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…

Trucks

Lorries, wagons, heavy goods vehicles, call them what you will. Here are some superb specimens from India. The Hindi slogans are interesting.

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“Don’t smile baby, you will fall in love.”
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“My hard work, your blessing.”

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“Durga, my world is in your lap.”
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“Look! Your lover has come.”

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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.

Of course, you can sleep in the cab, too.

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Blessing the Chariot

I went out to buy some milk this evening, taking the shortcut down the alley past the Hindu Temple. A pandit (priest wearing the Nehru jacket) was chanting prayers while he anointed a couple’s new scooter with sandalwood paste. Using his index finger, he painted a swastika design below the headlamp, putting a dot in each of the four quadrants. Actually, he missed one out until the man with the goatee beard drew his attention to the omission.img_20170227_181217

All the time, the bike was running in neutral, balanced on its stand, with the back wheel slowly revolving and the headlight on. The pandit wrapped a garland of marigolds around the wing mirrors. I have often wondered why I see motorbikes with dead flowers attached to their handlebars. Now I know.

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The ceremony ended when the couple gave the pandit a box of sweets (special laddoo from Bikanerwala). He removed a pinch from the golf ball-sized sweet and applied it to the centre of the swastika. Maybe it will make the scooter run sweetly.

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What do you do with the rest of a laddoo after using part of it to anoint a Honda? You give it to the foreigner who has been watching the proceedings, of course. And it was very good. I put milk jug between my knees and put my hands together in Namaste. Then I added a little prayer, “I hope the scooter will never break down, never have an accident and retain its second hand value.” I thanked them for the sweet.

If an Indian ever gives you something and you say how beautiful or tasty it was, they will immediately press you to take another. I didn’t want to spoil my appetite for supper, so I declined a second sweet, but the pandit gave me a tilak of my own between the eyebrows. That will activate my third eye.

 

Vintage and Classic Car Rally

The Statesman is holding the 51st Classic Car Rally in Delhi this weekend. In the words of the advertising poster,

“Let these beauties charm you one more time,
For, these are classic and sublime.”

I happened to be walking past Modern School, just off Connaught Place early this afternoon when a poster grabbed my attention. I was hoping that there would be 100 vehicles lined up, ready to be inspected and registered in the rally. There were just two.

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One was a beauty, a 1934 Lagonda with sweeping running boards and painted British racing green. The engine compartment was not as polished and gleaming as it would have been at a rally in UK, but I didn’t care. It had been imported to India after manufacture and had never left.

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The other was a Standard (which looked like a Triumph to me from a distance, with the front superstructure hinged frontwards like a Herald). It had a soft top which had been specially designed for the Indian summer. The owner was a very proud 83 year old. He had done Naval Training in 1951 at Dartmouth in Devon and was a real Anglophile down to his tweed flat cap.

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I chatted to the organisers who were vetting the vehicles. One had a plummy, cut-glass English accent, which matched his cardigan perfectly. I suppose it goes with the position.

Modern School is surrounded by playing fields and a shady, well-kept garden. Why on earth it should have a tank and a jet fighter in the grounds, I have no idea.

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Grand Trunk Road

The Grand Trunk Road connects Chittagong in Bangladesh with Kabul in Afghanistan. I never cease to be amazed at the antics of the traffic on this route which runs past the front of our clinic.

Moving long loads by bicycle can be tricky. This man is shifting metal across two lanes of dual carriageway (each lane usually has two vehicles abreast).

While he is negotiating this, another cyclist comes into view carrying long wooden planks. Trying to manoeuvre so each can pass is not easy. Especially when the lumberjack is intending to take the bike against the flow of traffic on the wrong side of the road.

This blocks the road for both vehicles and pedestrians. Not to be deterred, this chap vaults over the timber to cross the road.

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#incredible india

 

Motorbikes in Manipur

Motorbikes are economical means of transport in Manipur. This photograph is remarkable for two reasons. A driver with just one pillion passenger, and both are wearing helmets.

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These children are having fun riding with their father down the main street in Moreh. I cringe when I see children with their bare feet close to the hot exhaust pipe.

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The child is standing in the footwell of the scooter, holding onto the handlebars and if you look closely you can see another passenger with a yellow hat sitting behind the driver.

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I don’t think that these children are intentionally flicking “V” signs at me. It looks like the first motorcycle with different passengers, but the same driver. Showing off his new machine, perhaps.

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Wet muddy streets in Moreh must make riding a motorbike tricky.

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How do you get your chickens home alive when you are on a motor scooter? Easy, just string them on either side.

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Serendipity

Sometimes you take a photograph and it is only when you look at the image back home on your computer screen that you realise how lucky you have been to capture it.

This man is sleeping on the concrete barrier which separates two lanes of traffic in Chandni Chowk. This is one of the busiest streets in Delhi. OK, pretty good image, but then I saw the marking on the concrete barrier – Him-A-Laya. Perfect.

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