Freeeeeeeedom!

I drove today. Drove myself and two toddlers through the streets of Delhi, AND NO ONE DIED. No one got close to dying or even remotely close to getting into a fender bender! This, my friends, is truly a small miracle.

I should note here that I am a good driver on my own turf. My experience behind the wheel dates back to the tender age of ten, when my dad would let my brother and I take the battered mini-van on joy rides up and down our long rural driveway. I took my driving test at 16 on a stick shift. I’ve driven across the country and back. I had to teach Husband how to change a tire.

So my sense of triumph here is not because I’m some timid grandma on the road. It’s because driving in India feels very much like a hyped up version of Mario Kart, complete with strange creatures hogging the road and exploding obstacles flying at your windsheild. Add to that a few bicycle rickshaws, limited road signage, and a population of people who seem to have little sense of self preservation when trying to cross the street, and you have a typical Saturday morning driving experience in Delhi.

Oh, and did I mention the complete lack of rules? Sure, there are lanes. But they offer only the loosest of guidance, and the solid yellow middle one is a mere suggestion. Merging into the many traffic circles takes speed and agression–show any hesitation and you’ll be edged (or honked) off the road. Generally speaking, the bigger vehicles expect deference from everyone else. A packed city bus will not think twice about careening across four lanes of traffic without notice to make a lefthand turn.

Driving here requires your mind and reflexes to be on high alert. You could be cruising along peacefully when WHOA! WHERE DID THAT ELEPHANT COME FROM!? And then HOOOOONK a bus driving down the wrong side of the street! And SHITBALLS DON’T HIT THAT DOG! You swerve around that mess and then the guy in front of you stops dead in his tracks, gets out of his car and starts rummaging through the trunk. I am not kidding.

Meanwhile you’re still trying to get used to shifting with your left hand and keep turning on the windshield wipers instead of the turning signal. This is why we have a driver during the week, and almost always drive with a wingman on the weekends. You need that extra pair of eyes to warn of impending dangers and find another route on the map when you hit a random road closing.

Understandably, I haven’t felt too pumped to venture out on my own yet. When I pulled out of the gate today the gaurds looked worried. But I did it! I made it to the embassy and back. And I feel like I could conquer the world. Or at least a trip to the mall next weekend.

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A simple trip to the tailor.

Say you live in Delhi and you need a tailor to sew together the blouse that goes under your new sari. So you call up the guy that a friend recommends, the one that serves all the expats and comes directly to your house. He arrives, takes a few measurements, makes an extra hard sell for his bespoke suit services and then disappears for more than a week. You text a few times to see when he might be bringing back your sari blouse for a fitting, to no avail. Finally he calls one day out of the blue and says he’s on his way to your apartment. Which is wonderful, except you’re out of town. You make plans to meet the next day.

When your fancy tailor finally returns with your finished choli, you are slightly alarmed because it seems baggy and the zipper is misaligned. But your tailor assures you he has made it this way so you can breathe easier. You pay him 2000 rupees and after he leaves your housekeeper tells you your new blouse is way too big. And it’s on backwards.

Because your housekeeper is pretty much the most wonderful person on earth, she sends you to a tailor she knows. She has explained to your driver (who happens to be her sweet husband) what needs to be fixed on the blouse, so he can explain in hindi to the new tailor. At the market your driver leads you through ramshackle fabric stalls and past a random street festival tent to a dark and crumbling corner where a young man is working feverishly on an ancient foot-powered Singer sewing machine. You are sent up a steep ladder to the attic to change into your blouse among the long forgotten scraps of fabric and garbage.

Once back in the shop, the new tailor takes one look, a few measurments and says to give him 30 minutes. While you wait, some guys from the street festival burst in the door with huge tin cannisters of curry and rice, passing out plates to everyone in the shop and urging you to try some. And in less than 20 minutes, you’re back up in the changing-attic, admiring a blouse that has been expertly fitted and freshly pressed. You pay the tailor 100 rupees (about a buck 40), which your driver tells you is only so expensive because we needed the work done urgently. You thank him for all of his help, and make a mental note to stick with the locals next time.

