Welcome to the “New” New Delhi

India Personal Writings

Delhi      I first came to Delhi with a group of some twenty organizers, activists, and others almost twenty years ago with the Organizers’ Forum on only our second international dialogue.  It was late at night.  There were two forever long lines for passport checks before harried agents.  It took quite a while.  There was a bathroom off to the right.  When the curtain opened, it was clear it was just a trough in the ground without a toilet.  Walking outside finally in the bustle and melee that will forever be part of my memory, what struck me most was the smell of fire everywhere in the air.

It’s different now when you land, as I did at 945 PM after a twelve-and-a-half-hour flight from Newark.  It’s a modern airport with wide halls and moving walkways.  There is some confusion once the river of people sorts with some going to transfer locations and others, like me, heading for immigration, but once there, foreign passport holders find twenty booths and workers on one side of the giant hall and domestic holders are well served on the other side.  The line of half-dozen passed quickly.  Within an hour from landing, I was on the street and in my taxi.  There was still a smell of some fires, but nothing compared to past decades.

There were signs of welcome everywhere if any of us happen to be coming for the meeting of the G-20.  The rest of us, not so much, but the carpet was out for this festival that India’s present government sees as so essential to its national project of projecting itself on the world stage.  Each welcoming sign accompanied a picture of Narendra Modi, the conservative, communalist prime minister.  That was also new.

The taxi traveled down a new, wider highway leaving the airport.  We drove under a giant flyway, so huge and new, that I asked the driver where it was going.  It seems, like Denver, they have now built a runway over the road for planes to move back and forth from the domestic and international airports.

There was a lot of new infrastructure since my last visit.  Metro rails and stations could be seen along many roads.  One long dark stretch several kilometers from the airport was now a finished highway on our right and a long wall on our left.  In fact, there were a lot of new walls along the roads into Delhi.  Many were in the tricolors of the Indian flag, yellow, green, and white.  There were light poles in the medians and along the road shinning in the same colors.  Trees that had been painted white in the first four feet from the ground were now, you guessed it, white, yellow, and green.  The pillars holding up overpasses and flyways were also painted with colorful designs in a huge improvement on these new public works.

No visitor was likely to forget the countries colors, no more than you would forget the red, white, and blues of America.  Even if you might forget the colors, Prime Minister Modi was not going to be forgotten.  He was ubiquitous.  His picture was everywhere.  The message he wanted to send was impossible to miss.  In the “new” India and the “new” New Delhi, you could still see the poor that are “always with us” in the breaks in the new walls, huddled on the streets, pissing in the parks, begging at the stoplights, but that was once we are closer to the heart of the city, but from the airport, near the big hotels, and elsewhere, there was an effort to hide them away.  The unmistakable message was that this was Modi’s India, and you had better not forget it, no matter who you were and where you lived.

Once at the YMCA, where I was booked for my time in Delhi, the guard moved the barrier and let us into the compound.  The driver of the prepaid taxi still wanted to argue for a tip.  The third room where I was placed had most everything working, where others rooms along the hallway were in worse repair.  Not everything in India was different after all, and I was happy to be here.