Benjamuna's Blog

Stories…. with a touch of India….

Food in the gurudwara March 22, 2013

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 6:27 pm
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In Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel Ice-Candy Man (1988) the partition of India is seen through 7-year-old Lenny’s eyes, herself a Parse. At one point she says

One day everybody is themselves – and the next day they are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian. People shrink, dwindling into symbols.

The novel shows how old friends become enemies because of their different religion. They promised each other eternal friendship, but the Partition eventually drove them apart.

Religion can be hard to defend, still when we travel we often visit temples and churches because they play an important role in many cultures. The Sikh temple, the gurudwara, always has a community kitchen. No matter how simple – or luxurious; every temple has a langar where food is prepared and cooked by volunteers and served to the poor – or to anybody else for that matter.

It’s a fascinating sight. In Gurudwara Sis Ganj i Old Delhi, people sit outside in the sun and prepare carrots and peas. Everybody can join. When I was roaming around inside, taking photos, my guide sat down and took part in the making of the rotis. – It feels right, she says. – I couldn’t just stand here, being idle…


All utensils were of a formidable size….


Cooking dal…. Big size!


The men took care of the carrots, the women concentrated on the peas….


Inside, the women were busy with the dough…


No food is wasted. These women take care of the food left on the plates:


And somebody has to do the dishes…..


A glimpse of the dining hall.


Rice donations.


Delhi headgear March 17, 2013

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 5:57 pm
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It’s interesting how we relate to temperatures. For a Norwegian, a sunny day when the thermometer shows 22 degrees Celsius is nothing but a summer’s day! Nice and warm. So when I travelled to Delhi 10 February, I had checked the forecast and I kept telling people that my holiday would be – weather-wise – just perfect. Unlike Mumbai in February, it would be pleasant. Around 22 degrees. Like a Norwegian summer. No sweating and gasping for air in 38 degrees C.

So I packed one pair of sandals, some light tunics and blouses. Funny then to be surrounded by Delhi people wearing sweaters, various headgear, even winter coats and boots. To be honest, I never wore my sandals and in the mornings I even needed a light jacket. You could easily spot tourists among the natives in more than one way… when going to India you sort of expect warm temperatures and pack accordingly.

I started to look at people’s headgear. Some is worn out of tradition or religion, some because it was , well, cold…
All photos are taken in Old Delhi.


The old man above was seated outside the gurdwara Sis Ganj (Sikh temple). I passed by, but came back asking for his photo. His yellow turban was standing out, like a glowing star.


Another sikh in the Sis Ganj, helping out in the community kitchen. He looked dedicated, to his chapatis….


Turban, scarves, jacket…. It was after noon, but I still felt warm from the sun and definitely needed only one layer of clothes….


A Calvin Klein (!) cap, it suited him. Like it was made for him!


A crocheted  skull cap…, his clothing was amazingly starched white – in the midst of his potatoes…


I can’t believe he was cold,  maybe he just felt he looked good with this scarf!


I didn’t see his face, but I’m pretty sure he looked good!


Flying pigeons in Old Delhi March 14, 2013

After reading more than a fair share of “Mumbai literature”,  I started to look for novels with Delhi as a backdrop. Both The Peacock Throne by Sujit Saraf and Twilight in Delhi by Ahmed Ali took me straight into the heart of Old Delhi. To the myriads of bi-lanes and back-lanes. The Peacock Throne made me terribly curious about Chandi Chowk, the main arterial of Old Delhi. Whereas Twiligth in Delhi made me equally curious about flying pigeons…


Some people seem to think that going on a guided tour is a defeat. The genuine traveller is (supposedly) the independent traveller. For the most part, I strongly disagree. A good guide sometimes makes all the difference and takes you to places you would never end up on your own.
On my recent trip to Delhi I had planned well and carefully booked several trips, among them Old Delhi by Old Delhi Bazaar Walk & Haveli Visit. Food was mentioned as a common thread, but food is something I’m not too interested in – apart from through a camera lens. The trip as a whole seemed interesting though and soon we – a group of five – were in tow behind Dhruv and Anju. Not before long we were “climbing” a rooftop. It was quite early in the day; I didn’t feel the need of escaping neither heat nor crowds. Still, we all filled our lungs with fresh air (as fresh as it gets in Old Delhi) and admired the wide, wide view – which included the beautiful Jama Masjid – before I realised what we really had come for. Pigeons…

Hot gusts of wind were blowing. The leaves of the date palm flapped with dreary sound; and the glare of the sun hurt the eyes. But the pigeon-fliers shouted with gusto, beat corrugated iron sheets, and whistled loudly and long. (Ahmed Ali).

