Benjamuna's Blog

Stories…. with a touch of India….

A delhi morning January 16, 2015

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 11:19 am
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As I step out of my room, the heat embraces me. That overwhelming feeling of another hot day, when it will be impossible to escape the searing sun. But wait; isn’t it a little bit cooler today? Didn’t I just feel a breeze that wasn’t there yesterday? I step down the stairs and stop at the first landing. There is no view. The foliage of the green trees hides the source of the noise from Mathura road, the sounds that accompany my sleep. Muffled traffic noise, at times. An ongoing roar most of the time. The trees are like a curtain, drawn, but unable to shut out the world behind.

I retrace my steps and find myself at the upper terrace among the slightly disheveled flowers, tarnished by the heat I suppose. Table and stairs covered in a thin layer of dust. I lean on the barrier and let my eyes wander. My lodging is placed in a quiet, small street. A man is shouting at a distance, some “wallah” I guess. Maybe he is the newspaper wallah who collects used newspapers, or perhaps the bottle wallah? He’s in any case part of the Indian “soundtrack”. A sing-song voice with words drawn out of proportion is echoing down the small street.

I open my book, but close it again. The noise from Mathura road is again attracting my attention, irregular sounds pushing through the foliage. Cars, buses, trucks – a fleet of vehicles from the Tata family – as I like to think about them. Motorcycles meandering through the sea of continuous traffic. And the autos, the green and yellow three-wheelers cutting through the traffic in their rough, edgy way. Impatient honking horns. Screaming breaks. Again… that all too familiar Indian soundtrack. I make another attempt at my book. As I turn a page, I realize my thoughts have been otherwise busy. So I flip the page back. I’m in the shadow, but the heat comes marching along in big strides. Pushing away that pleasant feeling of a seemingly cool early morning.

My mind drifts and so do my ears. A dog is barking. A woman is shouting from a courtyard. I can’t tell what she’s saying, but it’s that special resonance; when somebody is half way inside – half way outside. The clang of a bucket, the bang of a gate. Suddenly the world comes to a standstill, it’s completely quiet. I listen to the unfamiliar silence, I almost hold my breath in loyalty – as if not to disturb. Before the sounds resume. A distant telephone. Music from a radio. A shrilling doorbell cuts the air in two. Homely sounds – yet another language. The neighborhood springs to life. And then comes a breeze sailing, as from nowhere. Lifts a few strands of hair from my chin, I can hear my own sigh of relief…. as the big palm tree rustle its leaves, they are shaking with a dry sound. It’s like music; the wind is like a gentle bow stroking a fiddle. The birds chime in, completes the sudden symphony of sounds. I listen to the variety of birds, admire the beautiful trees, welcomes a familiar crow. I pick up my book and realize I have been busy listening to another story; Morning in Delhi.

(Friend’s Colony, New Delhi 2014)

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I lean on the barrier…

 

My favourite portraits… March 31, 2014

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 7:21 pm
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Among the many photos I have taken in India, some stand out in my remembrance. Some of these portraits are taken almost ten years ago which makes me wonder how the girl’s lives look right now. The photos are taken in poor areas in Maharashatra, for the most part. Some of the girls could be married by now. Some might have been forced to quit school, if they were lucky enough to go to school at all. A helping hand is often needed at home. More money is always needed at home and sadly many girls have to sacrifice schooling, and further education.

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She was the youngest of three sisters, she was light as a feather…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How could you not miss the red bows!

 

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The girls had brown school uniforms. They sat on the floor, the room was semi-dark. Her scarf was pink and she looked so wise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m thinking of her as a juggler. She was very much alive on one of the Mumbai beaches, she was a acting in front of my camera, but I knew all the time she was looking for some easy money. And I didn’t blame her. In the botanical world a juggler is a monkey flower. She was a beautiful flower on the beach!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Suddenly we were surrounded by pink girls. They came swarming out of a school in Chor Bazaar, the Bhori muslim area. Happy to see the end of another School day, free to do something entirely different.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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They just sat there, talking to each other. I happened to come by, and said hello…

 

 

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Teenage friends. I asked them to pose for me. One chubby and childish. The other swanlike and fragile. Both growing up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We had been driving for ages on roads full of potholes, dust, heat, sweat – and the reward was a school full of children in bright, red uniforms!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A young girl in a window sill, a live portrait, she didn’t move when I lifted my camera.

