Emails From Afar: New Delhi Edition

Posted by Adam Matthews



When people go away, they send the best emails. In a new, occasional series, we air them out.

On my second day here in Delhi, a colleague warned me that personal space is an almost alien concept to most Delhiwallas. He revealed this to me while we jockeyed for space on the sidewalks of Connaught Place, after a passerby smashed into me with his shoulder. An hour later, while finishing drinks and paying our bill, four men ranging in age from 20 to 50, stood on top of us waiting for our table. The oldest guy leaned on the chair closest to mine, drumming his fingers on the back of the chair.

Spend a little more time in India's capital and this all starts to make sense. Life here seems defined by an idea that the city contains a finite amount of resources. From the moment one wakes, the race to claim one's slice of said resources commences.

This is most noticeable on the city's roadways. Auto rickshaws (250 CC motorbikes with a two-passenger compartments in the back), domestic compacts, motorbikes (with up to two females passengers sitting sidesaddle in saris) and the iconic Hindustan Ambassador Cabs (which recall pre-revolution Havana) sit five or six across on three-lane roads, jamming themselves into every available crevice.  The moment the light changes, the race resumes. Drivers constantly switch lanes in a dizzying sprint to somewhere.

For passengers, the harrowing lane changes without signaling, doesn't mean you'll reach your destination any faster. Since everyone speeds, it makes little difference. And that's when the light actually works. Yesterday, I unsuccessfully attempted to walk across an eight-lane boulevard for five minutes. The traffic light leading to Delhi's central banking district was out of commission. I finally wised up. I followed some local guys, trusting they'd know when to walk.  I made it. I've still got a lot to learn.

Guest blogger Adam Matthews is a frequent GOOD contributor. He moved to India last week to take a job at a new magazine, and sent us this email. We imagine there will be more where this came from-stay tuned.

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