Delhi’s Connaught Place is an elegant circle of colonnades and walkways, a hub for the arterial routes that radiate outwards from it. Old colonial buildings have now been taken over by the homogeneity of global capitalism – Levi’s, Starbucks, Lacoste… The usual nonsense. And just outside children sift through rubbish bins. The hierarchical strata of all India is on display here, all condensed into a few hundred square metres. In a phone shop, while trying to sort out my rapidly dwindling credit, I end up sitting next to another gora – John from London. He is enjoying one of those circular conversations one encounters here: “Why is my phone not working?”
“The reason your phone is not working sar is that phone is being deactivated.”
“Yes, but why?”
“Sar, when phone is deactivated it is not possible to be working.”
“Yes, but… Oh never mind.”
So anyway, we do our laundry by hand here, washing in buckets. And then you tip the dirty water away down the toilet. Couple of days later he finds the toilet is blocked. Some guys come to fix it and undoing the pipe, find a pair of pants. They had been lurking in the bucket when he tipped the water away. Extracting the pants, they hold them up: “you vanting, sar?”
No mate, you keep them.
I laughed so hard I blew cappuccino foam all over my shirt.
So I am in the United Coffee House, a venerable Delhi institution, having a nice cup of tea and charging my phone. You know you’ve been travelling a bit too long in India when you drop your used napkin on the floor. Not the done thing in UCH, apparently.
Lodi gardens was packed on Easter Sunday – masses of families pick nicking, kids playing cricket in the shadow of ancient tombs, young couples coyly sitting together holding hands surreptitiously. Nice day out. So much of this city is hard work: stupefying traffic, broiling sun, stench of sewage, rubble strewn pavements, beggars, that a green and shady spot is a welcome relief. Half a dozen times today people have wandered up and started chatting. They don’t want anything – they are just curious. I try out my basic Hindi and they express polite amazement. Nice people.
Of all things, the United Coffee House is playing Elama by Yasser Habib. Well you’ll have to Google it, thanks to airtel’s incompetent 3G network. Lovely song though.