Youth without Youth
After the fiasco of the failed cultural function, no one was in the mood for a joke but whether we liked it or not we were in for one. It was late in the evening by the time the function ended and all the delegates wanted was to get back to the hotel, rest and have a good meal. We eventually did get back, through traffic and a chilly breeze but most of us had been so stressed by the pseudo cultural event that we forgot that we were returning to the Bates Motel, ironically located just beside our first place of residence in Delhi, the Adams Family house. The sheer sight of the hotel almost broke our spirits, only our interaction with our fellow delegates from other countries kept us going. The team was dropped off in front of our hotel but we all found decent enough excuses not to even enter. Some of us went to nearby hotels where the other delegates were staying, simply to break the cycle of boredom and depression, while others just went for a walk around the area, hoping we wouldn't get bitten by a stray dog.
That evening proved to a far better cultural experience than anything the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) could arrange as teams from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal all mingled and interacted in three hotels across the seedy Karol Bagh area. If only all the teams had been put in the same hotel, then we truly would have shared some sort of SAARC experience, but till then we were rough housing it, outwardly searching for an experience rather than being provided with one. The third night of our trip we had to change where we had our dinner, it was still not served in our hotel and we had a five minute walk to our dinner. After three days of the same menu served over and over again, it was a bit of a relief to be eating somewhere else, even if it took a chilly walk to get there. But that was before we sat down to dinner, there was a genuine sense of déjà vu when we saw the menu. In fact if I was not told we were in a different hotel, I would have guessed that we were served exactly the same food as before. The meal was Dal Makhani, mixed vegetables, tomato chicken with rice and roti.
I could not believe my eyes, the same food, again! Now I realised that it was nothing short of mind games that they were playing with us. They wanted to push us into a corner where we would and could no longer complain about the incompetence of the trip so far, they thought if they sabotaged our every meal it would break our spirit and then they would finally succeed, fine fine I am being a little melodramatic but then it felt like one harsh blow after another. The silver lining was something was very thing indeed, it was that the dining room was large enough for most of the delegates from all the countries to sit together and at least enjoy each other's company. As we walked out of the dining room we realised that the hotel was actually quite large, there was a gaudy sign that pointed out it had 135 rooms and was named rather unimaginatively Hotel Ranuk. The walk back to our Bates motel was a silent one as none of the team bothered with idle chat chat, we were all visibly upset.
The Bangladesh delegation for the SAARC Youth Festival
In the lobby of our hotel we met the man from the airport yet again, same grey suit, seemingly same shirt and same tie. He told us plainly that we would have to shift hotels yet again, the third time in four days because now all the teams were being put up in Hotel Ranuk for some SAARC friendship. As a team we were neither happy nor upset, we were just hoping that the hotel would be in better condition than the ones we had been in already. That night like almost every other night all of us stayed up playing cards, it was a pleasant distraction from our trip. The following morning we had to visit a university and change hotels, it proved to be yet another interesting day.
After breakfast and finally after shifting into our new and hopefully last hotel we realised that the new place was just as bad as the others. People may claim that I am exaggerating the whole experience but all I can say was in the new room, the only plug point that worked was beside the commode in the bathroom and the minute my roommate closed the bathroom door two tiles fell straight off the ceiling in the bathroom and almost took his head off. No need to believe me, ask him. That day we were scheduled to go to Jamia Millia Islamia University and honestly I was expecting quite a lot from the place. The journey there was interesting as not even the bus driver knew where we were, but it was enlivened by the Sri Lankan delegation singing some lovely songs. They started out with some traditional songs and followed with a few pop numbers. In reply the Bangladesh delegation sang as best as they could, if you are off key at least you should be loud, was out motto.
The university was a bit of a let down, although it was the first place where we were actually treated like guests.
There was an informal session with some of their teachers but that was followed by guided tours to any of the major departments we wished to see. I took the tour of the media and communication department but was disappointed with what I saw, the facilities were not that great and for the most part the place looked extremely unhygienic. But that was just my personal experience, the people who checked out their sciences and engineering departments were all quite happy with what they saw. This also proved to be the first opportunity that we had to mix with the delegation from Pakistan and Afghanistan properly, both were extremely warm pleasant to talk to. As it so happened the only common topic of discussion was how badly we had all been treated.
The trip took most of the day and we had all planned to go out and see a movie but it was a bit too chilly to go out so we stayed in and just wandered around the lobby mingling with the other delegates. It was fascinating to talk with the Nepali delegation as they were quite open about the political problems afflicting their country. The conversations went on well into the night or as one many say early into the morning.
The following day we were scheduled to go to Hindu college and that proved to be some of the most fun we had on the trip. We were treated to Nepali songs the entire journey there and even though I did not understand much of it, they were catchy to say the least. At Hindu college we were yet again treated like genuine guests, the students went out of their way to help and show us around what was a beautiful but intimate campus. It was there that I bumped into Ish Mishra a senior lecturer and Warden at the department of Political Science. He was a thoroughly interesting personality and knew almost every top official from the Maoist party in Nepal personally after he campaigned with them more than 20years ago. He seemed disenchanted by the way they were going and the Nepali students flocked around him as he shared his inside knowledge of the people who are in the new every day in their country.
At the college they even arranged an outdoor play for us, what was nothing short of brilliant as the students wowed the audience with their energetic and vibrant performances. That was followed by an inter university dance competition which we had the opportunity to witness. While there may not have been an official Indian delegation at this conference the two universities we visited sort of made up for that. The rest of the day was left to our leisure time as some of the shoppers took some time out to go visit old Delhi with its silver and cloth markets. We even managed to catch the amazing sound and light show at the awe inspiring Red Fort. Although in our initial itinerary we were supposed to leave for Agar and Jaipur the day of the Hindu college visit, we were not overly disappointed because they said that had only been put back by a day.
At 7 in the morning the following day we bundled ourselves up to survive the icy winds to leave for Agra. Everyone was excited about seeing the Taj Mahal. The journey was very long on uncomfortable roads but as usual the music, this time by the Bhutanese delegation kept us going the entire way there. It was cheery and delightfully sung by the delegation who could even boast a few members with albums to their names. We did as best as we could to keep up, but I personally think they were too good for us. An unnecessarily long lunch was taken in Agra as we finally left for the Taj Mahal. As we reached the entrance there was no one to see us in, and we were stopped and asked to buy tickets. After all this, tickets? Some of us grudgingly said yes only to find out it was Rs 750 for foreigners! There was a huge hullabaloo as we thought we would be allowed in without money, after all we were invited here. In the end we were let in, and when we finally arrived it was truly a sight to behold. We spent two unbelievably short hours there before returning to Delhi as the Jaipur part of our trip had been cancelled, but not even that came as a surprise to us by then. We arrived in Delhi well past one o'clock at night, ate and went to bed, trying to ready ourselves for our last day.
The last day in Delhi was a free for all, anyone who wanted to shop or sight see, could do so alone or in a group it was up to them. I decided to shop and was out from mid day till the late evening, in the process I had spent almost all my money. With our flight scheduled for 7 the next morning we were told to report to the airport at 4 and that proved to be yet another disaster as we were dropped off at the domestic terminal instead of the international. We spent a ridiculously large amount of money getting from one terminal to another and finally made our way back from a topsy turvy trip. For all its problems the trip was not as bad as I made it out to be, because at the end of the day the SAARC countries did bond and everyone made some lifelong friends. We made it a successful trip, but it was hard work, trust me.
Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2008