Today was the last day of September, and according to Delhi Municipal Corporation, the beginning of Winter. The swimming pool which I have been using for the past month is now closed. I took my camera along to record the end-of-term atmosphere with my new Indian friends.
Everyone else had the same idea and there were selfies galore in the deep end. I have put together a few snaps to give you a glimpse of what went on. We all had great fun, and when this lot got out, I swam a leisurely kilometre and was home before 8am.
I normally eat lunch at our clinic, a simple meal of dhal, rice and vegetable curry. But today the big boss came to pay us a visit, so we went out to a nearby restaurant for some rich Punjabi food.
There is no door. One wall of the place is missing, and that’s where you enter. Forget air conditioning. The restaurant only has half a dozen tables, each with a small glass of thin, green chillies and a plastic bag of paper napkins. The waiters know us, after all, we are the only white folks within five kilometres. It’s a great place to eat non-vegetarian food, as evidenced by a quartet of fat, sweaty coppers eating at the corner table. In the other corner, there was a sous chef topping and tailing chillies and another peeling small onions incredibly quickly, with a well-practised four stroke routine using a razor-sharp knife.
Our waiter knew some rudimentary English, but it was a bit of an ordeal taking our order. We wanted a whole chicken, jointed, cooked and covered in a spicy yoghurt sauce, half an order of rogan josh (mutton curry), tarka dhal (easy on the ghee), two butter naans and a roti.
The waiter knows we are medical, so he showed me three tablets he was taking. I hadn’t a clue what they were for, so he brought me his doctor’s note. “I have fever,” he said. The note said “Typhoid Widal test 1/80 positive titre”. The big boss stared at the paper and looked concerned. I tried to reassure him saying, “I think his doctor suspected typhoid, but I wouldn’t get too worried at a titre under 1/160. Widal testing is not very effective. They have a fancy IgM test which is much more accurate nowadays.”
We asked the waiter what medication he was taking apart from the white, blue and yellow pills. The big boss said, “I bet it’s cipro!” But it wasn’t a heavy duty antibiotic; it was paracetamol. A nervous silence befell the table. Our bottle of cold water arrived, with three plastic cups inside stainless steel mugs. The big boss’s confidence was marginally bolstered.
The waiter brought us some amuse bouche – a complimentary plate of papaya chunks sprinkled with spicy salt. There wasn’t enough spicy salt on the fruit, so I asked for some more. The waiter went back to the kitchen hatch and came back with a three finger pinch of spicy salt, which he sprinkled on the papaya. We all looked at each other, and then at the papaya. The big boss didn’t eat any. A salad of sliced onion, tomato and cucumber came next with some pale green watery chutney served as a starter.
Full of diagnostic confidence, I ate 90% of the papaya. It was delicious with spicy salt. I had a great view of the kitchen and could see one chef with a metre long stirring spoon, cooking onions in a massive wok. What’s that saying about supping with the Devil?
The chicken was excellent, moist, tender, tasty, just lightly charred by the tandoor. The tarka dahl resembled thick, lumpy, brown porridge and smelled delicious. It was much darker and more viscid than usual. The mutton came last, two chunks of melting sheep meat falling from the bone, marooned in a maroon-coloured sauce. The butter naans were hot, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, glistening with butter. Excellent.
It was far too much for three of to eat comfortably, but we just managed it. The restaurant is expensive for Jahangir Puri. The bill came to £8 with tip. After the plain fare I am used to, this unctuous food was a real delight. If I ate here every lunchtime, I would soon resemble my fellow swimmers at Delhi Municipal Corporation Pool. Unless, of course, it does turn out to be typhoid…
This is a not a self portrait. He looks green with envy. This is a mask from NE India, in the National Museum in Delhi. Taken with my Lumix LX100 shutter speed 1/10th second, f5.6, ISO 1600.
On a more serious note, the clinic where I work in Jahangir Puri, North Delhi, for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) is painted light green. The clinic deals with survivors of sexual and gender based violence and is called “Umeed Ki Kiran” (Ray of Hope).
Every day 10,000 tonnes of rubbish gets dumped at the four major landfill sites around the Indian capital city, Delhi. One of these sites, Ghazipur, has been on fire for the past two weeks. This is not surprising as organic refuse generates methane when it rots. Of course, the garbage has already been picked through for useful items with some cash value before it gets tipped here. But still, there are children wandering about, searching for anything recyclable and pi dogs sniffing out anything edible.
There is a power plant at the site which uses methane to produce electricity, but this is uneconomic as they cannot lay the extraction pipes under the active part of the dump.
In the catchment area of our clinic is Bhalswa, one of the other massive landfill sites. This mountain is not on fire. Yet. But there is a huge, black, stinking, toxic lagoon called Bhalswa Lake. This lake separates the bucolic-sounding suburb of “Bhalswa Dairy” from the prosaically named settlement of “Mukandpur”. It reminds me of the toilet scene in “Slumdog Millionaire”. I spent a lot of time on LightRoom editing these pictures to make them look prettier.
Luckily for the local inhabitants, Aedes aegypti mosquitoes prefer relatively clean water for breeding. They transmit dengue and Chikungunya fever. But culicine mosquitoes don’t care; they will breed in any wet filth.
Many of the people in the slums or “jhuggi jhopri unplanned settlements” (JJs for short), work sorting or picking through rubbish. Similar items are packed together in a gigantic sheet or a huge sack, waiting for a truck to cart it all away for recycling. It must be like living in one of Dante’s circles of Hell. The third, probably, without the icy rain.
Mirza Nasir ud-din Baig Muhammad Khan Humayun (Humayun, for short) was the second Mughal Emperor who ruled Northern India in the early part of the 16th century. He so trusted his barber that, when he died, a mausoleum was built for him in Dinpanah (“Refuge of the Faithful”), now called Delhi. The layers of marble and stone continue beneath the slab which bears the inscription.
Private schools are big business in India. They advertise their services aggressively. How about Glorious School, offering horse riding and skating?
Or Goodley School with its PowerClass?
Some schools show photographs of students who have scored highly in examinations. The best students are called “Toppers”. I am not sure that they actually attended the schools named on the posters, however. One of my medical colleagues told me that students with excellent results can be approached by iniquitous colleges, offering them money to have their photograph and marks displayed on promotional material.
There are lots of schools in my locality. Each morning at 6.45am on my way to the swimming pool, I see lots of children taking transport to private schools elsewhere. At 7.45am on my way home, I see the children going to local schools. They all wear uniform and are smartly turned out. Yesterday, I missed taking a wonderful picture of a little lad wearing a tie which was so long that his mum had tucked it behind his belt buckle.
The image of the goddess Durga being carried through the narrow lanes of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi. Devotees have scattered purple powder everywhere. Drummers keep up a relentless rhythm to draw attention to the event.
Taken using a Panasonic Lumix LX100 at 1/100th second, F5.6 with ISO of 640.