Posts Tagged ‘delhi’

Pam Loses It.

Adorable. Unstoppable. We are pretty much powerless.
I yelled at a child today.

She was a beautiful beggar child of about seven, with a baby on her hip. She had followed us down the street for blocks and blocks, as we dodged traffic and stepped over cow dung, climbed over rubble and leapt across open sewers, and all the while she chanted, over and over and over again:

“No mama, no daddy, food, baby…”

I’d been turning as we walked, and saying things like:

“Neh, neh,” or, “No money, I have no money.”

While Phil had been saying:

“Come on, give her a little something. Just look how cute she is.”

This is a game Phil likes to play. He keeps hoping to replicate that moment in a Rajasthani village where, after handing out rupees and candy, I was swarmed by a prehensile knot of rabid nine-year old schoolgirls, pulling at my handbag and scratching at my arms while crying theatrically that one girl had gotten something that another didn’t. Phil witnessed all this from the safe distance of a camel’s hump, and still doesn’t believe I was actually scared.

Right now, Phil and I are in NOIDA decompressing from our own busy weeks, and waiting for our flight back to Bangalore. We have left the hotel, because there are only so many odd movies from the ’90s that one can watch, and unable to choke down more spicy vegetable mush, we are hunting the urban landscape for a KFC.

We come here once every few months for Phil to work at the local Adobe office. NOIDA is a stinking high-tech suburb of Delhi; a mean and ugly place that has only gotten meaner and uglier since a big outsourcing spaceship crashed into it a few years back. The word NOIDA isn’t even a name, but an acronym that stands for “New Okhla Industrial Development Authority.” The city is divided into sectors, numbered for the order in which they were built, rather than the logical order that one might move through them. This neighborhood is a filthy rabbit warren of crime, poverty and sewer gas; this boat hasn’t risen with the new tide of Indian prosperity. Which, I’m starting to suspect, is pure myth.

“No mama, no daddy. No mama, no daddy. Food. Baby.

“Neh. Neh. No money.”

So far, NOIDA is the only area of India where I have felt unsafe: as we weave through the streets the men look at me like I’m an exotic fruit they want to squeeze or take a bite of. Their gawking is only slightly tempered by Phil’s presence, even though Indians regularly mistake him for a WWF wrestler known as The Undertaker. On our last visit here we had to leave a market in a hurry because a mob was forming around us, but not before someone managed to grab my ass, though Phil was standing right next to me. Why, we both wonder, in this culture of propriety and repression, is it okay to unabashedly leer at another man’s wife? Or do white girls have such a bad reputation over here that they assume the tall guy is my pimp?

And then there are the women. Wait… what women? There are no women here. Nothing but men, massive amounts of men in bell-bottom pants that are too tight and pulled up too high, and the embroidery… oh, God, the embroidery! The fact that women are rarely seen here tells me the area is old school Hindu conservative, a place where women are kept home “for their own protection.” To be female in this country is to be someone’s property. A white female walking down a street in India is porn to men, and to beggar children, a mark.

“No mama, no daddy. No mama, no daddy. Food. Baby.”

“Neh. Neh. No money.”

I am lying. I have money. Small bills in fact, convenient for handing out in situations such as these, but today I am not doing it. If I thought for a minute that she could possibly understand, or that her English vocabulary extended beyond “No mama, no daddy, food, baby,” I would try to explain it to her. I want to tell her that I know it isn’t her fault and that I love children and that the fact that this is her childhood breaks my heart. I want to explain that I’ve seen Slumdog Millionaire and I know that she is doing someone else’s bidding.

In these past four months we’ve approached this beggar-child issue in a number of ways, and pretty much all of them have been disastrous. When we’ve given money to one of the grimy little cherubs we’ve been mobbed, surrounded by ten more, their parents and grandparents, all with hands outstretched asking for more, more, more. I’ve given them food off my plate and bracelets off my arms. We laughed when they stole Phil’s Coca-Cola and drank it on the other side of the street. We’ve let them walk us to the market and bought them bags of dhal and rice and oil, only to find they later took it back to the store and got cash. I’ve been scratched and clawed and tormented by their sad chanting.

