Our driver dropped us off outside the Red Fort, an impressive red sandstone building in the middle of Delhi. I still wasn’t comfortable with being stared at, but we were noticed everywhere we went. The hawkers moved in immediately as they spotted us,“Sir! Sir! Mam!” They were shoving postcards at me, small wooden chess sets, fruits, vegetables, holy trinkets. I tried to ignore them, especially the one’s selling cheap trinkets I would never in my wildest dreams think of buying or want from India (magic stars for the ceiling?). Children were lined up outside the fort wall, some carrying babies on their hips, who were probably three years old at least, but look like infants. They begged for food, bringing their hand to their mouth in a repetitive gesture.
We decided instead to visit the temple across the street. I put my attention to taking off my shoes, and handing them over to Kevin, who in turn gave them to a man manning a whole section of cubbies outside the temple. We got our shoe ticket, and then walked towards the entrance.
As we entered the temple the men ushered us to the entrance, before stopping us and saying, “You cannot bring your bags inside. No camera.” “Do you want to go first?” Kevin asked. “Okay,” I said and walked towards the temple, a dark stone building. One of the men walked with me and I felt torn between wanting someone to show me around, and being irritated because I was pretty sure he would be hitting me up for money in about thirty seconds. The building was filled with statue after statue of Jain gods. Incense filled the air. Flowers lay in front of the statues; people stood in worship.
The man pulled me fast through the building, half leading, half following me through the rooms, pointing at the gods, and speaking in barely coherent murmurs. “Shiva.” Shiva. Buddha. And then maybe “Lakshmi” and maybe another god, “Vishnu.” I wasn’t sure. I felt irritated because it seemed as if somehow I was coerced into a tour I didn’t even ask for, without knowing it. I’d read about these guides that showed up at the temple and took you around without being legit, and I was pretty sure this guy might be one of those hustlers. I wanted him to leave me alone, yet I didn’t quite know how to say it.
We entered a small stone square shaped room where people sat in meditation. I debated staying, but didn’t know how I’d get rid of the “guide” without talking and making a whole lot of noise and disturbing everyone, and I didn’t want to sit there and try to meditate while he watched. Besides, Kevin was waiting. So I made my way back out of the temple, feeling as if I’d seen something like that so many times before, even though I’d never actually seen anything quite like that. I was relieved when the man followed Kevin inside, and I got to sit on the bench and wait. I began to become aware of how India really is filled, overflowing, with people looking for work. And they’ll make up any job to do it, and then expect you to pay them for their services, asked or not.
The Gandhi Memorial Museum has the feel of an old museum in Philadelphia, there’s something the same world wide about the smell of stored and faded pictures, books, and artifacts. The museum consists of several different galleries, like the one that held pictures of Gandhi throughout his lifetime, and the one full of the spinning wheels he revitalized throughout India (only to cause an economic collapse because of too much supply and not enough demand.) I came upon the Martyrdom Gallery last, hesitating before entering and not sure why. Maybe it was the word Martyrdom; it always gave me creepy images of Jesus blood-streaked on the cross, looking down over the world as if we were all doomed to a lifetime of guilt and suffering. But I brushed those images from my brain and stepped inside the Martyrdom Gallery, catching glimpses of newspaper headlines from the day Gandhi was shot as I walked across creaky wooden floorboards. I paused in front of the case holding the clothing Gandhi wore that day. Dried blood left a brown stain on the white dhoti. There was also the watch he wore that day, and one of the bullets that killed him. I found the focus on his violent death a bit ironic for a man who claimed, “My life is my message.”
And I quickly decided I like my memories better of Gandhi when he was alive. I made a beeline for the gift shop. After browsing and picking up a copy of Gandhi’s “The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism”, I came face to face with one of my biggest challenges in India. The Indian style restroom: