(Rough) Diamond Dogs in Delhi

Wandering down the lanes (galis) of Old Delhi on Sunday morning, I took some photos of dogs. Here’s an old man, sitting in the feeble winter sunshine with his dog.

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This family were catching up on some sleep, huddled together on a ledge.

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This man was lovingly stroking his dog’s head with his left foot. The dog really seemed to enjoy it, too. I suppose any form of gentle contact would be perceived as being affectionate.

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In the fancy paper producing area of Chawri Bazar, this dog has curled up among discarded magazines, gold foil wrapping paper and off-cuts. There’s some discarded food in front of him, wrapped up in a plastic bag, but he doesn’t seem bothered.

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Loos of Manipur

Don’t get too excited. I only photographed the poshest urinals. The usual stinky ones riddled with concrete cancer I will not inflict upon you.

This is my favourite one, very colourful, with a corrugated iron roof and concrete steps up to the throne. I would have ensured the back wall has a strategically placed window, making it a “loo with a view”.

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Remember your school days, smoking behind the lavatories? Not me, of course, but these ladies are enjoying a smoke in front of the public toilet. I was surprised to see that the loo appears to be on the upper floor. It gives a new meaning to the term “long drop”.

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Here’s an open air, well ventilated urinal which I would be glad to use any day.

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This is not a urinal. Check the sign.

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Delhi Traffic

I have become blasé about the lawless nature of traffic in North Delhi. I say North Delhi because our drivers say that drivers in South Delhi tend to be more law abiding – possibly because of a greater police presence in Lutyens’ leafy avenues around the diplomatic enclave and the PM’s house. Or maybe because there are cameras on traffic lights at some intersections.

An article in the Times of India earlier this week seemed to suggest that India wasn’t doing too badly in the traffic fatality stakes, especially when compared to other developing countries. I don’t think that this is because of the deterrent of fines for traffic offences. The standard fee is 100 rupees (about £1.13) for a “small violation of the law” such as not wearing a seat belt, jumping the red lights or not having a licence plate. For the past decade, this has been supplemented by an additional levy of 500 rupees. More serious crimes warrant a higher penalty, like this sign warning of the dangers of driving in the wrong direction down a one-way street.

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About 400 Indians die every day on the roads. I am sure that the death rate would be higher in Delhi if there were fewer road users. There is so much traffic that everyone drives slowly, weaving between rickshaws and bicycles. Most vehicles bear the scars of minor scrapes caused by “brinkmanship driving”. However, in today’s paper, there is an article on the front page with the headline ” Ring Roads turn into death traps as city steps on the gas”. The peak time for fatal crashes in Delhi is between  11pm and midnight on the dual carriageways ringing the city. This is when there are fewer vehicles and speeding is rife.

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Two lanes of traffic merging at Azadpur. Often there are bicycles weaving between vehicles in the opposite direction.

What concerns me is that 40% of the fatalities are pedestrians, in a city where there are few usable footpaths at the sides of the road. Another 40% are cycle or motorcycle riders. I have been dealt a glancing blow by rickshaws a few times, luckily without sustaining any harm.

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Tibetan market on the fringes of the outer ring road
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These mattresses wouldn’t help to cushion the blow in the event of an accident

Not a foodies guide to Manipur

I wasn’t there long enough to find the best places to eat. With the curfew, we had to be back at the guest house at dusk (5pm in January) for security reasons, so evening dining was out of the question. There was one fast food restaurant which looked like it had been sponsored by an American church group, which served western meals – burgers, fruit smoothies, chipped potatoes. Manipur is a dry state, so no wine or beer with your meals, either.

Here is a scene at the market in CCpur. Mystery meat on sale, with dog looking on wistfully. He hasn’t a hope.

Making a special dosa (rice flour pancake) during Pongal celebrations.

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Steaming rice cakes called “idlis”

The markets contained some excellent fresh vegetables. Look at the size of those brocoli. I didn’t feel confident enough to sample the mussels, though.

I am not sure that naming an establishment “Three Star Hotel” will pull in the punters. The saloon doesn’t serve alcohol, but you can check out the poultry hanging outside the kitchen area.

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Or you could try your luck at this interesting restaurant.

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This is how you make stuffed parathas. Take a ball of dough, make an impression using your thumb and fill it with spicy potato and coriander. Fold it back up, then flap it back and forth between your hands to make a thick pancake which is fried. Delicious.

This is a plain breakfast paratha, with spicy relish on the side, eaten for breakfast in the clinic, accompanied by sweet masala chai.

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Some road side snacks – eat on the pavement. No one could tell me what the green sludge was in the large pot – Burmese tea leaf salad? There is rice stew, offal stew with lungs, aorta, liver and other stuff requiring a veterinary anatomy degree to decipher and finally, black pudding sausages. These were very tasty indeed.

You could cook your own food, of course. Here is a row of indeterminate chunks of meat hanging on hooks at a butcher’s shop. The easy way to pluck a chicken (“ploat” is what I wrote at first. Is it a real word, or is it just Geordie slang?) quickly, using a blow torch. It also gets the cooking process started, I suppose.

For snacks, you can buy fried strands of dough. And for dessert, there’s always candy floss (cotton candy). With chillies.

