In continuing my obsession with auto-rickshaw driving in India, here’s a video depicting the entry into the Chandni Chowk district of old Delhi. And this is before things get really crowded in the narrow roads. I didn’t manage to catch any of the elephants, donkeys or horses you often see fighting cars for space on the road.
Archive for Chandni Chowk
Driving in India is fun. It’s like playing a videogame, in the sense that Indians drive like they’re playing “Need for Speed” with an unlimited number of game-overs. They’ll shoot any gap, squeeze any median, and jump any speed bump (and there are many). Worse comes to worse, they’ll slam the brakes and collapse onto the horn. They don’t fear the horn, like pussy Americans, who would hesitate to offend a hornet out to sting them. In fact, almost every truck actually displays the request “Horn please” — in decorative hand-painting — above its bumper.
If I had to work a shitty job, Delhi rickshaw driver would be at the top of the list (except not bike rickshaw, since I witnessed today that those bone-dry single gears suck to crank on). This occupation has it all:
1. Excitement: “Can I make it in between that milk truck and accelerating pack of bikers? Only one way to find out…”
2. Variety: Every part of Delhi, from the people-clogged streets of Chandni Chowk to the Ring Road, which is like a congested version of the autobahn. Picking up everyone from tourists to working stiffs.
3. Fun: Spotting an easy mark (not hard; white-skinned and wielding a camera) and manipulating him like a little kid reaching hungrily and wide-eyed toward a cookie in your hand must be a blast.
My first day in India began far too early. Well before dawn, wild dogs began barking, and then a lilting human cry started chipping in every few minutes; if I had to guess, I’d label it a man trying to persuade a donkey down the street. This gradually built into the cacophony of car horns and street hawkers that by afternoon dominates downtown Delhi like generic film background noise.
The waking day began with a cup of steaming hot Chai prepared by the maid who arrived around 10 a.m. Making Chai appears to be her only function, since she certainly didn’t clean the dirty apartment, and my friend Joji made breakfast himself (Upma fried rice and spicy beef in the Kerala style). This heavenly Chai, however, was more than enough to earn the maid a place in my heart, and by its very divinity should reserve for her an honored spot in the next life, as well. There’s a Southern dessert called “Sex in a Pan,” and if it has a liquid equivalent … well, no real need to continue this thought …
Anyway, the hot Chai was necessary for the ordeal of a shower that followed, which involved dumping buckets of hot and cold water on myself while trying not to accidentally step into the traditional Indian toilet, which features a ground-level toilet bowl.
If breakfast was spicy, the food only got better as the day wore on. The Indians love their spices; they even make a savory drink out of cumin, mint and lime that tastes kind of like a Bloody Mary of the Subcontinent, minus the alcohol. The vendor even sprinkled cumin on the pineapple slices I bought on my way through the uproarious Chandni Chowk market district, home to Delhi’s Muslim population.
I love the squirming humanity of India, the ramshackle sprawl of its capital, and the strange, poisonous potpourri of smells that arises from the piles of garbage and incense vendors on her streets. The food is incredible and incredibly cheap. Even at the most touristy locations, I’m stared at like the two-headed man freakshow exhibit, a minority for the first time in my life, even if I’m really just playing at it.
In fact, it’s far too easy for me to play around in Delhi like the carefree foreigner I am, thanks to the low prices and abundant rickshaw taxis. In the words of Wayne and Garth, “Game on!”