Benjamuna's Blog

Stories…. with a touch of India….

A Mumbai morning toilet January 28, 2020

Filed under: INDIA,Travels — benjamuna @ 5:41 am
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The stalls along Colaba Causeway had not yet opened, I could walk undisturbed and in long strides. It would take me around fifteen minutes from my hotel to Cafe Mondegar, where I was going to meet a friend. A couple of hours later, and I would have to force myself through throngs of tourists and the whispers of «Shawls, Madam, Pashmina, silk …»

        When I reached the café, I was early, but I didn’t want to walk any further just to kill time. It was already hot and clammy and I decided to hang around in the shade in case Sanjay was early. Of course, that would never happen. Sanjay would have to take a three-wheeler to his local train station in Dadar, get off the train at Churchgate, and then come by taxi to Colaba, the southern tip of Mumbai. All sorts of delays could happen and I didn’t expect him even to be on time.

        My eyes fell on the old woman on a chair only a few metres away from me. I had seen her from the corner of my eye when I passed her, now I noticed to my astonishment that she was naked. She sat with her back towards the street, but the pavement was lined with stalls. Nobody could see her from the street, but she was visible for everybody walking up and down the pavement.
       

The woman might be in her 70s. In India, old people often look much older than their age because of the wear and tear of the country itself – at least those of the lower classes. Her head was bent and her back crooked, as if she was sheltering herself with her body. I caught a glimpse of one of her breasts; long and skinny and no longer bearing any resemblance to a female breast. I felt a lump in my throat and turned away.
        When I looked at her again, a man had appeared with a small bucket and was pouring water over her body. I was simply witnessing her morning toilet. But why outside and so unprotected?
      

I wondered if he was her husband or perhaps her son. It was difficult to judge the man’s age as well. He kept pouring water over her haggard, wrinkled body. Her hair was grey, and sprouted in every direction. I wondered how this could take place in the middle of Colaba; one of the finer parts of Mumbai and more than anywhere else a melting pot of all kinds of tourists, with a mixture of street markets, elegant government shops, famous street food and up-scale restaurants.
       Of course, I knew that in a megalopolis like Mumbai, people are – all over the city – born on the street, and they die there. In between, life takes many miserable shapes.
        It must be her son, I thought, watching them openly. I fidgeted with my camera, fighting the urge to take a picture. I wanted to show friends at home how pitiful life can be. But I held back.
      
       The man had put a grey towel around the woman’s shoulders. He was talking to her in a loud and coarse voice, and I tensed and wished I knew Marathi. Maybe he wasn’t shouting at her, maybe her hearing was bad and he needed to raise his voice. I looked at the way he was drying her; did he go gentle on her? How I hoped his hands felt caring on her body.
        I thought about my own mother at 89. Her bathroom seemed like an operating theatre in comparison. Oh, that lump in the throat again, I had to turn away and walk, but just a few steps. With shame, I hoped Sanjay would appear with his enthusiastic grin, we would hug and walk up the stairs at Café Mondegar and escape into the world of Art Deco furniture and Americano coffees.
       

The man left the towel around the woman’s shoulders. I wondered if he was the owner of one of the stalls. They wouldn’t open until around eleven, so there was more than an hour left. He was sweeping the pavement, he might be getting ready to open.
        The woman sat still as the man busied himself with this and that. Suddenly, the pavement was completely empty, and the man had his back to me, so I lifted the camera and snatched a photo. Instinct, I thought shamefacedly, and hoped the photo would be blurred and useless.
        The man reappeared with a pink dress. He removed the towel and for a few seconds the woman was again naked. Then she raised her hands and he started to help her on with the dress. It looked like a nightgown, but it was a long, loose dress. It must feel comfortable, I thought, as if to justify the pitiful sight. When her arms were through, she collected her hair in a bun on the top of her head. It took a while to get the dress on, her body seeming frail and stiff.
        The man looked around, and there came another man hurrying towards them with whom he exchanged a few words. The two men helped the woman to her feet, and led her across the pavement, only a few steps towards another chair. She is not able to walk, I thought. I wish he had asked me for help, I would have liked to give her a hand. But he would never do that, I wasn’t part of their story. Hours later, I found myself at the same corner. I had come back to buy some bangles, and had no choice but to force my way down the now jammed pavement. The woman was still sitting on the chair, her back still crooked, her head slanting upwards and for a second I thought I met her gaze. I wondered if she was still naked under her dress, if she sat there all day without panties. The thought was unbearable.
       

