I asked my soul, what is Delhi? She replied: The world is the body and Delhi its soul.
I am lost for words. My final Delhi Doors post.
Nearly at the end of my collection of 500 photos of Delhi doors. Only one more week to go before you see the last of them. Forty nine doors in a row – I am relentless.
Government hospitals in Delhi are heaving with patients each morning. Doctors finish at 1pm to have lunch, so the pressure is on to get seen before then. Visiting hospital is a family affair. The ratio of family supporters to a patient might be as high as five to one. This adds up to hordes of people.
The local hospital looked run down and in need of general refurbishment. It was very hot and there were not many overhead fans stirring the stifling air. Security staff corralled the patients into queues. If they had not been policing the lines, everyone would just crowd in, as they do in the Metro or at the supermarket checkout. Some people clutched scarves over their faces to keep out any airborne pathogens and noxious odours.
Away from the outpatients’ department, there were lots of corridors, linking hospital wards, departments and buildings which have been tacked onto the original design. The walls were splattered with red-brown stains. This wasn’t blood, but spittle from paan chewers. The dirt looked ingrained. I thought that even deep cleaning would never get the place pristine.
Family members provide a lot of the nursing care, but they are turfed out of the ward to allow the patients to get some rest or food. I saw small groups of people picnicking in the corridors. Meanwhile, orderlies wheeled large stainless steel food trolleys containing lunch to the wards, just like the NHS when I was a junior doctor, before the era of chilled snack foods.
There were very few wheelchairs, I noticed. Some patients had their own vintage three-wheelers, powered by hand cranking. There were no children’s buggies or pushchairs. Children walked or were carried. I saw hardly any porters. Family members helped patients to move around in the hospital.
I was visiting the obstetric department. As a male, I was not allowed to enter. I had to stand outside with the other expectant fathers-to-be. They all wanted to know about me. Who was my wife? Was she Indian or a foreigner?
The security guard on the door looked like a bouncer at a nightclub. He let me into the ante-room when I found out that I was a doctor. He apologised for keeping me waiting outside with the other men and we got chatting. He told me that not only was he a bouncer, but he trained people to be security guards. He didn’t have to do this job, he said.
I squatted down on a broken steel bench which tilted me forward over my knees. To my left was the labour ward, which was remarkably quiet. To my right, behind a screen, was the postnatal area. Female family members could attend their relatives who had just delivered. There was a pedal bin situated between the room I was in and the postnatal area. Some women were fascinated how this worked. They put their foot on the pedal and spat paan juice into the bin before the flip top lid closed. They also put blood-stained rags into the bin.
Two men tried to bluff their way past the security guard to see their new family member, but their bluster didn’t work. They tried begging and eventually, grannie came out with the newborn baby to the ante-room for the child’s first smartphone photographs.
Another delighted granny came out with a large box of Indian sweets which she offered to everyone, even me. Cynically, I thought her latest grandchild must be a boy.
Outside in the hospital grounds, freshly laundered sheets were laid out on the ground to dry in the sunshine. I glanced to one side and saw a poster advertising free cardiac ultrasounds as a special offer, this week only. Priorities are different, here in Delhi.
In contrast, the private hospitals flourish. These can be small affairs, the size of a townhouse or huge state-of-the-art institutions, fully computerised, air-conditioned and spotlessly clean. 80% of all healthcare expenditure in India is private (The Indian Government spends just a paltry 1% of GDP on healthcare).
I know it’s a cliché, but it seems like only yesterday that I came to live in Delhi.
I will miss my work colleagues who have been very kind to me. I will miss the historical sites of the capital, that I have come to know so well. I will miss the food. I won’t regret leaving behind the heat of summer in the city.
I do stand out like a sore thumb, being the only white male in the village. Doubtless, more locals recognise me than vice versa. Over the past year, I have become acquainted with some of the inhabitants of our part of Shalimar Bagh. I am the fruit and vegetable buyer for the team, so the vendors of the Monday evening street market know my face and what I tend to buy (not bitter gourd). I get preferential service but not local prices, though.
My fellow swimmers at the Municipal Swimming Pool know me well enough to have a chat with me between lengths or while we are waiting at the poolside. I won’t miss the dirty, used Band Aid / Elastoplast which has been on the side of the pool at the deep end for the past eight weeks.
