I have learned that Indian people have hearts as big as their smiles. Yes, there is greed and unrest and poverty and inequality and laziness (maybe all just components of human nature?) everywhere. And among the throngs and the close-quartered humanity there are amazing souls to encounter here, where so many believe that now is good and the practice of bramacharya (restraint, limits, and the knowledge that there is such a thing as too much) actually is a way of life.
On this, my last day of freedom and my last day in Delhi, I spent the day with the uncle of an old friend. This is a man I had never met. He is as old as my father might have been, with a family and responsibilities of his own. Yet he cleared his slate to play tour guide to an energetic American girl hell-bent on breathing in this city and seeing it through a local’s eyes.
He opened up his heart to me and told me stories about his experiences in India, about his family and about his personal philosophies… all this while he brought me on a sightseeing journey throughout the enormous and mesmerising city. I am eternally grateful.
The day’s adventures included tourist spots Jantar Mantar, which is this larger-than-life astrological park and sundial that looks like a comic book skate park. I think one needs a helicopter or hot air balloon to properly absorb the site. We wandered through Qutab Minar, a 12th/13th century mosque and religious site with a 73 metre high minaret and some truly impressive old stonework. There was the requisite pass by India Gate, Parliament, all the embassies… And because I was curious as to the difference between saag and palak, my gracious host took me to lunch at Cosy Restaurant in Hauz Khas, explained the seasonal differences and how saag is prepared this time of year, and we ate a simple, yet excellent, meal of Saag Mukhan Wala (looks like a pile of creamed spinach, but tastes like ginger-cardamom-garlic heaven!) and butter rotis. There is nothing in this world like freshly-made Indian bread. After lunch, we made a quick stop to gawk at the outside of the outlandish Baha’i Lotus Temple, which looks like a cross between a spaceship and a sex toy springing from the ground to escape (or perhaps devour) the throngs of tourists and devotees alike.
The last stop of the day was my favorite: tea and sweets in a bustling cafe in the Bengali market. The sweet shop/cafe reminded me of a cross between a chinatown dim sum place and a coffee shop in the North End or Little Italy. Here we had chai, an Indian ice cream called kulfi, and I had my first taste of
jalebi, cooked in a giant wok-like fryer. It’s the Indian version of fried dough, only 4000% more spectacular. Made well, it is hot and crispy on the outside, sweet and oozy on the inside (the perfect street food…I am unquestionably hooked!). The racket was as warm as the tea, and we talked and laughed about the Indian chatter.
When my newly-adopted uncle dropped me at my hotel, we were talk- and walk-weary. It had been a long day. What strikes me still to this day is the sense of inclusion one feels in India. On a continuous basis in this country, I have been invited to enjoy local custom, to ask questions, to learn about what makes this place tick. Strangers and merchants alike have shared food and tea and toothless smiles and namastes that warm me and make me feel like part of this great machine that churns and vibrates and belches and screams and whines and beeps and sings and shines brightly…