I didn’t believe she was homeless, not even poor, but many moons away from an existence I would call decent. Maybe a chair on a busy pavement was more of a life than a tiny room with a whirring fan as the only companion.
        I decided to look for her the next time I set foot in Mumbai. She had already become a part of my Mumbai DNA. She had rightfully claimed a place in that pocket of my brain where I kept the stories that broke my heart.

 

 

At Mullick Ghat March 28, 2019

Jumping off the bus that took us to Howrah Bridge, I didn’t know that Calcutta was about to attack my senses. The Mullick Ghat wholesale flower market swallowed us into its odorous frantic belly, and held us in a firm grip until it was time to leave.

We first entered via a narrow footbridge where people – mostly men – were brushing past in both directions; fast and furious, shouting unknown words. There was no gallantry, only a determined rush! So big was the shock that when a faceless man grabbed me – not by the pussy to quote ‘the boss’ of America – but somewhere else one doesn’t like to be grabbed by a stranger, I didn’t raise even a mental brow. The act seemed to belong to the show. I sped forward and grabbed Soham, my guide, by his shirt telling him not to let me out of sight.

Go with the flow, I reassured myself. I was pushed and squeezed from side to side, back and forth, as I made an effort to cross the bridge unharmed. Then we hit the ground and ducked into a maze of alleyways. There was a continuous movement of men speeding through the market, some with flowers on their heads, or on their shoulders, it was like a rough sea. I embraced my bag; what if somebody stole my money, my cell phone – or grabbed my camera. But they wouldn’t have time for that, would they? f

The vendors sat mostly on the ground, some on a dais. It struck me that they looked like birds in nests of flowers. I pointed my camera this way and that, but I felt in the way, I was disturbing somebody’s working day. My photos got blurry because of all the locomotion and every second time I pressed the shutter somebody walked into my picture; they became cluttered with odd limbs and half faces. My strategy is all wrong, I thought.

The early morning had felt so cool and fresh when Soham and I had crossed the Maidan from where we jumped on the bus, now it was hot and humid. “Mind the mud,” he warned and stepped aside in front of me. I hadn’t noticed, but now felt my sandals slip continuously as we meandered past the many-coloured flowers of species I couldn’t always name.

We entered another vantage point to watch the spectacle from above. The millions of orange and yellow marigolds shone towards us, from enormous sacks on the ground or from vendors’ heads. The garlands were slung over their backs like a bunch of snakes, those on the path looked like sparkling coils. In between, shreds of newspaper littered what was left of open space.

Suddenly, a big truck rumbled into the area. In slow motion, the crowd parted and gave way to the intruder who claimed its right and no one seemed to blame him. The truck looked like an enormous animal from a bygone time amongst the people and the flowers which now looked small from above.
“You might think it is all chaos,” said Soham, “but it’s not. Every one knows their place, what to do and where to go.”
        I did believe him.


We left the market and walked into open space, to the beach below the iconic Howrah Bridge where we watched more work in progress, although in a slower motion. Men, and now also women, stuffed big sacks with leaves. Up on the bridge, I could see people walking on the footpath, millions a day, I had read somewhere. My eyes eventually rested on Hooghly river, its traffic had just about come to life.

It was the most amazing start of the day!

#calcuttacapsule

https://bestwalksofkolkata.wixsite.com/calcuttacapsule

 

A golden day in Amritsar January 14, 2018

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 7:16 pm
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We weren’t exactly Thelma and Louse, but three women on a day trip to Amritsar. It was Elisa, Peggy and me; wheels up for The Golden Temple after an early start in Delhi. With no time to lose, we almost rushed out of Sri Guru Ram Das Jee airport, after paying the pre-paid taxi boot a visit. The landscape outside the taxi windows was flat and nondescript, I had no idea about what to expect from the city itself only that it hosted a famous temple.

We entered the town and the taxi stopped without warning. “Jam,” the driver grunted and almost shooed us out to fight the usual Indian buzz; cars, two-wheelers, three-wheelers, honking horns, stray dogs, stray children, beggars, hawkers. We made sure we were walking in the right direction and cast long glances after the many shops selling juttis, the colourful Punjabi footwear. This is what we’re buying later today, we all agreed. Souvenir and shoe shops replaced each other in a steady stream, the city landscape gradually changed – no doubt were we on the way to an attraction.

