Zerky in New Delhi

Map of India

December 16, 1967
From JoAnne’s diary

While Bill was breaking camp this morning, I had a talk with a twelve-year-old girl who was staying at our rest house. She said we should not be in Vietnam.

We arrived in New Delhi at dark, starving, without a map and without the slightest idea of where we were going to stay. We finally ended up at the Ladhi Hotel for 23 rupees per day = $3.06 US at 7 1/2 rupees to the dollar. Our snappy room bearer soon brought dinner to our room.

That tire we had patched yesterday is starting to leak again.

December 17, 1967

Made it to New Delhi via Amritsar, where we checked out the big temple.

The Golden Temple in Amritsar

The Golden Temple in Amritsar

Bill is busy now, checking out the feasibility of taking a boat to Africa. He is also checking on visa and automobile permit requirements for some of the countries we hope to visit there.

Zerk and I went down to Connaught Circle this morning so he could play in the park. It was full of sacred cows. They have the keys to the city. In a half hour we were approached by people trying to sell us a grapefruit, a shoeshine, a massage (head or legs), a peacock fan, a psychedelic windmill, someone wanting to tell me my fortune and, of course, a man trying to get me to change some money with him.

December 20, 1967

Went to the Laxminarayan Temple today.

Laxminarayan Temple in New Delhi

Laxminarayan Temple in New Delhi

With its magnificent orange, pink, yellow and white Hindu pagodas. The statues are gaudily dressed, especially Kali, who had live sparrows hopping about in her shrine in which there was also had a lovely white Buddha in the main temple, and a gorgeous gold Buddha in a temple all its own. There is a wealth of animal statues here, including monkeys, cobras and elephants, elephants, elephants. Their heads are on the capitals of the columns, some of them docile, some of them proud. Two of them are fiercely angry. Panels of pastel paintings in black and ivory run along the ceilings, along with numerous inscriptions of Hindu religious tenets in English as well as in Hindi. Bill was impressed by all the swastikas and by the explanations of how, over the centuries, they became the symbol of the Aryan race. Inside the temple, you could see how the written Aryan languages of Greek, Hindi, Chinese and Sanskrit were formed by adapting the swastika. Also inside the temple grounds, was a marvelously surrealistic park playground where all three of us could walk into the jaws of a brightly painted tiger, and in between the paws of an equally brightly painted lion. Huge pink and white elephant sculptures guard the entrance to the temple, and in the fountains and along the walks there are representations of rhinos, stags, camels and cobras. We, alas, were barefoot, so Zerky could not run around. Upon leaving the temple, we encountered a pathetic little dancing monkey and a snake charmer who tried to force us into watching his mongoose kill an over-drugged snake. I refused.

Yesterday, Bill forgot to write about our visit to the circus. On our way to check out Old Delhi, we stumbled across a circus to which we impulsively decided to take Zerk and ourselves. For the first half-hour, Zerky was fascinated by the procession of animals and especially by the elephants, but also by the tiger, the lion tamer and by the acrobats. Bill was fascinated by the double-jointed female acrobat and all the positions he could fantasize about getting her into. His erotic reverie was brought to a close however when Zerky wet his pants on his daddy’s lap. Afterward Zerk divided his attention alternately between the performers and the chocolate bar held by the sixteen month-old girl seated next to him. He didn’t even notice the man who let an elephant walk over his chest, and it took a bear riding a noisy motorcycle to return his eyes to the ring. When our excuse for going to the circus finally fell asleep, we decided to leave. Indian circus performers don’t seem to have a sense of timing, drama, or plain old show-biz razzmatazz. Their production was very flat.

Women Clothing in New Delhi: The incomparable Sari. A sophisticated version of pajamas such as the ones worn in Pakistan and in the Indian countryside. Gypsy full skirts with scarves and ankle bangles.

Men’s Clothing in New Delhi: Western-style dress clothes with or without beard and turban. Pajama tops with loose white trousers or dhotis. Rags. Overall, the people here are the best-dressed people we have ever seen, Paris not excluded.

