I might be on the plane coming home to UK for a short break when you read this blog. But it is still Old Delhi doors. Here’s a cracker to kick off with, from Dariba Kalan Road. I like the old red sandstone shining through the muddy lilac paint of the surround.
I would have thought that tax consultants and lawyers would operate from less lugubrious premises, such as the black doors on the left.
Moving away from the walled city, this is a doorway to a courtyard in Nizamuddin with the pavilion of 64 pillars.
A bit more of the same.
OK, this is just a plain glass door, but the man is wrapping stone statues of Ganesh with shredded green plastic for protection before shipping.
Finally, not a door at all, but a window in a wall in the old city.
Few artists from the West perform in India. Eddie Izzard was here in February, in mid March the remnants of Dire Straits played in Gurgaon, and last year Cold Play did a concert in Mumbai. When I heard that the famous American jazz guitarist, Stanley Jordan, was coming to Delhi to play at a jazz festival, I had to get tickets.
The venue was One Golden Mile, in the southern suburbs of New Delhi. The festival began at 5pm, in the open air. The first act was Smiti and Adhir, a female singer accompanied by a guitarist. She was followed by a trio (guitar, drums and keyboard) called Aman Kartikeya Pranai. An Italian group played Brazilian-influenced music. Their bass player used an electric double bass, which I had never seen before.
Stanley was the last act. He is a solo artist who uses a very peculiar technique. He rapidly taps a string, causing it to vibrate and make a sound. The harder he taps, the louder the note. He uses two hands to tap the fretboard. Apart from using his fingers as hammers, he also strums the strings occasionally. He can play the melody and accompanying chords at the same time. It really is remarkable to see and hear, so I recommend that you check him out on Youtube.
He played a wonderful version of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” which would have knocked my socks off, if I’d been wearing any. I didn’t care much for his piece of freeform improvisation, perhaps because my musical taste is not so sophisticated when it comes to jazz guitar. He told the audience that his favourite composer was Mozart, and proceeded to play part of his piano concerto number 21 in C major on the guitar. It was a virtuoso performance.
Stanley moved on to the piano, which he played with one hand while he played the guitar with his other hand. And he sang, too. He also played a piece by Bela Bartok, another of the classical composers whom he admires.
Stanley was not just here in Delhi to perform. He came to teach at a series of workshops as well. If you get the chance to go and see him live, do it. You won’t regret it.
It looked like they were carrying a macabre birthday present, wrapped up in brightly-coloured cloth, adorned with balloons, silver, red and green tinsel, on a flimsy bamboo frame. A man was at each corner and a dozen others were chanting. They were moving quickly but instead of turning right where the the sign said “Entry”, they turned left, through the exit. They were taking a body to be burned.
“Thank you for bringing me here. I am going on alone,” said the inscription on a mural which depicted the circle of life.
Shiva is the god of death, destruction and chaos. He rules over the Nigambodh Ghat crematorium on the banks of the Yamuna, less than a kilometre north of the Red Fort. His image is pervasive, with his pale blue skin, a trident, a snake around his neck and the crescent moon in his long hair.
The procession stopped, perhaps in contemplation of their dead loved one, or maybe to transact the cremation. About sixty bodies are cremated here each day. It is free, apart from the cost of fuel.The authorities encourage CNG (natural gas) or the electric furnace rather than using a bonfire of wood. For Rs 2,200 (about £25) you can buy enough branches and logs from a warehouse around the back. Would the body be burned on the banks of the Yamuna or under cover in one of the forty or so fireplace/concrete pyre platforms?
I walked to the riverbank. There were several bodies trussed in white cotton cloth, lying on the sandy mud. There were two cremation bonfires smoking and smouldering away. Their decorative frames were broken and discarded laid to one side, the tinsel fluttering in the light breeze.
Though the surface of the Yamuna was oily and dull, it was still flowing swiftly. A rowing boat on the other side was making slow progress against the current.
One body was surrounded by men, with a pandit chanting prayers. He instructed the husband when anoint his dead wife with ghee or sugar. Her face was uncovered. She still wears her jewellery and best sari. I felt uncomfortable about taking a photograph, but one man was using his smartphone to video the proceedings. Photography used to be taboo, but nowadays, most people have a camera on their mobile phones and want to keep a record of their loved one.
There was no smell of death, no odour of burned flesh. It was very business-like. The cycle of rebirth means that the soul lives on. I saw no one lamenting their loss. Barbers were on hand to shave the scalp of bereaved men, leaving a small lock of hair over the occiput. This is called a chupiya.
Opposite the raised funeral pyres, there was a large, covered swimming pool. At first I mistakenly thought that mourners may wish to take a cleansing bath after a funeral. It was too cold today, but perhaps during the summer, it will get more use, I wondered. I even had a random thought about using the heat of the cremation fire to warm the water in the swimming pool. Then it dawned on me that this pool contains water from three sacred rivers, Ganges, Saraswati and Yamuna. Mourners wash the bodies here in the pool before cremation.
On the roof of the pool there were images of Radha, Krishna, a peacock and a cow. In another part of the complex, there was a statue of Buddha. There were other deities in glass cubicles, but it was clear that Shiva reigned supreme here.
Beyond the car park there was a rubbish dump filled with piles of funeral paraphernalia. And beside that, there was a pleasant park, with well-trimmed lawns, colourful flowerbeds and shady places where one could sit and contemplate reincarnation.
Lord Brahma recovered his lost memory (and his books) after bathing on this site. Nigambodh means realisation of knowledge. Perhaps coming to the ghat makes us acutely aware of our own mortality.
Five weeks ago, I marvelled at a collection of masks on display at the India Habitat Centre. Sharmila Sen’s exhibition “Art Beyond Tradition” features ninety masks produced by local craftsmen from Bengal. Her aim is to keep alive the dying art form. The artists use papier mache, terracotta, wood and metal. Most depict characters from the classics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata. I thought they were charming.
Delhi doesn’t have a decent cricket ground. I was very disappointed as I wanted to see a test match here in India during my mission. Perhaps it was just as well, because the English team did not perform well here at the end of 2016. The Indians drubbed them 4-0. Recently, the Australians won the first test easily in Pune, but lost the second. We don’t have a sports channel on the TV at the team house, so I was “forced” to go to a Bengali restaurant for lunch to see some action. It was all very confusing, because the television coverage repeats the good bits – near misses, great strokes, dismissals, controversial umpiring decisions – so often it was like a UK government spokesman announcing “new” funds for the NHS. As it was a Hindi-speaking channel, I found it difficult to work out if this was a repeat or new incident, being shown from a different camera angle.
Indians love cricket, perhaps even more than West Indians. Anywhere there is a piece of flat land, there will be some boys playing cricket. It can be on a green field next to India Gate in the centre of Lutyens’ New Delhi, on some flat dusty wasteland in a northern suburb or among the trees in a public park in Shalimar Bagh.
They use a heavy tennis ball and chuck, rather than bowl, it at the batsman. The wicket is usually three sticks, but it can be anything, from the trunk of a tree to a wastebin. They don’t play in teams – who wants to hang about in a non-existing pavilion, waiting for a turn at bat? Everyone gets to field, and they take turns batting. If numbers are lacking, they play French cricket. Guess which of these two is the fast bowler?
This week, for the first time, I saw lads wearing cricket pads. Perhaps they were using a proper hard ball and needed some protection. They never have an umpire.
When I am interacting with Indian officials and a foreign cricket team is touring (we have had New Zealand, England and Australia here in the past six months), I can “break the ice” by talking about cricket. They enjoy being able to speak with passion about something other than work. And it beats discussing the weather.