Early each morning, I walk down the Gyan Shakti Mandir Marg, the dual carriageway outside our apartment. The instructor of the Hunny Driving School always gives me a wave from the passenger seat as his learner driver pootles slowly past. The men washing parked cars acknowledge my greeting with a nod and a smile, as they slosh murky water over dented vehicles. One of them respectfully calls me “doctor sahib”. A night guard salutes me and smiles every time I walk past.
A cycle rickshaw peddler (or should that be pedaller?) sleeps on the pavement beside his bike. Earlier in the year, when it was colder and the sunrise was later, I would pass him while he was still asleep. Now, he is wide awake, doing his ablutions al fresco, or cleaning his rickshaw. There was rain last night, with rolling thunder and intermittent lightning flashes, so I suppose he didn’t get much sleep.
By the jhuggi, I used to see the same school children, smartly turned out in clothes that are often too big for them (especially their shoes). They would have been waiting for the school bus. But it is the summer vacation, so public schools are closed and the children are already playing cricket in the school yard. The school bus drivers and conductors know me too, but they are gone now.
Bill Bryson in his book, “Notes from a Small Island”, writes about becoming acknowledged by the villagers in Malhamdale, Yorkshire. When the locals have accepted you, they greet you with a tiny finger wave, extending their index finger from the steering wheel of their car as they drive past you. It meant a lot to him and it means a lot to me when the men sitting on their cycle carts put their hands together in Namaste greeting to me, as they wait for customers to come their way.
I am amazed by the sweepers who clear up the massive pile of rubbish in the street, wearing flip flops and one who has a pink shirt uniform. How do they tolerate the stench? They scrape up the stinking mess into piles which they load onto three wheeler cycle carts. I have no idea where they dump the refuse, but I suspect it is Bhalswa Trash Mountain.
I am on “nodding terms” with the old Sikh man with a flowing white beard, who sits on a bench by the chaiwallah, sipping his tea. The gurdwara is close by with its free clinic. I’d stop for a cuppa, but although I enjoy the spicy masala, it is usually much too sweet for me.
I am beginning to know the animals on the street, too. The cows often have a rag tied around their neck for identification and ownership. It reminds me of nondescript black suitcases with a red swatch tied to their handles as they circle the carousel at the airport.
Some cows have small bells, others have a cord tied around their tails. One has a necklace with green stones. I know some by the deformed shape of their horns.
I know some dogs, too. There are pets being brought out to do their business by their owners and others which are streetwise and feral. Twice during the past year I have seen a bitch with puppies, and it has been satisfying watching them grow up, forming a pack.
The barrow boys are selling whatever fruit is available. They call me over to taste and try. Now it is mango season, lychees are just appearing and bigger peaches compete for space on their carts. Ridiculously, red apples from Washington State are cheaper than apples from India. Coconuts are always on sale for drinking and puja. I usually have a chat with the sellers as I walk past, looking to see what’s worth buying. I might also make polite conversation with other customers who have completed their morning constitutional walk around the park. I nod, but don’t engage with Delhi Policemen who man a portable roadblock and never seem to stop anyone.
The barbers start work at 7am, so I see them when I am walking back from the pool. They are always trying to entice me to have a trim and a shave. Or even a henna colour. Perhaps before I leave…
Yesterday, a colleague took me to a restaurant called “Ctaste”, run by blind and visually impaired people in Amsterdam. A recipe for disaster? Not at all. The strapline for Ctaste is “hear, feel, smell, talk, listen, imagine, experience, enjoy”. Diners eat a “surprise meal” completely in the dark.
Before eating, we went on a virtual tour of a set of Amsterdam, experiencing it as blind people. Our guide, Walter, gave us our white canes and took us through a series of rooms which were pitch black. We went over a bridge, up some steps, through a maze of bicycles by a fruit and veg market, into a pub where we had a drink (fizzy orange, of course – it’s Holland), across a park and onto a train.
It was tricky making our way over cobbles, uneven ground, feeling for clues as to where we were and if we were safe. Space seemed to shrink around our bodies, we could only know what we could sense. It was fascinating to experience how our other senses tried to take over from loss of vision. Hearing becomes more acute and important, but in the noisy pub, the loud pop music detracted and distracted me from appreciating the surroundings. The noise was too much. And when I played the slot machine and pub games, I was no “Pin Ball Wizard”.
If you are blind and you get onto a train, how do you know where there is an empty seat? Most people avoid taking action and don’t speak up, telling the person where they can sit. I did get lost, however, and Walter had to take my arm and lead me back on the path. I took some photographs, but they all turned out black.
