Thursday, January 31, 2008

blackberrys: not just for douchebags

today was my last day in delhi, so i thought i ought to do my due diligence and see a couple of historical things i'd never bothered to see earlier during my stay. i had been foregoing them regularly, in shameless favor of sunday brunches at fancy hotels with unlimited champagne.

i had gotten a couple of recommendations on where to go from a few friends, and set off this morning armed with a hefty lonely planet book and my favorite driver, manoj. i like manoj because he speaks english well and we don't get offended when we take turns ignoring each other.

'we are going to qutb minar,' i told him. i was going because my friend of few words said it was 'peaceful.' peaceful is a good place to start, i thought.

i fell asleep in the car on the way to south delhi, as i always do. when i woke up 45 minutes later, we were there. manoj followed me to the ticket counter to make sure i didn't get gypped, and i whined at him like i whine at my father. 'manooooj, i can do this myself.' also like my dad, he ignored me, waited for the cashier to give me correct change, told me that he'd be waiting at the car for me when i was done, and walked away.

the outside of the qutb complex looks pretty plain. nothing too exciting; just a short brick wall and a squatty, unimpressive archway marking the entrance. however - the things on the other side are wonderful to look at. the grounds are wide and expansive, with tons of ruins well-spaced throughout the area. the generous amount of space is jarring: it's such a palpable contrast from the back to back kiosks jammed into each other throughout the rest of the city.

usually when i'm out and about, i feel like the city is always yelling at me like i've done something wrong. PEPSINOKIAAIRTELREEBOKTATATHERAYMONDSHOPPHILIPS. it was nice to come in and have the qutb minar open one eye and half wake up from its nap and go, 'mmmm. annie. whaddup. walk around. enjoy me. maybe get some tea from the little man near the entrance. zzzz.'

i wandered around and tried not to take horrible photographs.

qutb minar actually refers to this one particular really tall stone building that made my neck ache when i looked at it. that's quite tall, i said to myself. probably really old, too. mmhmm.

after sauntering around for awhile, i got annoyed with myself for being such a lazy traveler. i was in a place that was historically significant, and i had no idea why.

aha! i said. i know what to do. i pulled out my trusty blackberry from my pocket and looked it up on wikipedia. it says:

Inspired by the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan and wishing to surpass it, Qutb-ud-din Aibak, the first Muslim ruler of Delhi, commenced construction of the Qutub Minar in 1193, but could only complete its basement. His successor, Iltutmish, added three more storeys and, in 1368, Firuz Shah Tughluq constructed the fifth and the last storey. The development of architectural styles from Aibak to Tuglak are quite evident in the minaret. Like earlier towers erected by the Ghaznavids and Ghurids in Afghanistan, the Qutub Mahal comprises several superposed flanged and cylindrical shafts, separated by balconies carried on Muqarnas corbels. The minaret is made of fluted red sandstone covered with intricate carvings and verses from the Qur'an. The Qutub Minar is itself built on the ruins of Lal Kot, the Red Citadel in the city of Dhillika, the capital of the Tomars and the Chauhans, the last Hindu rulers of Delhi.

The purpose for building this beautiful monument has been speculated upon. It can take the usual role of a minaret, calling people for prayer in the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque, the earliest extant mosque built by the Delhi Sultans. Other possibilities are a tower of victory, a monument signifying the might of Islam, or a watch tower for defense.

hooray! knowing a little bit more than i did before, i felt less bad about myself and continued wandering around. my friend was right: it was lovely here. so peaceful and quiet and


a flood of screaming schoolgirls burst in through the gates.

i grew up in topeka, and when we were in grade school, we didn't wear adorable uniforms, skip around holding hands, or wear our hair in pigtails. in fact, i didn't even think these types of schoolgirls existed, except for inside stories of clever french schoolgirls named madeline.

but oh ho! how wrong i was. they're all in india, they all visit qutb minar on otherwise pleasant wednesday mornings, and they scream loudly when flocking from one ruin to another. i was about to cross a pathway when i saw hordes of them running toward me, so i hid behind a pillar until they had all flailed past. children scare me.

i only like children when they are bundled in winter clothes, like this baby i snuck a picture of.

i was almost immediately caught.

after i'd had enough, i walked back to the car and said, 'next! to chandni chowk.' the one word my friend had offered on chandni chowk, the most popular market in old delhi, was 'crowded.'

on our way, manoj started lecturing me about how crowded, unpleasant, and generally unsafe chandni chowk was, and tried to persuade me not to go. 'do you need to buy something?' he asked me. 'nah, i said.' 'then you just see from car,' he suggested, which i ignored.

traffic in delhi is terrible. qutb minar is in south delhi, and chandni chowk is in old delhi. they're 10 miles apart, and it took us an hour to drive there through mg road. thus, i took my second nap since waking up 4 hours earlier.