 

The colours of…..food March 21, 2014

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 8:47 am
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I’m not a “foodie“. I never explore food. But wherever I travel, I take pictures of food. Especially at markets. Street vendors are unbeatable… some with their food laboriously displayed with an artistic flaw. The bazaars of India; Chor Bazaar or Crawford market in Mumbai, or  Old Delhi for example… there is food on display everywhere. I don’t taste it (for many reasons), I don’t care about the smell be it good or bad. I care for the colours.

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I like carrots though… The carrots in India are not orange, like ours. They’re red, and thus seem even more tempting. These carrots are cut by many helping hands in The Gurudwara Sis Ganj (Sikh temple), Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi.

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Chilli… Irresistible – unpredictable. It can ruin a meal, but most of the time it adds colour and taste! (maybe that was an understatement).

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I must admit…, it looks delicious! It’s a curry. Allo curry. Potato curry With loads of other greens and reds…Strong perhaps, the chillies are floating freely. This is from a street vendor in Old Delhi. I always question the hygiene… – No, says Anju my guide. – The turnover is so fast,she says, it sells so fast that nothing gets bad.

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Lime… When I go to my local shop, there are 20-something lime on display. What I like in the markets is the abundance, it underlines the colours….

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Papaya:

Deliciously sweet with musky undertones and a soft, butter-like consistency, it is no wonder the papaya was reputably called the “fruit of the angels” by Christopher Columbus.

Impossible not to have a bite. It looks good, – meaning it tastes good. And it looks good in terms of colour and texture.

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I thought for an instance it was pizza…absolutely not. It’s Pao Bhaji, mixed vegetables. And it’s not solid 
A quote – for your information since I myself can’t shed a light…:

Pao bhaji is a Maharashtrian fast food dish that originated in Mumbai cuisine. The pav-bhaji is a spicy preparation with a mixture of vegetables, either whole or mashed, a generous dose of fresh tomatoes, a dollop of butter, optional toppings of cheese and dry-fruits and fresh fruits, consumed with warm bread gently or crispy fried in butter – an all-time, anytime favourite with Mumbaikars.

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I just have to include the – my – bananas…

I have travelled by car in India. I have stopped at dhabas, at hotel restaurants, at small cafes – I have eaten – but never felt really satisfied. The banana comes to my rescue, always. You’ll find them along the road, in many variations. Most of the time much more tasty than the ones at home. And the best thing, encapsulated in the skin, the fruit can be eaten with no further worries….

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Kachori is an Indian snack… spelled in many ways, made in many ways…. This is Delhi-style….

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Dal on display…. a mellow colour symphony! Dal, also spelled dahl, dhal or daal, is a Hindi word meaning pappu (lentils). It’s impossible to avoid dal when in India. I would call it a gravy, or  stew, eaten with rotis (flat bread), for example. Dal is known as the staple food in India. If you have nothing else to put on the table, dal is most of the time there – as  source of proteins and very often as an only source of food for the poor.
The photo shows various lentils.

 

 

Colours… March 7, 2014

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 12:35 pm
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If you don’t see colours in India, your eyes are not wide open. I came to think of colours when I recently  attended an occasion where the guests really were supposed to dress up. – Look around you, I whispered to my partner, how do women in Norway dress when they really want to look good? – In black, he said within seconds. A colleague wanted to defend all the women by saying; – But it’s winter, we would never dress in black in June. That well may be true, but there are clearly other colours suitable for winter than black.

In India, I’m always struck by the bright colours I see around me. No matter how poor the area is, how poor the people are, it’s impossible to avoid the colours.

RED – LAL

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Many female politicians in Norway wear red when they want to be noticed, it’s  a colour that attracts attention. It took me quite a few shots to make the shy girl above smile, and then her face opened up. She is very poor but she looks like a queen.  I met her in Pune, south of Mumbai, she came with her mother in order to get nutrition packs from an NGO. The room was packed with mothers and children, but albeit small and thin she stood out in her red dress.

PINK – GULABI

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Pretty in pink…. A young girl in Burari, one of the poorer districts in the North of Delhi. It’s festival time. She’s all dressed up, full of anticipation. She looks like a million dollar, I wish for her a happy life!

BROWN – BHURA

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My guide Anju and me were stuck in a rickshaw in Old Delhi, the intensely crowded area just behind the Jama Mashid. The traffic moved slowly slowly but I was totally engrossed in a sari… of a  woman in the rickshaw in front of us, and didn’t really mind the lack of speed. We were trailing behind for quite some time. The traffic made it impossible to break free. So I enjoyed the sight of the beautiful earthen “ensemble”; the colours, the patterns…. Somehow she noticed, after a while. She looked offended and covered her head with the dupatta.

