More morning ragas

Ayaan Ali Bangash is the Indian equivalent of a rock god. He is young, handsome and plays the sarod, not the electric guitar. Last month, he performed at a Sunday morning concert in the morning raga series, staged at the India Habitat Centre. He was outstanding, the best Indian classical music artist I have seen so far.

“Dreamy, exciting and dramatic…. ”
Songlines World Music Magazine, 2005

If you are a fan of World Music, you may have heard of him. He has played at WOMAD (in Adelaide), Sydney Opera House, Royal Festival Hall and Birmingham Symphony Hall in UK. He’s even performed for Prince Charles at Highgrove and plucked his sarod for a PETA commercial, pleading for birds to be set free from cages.

When he was formally introduced at the start of the concert, the master of ceremonies asked the audience not to clap during the performance. He interrupted her, saying, “C’mon, it is 2017. Clap when you want to.”

He arranged his dupatta (scarf) over his thighs, and covered it with his long kurta (shirt). Then he laid the sarod across his lap and started to tune it. There were no frets on the neck of the sarod. It had additional strings on the top, with separate tuning pegs. The belly of the sarod was beautifully polished wood, but the neck was shining steel. In front of him he arranged a locket – perhaps a photograph of a teacher or a loved one – and a watch.

He plucked the strings, giving rise to an echo around the buildings of the courtyard which sounded curiously like a tabla. The instrument needed frequent tuning during the first lalit raga.

As he played, Ayaan kept in constant touch with his accompanying tabla players. He would nod his head and smile at each of them. They would respond with a bit of virtuoso tabla tapping. But he was the real star of the show. His eyes closed and his face contorted as he squeezed the notes out of the sarod, playing faster and faster until he reached a climax. The audience erupted in joyous appreciation. He nodded back in gracious acknowledgement.

He reminded me of Brian May, the lead guitarist of Queen, but playing less exuberantly. He angled the sarod up slightly, moving it passionately as the mood of the music took him. However, no one can jive about on stage with a sarod.

The last piece in his repertoire had been composed by his father, sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan, who was in the audience. He began by saying he couldn’t do it justice, but he played it exceptionally well. At the end, the spectators gave him rapturous applause. I stood up and shouted “Bravo, encore!” but he didn’t play another piece.

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Ustad Amjad Ali Khan

That’s the end of the morning raga concert series for this season. I will have to find my Sunday morning music in a different location. But I’ll be lucky if I stumble across anyone quite as good as Ayaan Ali Bangash. Check him out on YouTube after a boring advert for Mutual Fund Investments.

Thursday Doors in York

I have just returned from a spot of leave in England. I spent a weekend in York with my daughters. Here are some doors from the historic city. These two wonderful doors are at the King’s Manor. This was built between 1483 – 1502 as the Abbot’s house. Henry VIII dissolved the abbey in 1539 and the building became the base for the Council of the North. It was renovated when King Henry visited with Queen Catherine in 1541.

The door on the right is the western entrance to York Minster, with the priest chatting to a tourist following a service on Palm Sunday. Opposite the Minster the double door of St Michael le Belfrey.

Lots of other beautiful doors to see in York. Some are a bit wonky, others have impressive brass knockers.

And now for something completely different.

Here are some train doors from the National Railway Museum in York. The blue and white door is from the shinkansen (Japanese Bullet Train). I am captured in the reflection of the Second Class carriage door.

Sanitation

More people defaecate in the open in India than any other country in the world.

Nila Madhab Panda is a film director who is shooting a film in Delhi on open defaecation in the slums. It is the story of a seven year old, Pichkoo, who is too shy to shit in public (unlike 99% of his neighbours). He is filming in an “unplanned settlement” in the middle of Delhi, Vikram Nagar. Word has got out, so political workers have been frantically slapping up posters promoting their candidates for the Delhi municipal elections this weekend. This must make the “continuity team” tear their hair out trying to get some consistency with the backdrops.

Many of the political parties have the issue of sanitation in their manifestos. Swaraj India is a party which concentrates on one issue – disposal of waste. (This is in addition to Swachh Bharat Mission, Prime Minister Modi’s campaign to improve cleanliness and sanitation as part of a five year plan.)

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The political party in control of the capital upto the current election, the AAP, had plans to build 200,000 public toilets over five years. But that was when the target was one toilet seat per 50 people; the new target is one toilet per 30 people. There are 675 slums and 300,000 unplanned settlements (or jhuggis). Many people defaecate on open ground, or by railroad tracks. Some of the households have access to toilets, but they are rarely connected to the sewerage system, and waste just flows into the stormwater drains.

