For once, I visited Delhi at the perfect time of year, just before the heat and dust descended. In late March, I was able to enjoy the green trees, with the leaves shining in the sunlight and swaying gently in the breeze, the cool evenings, the nicely sunny days. It was lovely.
Not only that, but I also got to meet up with relatives and dear old friends. Fantastic Kashmiri meals fed to me by aunts and cousins, and long leisurely evenings spent in the company of good friends.
In many ways, it was such a great time…
But a couple of things kept intruding. One, the habit several Indians have of blindly defending everything that happens in India against all “foreign-dwellers.” I am a traitor for living outside India – on top of that, I dare to criticize some things Indian!
So when I’m critical of an hour-long traffic jam over a half-mile stretch of road for no apparent reason, I’m reminded that New York, too, has jams. Hey? So? Does that explain why it took us 65 minutes to cover this tiny stretch of road, where there was no accident or any other visible cause for a jam? No, not that there were too many vehicles either. But, yes, there is no traffic light there and no good human regulators of traffic – though we did see a few cops milling about. Heaven forbid we should regulate ourselves – forget it, don’t you know we are Indian? We don’t bother with such things as self-discipline or cooperation.
I had to extend my stay in Delhi by a week because of the numerous public holidays – Mahavir Jayanti, year-end closing, Good Friday, the day AFTER municiple elections, and on and on. In the old days, India had a whole lot of “restricted holidays” – each individual chose the holidays they wanted to take but there was a cap on the total number. When I ask if that concept has now been jettisoned, I’m told everything is shut for 10 days over Christmas in Western countries. Really? I’ve lived in two Catholic countries and this hasn’t been the case in either.
The second habit kicks in when the obviously indefensible comes up – like rape and the habit of blaming the victim more than the perpetrator. This habit is a bit harder to pin down – it looks like apathy, but sometimes I think it’s more distraction and a kind of nebulous fear. The truth is so awful that I think I won’t look at it. If I refuse to acknowledge it, perhaps it will never touch my life. Something like that. Perhaps.
Whatever it is, the end result is tolaerance of the indefensible. Yeah, things are bad, but have you checked out the latest mall in Delhi? Isn’t it as good as any in Singapore (which, incidentally, it is; if not better). And one phrase puts a stop to all discussion. “This is India, madam.” No, really, I thought it was Timbuktoo!