India Art Festival 2017

I admit I was flustered. I was standing in for my vacationing boss when I got a call requesting our assistance. I was in the city, away from the clinic and the cell phone reception was dire. Calls were breaking up and so was my composure as I walked briskly along the streets of Defence Colony, telephoning X, Y and Z. That’s when my wallet went missing. It contained a bank debit card, my metro card and about 3,000 rupees. Fortunately, I carry my MSF identity card with a photocopy of my passport, visa and residence permit in a plastic folder. My UK credit card is in the safe in the apartment.

So I needed a boost. A colleague took me out to lunch at a posh restaurant (excellent seafood platter) and afterwards we went to the Art Fest at the Thyagraj Sports Stadium. In order to get in, we had to register. I wrote down that I was an “artist” rather than a collector or gallery owner. There were about fifty booths displaying paintings, with a few small sculptures.

The theme seemed to be cows. To be contin-moo-ed.

Thursday Doors

Sorry about missing last week’s challenge – I was away from my base in Delhi, visiting an MSF Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders project in Manipur. So I will offer to show you some doors from the far North-East of India.

These pictures are from a prayer mountain in the village of Gelmuol, above the town of Churachandpur (CCpur for short). You check into these tiny chalets to pray and meditate, not to enjoy the view over the surrounding countryside. Some chapel/chalets have been dedicated to the deceased. “Whenever you wake up, before you put on your makeup, say a little prayer for me.”

This is the door/gateway to another prayer mountain, on the opposite side of the town.


Guard dogs.



Dogs guarding the doors in CCpur. With the occasional cow and rusting engines and machinery, for good measure.


You could check into the Calbo Hotel, for some “fooding and lodging”. Arrow-topped doors.


Or if the fooding results in adverse gastrointestinal consequences, you could visit the doctor. Not the one pictured in the lower left hand corner of the window…


Sitar & Tabla Morning Ragas

Ustad Shujaat Khan is one of the best sitar players in India. Last month, on a crisp Sunday morning, we went to see him perform morning ragas at India Habitat Centre. We arrived just in time to miss the formal introduction and presentation of flowers, and took our seats in the third row on the left of the stage.


Ustad was sitting cross-legged, centre stage. He is a big man, going bald with a protuberant abdomen. He was wearing a loose white kurta and looked older than his 56 years. He balanced the belly of the sitar on his left foot, and rested the neck on his right knee. The Burmese teak of the sitar was polished to a high shine. It took him five minutes to get the strings tuned – there are at least 18 on a standard sitar. Only half a dozen strings are plucked, the others just resonate (“sympathetic strings”).

The performance began with a slow solo piece. I thought it was a gentle introduction to the morning, waking up to the day. His accompanying tabla players, Amjad Khan and Arunangshu Chaudhury, listened and bobbed their heads to the rhythm when they heard a phrase which struck a chord with them. They smiled and did that Indian side-to-side head movement which indicates approval. Between pauses, they took out a small hammer and tapped at the stretching strings which govern the timbre of the tabla.


Ustad’s forehead creased with wrinkles as he played passionately. After a climax in the music, he would tilt his head backwards in pleasure, beaming out at the audience who were clapping demurely in appreciation.


The tabla players joined him in the next raga, each having a “drum solo” lasting a few minutes. From our viewpoint, we could see Chauhury’s facial expressions as he played. I have captured these in photographs.

As the concert continued, Ustad started playing faster and more complicated riffs. He would sometimes lift the sitar like a “rock god lead guitarist, wielding his axe”. The staid, middle class Indian audience went wild. It was the equivalent of ageing baby-boomers attending a modern Rolling Stones’ concert.


Sunday Walk

The air pollution in Delhi remains appalling, so it was great to get out of the city on Sunday morning. We went with a walking group to visit some secret lakes. These are actually man-made, following quarrying for building stone, hundreds of years ago. Although the lakes collect rainwater, most of it rises up from the water table.

Some photographs. The featured image is our guide. Nice to see his patriotic woollen hat.


A man who likes to colour co-ordinate his pugree (turban) with his three-wheeler van.


We arrived early at the meeting point, so we had a cup of ginger masala chai. Even the cow was attracted to the smell.


There were some large buffaloes grazing in the scrub, too. Camels carry sand out of the quarry because there is no road for vehicles. Look how the man is controlling the camel by holding onto its tail.


This young lady spends her day collecting dung, mixing it with fibre and forming pancakes. Once these are dried, she stacks them ready for use as fuel.

Finally, a selfie with Lake Bhardwaj (the name of the man who owned the quarry last) in the background. I always look grim in selfies, so perhaps I should start practising my “blue steel” Zoolander look.


Thursday Doors

Some fancy lintels and arches from Old Delhi to start with:



Nice mix of Ganesh, the elephant god, and what look to me like angels.


Some fancy brickwork forming arches around this old wooden door. There is an extractor fan in the fanlight. I think the door opens with the hinge on the left, because of the doorstopper on the lower right side and the keyhole on the right.p1200105


The rear entrance to the Moti Cinema off Bhagirath Place, Chhippy Wada on Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi. Popularly known as the Moti Talkies, this cinema was where young courting couples could clandestinely congregate (enough of the alliteration, already!) before the Second World War. It was briefly closed in 2013 when the municipal authorities refused to give the building a health & safety certificate, but it is back in business.

It was one of the last big, single screen theatres. Apart from showing English language films as matinees, Moti was renowned for showing films from Bihar (in Bhojpuri language). You can catch Sajan Chale Sasural:2 if you go this evening. Here’s the trailer:

How do you fit two elephants into a mini?

Obviously, two in the front seats, two in the back seats.

But how many sheep can you fit into a minivan in Lodhi Colony? One…








What panache, what elan!  Wearing white shoes while manhandling the carcass by a hand inside its thorax. No spots of blood on his footwear. Once he was inside the shop, he flopped the sheep onto the scales and then the butcher-wallah flung the corpse onto a pile outside the cold room.

No vacuum packed nonsense around here. Health & safety? Well, note the shade applied to the rear side window and the back seat being covered by a cloth.

The colour purple

One of my colleagues adores the colour purple. To say it’s her favourite colour is an understatement. As we waited in the car to cross the Grand Trunk Road in Delhi to get to the clinic, a cycle rickshaw pulled alongside. This was a cycle-utility vehicle, carrying potted flowers. Most of the blooms were yellow chrysanthemums, but at the back there was a pot of purple petunias.

“Those are the flowers I’d go for,” she said. The cyclist ignored the traffic lights and pulled across the oncoming vehicles and headed south. It looked like we had missed our opportunity. When the lights changed, we drove across the dual carriageway and onto the service road outside the clinic.

As we got out of the vehicle, an Indian man ran up to us with the purple petunia in his hand. “Twenty rupees,” he said. “That’s a deal,” we replied, then he vanished. The cyclo driver appeared and took back the flower. “That man stole it. The real price is 120 rupees.”

We tried to bargain but he wouldn’t budge. The plant looked dried up, wilted and sad, like a puppy at Battersea Dogs Home which has been passed by.

“How on earth did that happen? Spooky coincidence!” said my colleague. “It isn’t worth 120.” Perhaps it needed some Purple Rain to perk it up.