I was apprehensive about the meal. I thought that food tastes better when it is visually appealing – look at all the gastro-porn on FaceBook. Werner, our waiter, collected us from the bar and led us through three blackout curtains into the dining room, hands on the shoulder of the person in front, like gas victims in World War 1. The blind leading the blind, in this case.
He showed us to our table and we explored our environment. Cutlery and a napkin, no condiments. He brought us a glass of water and an appetiser/amuse bouche. Tasting had become hard work. All my attention was on the food, touching it with the spoon in the small dish, smelling it, feeling the texture inside my mouth, hunting for clues. It was stirring my memory as well as my taste buds. The sensation of eating certain food made me think, “I know this, it reminds me of something, perhaps when I first ate it as a child.” I gave up on cutlery and used my fingers to feel all the food on the plate, which did improve my detection rate.
We spoke to each other as we ate, describing our experience. Any additional help was a bonus for identifying the food. In doing so, we appreciated it more.
I didn’t identify the smoked chicken breast in the salad, but I got the cream cheese (easy) with cucumber, tomatoes, onion and chives. This was real processed food – I had to process all the information I could garner about the dish in order to work out what I was eating. Needless to say, it was delicious and this process did not detract from the taste.
First course had a Chinese theme. Chicken with ginger sauce and marinated prawns covered in raita, served on a bed of shredded romaine lettuce, white cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts, pak choi, baby sweet corn and mangetout.
You have to be aware that the mouthful you have just eaten might not be the same as the mouthful you are about to eat. Our brains assume we are eating more of the same, but wait a minute, that tasted like prawn, not like the chicken in the previous bite. You eat some white cabbage, identifying it easily. You are expecting cabbage, but you get pak choi. And then you get lettuce. Your brain is processing the information, taste, texture, context, smell. The oriental dressing coats everything like an invisibility cloak, hiding some of the finer features of the food.
The main course featured two types of meat, steak with orange chicory sauce and slow cooked pork shoulder with tarragon sauce. The vegetable was a herby ratatouille, and the fresh pasta with home made pesto provided the starch. Then I found a slice of tomato quiche with mozzarella.
This was getting to be exhausting. I was tired after the flight from Delhi, during which I was called upon to treat a sick passenger. It was way past my bedtime. But there was a appetiser of strawberry mousse to cleanse our palates then dessert. Apple strudel, caramel mousse, pineapple, poached pear, orange & chili pepper sorbet and yoghurt fig ice cream, all sprinkled with explosion sugar – that popped off in our mouths as we ate. (Unfortunately, the caramel sea-salt brownies were finished, so I will have to wait to taste Mark’s when I get home.)
How many flavours can you pack into a meal? I reckon we identified about half of the food that we ate, but we enjoyed it all.
There is an option to have wine with every course, and this is what fuelled the raucous din coming from a table of ladies-of-a-certain-age behind me. Their laughter was an unwelcome distraction from the food, but part of the experience. I would highly recommend this place if you are in Amsterdam – Amsteldijk 55, 1074 HX Amsterdam, email firstname.lastname@example.org telephone +31 (0)206752831.
I apologise in advance. Yesterday, I had to visit a backstreet camera repair shop in the Old City to get the sensor cleaned on my fixed lens Panasonic LX100. While waiting, I wandered around the eastern part of the walled city with my Canon 6D & 24-105 zoom lens. I have added most of these doors to the post as I will be leaving India soon, and have decided to abandon social media for a while. And I have reached 99% of my free WordPress account.
York’s Railway Museum is impressive, but the National Rail Museum in Chanakyapuri is a real testament to the Age of Steam. There are dozens of steam locomotives, lovingly restored and parked in sidings. I was in anorak heaven.
When I asked for my ticket to be punched at the entry gate, the clerk looked at me in dismay. “Why don’t you want a ticket for the Toy Train ride? It’s very popular.” What the hell, I thought, I should go for the whole rail experience, and I coughed up another 50 rupees. I couldn’t make the excuse that I had to accompany a child. I was on my own.
I had a great time wandering around the old locomotives, taking photographs. There were signs warning of dire consequences if people climbed aboard the driver’s cab, but no one seemed to be taking any notice.
There are some historic engines here. F-734 was the first loco to be built in India, in 1895 at the Ajmer works. It features Stephenson valve gear and internal connecting rods.
There is the Patiala State Monorail, which could also run on tarmac. It was built in Germany before World War 1, and four engines were imported to India for £500 each.
The indoor museum is less interesting. Oh, and the toy train ride was fun. Especially when we went into a tunnel, and all the kids screamed with excitement.