The temple area was, at first glance, like a revelation. The big plaza was clean and pure and after parting with our shoes and covering our heads, we joined the surprisingly modest queue. It didn’t take us long to enter the inner temple area. I simply couldn’t elude a gasp when I spotted The Golden Temple. The square, golden building seems to be floating in a vast pool, all surrounded by white marble. It hurt in all its splendour, I had as always forgotten my sunglasses!

Every Sikh temple has a langar, a community kitchen, where food is served for free.

We admired the temple for a while before we obeyed our rumbling stomachs and headed for the langar. Every Sikh temple runs a community kitchen that serves free food. I’m not sure if we belonged to the target group, but the langar, in principle, welcomes everybody and it was our only option. All kinds of clatter filled the building as we entered, people were in a steady move, or sitting down at work; chopping or peeling. Everybody is welcome to give a helping hand with the food, but we were on a budget as far as time was concerned, accepted a plate each and followed the crowd up to the first floor were people sat eating on the floor in long rows. The room was huge.
My general fear of food hit me hard and dal from a grimy bucket didn’t tempt me. Instead, I polished off a number of chapattis. Not only had I forgotten my sunglasses, my rucksack contained (surprisingly) no ‘iron rations’. Peggy and Elisa said yes to second helpings, I couldn’t believe it, they seemed to have the meal of their life.

Handing out plates to the visitors.

Afterwards, we sat down under the archway. Leaning towards the wall, we did some serious people watching. In between, we all – I believe – closed our eyes and let the chanting music lull us into a light after lunch nap. The temple, separated by the sparkling water, shone in all its glory. People were floating by in a steady, endless stream: stately and well-dressed Sikhs in a variety of coloured turbans, equally colourful women in their best Punjabi dresses, people in various headscarves, a few children here and there. A small crowd of young men were dipping their bodies in the water. I remember the old woman with her husband bent double in a wheelchair, maybe his first, or last, visit to the Golden Temple. I was enchanted by all the bright colours towards the white, marbled landscape and drifted in and out of silent appreciation.
We spent a while, strolling back and forth but never entered the temple itself. The long queue combined with the baking sun made the thought uncomfortable. Reluctantly, we eventually left the temple grounds.

Striking contrasts!

What surprised me, was the lack of Western tourists. We hardly saw any, which made us an easy target for Indians hunting for good ‘snaps’, especially inside the historical site and garden, Jallianwala Bagh. We dutifully posed once, twice, thrice … Peggy was under the impression I was the star attraction in Amritsar on that very day. It might be. For Indians unfamiliar with people from the West, my indefinable hair colour might rise some interest. And while Peggy and Elisa was dressed in Punjabi dresses, I was as always dressed in jeans. Because every time I put on a pair of kameez, those wide Indian trousers, I feel my height shrink from 162 to 152 cm.
I remember the parents who eagerly pushed their little son, aged about three, towards me again and again, cell phones ready in their hands. Their hard voices eventually made him obey, and then he turned, pointed a finger towards me and let out a big cry. I almost cried out myself, and later wondered how that picture came out. A small, frightened Indian boy and a frightful Norwegian troll.

They, among many others, wanted us in their photo. How could we say no?

Amritsar seemed to have many faces. In stark contrast to the area where the taxi let us off, was a pedestrian area close to the temple. Wide, clean streets, uniform shop fronts and nicely dressed people strolling leisurely about. They all seemed to have paid a visit to the temple and was now savouring ice cream or “Amritsari Special Matka Kulfi”. We explored some shoe stores, but eventually agreed that the Punjabi juttis probably wouldn’t feel – in any way – comfortable in Norway, neither in Boston nor New York.

Buying juttis can be an ardous task!

