Awful India Facts
There's just too many people here. Here's the facts: There's 986 million people in India, and in twenty years it will overtake China as the most populous nation on earth. Hearing this information gave me the inspiration to join Zero Population Growth. And you think you have problems: there are more people in India under third world levels of poverty than there are citizens in _any_ other nation on earth (excluding China, of course). Imagine an entire population of the United States begging, barely surviving, and I met a whooooole lot of them today.
At some points, you look into the camps or at some guy with no legs on a dolly, and your heart just breaks in compassion. At other points, you simply look at it as an unemotional outsider from a distance, since your heart could not bear it; you have to clam up from the enormity of it all.
But for the worst you give out a 5 rupee coin as I did to a guy with no legs and half arms, or candy to a couple of little girls who came to my car window at a tour site. I remember the intensity by which they grabbed the candy from my hands, as if it was the most precious thing on earth. But there are the scams, young women who walk up to cars with a baby that they've borrowed from someone else; I saw a bunch of women going up to cars with babies today; and there are the guys who share crutches and stuff like that. My feeling is you gotta do what you gotta do to survive, including conning richer Indians and the dumb white tourists - however, I don't think the Indians will buy it.
If you have a camera in your hand or stop on the street for a microsecond appearing to be lost, there's someone with something to sell you or asking for baksheesh. Later on in the day, I walked out alone at dusk with a purpose in mind, walking versus sauntering, and it was a much different story - I had some space except for a few touts that will tag along sometimes for a block. You either get streetsmart real quick or you leave India, no other choice.
The touts and the pollution are the biggest downers, otherwise Delhi is actually an exhilirating experience. Man, there's something going on at every block. I actually came home more energized than when I left - for the most part it was the hit I got at the temple, I could feel it running through the nadis in the back of my body (I can't even begin to explain that in any more detail), and some from just the intensity. But surprisingly I don't feel as wound up or burned out as I thought I would - a day in Manhattan is much more draining.
During the day we went on to see the precursor to the Taj Mahal, a Moghul structure of sandstone and marble with a marble coffin for the emperor who built the Taj - the central chamber is built so perfectly as to create a great echo, and there's a woman in there who's life purpose is to cry out at just a right pitch to emphasize the echo... and then ask for a handout.
At one point I saw a female dog (I've seen a lot of them and most of them have recently had puppies, following the lead of the humans surrounding them) and a couple of here puppies. The dogs were hairless (maybe they were a hairless variety or maybe they're malnourished, can't tell), and I got a picture of one of the puppies in the forergound of the structure. Soon as I was done, the puppy got up and walked over towards me looking for a handout. Man, even the dogs! But then, wait a minute, even well fed dogs in the west are major moochers. I guess
The Hard Sell
After that my guide tells me he wants to show me a really cool shop. Red flags go off, here comes the heavy handed sales number. Being my first day, I was new to this and so we went to this very upscale emporium, with what I have to admit was some very fine silk rugs and extremely beautiful spiritual statues and jewelry. But really expensive, and being this is my first day, there was no way in hell that I was going to put down the money they were asking. But they tried and tried, being my best friend and all that crap. But when I finally got through to them, the salesman got real cold and dismissive. Well, fuck 'em.
Back in the car, my Mr. Lohali says "well maybe you think tonite to buy something tomorrow." God, these mothers just won't give up! But that was going to be my first and last experience of this shit, and it was.
Our last stop on the tour was the Qudb Minar, which is a giant Muslim tower that stands 72 meters high, a really impressive piece of architecture. It was built from the ancient Hindu temples nearby when the Muslims took over Delhi in the 12th century. Now there's an experience of rubbing it in, no? Take over the town, trash their temple and use the stones to build your temple. But next to the Minar (which is closed because too many people were committing suicide from the top) is a pure iron pillar from the 4th century which never rusts, puzzling the metallurgists, with inscriptions telling a story of spiritual conquests.
The Back Alley CyberCafe
On the internet is a listing of various cybercafes from every country in the world, which I used to get this posting out. Once my tour was over, despite the lack of sleep, I was still feeling so, so good, that I decided to find out where the nearest internet connection was, to check my email and to check the status of the World Series (hey, I'm from New Yawk, alright?).
