohan Meaken. I asked the waiter about Golden Eagle Beer, from the same company. He said that it had disappeared 20 to 25 years ago. That shows how up to date I am! But this was not the big 650 ml bottles. It was one-third liter. I love the bigger ones, that I found later in other restaurants.

A couple of groups came into the restaurant. A young attractive women came in hot pants and bare legs, with her boyfriend, of course.

The other group was more upscale. The women were generally attractive. I could partly overhear the conversation. They speak more English than Hindi, but it is a mixture. I clandestinely took pictures of both groups.

I ordered a type of chicken curry in a sauce. I didn’t know how it would come out, but the chicken were without bones in the spicy sauce. I had two nans with it. I should have had the puffy puris, but the nans were actually delicious. I had two beers with the meal and then decided to have another beer. Most meat dishes are are around 500 rupees, less than ten dollars. So not expensive. I lingered over the third beer. It was around 125 rupees for a beer. They added a service charge, but I gave a tip anyway.

I realize that I need to change more money. I got 65 rupees to a dollar at the airport, but it was not a very good rate. It hardly matters with the amounts that I will spend. The whole bill was around 1600 rupees, around twenty-five dollars. But it is a nice elegant place with class. More so than in the past, it seems. The food was excellent.

On the way back to the hotel, I bought some bottles of water, just twenty rupees each. I saw the old book store there that I visited ten years ago. But it looks quite run down now.

A little further on was a restaurant, that would be quite cheap. It looked like a good place, but there was a crowd outside waiting for seats. Further on were some small restaurants and a place that advertised money change. I don’t know if these places are legal or not. One has to have a receipt to change money back to dollars when leaving.

When I was going out of the hotel earlier, the clerk called up someone. I understood that he said he was an American, but I misunderstood. He was an Indian. Then he gave the phone to me. When I answered, the guy asked: “What do you want?”

I had not asked for anything, really.

I said: “Peace, Love and Brotherhood. But the world is not going in that way.”

But it wasn’t exactly what the guy was asking for. He wanted to pitch me tours. That was his angle.

He said: “Agra, Varanasi and so on.”

I told him that I was not interested. I had been to those places before. I guess that it was a mistake, but I told him that I was going to Kolkata. He asked me how. I said “by plane.” It was OK to talk to him. The good thing is that people speak English. But now, they are angling for a way to hook you for a profit. They seem to think that one just lands in the country with no agenda and they can just arrange travel on the spot. It may be the case with quite a few people.

If I wanted a tour to those places, I could arrange it myself. I would have already arranged it. I am not that naive! Oh well! Those are my midnight ramblings.

On the street, this country is interesting, partly because it is so impossible. So impossible. One sees how so many efforts at improvements have just fallen by the wayside. It turns every effort to dust, it seeems. People just go their own ways to the temples and gurus. There are endless markets for those. And a Prime Minister who is a rank communalist. I don’t pretend to know anything about Modi and Hindu Fascism. It is so thick everywhere that one could cut it with a knife. I pose as a naive tourist.

It was a hell of a day. I talked to a lot of people. Too many people know English.