Lodhi Art District

The tranquil Lodhi colony, built by the British around 1940 for soldiers stationed in Delhi, and now used as a housing area for middle-ranked government employees, has been transformed into a public gallery.  It’s a spectacular sight.

More than 25 artists from India and around the world – the US, Iran, Switzerland, Cambodia, Japan, Mexico, among others – used the two story high walls as their canvases. It took the dedicated crew of St+Art Delhi nine month to get all the necessary permits. And even after that people opposed some painting or the other because maybe black paint was used, which is considered inauspicious.

More often than not, the artists interacted with the locals or the location and developed their work from there. The German Hendrik Beikirch for example painted a woman he met in the nearby railway colony. Dwa Zeta from Poland created abstract forms which refer to the flow of Delhi’s streets. And the Spaniard Borondo  interprets the concept of life and birth in his river – opposite a maternity hospital.

More typical Indian themes can also be found on the walls. The lotus, India’s national flower, features prominently in the signature of Suiko. And Indian art traditions and styles like Gond Folk art were also used.

More here: http://www.st-artindia.org/

 

Lodhi Art District – “2 Hands Unterwater” from Doreen Fiedler on Vimeo.

“My Delhi is clean”

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Vendors in the rich people’s Defence Colony Market are selling a whole range of masks by now. A vogmask costs Rs 2000, that would be several days of salary for a construction worker (who never are provided masks, despite the powder and dusk).

The air pollution in Delhi has become so bad that I only venture out with a mask in front of my mouth now. Be it in a car with the AC on, my fitness class in the local park or a walk to the local market: The air I breathe is filtered.

While I was traveling with the mask in the metro, a young man started to act weird. When I tried to move towards the door as I wanted to deboard at Chhattarpur Metro Station, he blocked my way. I didn’t think much of it and squeezed my body around him.

When the doors of the train opened, he stumbled out with me, and snatching off my mask in the move. As both ends of the mask are fixed with a rubber behind my ears, this wasn’t so easy. I got hold of the mask. And I shouted.

Immediately several men around me acted. They grabbed the youngster and didn’t let him run away as he intended to do. Everybody thought he must’ve touched me inappropriately. Even I had that idea. But I looked down at me and realized: He didn’t.

As nothing was missing and I wasn’t molested, I would have let him run. But one of the men holding on to the guy apparently wanted to show me that a behavior like his is punished in India.

So he probed the obviously intoxicated guy. The youngster shouted over and over: “My Delhi is clean. I clean my Delhi.” It seemed to me that he felt offended when he saw me protecting myself against the smog and dust, as he thought with that act I would be insulting the city and it’s people.

The man who was determined to show me that there is law and order in the country dragged the youngster down the stairs to the entrance where the policemen are performing the security checks. The officials jumped to attention when they saw the commotion.

I repeated several times that I was unhurt and untouched – but to no avail. The youngster was taken away. I sincerely hope they didn’t treat him too harsh. Like it often happens, see here or here or here (background article on police lathi-charging being a colonial hangover here)

 

Walk to the secret lakes of Delhi

Free time is something Delhi’s elite (which calls itself middle class) normally spends at home with family, in restaurants, in malls, in homes of relatives, in bars, in more malls, in homes of friends, in cafés. You get the picture.

Usually unheard of: Sitting on a bicycle and ride to a jungle. Walk through the Aravalli hills just south of the city. Spend a day at the river Yamuna.

This has many reasons, but foremost people are not feeling safe out there. This is not some unsubstantiated fear, but very real. The chances to get raped, robbed, threatened, pushed around, asked for money, told to go away , or all at once, are very real.

So if people from Delhi do venture out into the wild, they only go in big groups. With someone, who has been there before. Who has talked to the village elders as a backup, and got someone along from the village as a guide.

I joined the group “Delhi by Foot” to explore five secret lakes in the Wild Life Sanctuary Asola Bhatti.

We found: sandy beaches, pristine blue water in the valleys that were rock quarries some 15 years ago, sun that made it through the less dense smog out there. Along the way, we met locals going about their everyday lives, which included the chopping of shrub, walking somewhere with camels, and tending cows.

It was more a stroll than a hike, as the elite in Delhi, even if they are interested in outdoor activities, is so not used to walk on unpaved surfaces. So any climb up a dirt trek with two roots sticking out, or a step higher than 15 centimeters takes it’s own sweet time.

 

Death by Breath

Delhi’s air is horribly polluted. And even though I had known this for years, I did not always wear a mask when doing sports outdoors, and often didn’t bother to move my air purifier from the sleeping room to the living room when I was lazing around on the couch.

This went on until I started feeling a heavy weight on my chest when I was out on the streets. And during fitness class, I felt like I couldn’t suck in enough air into my lungs. The further the winter advanced, the thicker the toxic cloud over Delhi became, smelling like a mixture of a welder’s shop, burnt coffee and a chemical factory.

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My face mask after a day of commuting on the bicycle and a sport’s class in Lodhi Garden

When looking at the fine particulate matter  PM2.5 – particles so small they can be ingested deep into the lungs and cause cancer -, Delhi is the most polluted city in the world, according to a compilation of data by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Three times worse than Beijing.

