Delhi Life Update
Since I arrived on Monday my sleeping schedule has been quite irregular – 11.5 hours difference is a lot for the body to adjust to. I have gone to bed by 10pm most every night and only to wake up between 3:30am and 6:30am every day last week until finally managing to “sleep in” until 7:45am yesterday and 7:00am today. I’d love to see the looks on the faces of those who know my usual sleeping habits. Let’s just say I’ve never been known as an early riser. But I really enjoy the peaceful mornings and the time to wake up my body and brain before diving into my day.
After breakfast I caught up on world news and continued to finalize my course selection for the semester. I heard the news of the horrific event in Norway yesterday and have been shaken by the viciousness of the attacks. Though I am far from home and far from Norway, the 24 hour news cycle and access to the Internet makes the world feel very small indeed.
I’ve begun to learn my way around New Delhi in the past few days. On Thursday Lesly & Lena accompanied me on my first auto ride (auto, meaning an auto rickshaw). A perfect fit for three people, autos are a fairly cheap way to get around New Delhi – especially when you have Lesly, the Queen of Bargaining with you – and the open air construction makes for a cool ride. Until now my host, who has a driver like most upper-middle class Indian families, has been dropping me at campus on his way to work. No complaining there, but it’s also nice to start learning my way around the city on my own. On Friday I took my first solo auto ride to get to campus, about a 15 minute ride from my host’s house and $1 to $2 depending on the time of day. As one can imagine, Westerners (especially Western women) attract a lot of attention here. Having spent time as an obvious minority in other cultures, I am used to the stares, gestures, and invitations like “welcome to my country, you be my bootiful wife” (that was one we girls got a lot in Chile). One learns that these solicitations are not to be taken seriously and most often nothing to be afraid of. So far, I have found the attention in India to involve a lot more staring but few propositions.
As an experiment on my abilities as a “cultural chameleon” I decided to travel to school in a sort of disguise. I fit a hijab out of one of my shawls – a skill I picked up during a high school field trip to a mosque – covered my arms with a loose sweater, and put on my sunglasses. I had transformed from an obvious Westerner to maybe a student from the Middle East or perhaps a fair skinned Indian. Riding alone to school in the auto, I felt very safe behind the veil and sunglasses. I have always wondered what life would be like “behind the veil”. I once saw a Post Secret entry that showed a picture of a woman in a full Afghan chadri, even her eyes made invisible behind the cloth net. The caption read “I envy their freedom”. Indeed, I did feel a sense of freedom behind the cloth covering. As soon as I got to campus I transformed back into the obvious Westerner, unpinning my hijab, taking off the cardigan, and throwing on a pair of hoop earrings. The JNU campus, as all university campuses tend to be, has its own little “bubble”. Many students wear Western style clothes and you can walk the grounds unbothered at pretty much any hour.
I have also been traveling on the metro the past few days. The New Delhi Metro is fairly new and very clean. It reminds me a lot of the Washington, D.C. Metro. There are also great security precautions on the metro. All passengers must be patted down (separate lines for men and women, of course) and all bags must go through an X-ray machine. Every train has at least one car for women only, which is a nice way to check out Indian fashion and avoid male attention. The closest metro station is only a three minute walk from my host’s house, so it’s a great place to meet Lesly and Lena, who don’t yet have cell phones, and a good way to get around the city. There is a lot of security around cell phones in India, ever since mobile phones were used in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Now any SIM card purchased must be linked to an address, making it rather difficult to get a phone.
The biggest news, I am saving the best for last, is that the girls and I found a flat yesterday! We have been working with a broker who has shown us places all around town. Yesterday we arranged an appointment to see five apartments/flats. When we arrived, he told us “I will show you this first flat, and you will not want to see any more after that.” It turns out he was right, though we did end up seeing the four others for good measure. “The guys”, who are French students Manu and Albin, along with Thibault, another student from their university in France, joined us to look for their own place. It was a really fun afternoon. The six of us attracted a lot of attention as Aroon, our broker, carted us around New Delhi in his small truck – three of us inside and three in the back.
Our new home is located in a gated community within walking distance of the JNU campus. Most of the area’s residents are government workers. The area is quiet and calm. We’ll be in a lovely ground floor apartment with three bedrooms, 1.5 baths, a kitchen, and a living/dining area. The selling point for all of us, I think, was a large patio, and the fact that we’ll have Indian neighbors. I picture us chatting with them across the short wall dividing our patio from theirs as we hang up laundry or have our morning tea :). We hope to move in by the end of this week. The place was under construction when we viewed it, so the landlord is taking a few days to finish painting, wiring, and cleaning the entire place, then we’ll sign the lease and get our keys! So this week’s activities will include registering at the Foreigner’s Registration Office (FRO), which must be done within 14 days of arrival if you plan to stay in India more than 180 days, finalizing classes, getting our library cards, and shopping for beds, tables, etc. to furnish the flat.
This afternoon Lesly, Lena, and I went to Fabindia to buy nice Indian outfits. Fabindia is sort of the American Apparel of India, though comparatively less expensive. The company is dedicated to using all Indian materials, mostly organic or natural, and promotes “inclusive capitalism” through community owned companies. It works with traditional rural artisans to deliver their products to urban markets. I got a wonderfully colorful number for formal events, including an event I am attending tonight with my host, a dinner put on by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Lesotho. After the dinner I am meeting up with for salsa dancing with John Von Rooy, an ’08 SJU grad who has been living in India for the past many months. Bennies & Johnnies in India! What better way to celebrate Week 1 of my year in India.