Raksha Bandhan

Did you fight like cat and dog with your siblings? If so, perhaps this Hindu festival might encourage you to bury the hatchet. Strictly speaking, it celebrates the bond of protection between brothers and sisters, but it can also apply to relationships outside the family.

A sister ties a sacred thread, or “rakshi”, onto her brother’s wrist and in return, he gives her a gift and promises to protect her in the future. She places a tilak on his forehead and feeds him sweets by hand. In today’s Times of India, there were advertisements for fancy raksha wrist watches, a more materialistic wrist binding than a coloured piece of cotton thread.

I was not required to go to the clinic today, but I’m still on call 24/7 by mobile phone, so I was able to handle questions and solve problems remotely. This morning, I decided to do a bit of exploring in Shalimar Bagh on foot.

The main street outside our apartment seems to have acquired a herd of sacred cows. They cause traffic jams; they defaecate everywhere. People place leftover food on the pavements for the cows, so they like to pick a shady part of the path to rest and chew the cud. This means that walking down the street can be tricky. Cars are often haphazardly parked, forcing pedestrians out in the road if they want to pass by. The pavements are usually broken up, so you need to watch your footing, avoiding poo and potholes. And it isn’t always animal poo. There is one long stretch of pavement which serves as an al fresco crapper. It reminds me of the descriptions of human faeces in V S Naipaul’s book “An Area of Darkness”.

Barbers, fast food stalls, potters, fruit and vegetable stalls, mattress makers, cycle and rickshaw mechanics, they all take over a patch of pavement to run their business.

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I like the Pasta Hub, with its Indian take on Italian food, advertising “Maggi” instant noodles along with nachos with chaat. Street 5 is a Chinese fast food outlet, advertising that it is a “real test of Chinese” food.

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I noticed a large park on Google Earth a few kilometres from our apartment, so I decided to explore the neighbourhood. I passed Club Road and entered a smaller park, which was shady and green. It was deserted, apart from chipmunks and birds – rose ringed parrots, babblers, mynahs, laughing doves and crows.

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It was getting hot and I was thirsty, so I bought a coconut from a handcart. The water was a bit sour and it smelled as though it was beginning to ferment. In compensation, the boy who sold it to me offered me half an apple, which he had picked up from the ground.

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I walked for another twenty minutes before reaching my objective, Shalimar Bagh Public Park. The gates for pedestrians form an “S” shape, presumably to keep out cows. And baby buggies – though I haven’t seen any of these yet. The park was less well manicured than the smaller one I had just visited. There were piles of rubbish close to the pathways, with pigs rooting for food. In one corner of the park there were some ramshackle huts where people were living.

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This park was busy. In this forest of casuarina pine trees, there were about six games of cricket going on. I think the fielders played multiple games simultaneously. When I took out my camera, the games all stopped and the lads ran over to get their pictures taken.

There were groups of old men squatting around a rug, playing cards. I watched them for a few minutes but could not make out what game they were playing. It didn’t look as though any money was changing hands.

I saw some ragamuffin children playing on a metal slide. This wasn’t just a strip of shiny metal. It was a set of rollers, such as you would use to push your hand luggage towards the conveyor belt to be X-rayed. More children gathered around for photographs and when I declined and broke away, several of them threw stones at me. They missed.

I had had enough. I needed to cool down, so I went to get my hair cut. I didn’t use the barber at the side of the road; I went for the stylist with an air conditioned shop. He did the honours for less than a pound and I walked out, refreshed, tidier and a bit lighter.

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There was a queue of men buying chole bhature – chole is a chick-pea curry, with potatoes and bhature is a pancake made with curd cheese and mint, deep fried so it becomes a balloon. Add some onions, green chillies and a mint sauce, and you’ve got a tasty meal for less than a haircut.

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It was delicious and I went back for seconds of chole and sauce.

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As I continued my walk home, I saw many families in their best clothes, visiting relations and my thoughts returned to the holiday. Today, Raksha Bandhan is a secular national holiday, celebrated by people from all faiths. But it has its origins in Hinduism – Yahoda tied a raksha around Krishna’s wrist while saying this prayer:

May the lord of all beings protect you,
May the one who creates, preserves and dissolves life protect thee,

May Govinda guard thy head; Kesava, thy neck; Vishnu, thy belly;
the eternal Narayana, thy face, thine arms, thy mind, and faculties of sense;

May all negativity and fears, spirits malignant and unfriendly, flee thee;
May Rishikesa keep you safe in the sky; and Mahidhara, upon earth.

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