Week One Traffic LessonsDelhi, Fall 2012

There was a moment today riding alone in an auto-rickshaw where I think it finally hit me that this city will be my home for the next four months.

As the sun began to set, I left some friends in Saket to venture back to my flat in the New Friends Colony. I flagged down a rickshaw driver and started the bidding war at 50 rupees – he countered with 100, and somehow we ended up settling on 120 (which is a little over $2). The guy was good.

Building where I live

As we weaved through traffic the moment came when a light turned red, the driver slammed on the breaks, and we gently bumped into the sedan in front of us. Rather than pull over and exchange insurance information, as occurs with the most minor traffic infractions in the States, everyone naturally continued on as if nothing had happened. No harm, no foul – it is all part of the rules of the road (or lack their of) in Delhi.

What’s more, I didn’t even flinch during the process. These sorts of “accidents” occur unnoticed all the time in the chaos of crosstown traffic. I have only been here for a week, and this was not my first. The lax set of road rules leads me to a more general principle that I have quickly learned to abide by while here: even in the sweltering humidity, don’t sweat the small stuff.

I will not go into gross detail about the vast cultural differences between New Delhi and California. I will just drop a quote from one of the administrators at the study abroad center: “There is India, and then there is the rest of the world.” It is a country unlike any other, and if you get caught up with the small things, you miss the bigger picture.

I am still adapting – a process that will likely last all the way until my plane ride out of here in November. But I have definitely begun to normalize my situation, and have become infatuated with this city. The subtle differences continue to baffle me, but rather than grow frustrated I have developed a great curiosity and desire to acclimate. Soon enough I’ll be so good at bartering that from one piercing gaze that same rickshaw driver will be begging to lower the price to 30 rupees. Maybe not.

Regardless, there I sat in the orange glow of the evening sky, horns blaring all around me, having just casually rear-ended a Honda, and a solitary thought floated through my mind: I can get used to this.


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  1. Hi Dom. I like that philosophy. All of us here in California Could benefit from not sweating the small stuff, eh? I know I could. I Iike your new home. Looks quite cozy with nice light. We enjoyed our weekend in Tahoe. Took a nice hike and soaked in the warmth and beauty all around us that is Tahoe. We look forward to hearing about your week. Love, mom.

  2. Maybe instead of bartering for a cheaper rickshaw ride, you should just barter for the rickshaw. Smart short-term investment?? You decide. Miss you Dom

  3. Linbaba, the Aussie protagonist of Gregory David Roberts’ novel “Shantaram”, shares one of his first impressions of India. “The simple and astonishing truth about India and the Indian people is that when you go there, and deal with them, your heart always guides you more wisely than your head.”. He too chooses not to quibble over a few rupees.

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