© 2009 Ronni Shendar delhinight31

Last views of Delhi

Our 5 days in dehli seem quite distant by now following all our traveling and the unique city planning that left us feeling we saw so little of the city. But amidst this mash of events, streets, dust, walks and images, some moments remain so fresh:

Our first night in Delhi. We landed basically right in time to setup, soundcheck and play the show. The open-air stage we performed on had to close relatively early due to public noise regulations. It was a great show and we and the crowd were still revved up by the music, so we decided to continue the evening at an indoor after-party.

We had a ride to the first event that took place in the southern part of the city. We have only seen parts of the city from our car ride from the airport and now in the darkness I lacked any bearings or familiar monuments I could orient myself to.

New Delhi was planned by the British as an imperial city, a capital, a government center, an exemplar model constructed atop anything that had previously existed. Wide regal lanes lead to flower gardened circles, vast sidewalks on each side bordered by walls and lined by trees, circle after circle, the colossal boulevards all look the same.

The enormous metropolis is spread throughout great distances connected by highways and vast avenues. It’s impossible to walk anywhere, the distances far to large. In order to continue to another event we grabbed 2 rickshaws, the primary street transport of the city arteries.

One driver was given the address and direction by phone, and our driver was set to follow him to the location.Off we went. Left turn, right turn, past a wedding, past a park where youngsters gathered in the dark, an exit up onto a city highway bridge. The bridge overpass got narrower, a construction site on the left lifted a cloud of dust into the air and swallowed the city lights invisible. Bumping over pot holes and conduit lines our rickshaw drove slowly through the brown fog, the light reflecting in the dust, faces of construction workers peer out from cover coming in and out of focus under the construction lights.

Our driver covered his face with a thick shawl that was hanging over his shoulders, his head was a shadow against the dim light as the underpass head back down. The dust began to lift, the city’s structures emerged into the skyline, sidewalks came into view, a stoplight, an intersection, but the other rickshaw was nowhere to be found. Our driver tried to speed up as we eyed around corners to spot what we were following, but even I could tell that the rickshaws far in the dusty distance are not the one with which we began.

It was already 1 am, and only wide empty streets around us. I told the driver to stop and asked that he just take us back to our hotel. I read him the address I had on the key card, but he didn’t know the place. I thought I may have mispronounced it, so I handed him the card. As he looked at it and flipped it over, I realized this man is illiterate. He does not know how to read or write.

We drove further on searching for someone we could stop to ask direction. But the streets were empty. The only people out were sleeping on the sidewalks, curled under trees, or leaning against property walls.

A man wearing a security guard uniform crossed the street under a light, we called his attention but he too didn’t recognize the address. At each intersection stood a pile of turned over stones of the unfinished streets and bursting sidewalks. The wind picks up the uncovered earth and a permeating dust hangs permanently in the sky.

Behind one pile of stones, three men were chiseling bricks. Like our driver, each of the three men curtained themselves from the dust under thick blankets that folded over their head. Our driver walked to them with the hotel card. Two men returned to the rickshaw peering in from the dust, only their eyes visible from the wrapped blanket, their clothes a thick pale brown. None spoke english. The card was no longer in their hand. They too couldn’t read it. The rickshaw’s engine rattled, the two men stood still staring in at us, the dust was blowing by under the dim street light and our driver sat still looking at the sky.