I’ve never traveled outside of North America before and I had definitely heard a lot about India before coming here. The impressions I had of this country were that we would see a huge contrast between the rich and poor juxtaposed and that there were many dangers here from mosquito bites to chaotic traffic. I had heard that the region we were traveling to was very conservative and that women had to take certain precautions in public. Perhaps it is just because we have only spent time in a major metropolitan area in India that many of these conceptions have been shattered, but it was still surprising to see that things were not as different as I thought they would be. College students seem to be college students wherever you go and cities seem to contain nearly everything no matter where you go. I packed along a hefty amount of pills and remedies for whatever ailments I thought I might possibly get in India. Though we have encountered some small troubles adjusting to the food, I have realized that I was perhaps being a tad overly-apprehensive when I was packing my bags.
Today we traveled to Old Delhi by metro and there I saw more of what I had preconceived India to be, but there were still many new discoveries to be made. There were enormous markets sprawling with all types of traffic. The skill of the rickshaw driver to very precisely estimate just how much room is need to narrowly squeeze between an auto and a motorbike should be admired by the most skilled race car drivers around the world. All sorts of spices, teas, and foods could be bought here, but more than that they could be bought in the raw form. I am used to our supermarkets where everything is packaged and sealed to appear appetizing. Here the food is less removed from where it comes from. You can see the chickens in the cages and salt in giant rocks instead of ground up and tossed in a can. We definitely have to go back to Old Delhi again as we didn’t even scratch the surface of the wonders there. You also could see much more poverty in this area from the young to the very old. That part of my conception of India seemed to be more accurate than others.
The rest of the time we have spent in Delhi, everything seems very modern. Many people wear western clothing and seem to have similar dreams and aspirations as ourselves. We met some students on the metro today as we were coming back from Old Delhi and they had calculators in their hands. Bill, the talkative one, naturally asked them why they were carrying around calculators. It turned out that they were students from Delhi University and another recent graduate of IIT. We talked to them for a while and the subject of one’s dream career came up. It turns out that Bill and this random stranger name Ankit both aspire to work for the Boston Consultant Group someday. I am guessing that Yamuna Nagar will bring more surprises for us, but so far the biggest surprise of all is that Delhi is not so far from home after all.
Our boss and the Executive Director at Leap, Ankit Durga, asked us what the most surprising part of India was to us. Though we agreed that we were most surprised at our similarities, we also all agreed that the Delhi roads took us by surprise. I have this excerpt that I wrote about one of our experiences with an auto-rickshaw to illustrate this.
— Chicken is not a game you can play in India. Or at least not in a major city like Delhi. A rickshaw driver with a bandana covering everything but his eyes and the very top of his head, or as we like to call him, “The Pirate of the Roads”, took us from one of Delhi’s most prominent landmarks to our hostel in GK-1 S-Block. (Oddly M-block is on the other side of the street. The streets make no sense here.) Apparently GK-1 or Greater Khailash 1 is one of the wealthiest parts of Delhi but you can still get a haircut at N-Block market for 150 rupees if you get there early and can impress the barber with a bit of Hindi. There men get their done downstairs and women get taken care of upstairs. The man said, “No men are allowed up here. Only me. I do manicures, pedicures, waxing, haircuts, coloring, etc…” Every rickshaw we have taken since the Pirate of the Roads seems like its going at snail pace now even as we almost hit a biker and are millimeters away from being crushed by an enormous bus. Somehow we still make it and no one is even made despite all of the honking and everyone cutting each other off. India Gate at night full of tourists and people making money off of tourists is beautiful. Children throw lit up objects in the air that float down slowly. People run through the cars without any fear at all. Each pirates of the road. ———