The Future is Delhi

Ravinder at Qutub Minar in New Delhi

There are about 20 million people crowded into this city, and the traffic is simply overwhelming. Is Delhi what the megacities of the future will look like? It is the world’s most polluted city. There is trash in heaps along the sides of the roads. After the rains, people can breathe but I usually visit in the winter, when the black air covers my lungs and I start coughing after a few hours. The new metro system is one of the biggest in the world, but it is already overcrowded, with too few trains, and people pushing each other in all directions. There are simply too many cars, and people don’t follow traffic rules: chaos reigns. Among the cars are buses filled to capacity, with school buses stopping in the middle of the roads to drop off children, blocking traffic. The cows wander freely, and the incessant beeping of horns numbs the eardrums.

India has a huge number of young people who have immense potential to make change, but with corruption and the high costs of living, they appear to be sinking into a sea of cars, losing hours of their lives just getting to work, buying some food and picking up the kids. Then there is the heat and humidity…

I have a somewhat unusual perspective on this city, since I have been coming to Delhi approximately every couple years throughout my whole life. Every time I visit, it seems more choatic. I remember when I was a kid, the Qutub Minar was far away, along dusty roads. Now it is considered very central in New Delhi. The Qutub Minar is an impressively tall old tower from the 12th century. It is now a nice park, but lacks planning for parking or the large numbers of visitors. That is a central theme of Delhi; a lack of planning: planning to control the population, planning to accommodate the traffic, planning to take care of the garbage and electricity and water. It is just a hard place to live. Without major efforts by Western cities in city planning, the path to “Delhiness” is inevitable.

But on the other hand, Delhi is a magical place, where all of humanity somehow coexists with amazingly few problems. There is never any fear of gun attacks, because it is not possible to get guns. Even among millions of people in the crowds, there is no sense of danger. Despite the traffic chaos, there is relatively little road rage. People seem to accept the fate of this place, as if it was a part of the Hindu plan for existence.

Everyone I know is gracious and helpful. People in stores are eager to sell what they have and can be pushy, but they know it is a game, and there is also a lot of smiling and friendly gestures. I have been visiting my relatives. My cousin’s wife has a new food catering service in the Faridabad area, serving delicious meals to her neighborhood. Her business is called Granny’s Kitchen. Here is the recipe for her mint chutney, which I find irresistible.

Mint Chutney

2 bunches of mint

1 bunch of coriander (cilantro)

5 green chilies (this is a spicy hot chutney)

½ inch ginger

½ teaspoon mango powder

black salt or regular salt to taste

Grind in a food processor until a thick paste.

Some birds move about in the sparse trees, and at night, the stray dogs in the neighborhood have barking frenzies. The sounds of night have remained the same throughout the years. There is a night watchman who beats his stick on the ground making a thump thump sound followed by a whistle. In the early morning, the vegetable vendors pull their carts through the streets shouting their presence with their nasal voices, as ice cream trucks used to do with bells long time ago in the USA.

Shopping at Nehru Place

Delhi will continue to grow but now that its residents travel throughout the world, they recognize that the situation can improve. The people of India will definitely shape the future. Good luck Delhi!

Faces of Kalkaji

These are some faces of people in my neighborhood in Kalkaji, New Delhi. There are wealthy people, and poor people, all living within footsteps of each other in peace. I usually don’t put photos of people on this blog, but India is really about the humanity. There is not much beautiful nature in Delhi, but each person is an individual among the masses. I walked around and everyone was happy to pose for a photo. It is hot and rather humid, but not an unbearable heat wave. The traffic is noisy and never stops. Cars are literally everywhere and crowd the areas where there should be sidewalks. No rules apply, except the one to not run over the cows, which still walk freely around Delhi. Every time I come to India, I expect things to be more modern and advanced, but things change slowly here. The population is simply too huge. My uncle suggests that we import some Punjabi farmers to Lithuania, where there is just more space. It is not a bad idea, and I would be completely favorable to policies that open up all borders worldwide.

The food is fantastic, and at my uncle’s home, it is better than any Indian restaurant. Dals and okra, with fresh chapattis just make me happy. Shopping for Indian handicrafts seems cheaper during this summer season, due to the lack of tourists. The colors, smells, sounds and moist heat stimulate all the senses continuously. For and outing, we went to see the movie “Jurassic World” at the movie theater at Nehru Place. It is a mass of people shopping for electronics. The guards at the theater made me remove the battery from my camera, so I wouldn’t video the film. They stop the movie at the most suspenseful part, so people can get some more food. No use telling us to switch off mobile phones; no one will do it anyway. This is just a short trip but any visit to India is memorable.

Heat and Heights in Dubai


The buses pull up to the Emirates Airlines flight from Stockholm to take us to the terminal. The heat-intolerant Swedes gasp as they exit the flight, and start laughing. The climate is just absurd. It is 39 degrees Celsius at 11 pm, and incredibly humid: truly like entering a sauna. The buses take us to the terminal and I quickly go through the automatic passport control, and take a taxi to the hotel next to the Dubai museum for my overnight layover.

