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Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel Asia

Delhi daze in springtime

Unplugged and sans-laptop I rediscover my roots in 40C Delhi. Who needs the internet when you can have Real Life?


Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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Delhi roads are made for walking: elephants too
Delhi roads are made for walking

JUST WHEN YOU thought it was safe to revisit Facebook, along came Timeline, the next-gen format that brilliantly integrates a lifetime of memories into a clean, liberated, vertical line scrolling through empty white space like a suddenly defoliated eucalyptus with the occasional clump of this-is-me outpourings and blurred cell phone pictures to underscore that with a bit of camera shake and sufficiently low light everyone can remain 16 forever. Hurrah. My infrequently visited Facebook page may now resemble a very long strand of hair, devoid of embarrassing embellishment. Very Zen. While the white space is aesthetically pleasing – empty space is after all the fundamental building block of design – it is disturbing to be constantly reminded that my last post or original thought of any consequence was in 2009 perhaps.

I decided it was time to unplug. Thus it was in April, approaching Easter, I jettisoned my laptop, WiFi, and internet, and fled the cool 18 degrees Celsius of neon Hong Kong for unlit, dusty Delhi where spring was in the air. My parents were delighted to find me knocking on their door to partake of some splendid 40C sunshine. Forty degrees sucks the air out of your lungs and kills all pretence and preening. A five minute stroll in the blast furnace of Delhi is enough to turn a toff into a tousled tangle. And this is before May pushes the mercury up to a baking 50 degrees Celsius. Forget yoga, and babbling inner children, and chakras. Delhi in summer is the quickest way to "discover" yourself.

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The next day I shaved with cold water. The flush had a problem. So I refilled the tank. The taps groaned at my touch and yielded a trickle of water. I eyed a sawed-off pipe jutting out of the wall where a shower had once been. That was a no go. There was no bucket. But there were three mugs. I filled them with water and proceeded to shave, shampoo and bathe, using the entire last mug to slough off the suds and complete my frugal ablutions. I emerged, surprisingly fresh. And then the power went off, the fans ceased their reassuring whirring, and sweat dribbled down my face again.

I set off to HSBC bank, on foot, as car parking anywhere in the vicinity is a kamikaze mission. This was for an annual withdrawal of Rs100 save my account from going "dormant". The teller brightly informed me that, unbeknownst to me, my account had been upgraded and I was now being charged a substantial fee for expanded services I did not need. I made a weak attempt to downgrade my account, lost, and walked back home wishing I had a towel to mop my face.

I got home and climbed up 11 dusty flights of steps. We popped Fiddler on the Roof into the CD. It turned out to be Mozart. My mother and I attempted to reconcile CD covers with discs. It was a losing battle. In the afternoon with the sun high in the sky my parents and I drove off, with the windows down, through the heat and dust of Delhi, to attend the cremation of my father's old school friend. Mourners gathered as chanting priests poured clarified butter over the pyre and set the tinder alight. The heat hit us in waves as another soul departed this world, watched by friends and family, all joined by a solemn communion of cleansing fire.

The car is covered in minor dents and contusions that might yield much insight in the hands of a good phrenologist. But it is intact...

There is no better way to spend a hot spring afternoon in Delhi than to wrestle with traffic and visit old friends and relatives. With the growing population driven south and beyond to satellite cities like Gurgaon, my parents find themselves marooned in central Delhi and its garden prospect. Weekends are for visiting. This is when my father is in his element, coaxing every last ounce of mileage and rattle out of our ageing car as he expertly weaves in and out of oncoming traffic. It is a rare skill. The car is covered in minor dents and contusions that might yield much insight in the hands of a good phrenologist. But it is intact. We met up with relatives and friends in various stages of disrepair and imminent heatstroke and much later that night we went home to explore what had survived in the lukewarm fridge and to forage for supper. My chocolate had melted into strange and indeterminate shapes despite the best efforts of our vintage campaigner where "cooling" is at best a case of mind over matter.

The next morning my mother and I went shopping. She looked for lipstick. I looked for kebabs. As always in India, things happen unexpectedly. We were walking through Khan Market when I saw her. She was tall and svelte with the sort of dusky complexion particular to Indian beauties. I ushered my mother into the shop and, with heart in mouth, sought an introduction. Her name had a delightful Japanese ring. She seemed dependable, perfect, a marvel of creation, and cool as a breath of Himalayan mountain air. My mother cooed. I swooned. I bought the Panasonic refrigerator and the store owner assured me it would arrive within the day by 4pm. "My chocolates are melting," I pleaded.

By 6pm there was still no sign of HER. Excitement and tension mounted as word of the impending arrival spread. After several frantic calls and white knuckles, SHE arrived just after 8pm, not in a wheeled trolley but in a cardboard box dragged by one impossibly tiny but industrious man who coaxed his consignment along inch by laborious inch, refusing any help or advice. At 9pm we peeled away the wrapping to reveal Venus in all her glory. She was more wondrous than any Botticelli imagining. My mother was delighted. My father cast an appraising eye, grave but pleased. The family had a new bride. The neighbours came to have a look. We fussed, peered, touched. That night we drank cold water. It is a singular pleasure that far exceeds the thrill of sex, or even the joy of slapping bratty kids. And we enjoyed some chocolate. At least I think it was chocolate. Twenty four hours in New Delhi. Who needs the internet when you can have Real Life?

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