In lots of ways living in New Delhi is no different from living anywhere else. Life happens. You get your head down and deal with it. Jobs, school, illnesses, socialising, eating in and eating out, waking up, watching TV, reading books, cooking, cleaning… it all happens, just as it all happens everywhere else.
In the course of getting on with all of that, you lose sight of where you are. I stopped exploring Delhi within weeks of arriving here, as life took shape. It’s probably the same for you, wherever you are. How well you know your own city is probably shaped by your daily routine rather than any grand spirit of exploration.
That’s why guests are always a good thing. I find myself absorbing their instinct to explore, and looking around me with fresh eyes and a new hunger to see things.
Over the weekend we were delighted to host a couple of friends from the US, Rob and Sara Davies. Rob and I first ‘met’ when we were each commissioned to write a book about Hiram Grange for Shroud Publishing. There was a great deal of emailing back and forth over many months as we sorted out matters of character and continuity (along with the other writers and artists involved), and eventually delivered Hiram Grange and the Digital Eucharist and Hiram Grange and the Nymphs of Krakow (which for reasons wholly inexplicable to me have never been released as ebooks, so you need to grab the paperbacks to meet the incorrigible Grange). In 2011 I went across to the World Horror Convention in Austin Texas, and met him and Sara in person over the course of a jetlagged few days. When I stopped off in Boston en route to Maine last year, they invited me round to theirs for some of Rob’s increasingly famous jambalaya. A few days later we hooked up again at Anthocon.
The reason for a writer to go to conventions, apocryphally speaking, is to increase their visibility and do business. That might be true for some people, but I don’t really relate to them that way. I’m rather quiet in person, and tend to vanish in any given crowd. It makes me a terrible salesman. I’ve also yet to conduct any meaningful business at a convention. Instead, what they offer me more than anything else is a chance to find my tribe, to cement email friendships and find the new ones that are going to last. For that reason, I tend to select the few conventions I go to based on who else is going, rather than how big or fancy the convention itself is. I’ve made several genuinely good friends over the course of just three conventions.
Including Rob and Sara. They’re adventurous souls, and like to get out of the US and explore when they can, so when they decided to come to India they dropped me a line and I offered them a roof for the Delhi leg of their Indian tour. Much good food and good conversation was had. Rob lured monkeys to our balcony with his strange monkey luring skills (seriously – four years in India and I’ve never had monkeys on the balcony… Rob drops by for five minutes….). They met Kirsty and Eva, who impressed them with toilet-going euphemisms (at one restaurant she boldy announced that she was stepping to the latrine to release the Kraken… no idea where she gets this stuff from… ahem).
They also, in the course of their own exploring, reminded me that I haven’t seen nearly as much of New Delhi as nearly five years living here suggests. I tagged along with them to the Qutab Minar, one of the city’s most famous sights, and am very glad I did. It’s staggeringly ancient. We’re more used to staggeringly ancient in the UK than the USA, by dint of having been around longer, but while the tower and the iron pillar (dating from the fourth century, when the technology didn’t exist to shape a huge iron pillar, so nobody quite knows how it was done) are contemporaneous to some impressive UK stuff it’s of a vastly different elegance and quality. While we were shivering in wooden forts and working out how to build gray stone castles, the Indians were throwing up wonders like Qutab Minar. Wandering around the site today, seeing it for myself, left me shaking my head in surprise.
Living in India comes with a tonne of frustrations, but when I remember to open my eyes I’m reminded just how privileged I am to have had the opportunity to spend so much time in this part of the world. There’s so much that I’ve seen and done that I would never have had opportunity to experience otherwise, and that’s a nice thing to be reminded of.
Rob and Sara are off to their second stop now – a few days in Jaipur, which I have no doubt is impressing them wildly – so the usual routines are re-establishing themselves here. I’ve made a note though not to end my time in New Delhi with things not seen. Knowing me as I do, this will result in a last minute week long dash around the city to tick off everything I should have lingered over during my time here, but as long as it happens I can live with that.