Day 3: Malls and Expressways

Since Holi I have been scrubbing myself of industrial-strength green powder — I think I am finally looking like myself again.

On Sunday, I ventured to my family friends place in Visant Vihar, a posh neighborhood. They had their driver come pick me up (the concept is still foreign and odd for me). Basically, he waits outside their house, all set to drive them where ever they need — for the most part this is common amongst most households inIndia.
They took me to a couple sites throughout Delhi: Qutub Minar, Bahai Temple (shaped like a lotus), Select Citywalk Mall, and at the Vasant Intercontinental for dinner. Everything was interesting and awesome to see; however, the most interesting was the Select Citywalk Mall.
I couldn’t help but be fascinated with how nice this mall was compared to any mall in the US (that I have been to). I had the opportunity to see the famous Barista which is far more elegant than Starbucks. All major name brands we are used to seeing could be found at the mall, but there were a multitude of Indian name brands. My family friends were saying that these Indian name brand stores were beginning to pop up in Paris. Not to sound cliche, but it totally sounds like something from “The World is Flat.”
On any given evening there are teenagers hanging around the malls — window shopping, going to movies, etc. As more of these show-up throughout Delhi andIndia, it sounds increasingly like the typical suburban-American teenager entertainment. Given that American suburbs really don’t have much to offer but homes and some shopping centers/malls, I am worried what will happen if and when small Indian cities begin to develop in such a way.
My family friends own a very large company that focuses on infrastructure, energy, real estate throughout India. Their company is developing an expressway (6 to 8 lanes) between Delhi and Agra, this will cut the journey in half from 4 hours to 2 hours. (I would compare it to what happened for NJ, when the NJ Turnpike was created and gave quick and fast access to NYC for a multitude of NJ towns.) Alongside the expressway towns are being developed.
I think these expressways that are being developed throughout India are the best example of the change.  I presume the success of these towns revolves around the value of the land – the key ingredients being:  accessibility (easily accessible by some transportation medium: train or car), convenience (i.e. malls, grocery stores, etc.), education, recreation, and health/safety. If all these small cities emerge and have the same exact ingredients, I worry that the exciting aspect of India – originality and culture of each area/city or village – will get lost in the “Standard Operating Procedure” for creating a “successful” City.

Day 2: Delhi — Holi

Holi (i.e. “Festival of Colors”) was today. I had no expectations; however, I expected that I would no longer be brown but a mix of a dozen different colors. The premise of Holi is to throw colors (i.e. different color powder) on everyone you are celebrating with — young or old it makes no difference.
We traveled to a farm in Delhi to celebrate Holi with Dinkar’s family friends. On the way to the farm, I saw that  no one or thing — children, adults, elderly, cats/dogs, cars — is safe and no one can hide from the wrath of Holi. We arrived at the farm around 2 hours late: perfect timing, the party was just getting started. Family friends came to great us — surprisingly, they put color on us quite gently. The first couple introductions, I put my hand out to shake hands with Dinkar’s family friends, but I was received with a moment of slight awkwardness until we hugged.

The war began soon thereafter, little children were thew colored powder — deep greens, bright yellows, royal reds — and then ran away. In similar fashion, I found whatever colors were laying around and began the attack. Within 15 minutes, My pants and shirt looked like a tie-die shirt and my face looked similar.

Soon the real violent Holi began, a group of Green Monsters joined the party. But, they did not come in peace. Within minutes they had knocked off person-by-person, rubbing industrial-strength and semi-permanent (more likely permanent) green powder on to non-Green faces and arms. Within minutes the gang of Green Monsters had doubled, and I had streered clear and safe by standing by old Aunties. Unfortunately, word had spread through the grape vine that there was a newbie — me, an ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) or more appropriately, a Canadian-Born- and American-Raised- Confused-Desi — that had never celebrated Holi. I was surrounded and minutes later, I became one of them carrying out similar terror.

After the fights were over, we had some chaat and played some cricket. After a couple overs, I was up at bat — I am not too sure if that is the right way to say it, but thats how I thought of it. I stepped in front of the wickets, and held the bat like a baseball bat. I soon realized, that I understood the rules, but didn’t pay attention to how the bat was held. Clearly, I made somewhat of a fool of myself but after a couple runs, I  got the hang of it.

***

In the evening, I spent time with best-friends sister, an Editor of The Mint, her husband, an artist, and their three-year old daughter, the cutest kid ever (she just would not stop laughing) — they had just moved to India a year ago. I arrived at their apartment, that looked like a swanky New York apartment: marble floors, marble counter-tops, and contemporary furniture.

We went to Cahn Market, the most-expensive commercial real-estate in Delhi, for dinner. We had our dinners at two restaurants (we were hungry?): The Kitchen, a Thai Restaurant; and the Big Chill, an American restaurant, started by an American couple. Rather than feeling like I was in India, I felt like I was out on a Saturday evening in NYC…

Day 1: Leave JFK/Arrive in Delhi – Excited

 

My long overdue trip (last time I went was 20 years ago)  to India begin at JFK. I was giddy and excited — I couldn’t believe I was going to India, especially since I only decided on Monday, got my Visa on Tuesday, booked my ticket on Wednesday, and flew out on Thursday!

My friends and family around my age said the most surprising thing is that “everyone looks like you.”  I understood, but I didn’t really understand… After a ridiculously comfortable flight (on Air India!), I arrived on Friday evening in India. Customs took me a total of 20 minutes to get through, and my driver was there waiting for me five minutes later. I headed towards Old Delhi (Daryaganj) to stay with a buddy of mine from Michigan (Dinkar). I was captivated, staring at everything that passed me. I expected to be overwhelmed by the changes that everyone has spoken about in India. But, I realized I had no expectations and no image to base my comparison. I was simply absorbing everything… Surprisingly, despite the fact that I do not know Hindi and many friends call me a “white” Indian, I still felt at home — perhaps because everyone looked like me?

The first “billboard” (more like a poster) I saw when I going on to the highway was a poster of Amma (“The Hugging Saint” —http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mata_Amritanandamayi). I thought this is probably a good sign, being that my family and I have gone to see her multiple times. The streets were filled with auto-rickshaws, motorbikes, and bicycles — most modes of transport filled with the maximum capacity plus one or two. Most streets have some sort of construction in progress and I could never find a single street sign (maybe I didn’t know where to look), somehow everything flowed despite what may seem like chaos to some.

I arrived at Dinkar’s place, got washed up and shortly thereafter we hit the streets to watch the first part of the Holi festival — bonfires along the street that symbolize the triumph of good over evil (I will try to find the details of the story)… We stood by a bonfire and gentlemen put a bindi on my forehead, and gulal (red powder) on my cheeks and I am instructed to put gulal on his cheeks. Dinkar tells me this is the only time that you willingly allow someone to put colors on you…