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The old sewers are clogged with filth. There was a scandal recently when an NGO was using children orphaned by HIV to clear out drains. These pictures show drains in Chawri Bazar which were being cleaned by municipal workers.

 

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There are 22 inefficient sewage treatment plants in Delhi, discharging waste into River Yamuna. Some parts of the river no longer sustain life, because of this coupled with industrial, agricultural and chemical effluent being dumped in the river. The Yamuna is the main tributary of the Ganges, into which flows 1.5 billion litres of untreated sewage every day. Uttarakhand State has taken the extraordinary step of declaring both rivers “human”, granting them rights as living beings.

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However, one famous temple in Kerala, which is estimated to have wealth exceeding £10 billion, has been in the news recently. Sewage from the local community pours directly into the sacred temple tanks where priests ritually bathe each day. Holy sh*t might have been a better headline than filthy rich.

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Earlier this year, I met someone who worked for a charity (NGO) building toilets. He said that building the toilets was easy; the problems were getting people to use them and keeping them clean, in good working order.

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There are more male urinals than female toilets. So the city corporation put forward a plan for hotels and restaurants to make their facilities available for a nominal fee of five rupees (about six pence).

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Flushed with success?

Aajeevika Mela

Delhi has a massive exhibition centre, called Pragati Maidan. The Mela held in Hall 18 was promoting ethnic handicrafts and handloom cloth. I was infected with the fabric bug from my wife and now my sister-in-law, so I had to take a look.

I felt like a hippy in the late 1960s – “Wow, the colours, man!”  Feast your eyes. If you fancy any of this stuff, let me know asap, as the mela closes on Sunday.

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Thursday Doors

An eclectic bunch of photographs for you passionate portal people this week.

Let us begin with this set of marble doors, inset with iron for the hinge at the bottom. It is the tomb of a follower of the famous Sufi Chishti saint, Sultan-ul-Mashaikh, Mehboob-e-Ilahi, Hazrat Shaikh Khwaja Syed Muhammad bin Abdullah AlHussaini Nizamuddin Auliya, known to his mates as Hazrat. He lived in the 13th Century. People were so convinced he had a direct pathway to heaven that lots of notables arranged for their bodies to be interred near his tomb. Every Thursday and Saturday evening sufi musicians sing qawwali. Plenty here for another blog.

In complete contrast, here is Harsons Paradise, a shop entitled to sell shots. It is just off Lothian Road, near St James Church in Kashmiri Gate.P1280830

The wonderful wooden door comes from a beautiful Jain temple in North Delhi called Ossian Mata, dedicated to Shri Sachchiyaya. It leads to a glorious circular chamber which is cool and serene. Again, another blog is called for.

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From the sublime to the doorless shack of Anubhav Public School in an unplanned settlement (=slum), part of Burari in North Dehli.

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How about this door (not fully in shot, I admit) for a play school. Syndrella, eh?

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Doors from the mosque (still active) in Feroz Shah Kotla Fort – another blog article waiting to be written. I like the little library and the old gramophone loudspeaker.

And finally, in the same fort there is a shrine, close to the mosque, where people burn incense and leave offerings. As well as attaching padlocks to the railings.

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Milk-o

India is the world’s biggest producer of milk. The USA produces more cow’s milk, but when you consider cow and buffalo milk production, India leads the way. Buffalo milk contains more fat and milk solids, so it looks whiter and is slightly more viscous.

My father was a milk deliveryman for most of his working life. Before I was born, he delivered milk from a horse and cart, doling out pints from churns. Milk became safer to drink with the introduction of tuberculosis testing of dairy herds and pasteurisation. My father used to deliver bottles of fresh milk to the doorsteps every morning (twice on Christmas eve).

I thought these yellow metal carts, decorated with a cow, were used to deliver milk from their steel containers. I never bothered to look inside the containers, until one morning I was walking to get milk from our local “Mother Dairy” outlet, and I poked my nose inside this cart parked by the temple. The cans contained waste material, discarded food and vegetable peelings. I realised that this was a charitable scheme where people donated food for cows. This is much better than scattering stale food on the roadside or leaving plastic bags of waste by the pavement.

