City Feature – Foreign Babe in Shahjahanabad
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On her own in Old Delhi.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Is Phebe Bay, a 20-year-old girl from Singapore, unusually adventurous? This management intern in Gurgaon does what most girls of this city rarely dare: walking in Old Delhi bylanes, alone.
Just four months in the Capital and Ms Bay has seen more of Shahjahanabad – another name for the Walled City – than most English-speaking, jeans-wearing Delhi girls of her age. Eating shami kebabs in Matia Mahal bazaar and jalebis in Chandni Chowk, sight-seeing in Jama Masjid, buying books in Daryaganj, strolling aimlessly in Turkman Gate alleys… She has done all that. On her own. Ms Bay speaks only three Hindustani words – Kitna, Namaste, Shukriya.
Is it wise to be alone in the Walled City when you don’t even understand the local language? Isn’t Old Delhi culturally too conservative? Is it Ok to go there in jeans and T-shirt, not the most popular women wear in that part of the city? What about the ogling men? Is Ms Bay too brave?
“Not really,” the Singaporean girl says while shaking hands with a child in Turkman Gate. Not so tall and very slender, she smiles a lot. “If you want to experience the culture of great cities, you have to venture out into their ancient parts.”
Most Delhi girls don’t go there. Not alone.
“One must take precautions,” Ms Bay says. “Don’t stay out late. Make sure no one is following you.”
Do the men stare at her? Any nasty experience?
“Sometimes men bump into me, especially here in Old Delhi,” Ms Bay says. “I’m not sure if it’s intentional but I get angry.”
What does she do then?
“Well, I get fine after a while,” she shrugs. “I think Old Delhi guys are not used to seeing girls, and on occasions they are not so gentlemanly. South Delhi guys are certainly better.”
Why not limit excursions to less risky south Delhi?
“It’s too prim and proper,” says Ms Bay. “Old Delhi is a completely different experience. The smell, the sights… look, donkey! The stuff that you find in shops here is different. People, too, are friendlier.”
Considering she is from Singapore where spitting chewing gum on the road is a crime, doesn’t she get horrified by Old Delhi’s insanitary filth?
“Well, you need to be quite agile while walking down the alleys, carefully hopping over the cow dung cakes” Ms Bay confesses. “But it’s the bikes… streets are too narrow for them… and also the honking which I don’t like.”
Just then a bike honks past her.
Pointing towards a crumbling house, Ms Bay exclaims, “Look at that wall… so old, so pretty… you don’t get to see that in Singapore.”
What does she think of Gurgaon? Aren’t the malls of that Delhi suburb truly world-class?
“I know, I know… you Delhiwallas are very proud of Gurgaon’s tall buildings,” Ms Bay says. “But Gurgaon is boring. The same malls, the same buildings… the same kind of people.”
As she goes up to sit on Jama Masjid stairs, a beggar approaches Ms Bay. She ignores him. “I used to give a lot when I was new to the Walled City but later I discovered that they’ve become too aggressive,” she says. “Yet, sometimes you come across people with no arm or leg and that’s sad.”
Is there anything about Old Delhi that really bugs her?
“Loos,” Ms Bay says. “Searching for clean, usable toilets is so difficult here. If it’s an emergency, I have to walk to the Café Coffee Day in Chandni Chowk, or I take the metro to Connaught Place.”
Talking of transport, how does she commute?
“From Gurgaon, I take a bus or a shared cab to Delhi,” she says, “and from there, it’s usually the Metro.”
Evening is setting in. It’s time for Ms Bay to return. Her parting words, “Bye bye, Namaste.”
Click here to read Ms Phebe’s hard talk with Delhiwallas.
Mixing with the Turkman Gate crowd
Everybody loves a digicam
Feeling at home?
Old Delhi’s Everest (at Jama Masjid)
But Everest is not enough
This is fun
Little Miss Naughty