Early Morning Reflections (India Blog 5)

India 2: Early Morning Reflections (India Blog 5)

6 December. 3:30 AM. Thursday. This guy in the next room is snoring incredibly loud. I have been hearing it since I woke up around 2:30. It even disturbs me here in my room. The walls must be pretty thin, for sure.

Yesterday, I was accosted by a woman on the street claiming that she wanted help for children in Bangladesh. Sure enough, she presented a petition of sorts. She claimed that several foreigners had signed it. I saw names and “USA” beside the names. But I didn’t examine it closely.

First, she said: “No Money. Just sign.”

I said: “How will my signature help?” I said that I don’t have any information about it. I didn’t sign and just started walking away. Then she asked for some money. I am sure that if I had signed it, she would have hooked me for some money for sure. Bangladesh, my ass. How would I know if this is anything legitimate? Probably a scam. Why not? Is Bangladesh more needy than India? Where are the signatures of Indians? Anyway, I have no way of knowing, so it would be foolish to give money. If you just walk away, they will not follow you.

She was operating in Paharganj, where a lot of foreigners hang out.

Then I went a little way out of the main street. There were vegetable markets there. A old guy with a white beard came holding a round metal container in one hand. He asked me for money. I thought, Okay. I will give him twenty rupees. But he wouldn’t take it. “One-hundred rupees,” he said. It was like he was bargaining about how much I would give. Then I heard him say: “Five-hundred rupees.” And “why the hell should I give you five-hundred rupees when I know nothing about you and have never seen you before?” I thought.

Another guy wanted to shine my shoes. I had just had them shined, so I was not interested. He said: “Oh, just brush them for twenty rupees.” I said: “They don’t need it, but here is twenty rupees, anyway.” And I walked away. There was no need to waste my time with that. Some kids there just call to you: “Money.” It seems that the foreigners have got them trained in that part of Delhi. They have trained a new generation of beggars.

It is hardly different from “Go Fund Me” on the internet, I must say. That is just high-tech begging. The Western form. Welcome to corporate capitalism. So-called neoliberalism. A new form, when today’s capitalist economies will not provide jobs for many people. At least not the kind that they can tolerate.

So everybody is out for something. But it is unfortunate because after a while, one starts to see everyone who approaches you as wanting something from you. Their friendliness is just feigned to put a hook into you and get something out of you. It is not always that way, but one starts to get that impression. It is because they have actually been spoiled by the foreigners that stay down there in Pahargunj.

I didn’t find the beggars as bad as in Hyderabad, but maybe it was because I was with some American women there. And here, they see that I am busy taking pictures and don’t want to be bothered. It is an institution. Giving will just perpetuate and strengthen it. Probably, there is no solution that the government or anyone can reach. Not under the current system. Sometimes, one feels that Indira Gandhi had the right idea. Mass Sterilizations. There is something to be said for corporatism in such a dire situation. Probably that is what it would take. And it would necessarily be cruel. Some way to control the population. Over population. It is actually not a myth, as one realizes in India. It cannot be said that it is not a problem here.

Most people are forced to deal with it by just looking the other way. It is the only way to cope with it.

I think some type of corporatist rule from the top would be the only way to approach it. Not what they call “democracy” now. I hate to say that, but perhaps it is true. Where are they going? Where have they gone? Everybody with their own car or auto rickshaw or even bicycle just clogs up all the roads.

The mass production of sub-standard individuals who have little or no education. Even the rats have to struggle less than the people to survive here. They are exporting labor. The cheap kind and some of the expensive kind, in the form of doctors and professors.

There must be some limit. Escaping to the USA is not the right thing, either.

I admit that it is bad to come to the country and take pictures for two weeks, like in a zoo, and then get out. Maybe it is wrong. I don’t know. But I didn’t create the situation. Actually, I spent two years of my life thinking that I might do something worth while in this country.

It was all illusion. Nonsense. I don’t know if anyone really believed in that. The so-called “Peace Corps.” I don’t know. The Peace Corps officials were just getting a job and a chance to travel and live abroad. A good deal while it lasted. Nehru knew that it was a joke but did not want to displease Jack Kennedy and his brother in law, Shriver. He had upper class manners and played along.

