Old Delhi and New: 3 Videos and Some Comments


One morning my guide took me to Old Delhi. I don’t think he realized I was videotaping as we rode along in the rickshaw. Consequently, as I began talking, he began narrating, with the result a sort of kirtan, the call-and-response chant so familiar from prayer in the temple of Shantivanam and the refectory of Ananda!

This area of Old Delhi specializes in items for weddings,: everything from sweets and garlands of flowers, to beads, sequins, and wedding saris
Footnote for Wordsmiths: read a few sentences in that wedding saris link. In both its style and its very UNWestern approach to subject matter, it echoes India Times and other newspapers, pamphlets and booklets I read in waiting rooms and airports, or picked up from the bookracks of nearly every temple (Shantivnamam not withstanding), or temple complex I visited.

…and THE NEW:

During my days in Delhi I had an expert driver, one who defied the odds for accidents in Delhi, maneuvering us through several significant traffic jams.

A few days ago, he dropped me at The Connaught Hotel for lunch. Like so many other times since arriving in India, I felt at first that the situation was familiar – after all, I was staying somewhere on Connaught Place, wasn’t I? But I looked around and realized I had been dropped someplace I didn’t know, not at all. I also remembered that Connaught Place was made up of 3 “rings” (streets), and that I was phoneless (long story); I had no idea where my driver had gone, but I really hoped I’d be able to find him if I ever emerged from this place, because I had plans for us for the afternoon.

When I say, “He dropped me,” understand that it would never have occurred to this longsuffering man to have had lunch here with me. Although I never stopped feeling guilty about it, after a few days I had ceased wondering at the way it all worked: he would stop the car at lunchtime, open my door and hand me my cane, just before folding his hands in the prayer position and inclining his head, as he stepped back into the car. This is the same driver who slept in his car the night I was in the guesthouse in Agra, tsk-tsking to myself about yet another “Indian shower”.

So there I was in front of The Connaught, staring at two gargantuan glass doors, when what always seemed to happen, happened: a lovely Indian came to my rescue. This time it was a doorman dressed in what looked to me like a Sikh turban and Tennis Court OathDavid – style knee-length pants and long stockings; he wore a sword on his side and white gloves on his hands – I noticed these when he held the door open for me as he motioned for me to enter. When he asked me a question I couldn’t understand, I nodded; when he subsequently gestured to the left, I turned quickly down a long hallway, ducking into the first bathroom I found. I spent approximately 1.5 seconds inside – urinals – before walking on and finding the right door.

Lunch was a long and serene affair, almost as if my driver – he always selected the lunch spots – knew I’d need to be prepared for what lay ahead; after the oasis that was the Connaught, I told him I hoped to visit Karol Bagh Market, to look for spices, at Roopak’s. He nodded his head. Rule #3: a head nod can mean anything.We ended up in a traffic jam for 25 minutes, and why this Job of a man didn’t just turn around and tell me it was a stupid idea at an extremely stupid time of day, I don’t know. I shot these few seconds of video as we left the traffic jam:

Once we got near the market, we parked, another process still full of mystery to me. In the half dozen times last week when we were searching for a place to park, I never actually saw what I would have considered a parking space; however, the driver did. Sometimes he would let me out before pulling into a slot, for there would be only a 6-inch space between him and the other car; dividing 6 by 2, it was clear that neither of us could have squeezed out of the parked car. This afternoon, however, there were a good 5 inches on either side. We got out, words and slips of paper were exchanged between the driver and two men lounging against the other double-deep parked cars, and we set off.
Did I know the address for the Reepok’s Spice Shop?
Yes: 6/9 Ajmal Khan Rd. Did he recognize the street?
He nodded. Rule #3: A nod could mean anything, anything at all. I realize I am repeating myself here, but ask me, sometime, to explain the nod, e.g. with regard to my Delhi mobile.
We set off down the street. After four blocks, I could tell that the man he stopped to talk with was neither colleague nor cousin, but a stranger who did the left-right-left-right head wag (as vs. the head nod); he then gestured up the street with his elbow. Another 10 minutes of walking – I gave up looking for the street name – and another stranger questioned, another elbow pointed, which I decided meant, “Just up the street.” Looking back, I realize it could also have meant, “Ask somebody else up the street.”
Really, I thought, just cut your losses, grab a rickshaw, and get back to the car.

But we walked on through Karol Bagh Market, and eventually my patient, persistent driver told me we were on Ajmal Khan; a few more minutes, a little more false hope (twice, I saw “Reeboks” and thought it was “Roopak’s”…), but eventually, we arrived at Roopak’s. Like so much else, it was a shock!

I was expecting bins of dried spices like the ones grown and used with such ease and abandon at Ananda. I thought I would find Imli (tamarind), Jaiphal (nutmeg), lots of Dhania (coriander seed), and of course, Jeera (cumin). But no! The guides I’d read had talked about “packaged for carrying” but I never dreamt that meant tidy plastic cylindrical containers looking much like the ones you pick up at Cosco or Cub.

Here is yet another video of another drive, this one in a rickshaw, which we took (2 kms) back to where the car had been parked. I dedicated this video clip to Teresa and Chris: a 39-second spin, out of Karl Bagh Market!

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Lorraine
    Feb 04, 2011 @ 20:32:57

    How fortunate for us to be able to enjoy the streets of Old Delhi with you — and the ride on the rickshaw. Incredible and courageous. Thank you, Mary Ellen.



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