GREEN – HARA

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How could you not be attracted to this man in his green turban. He sat at the entrance of a Sufi temple in Delhi. Maybe I wouldn’t have noticed him if it weren’t for the green headgear. He would more or less have blended into the background. Or maybe not…

INDIGO – NIL

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Three muslim girls in Old Delhi, dressed in their school uniforms. I wonder why the girl in the middle is not wearing her veil. Is she naughty? Did she forget it? Is she not a muslim? But I shall never know.

BLUE – NILA

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– Tell me about Norway, how big is it? The guide from Salaam Balak Trust in Delhi fell into steps with me. He was otherwise dancing along in his bright, blue t-shirt. A proud guide, formerly a street child.  Eager to share his past, and his dreams for the future. And eager to learn. – Give it a guess I said. – Five million people he said.

WHITE – SAFED

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White can be exceptionally white in India. Many parts of India is by our standards dirty. The white scull cap belongs to a jewellery maker in rather bleak surroundings in the maze of Old Delhi.

ORANGE – NARANGI

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It’s impossible not to grab your camera when a holy man appears; a Sadhu. Everything around him was grey, a grey grey…. The cart, the men, their clothes, the street, the walls… – I know him, said Anju, he’s not like the other holy men, he wants work, he wants to contribute.
These men, and many more, are hanging around in Old Delhi, waiting for chance work.

 

A glimpse of the taj February 14, 2014

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 7:48 am
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“Why do you feel you have to excuse yourself for staying at the Taj…” A Mumbai guide said. She was showing us the south of Mumbai and I told her with some hesitance that we were staying at the one and only, the legendary Taj Mahal hotel. If it hadn’t been for a friend, who insisted we stay there, I would have ended up at Suba Palace, only a few blocks away but more than a few rupis cheaper.

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A part of the beautiful facade.

The Taj… as people say, yes it can set you back quite a few rupies – at the same time it’s manageable. And once you’re there, although in the cheapest wing and the cheapest room – which you’re sharing with your friend of course, your’re treated with a rare subdued respect and pleasantness. The whole hotel buzz with activity, but every sound seems muted.

The interior is grand; and creates a fantastic atmosphere. The huge lobby with its many object des arts and the front desk that instinctively draws your attention because of the huge painting by M. F. Hussain, is what welcomes you once you’re “cleared”. The Taj with its recent history, the terror attacks a few years ago, has its own “airline security check” and reminds us what has become of the world.
The flower arrangements are grand and exquisite, one may wonder if the budget has any limitations. The shopping arcades are tempting although you know very well that shopping should be done miles away from the Taj…

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The reception area, with the grand painting of Hussain; sometimes known as the Picasso of India.

Most of the time, a hotel is a place where you sleep and eat breakfast. When staying at the Taj, one should take time to linger. Walk about, look more closely at everything around you, and try out some of the restaurants, – if only for the atmosphere and the service. It’s even possible to take a guided tour of the hotel, which left us infatuated with the guide as well as the surroundings.

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Breakfast is undoubtedly an experience. We made sure to allow plenty of time every day. The outdoor breakfast area is a pleasant distance from the pool. The wrought iron chairs have lovely pillows, once you’re there you want to stay a while.  And once seated, you’re taken care of by two, sometimes three waiters. They handle the tactless crows and ask if you’d like to top the breakfast with pancakes and chocolate – with the same discretion… And this is also how they place a jasmine flower by our plates, every day. When the stomach is full and the pancakes have created an uneasy atmosphere of bad conscience, we just lean back, say yes to another cup of coffee, put on the sunglasses and enjoy the – in every way – cool atmosphere. The beauty of Asia is very often the early morning hours with the heat and the humidity still lurking in the wings.

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The bar lounge with its beautiful interior.

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A menu is not just a menu at The Taj….. this is The Sea Lounge Restaurant with its beautiful sea view. Unbeatable….

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A guided tour of the hotel should not be missed.

At the same time it is difficult not to think of life outside the Taj walls. The noise is there, more audible by the hour. The honking horns, the various wallahs shouting for attention. You know about the begging children, the newborn babies in their mother’s laps, people with handicaps you wouldn’t believe existed. That is why I feel uneasy about staying at The Taj, because it doesn’t feel right to spend money like that and enjoy the luxury.

