By Jody Williams
Sunday, 25 October 2009
We’re in New Delhi, with a few hours to kill before we take our plane to Dharamsala. This is my second trip to India; the first time Liz and I were here was in 2001. Ever since I’ve wanted to come back to Dharamsala, but it never worked until now. But it would have been pretty difficult to not find a way to be here now for the activities marking the 50th year of His Holiness’ exile.
Some of us had all day yesterday here in Delhi so we went out to see a tiny fraction of what is here in this city of millions. And “see” is pretty much what we did. We saw the outside of the temple to Lakshmi; we saw the Red Fort; we saw the outside of the Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque, through the perennially smoky sky of Old Delhi.
Approaching the Red Fort wasn’t possible by the car that was taking us around so the driver took us to a stand of bicycle rickshaws and said that the rickshaws would take us to and from the Fort. I’d never have set out with the intention of taking a rickshaw – incredibly dangerous in the ridiculous traffic of the city. But there we were and it didn’t seem a point of discussion and it was the only way to get to the Fort, so we got into the rickshaws – two of us with each driver.
Like so many teeming streets of huge cities in so many parts of the world, traffic lanes mean nothing in Delhi. Perched on the slim seat behind our driver, I watched the ballet of vehicles continuously unfolding all around us as the rickshaw driver struggled to make the pedals turn and move us trough the traffic. He competed with huge, pollution-spewing busses and trucks, cars and motorcycles, small motorized rickshaw like taxis – and the occasional four-legged animal — all juggling their way through the same space trying to move forward. As everyone wove in and out it really was miraculous that traffic moved at all and that there were not fatal collisions at every turn.Our driver was so thin that Judy – a slip of a person herself – and I felt we should either be driving him or at least pushing the rickshaw along. As we came up behind another driver, ours pushed the back of the other man’s rickshaw several times. He turned his head to say that the driver could use the help because the two men in the vehicle were big. Then he said that the other driver was his father.
It was a jolt to hear. I immediately wanted to know how old each was; but I didn’t ask. It was impossible to guess his father’s age. Judy and I thought he might be younger than us – and we are in our late 50s – but he looked much older. His already dark skin baked even darker and so leathery. His hair was grey and he was thin as a rail from the constant exertion – as was his son. Likely our driver’s son, if and when he has one, would have the same fate – pumping the pedals of a bicycle rickshaw through the traffic jammed streets of Delhi for a few rupees a day.
After returning to the hotel, we were invited to dinner hosted by His Holiness’ office here in Delhi. It was great to spend time again with Tempa Tsering, who now heads the Delhi office. Last time we had dinner together it was at his house in Dharamsala with his wife, Jetsun Pema, sister of His Holiness. Until a few years ago, Pema was the director of the Tibetan Children’s Village. We’re really looking forward to seeing her again after we get to Dharamsala…..