Adventures in America – Episode 1 – Delhi
After a gap of 11 years I’ve finally been convinced to return to the States, for a family vacation with my wife and in-laws. We’re off to visit family in Boston, Costa Rica and Guatemala, a round trip that will take us more than two months, so we’ve packed up the shop, said goodbye to Fort Kochi and set sail for America.
But before we could make it to America our journey began with renewing all our US visas, and since Kochi has no US consulate, we started our journey in Delhi.
Getting entry to the US is not perceived as an easy task in India, it’s the Visa equivalent of an IIT entrance exam and getting through is considered quite an achievement. People are quite afraid of rejection, and the going perception is that a reject stamp from USA willleave you grounded for life, so prep works begins many months prior, starting with slowly filling out the 500 page form, and then interviews and biometrics and on and on…..
But before we get to that I’d like to drop in some quick notes and observations from our time in Delhi.
Getting there was fun, our flight was full of oddballs, The lady seated next to us was carrying a large brown Louis Vuitton handbag with tan straps and gold lettering. I can tell you this because she displayed it on her tray table proudly throughout the flight, including boarding, takeoff and landing, ignoring repeated requests by the stewardess to place her bag overhead or below the seat in front. The stewardess not to be outdone, tried to outsmart her by bringing out the lifejacket and other safety equipment and requesting to placing it on her tray table, hoping the lady would make space for this important safety gear, but she just used her bag to slide the equipment slowly off the tray, and onto the floor, then proceeded to speak loudly on her cellphone throughout the in-flight safety demonstration, ignoring the stewardesses glare. I was perplexed by her behaviour then Kritika explained that for what the bag costs,the lady would sooner sit on the floor herself, than let that LV bag touch the ground.
Our in-flight supervisor didn’t seem to speak much English and seemed to be making her announcements purely from rote memory in a rambling semi-English drone and all I could make out were a few keywords thrown between English sounding grunts, duh duh duh, ladies and jants, duh duh duh landed, Indira Gandhi ra ra ra, temperature dah day dah, GoAir, Thank you!
In the list of in-flight entertainment and oddities I would also like to nominate all the people who have loud private conversations with their phone while surrounded by a giggling eavesdropping public, like the lady besides Kritika going ‘Haanji uncleji, teh antacid se na gas ho jaandi hai teh thoda antacid Chak lo ji”. Our plane had barely hit the ground before the uncle behind us got on his feet and to his phone and began loudly discussing business and how they should pay him cash instead of cheque so he can skip the taxes. You’d think with all the governments demonetisation effort and anti-black money campaign people would be more careful about discussing these things, but it only goes to show that people never change.
Malls in delhi can rival any city in the world in terms of brands on display and also in fashionable people. Fashion in Delhi changes often and spreads quickly. Current trends for men dictate a high top haircut, tapered skinny jeans with a selection of keys and other junk hanging off the belt, tight button down shirts, and pointed leather shoes. Fashion trends in Delhi change but the pointy shoes are like the US metric system, there’s too many of them in circulation to change, so they are here to stay.
I was pleasantly surprised to see the international selection of food and clothing available there which leads me to my next observation, that consumers in Delhi are not an easy bunch to please. Even if they are only paying 10Rs for something, they will hound the seller with 200 Rs worth of questions, Aloo fresh hai na? Pani Bisleri hai na, Rate sahi lagana bhaiya! Haath dhoye theh na? Cheese aur dalo bhaiya! Myoh-nayse de do bhaiya, myonaaayse. Inka chodoh hamara order Jaldi karo bhaiya, humko jaldi jaana hai!
They really keep the staff on their toes and thanks to their entitled pestering I’m happy to report that Delhi has the best food in India and people are spoilt for quality, taste and choice. There’s cuisine from all over and fruits from every corner of the world, and you dont have to go far to find it.
In the more memorable food experiences I would like to add Chicken sushi, and SardarBucks coffee, its right down the street from a real Starbucks and offers a similar coffee menu at half the price, plus a selection of kulchas to keep your cappuccino company. People get just as dressed up for ‘Sardarbucks’ just as if it were a real Starbucks and there’s popping punjabi music blasting from behind the counter to dance to while you wait for your brew to appear.
People can live in their cars in Delhi. Its easy to find a spot to chill and most eateries are happy to serve you in your car, even luxuries like cigarettes, booze and hookah can be had inside the comfort of your vehicle. I’ve seen whole families chilling in the car like its their living room, having loud conversations and sharing treats, completely ignorant of the massive traffic jam they’ve caused by double parking.
Now we get to the driving, anybody with a car taller than 5ft is allowed to do whatever the hell they want under the Delhi Traffic Act #63684 entitled “SUV hai bhaiiii!!!” Additionally the rule also states that all expensive cars must be parked at acute angles to the street, and points increase proportionately to amount of traffic disruption caused.
Two wheelers are forbidden to use side view mirrors and traffic cops are as useless as everywhere else. Once you reach Noida a deadly game of who dares wins begins. Bullock carts use the centre lane and two-wheelers with entire families on them perform death-defying manoeuvres between share-rickshaws and mad-max style motorcycle tempos. Yes you can take the metro to Noida and avoid the drive there but how long can you sit in the metro, you have to get out and cross the road sometime. Good luck!
When driving on the ring road you will be pleased to know that the flyover space. below every metro station has been converted into a free for all parking/waiting situation with only one lane dedicated to through traffic and the other three lanes lost to chaos.
The worst offenders can be easily identified by a red ‘mata ki chunni’ hanging from the rear view mirror or a “GURU JI” decal placed across the back window. Public is advised to approach such cars with caution and can saftely assume the driver and all passengers to be insane.
People like to talk in Delhi. Very few purchases or transactions can be completed without chit chat. We got pulled over by a cop and usually, in Bombay, the only thing the cop says is ‘license!’ But in delhi he started with a beaming smile and asked many questions about the car, wether the wood grain in the dash was real and how I can drive with the seat slung so far back before finally telling us we were pulled over because we ran a red light, we didn’t, he just wanted a bribe, which we refused and we’re allowed to go on our way because his colleagues had stopped a bigger car with an easier target.
Eventually we got all our forms filled and having all our ducks in a row, we lined up for the visa interview with enough supporting paperwork to appease even the strictest interviewer. In line with us were the usual supporting cast of nervous first-timers, aged sardar couples, newly weds in full garb and a people wearing shirts with “USA” or Harley-Davidson hats hoping their fashion allegiance to the states would disarm the interviewer and ease their passage there.
The interview itself ironically, was a piece of cake, the people at the embassy were sweet and polite and seemed more than happy to stamp us through. The people at VFS though, I can’t curse them enough, they seem to think of themselves as two rungs higher than even the most blue-blooded of British aristocracy and refuse to make eye contact with us mere peasants who apply for visas. I had my passport thrown at me by the lady at the counter and if I wasn’t there for a US visa, and there wasn’t CCTV at the venue, I might have considered throwing my chappal back at her in response.
The rest of our days were spent in peace and comfort with friends and family and soon we were packed and ready to be off to Boston on our next flight…….