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TAJ breakfast

 

Paper at Jor Bagh Market February 2, 2014

– It’s only people like you, tourists, who come here. The owner of the small paper shop at Jor Bagh market in Delhi both looked and sounded defeated. – Well there are some foreigners in the area, they also come to shop here.
But it shone through, clients were not in abundance.

I almost missed it, the Four Seasons Gallery, as I was looking for the rather more famous JorBagh bookshop. I was walking through the arcade when I by chance spotted handmade paper in the corner of my eye, something that I rarely miss. I had never thought of finding a shop like this among the line of rather prosaic shops.

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Beautiful stars and wrapping paper….

The Four Seasons Gallery, it’s tiny but colourful although a bit modest from the outside. The walls were lined with paper and paper products of all sorts. For a paper maniac, the shop was a small gem and I instinctly thought of my luggage (space being a key word…). As Christmas was only two months away, the many beautiful stars dominated the shelves.  Along with cards, note books, wrapping paper, albums, writing paper – everything in awesome colurs and patterns; from the beautifully ornamented elephants to more modern varieties.

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This handmade paper doesn’t crease in you suitcase. It almost behaves like fabric.

Sadly, paper is losing terrain these days. Although it might have happened once or twice, I never send birthday or Christmas wishes by SMS. I cannot think of anything more impersonal. I look upon it as an easy way out, but I realize I’m getting old fashioned. But people always say they treasure getting letters and cards sent by “snail mail”, and I will keep sending them so that I can come back to Jor Bagh and re-stock my own shelves.

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Temptations….

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Sadly, people prefer their smartphones to these notebooks…

If you should happen to be in Delhi, or in the area, the address is 13/4 Jor Bagh Market. It’s worth stopping by!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A small enterprise…. November 9, 2013

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 6:13 pm
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It’s a ll about business in India, it sometimes seems like… What intrigues me most, is all the really small enterprises; shops virtually on the threshold of old and often dilapidated buildings. Old Delhi, my favourite spot in Delhi, is a labyrinth of lanes and a shopper’s delight…. if you like to browse or shop in congested, warm, chaotic and noisy surroundings. Old Delhi is  a wholesale market where you’ll find everything under the sun, and be prepared to step back in history. This is far from the glittering malls and don’t expect toilets to freshen up.

The man below repairs jewellery and this is his shop; a tiny table. I noticed him in February and brought a bracelet for him to repair. While I was waiting, people came and went. Threading necklaces seemed to be a sought after service.

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And talking about necklaces…. Old Delhi is an important place for gold and silver, but women don’t always need to wear “the real thing”. The guy below is making simple jewellery ready to be exported to… maybe your favourite clothes shop where you end up buying accessories matching your new dress – and that might be a necklace produced in these simple surroundings: A small room, dirty by our standards, hardly any furniture…

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BELOW:
This guy is making bracelets for export to United Kingdom, we were told. They were three in his little workshop, it looked chaotic with materials lining absolutely every wall. And the floor wasn’t exactly empty either…. I was standing in the doorway, unable to leave, taking in the solemn atmosphere.

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He showed me his bracelets,  and I asked if I could  buy some…. I got three samples for 100 rupees each; the golden one, a bluish and a red. They will always be special to me!

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I’m not sure what this guy is doing in his little workshop. One of the many small enterprises of Old Delhi. Will there be a new generation for him to pass on his workshop?

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Dying beads in the doorway. It’s amazing how this is done by one man on the threshold of his workshop. If not anything else, it’s very social…. I’m thinking; this could be done a hundred times more effectively in a big workshop or factory. But he has a buyer, he has a job and he obviously makes money!

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I came upon these colorful, padded quilts in Mehrauli and never thought they were produced in the area itself. You would think a production would need space, but a glimpse into the modest rooms told me another story.

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Raw cotton goes through the machine dating from – who knows when – and comes out refined and ready to be stuffed into the material in the room at the back. This guy is wearing protection, rarely seen in small enterprises like this….

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And last but not least…. the chai wallah! Tea is sold everywhere in small cups. Chai is tea The Indian Way; with milk and sugar. The demand is enormous, the profit can be likewise even though chai doesn’t exactly rip you off… Tea stalls are everywhere, this particular enterprise might seem simple but I was told he was one of the most prosperous chai wallahs in Old Delhi!

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It might not look too tempting… but once I tried it without sugar it felt right. But I don’t know if this is always a choice.

