Our flight to Delhi takes us to the same terminal where I started my trans-sub-continental expedition several weeks before. Thankfully, my father and my visas are valid for multiple entries, saving us some money on our bonus day in India’s capital. It's a shame our layover has to be here of all places. Not only have I already spent a week in Delhi this month, but there are so many other cities I wish I had time enough to explore in this gigantic nation, ones that are hopefully cleaner and less likely to give me something suspiciously close to Dengue fever.
A short Uber ride from the airport brings us to the Qutub Minar complex, comprised of minarets, mausoleums, and other impressively well-preserved stone structures from the Mughal era. Compared to the Taj Mahal, this local historic site is far less crowded, much more spacious, and surprisingly comprehensive. The various constructions highlight beliefs and the living history from virtually the entire Mughal era. I am no history buff, but here you do not have to be. I witness the sheer scale of some of the buildings and am impressed by the ability of these works to withstand the trials of several centuries' progress. We stand a tenth of a mile from the nearest metro stop, in a city that has virtually always been bustling, always been building, and practically always been some level of nauseating. Needless to say, there is no fecal matter of uncertain origin inside Qutub Minar. The lawns are well-manicured, and only one security guard tries to take our picture, only to tell us he “works for tips” after he perfectly captures my dad's good spot whilst standing below an arch. My father notifies tells the guard that he won’t be tipping him as that is not “the way he does business.” He strolls away with a smirk that can only come from feeling like one has righted some small wrong. India has changed us.
We stop for a long, air-conditioned lunch at RDX, a modern tandoori restaurant that specializes in skewered meats. We order their sampler platter, and at the first bite I am overwhelmed with nostalgia. The Portuguese would call it saudade: the emotion of longing for something that may or may not return. I think back to when I was younger--just emerging from my picky chicken-nuggets-and-macaroni years--and I first tried the nuclear chicken tender borne of the tandoors of so many Indian kitchens in the U.S. While lunch at RDX conjures up these memories, it also rewrites them a little, glossing over my childhood with it's own reddish pink tandoori tinge. The chicken here is juicy, dark, and melts in your mouth. Until now, all I had eaten were dry chicken breasts coated so brightly with red spices that is would take three days of nail-nibbling before my hands returned to their pale color. Here, the chicken is flavorful but not cartoonishly red. I can eat with my hands without tattooing myself in temporary vermilion.
How can I love both these meals, when one is so clearly the better cooking method? A crisis of nostalgia is born. Should we keep eating our childhood favorite foods, be they tandoori chicken or a bite of a madeleine, if we know they can never be exactly the same? Sure, there is always the familiarity that drives us for a bite of mom’s apple (or, in my mom’s case, key lime) pie at every family gathering, but most foods we like as kids are not our favorites as adults because we try new things and find we enjoy these new foods much more. Not to mention, as we change and our tastes adapt we usually becoming less choosy. Does this mean our time and appetite are better spent trying new things, rather than fall into the routines into which nostalgia goads us?
Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is that it was really good chicken. Afterward, we catch a flight south to Kochi, where we spend the night curled up in sofa forts, awaiting our early-morning flight to the Maldives.
Victor Bernabei is just another millenial travel blogger. But here's the twist: He isn't a millenial! His goal is to see as many countries as he can, and spread the message that the world is not as scary as the news wants you to believe, and that there is beauty in all people, places and things.