With all the recent economic growth in India, people, masses of them, are now just eking out a tiny living. The economy goes up. Everything else seems to go south.

Except in rich, elite, families. The only decent-looking young women and girls are those not yet hit by the tragedy of marriage.

But it is still a hell of an interesting society.

I read a few things in the Hindustan Times, and old newspaper. The government is now setting up cow shelters. Well, one generally does not see them on the streets here, like in Varanasi. It seems like the Modi Government is doing more for cows than for people. What a society! It has just happened in some village not far from Delhi. Clearly, one is better off being a cow.

God! Gott! What a fanatacism over cows. The cows are better off than the vast majority of women.

10:30 Morning. I am about to head out for Chandni Chowk, Kashmiri Gate. At four o’clock, I was not sleeping, so I took a pill and slept until after eight.

Tomorrow to Cal! Calcutta! Here I come.

Paharganj (Delhi Blog 4)

Paharganj (India Blog 4)

7:45 Evening: (5 December 2019) I spent the whole day in Pahargunj. Went to Leo’s Bar and Restaurant. Had two big Kingfisher beers, 650 ml each.

I was pretty comfortable there. In other words, I was not feeling any pain.

Just talked to Selma.

I just came back from Paharganj. The rickshaw guy told me fifty rupees. I did not have change, so I gave him one-hundred. He was happy. It was only a dollar and a half, anyway. It really does not take much to make them happy.

I took both of my cameras and two lenses for the Minolta. I realized that the fifty-five mm lens on the Minolta was not wide enough. So I was glad that I brought the old 28 mm Vivitar lens for the Minolta. Even though, it is not a sharp lens, it is OK for this purpose.

I shot the first roll with the Minolta. I thought that it was color film, but later discovered that it was Kodak Tri-X. Maybe that was better. I continued with color film (Kodak Colorplus), then switched to the Leica M6. I finished another two rolls of black and white.

Well, I used to think, I used to deceive myself that I was a part of this Indian colossal. Somehow, I felt that I was part of it. Now. I no longer deceive myself that way. In fact, I see the whole thing as quite alien and feel that I could never really be a real part of it. It is a culture that still boggles my mind, even after fifty years.

Why the fuck? Why the fuck, so much degradation? One wonders what the limits of human toleration really are. The thing is, today I actually felt quite safe in all that confusion. Actually, most people do not pay much attention to one. They are used to foreigners in Paharganj, anyway. We are gora.

I met a German girl taking pictures on the main street in the bazaar with an old film camera. Using color film. I thought she was probably American at first. It was nice to see someone shooting with film. There was mass confusion everywhere. I asked her if she was finding anything to photograph. Cynically, of course.

OK, I will tell the story, as I remember it. After breakfast, I headed out. Down at the desk, I asked about the auto-rickshaw to Paharganj. The clerk said that it would be about fifty rupees.

Then the hotel bearer hailed a rickshaw for me on the street. The first one refused for fifty rupees. Then another one came, and he said OK. The road to Pahar ganj seems to have been cleaned up somewhat. I did not notice all that urine smell and parked pedal rickshaws that I saw ten years ago.

In a little bit, we came right in front of the New Delhi Railway Station, after getting stuck in quite heavy traffic.

I got down and made a few pictures around there. One guy selling food invited me to take his picture and gave me a small cup of Indian cha. I want say chai, as is said in Turkey, but it is chaa in India. Sweet, with milk and sugar. I can drink it that way, but it is not my favorite. I love the black Turkish tea much better. I talked to a guy while I was drinking it, but just then, sombody walked past and bumped my arm, spilling part of it. That got my hands rather sticky.

After a bit, I asked where the main road was inside the bazaar. I walked toward it, but actually entered in the wrong place. Anyway, those small lanes were more interesting for pictures. I shot some pictures in black and white using Kodak Tri-X film. There were many shops inside those small lanes. Some places had fried up fish. I thought that it should be fried up at the same time one eats it. So it did not look very appetizing to me. I would not have gone for it. The small places were excessively grimy. Great for pictures.

