So, two days into Delhi, and it’s been an experience and a half so far. First trip here, bizarrely enough. For someone as apparently cosmopolitan as I am generally expected/thought to be (although not for those who’ve seen my countries I have visited map) — or at least, cosmopolitan by average English standards — I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise how truly… different a place can be.

Other countries (in my admittedly limited experience) might be said to be sheepish about their national identities, and mask many aspects of their unique local traditions under the plywood veneer that goes by the apparently desirable and innocuous tag of “globalisation” or “modernisation.” India, whilst by no means untouched by the evil multinationals, almost immediately confronts you with sights, smells, people, traditions, that are characteristically, unpretentiously, Indian. I guess it has been a bit of a surprise for me, having lived a somewhat sheltered existence in Malaysia and England.

The Malaysian government has long sought (with some success) to foster a slightly artificial sense of what constitutes “Malaysianness”, and every representation of that ‘vision’ (concept, whatever) has never failed to induce a sense of… well, contempt from me, for the sanitised, censored depiction of the people that are meant to represent us. These are evident from the moment you step free of the arrivals lounge. London, of course, plays by different rules to the rest of the world; everyone feels so much a part of and apart from anything that identifies with the city that means it can actually be difficult to feel alone in London.

Note: not an absolute statement; sure there are lots of lonely people in London (as the adverts in our phone booths testify…), but it just seems to me that if you grew up here, or moved here with friends or for university, you would pretty much have to try to feel completely alone. IMHO.

Indian advertising is guilty of similar manipulations and insidious imagery that the Malaysian government trades in – atypical, uncharacteristically white ‘Indians’ provide the face of every brand, home grown and multinational, on TV and in print. However, within a few hours of leaving the airport, we’d seen cattle roaming free on the highways, a donkey-and-cart, we’d been driven on the wrong side of a highway to overtake traffic, been hocked to at a traffic light by a street vendor, dodged a dozen motorised-rickshaws and then been overwhelmed by the colour and the shape of my cousin’s wedding preparations (which deserves, and will get, a separate post).

It is all a bit unreal… and yet familiar. Something of this place must resonate with a certain core of Indianness I have – and expected to find. And despite the familiar, there’s no doubt in my mind that I’m very much a foreigner here – although I recognise my unique brand of humility amongst many of my fellow Indian men. I look forward to exploring the streets of Old Delhi on Monday.

Oh – an my only issue with food/water, thus far, has been the soy milk I had with cereal this morning, which my mother brought for me from Malaysia. Note to self: if something expired in “07/04”, it is BAD. Unless I eventually get that Delorean I always wanted…

More to come. Definitely interesting times.