September 3, 2012 by Louis Ritzinger
After a relatively uneventful orientation at the AIIS administrative HQ in Gurgaon – an absolutely beautiful, airy brick and stone building interspersed with open-air hallways and manicured courtyards – I will fly to Lucknow tomorrow morning and meet some potential home-stays. We have been graciously given the rest of the evening to ourselves, so I thought I’d take the moment to add to my thoughts from earlier this morning:
Driving in India can be described in two simple words: absolute chaos, although no amount of writing could really do justice to the experience. Stoplights and lane markers are, at best, gentle suggestions. Slow-moving (often decrepit and overpacked) motor rickshaws share the road with buses, horse carts, bicycles and cars – which run the gamut from rotted out subcompacts to proud, pristine Mercedes sedans. Large, ornately decorated trucks lumber along, their drivers seemingly unconcerned by the rickshaws and motorcycles, many carrying entire families, swarming around them like flies. Road conditions vary tremendously and have the tendency to change without warning, and pedestrians think little of stepping cavalierly in front of traffic, their expressionless faces conveying the clear expectation that drivers will stop or, as is more often the case, swerve around them. While in the States honking ones’ horn is generally seen as a rude expression of anger or frustration, here it is more a way of saying: “I intend to get very close to you. Please do not hit me.” The sheer density of traffic and absolute disregard for what we would quaintly refer to as “safe following distance” requires any driver to have nerves of steel. Needless to say, mine still have some hardening to do.
The AIIS guest house, a spacious, simply decorated flat with white marble floors where I spent my first night, is located in the second floor of a building in the upper class Defence Colony neighborhood of South Delhi. I was given a room to myself, complete with a private bathroom for the night. The house was staffed with several friendly Hindi-speaking attendants, each dressed in the same grey uniform worn by my greeter at the airport, who got us situated and cooked a tasty breakfast of eggs and toast in the morning. I was able to converse in Hindi-Urdu (the two spoken languages are virtually identical, although the scripts are vastly different) with one of the attendants after breakfast while watching a Bollywood movie on a small flat-panel television in the living room. Although I was limited to talking about my family and where I went to school, it was nice to know that the effort I had put in over the summer was not completely in vain.
Around noon, three of us ventured to a market a few blocks away, where I enjoyed a lunch of Chicken Tikka (in the interest of experiencing as much of the food here as I can, my vegetarianism is taking a bit of a hiatus) and a delicious ginger-mint concoction to drink. My mother will be happy to know that it was, indeed, from a reputable sit-down restaurant. I have yet to experience any ill effects.
Later that afternoon we were taken to the hotel in Gurgaon where I am currently located. Upon our arrival, Scott (a fellow Urdu student) and I went to take a trip to the area’s newest, and largest, western-style mall, Select Citywalk. Aside from a mostly foreign array of stores, there was little to differentiate it from any other mall in the states, including the white models in virtually all of the window advertisements (an odd testament to the staying power of the white ideal of beauty, and the topic for another blog entirely). In hindsight, our time could have been much better spent, but at the moment it seemed like something of a curiosity. During the cab ride back to the hotel our young driver questioned us extensively, in very broken English, about the types of cars available in the US, cursing his rickety Tata as we slid side to side in our seats with each sudden turn, weaving perilously through the dim city streets.
Select Citywalk from the outside
Select Citywalk from the inside