“No mama, no daddy, food, baby.”

Phil walks slightly faster, and I try to calm myself by pretending I’m a Buddhist. I struggle to exercise compassion, but then… then, she starts mimicking me:

“Please, stop following me !”

“Please stop following me !”

Phil giggles. The big brother in him can’t help it.

“I am not giving you money. Go away !”

“I am not giving you money. Go away !”

The girl giggles, because Phil giggled.

“And you stop laughing !”

“And you stop laughing !”

We run across the street and step into a shop, trying to shake her. She sticks to my heels, and I get angrier and angrier. I know she is just a child, doing only what she has been taught to do. I know that her life is hopelessly brutal and all roads for her are, and will continue to be, blocked. And underneath her skilled, though infuriating behavior, she is a child, an innocent, a human who deserves a clean place to sleep, and food to eat. She deserves an education. And a bath.

“No mama, no daddy. Food. Baby.”

“Leave me the hell alone !” I shout.

“Leave me the hell alone !” she shouts back, then giggles, again.

I am furious with her parents, or whoever has put her up to this. I am appalled that the government of this vast country, that claims to be stepping into the role of international business leader, allows this to go on. It is not this child that I am mad at. I am furious at both the utter hopelessness of India, and my helplessness in the face of it.

Over these past four months my heartstrings have been stretched out from abuse and right now I am tired – I’ve been sick with a wicked cold and food poisoning and I am exhausted from three all-night bus rides in one week. I’ve peed in the middle of the highway in the middle of the night. I’ve listened to people vomiting all around me on a hair-raising fifteen-hour bus journey. Rarely in these past four months have I looked out a window and not seen a man with his willie in hand, peeing. I’m tried of watching people crap in open fields and on roadsides in plain sight. And I am tired of being played by beggar children and I worry about what I’ll become after eight more months of this.

I know there must be an explanation for the pathetic state of this country, but I’m too new here to know whom or what to blame it on; this whole place seems broken eight hundred ways from Tuesday. Still, there is a part of me that loves it here, and when I find a way that I can help, I will; but I could empty out my bank account right now and give to every beggar I see and it wouldn’t make the least dent in any of their lives.

“Please, leave me alone, I can’t help you,” I say.

“Please, leave me alone, I…”

I snap. I turn on my heel and bend down and look her in the eyes, and start raving, a crazy screeching white lady:

“Go away! Leave me alone! Go! Stop following me! LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE !!”

A cascade of unprintable swearwords streams from my mouth and swirls around this dirty little girl like litter. I can’t stop screaming. I fear a mob is going to gather, tear me limb from limb, and I fear that I deserve it. I’m thankful that the girl has no idea what I’m saying, but a local man passing us on the street clearly does, and he whispers something to the girl, something magic in Hindi, that finally makes her go away.

Tears well in my eyes and I am unhinged in a way that only India can do to me.

Even big brother no longer thinks this is funny; Phil grabs my hand and pulls me away.

“Come on, crazy white lady. There’s a KFC right up here.”

We Have A “Butler” Button !

Spending the first week in India at the Oberoi hotel in Delhi, with the chocolate truffles and the goose down pillows, and the fawning room service, with sareed princesses and Indian princes greeting us with Namaste yoga hands around every corner — may or may not have been a great idea.

Butler Button
It’s frighteningly easy to get used to having things done for me. While I was in the sauna yesterday a delicate hand pulled open the glass door, and the sareed princess attendant asked if she could do anything for me. Which got me to wondering if it was possible to pay someone to sit on my ass and do nothing for me while I work long and hard and productively, so that I’ll remain in a perpetually refreshed state while accomplishing all I want to accomplish in this world. I considered asking the young woman if she could count my blessings for me.

What makes this grandeur even more delicious, is knowing that it could all come to an end at any moment. Knowing that the building could be swarmed with armed gunmen with a point to make or a cause to publicize. I start to picture bullet holes in the marble walls and thousands of plate glass windows shattered into spiderwebs…then I pick up a dark chocolate truffle and stare out the window at the city below as it melts in my mouth. Butler, bring me my Kevlar…

~ Pam

Phil Works Too Much. Pam Goes Native.

