Going home

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.

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Swimming class. Sit on the side of the pool and kick your legs, arms extended. Get splashed by the teacher if you are slacking.

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.

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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.

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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.

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This is Jahangir Puri, not Shalimar Bagh.

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.

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Pug owner feeding cows on the central reservation

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.

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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…

Cricket

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.

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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.

Body building Boys

At Lodi Gardens on Sunday, in the Sheesh Gumbad (Glass Dome – named because of the shiny blue tiles) I met three boys playing football around the tombs. Well, someone has to do it, I suppose. They saw my camera hanging round my neck and insisted that I take their photographs. I couldn’t resist.

They all wanted to show off their muscles, and rolled up their shirt sleeves to reveal their biceps. I am uploading these at full resolution, not 5%, to see if it makes any difference when you click on the images to see them full size.

School Bus

School bus? I automatically think of South Park. Yellow classic vehicles. But not in Delhi. Here is a set of photographs of a cycle rickshaw arriving at the Central Baptist school on Chandni Chowk. It reminds me of the cage in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. This is number 17, so I presume that there are at least 16 other similar school cycle rickshaws operating.

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Note the rucksacks on the roof

 

Walk in the Bazar

I should have known better. It was crowded, impatient people pushing and jostling. I took my phone out of my trouser pocket and put it in my knapsack, wearing it on my chest, not my back. I was able to zip away my wallet and keys safely. I checked again in five minutes and the phone had disappeared. Luckily I met Kim, one of our nurses at the clinic, on Netaji Subhash Marg and she let me use her phone to report the loss. Hopefully the phone’s SIM will be blocked and I can get a replacement next week. I was thinking of getting a new phone anyway…

I took some interesting photographs. This is a cart full of pomelos, giant grapefruits with very thick skin and pink flesh.

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And here is a man with a bicycle cart filled with papayas. At this time of year, they don’t have any black seeds inside. He has cut a window into one of the fruits to demonstrate this. They are resting on a bed of shredded newspaper. When you buy them, they are normally wrapped in newspaper, too.  You can see the rolls of newsprint behind his cycle seat.

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This man is selling colourful bed sheets. Forget pastel shades here. Above his right shoulder you can read the sign “All types of altration pent ^ shir” – which I think means they alter pants and shirts.

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These two boys are minding the shop and drinking tea. Above their heads is a sign saying “Fix Price No Tension” but many people enjoy the cut and thrust of bargaining.

I stopped for a drink of freshly squeezed orange. This man peels the oranges first – cut off the top and bottom disks of skin, then make four vertical cuts and detach the peel. The peeled fruits go into this hand-cranked mincer. The pith comes out one side, and tart juice on the other. He adds sugar and salt to each glass.

Sometimes it is just nice to stop and chat with the locals, even if it is just in broken English. We can usually understand each other. I asked this man what he was selling. He pointed to the leaves on his right and drew a finger across the front of his neck. I was flummoxed. Then he said, “Mbaaah” and I realised he was selling fodder for sheep who had been brought into the old city to be slaughtered. He offered me a cup of tea, but I’d just drunk the orange juice, so I declined.

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The man making these brass goblets and dishes didn’t want to be photographed, so I just snapped what he had been making. He was sweating over a charcoal fire, no wonder he didn’t want to be bothered.

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This bakery must have blisteringly hot, too, when the oven was in action baking these cakes and breads. There is a fan fitted overhead but it can’t do much to cool down the shop assistant. The handcart is probably used to sell their produce on the street.

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Boys always want you to take their picture. This lad was drinking lassi from a plastic bag. His friend decided to get in on the act with a photobomb.

The Meena Market outside the Jama Masjid mosque has on sale virtually anything you could ever want to buy. Or not want to buy. Like this topographical carpet in red, orange and beige. Or second hand irons. Ancient amplifiers and tuners. Wires of every type and description.

Did you know that screwdrivers, spanners and files come here to die?

There are fripperies too, such as silver bangles, earrings and any scent you could possibly smell.

There are spices, dried fruits and nuts, sandals and sweaters – yes, it was 36C today, but it is officially winter now.

