Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Five family scenes

1. While a nasty shoe vendor demanded that we pay him 200 rupees for the privilege of using our cameras inside Jama Masjid mosque in old Delhi, a little girl touched my butt.

I almost didn't feel it at all. It was like a feather running over the outside of one of the back pockets of my jeans.

I turned around. A little girl, no more than seven years old, stared up at me as if I'd caught her with one hand in the cookie jar. A minute or two earlier, we'd chatted with this girl on the mosque's front steps. One of her friends had told Aliyah she had a beautiful name. Aliyah's father Agha had received a similar compliment. The little girl had said my name was "not so nice."

Now I put on my best scolding face as I looked down at the would-be thief, at the same time patting my front pocket to make sure my wallet was still there.

The girl scurried away toward a group of old British tourists wearing fanny packs.

2. "Jalebiwala?"

I asked the question shyly. The greasy-haired street vendor, who was selling nuts in a dirty alley where at least one man was urinating on a wall, pointed to a storefront a few feet away.

The shop he'd indicated was shabby and had no English signage. It hardly looked like the place Lonely Planet described as hawking India's finest jalebis ("deep fried squiggles").

"I think this is it," I said.

"Really?" Aliyah wondered as she squinted at the awful-looking shop.

We continued on through the smelly, crowded, confusing alleys of Chandni Chowk.

When we finally found the place -- several "I think this is it"s later -- Aliyah had just one word for the artery-clogging syrupy squiggles.


3. "Wow," Aliyah said.

After a four-hour drive and a long walk down a tout-littered street, we'd just gotten our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal. The whole structure wasn't visible yet, but the largest of the Taj's white domes loomed large above a red brick wall.

"Wow," Aliyah said.

Aliyah's mother Lani looked up at the white dome and sighed slightly.

"I thought it would be bigger," she said.

4. They were exploiting foreigners at Humayun's Tomb.

Ten rupees for a local to gain admission. Two hundred and fifty rupees for a foreigner.

"This is outrageous!" I said, offering a well-worn and slightly unfair comparison.

"Can you imagine if Disneyland charged Americans $20 and demanded $500 from foreigners?" I said. "This is outrageous!"

Agha turned toward us, smiling.

"Stay away from me," he said to us. "I want to try something."

Agha approached the ticket vendor and handed him a ten rupee note.

"Where are you from?" the man said in Hindi.

"I am from outside," Agha replied in Urdu.

The vendor gave him a locally-priced ticket.

5. Lani bravely reached for the paan.

The Indian digestive, which is basically spices, fruits and sugar wrapped in a triangular betel leaf and held together with a toothpick, had come on a silver tray after dinner at a fancy restaurant at the Sheraton here. Agha was already popping pieces of paan into his mouth like they were candy.

I had had paan once before, and almost immediately felt ill.

"Try it," Aliyah said to her mother.

Lani picked up a piece of paan and put the whole thing into her mouth. She had chewed no more than twice when her eyes scrunched up with disgust. With admirable open-mindedness, she continued to chew the paan, even as her struggling eyes revealed how much the digestive disagreed with her.

Three more painful chews and Lani spit the paan out.

"Wow," Aliyah said.


Lexi Matsui said...

You went to the TAJ without me!! ... it's so over. :p

Sami said...

i love your fam pooky! :)