Overseas Briefing

By Guest Contributor

The verb “to love” is expressed in Hindi as “pyar karna” – directly translated, it means “to do love,” rather than “to love.” In the three months and change that I’ve spent in India, the distinction between these two expressions has grown increasingly clear to me.

New Delhi is not a place that you could wake up loving one day, just like that. At first glance (and second, third and fourth glance), it is loud, dirty and unfamiliar. Bodily functions, from peeing on down, are sidewalk affairs. Every rickshaw meter in Delhi is mysteriously broken, leaving the drivers free to charge you more than twice the meter rate to take you to your destination – and New Delhi is not a walking city. I have had my heart broken over and over by children begging through the sides of rickshaws, have wandered through unfamiliar neighborhoods aimlessly for hours, unable to understand people’s directions, and have been frustrated to tears by the fact that, no matter how well I grow to know the city, I will never be able to blend in here. The learning curve of New Delhi is steep and unending – even now, mere days from the end of my time here, I find myself lost in space or translation, unable to consider myself “good” at Delhi.

It is hard to get past the fact that, no matter the situation, leaving the house means exposing yourself to the inevitable inconveniences of day-to-day life in Delhi. If I hadn’t been lucky enough to spend my last month of my semester completing an independent study project in New Delhi, it is a very real possibility that I would have left this city with a casual fondness for it, at best. And that would have been a shame, because at fifth glance (and sixth, seventh and eighth glance), I started to see beyond the rickshaws, poverty and language barriers. New Delhi is a layered, nuanced and complicated city – and with its immense cultural, religious, archeological and political history, it has every right to be.

Freed from the inhibiting time-constraints of daily classes, it only took me a few days to feel ashamed of how much I’d underestimated Delhi. There are beautiful, laughable and enjoyable experiences to be had in New Delhi, but they will not come to you. It was by venturing blindly to an unknown subway stop with my friend, asking every person we encountered where we could find the “kuwa, neeche” or “well, under” (in an attempt at communicating “stepwells”), and putting our faith in an advantageous but kind rickshaw driver that I found my favorite place in Delhi – the Agrasen ki Baoli, an immensely old, absurdly under-visited stepwell, just a 10 minute walk from Connaught Place, one of the commercial centers of Delhi.

In my time here, I have grown accustomed to the ceaseless honking of traffic, the cows lounging on the medians of the highways and telling people “I am a student, not a tourist!” I have learned to use a squat toilet like it ain’t no thang, and am dreading going back to a country with no rickshaws … go figure.

I found that, once I started peeling back the layers of the city, each new thing I found to visit, learn about or experience stuck to my heart. I don’t love New Delhi – that implies that what I feel for this place is a frozen state, confined solely to myself. I am continuously, actively inflicting the feeling of love on this city, even as it inflicts its own crazy self right back on me.

Written by RACHEL NUNEZ ’14 from New Delhi, India