I suggested we go back to the airport a little early and eat our dinner to avoid any late minute rush to the airport. (I’m neurotic about losing a flight.) So we set about to find a taxi – which turned out to be an arduous task. Taxis were nowhere to be seen or found, nobody was able to help and no 800-pages travel guide had been allowed in our light luggage. Auto rickshaws, on the other hand, were plentiful. But Peggy sat down her foot and wouldn’t even speak of a ride all the way to the airport in such an airy vehicle. We managed to cajole her into it, who wanted to spend the night in Amritsar without even a toothbrush? We squeezed together in the back seat after the usual debate over the fare. I had in the course of the day managed to dig up my sunglasses from the depths of my rucksack, now I would need ‘dust glasses’.
After a few turns and bends, we came to a halt, the driver left his seat and from what we could understand he didn’t want to take us after all. Then Elisa raised her voice in such a way that even I straightened my back, and off we went again after a slight turmoil. Half way, he made another stop, now at a gas station, he seemed to want extra money for the petrol, to what the three ladies in the back answered an unanimous, smiling no no no – and we eventually arrived at the airport. And yes; by then the driver had become the cutest Indian driver ever and we gave him twice as much as he had asked. (I’m sure this does sound familiar to other India travellers …).

The airport seemed to have shrunk in one day. After security, we optimistically went in search for a restaurant, which we scaled down to a café after looking around a bit. We were pointed to the first floor where we found a modest snack bar and a million free seats, air condition on full blast. I had my most meagre dinner ever; one tiny cup of bitter, black coffee and two chocolate bars. Our sole entertainment was a small souvenir shop with absolutely no customers and I seriously had to restrain myself from buying something elephant-ish just to make the shopkeeper’s day. He seemed bored to the bone!
We didn’t make it to the Wagah border. Maybe we missed out more. It had probably been Amritsar on speed, but the hours inside the temple grounds were spent in deliberate slow-motion!
NOVEMBER 2016

More photos On https://www.flickr.com/gp/benjamuna/52rhR2

 

My buddy

 

Don’t miss out the Irani Cafes in Mumbai September 3, 2017

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 5:56 pm
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Yazdani is a bakery, and from what I’ve read; women have no access to the bakery itself. I certainly wasn’t allowed in to take photographs.

I cannot recall when I became aware of the Irani Cafés in Mumbai. But I do remember my first taste of brun maska, one of their signature dishes, if one can call a bun a dish. The Irani cafes, those who are left, are scattered around south Mumbai. Originally owned and run by the Iranians who migrated to India, the cafes were initially set up as chai cafes. By the beginning of the 20th century, Irani cafes had sprung up on almost every prominent street corner of Bombay. They are now, sadly, in decline, as the Parsis (Zoroastrians from Iran) themselves. But that is another story. One should make sure to visit one or two of these quirky cafes cum small restaurants, before it is too late.

I first visited the Yazdani Bakery in the Fort area a few years back. The café has simple wooden benches and tables, the interior is worn and dilapidated. Upon entering, my travel companion grinned his nose, unwilling to sit down. Whereas I was immediately charmed by the retro atmosphere and preferred to oversee the grimy sink in the corner. We ordered brun maska, a hot toasted white bun slathered in melted butter (now is the time to forget all about diets) with a crunchy crust. My friend, a die-hard consumer of healthy brown bread grinned his nose even more, but dug into the bun. Breakfast was hours away. He almost immediately asked for one more … It is simply is delicious! The owner of these Irani, or Parsi cafes, used to sit at a typical cash counter by the entrance. And Rashid Zend still do at Yazdani.  He was keen to talk and pose for a photograph as we paid a humble price for the filling meal.

You don’t eat comfortably, but you eat well …

 

The famous brun maska, looks simple – tastes yummie!!

Authentic, no doubt …

Apart from the food, the interior by far defines the Irani cafes. Marble-top tables, red-checked table clothes, bent wood chairs of German/Polish design, entertaining signboards and biscuits in glass jars. You really believe these eateries to be frozen in time! The food is more than a “simple” bun or the tasty Mawa cake. You may want to try the famous Bombay Duck or the yummy Berry Pulao at Café Britannia & Co. Quietly in a corner sat the owner himself, the rather famous Boman Kohinoor. In his 90’s, he still takes orders and is more than happy to talk and pose for pictures when we approach him. He speaks of his good health and longevity and is happy to go through some of his prized photos and letters displayed on a table, among them a signed letter from the Queen of England. Boman is a self-declared Number One fan of the British royalty.

Britannia & Co. Boman Kohinoor may look retired when spotted in his corner, but once you make contact he is a very vital man, in his 90’s … (below).

