I start my day visiting the wonderful momo lady. She is popular, and her stall is full of children having their lunchtime snack. “Auntie auntie one more one more”, they beg – one more momo please.
I wait patiently in line and when my time comes, her face lights up – a returning customer. I smile at her and say: “Abke momo bahut acha hain” (your momos are very good!) She has one of those faces that you just know that this person is very kind at her core, her cheeks showing that she smiles a lot. But somehow after my comment, her face lights up even more. I pay for six momos but she gives me three extra for free. All for the price of a little less than 30 euro cent.
I like going to her stall. It is so obvious that she enjoys what she does and giving her gift of cooking delicious momos to hungry people. She takes pride in it and she does it damn well.
I escape back into Old Delhi, where I feel free. New Delhi is all too much business and greed for my taste. I venture into the small back alleys looking for shortcuts and adventure. I find my way to a muslim area. Some stern looking man looks at me with a hard face. He is unsure of what I am doing there. I nod at him and say “Salam wala I kuum” (muslim greeting), his face lights up and he answers “Wala I kuum asalam” (response to the greeting). The ice is broken.
I take a side turn into a very narrow street. The light is beautiful, and I want to photograph the wall of one of the houses but I am too close, I need to go further away. Also I want something to frame the composition. I ask a man if I can enter his house to photograph the street through his door. Respectfully I tell him “Dhanyivad” (Thanks). I make a gesture that I feel hot and say “Garam” (hot), trying to do some small talk. He agrees, and urges me to please sit down under his fan to cool down a bit. “Pani?” he asks (want water?) – “Nai nai bimar hain” I politely respond (no no sick). He thinks I am trying to say I am sick and genuinely he looks concerned. I correct myself – “nai nai sirf bottle pani, local pani bimar hain” – (no no only bottled water, local water makes me sick”. Ahh ok – he looks relieved.
It turns out he is an envelope manufacturer, and we spend a bit of time looking at his products. “Sundar hain” I say (beautiful). I shake his hand and say thank you and head back into the streets.
I find a corner with amazing late afternoon light casting wonderful shadows, and start looking for stories to tell with my camera. I smell something nice. I ask the man “ye kya hain?” what is this? It is some kind of beef ball. I actually always found this a bit funny about India – muslim and hindus living besides each other. For the hindus the cow is holy but not for the muslims. Doesn’t that mean that the muslim are eating the hindus god? Me being a foodie with no religious orientation I eat anything and I am glad to try some beef again – “kitna hain?” How much? He quotes a price per kilo and I tell him I only want to try a few. Ah ok – no need to pay then. No no I insist. Ok 5 rupees then. They are delicious.
The next day I check out from the hotel – heading off 2000km south to visit an Indian friend that is living in Chennai. I haven’t seen Shalini for far too many years. When I check out from the hotel, the owner gives me a call and shows his true colours and does everything to squeeze me for more money than what we had agreed on. I am cornered and in a rush to go to the airport, and after a lot of fighting (India is the only place in the world that can make me truly aggressive), I just give up and pay the bill. Upset I enter the taxi, and ask the driver – “ab kaise hain?” – how are you. He smiles and sais “tick hain” – good! A little small talk and I mention I am angry with the owner. He tells me that the owner is a very greedy man, not a good man. The driver is afraid that I will not come back to India because of my bad experience. “No no – Hindustan mera dil kepas hain – acha log hain” – no no India has my heart – great people I ensure him. Forgetting about the road and the traffic ahead of him, nearly knocking over a cyclist, he turns and shakes my hand – “thank you thank you sir!”.
I ask him to quickly stop by at the owners office (I know where he hangs out, nearby the hotel) and I go and yell at him. It is small money to me, but it is about the principle. I hate dishonesty and greed. I tell him about Karma, and let him know that I will do everything in my power to give his business bad reviews online. A scam in the airport to bring me to his hostel, and then cornering me for money when I was in a rush. It is not ok. Back to the taxi. On the road again. I ask the driver – “shadi shuda?” Married? Yes of course he is married he replies. “Kitna bacce?” how many children? One child – a daughter. What about you he asks – are you also married. No no – girlfriend. Ah ok. How many girlfriends? “Sirf ek” I laugh (only one). “Sex karte hain?” (you do the sex?) he replies. Yes yes of course! How long? 1 hour he asks? 2 hours? 3 hours? How many times? I smile and disclose little bits of details about my private life to this man I have only met a few minutes ago. Men will always be men.
A lady I once met in Nepal (Didi oh how I miss you and your gorgeous face!) once described me as “Naive but kind”. I believe in karma. Do good things and good things will come to you. I see a lot of unnecessary friction and tension in this world – particular in these anti-islamic days. I think at our very core we are all the same, and I have shared many great moments with muslims. Actually I find it ironic how some atheist passionately are against religion, it seems like they are fanatically worshipping science – isn’t this just another form of religion, with the exact same arguments as other religion? Their god (science) being the one true god. I think we all want to be respected, and we want to share our gifts/talents with each other and be appreciated for what we do. Wherever I go I always see the same traits in women: softness and kindness and need to care for others. It doesn’t matter whether they are muslim, hindu, catholic – it is universal. I see the same traits in men wherever I go: warriors, systematic thinkers, task oriented. It is always easy to break the ice with men, by talking about work, sports, gadgets and of course women.
When we don’t understand something – be it some new challenge at work, another culture, or anything for that matter, it seems common that we get tense and aggressive – afraid of hurting our egos. We all have our different ways of coping. Personally I prefer being naive and willing to look silly and loose my face. Little act of kindness and appreciation, and genuine interest always goes a long way. Sure, I might be taken advantage of a few times, but life is just more fun smiling. So long New Delhi, and hello to Chennai. Momo lady I will always remember you…