Monday, January 9, 2012

back in Delhi, day 3; Birla House, where Gandhi was assassinated, Qutb Minar

“If the Congress wishes to accept partition, it will be over my dead body. So long as I am alive, I will never agree to the partition of India. Nor will I, if I can help it, allow the Congress to accept it.” 
- Gandhi, March 3rd, 1947

After breakfast, I walked Masumi down to the taxi stand to catch her ride to the airport. I've been really fortunate with the wonderful people I've met and traveled with along the way and Masumi was one of the nicest.

Similar to when Carlos left, I wasn't overly excited to be in Delhi alone but I ha a few things to keep me busy.

First, I took a rickshaw to one of the most emotionally charged places I've visited, Gandhi Smriti, the memorial that was Gandhi's residence, formerly known as Birla House, and the place where he was assassinated while walking out to lead the evening prayer. He was shot by a Hindu extremist who, in their twisted perceptions, blamed Gandhi for the split between India and Pakistan and for "weakening" India by pressuring the government to give money to Pakistan. 

Outside in the garden you can follow cast footprints laid out in to trace Gandhi's last walk and a small shrine where he was stopped. It was difficult not to shed a couple tears as I walked back toward the house, but I didn't really try to restrain them.

The room where Gandhi has been presented, and the rest of the building is now a small museum displaying information about his life and death. In one dark space are two wax sculptures of Gandhi seated with his wife. They looked so real that they gave me chills.

I walked back to the rickshaw in a bit of an altered space then talked to the driver about heading to Qutb Minar, another Indian UNESCO site, which was a bit far, but all the better for the driver. 

Qutb Minar is a 72.5 meter (237.8 ft) minaret, commenced in 1193 by Qutb-ud-din Aibak, the first Muslim ruler of Delhi. It was a bit ironic to visit here after visiting Gandhi's remembrance, considering this tower marks one of the bloodiest eras in human history. 1193 is the same year that the ancient Nālandā Buddhist university was sacked and its library slowly burned over the span of several months, in one of the final blows in the decline of Indian Buddhism. Thousands of monks were burned alive and thousands more beheaded as Buddhism was uprooted and replaced by Islam. It is an incredible structure but the history of violence it represents to me weighs heavily in my mind.

As it began to get dark, I asked the driver to get me back quickly to Pahar Ganj, but he insisted on bringing me to a touristy gift shop. I begged him not to, I'm used to this trick from my time Bangkok, but he drove me there anyway and asked me to spent just ten minutes looking around. They do this so that the shop owners have to pay them some commission but it not a nice spot to be caught in the middle of. At this place, the clerk was on me in about two minutes and asked that if I weren't going to buy anything to leave immediately. I said I wasn't sure if I was going to buy something, I had to look first, but he blocked me from going into the main part of the shop and strongly told me to get out. A bit upset by his forcefulness, I walked back to the rickshaw who immediately got upset with me for not having stayed in the shop long enough. I told him I was kicked out and he proceeded to dash into the store and start a huge shouting match with the clerk, which I didn't understand a word of, yet I understood every bit of it. I was really upset, myself, since I'd asked him not too bring me there. I walked out to the road to see if I could flag down another rickshaw, I hadn't paid him yet, but I didn't care, but he soon came out and told me to get in quickly. I sat silently in the back, visibly upset, and he said he could see he'd broken my heart. It wasn't just him, though. Just about every day of this trip has been slowly wearing on me and this was the moment I finally broke down. I thought at least now he'd bring me back to my hotel but instead we pulled into another shop and he asked me to please go in one more time. This shop was a bit more artsy, and had more affordable things. Rather than risk another episode, I bought a couple of paper heart-shaped boxes and left. He said, "Oh, good. You bought something," but I really would have rather paid him what I spent on the boxes and more to have just gone straight back. 

I think he did have some sense of the frustrations travelers endure, though, and on the way back he offered to make a detour to see a famous Hindu Shrine, the Laxmi Narayan Temple, lit up at night. I didn't have time to go in, but still looked pretty spectacular from the outside. Finally, I made it back to the Payal Hotel and I still felt compelled to give him a small tip despite the unnecessarily long, long drive back. 

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