I find a sign a few blocks away for email and this leads me to a little camera shop. The owner calls to one of his employees in the back of the store and he asks me to follow him. We go through the back of the store into a back alley that is filled with a _huge_ amount of people. Then we go into a back alley to that back alley, and I'm wondering, "am I gonna be mugged?". But it was, a little 5 x10 storefront with 5 computers, with people typing away. Cheap too, like most everything else in India, 3.00 an hour. So I do my email and find out the good news about the Yankees, up 3 games to 0.
The Red Fort
We take off to see old Delhi, which my guide tells me for the umpteenth time is much more crowded, dirtier and congested than the large tree-line streets of New Delhi (even though it's hard to imagine more filthy conditions than what I saw - perhaps it'll be the same amount of dirt in a smaller area).
We were out to see the Red Fort, a 2km octagonal structure of Red Sandstone built over 9 years in the 1600s. What we encountered was to test even my two Hindi caretakers. You see, right next to the red fort is the holiest mosque in Delhi, and this was the first day of a Muslim festival. There were people pouring into the parking lot in every conceivable fashion. There musst have been well over 500 buses, garrishly decorated with paint and silver stringings, each belting out huge amounts of black exhaust, interspersed with darting auto-rickshaws, through a narrow two lane road leading to the parking lot. It took some major skill on my driver's part to negotiate this mad scene, which I was enjoying immensely, since the car was air conditioned and somewhat free of the car exhaust.
It was such a colorful scene, with women in all sorts of beautiful saris - between the muslims and the Hindi tourists to the red fort, there were thousands. People parked on their little mats, making lunch with carried pots and pans, people camped out under buses, with all sorts of unusual headgear and selling all kind of things in makeshift bazaars.
Then I had a curious revelation. I felt like the madness was familiar to me, and then I realized, this is just like a GRATEFUL DEAD CONCERT. The scene was just the same:
It was sort of like having a flashback, and it made me wondered if the dead "family" is a bunch of lost sadhus and general Indian devotees from a past life, and now they are lost following a secular god in the dead. Of course, it also has occurred to me for a long time, that if reincarnation really exists, I was probably a Hindu in one life or another, and probably you were also, just by your interest in this journal. In fact, I wonder if this back to the spiritual roots theme of this journey will bring up these kinds of past-life insights or impulses.
Well, finally through all the madness, we got out and toured the red fort, which is also very impressive architecturally, with beautiful inlays all over, and white marble building with gold leaf inlays for the king's palace, bathouse and harem in the central grassy courtyard 2km wide. It must have been an incredible place, which was also sacked by Persians when the king was drunk one night. The back of the palace borders on one of Delhi's large squatter's camps, an ironic contrast to this display of exhorbitant wealth. I was as much interested in photographing the camp as I was in the red fort, as that was _real_ India for many, many people.
Leaving the grounds was an even more arduous task, as we had to fight the throngs of busses, cars and pedestrians coming in. I have never seen so many busses in one place in my life, mindblowing.
On the way to our next stop, Raj Ghat, Mahatma Ghandhis samadhi site (burial site), we did a quick tour of Old Delhi. And my guide was not exaggerated - it is incredibly dirty, overcrowded and filled with all sorts of human and animal misery, as well as some brightness. I can't over emphasize the special something that is here, that makes people able to bear the kinds of awful conditions that they live in.
Personally speaking, despite the intensity that is like rush hour Manhattan with no rules, what should be a draining experience of sensual overload is actually invigorating and joyful, as if there is such a deeper stream of spiritual presence that rides underneath all of the chaos. It is one level and quality of the Goddess on top of another, movement at a superficial and subtle level, but movement nonetheless, a shakti of joy underneath the "shakti" of movements of survival, business and whatever else. This is quite in contrast to western cities which I find missing that deeper shakti, probably from countless generations of people doing sadhana. I was telling a friend, probably every square acre of India was probably a temple, ashram or holy site in millenia or another, and I'm beginning to directly pick up.
Additionally, my own spiritual process has left me with a "view" that has sucked the "solidity" out of sense experience without altering its content, which leaves me to be affected and vulnerable in certain ways, but not in other deeper bodies or koshas. India is like a dreamlike experience squared for me, but yet it not an experience of invulnerability, of armor - it is like the armor doesn't have to be there because it is not necessarily a separate bunch of objects coming at a center - the centralness has popped and left a subtle, but fundamental shift of subject-object relations in my life that is as common as my breath.