yo. cahndni chowk is not that impressive. i woke up, looked around, and said to manoj, 'ey! this looks like taiwan!' he didn't say anything. i looked up 'chandni chowk' on the bb to see if there was anything particular in the market worth seeing. i couldn't find anything, so manoj got his way and i stayed in the car.

i did, however, demand that we go to karims for lunch. karims came highly recommended from both the family who hosted me for diwali ('Karims at jahma masjhid for non-veg delicious,' he had written in my notebook), and a good friend who'd gone this past weekend ('the goat brain curry is really, really good just as long as you don't think about it being brain').

it's right by the oldest mosque in india, jahma masjhid, which is very close to chandni chowk, and therefore also in old delhi. manoj started to get stressed.

'i know karims is by jahma masjhid, but that area is very busy. where is it exactly?'

'beats me,' i said.

'what?' he asked, confused.

'i don't know,' i repeated.

we parked the car and he got out with me. 'i will help you find karims.' as soon as i started to protest he just started walking. he walks fast, so i had to do those goofy half skips behind him to be able to keep an eye on the back of his head.

this time he was right; karims was hard to find. he asked a few people on the way, and it was a good 5-7 minute walk from the car. at the door i said to him, 'do you want to have lunch with me?' he said, 'ahno. i bring my lunch so i take my lunch in the car in the parking lot.' pause. 'ok. here, you eat lunch. then, 5 minutes before you are finish you call me, and i come meet you on main street. so when you are done, you come outside and turn right and go to the main street. i will come get you there.' then he turned around and left.

i was seated at a table of four that already had two people sitting at it, a younger man and an older woman, probably his mother. i caught him eyeing my suspiciously several times while i was looking at the menu.

'you are from china?' he asked.

'no, from california,' which is what i say when i feel like confusing people.

'ah,' he said, not understanding and furrowing his brow, but not asking further. then, a few minutes later:

'what are you doing here?'

'working. on business. in delhi.'

'oh,' he said, his face easing into a look of more comfort.

'in IT firm?'

'yes,' i replied. 'what do you think i should get?' i asked him, overwhelmed with the choices, and not wanting to try brain on my own.

'non-veg?' he asked.

i nodded. he took my menu from me, squinted at it for 30 seconds, and offered, 'the butter chicken, half order. ...yes. that will be nice.'

a bustly waiter tossed a plate of sliced red onions with a lime slice in front of me and whirled away. i was starving, so i snacked on them, even though they are neither filling or delicious.

when my food came, it was rich and tasty. the naan was puffy and the chicken was tender.

as i munched, it occurred to me that i hadn't printed out my flight itinerary for my early morning flight the next day back to sf. indian airports have about a billion different checkpoints for travelers, the first of which is a check to even enter the airport, which you need a printed itinerary for.

i got out the bb and searched for my itinerary to forward to my roommate to print out at the office for me. just for kicks, i decided to read my itinerary again. mmm 7am thursday, yes. arriving 10:30am, yes. mmm. departing newark? that's weird. mmm.

my eyes skipped up and i read wed, jan 30, 11:55pm...depart delhi.

'ah, fuck,' i said out loud. IT man across the table frowned in my direction. my flight was that night.

as i was hastily finishing lunch, IT man reached into his bag and handed me something from across table.

'my business card,' he said. 'just in case your company needs anything.'

'thank you,' i said, slipping it into my right coat pocket, thinking about how much more efficient it would be if my pocket were a trash can.

i called manoj per our 5-minutes-before-finish rule, and walked outside to meet him. i ended up waiting for manoj standing in front of a little man who was making these thin pancake-type things. he had a very efficient setup: there were 2 rows of 8 moderately sized dough balls each sitting obediently to his left. when he was ready for one, his left hand would shoot out, shove it onto the wooden board in front of him and start stamping it with his palm. he stamped it out until it was about the size of a coaster, at which point he picked it up and started tossing it around his fingers to stretch it out. when it was the size of a medium pizza, he casually flicked it to his right, where it landed perfectly onto a half dome skillet. as it started to brown, his left hand started in on the next one dough ball and started stamping.

he was very petite and wore very tight pants.

he caught me looking at him a few times, and gave me the same look that i give to people when i catch them doing the same. i got embarrassed, turned around, and tried to find interesting cars to look at as they drove by.


Blogger Rita said...

hahaha. you amuse me greatly. i love travel reading and this blog is awesome!

4:29 AM  
Blogger Rita said...

Oh. By the way, you've been tagged! Welcome back! ;)


4:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i like the interactions b/w you & Manoj. also like the baby w/ dad. cute. oh, and can you get me the phone number of the boy with the tight pants?

1:49 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home