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A Week in Culture: Jacques Testard, Editor

February 9, 2011 | by

DAY ONE

11:45 A.M. I’ve just landed in Delhi. I’m here for the Jaipur Literature Festival, starring Orhan Pamuk, J. M. Coetzee, Richard Ford, and Candace Bushnell. I haven’t been in Delhi for close to three years. The Commonwealth Games have left their mark: the new airport terminal is gigantic, crisp, and shiny. I step outside into the crowd and am greeted with silence. A few years back fifty drivers would have competed for my custom but now they wait in an orderly fashion. My father, who has lived in Delhi for close to a decade, picks me up. Our driver is a Hindu; Ganesh stickers adorn his windscreen.

3:00 P.M. I have an afternoon in the city and have decided to revisit the old town. I go to the Jama Masjid, a legacy of Delhi’s Mughal past. An auto-rickshaw drops me off a few hundred yards away, and I walk up the central walkway toward the towering minarets and white-marble domes, carefully treading my way past the crouching lepers and stray cows. The mild January weather tempers the overwhelming olfactory experience that is India. A man with hennaed hair tells me the mosque is closed for prayers. He asks me if I want to visit a haveli hidden out in Old Delhi. He says it is bigger than the Jama Masjid and has a magical tree hovering in its central courtyard. It will cost me five hundred rupees. I decline.

5:15 P.M. I’m in Khan Market at the Full Circle bookshop. Books are cheaper in India. I’m looking for David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. The girl at the till has not heard of it. She recommends Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. I decline, this time politely. I forgot how much time one spends declining in India.

8:20 P.M. My father and I visit the Nizamuddin Dargah before dinner. Nizamuddin, a thirteenth-century Sufi saint, is buried here. Millions visit every year. To get there one has to walk through a maze of alleys among scores of bearded pilgrims and rose-garland vendors. The pilgrims buy the flowers and deposit them on the holy man’s grave. Everyone wants to sell me flowers or look after my shoes while I step into the shrine. Pilgrims sit in rows singing Sufi songs. It is colorful, convivial. Children run freely, friends and families chat happily on the periphery. I imagine that churches in medieval Europe would have felt similarly chaotic. We must be the only non-Muslims. Most people don’t seem to notice us and those who do smile and hold out their hands in greeting.

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