However, there is a delivery of raw cow’s milk, not processed or “toned” like the shop-bought milk, twice daily from a young man on a motorbike in our street. His milk tastes fatty and coats the inside of your mouth. My flatmates prefer “Mother Dairy” processed milk, containing a homogenised mixture of buffalo and cow milk, because it tastes better in tea and coffee.

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Primrose Hill Doors

Back in UK for a short break to see family and friends, I wandered around Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park, in north London. It was a typical spring day, warm in the sunshine, cool in the shade and perishingly cold when the wind blew.

‘I have conversed with the spiritual Sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill’ – William Blake

One of the pioneers of photography, Roger Fenton (1819-1869), lived in this house according to the blue circular plaque.

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The gardens in Regent’s Park were lovely, so I took lots of photos of tulips, daffodils and cherry blossom. But this blog is about doors, so here is the door to a quaint little cafeteria in the park.

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Cumberland terrace overlooks Regent’s Park. There is a garden between the road and the houses, so I couldn’t get very close to show the doors. Instead, you get a bigger view.

The Danish Church looks rather like a mini-Kings College Chapel in Cambridge. The gnarly tree in the courtyard is amazing.

Finally, a bit of bathos – from the sublime to the ridiculous. Traditional South London food – eel and mash, or in a pie – here in Peckham, snapped from the top floor of a double decker bus driving past, hence the blurred photo. For more about this culinary delicacy, click here.

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Khan-i-Khanan

In 1598, the wife of Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan, died. He was a linguistic scholar, administrator, military commander and poet at the Mughal courts of Akhbar and Jahangir. To honour his wife, he built a mausoleum. It is now known as Khan-i-Khanan, Rahim’s official title. He finally joined his beloved wife, being interred in the tomb 29 years later. This was the first time a Mughal noble had commemorated his wife with a magnificent tomb. Perhaps this was the inspiration for Shah Jahan to construct the Taj Mahal in Agra.

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The mausoleum was built close to Humayoun’s tomb and the Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliah, on the Grand Trunk Road. Being buried close to the tomb of a Sufi saint was considered auspicious. Today, the Khan-i-Khanan is in a sorry state. The rot set in when builders pinched some of the marble to construct the tomb of Safdarjung 150 years later. According to photographic evidence, the mausoleum has deteriorated seriously over the past half century. Now it is being renovated using a mix of modern and traditional methods. Lasers have been employed to uncover the underlying structure, while local craftsmen and builders have reconstructed the fabric of the tomb. Carvers, stone masons, plasterers and painters will put in over a half million shifts to complete the renovation over four years.

The lady working in the booth selling tickets was surprised to see me. “You can see nothing here. It is a ruin. Come back in two years,” she said. I told her I was interested in seeing the men at work so she let me in. I photographed the lads watering the dry, barren earth which may once have been a beautiful garden. Another group of young men were working on the perimeter path. One man was halving bricks lengthways to make a low wall. There were slabs of red sandstone stacked in rows to clad the walls once they have been prepared.

An old bespectacled man was crushing boulders with a sledge hammer, not very successfully. I took up a cold chisel and a hammer to try to dress some stone, but I was useless and all the men gathered around to laugh at my efforts. I walked over to the south entrance, but the way was blocked. Some men were carrying material on their heads in wide baskets. They gleefully posed for me.

In the shade, around the corner, a group of women were taking a tea break. They were working on an inlaid pattern on the floor.

By this time, the security guard had become aware of my presence and ushered me away from the building, probably citing “Health & Safety” regulations. At the ticket booth, a chai wallah was doling out small paper cups of sweet masala tea. I accepted his offer of a cuppa in exchange for my taking his picture.

This is Delhi. Courtesy towards foreigners is the norm even in a busy megalopolis. Historical buildings may be ruined, but you can still take interesting photographs and, in this case, witness workers using traditional building techniques.

 

Holi Concert

Holi doesn’t have to be a riot of drunken, drugged up people spraying other drunken, drugged up people with indelible dye. There is a gentler, more refined way to join in the celebrations. Some Indian friends took me to a converted local farmhouse, Mohan Vilaas (sic) to experience an “entertainment with flour” (or was it flower?)

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Mohan Vilaas

There was a buffet dinner, with the usual mix of North and South Indian food, and ushers brought amuse bouche of spring rolls, paneer tandoori and chilli style, spicy soya bites and pakora. The event had attracted some VVIPs, so I had to be on my best behaviour. No “dad dancing” in the aisles to bhangra music – actually I am still rather piqued by one man’s description of me as “Mr Bean throwing some shapes”.