Another iconic restaurant not to be missed, is Kyani & Co, definitely worth a visit for the interior and the small shop inside the restaurant. It’s all here; the counter at the door, the significant table and chairs, the signs, the bakery at the back and the numerous jars of biscuits. It was time to taste the Mawa cakes, we could have eaten ten in one go!

The biscuits set you back only a few Rupis!

 

On your way back to the hotel, make sure to stop at the Parsi Dairy Farm in Kalbadevi. No matter how many brun maskas or Mawa cakes, there has to be room for Kulfi, a popular frozen dairy dessert. The Paris Dairy Farm has been under threat for several years now, another reason to step inside and treat yourself to “traditional Indian ice cream”, before it’s too late. The distinctive interior comes as a bonus!

PS – you might want somebody to take you on a Parsi Tour – My choice is http://www.zamorinofbombay.com

Kulfi at The Parsi Dairy Farm.

 

The Colour of Calcutta aka The King of the Road March 19, 2017

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 4:42 pm
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The first thing I noticed in Calcutta, was the omnipresent yellow taxis. It shant be denied, Calcutta is – at least at first sight, a chaotic, dirty, dreary, noisy, congested megalopolis (rumour says 17 million people…). At second glance, after spotting the taxis, the picture changes. At least it did for me. The taxis, like a swarm of bees, were lighting up every street.

The yellow Ambassadors are everywhere!!

FACT | The Hindustan Ambassador was an automobile manufactured by Hindustan Motors of India. It was in production from 1958 to 2014 with few improvements and changes over its production lifetime.

All the taxis have ‘No refusal’ on their doors. The story goes that the taxis are notorious for declining passengers, a fact that tells me that the drivers earn pretty good money. At least enough to say no to a ride in jammed areas – or too far away or maybe the driver has just planned his lunch break! So the authorities made the drivers put ‘No refusal’ on the car and act accordingly. Does it help? Hardly!

QUOTE | “It is as if the car is made for the city, its classic design going so well with the Colonial architecture.”

 

 

FACT | Taxi services started in Calcutta in 1907, the Ambassador became the standard taxi model in 1962. In 2014, Hindustan Motors brought the production of this regal brand to a close, sadly the Ambassador was not in sufficient demand.

If you didn’t know, you would think that there was still a steady production of these cars as they swarm and honk their way through the streets.  May the remaining cars live long and colour the streets of Calutta!

 

Matching colours March 16, 2017

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 8:07 am
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Very often, when I walk the streets of Indian markets with my camera, I see matching colours. The street vendors are dressed according to the goods they’re selling. Or… is it just a coincidence? It might be, but sometimes not… I spotted a few matching colours at Dadar market, Mumbai.

Above; a woman is selling yellow coloured fruits, dressed in a yellow sari. If her sari had been red, I might not have payed her any attention her… Now, she stood out in the crowd.

Below: She is selling grapes, and she has draped herself in a mauve sari which matches the tissue paper…

Below: Whatever she is selling, it matches her sari and umbrella. It was the reds that caught my attention.

Below: Even her bangles goes with her goods!

Below: A man… at last. Selling garlic and the shades are all blue…

Thanks to http://www.zamorinofbombay.com/ who took me to Dadar!

 

Mumbai morning. marine drive. May 3, 2015

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 2:31 pm
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Marine Drive_2

It’s 7 am. The air feels cool. Mumbai’s pride; Marine Drive, is awake and alive. The broad promenade stretches along the Arabian Sea. In the evening, the shining lamp posts form a necklace, the Queen’s Necklace as they call it. Beautifully rounded, accompanied by the waves that steadily hit the rocks. But it’s early morning now, the sun is about to rise and break through the morning mist. A faint breeze strokes my chin as I listen to the ever present Mumbai crows. To the north, the skyline stretches towards the sky, mostly made by the high-rise buildings of fancy Malabar Hills. They seem quite a distance away behind a haze of mist, or smog as it might well be.

I turn around and my gaze falls on the Air India building, who has become my landmark. Tall hotels together with ordinary corporate buildings form the Northern skyline. People come to work here, but right now, people come to walk. They walk alone, or in pairs. In long strides, and short strides. The men, retired perhaps – in their white, big jogging shoes. Loose trousers, shirts with rolled up sleeves. Some stroll along leisurely, some walk briskly. They walk the talk. Old colleagues, neighbours, brothers, friends. Twos and threes, sometimes in fours. Then there is the retired couples; the women in their salwar kameez and a woollen cardigan on top of it. It’s still cool for a Mumbaikar. The wide trousers flutter around old legs above big shoes. Good shoes. They don’t talk, there is no need. They walk. Before the sun emerges and makes walking unbearable.

