The still air carries the smell of New Delhi in the summer: The spices of the street food, the sweat of the people, the dregs of the city sneakily abandoned in every corner, with minimum discretion. The heat is relentless. Beads of sweat slide down your body a few inches before ending its brief journey at the edge of your clothes, soaking in and darkening the color of the fabric. There is no room for silence. The rickshaws honk their horns at every metre and the engines of the old decadent Tata trucks, loaded with all kinds of things, play the bass line in the unique metropolitan symphony orchestra, which plays the same score every day, each time in a slightly different way.
The feeling of being here never fades. You expect that at some point something that is visibly familiar will appear, but it never does.
The palate gets tired trying to get used to the flavor of the place. Very tired. Hindu temples emanate an indefinable mix of sounds around the clock, seven days a week. The colors come violently into view and what reaches the eye frame is totally “other”.
India is a country that simultaneously hits all five of the senses, something you understand as soon as you arrive. You can read about it and talk to other people who have been there, try to imagine it in the books of Edward Forster or Suketu Mehta, but language is powerless against feelings and it is impossible to transfer from one person to another this unbelievable, difficult and at times unpleasant experience.
You can see Slumdog Millionaire and suddenly think yes, it will be difficult, but you’re prepared. However, it is not like this. The culture shock is extreme and can only be experienced firsthand. By entering this country-continent of more than one billion people you must be willing to forget all the codes that you have learned over the years living in the “western world” as the Indians call it. You have to play the game you choose when you buy the plane ticket. Interesting and aesthetically powerful, but not always possible to enjoy. (to be continued…)
WRITTEN BY ANDREA FAGIOLI