I was strolling through my favorite park with my step-mother when I noticed two men praying along the western wall of a 600 year old mosque. Muslims are not allowed to congregate for organized prayer at heritage sites in Delhi but the guards don’t seem to mind the odd mid-day devotion.
The men were from Afghanistan and visiting Delhi for medical reasons. In fact, there is a large flow of Afghan patients into India. Delhi’s largest hospital has a wing dedicated to working with Afghan citizens and the foreign visa office has a separate section for Afghans as well. Why? Because so many come here for help.
The guy on the left in the photo above spoke excellent English. He’s from Kandahar and he works as a “liaison” for a foreign entity. He didn’t elaborate. He seemed to want to talk about the American forces in his country. Barbara quietly let me know that she didn’t want to tell him about my brother Cole, who is going to Afghanistan with the army in May. I asked the man his name but I can’t remember the phonetic combination of what I recall as a long, beautiful string of syllables. One poignant note – while I was having my fortune told nearby (more on that below), the man told Barbara that when he leaves his family for work every day he doesn’t know whether they will be alive when he returns. He also said that winter is a good time in Kandahar because the Taliban flee to Pakistan in the cold months.
Afghan visitors usually stay in Lajpat Nagar, a neighborhood crowded with people, toppling buildings and cars that never seem to get anywhere. The area was a resettlement colony for refugees from Pakistan following the partition of India. Now it’s home to people from all over the world – making it feel more like New York City than New Delhi.
That fortune teller – he was a lazy snake oil salesman. He gave Barbara much of the same fortune that he gave me. He also said that I would never be rich. Real or not, what’s the harm in lying about this detail? (Especially if you want to get paid…) I think it was a very Hindu fortune – why mask the truth? Accept your fate! Anyway, he was wrong. I’m rich! rich! rich! in so much more than money.
My favorite local press obsession of the week: Indian students in the US who were caught with illegal visas. They were supposed to be studying at a college in San Francisco that, surprisingly, doesn’t exist. The students claim they were duped. However, instead of returning home they decided to stay in the States and work because their visas conveniently allowed them to. Indian papers and TV stations accuse the U.S. of treating the students like animals because some of them were radio-tagged by the police. US authorities say this is common practice while these sorts of cases are under review. It allows the accused a boat-load of freedom but assures that they won’t disappear into the 300-million. I was at one party where a seemingly smart and educated man claimed he heard that the students might be sent to Abu Ghraib! Only one of the six papers that arrive at my house every morning points out that maybe, just maybe the students knew that the visas were not clean.