Flying pigeons is very much a part of the culture described in Twilight in Delhi. Mir Nihal keeps his pigeons in cages in his loft. All through the book we share his joys and sorrows; the carefree flying, the small disasters when his beloved pigeons die of heat stroke or end up up in the jaws of a snake. The happiness of finding a really rare specimen…
I tried to envisage the pigeons, their surroundings and not at least the flying. And suddenly I found myself  in the middle of it, on a Delhi rooftop. Dhruv gave his commands; get into position ladies: eek, do teen open the cages. And out came the pigeons.


Pigeons on their way out….

The flock swarmed above us. They seemed to disappear in the horizon. Then they came closer, and again almost disappeared. Other flocks appeared, but they all kept to each other. The two men on the rooftop were cooing and calling in many ways; shouting, whistling. They know their flock from any other. The flock knows where they belong.
The anticipation grew; how would it look like when they all came back. I was thinking; even if it takes the whole day I want to see the landing because  I was now in the middle of Twilight in Delhi.
– They will come back, Anju reassured us. We all possibly looked a bit doubtful. Still, we enjoyed the time-out and were kept busy with minor activites and posing for each others cameras.


The flock on its way back….

Yes, the flock landed eventually. Nobody counted, but they all came home to their cages. We had got a glimpse of a nearly vansihed life and culture of Old Delhi. I felt exhilerated as we found our way back to the streets of Old Delhi! Thank you Dhruv – thank you Anju.


The Jama Masjid as seen from a Delhi rooftop.


Buying bangles…. March 5, 2013

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 6:17 pm
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I have a few kurtas…. Bought in India. Some are a bit “too India” and doesn’t work at home. But for the most part they could go anywhere. But there is this thing about sleeves…. the length of the sleeves to be specific. Almost all are designed with a 2/3 length of the sleeve, and if you wonder why? To make room for the bangles of course. At least that is my conclusion.


Indian women are among the best dressed in the world. To me, there are two buzz words; colors and match. No need to speak about colors, we all know that Indian women are dressed in either saris or salwaars in bright colors (when speaking about traditional outfits). And every item matches; the kurta (tunic), the trousers and the dupatta (shawl).  Because it’s a set. When I dress in the morning I chose a pair of trousers; if they are black I find – for example – a suitable t-shirt and a blazer – but it’s not a “set” in the sense that these three items are bought together. If you go into an Indian shop you’ll see that a lot of outfits are bought as a set; trousers, kurta, dupatta. And then comes the icing of the cake; the matching bangles….


A street vendor in Chor Bazaar, Mumbai.


Experienced hands…. Breach Candy, Mumbai.

Recently, I visited a bangle shop in Old Delhi. Old Delhi is a huge wholesale market divided into many bazaars: Kinari bazaar for beads and jewellery, or the spice market Kaori Baoli. Suddenly you find yourself in a street lined with shops selling marriage invitations only, or, bangles…. It’s amazing really and one shouldn’t turn down a good guide in this incredible maze. It’s easy to get in, I’m not sure I would find my way out without some helping hands. Old Delhi is crowded; you walk abreast with people, goats, cows, cycle rickshaws, two wheelers, bicycles, ox carts and the minute you leave Chandni Chowk – Old Delhi’s main arterial – you’re  a hundred years back in time.


A fellow travellerer, overjoyed!! (Photo: Dhruv Gupta)

Our guide Dhruv took us to a basement full of bangles. – You can choose some, as a gift he said. Five “girls” panicked simultaneously, what to chose?? I went for brown-ish red-ish glass bangles. The man behind the counter asked me to show my wrist, cast a quick glance and gave me the exact size. I thought the 7-8 bangles I had put on my arm was what I got, but then I was given two boxes full of the same type I had chosen. Excess is a keyword when it comes to bangles… Put them on and remove them all at the same time, we were told. Otherwise they break easily.


Some facts about bangles: Bangles are part of traditional Indian jewellery. They are usually worn in pairs by women, one or more on each arm. Most Indian women prefer wearing either gold or glass bangles or combination of both. Inexpensive bangles made from plastic are slowly replacing those made by glass, but the ones made of glass are still preferred at traditional occasions such as marriages and on festivals.

It is tradition that the bride will try to wear as many small glass bangles as possible at her wedding the honeymoon will end when the last bangle breaks. Bangles also have a very traditional value in Hinduism and it is considered inauspicious to be bare armed for a married woman.

Recommended trip if you’d like to eplore Old Delhi:

All photos: Anne-Trine Benjaminsen


Alladin’s cave… Fellow traveller Julia and me think it’s just…. awesome!