I’m hosting a group of Chinese undergraduate journalism students from a university in south China. They arrived in Delhi last week and drove straight to Rajasthan where they are attending the Jaipur Literature festival. Later this week they will come to Delhi to work with my students.
I didn’t think to share news of the chaos or filth – I thought these were known qualities. But the unorganized and unkept landscape of an Indian city has surprised my guests. Go to most cities and towns in China and they are sterile in comparison. Sometimes figuratively so, as well.
I wonder whether my guests notice another contrast: The discussions that bounce from stage to stage at the literature festival. The arena is infused with thought and debate – debate that turned controversial and then flip-flopped from the substantive to a distracting discussion about the limits of free speech.
(A renowned Indian sociologist commented that corruption is a plague among the lower castes and minority tribes of India. He has apologized only for being misunderstood and he has yet to qualify or quantify his claim with any rigorous argument or proof. This incident has upset many and he could be charged with inciting civil unrest with hate language. There are caveats to freedom of speech protection in India and I admit to not fully understanding some of the exceptions. In the last few months alone, police arrested a cartoonist for irreverent-at-most depictions of national symbols and a young resident of Mumbai for her Facebook post that questioned why the city should be paralyzed for days by a local politician’s funeral.)
In China, my guests likely don’t experience forums such as the literature festival and the rich public discussion and debate that plays-out in them. I hope to quiz them about their thoughts when they arrive Delhi on Thursday.
However, I do know this after a few days together in Jaipur: There isn’t much on the buffet that’s appetizing. And this makes me chuckle because it’s commonly accepted in both Indian and Chinese communities that the two cuisines shall not-a-marriage-make! I left my guests on a diet of rice, tandoori chicken and packets of Maggi noodles… and promised that their options will improve once they land Delhi.
After nearly four years of searching, I have yet to find good Chinese food here but there’s nothing like a demanding deadline to force one, as the writer’s adage goes, to make chicken salad out of chicken shit.
But they may have to settle for the ubiquitous Chow Mein.
(And I can’t write about Chow Mein without mentioning that a few months ago stupid village leaders outside of Delhi blamed eating Chow Mein noodles for turning pious women into harlots. A harlot in that village is any woman who wears jeans, uses a cell phone and goes to school…)
Here’s my ode to Mumbai:
Nicole: Thanks for coming to Delhi. Only my dearest friends and hardiest relatives have braved the chaos… which gives you first dibs on our extra bed in Rome. xx