Some wear track suits, swinging their arms energetically from side to side. More men in groups, friends on a daily morning round. Glasses blinking, hands agitatedly waving the air. They could be discussing politics. Shouting friendly at each other. Or just keeping quiet. An old woman walks towards me, she is wearing a burka. She sits down next to me, breathes heavily. She seems distressed, restless. After a while she heaves her heavy body and leaves, perhaps she needed a rest. A suffering body or a suffering mind. Marine Drive_3

A young man is chasing a football, all by himself. The ball goes this way and that, always captured by the man who puts it back on track. He’s moving along with the ball, in between people. Nobody interferes. I follow him with my gaze, soon the restless figure is lost among the people.

The stream of people thickens. The sun is about to break. Four women is sitting side by side, chanting. Om, they chant. Ooomm… They are unmoved by the stream of people, by the looks of any odd tourist. Closed eyes, deep in concentration. The concrete wall along the promenade doubles as a bench. People also walk on top of it, or they sit down cross legged with their faces turned towards the sea. Contemplating; about the day that lies ahead or even life itself… Even at this hour, some young couples sit close together, captured in secrecy perhaps, a more than common sight in the evening. Some do yoga, stretching their bodies towards the soft sky. Some is lost to the world in deep meditation. Or, we simply let our gaze wander. Up and down the promenade. Thinking how lucky this overcrowded, polluted, dirty megalopolis is to have such freedom and space for everybody to share.

The joggers emerge among the walkers. Long trousers, short trousers. A woman in a sari even. Chubby young girls adamant on losing a few kilos, their feet heavily touching ground; bump bump. Sweat foreheads. Alone, but also in pairs. Mutual struggle. Mutual pain. Being two is always a small comfort. Athletic men in shorts glide along, fancy sun glasses, even more fancy shoes. Expats trying to keep fit, trying to beat the forever-glaring sun, trying to keep up a lifestyle from colder countries. Foreign business men from nearby hotels follow suit. But people mostly walk. Arms swinging from side to side. Stretching limbs as they walk. Serious looks on their faces. Trying to fight old age. Middle aged women in western clothes and big sunglasses. Walking fast and furious. Fighting yesterday’s too many laddoos. Young girls in threes and fours. Serious sometimes. Or giggling, discussing that very special boy in school. Avoiding the many stray dogs that scuttle about. And there he is; the little boy with the monkey in a chain. Frowned upon by the regulars, but always attracting interest from tourists before they realise he’s not there to entertain, but to earn a living.

I’m leaving, still not at risk while crossing the street. Walking towards the Air India building, and then straight ahead on uneven sidewalks towards Colaba. The odd stalls are coming to life along the way, people are queueing for their buses, the Oval Maidan is quiet, but the traffic is picking up as I reach the other side of the city where the sun has hit the Indian Sea with full force. Mumbai kråke

 

A neighbourhood market March 20, 2015

Delhi has many markets. I’m always tempted by Khan Market and Haus Khaz Village, because of the variety of so many decent shops. The lovely book stores of Khan Market, the tiny paper shop, the curio shop filled to the brim with garlands in the weeks before Diwali, the crowded Good Earth with outrageously overpriced clothes…. The elegant clothes shops of Haus Khaz, the basement boutiques with beautiful shawls and interior design items. The many lovely eateries and coffee shops. But it is you and a steady stream of tourists and expats. Those who go shopping with pockets full of rupees. And you tire of it… Then there’s a completely different kind…. the neighbourhood market that caters for people’s immediate needs. A stone’s throw away from my lodging at Friend’s Colony in the south of Delhi I came across Sabzi market. Nothing fancy, just the Indian hullabaloo of people, small vehicles of every kind, stray dogs, giggling children, street food, stalls, shops… Sabzi market Delhi banana                   Sabzi market  Delhi (8)

The banana seller needs a break and thus takes a break…

I met these smiling women and commented on their clothes, their light blue punjabi dresses. – It’s a uniform, they told me, we are sales women. – We’re just catching up. They were selling washing powder and showed me samples from their bags.

