Walking like an old woman

January 11, 2007 at 1:00 PM • Filed under India 2007

          You don't arrive in New Delhi. You are thrown into it.
          The tranquility of the arrivals lounge at the airport is deceptive, calm and placid. You could be in Canada, or California, and you feel pleased that you'll be able to handle India - fine, no problem!  But then you walk out of the lounge and into air that looks  like mist but smells like fire, and you are met by a roiling crowd of brown faces. Yours being the only white face, you feel singled out, like a celebrity might on Oscar night, greeted by throngs of eager eyes. You find your pre-paid taxi, somehow, in the mass of people looking for their relatives or a just tourist to sell something to.
          What you are then thrown into is the traffic, and you have only a minute or two to hand over your life to the driver and breathe deep and trust. It's similar to when you're biking behind another cyclist, and your front tire gets dangerously close to the back tire of the bike in front of you. That's how close the Delhi taxis get to the taxi next to it - and to the moped driver and the beggar and yes! the cow that it passes. You wince and brace yourself but soon realize that everyone knows what they're doing and you don't so just look outside the window and realize you're in India.
          The woman who runs my bed and breakfast is cool and sophisticated, lives on her own and speaks great English. She helped me hail an auto-rickshaw yesterday (more on those some other time) and figure out how to buy train tickets at the New Delhi railway station. The station was daunting but I followed two other white faces to the foreign tourist ticket counter and watched as the man behind the counter reserved my seats on an utterly ancient computer, printed them out on an utterly ancient word processor, and then transcribed all my info onto a carbon copy paper. British bureaucracy lives!  I spent the evening unpacking and sharing a pancake of some sort with the woman at the b&b.
          I had sworn to myself, before arriving, that I would make sure to walk slowly, like an old woman, so as not to get flustered and to be mindful of all I was doing. I forgot to do that a few times, and indeed soon got flustered.  So I will make every attempt to take it slow today, my first full day in India.