by Chido Dandajena
You can read and hear many things about India, but it’s nothing close to what the travel blogs will tell you. It’s a country of fascinating juxtapositions and stark contradictions: enchanting, urban, restricted, with beautiful people in some unexpected places. It’s essence can’t be captured in text, but I can take you back to the learning experience that changed my perspective on myself, other people and how my actions affect the world I live in.
Stepping out the plane into the grand Indira Gandhi International Airport, the air humid and dense, it’s nothing like I expected. Above the terminal gates nine pristine, hand-shaped sculptures (mudras) are mounted, greeting me as I pass through the gateway to New Delhi.
Among the busyness and rushed crowds, I spotted a friendly face holding up a placard with my name on it — relief! I’m warmly welcomed by my host who’s struggling to hide her excitement. Luggage collected, cab hailed and we’re off we’re off to my accommodation. My New Delhi journey is really beginning!
There are hollers and honks from cab drivers, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and hustlers trying to make a quick buck with whatever they can sell you (doesn’t help that I stick out like a sore thumb with my tourist vibe), and the sweet and tangy scent of chaats and spices being sold at shop corners and street carts squeezed on every sidewalk. My entire opinion of New Delhi can be summed up in one phrase — diversity in unity. From the hustle and bustle of Chandni Chowk (inner streets and shopping mall) to tranquil, sunrise yoga sessions in the Lodi Gardens, this feeling is constant and intoxicating.
If you want to experience ‘dili’ not Delhi, it doesn’t get more authentic than a tuk-tuk ride through Chandni Chowk. This famous mall provides everything from books, clothes, food, souvenirs at dirt-cheap prices,surrounded by overcrowded pathways coupled with the chaos of traffic, customers and sellers intersecting and colliding. For those who persevere, the rewards are delectable and worth it. Insider tip: Gyani Ji Ki Fruit Cream standing in front of Gurudwara and Natraj Key Dahi Bhelley near Central Bank are must-eats!
Like any city, among the beauty there are also areas to be improved. Being a woman in New Delhi is not easy.Simply using public transport here will more often than not be accompanied by unwelcome winks and comments from men. Although, staying vigilant and taking the safe options my host family told me about meant I was fine.
This gender dichotomy in India is what motivated me to come here to learn about the fight for gender equality. India is a strongly patriarchal society where women don’t have many of the freedoms we do in the developed world. Working in the development sector in New Delhi was humbling and eye-opening to the plight of some women and the starkly different lives they lead every day.
I left the city feeling inspired and invigorated to continue working for gender justice at home too.
During the course of my learning immersion, I saw more than my eyes could contain, smelt, tasted and experienced more than I ever had. Wide-eyed, I took it all in (I wasn’t sure when I’d get this chance again). I would recommend anyone who is serious about a future career in the development sector to travel abroad and get practical experience. It will enrich you, challenge you and give you a far more enlightened perspective.