Walking up the stairs to work today, I smelled that spicy smell of burning wood, which reminded me of the Delhi winters of my childhood. I have been back for a little over a month now (permanently) and I often have moments like this – where the smallest thing feels oddly familiar, an un-spooky déjà vu because the memory if you can call it that is little more than a distant feeling, a long lost friend whose name I cannot quite remember.
Delhi and I have both changed drastically yet at the core some things have the same. The December fog, the curious mix of smells, the obstacle course of cow dung, dog shit, human spit, garbage and those mysterious puddles that may or may not be water, and the symphony of people yelling for no good reason, blaring car horns, stray dogs barking and the occasional spurt of Hindi film music to round it out.
I had forgotten about the bureaucracy. After a month of effort, I have managed to open one of the two needed bank accounts (you need one to open the other). For the account I managed to open, I have a debit card with no pin and an online banking login with no password, which will render my first paycheck largely inaccessible.
For the other account I have a debit card, pin, online username and password, and checkbook, but with the minor hiccup that it doesn’t actually exist yet. Six months ago I would have been freaking out, while today I choose to laugh.
Delhi isn’t the same at all of course. Today, we have malls, the latest movies within a few months of release (if that), Zara, Sephora, Starbucks, un-creepy liquor stores, and many of the major brands of western foods that I coveted as a child. Pop-Tarts, Special K, Oscar-Meyer Bacon, Lindt Dark Chocolate (they even have my favourite sea salt flavour!) and much more is all readily available. You can even get some pretty decent cheese. There are highways, and a metro that is far superior in coverage, service and cleanliness to the one I left behind in Toronto for a lower price.
While it is still not safe here for women, and the LGBT community cannot yet express themselves openly, people are talking about these subjects in ways they never did when I lived here. Talking does not equal solutions, and we are a long way away from where we need to be, but people are speaking out and that is a start.
Part of me feels like I’ve always been here and now it is Toronto and New York that are distant memories (Montreal is a blur at this point), and part of me feels like it is all brand new and that sooner or later I will return and carry on with life the way I was living it before. One thing is for sure: the last month has been an incredible adventure and I cannot wait to see what the next months bring.