The backdrop of the stage was a massive video screen showing swirly patterns and Holi greetings. I am sure that if anyone in the audience had drunk bhang, which contains marijuana, this would have been hallucinatingly spectacular. The stage lighting consisted of rapidly changing brash colours – well, it is the festival of colour, right? Very tricky to photograph, and time consuming to process in Lightroom afterwards.

First up were a couple of crooners, with an odd backing group of middle-aged moustachioed men. This was not Robert Palmer doing “Addicted to Love”. How about the man in blue who was looking through the lyrics while the backing group did a bit of chorus.

The Mistress of Ceremonies had some startling make up but spoke good English, so I could understand what was going on. Eyebrows are big here in India. I was anointed with sandalwood paste on my forehead by the pandit, like most other people in these photos.

Next up were some lost boys, mates of Krishna apparently, who were generously illuminated.

Radha and Krishna made several appearances, followed by a whirling dervish (he was from Egypt rather than Khartoum) and some Kathakali dancers with flamboyant head-dresses and green faces.

More dancers, more boys, more Krishna, more dervish (with umbrellas attached to his skirt) and then the finale.

Ali Quli Mirza, a contestant on Indian reality TV show Bigg Boss 8, and also on Bigg Boss Halla Bol (which means “Raise your voice!”), came on stage to rapturous applause. He answered a few texts and checked WhatsApp after the first number. His next song was his signature tune and was well known by several elderly Indian gentlemen in the front row, who stood up and danced as though no one was watching.

They brought out the industrial blowers onto the stage and emptied sacks of rose petals and marigolds into the hoppers. The stage was several inches deep in flowers. Everyone got onto the stage, grabbed selfies with AQM, flung petals into the air and danced. Even me. Uncharacteristically, I was rather coy about asking for a personal selfie with AQM, but I suppose this is how he earns his money. He was a professional about it. The lowlight performance of the cellphone is poor, so I won’t post the results here.

After the party cooled down, people went back to hit the buffet with a vengeance. I had some great dessert, warm mung dahl halwa with vanilla icecream. Many thanks to my friends, I had a great evening with the stars.

Thursday Doors

Some daunting news. My latest foray into the backstreets of Old Dilli has resulted in seventy-seven door photographs. If I post seven images a week, that will take me to the middle of June. More worrying is that my free allowance at WordPress is almost exhausted.

The theme for this week is blue, or blue-ish doors. Here is a pair of blue doors, one metal with a bit of decoration, and one wood with long thin openings, like black piano keys, allowing light inside. The tee-shirt hung up to dry is almost as old as the doors, and proclaims India’s stance on an arms treaty.

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A paler blue, older, dirtier and more decorative door. Note the flower motif around the doorway and the attempt to make the scalloped edge of the door frame into the branch of a tree, with carved leaves. And the real leaf, hanging down into the tangle of electric wiring. There are three small alcoves to place oil lamps. The doors look solid and dependable, with a loop of chain hanging and metal studs holding the door together. The ramp at the middle of the doorway is to allow a motorbike to be wheeled in for secure keeping overnight. A tile displaying Ganesh is centred over the lintel.

 

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Powder blue, almost lilac, but still blue. Simple, metal, effective. It gives nothing away apart from the Hindu decor and the political poster showing the usual suspects.

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Turquoise blue, with bright orange and dull red decorative surround. Again there is the branch of a tree tracing the scalloped outline, with leaves sprouting forth. I am intrigued by the little grilled window on the right.

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My carpentry skills are so appalling that this is the kind of door I would produce if left to my own devices and power tools. The planks look sturdy enough, but what a bodged up job. Does anyone want to give it some love?

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There is a blue door behind all this crap. It looks a beauty, too. Lal Madno Ram, Iron Merchants, owned this place in 1921. Terrific decoration, with moustachioed faces at each top corner. Is one the sun and the other the moon? Will the door ever open again? Will the old air conditioner housing finally meet its maker?

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And next door to this was a rectangular blue door, showing sacrilegious streaks of yellow in one door post, protected by a couple of sleepy dogs. And a statue guard, wielding a mace. His staring gaze and red eyes suggest he may have been a marijuana user who got truly stoned. I really do apologise for that pun. It was totally called for.

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His brother in arms is so intoxicated that he has to hang on to a palm tree. Out the top of which emerges a crocodilian monster with a brown plastic chair hung upside down. From the sublime to the ridiculous.