Besides the dark narrow lanes, the tangle of electrical wires was hard to imagine. I can’t imagine how it functions. Or does not start a fire. There was such a mass of cables bound together and not very high off the lane. I am not sure if the hotels above that mass of electrical wires are very inviting. One would think there was a fire danger.

I finished the black and white and put a roll of kodak Colorplus in the camera. I talked to some guys along the street. Many of them are doing tours of Delhi and other places. I walked on down through the bazaar.

I took black and white shots with the Leica M6. I saw a cafe that said: “Leo’s Bar and Restaurant.” I decided to go in and take a rest. It was now after two and I figured that I could use a beer after all that photography. Again, there was a doorman to seat one.

It was a very Indian setup. Not surprisingly. There were only two customers at the time, but others drifted in later. A young girl was there and a guy. They looked like they were from somewhere in East Asia. I was thinking to just have a beer, but then decided to eat something.

There were several chicken dishes, like chicken Tandori. I decided to have that and Kingfisher beer in those big 650 ml bottles.

The food was about half price compared to what it was in Kwality Restaurant. Like 270 rupees for the chicken. The beer was cold and delicious. By that time, my feet were getting sore from all the walking, so I needed a rest. It felt very good.

I slowly finished the beer and chicken. I decided that it would be good to just rest there and have another of those big beers. Let my eyes melt down. I might take better pictures. So I asked for another one. It was 189 rupees for a big one. About three dollars. So quite cheap. I saw that this beer was made in Haryana State. They must still have a factory in Ludhiana up in Punjab.

I noticed that the label on the bottle would peel off quite easily. A very nice red label in the shape of an oval with a Kingfisher bird on it. I saw that it would fit nicely on my cap, right in front, where the “Chicago Bulls” logo is. I asked one of the waiters for some tape.

He brought the tape and I stuck it on. I feel a little silly about that, but it was fun. It actually looked like it was just right for the cap. And I wore it out of the restaurant.

The bill came to something over 700 rupees. I tipped the waiter 100 rupees. I have not been spending a lot of money so far. I will buy gifts for Selma in Kolkata.

When I came out of the restaurant, I took more pictures. I guess that I was having fun with these guys on the street. They couldn’t pull me into buying anything. And I largely avoided the beggars by just ignoring them. It is easier after two beers (of that size). I acted like I was deaf and dumb. Maybe I am dumb, but not deaf. When people call to me, I pretend not to hear.

There are so many people running tours in Paharganj. And there are no places that I want to go by tour. I actually prefer to make the arrangements myself and be free. I mean that I am free to spend as much time at any place as I want. I do not need to be led around by the nose to places that I do not care to go to. Especially to their sponsored shops.

Sometimes people try to sell one useless things on the street. I just say to them: “What the hell am I going to do with that?” I understand that they want or need to sell something, but it is not my job to buy it, when I don’t want it and cannot use it.

Two guys were selling small drums. They make quite a lot of noise when tapped. He told me that I could give it to my kids. They say: “I haven’t sold anything all day. Maybe or maybe not true, but am I supposed to buy it because of that? I told him that the kids would drive one crazy with that. “Pagal Hogay.”

I would go crazy with it.

He found that I knew some words of Hindi. Someone asked “who taught you?” I said: “Allah.” I was having some fun with them and actually enjoyed it. I guess they did too.

If these guys are thirty years old, then I was in India twenty years before they were born.

By that time, the evening lights were starting to come on. I made some shots with the Minolta with color film. There was a rush of traffic and then the streets sort of cleared up. I had a hell of a good time and enjoyed it. I didn’t eat anything on the street. That is a good rule for travel in India if one is there for a short time. I have not eaten fresh fruit and vegetables, except for bananas in the morning. Street food is more likely to give one the Delhi belly.

The breakfast in the hotel is mostly South Indian dishes. It is alright up to a point. I eat it lightly. No eggs, but there is toast and jam. One can make tea with tea bags.

That’s the story up to today. I want to go to old Delhi tomorrow, Chandni Chowk. See what I can do around there. Part of Paharganj is like Old Delhi, for sure.