I am in Dubai, on the way to Delhi. The Burj Khalifa was my main tourist attraction stop. I loved the space age elevators that seem like they aren’t moving at all, but are actually the fastest elevators in the world. The only way to know that you are escalating is through the sensation of popping eardrums. The view was rather hazy, and I couldn’t see the Palm Islands, but it was all pretty impressive being atop the tallest building in the world. It is like being in the airplane; almost too high to feel that the earth below is real. There were surprisingly few tourists, and the whole visit took less than one hour.

I forgot that it was Ramadan, and there were no restaurants open until 7 pm. But the food court opened at noon in the Dubai Mall. Unfortunately, not the raw vegan place, BeStro, but I found some decent Chinese tofu. Don’t try to take a sip of water, or eat some chocolate in your backpack at the Dubai mall during Ramadan: the guards stop you immediately and give you a warning.

The impressions of Dubai are pretty much what I expected. This is a land of excess, with millions of cars and taxis, and lots of chain stores. Of course it is a huge metropolis, so it is not only multinational corporations, but the humongous Dubai mall could be anywhere in the world. I would have liked to see the gold Souk, probably the biggest gold jewelry market in the world, but no time, and it is mostly closed for the holiday. Everything is air-conditioned. The whole concept of Dubai goes against environmental conservation. The shower in the hotel was one of the best I have ever experienced, with high pressure and loads of water; in the desert. Plastic bags are used indiscriminately, and there are water fountains, vast swimming pools, green lawns and golf courses. It is like an exponential Las Vegas lacking the gambling.

View of Dubai from the tallest building in the world
View of Dubai from the tallest building in the world

The prayers break out over the loudspeakers in the food court, even though the majority of people are from China or Europe and are probably not Muslim. Despite the excesses and lack of conservation values, there is something exciting about this desert city in the heat. It represents the dreams of people to show off, and get rich. The millions of people from South Asia and the Philippines working here came to make money, and get a taste of those things in the mall. It is simply the epitome of robust capitalism.

A Farm in Lithuania

The grave of my great-grandparents

Traveling through Lithuania you see many small villages along the roads. Each has a catholic church, and a cemetery and little yellow brick houses. Things are improving a lot in this country, and there is no extreme poverty. Of course, retired people have terrible pensions, and a huge number of young people have left the country. But in general, it is a nice place to live. Families have their gardens now with flowers and budding tomatoes. Each village has a history that spans centuries, and in the forests the fairy tales nearly come to life.

My mother officially transferred her farm to me this week. This is the land that had been in her father’s family for generations, and it was the last place she saw in Lithuania before her family escaped the Soviet invasion during WWII. It is not rich soil, so we cannot grow too much; right now it is buckwheat. There is a farmer who works the land and we are grateful, because it is obligatory to use the land for agriculture. An artist lives in the 2-room farm cottage. We were impressed because he has installed some running water, and now has a toilet and shower. The outhouse is now an unused relic but the wood-burning stove is still in use for cooking. He works at a factory that makes furniture for IKEA, and enjoys the simple life in isolation. Creativity and resourcefulness characterize the transformation of this little farm near Višakio Rūda, Lithuania. I was actually envious of his lifestyle; far from traffic and airplanes, far from fancy cars and fancy bicycles, far from the crowds of multicultural cities. It is about 3 kilometers to the town, with the imposing church, where once long ago, I played the organ to accompany a wedding. There is a sacred spring with healing waters near the old cemetery where we visited the grave of my great grandparents. I now have the true option of being a farmer and retiring in the place of my ancestors.

Happy 4th of July!

A real American!

Yesterday the American Chamber of Commerce held the annual Independence Day picnic and celebration in Vilnius. They had traditional hamburgers and a table of over 100 hot dogs in a row, for the Lithuanian world record. There was a band, and balloons and fireworks. The USA armed forces are showing their presence in Lithuania and they are extremely welcome here. The speakers all praised the US army and said they want more troops here. I have heard the opinions about Putin now from both sides, Russia and Lithuania, and there certainly is a lot of propaganda.

But I was thinking about who really has the power these days. Is it really Putin and Obama and the other leaders of the world’s nations? I actually think it is the people who run Google and Facebook and Twitter and Apple…; all based in the San Francisco area. These young computer tech people are the ones that control what buttons we push, and our access to information. They have a subtle mind control system that has perhaps never been experienced in the history of the world. In my mind, I think it is somewhat amazing/frightening to know that the patterns of public connection rely on a bunch of young guys in San Francisco. They live in Mountain View and the Mission and eat at ethnic restaurants from countries that few of them will ever visit, but where their influence is rather profound.

Here are a couple photos of the July full moon, one from Stockholm and one from the Vilnius airport. I am essentially living in both places these days, because flights are cheap. Summer is the time of vacation, and basically all scientists here have gone on holidays. I have one more trip planned, but soon I will be back in the neighborhood in San Francisco, where I will encourage the young hipsters to take sabbaticals and meet people around the world.