Traffic in New Delhi: 1) Foot traffic including people on foot carrying people in chairs. 2) Bicycles, Bill hit one with his side mirror. 3) Scooters, including scooter-drawn and bicycle-drawn cabs. 4) A few motorcycles driven by very brave men who hog the center line. 5) Dogs, cats, burros and, of course, sacred cows with or without carts. 6) Slowest of all are the oxen and water buffalos. Faster are camels, asses, donkeys, ponies and horses. Saw a bear today. 7) Buses and trucks, often without taillights or reflectors, and with burned out headlights. This, along with all the bikes and carts that don’t have lights at all, makes driving at night a fool’s game. 8) Cars driving fast, honking their horns constantly passing on the right or on the left, and driving over or inside the centerline.

Ambassador Bowles is conducting a campaign at the U.S. Embassy “to make U.S. drivers the safest in India.” His posters instruct embassy employees to “give camels, water buffalo, bikes, cows, three-wheeled cabs, horses, buses and cars the right of way.”

It is Christmas season where we come from, so I offered a hot buttered rum to our room bearer who had brought us some butter and sugar. “Will you join us for a Christmas drink?” Bill played the guitar for him. A 750-ml bottle of rum costs approximately 35 rupees here, roughly a third of a month’s salary of 50 to l00 rupees per month. In other words, the cost of alcohol is prohibits most Indians from buying it. I forgot to mention that at the circus the other day we saw an Indian Indian dressed up like an American Indian, feathered headdress and all.

December 21, 1967

No dice, getting diapers, milk or dog food at the American Embassy. Paper diapers and unsweetened condensed milk also appear to be impossible to find. Zerky had a good play with some Indian kids staying in the room below us. He was shy but eventually managed to overcome. We hope this is just a stage.

The newspaper reports more student-led riots in Calcutta, this time over the dismissal of some government officials. There are also riots in Uttar Pradesh over the Official Languages Bill.

December 22, 1967

Bill got us a road permit for East Pakistan and permission from India’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to visit Sikkim for three days only. We cleaned out the car today during which Bill threw a bunch of garbage out onto a field, where it was quickly snapped up by an eagle-eyed youth as soon as it hit the ground. He ran off with some shriveled up oranges, two empty motor-oil cans, a plastic diaper bag, and some empty baby food jars. Earlier, we saw a man picking soggy lettuce off a garbage heap. Ugh.

Zerky has made friends with a gang of Indian kids staying in our hotel. The oldest boy uses him as an excuse to play with Tarzan, and, since Zerk is no longer the least bit shy, our little son is now very popular.

The children of two of the mothers with caste marks are very well dressed, and appear to have been very well brought up. The two families with children nearest Zerky’s age, however, are of lower caste, more poorly dressed and not as combed and clean. Their attitude toward Zerky is interesting: whereas the higher-caste kids treat him as an equal, these kids are shy. They take no liberties with him but are fascinated with his pale skin and fair hair, which they love to fondle. The oldest boy chased one of the younger children with Tarzan and laughed because the littlest boy was crying out of fear of our dog. Tomorrow we leave.

December 23, 1967

Left New Delhi in a light rain that increased as we traveled south. After about six hours, the countryside turned into a morass. Everything is flat here and there does not seem to be anywhere for the rainwater to drain, so it collects on the road, which is barely higher than the surrounding countryside. Everywhere there is mud. If this can happen in a few hours during the dry season, what must it be like here during the monsoon?

Our room bearer’s name is John Roberts, a Christian. He makes 112 rupees per month, which works out to be $15.00 exactly at the official rate. Forty-five rupees of it goes for upkeep of his younger sister. They are refugees from West Pakistan who came to India in 1947 at the time of partition. John is looking for a sponsor to emigrate to just about anywhere. He gave me three roses upon our departure.

—Excerpted from Letters to Zerky


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