Birthday, part 1

Trip Start Jan 22, 2010
Trip End Feb 14, 2010

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Birthdays in foreign lands can be odd affairs. You're already being spoilt by a trip, so it seems overindulgent to make a big deal about it. I tend to go the opposite way, actively seeking out my companions' interests, and maybe fitting one special moment in to remember it by.

So although I'm keen to get out for our last day in Delhi, I let the girls sleep in and choose the day's activities. (Emma, on reading this, says rousing someone at 8:30 then interrupting their dozing at 9:30 to demand they come to breakfast hardly fits her concept of sleeping in.) By the time we eat, pack and settle the bill it's 11 am and the fog, which is even worse than yesterday, is starting to burn off.

The capital is on its way to a record for the foggiest month. Something like 300 flights were delayed yesterday. Unbelievably, Delhi is less polluted than a decade ago, but the particulate concentrate still gives me some idea of what Dickensian London must have suffered.

Today's plan is to search for a Bollywood poster shop somewhere in the south Delhi village of Hauz Khaz, then visit two seats of religion nearby, the new Ba'hai Lotus Temple and the ancient Muslim Qtab Minar Complex. But first we go to Petland to buy the girls some flea combs.

I'm somewhat horrified they've let the lice problem linger for over a month. When Emma chopped her hair I assumed it'd been dealt with but now they both comb out big fat lice as part of their morning ritual. I'm not keen on joining the activity, so take on the embarrassing task of asking for some medicated shampoo in a drugstore, which involves repeating the word lice several times for all to hear and pantomiming scratching and finding a louse.

We score an exciting rickshaw ride to Hauz Khaz. There are 3 factors that comprise the relative thrill of an auto rickshaw experience. If the vehicle is an asthmatic pensioner, you practically have to push it up an incline, so it's hardly going to have the zip to compete for open space on the road. It also needs a functioning horn. Working brakes is a helpful, though apparently optional, requirement.

The driver is as critical. You need one with a certain carefree jocularity, a gift for free but not excessive use of the horn, and a modicum of self-preservation. Finally, the road: the canvas on which a master practices his art. The street needs to be constricted but not too constricted, jam-free but not an open road. The way should be nicely variable with sudden barriers funnelling a 4-lane motorway down to a 2-lane walled and snaking canyon where the next 20 feet are always a grand mystery. Put these all together and its like living in a Nintendo racing game, just without the magic cubes and banana peels.

We have such a perfect storm and are exhilarating in the hullabaloo of a laugh-worthy ride, when India slaps me into a greater awareness. We're stopped at one of the rare, functioning traffic lights when a tiny girl, no more than five, appears beside the rickshaw with roses, begging.

I've hardened my attitude to the clapping demands of old women and the badgering of beggars, but this small, small girl speaks eloquently of want and neglect. She quietly repeats the words I can't translate but entirely understand, and witnesses us shaking our heads, until I'm reduced to tears, and a shame that lasts long after the light has changed and we have deserted her.

What should we have done, what would you do, knowing anything we give will be taken from her -- will be used to perpetuate her sad lot in life? After a day of reflection, all I can come up with is to always have food to give away, and get involved in some organization trying to find longer-term solutions when I return to Canada. It seems inadequate.

I know Emma is correct when she says all that would be accomplished by buying the flowers would be a lessening of our guilt, but I'm still left with the knowledge that I've failed, entirely, this little girl.
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therin on

I love you, Buddy.

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