India under the Sari

I was in India for around four months before I was offered to keep my first child. It was in the city of Pushkar, on the banks of a lake which was supposedly created by a teardrop of Shiva. Sitting on the banks of the lake and contemplating life and other such topics, I was disturbed by a man who was carrying a small child nonchalantly in his arms. Although he didn’t speak any English and my Hindi had sadly not progressed beyond saying ‘mujhē hindī nahī̃ ātī hai’ (‘I don’t speak Hindi’), it was clear that the child he was carelessly holding was not his. When he thrust it towards me, I at first assumed that he simply wanted to have a picture of the child with a tall fair foreigner for posterity, as so often Indian parents do for their offspring. However as the photo shoot began the man left without a word, leaving the baby in my arms. It turned out that the (actual) parents were close by, and had sent the man as a joke in order to confuse the foreigner. I often struggle to understand Indian humour, though I blame that on the language barrier rather than the idea of giving away your children as a joke.

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Delhi, however, is a far more westernised and liberal place than many assume. One example that interests my peers back home is the nightlife. There are many lively haunts to keep the 9-12 slot occupied. Sadly clubs and bars are forced to close at this early hour due to some unfortunate instances in Delhi’s recent past. This means that the drinking tends to be hard and fast. Smashed Indian youths meander around 13th Century mausoleums and temples in the Hauz Khas district of Delhi, something similar to Cowgate as a strip of clubs and bars, though entirely different in most other ways. Here I attended a performance by the Delhi Sultenate, a popular Indian rapper who has an inexplicable and mysterious Jamaican accent. As I entered the venue I was confronted by a crowd of rowdy girls in saris skanking and sipping Old Monk rum. A slightly gaudier crowd than you may find at similar events in Edinburgh. Once the night ends at 12:30 sharp, with policemen ‘encouraging’ the revellers to leave Hauz Khas by a prod of their cane lathis, there is a 35 minute rickshaw ride to get from the clubs in the South back to the halls in the North. This consists of drunkenly singing along with the often drunker rickshaw driver while screaming down the ring road, dodging trucks and busses that could obliterate the rickshaw with one unconsidered turn. To some drink driving is an evil, to the Delhi rickshaw driver it gives him the courage and confidence to navigate the traffic jungle that is the Delhi road. Dutch-courage is nothing compared to Indian-courage.

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Whilst Delhi is an increasingly liberal city when it comes to alcohol consumption, the numerous religious festivals mean that this is punctuated by dry days where the sale of alcohol is prohibited. As I write this the city is preparing for the Delhi government elections (Delhi has not had a chief minister in over a year and has been under President’s rule since). The 3 days of the election period are all dry days, an out-of-the-box method of crowd control (and a measure to discourage candidates from handing out beer to undecided voters in the slums). As it’s my friend’s birthday in the middle of the election, I have been compelled to stockpile Kingfisher strong beer, the Indian equivalent of Special Brew with an alcohol content which has the reassuring ‘not exceeding 8%’ alcohol content.

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The University out here is also an amazing institution. Certainly nothing much seems to have changed since the British left in 1947 apart from the fact Nick, the other guy from Edinburgh, and myself are the only firangis in the class. The bureaucracy is still entirely intact; to sign up for a class demands that you sign seemingly endless forms, whilst whiteboards are heavily outnumbered by their slate and chalk counterparts.

This being said, whilst the bureaucracy can sometimes be demoralising, it can also be highly emancipating. You are given a lot of freedom to study what you like and hand in essays when you like. For one of my courses, Strategies of Imperial Control, I was told by the teacher in October that an essay was due in November. November came and went, and I carried on enjoying my holidays. By January the feeling of guilt began to creep in, and so I emailed the professor who replied that I could hand in the essay ‘at my own convenience’. This sums up the beauty of India, a place where having a relaxed mind-set prevails over the anxious rush to finish work. I believe that this goes hand in hand with the Indian philosophy of re-incarnation. ‘There is no-rush, we are going to be able to do everything all over again, why bother yourself.’

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