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The Leaving Journal

Delhi

INDIA | Monday, 21 December 2015 | Views [323]

The chaos of the developing world, all of its stark contrast, reigns here. A child's grimy hand tugs my skirt. I hear the tap-tap-tap of a woman's fingernail on the taxi window, and turn to see her kissing gathered fingers to her mouth in a begging gesture, motioning to her infant. The street is an endless river of stares -some curious, some leering, some disgusted, some awe-struck - all from dark brown eyes under heavy, low brows. The air is a thicket of spicy incense and curry spotted with putrid wafts of urine and human waste in a cloud of exhaust fumes. A woman on a bridge kneads a pile of manure, patting the shit into circular paddies left to dry in the sun. Pockets of dough dance in a deep skillet of bubbling oil; the finished ones, crisp and golden, leave damp stains on a sheet of newspaper. It's a cacophony of hawking and spitting and snotting, a kaleidoscope of glittering bangles and gold nose rings and jangling earrings, the mish-mash of patterns worn by women: lemon yellow, lime green, burnt orange, metallic sequins and cartoon designs, each brilliant collage of clothing sitting atop little socked feet jammed into flip-flops. The dust - in the air, on the leaves, in my throat and nose, tossed up in clouds by straw brooms and truck tires, indecipherable from the smoke of burning tobacco and trash. And the horns! A chorus of horns - the piercing, long scream of souped-up motor bikes; the long, low growl of hand-painted oil trucks draped with sparkling tassels and tinsel and images of Hindu deities; the staccato chirp of green and yellow rickshaws darting and weaving through traffic.

All of this, and we still spent our first few days in Delhi asking what all the fuss was about. People warn you with a sort of ferocity about India - "oh man, that place will change you, it's so intense, prepare yourself." And prepare we had. We had steeled ourselves for the onslaught of eager touts upon our landing in the relatively modern and clean Delhi airport, and were surprised to find a perfectly civilized, prepaid taxi desk. The things that have astounded me in India have been the things people failed to mention when talking to me about the country: the relatively convenient, fast metro system that rivals some of its American counterparts; the absurd level of security in airports and train stations (metal detectors and full pat-downs for everyone who enters); the number of people who will ask to take a photo with you because you're white. After our first five days in Delhi, I thought for sure I had missed something. Where was all the legendary stuff of these warnings? The inevitable "Delhi belly" illness we were sure to suffer from? The dirt and sewage and chaos?

It was in Varanasi.

Tags: chaos, culture, delhi, developing world, india, india

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