The problem I can see ahead is that Adobe now has 24 hour access to Phil. He works at the office in Noida, a 45 minute choking taxi ride away from our hotel, while his California colleagues are sleeping. When he returns after being pulled at all day, the office in California is up and running and grabbing at him all night. He worked through the night twice this week.
I’ve never shopped with such purpose and urgency in my life. It wasn’t that I was so eager to leave rupees all over Delhi but it was getting harder and harder to scrub the judgmental stares off me at the end of the day.

I like attention as much as, okay…probably more, than most, but I haven’t felt this creepy brand of attention since I was a 16 year old hitchhiker with ass length hair and cut-offs. I get the feeling that everything Indian men know about Western women was learned from the Girls Gone Wild videos.

Yesterday when I stepped outside in my new modest, though totally bitchin’ Indian clothing, the ogling stopped. A couple of men at the market told me I looked nice in Indian clothes, but kept their eyes down when they said it – like they we’re talking to their mother or their sister.

~ Pam

Mangalore goons target noodle straps !

Seems there’s a pretty serious Talibaptist movement in India afoot. A couple were arrested for kissing in public recently…a married couple. This is an actual article from a recent India Times:

Mangalore goons target noodle straps

NEW DELHI: Hooliganism in the name of ‘‘Indian culture’’ is still thriving in Mangalore. Local goons there have now issued threats to young women to desist from wearing ‘‘noodle straps’’ and ‘‘tight jeans’’ or face action, indicating that localauthorities have done little to curb vigilantism unleashed by extreme right-wing groups.

A central ministerial probe into the Mangalore pub molestation case, which generated national outrage, has found that fresh threats against ‘‘indecent dressing’’ were still being given in the run-up to Valentine’s Day on February 14.

This finding is contained in a report submitted by the two-member probe team sent by the women and child development (WCD) minister Renuka Choudhary. The report, prepared by ministry joint secretary Kiran Chaddha, was submitted on Tuesday. The report says these threats, coming on the heels of the pub violence, have generated fear among young couples. When contacted, the minister was unwilling to talk about the report. According to sources, the team met with victims of the pub attack and found them terrified. ‘‘The girls do not feel comfortable traveling alone,’’ the source said. The team was informed of two previous incidents when goons disrupted fashion shows.

The team has recommended that security arrangements be beefed up by the state government so that girls do not fee unsafe. This report comes after National Commission for Women member Nirmala Venkatesh visited Mangalore and virtually exonerated the goons by saying the pub’s security was lax.

India, you say… ?

Some events happen quickly, others just appear to. We’ve known since mid-August that we’d be relocating to Bangalore India for a year at the end of January, but still, until we arrived in Delhi three days ago, it seemed like nothing more than an unfathomable idea punctuated by a wedding, an incredible amount of paperwork and the exhausting task of closing out two lives and one house. A week of heart-wrenching goodbyes segued into two twelve-hour flights, and now Phil is working with a crew of people with indiscernible names, and Pam is under house arrest at a five star hotel.

Pam's cruel cell in her five star prison.

Pam's cruel cell in her five star prison.

The Porn Star and the Undertaker

My first impressions of India have been colored by two things: the stack of cultural etiquette books I’ve poured over for the past six months, learning that if you accidently run into a cow while driving there is a high probability that you’ll be lynched on the spot (the official recommendation is to run,) and the fact that my only experience has been the Oberoi Hotel where they actually have a pillow menu and wake us up with tea and peanut butter cookies.

If it weren’t for intersecting with our friends Aaron and Melanie who happened to be in Delhi for a wedding, I’d have thought all those romantic Indian stories of choking traffic, vast slums, bountiful bureaucracy, squat toilets and untraceable smells were things only of legend.

