Street art is fun. It lifts the spirit. Delhi has many boring walls which could do with a bit of colour and humour. When I heard that St+art had commissioned two Singaporean artists to decorate a grey, concrete metro station on the border between Delhi and Gurugram, I had to see it.
Arjan Garh is probably as near to “countryside” as anywhere in the national capital region. So the artists used this as a theme – the station is covered with multicoloured kingfishers and mynah birds on the outside, with peacocks, ground squirrels and monkeys in the stairwells. The Singaporean artists had help from a Mexican and an Indian from Pune.
I spoke to several passengers travelling on the metro, but none of them were aware of the artwork. They obviously didn’t board the train at Arjan Garh, because you can’t miss it. But when I showed them my photographs, they were delighted.
Although it was getting very hot, I decided to visit the Lodhi Colony to see some new murals. I got off the train at Jor Bagh, where there are some decorative panels on the walls of the station. Some other stations, such as Udyog Bhawan, INA, Green Park and ITO also have some interesting wall art. But they are nothing like as impressive as the open air murals in Lodhi Colony. These new artworks were excellent, just as colourful and vibrant as the older paintings I had seen six months ago.
And following the local elections here in Delhi, this is a collage of political posters. As the BeeGees would say, “It’s only words, and words are all I have. To take your heart away. You think that I don’t even mean. A single word I say.”
Lorries, wagons, heavy goods vehicles, call them what you will. Here are some superb specimens from India. The Hindi slogans are interesting.
The detail is fascinating, with tassels, stick-on Shiva lingams and a representation of an eye and nose ring on a headlight. The paint work even extends to the tailgate. “Horn Please” = let me know you are about to overtake, because I am concentrating on the road ahead. “Use dipper at night” = flash your lights when overtaking this vehicle.
The National Museum on Janpath in New Delhi unveiled a large exhibition this month exploring the beliefs, histories, traditions, arts and cultures of India emanating from the Ganges – a river and a Goddess.
See below: A bronze vessel inscribed with the 108 names of Ganga, a map of the Ganges and a bronze statuette of the goddess.
Forget the big bang theory. The Rig Veda describes how the Earth began with a cosmic egg (hiranyagarbha). In the Upanishads, the soul of the universe broke in half, gold and silver. All the parts of the cosmic egg metamorphosed into features of our planet – outer membranes of the egg became mountains, inner membranes became cloud and mist. The white of the egg became the oceans, whilst veins developed into rivers.
The exhibition explained how the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and (invisibly or underground) Saraswati rivers at Allahabad is the ajna-cakra, forming a cosmic knot. Yogis who regularly bathe in this area can be liberated from rebirth.
Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Krishna all have connections with Ganga, the Tri-devatya.
Vishnu had three consorts who were jealous of each other. To sort out the cosmic squabbling, Vishnu sent Ganga to Earth as a holy river, to wash away people’s sins.
Another story tells how Indra stole the horse of King Sagar, hiding it at the hut of the ascetic hermit, Kapila. The king sent his 60,000 sons (pretty prolific kind of king) to get the horse back, but they disturbed Kapila during his meditation, so he incinerated them all with an angry glance. It took Ganga water to purge them of their sins.
The Ganga is also the celestial river of the Milky Way, descended to Earth.
Krishna’s consort, Radha, was really angry when his relationship with Ganga intensified. Ganga turned to liquid and hid under his foot when she saw Radha coming.
Brahma glanced at the toe of Shiva’s wife, Parvati, at their wedding, thus committing celestial adultery. To wash away his sin, Shiva gave Brahma a pot of water from the Ganga.
When Vishnu crossed heaven, Brahma used the water in this pot to wash his feet. The run off fell onto Mount Meru, the centre of the universe, and from there it anointed Shiva’s head. As the angry Ganga descended from heaven, Shiva let down his matted, long hair so the river could form tributaries.
Tarakasura was a demon who fought the gods. Like Achilles at Troy, he had a weakness – he could only be slain by a son of Shiva. The problem was that Shiva was a celibate yogi, so the gods sent Kama (as in Sutra) the god of love, to hit him with a sacred arrow. Shiva fell in love with Parvati, but ejaculated prematurely (god knows how long he’d been celibate for). Agni, god of fire, caught the spilled seed and brought it to earth.
Shiva’s sperm fertilised the wives of six holy sages (krithikas). Their husbands threw them out on account of their “adultery”, so they travelled to the Himalayas. They gave birth to a child, Kartikeya, with six heads in the River Ganges. Ganga looked after Kartikeya until he was old enough to defeat Tarakasura after a universe-shaking battle.
During the rains, devotees of Shiva take water from the source of the Ganges into a clay pot and bring it back to their villages without setting the pot down. If they are successful at this task (Kanvad Yatra), their wishes come true. People devise amazing structures to carry the water.
All this mythology and religion was making my head spin, so I was delighted to come across a display of Bollywood film posts, featuring the Ganga.
At the end of the exhibition, there was a room dedicated to bringing people’s attention to pollution of the Ganga.
Fittingly the exhibition displayed some Jaina diagrams depicting torture in hell. Serves the polluters right, I thought.
Barbers don’t just cut hair. They offer head, neck, shoulder and arm massages, too. I wouldn’t recommend the eyebrow massage; it did nothing for me and was really uncomfortable.
Also on the repertoire are hair dyeing, shaving, and most intriguingly of all, face washing. I witnessed this a few weeks ago. It is not just wiping someone’s cheeks with a soapy flannel. This is industrial strength cleaning, really getting the grime out of your flesh.
