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American in New Delhi

Beyond the gates of our hotel, a cacophony of horns, Gershwin’s “American in Paris” or “American in New Delhi.” India is the world’s most populous country, New Delhi the world’s second-most populous city. We stand at the curb before a torrent of traffic. Motor rickshaws swarm us, little three-wheel cabs, their drivers asking where we’re going. Motorcycles carrying two or three passengers, drive behind us on the sidewalk. Lorries top-heavy with impossibly outsized loads squeeze through gaps half their size. Dogs trot business-like along the curb, and a cow stands placidly in the median. How on earth did it get out there? And through it all, the honking. Not furious laying on the horn but more little beep, beep, beeps. Not angry as much as alerting other drivers to one’s presence. I’m here, I’m passing you, I’m pulling around you. I don’t remember drivers looking angry or shouting. Instead their expressions were attentive, which is what one has to be to drive in the world’s most populous country, where marked lanes, traffic lights and signage are treated not so much as rules but as suggestions, and loose ones at that.

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