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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Bangles. BANGLES! September 2, 2015

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 4:37 pm
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The air is clammy. The heat clings to you. There are people everywhere. The narrow streets feel suffocating, Indian markets has its price. The colorful display makes you stop, the open door welcomes you. It’s as if you step into Aladdin’s cave; it sparkles and shines in red, orange, blue, turquoise, green, gold … all the colors of the rainbow, and even more. There are bangles made of glass and plastic, and bangles with the most beautiful “gemstones” attached. You stop, reach out a hand and you lose yourself…

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Indian women love their bangles. One hardly sees an Indian woman without. Poor as rich, children and adults. Bangles play a major role for Indian women. They are not just for ornamentation, bangles are part of a tradition and a part of women’s identity. Bangles are round and rigid in form. The word is derived from Hindi; bungri (glass). They are made of various materials, such as gold, silver, platinum, glass, wood, other metals or plastics. Bangles are traditionally a part of the solah shringar of Indian brides. It is mandatory for newlywed brides to wear bangles made of glass, gold or other metals as they signify the long life of the husband as well as good fortune and prosperity. Traditionally, breaking of the bridal glass bangles is considered inauspicious.
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The vendor is looking at your wrist, quickly, and lifts a simple bangle off the display on the wall. “Try,” he says. You feel pale and sweaty, but cajole the bracelet over your wrist. An experienced vendor makes no mistake, the size is perfect. “Careful,” he says, and slips the bracelet off your hand. The young woman who works together with him shows you how to take on and off bangles, several together, without breaking any. The thin glass rings are vulnerable.

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In the Indian culture, the color of the bracelets has different meanings. Red means energy and prosperity, while green means good luck and fertility. Gold bracelets are supposed to give you happiness, whereas white means a new beginning and orange stands for success. Silver bracelets signify strength, and gold is the ultimate symbol of wealth and prosperity.

The various states in India have their own traditions and rituals for bangles and weddings. Bangles are called by various names. In the southern states, gold is considered very auspicious. Sometimes, green and gold are mixed since green means fertility and prosperity. Upcoming brides use the smallest bangle possible, put on with the help of oil. That means her marriage will be full of love and affection.
In Maharashtra, the bride bangles are significantly different from other states. Brides uses green glass bracelet in odd numbers. Green means creativity, new life and fertility. The green glass bracelets are mixed with real gold – usually a gift from her in-laws.

Over the years, bangles are adapted to modern trends, but they still play an equally important role as a thousand years ago. New forms and patterns have turned up, but for traditional ceremonies round glass bracelets or bangles made of metal still apply.

Colors, materials and textures – the vendor creates the most beautiful combinations … Fast gestures move the thin glass rings back and forth, some are taken away – others added. You nod your head in approval, or not… It’s like magic.. “Okay,” he says questioningly. And suddenly you have paid for a box of bangles. One more time again…

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Mix and match…. the ever well dressed Indian woman…

 

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 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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BELOW
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….

 

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.

 

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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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