A Mosque in Old Delhi

It’s been a few days since my last post. My time in India has included much later nights than in Italy making it near impossible to write. Of course, I’ve been at a conference much of the time so there is little to report on a daily basis that would not bore you to tears.
A couple cultural observations (and while these may appear to be criticisms they are not intended as such): some cultures are more punctual than others. This culture is the least punctual of any I’ve encountered. The session I gave was a half hour late, the awards ceremony (I chair this committee) was 15 minutes late, the bus to the national arts festival was an hour late, the bus to the Taj Mahal (which I am now on) was 2 hours late. Indeed, nothing truly seems to run on time here and none of the locals seem the least irritated by it. Their lack of impatience is perhaps the most aggravating to this westerner. Second, there is a pronounced inability to not admit when you don’t know something often accompanied with a characteristic head shake. This is most aggravating when attempting to get somewhere by cab. “We need to go to Chintan Guest House. Do you know where that is?” “Okay, okay, okay, no problem, no problem.” Yet, it is not okay and there is a problem and it involves driving in circles in Delhi traffic.
Yesterday I managed to get dad out of the room and into Delhi. We took much the same route as I did the first day. We were joined by a colleague of mine, Scott, and his wife Debbie. Scott has worked at BYU for the last 31 years (dad is a BYU alumnus so they had something to chat about). I must say dad did remarkably well, he complained very little when he boarded the tuk-tuk for the ride to the metro. Never mind the death grip he had on the bar in front of him.
Scott needed an adapter to use his North America plugs so we made our way into the electronics district of Old Delhi. The entrance to this district is marked by the sour stench of the very public urinals. We wound our way through the crowd and visited a variety of shops to find everything from light bulbs to, well, mostly just light bulbs. We would eventually find an adapter but not in the electronics district.

The goal of the trip was to visit the very large mosque in Old Delhi. It was built by the same Moghul emperor that raised the Red Fort and the Taj Mahal. In the same architectural style of the Red Fort the mosque rises above the city in blood red sandstone. We took a couple rickshaws from the electronics district to the mosque. Dad enjoyed this about as much as the tuk-tuk, which is to say, he tolerated it quite well.

We arrived at the mosque to find it was closed for the next couple hours. Right, it’s Friday. So, we walked back into the markets to look around. We passed through the fireworks market and an area devoted to brass works generally depicting Hindu gods. Debbie nearly stepped on a rat at one point. The streets were as crowded as before and possibly more so. Squeezing through one narrow space I was hit by an oncoming rickshaw. Not hard enough to do any real damage but enough to prompt greater caution on my part. We found ourselves on a street dedicated to used book vendors. Sadly these were not your typical bookstores. Merchants sat at their stalls with their books piled behind them from floor to ceiling. Apparently you had to know what you wanted and ask the merchant to retrieve it. The majority of items appeared to be textbooks: medical, dental, computer and business were the dominant subjects. String bound half a dozen titles together. I assume you buy the books by the bundle. Like everything in Delhi a thick layer of dust and grime covered the pages along with everything else.

We passed through a variety of merchant districts where the haggling was fast and furious: the paper district where we watched as paper was made and even decorated by hand, the poster district where the most animated trading seemed to take place, the Saree district with its colorful cloth a stark contrast to the filth around us.

Eventually we caught a couple more rickshaws back to the mosque. As soon as we dismounted, a little boy perhaps 4 or 5, was at my side begging for money. I tried my best to ignore him. We’d planned to stop for a snack just outside the mosque. The little boy followed me to the kiosk. He was so cute. “No money” I said “but would you like a drink?” “Bebsi, bebsi,” was his excited reply. So I bought him a cola and the sheer delight on his face was solace to my heart. Dad bought a drink for a woman in burqa (possibly the boy’s mother).

The mosque was like many others except we had to pay to bring a camera inside. I was wearing shorts so I had to wear a skirt. I looked pretty good in my skirt; my sisters would be jealous. There was a pool in the midst of the courtyard and prayer mats were being rolled up and stowed away. They’d thrown a large amount of bird seed out and hundreds of pigeons feasted and then scattered to circle and return to their meal. Some sort of circling hawks likely fed on the pigeons.

We walked about the mosque enjoying its architecture and its general peace after the crowds of the market. We paid the hundred rupees to ascend one of the spires for a view of the city. Dad found a corner to relax in and watched our shoes as we made the climb. Climbing and heights have got to be two of dad’s least favorite things.

The staircase wound up and up in a tight spiral for 120 steps. At its peak it opened to a small platform from which I imagine the call to prayer was sung in days past. The gated windows prevented any great pictures of the 360 degree view but they also prevented me from plummeting to my death so I was glad for their presence. The Delhi skyline reveals a vast sea of squat dilapidated buildings overflowing each other and home to more than 10 million people.

Our return to the guest house was much of the same, rickshaws, tuk-tuks and the metro. Except dad did spot a couple monkeys outside the metro and he managed a picture or two.

I left dad at the guest house; he’d had enough for one day. I went with the conference sponsored outing to the national arts festival. It was a huge production. The outdoor seating was couches in long rows with ample aisle width. Very comfortable! The performances from artists across India were both fascinating and bizarre to these western eyes. India has a unique musical sound and its dancers are equally unique. I quite enjoyed myself even if the performances were a little longer than we are used to. Time truly runs differently here.

I arrived back to the guest house after 10pm and packed for the trip to the Taj and then on home the next day. A few days in Delhi and I’m not the same man I was when I arrived. Neither is dad. He has hardly eaten since he arrived and he keeps having to cinch up the belt. He is leaving a good deal of himself behind.

A woman dances while balancing pots on her head – conference entertainment


View from a window in the spiral staircase in the mosque spire.


Scott and Debbie in the rickshaw behind us – Old Delhi


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