Monday musings.

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Absolutely nothing better in this world than sari shopping. An hour of being draped in luxurious silks will cure just about all that ails you.

Eating on the edge.

Sorry for the radio silence folks. I am just now bouncing back from a weekend of adventurous eating, and the resulting week of gastrointestinal distress. Yes, Delhi Belly is a real thing – an accute bout of indiscriminate tummy troubles that is practically a right of passage here. It was not so much fun. But completely expected after three days of authentic Indian eating.

It all began when Husband and I hit up the Dussehra Ramlila festival in Old Delhi. Dussehra is a Hindu holiday that celebrates lord Rama’s victory over the ten-headed demon king Ravana and the triumph of good over evil. It’s often celebrated with performances of the Ramlila, a dramatic folk story about the life of Rama which ends with a ten-day battle between Rama and Ravana.

(If that sounds confusing, it is. Just nod your head until I get to the part about the food and death defying Indian carnival rides.)

We signed up for a special tour of the festival with Delhi Food Walks, which I highly recommend. Our guide met us by the metro station and walked us through the slightly harrowing yet festive alleys of Old Delhi, stopping along the way to try some jalebi – basically little Indian funnel cakes fried in ghee and drenched in simple syrup:

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As I stood in the street with ghee dripping off my chin, one of the processions plowed by:

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Then we made our way to the food tent where we sampled all kinds of spicy snacks: little fried puff balls filled with a broth that I can only describe as liquid fire, fruit cups filled with crunchy bits and spices, lentil pancakes stuffed with more tear-inducing spice. Did I tell you it was spicy? Holy Lord Rama.

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It was all carefully washed down with bottled water and hand sanitizer. But there was one moment when we watched a worker douse the same freshly cut fruit we’d just eaten with a bucket of sludgy looking water and thought, Merde. This could get ugly later. But the damage was already done, and there was still Disco Fruit Ice Cream to be tasted!

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This special festival confection is made by pouring fresh fruit puree and milk over a hand-cranked frozen tube. If you want to recreate this machine at home, the Disco chef told me all you need are a few spare rickshaw parts.

It’s hard to top Disco Ice Cream, but our guide was undaunted. After a brief pause to watch the Ramlila unfold on stage, he skipped gleefuly to the rides. Most of which were hand cranked and also seemed to be built out of spare rickshaw parts. No one in the group seemed keen on taking a rickety spin on the tin ferris wheel of death, which really bummed our guide out. So I jumped on, saying a silent prayer to Shiva, Ganesha, Rama and anyone else I could think of to please let me live to eat another jalebi.

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Even after that exhilarating experience I was still feeling pretty good. Stomach felt mostly normal. I woke up the next day ready to tackle an authentic Punjabi meal for dinner. And some local biryani for lunch the day after that.

Which may have been pushing it, because that’s when it all came crashing down. The next morning I woke up in a world of hurt- a place of porcelain god worship that could only be escaped by sleep, fluids and mass quantities of probiotic supplements. A week later I am five pounds lighter (bonus?) and asking myself some important questions, like “Was the puff ball of fire really worth it?” and “What if this happens to one of my kids?” and “Is there enough hand sanitizer in the world to keep us safe from harm?”

Probably not. But am I going to let that slow me down? Never! Then I wouldn’t have any material left for this blog. So I’ll be back at it this weekend, living dangerously – one Disco Fruit Ice Cream at a time.

Making DC look good

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The filing system at the Delhi DMV.

No words.

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Flipping through The Times of India and found this ad from the local police. It’s asking for information and includes a photo(!) of a dead person. I guess that’s one way to solve the case…

A gift from the heavens

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cute little baby limes

Guys, look what’s in my front yard: This gloriously scented gift from above, ripe with little green limes. I shall call it my Gin and Tonic Tree.