Life in the (very) big city

I just finished 4 fun, interesting, productive, healthy, polluted, tiring weeks in Delhi. I lived with friends from couch surfing whom I previously stayed with in July and October 2010. They are a mix of students and professionals, Indians and Chinese, living in an apartment on a busy road in North Delhi. I spent the 4 weeks in Delhi in order to conduct key informant interviews, to further refine the research objectives and design, and to set up the research plan before heading to do field research. I met with experts in the field of rural sanitation from UNICEF, WaterAid, the World Bank Water and Sanitation Programme, Sulabh International, the Indian WASH Forum, Knowledge Links, Jawaharlal Nehru University, The Energy Resources Institute, the Institute for Applied Manpower Research, Plan International and the Government of India. I also made time to learn about Indian life, culture, food, music and to begin to learn Hindi. Below are photos from the past weeks in Delhi.



As a metropolis with an estimated 22 million people, Delhi is a sprawling giant. By car it can take 2-3 hours to cross from one side of the city to the other. There is extreme diversity around every corner. In one second you see a wealthy business man in a fancy car and suit, and another you see small shoeless children in dirty rags for clothes begging for change to buy something to eat. Delhi is quickly urbanizing so thousands of new arrivals show up from rural areas and towns each week. They sleep on the streets for days, months or years as they attempt to find some way to earn just enough to buy some food and pay for a house. This photo is just down the street from the house I stayed in in North Delhi.


The spiciness, the variety, the new fruits and vegetables, the veg, the chai, Indian cuisine is delicious. While living in Delhi, I ate Indian food almost exclusively and loved it all. I especially came to enjoy papaya, aloo parathna (potato parathna), palak (spinach), chyawan prash (“Indian chocolate”), dal makhini (lentils), and subjhi (cooked spicy vegetables). It’s also common to enjoy chai (tea) three or more times daily (recipe – for 1 cup, just boil 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup milk with dried black tea leaves, 1-3 tbsp sugar to taste, slice of raw ginger, cardamom; when comes to boil let heat for a few minutes, take off heat, strain out solids). Everything in India is full of flavor, in food and everyday life. Also, it is very common to have help at home to cook and clean. The same was true with the guys I lived with. Auntie, the house maid, came each day for an hour in the morning and an hour in the even to cook. Though I was usually eating tasty Indian food prepared at home, I also took the opportunity to share some western dishes with my roommates. I made fresh tomato pasta with carrots from scratch for my roommates (Prashant and Nirmal above). All enjoyed!


One of the benefits of living with friends is the opportunity to experience their daily routine. My good friend Nirmal and I  visited nearby parks in the morning 4 times per week for 1.5 hours to walk and do exercise, as is his usual practice. It was a great opportunity to get outside away from the busy roads, to talk, to learn Hindi and to get some exercise. Above I’m in a large park adjacent to Delhi University’s North campus. Some of the sights in the parks included many Indians in their workout suits, monkeys and dogs running around, playing, eating.


Roommate Nirmal feeling strong after morning exercise. Nirmal is from Jaipur, Rajasthan in western Indian. He grew up in an army family, has lived all over India, and now lives and works in Delhi as a corporate lawyer.

Man practicing morning yoga in the park. He was there every morning getting his day started with his yoga exercises and meditations. 


In Delhi, the metro is by far the fastest way to get around. It runs to all sides of the city. It was initially opened 2-3 years ago and is still under construction, extending in various directions. It is very modern, well-maintained, clean, secure and crowded. The good thing about taking the metro during rush hour is the free full body massage you receive while standing on the metro due to the excessive overcrowding. If people could hang out the doors and ride on the roof as in Mumbai, they would do so. Fortunately, a metro ride usually takes less than an hour in any direction.


No need to say it again, but Delhi is crowded. This is normal Sunday at a market in South Delhi. Just moving around the city for a day, I would reach home ready to sleep due to the need to be very alert constantly due to all the people, animals and vehicles moving around. Delhi has a lot of pollution, so I’m sure this also resulted in added weariness by evening. Cows, dogs and even elephants are a common site around the city. Cows and dogs have a high level of freedom in India. Cows are sacred for all they give – milk and other dairy products for food, dung for fertilizer and fuel. Cow is pronounced “guy” in Hindi. Dogs are not so respected, but they are free to live in the city, as long as they can avoid the traffic. On Feb 13th I was in a car accident with a family of 4 cows. Fortunately it was at low speed and we were able to avoid any injury to passengers or the cows, though they did leave a giant dent in the front of the car. After the accident they quickly ran away – I’ve never seen cows run so fast before.


As the national capital, Delhi has some very beautiful monuments and historic sites, buildings and parks. The above image shows the President’s house in central Delhi.

DSC_0313-smallAfter 4 weeks living in Delhi, experiencing Indian life in one of the world’s giant metropolitan areas, I felt ready to dig into the field research. Nirmal and I posed for a shot before I departed Delhi on Feb 13. I am spending a few days in Lucknow and Nainital to further prepare the research design before going to the state Haryana where I’ll conduct the field research over the coming 3 months.