An improving, culturally affluent country
A small spark pops out of a decorated cone on the ground, followed by dozens more small sparks launching into the air. Seconds later, the anar firecracker showers bright sparks all across the vicinity. Several children and adults watch with delight as a man picks another firecracker and repeats the show.
Firecrackers and mini-rockets are launched throughout India during the period from mid-October to mid-December, the shaadi (wedding) season. What starts as a simple relative-visiting trip soon becomes more of an enjoyable experience when our cousin invites us to a friend's wedding with her. We, juniors Varun Gulati and Ekta Taneja, are soon caught in the middle of the wedding mania. Chaotic matrimony
As we bombard our cousin with questions about weddings, we get a brief background on traditional and modern marriages. This year, there were 14,000 weddings in New Delhi on Nov. 28 alone, according to The Times of India. Years ago, weddings were not performed in the ancient Indian calendar months of Chetna (March), Kartik (October) and Posh (December), although the specific dates varied by the individual's astrological signs. Now, farmhouses on the outskirts of Delhi are booked through December for marriages and often house crowds of over 2,000 people a day.
During the first of the ceremonies, our cousin has given a member of the groom's family a box loaded with an assortment of sweets. At first, she appears to be giving the sweets arbitrarily; however, her present is customary. Two of the most important customs involving shaadis are sagan and mehndi. Sagan is the engagement of the bride and the groom, where the two exchange rings while the girl's family gives out sweets to the boy's family. In return, the groom's parents and siblings shower the bride with gifts such as bangles and necklaces.
The sagan is followed by the mehndi, a function exclusive to the girl's side of the family. Henna, a dark paste, is applied extensively in unique designs to the bride-to-be's hands, forearms, feet and lower legs. She has to keep still for at least 2-3 hours for the color to soak and come out dark and ripe. While the bride is getting her hands done, we enjoy a round of singing and playing the dholki, a small, two-sided Indian drum.
The rush during shaadi season doesn't stop Varun from going with his cousin to see Veer Zaara, one of approximately 1,000 films released every year by Bollywood, India's world-leading movie industry, according to Time Magazine.
In Bollywood movies, which mostly consist of love stories, actors and actresses often dance to songs sung by playback singers, unlike in Hollywood movies where actors shy away from lip-syncing. Today, actors like Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh "Big B" Bachchan lead the Bollywood industry.
After the movie, Varun uses the cell phone his mom lent him to call Ekta. From celebrities to teenagers, India has become enveloped in a cell phone craze. For a small fee, even Varun's mom has outfitted her American Nokia phone with a new SIM card, enabling her (and Varun) to call anywhere in India. Cell phone providers such as Hutch, Idea and AirTel have sprung from the new industry, emulating American companies Verizon, Cingular and T-Mobile. Fierce competition between providers has driven plan prices as low as one rupee per minute of airtime, the equivalent of about two cents.
Meanwhile, Ekta goes shopping in nearby Rajouri Garden, one of western Delhi's biggest street markets. She walks down the dusty streets, weaving her way through the cars, motorcycles, scooters and bikes parked all over. A parking ticket officer is busy yelling himself hoarse at speeding cars while jaywalkers casually stroll across the street. Ekta stops to buy honey-almond ice cream from a nearby Baskin Robbins and proceeds to get dirt on her treat, thanks to the crowds of shoppers rushing around.
After finishing her snack, she sits down to get henna on her hands. Since henna isn't exclusive to wedding functions, henna artists sell their services in the markets. Henna-streaked hands mean Ekta can't touch anything for a couple of hours, so she settles for window shopping.
The numerous street-side shops boast colorful poster advertisements, cheap products (sometimes) and the perfect venue for bargaining. Tradition dictates that we Indians haggle down to the last penny - or paisa, in this case. However, an unexpected new trend – fixed prices – is starting to trickle through Delhi's shops that leaves local customers weaponless against "high" prices (the prices may seem high in India, but compared to the United States, they're a steal). Despite the occasional fixed price-shop, however, most owners enjoy swindling tourists too much to let their new policy come in way of their favorite pastime.After Ekta's shopping spree and Varun's movie, we meet up outside the theater to go back to the apartment our parents rented. We flag down an auto rickshaw, a mini-taxi vehicle, and negotiate a price to reach our destination.
A cleaner, greener country
On this clear, sunny day in India, a bus accelerates down the road and onto a flyover, a bridge or overpass carrying one road over the top of another. Printed on the bus are the bold letters "CNG”, which promote the environmentally friendly fuel the bus uses: Compressed Natural Gas. As India enters 2005, small steps such as using clean fuel and starting clean-up projects have fueled political and environmental improvements. Most improvement projects are lead by the All India Movement for Seva in areas such as education, health care and environment.
While on the auto rickshaw, we see one prevalent color - green. Grass, trees, bushes and plants are scattered along the roads we travel and the parks we pass by. Two of India's most prominent environmental projects are the Green India and Clean India campaigns, whose goals are planting and cleaning, respectively. Under Green India, over 10,000 varieties of vegetation are used to "green" the city. Clean India promotes efforts to reduce pollution, and Delhi now features wet and dry trash bins to help tackle littering.
Despite a few construction setbacks, our auto rickshaw navigates through traffic smoothly. Traveling in India was a chore several years ago; Delhi was known for its bumper-to-bumper traffic, filled with cars and trucks honking, and everyone trying to get somewhere fast. Now, among the more positive, traffic-friendly additions to New Delhi's highway system are flyovers and special U-turn areas. Flyovers are a neat and effective way to divert people traveling slightly long-distance from those going to one of the numerous local markets.
After being dropped off, we realize we are still far away from our rented apartment, so take another vehicle to finish our journey; the choice is between boarding a bike rickshaw or a horse-drawn cart. Since the latter is crowded with ripe vegetables and fruits, we go with the former. Other modes of transportation include scooters, motorcycles and buses. In a further effort to lure commuters away from cars, officials approved a citywide Metro system in Dec. 2002 that extends out into neighboring cities. The first part of the Delhi underground Metro opened on Dec. 18, 2004. Subway stations are still under construction in certain areas throughout Delhi, accompanied by extensive, multi-story parking spaces. Phase I of the Delhi Metro project, involving the opening of stations throughout New Delhi, is scheduled for completion in 2005. Extensions to the northern, eastern and southern sections of the railway will commence in Phase II with a proposed completion date in 2010.We drive past wedding dancers, brightening the scenery with their exotic, traditional dance. People are still lighting firecrackers in the streets, celebrating with friends and family. The handheld fuljari, or sparklers, gush out a medley of colors into the dark. India is gradually working its way up with the help of new technology and improvisations integrated into its diverse, colorful culture and heritage.
Varun Gulati. Varun is a <b>senior</b> at Blair and loves working for Silver Chips Online, listening to his archaic mp3 player and chatting on AIM while his mother nags him in the background. More »
Ekta Taneja. Ekta Taneja is a magnet <b>senior</b> with a passion for SCO, books and rugged-looking fighters from all universes and time periods. She's a modest poet with an unappeasable thirst for cinnamon-sprinkled hot chocolate overloaded with whipped cream and richly-flavored pina coladas that come with cute … More »