Hands up if you’ve ever had to dodge flying birthday cake in a nightclub?
This was just one of the memorable things that around 30 of my fellow students and I bore witness to during our time in India.
Let me set the scene; I was lucky enough to choose to study journalism at a university that has a strong relationship with whoever it is that organises major sporting events such as the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games. When I was given the opportunity to be part of the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games press team, I leapt at it! What followed were without doubt the most eye-opening five weeks of my life.
From a man trying to sell me a €2 coin on the street (with a terrible exchange rate, it must be said), to hearing Justin Bieber’s nauseating “Baby” everywhere I turned, nothing ceased to amaze me about this place. I really cannot do it justice in a blog post, or even two, but I’m going to give it my best shot over the next couple of days. So, without further ado, here are a few things that come to mind when I think of India.
Without question, my favourite thing about India. I have never tasted anything like it and I don’t think I ever will. I practically ate curry for five solid weeks, what more could a man want? The butter chicken curry I had at Embassy Restaurant on Connaught Place is in my top three meals of all time. Sadly, every curry I’ve had since October 2010 has been a crushing disappointment (which is a shame, as Allerton Tandoori in Leeds does some belting dishes).
Unfortunately, as was often the case with India, with every positive came a negative. After an encouraging start to the trip, our hotel decided it would be perfectly acceptable to serve mutton curry six nights on the trot. Now I love curry and red meat as much as the next man, and in fact I was quite ok with this for the first three, four and even five nights, but there was something about the sixth night that took the biscuit. I still went up for seconds mind, in case you were wondering.
A final word on food, I feel I need to mention the infamous “Delhi belly”, or lack thereof. In fact, the only food that made me ill was actually a Subway sandwich. Figure that one out.
My word, this was tough. I’m impatient at the best of times, but even the Dalai Lama would lose his shit trying to get around in Delhi. The city has a 24 hour rush hour.
There’s something quite unnerving about a place where it is advised that to cross the road, the best thing to do is just walk out. This, however, is very much the done thing in India and if you’re of a nervous disposition, it could take you half a day to pluck up the courage to make a simple crossing. It doesn’t help that most of the main roads have about six lanes that are routinely ignored by the drivers.
Strangely enough, if you just walk out in front of a car they’re more than happy to swerve around you and cut up the guy in the next lane and place the blame squarely on them, not you. I’m not quite sure how that works, but I wasn’t complaining. Perhaps more surprisingly, I only saw one road traffic accident in my five weeks there when a policeman went straight into the back of a motorcyclist, knocking him for six.
The policeman calmly got out of the vehicle, saw that the guy was still breathing and decided that was sufficient to merit driving off. The guy who tried selling me a €2 coin was currently in the process of trying to flog me a wooden chess set, and assured me that this was perfectly normal behaviour from the police and that I shouldn’t worry. Presumably, I should have been concentrating on parting with several hundred rupees for his foldaway game.
The roads, however, were nothing in comparison to the Delhi Metro. I never want to witness public transport like that again. Anyone that knows me is aware that the thought of getting a bus anywhere makes me feel a little bit ill. Imagine my shock when I found myself buried in the armpit of a businessman wearing a suit in 30+ degree heat on the metro.
Now, as an Englishman there’s nothing I appreciate more than a good bit of order. A train station is often a good place to take this in. In England, we patiently wait for disembarking passengers to get off the train whilst subtly edging our way closer and closer to the door. It’s like an unwritten rule.
In Delhi, it’s every man, woman and child for themselves. I witnessed grown men actually fighting in carriages for space. I lost count of the amount of times I feared the onrushing stampede of people desperate to pack themselves into the most confined space they could find. I have never been so terrified in all my life, and I’ve seen that episode of Pingu where he gets lost in the cave. Perhaps the most disturbing thing however, was seeing a mother trying to barge her way through with quite clearly distressed child in her arms that was no older than six months. Scary stuff.
Having said that, the Delhi Metro did provide me with some of the funniest moments of the trip. Firstly, it seems to be an Indian tradition to dye your hair ginger. I’ve never seen so many people in one place with artificially ginger hair as I did on the Metro. I did try to ask an Indian colleague the reasoning behind this, and he seemed to think it was something to do with a natural conditioner. Who knows? Answers on a postcard please.
I also saw an incident which almost had me pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. It was like a scene out of a slapstick film. Despite metro services being extremely regular, people will do absolutely anything to get on the first train. This was taken to the extreme when one commuter decided that the train was busy enough to take a run-up (really) and leap onto the train doing his best Jonathan Edwards impression. Suffice to say he was unable to defy science. As he tried to create space he realised he was fighting a losing battle so got off the train, only for the doors to slam shut…sandwiching his head in the middle.
Honestly, I’ve never laughed so hard in my life. I like to think he cracked a smile about it too, once the concussion wore off.
Have you been to India? How was your experience?