Sabzi market  Delhi (14)

Food…. there’s food everywhere and people are lining up…

Sabzi market  Delhi (18) Sabzi market  Delhi (2)

Kachori  – a spicy snack. These were selling fast…

Sabzi market  Delhi (3)

Boondi…sweet balls. I don’t know what they taste like, but to see the process is just intriguing. It gets its cute name from the Hindi word for drops or droplets – Boond. Another name for it is Motichor Laddoo (Moti means bead or pearl in Hindi).

Sabzi market  Delhi (15)

He was busy with his tandoor, the guy at Chip Chop Food. The rotis looked delicious…

Sabzi market  Delhi (12) Sabzi market  Delhi (11)

Another guy at Chip Chop Food, he fits so well with the colours in the background.

Sabzi market  Delhi (13)

They wanted me to take their picture, they might be brothers taking care of their father’s shop. The second I pointed my camera at them, they started to pose…

Sabzi market  Delhi (17)

Colours and fabrics….. It’s India!

Sabzi market  Delhi (4)

Every market has a tailor. This one cateres solely for the men.

Sabzi market  Delhi (6)

So many things are taking place in open air in India. This looked so amiable, sociable… the vegetable vendor, the card players and the three men at the back papering “GUJIYA” which is a special sweet for the festival holi that was rapidly approaching.

Sabzi market  Delhi (16)

Suddenly the streets were filled with children, the school must be over. Or rather,
the first shift. Schools in India mostly work in two shifts.

Sabzi market  Delhi (10)

Sabzi market  Delhi (9)

Women were sitting leisurely around everywhere, they must be in the middle of their daily shopping, but finding time for a nice chat!

Sabzi market  Delhi (7)

Sabzi market  Delhi (1)

 

A Wedding in Delhi January 23, 2015

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 12:04 pm
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There is a wedding. And there is a festival. My car is stuck among crowds of joyous people. They are coming from everywhere, all moving in the opposite direction of the car. The mass of people is like a big wave, and there seem to be no escape. They’re on their way home from festival celebrations. Whereas I’m on my way to a wedding. My expectations are disturbed by the driver’s silent cursing. Hees’s trying to manoeuvre the car this way and that way, but for the most part we’re standing still. The people in the streets seem oblivious to the cars, as if they didn’t exist. I get a creeping feeling of claustrophobia as I watch their exciting faces, and suddenly – quite irrationally – I imagine the crowd going violent. The driver coax the car out of the undulating masses and we’re once more on the main road. My western mind is thinking that I might be late, at least I will miss the arrival of the bride or groom or even both, and I’m cursing the traffic too.

20141003_222042NYThe car eventually comes to a halt, and I realise we have reached the wedding venue. It’s out of doors, still I pass through a covered gate and enter what looks like an assembly hall. The dark night covers the area like a roof, and my eyes blink when I look around. At first glance I see a world brightly coloured in red and gold. The area seems to be divided in order to meet several needs, and people are scattered here and there. I realise I must be early nevertheless. There is no crowd, as I had expected.

Soon enough the heat fastens its grip after the pleasant, cool car. I’m given a tour of the area, I stumble in carpets as I’m trying to get familiar with the hall. Tables are laid out alongside the walls, for drinks, fruit, plates, cutlery, some food – although the main buffet is in an adjacent room. The inevitable Indian stage is in the far end of the room, whereas the middle of the room holds some sort of ramp for whatever use it may be. Chairs are lined up in rows, but I realise that my back is going to suffer considerably if I don’t sit down immediately and keep the chair for the rest of the evening. People are going to circulate, I mentally correct myself. A few tables with chairs, few considering all the people expected, are also scattered more or less in the middle of the room – and suddenly my eyes catches a jumping-tower in the far corner – to keep the children busy I assume. Everybody and everything is taken care of. The opposite corner is set up as a disco, but I never noticed before I heard it.

