I arrived to Delhi to begin five months of research and reporting on Elemental India, with the support of USIEF’s Fulbright–Nehru fellowship. They set me up at the lovely Vandana B&B in Safdarjung Enclave, where I sit on a balcony as the sun goes down, the sky clearing after a day sprinkled with rains that brought the temp down. The birds are raucous, parrots having a cocktail party overhead and the kites catching the last of the day’s thermals. Crows find their stations on bare branches in the tree among a park’s trees across the street, plucking and grooming and stretching into the sunset. A chipmunk war breaks out in the treetops. Delhi is lush from a long summer and heavy monsoon rains. It is a jungle with a dead river flowing through it, inhabited by 22 million people.
Met my Fulbright adviser Kamna Sachdeva and others at my affiliate, TERI University. which has a great buzz about it. Sat in on a PhD candidate’s thesis presentation on cookstoves and also a few minutes of a talk by Michael Levi of Council on Foreign Relations about energy, India, US and climate change.
Autos and taxis steer me through the traffic, a fluid street dance that has always made more sense since my brother compared it to sailing. I wrap my dupatta around my mouth and nose in the autos, to stave off the exhaust, and marvel at the beehive of humanity. A caravan of three-wheeled bikes delivering large sheets of plywood. A man in a hole so deep I can only see his arm extend up, handing a shovel full of dirt to another man. At a stoplight, four children fan out to sell their wares, but one girl – maybe seven, or more likely, older but looking younger – is more entranced by the glittering tassels hanging off the back of a truck’s bumper. She flicks them with her hand, watching the silver and red cellophane strands swing back and forth, the bouquet of roses – roses! red! – forgotten in her left hand. Cloistered passengers sit in the backseats of Toyota SUVs, on their phones, no interest in roses, as their drivers take them to their next engagement. I met with a friend of a friend, a journalist, and she pointed out that the top 5% of the population insist they’re merely middle-class. How can 5% be middle class? The number just don’t work.
And I picked up a small watercolor set. Here’s the first one, an auto driver during siesta. Is it just me who has the impossible urge to tickle the slumbering feet?