Tibet Colony, Delhi
God, the Yamuna stinks.
The Yamuna is, or rather was, the river that runs through Delhi and the same river that runs past the Taj Mahal. It doesn't run any more...just kind of oozes.
There is some kind of billion-rupee campaign to "save the Yamuna." I have news for them...it's too late.
And the rotting body of the river is stinking up anywhere within radius. Here in Tibet Colony (aka Majnu Ka Tilla, aka New Aruna Nagar, aka MT), we are a mere stone's throw from the Yamuna.
I had decided I wanted to both save a bit of money and support the refugee community by staying here. But the stench! About half the day, it aggressively smells like a sewer. All I can do to escape it is go in my room and light Tibetan incense.
Above is a recycled photo from 2 years ago in MT. Not much has changed - the exact same ear-cleaning guys are there wearing the same red monkey caps. But in what is obviously the way of "the new India," there are now several brand spanking-new flat-screen late night net cafes with good connections, as well as a couple of more upscale coffee shops serving espresso...in addition to smelling much worse and hosting lots more imported beggars.
In fact, now there are even a couple of Tibetan beggars (young men). This is very rare, and I sincerely hope it stays that way.
On the plus side, the upscale coffee shops, a couple of new guest houses, and state of the art net places mean that individual entrepreneurship is on the upswing. I like seeing these businesses, run by talented and efficient young Tibetans and Indians. I just wish someone could figure out how to make direct money by cleaning up the river (or the sidewalk).
Coming down the mountain
Now entering Day Four of descent to Sea Level and I still feel partly hung over, partly as though someone's hit me on the head with a frying pan (like a cartoon).
I spent most of yesterday getting out to the Delhi Bureau of HHDL, who told me that despite having been submitted 9 weeks ago, my permit still wasn't ready. The web site says it requires 8 weeks. Now the office says it requires three entire months.
I made a polite fuss and they issued a "permit still under process" paper that is evidently very common, bearing the Snow Lion stamp of the Tibetan Government In Exile.
If you do need to get to the Delhi Bureau of HH the Dalai Lama, it is wayyyyyy out on Ring Road (for foreigners: Ring Roads are bypass roads that are usually on the outskirts of town...making a ring round the congestion), in a place called Lajpat Nagar. An autorickshaw there from M T will cost you about 90Rs. The drivers at MT will insist it's 120Rs. Lajpat Nagar is an enormous sprawling shopping area and you have to find Phase 4, #10 Ring Road.
If you stop a rickshaw and say, "Bureau Office Lajpat Nagar?" the driver will automatically say "Yes, get in." This does not mean they have ever heard of it or know at all where it is. It just means they are game to try and find it, if you are willing to take extra time, stop about half a dozen times literally, and ask dozens of people. Of course, YOU must pay for all the time wasted wandering around asking questions.
I tried to imagine a system like that of London in which prospective drivers must really study city maps and take exams in order to get a taxi license. It wouldn't work in India. Here, they would just pay off the examiner...or operate without a license.
"The last great imperial adventurer"
Since some of my readers think (judging from comments) I am some kind of patronizing imperialist (albeit one who receives no profit from their empire), I decided to read Patrick French's bio of Sir Francis Younghusband, who led the British invasion of Tibet. It does help me go to sleep at night. To be fair, it was French's first book. I think Tibet, Tibet which was many years later is a much better read.
In the back of the book there is an "interviews with the author" section, including "Life Drawing" questions.
Here are Patrick French's replies, followed by my own.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
French: Freedom from the state.
Sirensongs: A bottomless pot of tea and a good book.
What is your greatest fear?
French: Being caught in a moving car with a live rook.
Me: Being caught in a moving car with a bridge railing coming at me. Wait a minute, that already happened in 2001.
Which living person do you most admire?
French: It's not about admiration.
Me: HH the 14th Dalai Lama.
What objects do you always carry with you?
Me: Camera, ink pen, notebook, eye liner, sunblock, contact lens case, eye drops, Ibuprofen, Hajmola and a nail file.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Me: The unimportance of emotions (as opposed to feelings, which are different). Oh, that and to be wary of the interests of others.
Which writer has had the greatest influence on your work?
French: F Scott Fitzgerald.
Me: Lester Bangs.
Do you have a favourite book?
French: It changes every week.
Me: What kind of book? A couple of spiritual classics that I keep carrying around with me are Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa and The Sunlit Path by The Mother.
For reality-based stuff: I practically memorized Popism: The Warhol Sixties when I was 18.
As a scholarly work that you can actually enjoy reading, Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down is un-put-downable. If I feel blocked, I just have to read a few graphs and words start flowing again.
Travel writing: A Search in Secret India by Paul Brunton really set the standard for the type of "spiritual journey" autobio travel books that are now so run of the mill. It's fantastic --not only did he meet so many luminaries who are now gone but he describes it all so magically.
I noticed that late in Younghusband's career, he managed to meet up with Brunton. Patrick French takes a dim view of this apparently because Brunton was born as Rafael Horst, then changed his name. Like that invalidates everything he wrote....?
Where do you go for inspiration?
French: BHS (Siren note: what is that??)
Me: The mountains and forests.
Which book do you wish you had written?
French: The bio of VS Naipaul.
Me: Let's be practical. Any of the Harry Potters, because then I would never have to work again, and neither would any of my family.
What do you think of literary prizes?
French: Arbitrary but useful for young authors.
Me: They're good and someday I will win one. Unfortunately, there is not (yet) a Pulitzer for Spiritual Investigative Reporting.
What are you writing at the moment?
French: The bio of VS Naipaul.
Me: News feature story about the search for the reincarnated Kushok Bakula Rinpoche.