I see some familiar faces from yesterday’s evening. A common language prevents us from exchanging pleasantries, but a few of the younger generation grabs the opportunity to speak English with a foreigner. Cameras and cell phones are more dominant than handbags. We stand in rows. Click. Exchange places, more clicks. Flashes are shooting up like lightning, and afterwards, bent over the small screens we make sure everybody is captured within the frame before the small crowd disperse – and new ones take form. I admire the women, trying my best to tell them how beautiful they look. The colours, the patterns, the silk, the gold. It’s amazing how one, or maybe two styles of clothing can show such a variety. When I think I have seen the prettiest sari ever, my eyes catches sight of yet another. And another…

I wonder if the heat will ever subside when I suddenly realise people are pouring in, and they must have been doing so for a while because when I look around me the hall seems full of people – I haven’t really noticed. It’s like watching a theatre play; something is going to take place but I just can’t imagine what. Instead, people are roaming carelessly around, but an empty chair allows me a few moments of relief. The air is thick, India has a way of eating you up. Right then I felt nibbled at. Unexpectedly, a child serves me some fruit and suddenly the air is ablaze with sound. The disco in the corner takes me by surprise, and from that moment the “all India picture” is complete with heat, people and noise.

I’m told the groom has arrived and I hurry to the gate. He is surrounded by quite a crowd, they all seem to be playing some game with money. He seems to be floating in a sea of hangers-on, I wonder if his feet are touching ground at all. He seems restrained, but maybe I’m misjudging his face. He looks at any rate beautiful in his outfit in red and gold, – undoubtedly the going colours for a wedding. The atmosphere is almost hypnotizing.

Somebody is trying to put an end to the disco as the groom is moving towards the stage. Still, the temperature is boiling on the dance floor, which is dominated by young men raising their arms in the air. Again I’m thinking; will this night ever become any cooler? Big umbrellas are flooding the stage with light, it’s like a photo studio. The groom has a tie of rupees around his neck and there seem to be some sort of a ceremony taking place. He looks stunning, standing tall in the limelight. He is somewhat heavily built with a square-cut face and full lips, in his outfit he looks like a Maharaja from times gone by. Whatever happens on the stage seems to be taking place without nobody really caring. A restless feeling takes hold of me; is the bride ever to turn up? Meanwhile the disco picks up and a few young girls have joined the male crowd on the dance floor. It radiates so much energy, the dance floor is like a human generator.

I’m not sure how much time has passed. People are still floating, eating, sitting, standing, I can’t see any form nor any formality. Young girls are picking at me, shy mothers hovering in the background, their daughters full of a foreign language and a straightforwardness unknown to them. A baby is thrown in my lap. His father trying to wrest my age out of me. More clicks. A young woman tells me I look tired.

And then the bride….. Like the groom she enters through the gate and she is welcomed by a small band whose members are dressed in pink kurtas, playing incessantly yet not able to drown out the disco spitting out Indian techno music in the background. A colourful entourage; a protective crowd of females encircles the bride. They’re taking one small step at a time, it’s a slow procession while people are squeezing closer together and cameras fighting for attention. The bride has a downcast glance, sometimes a shy smile lets out. Her right index finger sends me a small hello. She looks amazing – never was red so red. She takes a step to the right, she is all by herself in the limelight. More clicks. Before she again finds her place among her followers and…more clicks.

20141003_224851We turn our attention to the ramp in the middle of the hall. The bride seems to be crouching by the small flight of stairs, and you don’t need much fantasy to understand that the bride and groom are going to meet in the centre of the ramp. Again the bride is closely encircled by the women. People are buzzing around, cameras and cell phones constantly shooting off lights. I’m craning my neck, people allow me space. But nothing happens. Nothing. The strange thing is that nobody seems to lack patience, neither do I find anybody who can tell me why nothing happens. I realise that what makes me tired, and sweating even more, is the lack of understanding. It has been an evening of waiting for something to happen, at the same time there has been a continuous stream of small events. But this must be the climax, and finally the groom leads the bride up the narrow stairs. And there is more…. The ramp starts to rotate. Only in India…., I’m thinking. Only in India. And only in India does the couple not grab the opportunity to indulge in a deep, long kiss as the ramp meticulously rotates….

After much ado, although in a low-key voice, the couple find themselves on the stage. The newlyweds – at least I assume that they somehow along the way are declared husband and wife, pose beautifully together. More clicks. More posing combinations. More people.

But for me the wedding has come to an end. The car is waiting, I enter and let the cool air embrace me and as I lean back I want to say; Drive through the streets of Delhi until the early morning. And let the evening stay with me for a few more hours before I let my head rest on the pillow.

 

 

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)

delhi

I lean on the barrier…