Saturday, June 20, 2009

Day 3: Delhi

Shopping day! Since the Jews observing shabbat were confined to the residency, the rest of us took the opportunity to do some, ahem, unstructured activities at some non-essential Delhi sites. After meeting with students at the Rai Foundation for breakfast, many of us went to the Indian version of a strip mall, made up of government-approved shops representing all the different Indian states. This was really our first opportunity to goggle over local jewelry, handcrafts, and clothing, and goggle we did. The color and beauty of the items in the stores were amazing, and as we did the mental conversion of around 50 rupees to the dollar, we reveled in the opportunities they presented. We also took advantage of the vendors surrounding the emporium, as Dean Paul fulfilled his long-sought dream of trying Indian potato chips (who would have thought of masala flavor?).

Doing serious shopping can work up an appetite, though, so of course that meant: lunch! One part of the group had gone earlier to the restaurant to ensure the reservation, so those of us who came later found them lounging at a very western-reminiscent Indian cafĂ© (complete with Ricky Martin, ice cream-blended coffee drinks, cushy leather chairs, and, most importantly, a clean bathroom). We then headed over the crackerjack box of a restaurant where we would have our first experience with South Indian food, as we attempted to answer the question: how many Princeton students does it take to fill up a table? The answer ended up being a lot, but, in our defense, it could have been even more if we hadn’t been eating the delicacy known as dosa. A traditional dosa resembles a large four to six inch diameter rolled crepe, but it is crisp enough that it retains its three dimensions, meaning that our table was, to say the least, heavily laden. Until we were able to get some work done on our dosas and dip portions into the provided sauces (among them such interesting flavors such as coconut and tamarind), we talked and laughed at each other’s variously successful attempts to eat over top of each other’s meals.

After lunch we split up again. Dean Paul went the National Gallery of Modern Art, one group went back to the state emporium, another went to Southex, an area more known for its higher quality clothing, and still others went to a local market. No matter your bargaining skills, Olaf discovered, blond hair and western features are a serious handicap. Even his “I may be white but I’m not stupid” fell flat in the face of the Indian vendors, as the starting price he encountered for an object was double and even triple that quoted to Shivani for the same item. Thankfully, others were more successful in their shopping, as we were to be treated throughout the week with the visual delights of Farah’s purchases: several gorgeous salwar kameez traditional Indian outfit composed of a long shirt, pants, and a scarf known as a dupatta.

Regardless of shopping success, though, by the evening most of us headed over to the Sacred Heart Cathedral for mass (I say most of us because several people of the Southex contingent had, ahem, transportation issues related to the Rai Foundation transportation; it’s still puzzling how it can take one hour to get gas). Several of the Christians in the group had expressed great alacrity at finally getting to see their faith represented in India, but by the time we walked out of the cathedral, we were wondering if this really was the same Catholic Church we have in the United States.

As in all the denomination’s churches, the structure of the mass was the same in terms of reading biblical passages, participating in congregational prayer, singing hymns, and listening to a homily given by the priest. The specific content within this structure, though, was markedly different. First of all, the music was unknown to our Catholic members, though Rachel actually recognized one song from her very un-Catholic Baptist upbringing. These songs were not accompanied by the requisite-in-all-but-fact organ, but by electronic backup covered by chanters who, well, could have used a little help (as Emmett said, nowhere is it written that good song leaders are necessary for worship, but it certainly does make it easier to get into a holy mindset when they are not so horribly off-key it is distracting). The more serious difference in the service, though, was the homily itself, which echoed the “all paths are one” concept we had been hearing throughout the week (so much for John 14:6 in the Bible).

For this reason, our meeting with the priest afterward was even more confusing—and even upsetting. While in his homily he had mitigated distinctions between faiths, in our discussion he condemned Hindus unilaterally for their attacks against Christians in India. When Jahnabi challenged his assertion that all Hindus are to be held accountable for the work of a few extremists, the priest responded: “Look at my shirt. If I get a spot on it, is it not all completely dirty? If one spot is black, it is all black.” We responded with a stunned silence.

This lack of nuanced thinking was not the only issue that arose, however. Apparently, Rachel has been wrong all these years for thinking that Protestants believe that Mary was the mother of God. And who knew that much of the Reformation was due to Martin Luther King and his churches in Africa? It must be acknowledged that a clear language barrier may have contributed to our perceptions of the priest’s lack of tact and that some clarifying questions may have resolved the historical and theological misstatements, but, needless to say, the RLC Christians are not planning of becoming members of Sacred Heart anytime soon.

We were still having some transportation issues, but several of us were more than happy to return to the Meadows campus from the cathedral via rickshaw. Our drivers gave a whole new meaning to the phrase “racing home” as the Sarah, Deepa, and Nikhil car were far out-performed by the Shivani, Olaf, and Rachel car (ahem, no authorial bias). Delhi does still have old-fashioned rickshaws powered by bicycle-riding drivers, but the open-doored versions in which we rode combine modern innovation with old-school Delhi traffic habits. Result: total Indian coolness. Plus, there is the added bonus of watching Deepa jump two feet in the air when poked by an outside finger. Not to mention that, as Olaf pointed out, the whole experience was so surreal that it sounds like the beginning of a joke: “A Buddhist, a Catholic, and a Protestant all from Princeton University were sitting in a Delhi rickshaw discussing Catholicism….” Add to that the component of one rickshaw driver pulling over to the side of the road refusing to go on when he lost sight of the other driver and you have one inimitable RLC experience.

1 comment:

  1. silvarkanis = salwar kameez
    bata = dupatta

    you're so cute, rachel!