We met Aaron and Melanie at the Chandni Chowk Market in Old Delhi: ” Chandni Chowk, Chandni Chowk …” It sounded so innocent, like a place that would have glistening candy stores and sugary gumdrop architecture. And It was kinda like that…if you replace the candy stores and gumdrops with carts of deep fried sugar knots and stall after stall of people hawking plastic colanders, silver jewelry, pointy camel skin slippers, saris, dozens of filthy gorgeous children playfully seeing what they can get you to hand over, candy, cash, handshakes, smiles. A sea of men, goats, tuk-tuks and urine. I was Snow White trying to avoid poison apples. I was Grace Kelly in a Hitchcock film. I was Sally Field in “Not Without my Daughter.”

I wanted nothing more than to slip my arm into Phil’s or thread my fingers through his but I’d learned from my book-reading that any display of public affection was not only a vile insult to both the Hindu and Muslim cultures, but actually against the law. I wasn’t seeking affection but rather protection. Protection from a thousand pair of leering eyes, I wanted to make a statement that in my world would have said “back off I’m taken” but would have meant the opposite in this environment. After an hour or so I started to feel the same sort of safe I always felt on the Mission 14 bus I used to ride in San Francisco, where my willingness to be there cancelled out the color of my skin.

I couldn’t help remembering the passages of one of my books that explained that women, especially blonde pale-skinned ones, should not go out into the world unescorted, and apparently even if escorted, are deemed to be prostitutes or porn stars.

We wove through the market and bought Viagra and Valium from the drug store…because we could. Men called out, “Undertaker! Undertaker!” to my husband as we passed their shops. Finally we asked why they kept saying that and found out that apparently he looks like a WWWF wrestler called The Undertaker.

Yeah, these are the same guy. Makes perfect sense.

Yeah, these are the same guy. Makes perfect sense.

Along the way I had my first experiences with an Indian public squat toilet, and true rockstardom. The public toilet with four stalls and half a dozen woman who clearly knew how to elbow their way past a white girl, was as vile as a fleet of porta-potties at Burning Man on Sunday morning. I stood there, trying not to breathe and struggling to decide if this experience could possibly be any worse than having to pee really bad for the next six hours. Toss up. When I finally got to step back out into the Delhi version of fresh air I groped in my handbag for a package of moist towelettes. By the time I retrieved them I was surround by five children with filthy hands grabbing at mine, then five more, then ten more. Old women, midgets…everyone wanted a moist towelette, maybe they thought I was handing out American money and were tricked into temporary sanitation. Through the crowd an elegant teenage girl in a bright pink sari extended her delicate hand toward mine, and looked me in the eye as she shook my hand and smiled. I smiled back, then wiped myself down with the last towelette as I walked away.

These kids actually *stole* our cokes and stuck around for pictures !

These kids actually *stole* our cokes and stuck around for pictures !

We walked through a security gate metal detector that looked like as if it had been built by children on acid, and it occurred to me that this was the exact sort of place we’d been warned to stay away from in the barrage of security alerts that Adobe Systems (Phil’s employer) had been sending since we’d agreed to move to India six months ago. Market. Crowded. Mosque. Etc. We climbed the steps to the Jama Mosque, where the groups of worshipers and visitors took in the sight of us with the same hunger as we were taking in their thousands of years of culture. Amazing.

On the other side of the Mosque was the Muslim market where men sat on the ground offering bowls of mystery food with a melodic chant of what to American ears sounded like, “Cholera, Typhoid, Hep A, Amoebic Dysentery…Jenny Craig,” I figure I’m about two spells of food poisoning away from my ideal weight, but wasn’t prepared to break my vow to never ever visit an Indian public restroom again.

Melanie, Aaron, Phil (with camera), and Pam at the famous, and dubious, Karim's.

After dinner, which at first seemed like an assassination attempt by the lovely Aaron Green, but ended up being delicious, we headed back to the oh-so-modern Le Meridian Hotel (eye-poppingly designed by Philip Starck) where Aaron and Melanie were staying, for a much needed cocktail.

Matchbox racer !

I don’t know if this makes me a terrible person, but I didn’t feel a stitch of the white guilt I’d anticipated. I could still feel the stares of a thousand dark eyes, and was exhausted from my ambassadorial stint from the porn industry; but at least for today, the porn star and the Undertaker earned their places in the low light of the lovely lounge.

~ Pam