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The Hard Road to Delhi


(Rediff Diaries, New Delhi, India, February 2002, from the series Backpacking India:   Single Female?! by Dipika Kohli

Sure, I've left America before.

I know myself to be a wanderer, I won't deny that. A year in Japan, a summer in Ghana, a couple of weeks going Greyhound cross-country back home. Just like to kick around in a new place, check out mountains, and start up new projects along the way (like teaching math, sketching in watercolors, or editing digital8 video clips). Always planning in the back of my head where to go next and how to make it happen. Strong case of wanderlust? Yeah, you could say that.

So it didn't seem like such a crazy idea to me. But when I announced I was backpacking it 'round India, all hell broke loose at 219 Shady Grove Lane. Nevermind by regular American standards I was a full-grown, mature, independent-minded (isn't that what I'd been brought up to be?) 23 year old adult.

Perfectly capable of making her own decisions. Of pulling herself up by her own bootstraps. Of forging her way in the world.

But when I announced I was quitting my job and going to India for three winter months, then hitting New York for the big time, my mother and father nearly slayed me.

"Vhaaat?! Are you crazy?! India! Bribes and corrupt. No law and order. Why you always want to go somewhere? Stay one place only. Study more get better job. America is best place. No! You cannot we won't let you go. Not safe."

Mom and Dad stood their ground on this one, putting up a helluva unified front based solely an eerily strong, almost religious conviction. Going to India? No. And again, no. No no no no no no no no.

Why?

What was the big problem with India, after all, there would be family there. My grandmother and others. I hadn't seen them in six years. Wouldn't it be great to check in and see how they were doing? See if they remembered me, if they even knew who I was.

C'mon, guys. How can it be so bad?

"No, Dipika. Why don't you go for further studies instead or we could introduce you to nice boy, PhD student? Dad has friend who has son, bright studious. Maybe get married best thing for you."

"No, thanks. And anyway, I've already booked my tickets. Raleigh-Durham, London, Delhi, Dubai, New York. Booked and confirmed, window seats all the way. Hm? Yes, I'm going alone. What's the big deal? Jeez, don't worry, I'll be fine."

That's when Mom fainted and Dad stopped talking to me.

I'm telling this story to Sinead and Aisling, two Irish girls I met standing in line at New Delhi Railway Station today, while booking my tickets for tomorrow's trip.

New to this whole India-travel thing, I've been observing and talking to other people. They seem to know exactly what they're doing. There's a whole queue of backpackers here, and through the din we catch a blend of many languages. About half these travellers are out here on their own, Bisleri water bottles at their sides, reviewing earmarked selections of Rough Guide and Lonely Planet. Despite the cool November weather there's an uncomfortable thickness in and around the station.

I'm looking through the railway timetables, drawing lines across my Government of India Tourist pocket map, plotting in my head what I think I'd like to do.

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