We landed in New Delhi, unprepared for what found us there. There were pretty young girls, barefoot, in saris, holding babies, with their hands out. “Please, give something for the baby.”
There were people everywhere staring at you, speaking to you, selling to you. Food, clothes, jewelry, blankets, haircuts, tuk tuks.
“Yes sir, yes ma’am, look here, look here.”
There were “helpers” everywhere, among the hoards of passersby. We couldn’t sit on a bench for thirty seconds before someone would approach us.
“Nice tattoos,” they would say to Kio.
“Thank you,” Kio would say.
“Where you from?”
“Where you go?”
“We just walk.”
“No, thank you.”
“Have a nice day.”
In Delhi it was rare to turn a corner and miss a man peeing against a wall. The air was bad, thick with smog, and I would get light headed from walking outside and my eyes burned. We tried walking to the Red Fort on our second day. We stopped a young couple and asked them for directions. Kio pointed to a group of tall buildings a ways away and asked if there was anything interesting for us to check out. You could see a cloud of brown smog hanging over it.
“Over there?” the young man said. “No, that’s just pollution.”
We decided walking would be impossible and hopped in a tuk tuk. At India gate, two grown brothers and their father asked to take a photo with me, and we watched a man take a snake out of his canvas bag and clean it in this fountain.
After walking around the Red Fort, we took a tuk tuk home as it was getting dark. The streets and alleys we rode through were lit dimly with orange lights. There were people selling food on the streets, washing silver pots. The dogs crossed the roads carefully. There were people everywhere. Standing in groups, drinking chai, leaning against motorbikes, talking, laughing, spitting, smoking. Everyone was honking and buying and selling and walking and running; shaking hands and holding hands and horsing around. Some carried big round plates on their heads and maneuvered through the cars and buses and bikes and rickshaws and tuk tuks that were all moving together on the same road, and that weren’t stopping for them or us or the dogs.
It felt like we were on an Indian themed ride at Disneyland–someone’s warped idea of what a ride in a tuk tuk through Delhi would be like. But it was real.
We bumped along the road, nearly sideswiping other tuk tuks, almost hitting pedestrians; can we fit through the crack between that bus and the Volkswagon? Just barely.
Near the end of our ride, as we passed a row of tuk tuks, one driver who had been resting in his own got up, stretched his arms up in the air, looked at Kio and I in the back of our tuk tuk and said, “Hello, tuk tuk?”