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.


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.)


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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).

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.


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.


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


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


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.





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.


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.


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.


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.