TS Eliot wrote that “April was the cruellest month”. Even though he studied Indian Philosophy and Sanskrit at Harvard, he obviously hadn’t visited Delhi in May. The heat is oppressive, touching mid 40s Celsius in the afternoon and barely dipping below 30 at night. Google says the temperature is 44, adding the rider that “it feels like 44”. Thanks for pointing that out, Google.
So the best time of day is the morning. I enjoy walking to the swimming pool at 6:40am. It is surprisingly busy at this time of day. Official yellow buses (one is called “Lily”, another “Aster”) pick up children from Shalimar Bagh to take them to private schools. There are also unofficial mini-buses, jam packed with kids, their satchels and knapsacks piled onto the roof. I know they are unofficial because they usually don’t have yellow licence plates used by public service vehicles.
Often dad will take his children to school on his motorbike (child straddling the petrol tank) or scooter (child standing in the foot well). Sometimes, there is another child on the back. The children rarely wear helmets.
At 8:45am on the way to the clinic, we sometimes pass a bicycle towing a tin cage, complete with bars, filled with children of kindergarten age. It reminds me of the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. But this Shalimar, not Vulgaria. It is my ambition to capture a photograph of it before I leave Delhi.
Boys and girls at junior schools have matching uniforms – grey trousers or skirt, with purple/white tartan-patterned shirt. Some have an elasticated tie, which often hangs down very low, past their crotch. The boys have gleaming, oiled hair, neatly combed with a parting and usually a few errant clumps of hair sticking up at the back. Many girls have long plaits with ribbons. Our local secondary school uniform is white. Schools must have flexible scheduling because some pupils enter the gates before 7am and I see others entering at 8am when I am on my way home from the pool.
The cows are out in force, scavenging on both sides of the dual carriageway. If, like me, you are carrying a bag, the cows think you are fair game for a bit of begging. The trick is to avoid eye contact and just keep moving. If they think you might have some food in the bag, they are onto you and will hunt you down. Other cows see you are being trailed and think they are missing something, so they join the posse.
At the roadside rubbish dump (there is no municipal collection of garbage in our district), there are cows competing with scavenging humans for edible or saleable debris. Sadly, the cows can’t open plastic bags containing waste food, so they eat the lot. The plastic bags clogs up their stomachs and can result in starvation and death if they are not admitted to a cow hospital. This is India; there are more cow hospitals than children’s hospitals.
There are no public toilets on Gyan Shakti Mandir Marg, so people from the slum use the pavement. I try not to look as I walk past, but occasionally a child will give me a friendly wave while he or she is squatting at stool. There is a plastered brick wall which clearly indicates the average groin to ground distance of Indian men. Interestingly, the yellow gate in this wall now has a blue sign advertising a new school – “Neo Arts Co-Ed Middle School” fully recognised and aided by Government. But looking through the yellow gate there is nothing but an acre of waste land with a few lean-to huts on one side. I saw one chap urinating onto a wire cage which contained an electrical transformer; he was due for a shock. “Warning: 1,100 Volts” says the sign.
On the way back from the pool, I bought some small peaches, about the size of an egg. They don’t resemble peaches much, being green and firm. I don’t think that they will grow much bigger either, because some are riper than others at the same size. You can buy mangoes, coconuts, bananas, pineapples, apples and other fruits outside one of the public parks. The barrow boys hang out there to pick up trade from healthy walkers, practitioners of yoga and grim joggers. There is also kombi van which has been kitted out with a blender, doing a roaring trade serving fancy drinks like “wheat grass” and aloe juice. Good for detoxing your chakra, but I don’t understand this stuff.
It is quite dangerous walking down the street to the pool. The pavements are unpleasant, being blotted with hanks of faeces, or unsafe, with broken slabs over the stinking drains. Pavement space gets misappropriated by micro commercial enterprises. The way is blocked by stacked pots, motorcycle/scooter mending tools, crude barbers’ chairs, tyre repair paraphernalia, chai vendors and even blocks of ice, covered with tarpaulin.
I tend to walk at the side of the road, but cars are usually double parked close to the residential areas, sometimes parallel but usually at an angle. Pedestrians have to dodge around the ends of the vehicles, keeping a look out for speedy motorbikes nipping past on the inside of slower three wheeler vans. As the street is a dual carriageway one might think it is safe to walk facing the traffic, but drivers don’t respect the Highway Code and often drive the wrong way, against the flow.
In places, the road surface is pitted and potholed, so smaller vehicles swerve out of their lane to avoid the bumps. This is very scary for pedestrians. Occasionally, a rickshaw will brush against my shoulder. I have been bumped once or twice, but not enough to knock me over. Indians don’t seem to have that sense of “personal space” or even road safety, which we have in Britain.
Flamboyant trees are in full flame-coloured blossom, but the Purple Bauhinia tree outside our apartment is past its best. The laburnum-like Golden Shower tree seems to produce raceme after raceme of bright yellow flowers. Bougainvillea flowers virtually all year round, reds, purples and white being the predominant colours. The cows have eaten or destroyed all the shrubs planted in the gap between carriageways. Oleanders survive best, possibly because they contain a chemical related to digoxin, a cardiac glycoside named oleandrin.
Sometimes I will see a dog perched on the roof of a car. Perhaps it is cooler up there than in the dirt. Less frequently I see large, black, hairy rats scurrying back into the storm drains. At least they haven’t started begging from me yet.