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The festival of Diwali is celebrated with fireworks. This chap at Majestic Fireworks Company has a “No Smoking” sign on the wall. He claims to have a gold medal and his shop is the oldest “of all kinds of display fireworks.”

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I am not sure that Cheap Traders of the Jama Masjid Motor Market will have a website. But the Hotel Arsh does – http://www.hotelarsh.com – and it isn’t expensive at £7 a night. There is also the wonderful Indraprastha Hindu Girls’ Senior Secondary School founded with support from the theosophist, Dr Annie Besant, 112 years ago in a converted villa/haveli. It has two courtyards and lovely diffused light from stained glass panels.

It is always good to look your best on a Sunday morning. This man shaved off his ‘tache with an old fashioned safety razor and a lick of water. Pahh, soap? Who needs it?

Many places have a string of chillies and a lime hanging outside their house or shop. This is ward off Alakshmi, the Goddess of poverty and misery. She is the evil twin of Lakshmi, Goddess of prosperity and good luck. If Alakshmi eats the chillies and lime, she will lose her appetite and won’t come inside.

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Chawri Bazar Road has the most impressive electrical wiring in Old Delhi. People and animals get electrocuted occasionally. The old architecture is crumbling away unfortunately.

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Those of you with a sensitive disposition (or if you are reading this over your breakfast cornflakes), stop reading now, if you don’t want to see photographs of sheep heads, hooves, chicken feet and flies on a motorcycle seat – what was he carrying on there to make it so attractive?

Chawri Bazar

During the last days of the Mughals, in the early 19th century, Chawri Bazar was the Soho of Old Delhi. It was an area famous for courtesans and nautch girls – girls who danced so alluringly that their suggestive moves could reduce men to gibbering wrecks.

Although the lanes were narrow, behind an unprepossessing facade there would be a marvellous haveli – an aristocrat’s urban villa, with fountains, marble, terraces and an airy courtyard. Following the mutiny in 1857, the rebels looted many of the havelis and when the British soldiers returned to the city, they did their share of destruction. The prostitutes were banished upstairs and the ground floor area became the city’s first wholesale market.

Today is a national holiday, commemorating the Mahatma’s birthday. I didn’t plan to come to Chawri Bazar; I was supposed to join the Gandhi Jayanti Special Walk. I got to the starting point five minutes late and the group had left. I wasn’t too disappointed as I was told that there were going to be lots of politicians demonstrating their respect of Gandhi, so mere mortals might not be able to visit the relevant sites.

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So instead I decided to go a-wandering around Old Delhi. I emerged from the Metro at Chawri Bazar and walked down Bazar Road towards the biggest mosque in India, the Jama Masjid. The road was about four metres wide and lined with hand carts selling ironmongery, machine parts and tools. There were some fruit and vegetable carts, too. Along the narrow pavements traders had spread out their wares on a tarpaulin. Motorbikes, trailers, autos, vans and rickshaws were parked as well, leaving very little room for manoeuvre for pedestrians and vehicles trying to move in the road.

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Along the first few hundred metres of the street, shopping was dedicated to brass and metalware. Then the main product became paper: fancy cards, wedding invitations, wallpaper and diaries. I turned right at the Jama Masjid, choosing a narrow lane to get to Chittli Qabar Chowk. As it was a Sunday morning on a national holiday, there were fewer pedestrians than normal, so I was able to stroll comfortably without there being jostled and pushed. I could smell pastries and cakes being baked – the Great Delhi Bake Off, perhaps? There were disks of what looked like Victoria sponges and creations made with filo pastry which looked delicious, despite the flies.

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Over the site of a rubbish tip in the Old City, Mr Khan has an advertising poster praising the virtues of getting a Gudwil (goodwill) cold drinks franchise.

Butchers had a sawn off tree trunk in the front of their shop on which they could do some serious chopping with a meat cleaver. Everything seemed to get hacked up, apart from the teeth. In one bowl, there was a blubber of brains. This brought back fond memories of eating Brain Curry at the Karachi Social Club, in Bradford, just up the hill from the Alhambra Theatre, in 1977.

