To continue with the chronological narrative. That first afternoon in Delhi, we visited the site where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated. It has been turned into a serene park where the beggars and hawkers are apparently forbidden to come. We also stopped by a fairly recently constructed shrine to Shiva, flanked by smaller shrines to Rama and Krishna (two incarnations of Vishnu) with their consorts. Apparently, there have been no human incarnations of Brahman or Shiva, but there have been nine incarnations of Vishnu, including the Buddha. The Hindus are awaiting the tenth incarnation of Vishnu, which will usher in a new age (of peace and tranquility?).
|Saris hanging to dry along a chaotic street|
At some point, we stopped and took a subway train (the Delhi subway is quite new). We were required to go through a security check, and there was a sign that said (in Hindi) “no riding on top of the trains” – apparently common practice in above-ground trains. We got out at Chandra Chowk, a crossroads in the old part of Delhi. There, we mounted bicycle rickshaws and drove through the narrow, crowded streets of Old Delhi. The streets were gorged with vendors and foot traffic; electrical wires formed a web-work above the streets, and monkeys sat on balconies and cornices picking fleas or staring at the chaos below. After a bumpy and uneven ride (the poor, thin rickshaw man struggling to pedal two fat American ladies up some of the inclines), we got off at the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, built by Shah Jahan, who also built the Red Fort, visible from the mosque. Coming back from the mosque in the bus, we were in a traffic jam caused partly because it was a big market day. Goats, in particular, were for sale, led by ropes across roadways and highways, bought and sold mostly by Muslims, who now make up nearly a quarter of the population of India.
|Wild monkey in the streets of Delhi|
That evening, we went to the India gate, lit in a brilliant yellow glow. A concert was in progress near the gate, and the air was full of noise and lights and smoke and incense and the chaos that seems to be urban India. My breathing began to deteriorate at that point. Our group got strung out along a thin pathway going toward the gate, and I felt like the group of us at the tail had gotten lost for awhile, although our leader assured us he had his eye on us at all times. I, however, felt quite insecure. We later had dinner at a kitchy restaurant called “Lazeez Affaire” – frenchified but not quite French. The food was mildly spiced Indian, pretty good.
|India Gate, New Delhi|
After going to bed, very jet-lagged and temporally disoriented, trying to fall asleep, I heard a wailing of brass instruments and an insistent heart-beat-cadenced drumming, interspersed with random explosions, and I thought perhaps some attack was imminent. I looked out the window and saw cones of tiered lights being waved around and puffs of smoke from explosions, and it all felt rather threatening. Finally, a man on horseback rode through the gate, and I realized that it was some sort of ritual or celebration and the explosions were obviously fireworks.