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Thanks to Anju afrom Master-ji Ki Haveli and Shriti of Beyond Delhi who took me places….

 

A stroll through Lodhi Garden November 1, 2013

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 2:08 pm
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I didn’t make it in February, so top of my list in October was a visit to Lodhi Garden only a five-minute walk from where I was staying. The garden, which covers an area of 360,000 m2, is found in central New Delhi, where the surrounding areas are nearly as full of greenery as the park itself…. I entered through one of the gates at Lodhi Road and stumbled upon heaps of colorful Bougainvilleas. A perfect first impression… But the park is first of all full of trees and paths that cuts through the area. As well as several tombs and monuments dating back to 15th and 16th century.

The park is said to be a hot-spot for morning walks for the Delhiites, and yes: I saw more than one Delhiite walking briskly (or jogging) alone or in twos and threes. With a water bottle in hand. The heat came rapidly creeping upon me, but finding shelter from the sun is not a problem as trees are so plentiful.

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Of course I had to go through one of the Indian “cross-examinations” on my way through the park. As I was taking some photos a young man came up to me with the evergreen initial question; Where are you from followed by First time in India? To be honest, I have been through this many times before, I answer out of politeness and try to make it short although I never feel offended in any way. A little later I asked a young woman for directions, she invited me to join her and eventually came up with the same questions.  But I didn’t mind answering, after all it was me who approached her.

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When I reached the area with the small lake, which was my goal, I noticed that the number of young couples had increased. They sat close together everywhere, close but at the same time not touching. In India, it is still not quite right to be in love…. at least not before marriage.  Just the day before I had been seeing some young girls who was in the midst of their studies and I asked them – mostly as an ice-breaker – if they had boy friends. Giggles and smiles filled the rom, but one of the men who was present corrected me from the sideline with a firm smile; “Indian girls don’t have boyfriends”. Well Lodhi Garden is definitely a place for courting….

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The park seemed well maintained, there were colourful dustbins pretty much everywhere. Just like Marine Drive in Mumbai, Lodhi Garden is a place to breathe freely. Big cities like Mumbai and Delhi can be quite “unbreathable” – especially in the heat. Marine Drive and Lodhi Garden cannot be compared, but they are beautiful escapes in two different ways!

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The letter writers of Mumbai September 13, 2013

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 10:43 am

People sometimes ask me from where I get my knowledge about India. And I always answer; through literature.  It was by reading a novel I first learnt about the letter writers in Mumbai. The main character was one of these. He placed himself outside the general post office in Mumbai every day,  where he wrote letters on behalf of all those – immigrants for example – who were not able to write, and probably not read.

It doesn’t come as a surprise that this trade is declining. Not necessarily because more people are able to read and write these days, but because of the cell phone which is more or less common property – also among the poor and illiterate in India. India is after all the world’s fastest-growing market for cell phones.

When I first read about the letters writers, the phenomena intrigued me. I tried to envisage the situation; the letter writer and his customer. The latter sharing all kinds of information from happiness to tragedy. And with no other option than to trust the man, the letter writer, in front of him.

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From the outset, the letter writers sat inside the post office, but had to move out in 1995. I never believed I would find a single letter writer in our time. Just by chance, I asked a guide who took me to a market one day, of their whereabouts. But no, she said, they’re gone years ago. But it so happened that I took a tour with Beyond Bombay a few days later, we were walking in the footsteps of one of the characters in the novel Shantaram.  My tour started right outside the famous VT, Victoria Terminus – Mumbai’s grand train station in the south of Mumbai. And only a short walk away; the letters writers sprang to live in front of me… It came as a big surprise actually, but they were very much present – if not in abundance…: A few men at the base of a tree, under a tarpaulin. Not too busy, still, they were in business. Maybe writing letters is not their most important task these days, but wrapping parcels and filling in forms seemed to be in need.

It doesn’t some as a surprise that one finds this kind of business in Mumbai, or India for that matter. All kinds of business affairs take place on the pavement. But the letter writers will eventually disappear. I haven’t seen them mentioned in any guide book, and I’m glad that they’re not a tourist attraction. But I’m glad I read the novel that took me to such an interesting cultural phenomena.

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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…

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All utensils were of a formidable size….

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Cooking dal…. Big size!

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

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Inside, the women were busy with the dough…

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

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And somebody has to do the dishes…..

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A glimpse of the dining hall.

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Rice donations.