Benjamuna's Blog

Stories…. with a touch of India….

Queen Crimson December 11, 2015

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 8:16 pm
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Just as Old Delhi was about to eat me up… with its congested alleyways overflowing with people, goats (or cows… depending on the area), stray dogs, stray children, brazen boys on mopeds meandering through the throngs, rickshaws forcing their way through the chaos with passengers sunken deep in resigned acceptance of the almost impenetrable mass of anything under the sun  – amidst them a few tourists whose faces speak of frightful delight… Sometimes I imagine the whole area is put up for show. Because how can it be…

Old Delhi

Old Delhi with its sea of people…


I make a turn and walk into a courtyard where the sudden calm is likewise overwhelming. Gone are the honking horns, the throngs, the smells – the everything I came to see and still it feels so good to slip away… Even the air seems of a different kind.

Old D pink lady_2

I saw her immediately. And old woman sitting on an all India plastic chair facing a wall. The Holy Trinity Chuch to her right. I lurk around with my Indian companion, she senses an interest in the church and comes forward with the keys. It is difficult to tell her age, it always is in foreign cultures. But my guess would have been that she was in her mid-eighties. “Picture,” she says and nods at my camera. I sometimes wonder why people want their picture taken, I wonder if they believe it is a way to make them immortal.

Old D pink lady_1

She is a beauty in her own sense. The hair is white, it seems to have been like that for many years. Her skin reminds me of that of my grandmother when she was her age; silky wrinkles in a face who bore that faint smell of toiletries sitting on her almirah. She walks quite effortlessly, still, with an old woman’s gait. She is dressed in a cotton saree with a typical cardigan over which she has slung a beautiful, crimson woollen shawl. Delhi is  cold to a local, pleasant to me.

She sits down, poses. She seems to possess a calm friendliness. I wonder if I am the umpteenth photographer who has fallen for her looks and posture.  She does exactly what I tell her, she even breaks into a smile and reveals the missing teeth I had expected. Smiles and teeth together don’t come easily in India. She must be passed that.

Once I have finished she goes back to her needlework, or whatever it is she is mending. We take a last stroll before leaving the courtyard. I take a last photo without her knowing. And then we leave the calm behind.

Old D pink lady_3


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.


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…



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.


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!


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?


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!



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.


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….


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!


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.


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


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!


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!


So many trees…. May 4, 2010

Filed under: Indian literature — benjamuna @ 3:38 pm
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I don’t really recall the first time I read about the Banyan tree, but it was definately in a novel. And definately I understood it had absolutely nothing to do with bananas…. I got the feeling the tree had some significance, and that it was big! The first time I actually saw one, was in Pune some years back. My friends Girish, Sanjay and Mandar took me to the University of Pune, and I asked them to look one up for me, in the huge surrounding garden.

The Banyan tree (Ficus bengalensis) is sacred to the Hindus and is often found near temples. It is extremely long-lived,  one of the the oldest one – of 400 years – can be found in Kolkata Botanical Gardens. Yes, it’s big and not at all attractive in the sense of elegance…, but the aerial roots that decends to the ground from the branches gives it a  fairy tale look and also a very distinct look.
I often come across the Banyan tree in novels, very often described as big, and yes, it often grows to a phenomenal size.  I’m always on the look out for a Banyan, the first Indian tree I got to know.

A Banyan tree in the surrounding gardens of The Red Fort in Delhi.

Another tree which I have come across in many novels, is the Neem (Azadirachta indica). Its more elegant than the Banyan and very popular because of its medical value. Neem twigs can be used as a tootbrush, where plastic yet has not enveloped the society.  This is something often referred to in Indian novels, used mostly among poor people.
The first time I really saw a Neem was outside the gates of Taj Mahal in Agra. The Taj Mahal was grand and beautiful, but it takes some effort to visit one of the world’s seven wonders…and thus it was a bit of a relief when we escaped the guide….and my eyes fell on the big and beautiful tree that stood majestetically in the middle of a square. A beautiful Neem.

A Neem outside the gates of the Taj Mahal in Agra.

I fell in love with the banyan the moment I saw it, but it is quite possible to fall in love with the name of a tree….. The first time I read about the Gulmohar (Delonix regia), it was the name itself that caught my attention. Gulmohar or Gul mohur as I have also seen it written. 
Gulmohar is the name of a character in The Peacock Throne by Sujit Saraf. She is one of the whores on GB Road in Delhi. “It’s a flower, the bai said to her. It will make people swoon over you to catch the whiff of your fragrance“. Gulmohar comes from Nepal, snatched away from her hometown by her uncle Jangbahadur to serve as a whore in Delhi at the age of 16… The book is a terrific read, set in old Delhi and its main thoroughfare Chandni Chowk.

Somehow I associated the name Gulmohar with yellow… I envisaged a tree with yellow flowers. Obviously because “gul” in Norwegian means yellow. The tree has in fact beautiful orange/red/vermillion flowers. Its flowering season in India is April – June, a time of the year of which I don’t go to India. But my great wish is to see one, in full bloom! And for sure I will think of poor Gulmohar in GB Road!

Google helped me find this beautiful specimen!