Typed up: East West Medical Center in Delhi
Posted from: Vijay's Guesthouse in Bikaner
We returned to Delhi to spend the weekend with my friend Abhijit, his partner Hassath and her daughter Amu. We were hassled big-time as we walked over to the prepaid tuk-tuk stand, but just keeping on walking and smiling and saying no got us there without any trouble. We stayed at the Vivek Hotel for one night, before taking a long cab ride to Abhijit's apartment.
Like every big city, Delhi is sprawling and Abhijit lived technically outside the city in sprawl to the west. It took almost an hour to get there from our hotel. Abhijit's home was an apartment in a high rise building, which was in a complex with several such buildings, all surrounded by a high wall with a security guard at each entrance. The building's quality seemed very similar to where we lived in Egypt. Lots of concrete, with plumbing that mostly worked.
We'd come early enough that we got to join Abhijit and Hassath in their trip to the local farmer's market, to buy some ingredients for dinner. The market consisted of little stands spread out along a stretch of busy road, which looked a little bit like something out of a fairy tale once everybody lit their gas lamps. The only bargaining Hassath did was to promise a vendor to buy 3 of something, if he had change for a 100. Vendors' hesitation to make change underlines how money in small bills is more valuable than the same amount in one large bill.
Back at their place we did some of the simple repetitive cooking work, while Abhijit and Hassath did the actual cooking. Danielle spent some time talking to Amu about the differences in school between India and the US, while I enjoyed the Internet. A little later 2 more friends showed up, dinner was ready, and we all enjoyed a fun evening of food and conversation. We slept at Abhijit's, and in the morning we had more traditional (mostly southern) Indian food for breakfast.
After breakfast, we got in Abhijit's car and drove to a huge mela (craft fair). Traffic was horrendous, but we got there and parking was actually organized quite well. After meeting up with some more of Abhijit and Hassath's friends, we stood in the obligatory security line, where I was allowed to keep my bag despite the "no bags allowed" sign. Inside it was just very busy. There were stands selling all kinds of crafts, interspersed with demonstrations of regional dance and music. But it was mostly busy. We sampled a few regional foods including kulfi, which was a lot like ice cream.
A few of the ladies bought some earrings, and it was decided to retreat to a quieter place to have a chance to talk and eat a real meal. That place turned out to be a Bennigan's, which served up a pretty decent burger at a cost of about twice the average Indian's daily wage. We enjoyed talking to Ram and Seema who spent several years living in Dubai, but did not get a chance to talk to the other friend who was sitting at the other end of the table. Afterwards Seema invited Abhijit, Hassath, and us over for dinner at their place.
A few days later, at about 5pm, we hired a car for the evening to take us over there. Ram and Seema lived in a neighborhood full of brand new development, mostly motivated by India's out-sourcing business. We passed buildings owned by Microsoft, Oracle, and other big technology companies as well as some companies I had never heard of. Each building had its own unique look, and it was quite neat to drive past so much modern architecture. There were also quite a few buildings being constructed.
We finally made it to Ram and Seema's apartment building which was new, very tall, and looked like a Western luxury complex. Our driver parked the car, and we told him we'd be back in a few hours. I even said I would call him to give him 20 minutes notice when we were going to leave. Despite this, he waited for us in the car the entire time we were visiting. He did not get anything to eat, and the car didn't move one inch. I suppose that was just normal and expected, but it did seem strange to us, and made me feel bad for the driver.
Meanwhile, we went up an elevator which had somebody sitting in it to press the buttons for us, despite the fact that it was a modern model just like any elevator we would find at home. Seema's an out-of-work interior decorator, and their home looked it. Every room (except for their son's room) could have been a picture in a magazine. Ram mixed drinks while Seema fussed over us, making sure we had napkins, and snacks, and a place to sit, and so on. In the kitchen, their housekeeper worked on our dinner.
Over dinner, it struck me how disrespectful everybody was towards religion and Indian traditions. That's a funny thing for me to notice, because I'm not big on religion. Almost everybody had had to deal with some disapproval or even rejection by their parents because their chosen life didn't conform. Having an experience like that, and subsequently becoming successful in life, must affect your attitude more than just living on the outside, looking in and shaking your head.
And then we were sick again. Danielle was sick while I did some errands, including going to the train station to (optimistically) change our train ticket for that night. I met the stereotypical Delhi tuk-tuk driver. He even pulled over on the side of the road to convince me that I should go to some tourist office instead of the train station, because I would have a better experience there. Then he didn't initially drop me off at the station, but instead he stopped just before the station declaring that this was the tourist office. He'd driven to the station in a round-about way so that we would pass it before the real train station. Luckily I knew where I was going and told him to take me to the station, but it was still quite annoying. We were constantly told to go to this or that "government" tourist office or handicraft workshop, but this guy took it to a whole new level.
Anyway, after I got back to the hotel, we decided to go to the hospital. At the hospital I had my puking/diarrhea experience, so we both got the IV and anti-biotics treatment. Turns out I had a bacterial infection with some giardia on the side, while Danielle just had the bacteria. Our doctor blamed the kulfi we had eaten at the fair a few days earlier. So we watched a lot of TV (Die Hard 4.0 is actually quite fun), took it easy, and left the hospital as soon as we were allowed. We spent a few more days just doing nothing in a hotel, before taking in a few sights and getting on the train to Bikaner.
We checked out some government buildings along Rajpath, as well as India "Arc de Triomphe" Gate. The only really worthwhile sight was the Mughal Gardens which are only open to the public one month out of the year. We weren't allowed to take in anything, but the flower gardens were completely gorgeous. Lots of different kinds of flowers, all in bloom, beautifully landscaped along with some grass, creeks and fountains. The layout was very geometric with lots of circles and straight lines. Because we went on a weekday it wasn't too busy either.