 

Thursday Doors

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On the border between Manipur, India and Myanmar there is a little town called Moreh. This is the local supermarket, a wooden building with plenty of ventilation and wooden shutters to close the shop. The door is rather nondescript, I’m afraid.

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This door is a lovely shade of blue. In the road outside there is a design drawn in chalk powder to celebrate Pongal, the South Indian Harvest Festival. Strange that this is North East India, not Tamil Nadu.

More basic wooden doors in Moreh. The houses are rather ramshackle, but I like the fringe of sweeping brushes on the roof of the first house.

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This is my favourite door of this week’s posting. It is the Salvation Army’s “Destitute Boys’ Home” in Moreh. It has been painted blue, but it’s metal, not wood.

Manipur

Most of the people who regularly read this blog will probably not have heard of Manipur. People of my age may remember Imphal, the capital of Manipur, where the British Indian Army held up the Japanese advance during the end of the Second World War. MSF asked me to visit their Manipur project to provide some support and assistance. Shortly after returning from home leave, I took a flight to Imphal International Airport.

To the north of the flight path, one can see the Himalayas, snow-capped peaks rising above the clouds. The plane flies over the massive Brahmaputra river. As this is the dry season, the river looks like the tangled mess of wiring behind my computer/printers/sound system in my study. But what struck me most about the flight was the Loktak Lake. It has islands of floating vegetation, where people live, grow crops and breed fish. The lake is surrounded by a flat plain fringed with ranges of mountains.

Manipur is at the junction of India and Myanmar. Following the Anglo-Manipur War of 1891, the state was annexed by the British, with a Maharaja as the nominal ruler under the Crown. Two years after Indian independence, Manipur became part of India, first as a Union Territory and then as a State in 1972. This decision was made without the approval of all the two dozen or so tribes, especially those living in the hills. For the past 50 years there has been some low level violent unrest by armed groups, such as United National Liberation Front (UNLA), the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) and the Communist Party. Sometimes these groups fight against each other, but usually they fight against the government and “Mainland India”. The proliferation of armed groups is reminiscent of the freedom fighters scene in the film, “Life of Brian”.

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“Violence is not the solution for peace”
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Nine young men were shot and killed by police during a demonstration 18 months ago. The families refused to take the bodies for burial as a protest.

The national highway joining Manipur to the rest of India has been blockaded since 1st November 2016. The Indian Armed Forces escort convoys of 500 trucks into and out of Imphal, but people regularly get shot at and killed. Fuel, cooking gaz and some food items are in short supply as a result.

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Queuing for fuel. Recently the Indian Army flew in some fuel lorries to beat the blockade.

A driver picked me up at the airport and we drove south to the regional town of  Churachandpur (everyone abbreviates this to CCpur or uses the traditional name, Lamka). There was a considerable military presence along the road, Police Commandos, Assam Rifles and Manipur Rifles. They all looked the same to me, but the driver could tell what unit they belonged to. The MSF vehicle has “Medical Team” written across the windscreen and we were not stopped. I would have had to get special permission to enter the state if I was not visiting under the auspices of MSF.

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The project is very impressive, having evolved from supporting primary care to providing treatment for people living with HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis C. We had planned to drive out to the “branch surgery” at Moreh, on the border with Myanmar to the east, but there was a “bandh” (a type of protest where all movement and commercial activity ceases). These are frequent in Manipur, but I was not clear how effective they were. Bandhs seem to  inconvenience local people without seriously affecting the government.

The bandh was lifted and we drove out of the valley and up through the ranges of mountains to Moreh, where I stayed with the team for a few days. Moreh has a touch of the Wild West about it (but it is the easternmost part of India – “Wild East” doesn’t have the alliteration to sound right). It’s a border town, with lots of Burmese influence. There is a substantial Tamil population, who celebrated the Harvest Festival of Pongal on 14th January. That meant I was able to eat excellent South Indian food – a special dosa with tomato, coriander and sweet onion. This made a welcome change from the intestine stew I struggled with earlier. My next blog will show photographs of food in Manipur.

There was a “Battle of the Bands” between a Hindu temple and a mosque, which woke me up at 4.30am every morning. The music died down around 6:30am, just when it was time to get up. Because of the MSF curfew, we were confined to the team house by 5pm and I was in bed by 9pm most nights.

At weekends we walked in the foothills around CCpur, getting some exercise and fresh air. On Sundays, we saw lots of folks in their best clothes going to church. About half the population is Christian and everywhere you look there is a church of one denomination or another. On two hills overlooking the town there are Prayer Huts, about the size of a garden shed, where people can meditate in calm seclusion.

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I really enjoyed my stay in Manipur. It was a refreshing change from Delhi, but I was glad to return to the smoke. I enjoy the food in Delhi, the cultural events and the lack of curfew. Instead of being woken by the muezzin’s call to prayer, here in Shalimar Bagh I wake up to the sound of blaring horns and dogs barking.

Art Festival Continued

Some of the paintings were excellent. Others were reminiscent of the mass produced paintings which were so popular in the 1960s.

Trees were a common theme.

I liked these plump portraits which reminded me of Beryl Cook.

These were rather more bizarre, but amusing.

A bit of photorealism.

We really enjoyed the Festival and were tempted to make a purchase or two. If only my wallet hadn’t been stolen.

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.