“Excuse me sir. Ladies only,” says the platform guard.
He looks apologetic. I look around the carriage of the Delhi Underground train I have just boarded. Yup, there is no mistaking the hundreds of sari-clad women around me. I slink back out of the closing doors as unobtrusively as I can, followed by a crowd of puzzled dark eyes. Another lesson re-learned in India.
It takes a little time to get used to Delhi’s foibles again after a period away; but despite the freezing January fog (the city’s inhabitants are wrapped in a bizarre assortment of winter shawls, scarves and balaclavas against the nine degrees temperature), some things never change.
“Ladies only” carriages have caught me out before; but there’s plenty of echoes of three years ago when I first set foot here – it didn’t take long before I received an offer of “free” transport, nor for the horn orchestra to start to grate. Then there’s the forced intimacy of the streets, jostling through a mass of bicycles, motor-rickshaws, street-children and half-limbed beggars, the smell of pungent spices and baking naan bread battling with diesel and petrol fumes, the sight of cows serenely munching on the detritus that lies piled up with no-one to collect it. Above all there is the sound of endless enquiries delivered like verbal spam in the hope of turning the head of an unwary traveller (“Sir? Sir? Where you want to go sir? What you looking for?”).
I have to admit that I quite enjoy the challenge of it all – deciphering whether the ever-well-intentioned “yes” really means “yes”; the vague instruction to “Go straight” in response to any quest for directions; the five-minute puzzle over how to operate the shower and which of the five taps might (might) run hot water. Reassuringly chaotic I think would be a fair assessment.
Salman Rushdie – what a Shame!
I arrived this morning in Jaipur for the Literature festival that takes place here over the next five days.
This year’s news is that the proposed visit by Salman Rushdie may be off – or it may be on. Or off. No-one really knows. The bones of it is that the organisers have been put into an awkward position by the intervention of the top Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband who called for his visa to be declined. My understanding is that Rushdie is in India but yet to decide about attending. He was originally due to do so tomorrow.
It will be interesting to see what happens – there’s bound to be demonstrations. Given that the man-behind-the-show William Dalrymple showed last year that has no problem with a good spat, Rushdie may yet stand up to be counted for those oh-so-satanic verses.
Will post tomorrow.