Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Old Delhi

New Delhi has been great but Old Delhi is where India really takes off for a visitor from the west. We had a wonderful set of lectures today running from 9-5. A very illuminating lecture on representations of Gandhi in Indian cinema by Vinay Lal, a video lecture by the late grandson of Gandhi, and an inspiring talk by Madhu Kishwar, who spoke to us about Gandhi and the question of women's rights in India, and about her work on behalf of street vendors in Delhi, who are subject to oppressive police corruption. The work she's doing is heroic, and has literally put her life in danger.

Lat in the afternoon a few of us took off for Old Delhi and spent a couple of hours wandering through the streets. Check out a selection of my photos here. We were greeted impromptu when we got off the bus by a young one-legged man who hung along beside us for many blocks. This happens regularly to us in Delhi, young men just following us around and gawking. But Madhuri asked him directions at one point and it turned out he spoke very good English. We all took to him and spent the rest of the time letting him escort us around the streets. What a difference that made. I spoke to him for awhile about how he learned English from working with tourists like us. He's a great example of how people scratch out a living here on their own, one way or another. It was wonderful having him along (and of course we all chipped in to pay him for his time). Old Delhi is, as Paulo put it, "controlled chaos." It's hard to avoid cliches here, I'm afraid. Narrow little streets full of shops selling everything you can imagine, but sorted out street-by-street (auto parts, vegetables, spices, candies, jewelry, anything you can imagine buying, all crammed into tiny colorfully lit shops. Rick shaws, motor scooters, bicyclists, and other assorted vehicles roar through the narrow streets swerving and honking but somehow everyone survives. It was a busy rush of a visual feast, sensual really, for the smells were wonderful too, and the noise a kind of crazy music. I wish I could say more but I'm running out of words and internet time! But look at the pictures and tomorrow I'll post a video clip.

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