Commonwealth Games Blogs

I'm definitely in Delhi

DELHI, INDIA - I jumped into the back of a rickshaw.

The driver, named Raj, turned back towards me with a smile "Welcome to Delhi, this is great city."

He sat sideways, perpendicular to the road (and with his eyes rarely on it), in order to point out the infinite attractions in his mega-city. Our fly-by through the heart of Delhi passed a mix of stately buildings, Persian architecture and ancient relics.  

"Look there is ancient city Purana Qila, zoo, and in distance - temple."

Then there were the less-than-spectacular attractions. "Look at crematorium, slum, house."

When Raj wasn't playing tour-guide in broken English, he shut his eyes and swayed his head side to side in keeping with the Bollywood tunes blasting from his stereo system. At stoplights, he pumped up the volume to fill the entire intersection. I could see people four to five vehicles away tapping their feet to the music, in an uncanny acceptance of privacy invasion that you only really see in India.

Delhi has been slammed incessantly for being dirty, clogged with traffic, mosquito-ridden, flooded, corrupt, the list goes on.

But compared to how Delhi was 10 years ago, five years ago, even two years ago - there is a world of difference.

I remember visiting Delhi before the turn of the century when you couldn't see the sun past 6:30 a.m. - after that it was enveloped in haze. At that time, you could drive for two hours to get a couple kilometers down the road. The highways were clogged with carts, cows, people, and smoking cars. Walking around the city, you would be covered in red dust, which covered everything, including the poor saplings by the side of the road.

Now those saplings are large beautiful green trees. The city is a network of flyovers, buses and the sparkling new metro system.

My rickshaw ride from Old Delhi took maybe 40 minutes compared to the old two hours - and dare I say it - it was actually enjoyable. Surrounding the new stadiums were dense forests I never remember seeing before in Delhi. For better or worse, it seems a great deal of slum housing has torn down in the goal of beautifying the area. I'll try to touch on this subject later in my posts.

Although the Games seem to be coming together nicely at the last minute (Indian-style), the last few weeks of sensationalized press reports have taken their toll on the population.

Rather than taking in the games, many Delhi-ites (who have the financial ability) are taking time out of the city. With schools closed, it's a perfect opportunity for a family escape. Travel agencies are swamped with last minute bookings anywhere and everywhere outside of Delhi.

Many people don't want to be here when the city shuts down for the Games or to experience more shame if something else goes wrong. Others won't be watching out of sheer principle, for the amount of tax money they believe was funneled away to politicians during the construction of Games venues.

"In spite of the fact that I'd love to have my athletes winning medals, I'm not going to watch the Games," Taral Kumar, a water engineer from Delhi, told me.

That doesn't mean the games venues will be empty, oh no.

"If there is two things you can be sure of in India, it's government corruption and crowds at stadiums," Kumar added. "Give us anything and there will be crowds."

The stadiums should be full tonight for the opening ceremony. Delhi and India will be hoping that the display, which has been highly praised, will be enough to level the score after all the bad press. The government is certainly trying to make sure the night runs smoothly, with around 100,000 security personnel on guard.

With just a few minutes to go and people already crowding into the stadium, there isn't much more to say than let the games begin!

Like what you are reading? Check out Anjali on Twitter for real-time reporting.