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You have to keep your wits about you walking down these lanes. There might be rickshaws coming from behind, a scooter coming towards you and people stepping out of shops in front of you. Scooters have horns, but rickshaw wallahs might not have bells or brakes, so they warn you to get out of the way. In Hindi. With curses, no doubt.

I heard a muezzin calling the faithful to midday prayers (Dhuhr) over a tannoy system and saw several men making their way down a narrow gap between houses to reach a mosque, hidden from the main road. Some mosques are tall, narrow and impinge on other houses across the street. There was a Jain Temple, with some beautiful carving around the gate. A sadhu strolled past, dressed in saffron, with flowing silver locks.

I reached Asaf Ali Road and turned east towards Delhi Stock Market (just in front of the Communist Party of India offices), and the Turkman Gate. The ancient Delite Cinema  was showing a biopic of MS Dhoni, the previous captain of the Indian Test Match Cricket Team. There were queues of lads outside waiting to buy tickets. There was a function going on at the Chor Bizarre (sic), where I had planned to have lunch. I saw a crowd of locals clamouring around a pavement food seller by the Shiv Mandir and went to investigate.

Some students had come to buy textbooks which are sold on the pavement in the Chatta Lal Miya area and along Netaji Subhash Marg. They advised me what to buy – a battered, deep fried, cheese sandwich, with chickpea sauce for 10p. It was really hot, so the cook tore me a piece of newspaper with which I could hold the fried bread. It was very filling and tasty.

The books were astonishing. One seller had built a wall of textbooks around his stock. Instead of buying individual novels for 35p, you can purchase by weight. You could buy cheap paperbacks in English for 300Rs (about £3.40) per kilogram. Fancy coffee table books cost 100Rs (about £1.13) per kilogram. They had lots of stock of Michael Palin’s travel books. I suppose this is where the books end up when they can’t shift them in UK. I could also have picked up a bootleg DVD of MS Dhoni – albeit in Hindi and without subtitles for a few rupees.

Mixed with the pavement book sellers were traders flogging sunglasses, barbells and weight lifting kit, track suits, knapsacks, second hand shirts and fruit – ready peeled tangerines and oranges. I decided I needed a cup of tea, but sadly my favourite tea shop was closed for the holiday. You can go in and get a consultation with one of their tasters who will offer you something to titillate your taste buds in a similar style to your usual cuppa.

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I turned off the main road and walked through a morass of carts piled high with denim jeans, towards the Kasturba (Gandhi’s wife) Hospital. It was wonderful to get away from the noise and crush of people in the shady quiet area of Old Dariya Ganj. I passed the Arya Orphanage and finally came across a wider street, Sitaram Bazar Road, to get back to the Metro.

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Small boys wanted me to take their photograph, and then asked for “schoolpens” in return, but I didn’t have any. A man wanted me to photograph his sheep. It was so ugly I had to do it. On one side of the road there was a pavement stable for mules and horses. Some bearded men were sitting on rickety wooden chairs in the shade, chatting among themselves. I nodded to them and they returned the gesture. I was hoping they’d invite me over for a cup of chai, but they didn’t. I saw a sugarcane crushing drink shop up ahead and bought a pint of juice with extra mint and lime. It was delicious, but it didn’t quench my thirst much.

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Eventually I reached the Metro station with the muezzin’s call to afternoon prayers (Asr) just starting up behind me. I was shattered and an air conditioned ride on the underground was just what the doctor ordered.

Schools

Private schools are big business in India. They advertise their services aggressively. How about Glorious School, offering horse riding and skating?

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Or Goodley School with its PowerClass?

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Some schools show photographs of students who have scored highly in examinations. The best students are called “Toppers”. I am not sure that they actually attended the schools named on the posters, however. One of my medical colleagues told me that students with excellent results can be approached by iniquitous colleges, offering them money to have their photograph and marks displayed on promotional material.

There are lots of schools in my locality. Each morning at 6.45am on my way to the swimming pool, I see lots of children taking transport to private schools elsewhere. At 7.45am on my way home, I see the children going to local schools. They all wear uniform and are smartly turned out. Yesterday, I missed taking a wonderful picture of a little lad wearing a tie which was so long that his mum had tucked it behind his belt buckle.