The culprits are: emissions from Delhi’s 8.5 million vehicles (especially bad: old diesel trucks, which should not enter the city, but still do), construction dust, brick kilns, coal factories, burning of crop stubble in farms around the city, sand from the deserts.

So it’s clear what should be done: Scale up the public transport system, slash diesel subsidies, make parking expensive, regulate factories effectively, enforce rules against stubble burning, cover material at construction sites, clean the streets instead of just swiping the dust from one end to the other.

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New masks, will last for 1000 hours. I am not leaving the house without.

Delhi’s High Court observed that the air pollution levels in the national capital have reached “alarming” proportions and it was akin to “living in a gas chamber”. It directed the politicians to now, finally, ultimately, act on the threat the foul air poses in the world’s fifth largest megacity.

The next day, the Delhi government announced that from January 1st, odd-numbered cars will be allowed to ply on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while even-numbered vehicles will run on the other days. (Single female drivers might be excluded, so will ambulances and police cars and taxis).  Schools shall remain closed. Factories moved.

After that, for the first time, I heard a public outcry. So far the vast majority of Delhi’s elite didn’t talk about the toxic air. Air purifiers and mask were something foreigners bought. And only a couple of news channels and newspapers reported extensively. Now, that their everyday life is immediately affected, the people around me start talking about air.

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Left: unused filter of the air purifier in my bedroom. Right: used filter.

 

India Observes Muharram

For Shia Muslims, Muharram marks the death of of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein. He was killed in the Battle of Karbala, now in modern-day Iraq.

The event is marked by ritual acts of mourning by Shia Muslims. They are wearing black and take part in processions that involve an enactment of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein – some participants wail or whip or flagellate themselves to represent his suffering.

Impressions from the street parade south of Kashmiri Gate in Old Delhi

Shahjahanabad at Dawn

A mixture only the Walled City can offer: From the impressive Anglo Arabic Senior Secondary School through the led light area, along the bewildering maze of alleys, with some stops at crumbling havelis (private mansions), till the Kalan Masjid, above pet pigeons are flown above the white domes.

Town Trot: Pre Durga Puja Walk

When the soil is still moist from the monsoon rains, there is a buzz in the air of the Bengali CR Park in Delhi. The most eagerly awaited festival of the community, the extravaganza that is the Durga Puja, is almost here: tents are being set up, clay idols are shaped, handicraft markets are installed.

Please, I just want to order

Ordering on the Indian e-commerce company lenskart took me onto quite a ride – which doesn’t seem to come to an end soon.

After hitting the final button, a message was sent to my phone. Simultaneously I was asked on the computer screen to type in a COD confirmation code.

While I was still typing that, I received an automated call, also asking me to confirm the order. I pressed key number 1.

When my thoughts returned to the code, the phone rang again. This time a real person was on the other end, asking me if I wanted any discount. I didn’t. I wanted my peace.

I finished typing the code. Then the phone buzzed again, this time announcing I did in fact purchase the lenses and the order is processed.

By that time, I had gotten four emails, the first one greeting me and telling me I had placed my order successfully. It further read: “Now sit back and enjoy!”

The second one was exactly the same as number one. Number three and four said they received the “Cash for Delivery” order. I shall note it has been queued for verification. And: “You might receive a call/SMS from us to confirm your order and contact details.”

Noooo!

No Reporterglück

Journalists often have something they call Reporterglück, which translates into reporter’s luck.

Something like when a tram was stuck forever in Hamburg – and my former Chief Editor, Wolfgang Büchner, was inside and able to email a picture of people in the dimly lit wagon to us, so we could sent in on the wire (here).

But sometimes reporter are not lucky at all. Like I was today. Here’s the story.

There is a village in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh called Ramnagar, in the District of Mainpuri. A man who is accused of raping a women in Delhi in his taxi, booked via Uber, grew up in this place.

Indian newspapers reported that everyone in the village knew that the man was roaming around, harassing and raping women, but no one did anything, except of telling the women to stay indoors when he was visiting. (here)

It was also written that a women who claims was raped by him had to leave college and was married off because of the crime against her. Another of his victims apparently wanted to report him to the police, but they told her not to file the case. (here)

In a frenzy, I decided I had to go there. So I looked it up on googlemaps, (and was pleased to see a river close to the place pointed out, as I had seen a river bank in one of the video interviews with the parents of the accused), booked a cab, roped in an interpreter, and off we went.

According to google, it would take us 3 hours and 49 minutes to get there. According to the taxi company, it would take 5 hours. It took us 8 hours.

When we reached the pin on my map, it was pouring. We hopped from one tea stall to the other, where villagers were waiting for a spell in the rain, but only got vague answers. Finally we made out a direction, and continued on the ever narrowing road, between fields full of blooming mustard, cow chips, and hay stacks.

After asking around at more tea stalls, and families gathering on the veranda next to their buffalos, and women at a school, and a man with a tractor, we found Ramnagar. But there, no one knew the man we were looking for.

It dawned on us we were in the wrong place. “Is there another Ramnagar?” we asked. “Many,” we learned.

One, we were told, was close to Chhachha, where we drove next. There we heart it should be more like towards Fatepur. Or back to where we came from?

By that time, my colleague in Delhi had figured out that the Ramnagar we were looking for falls under the Elaau police station. So we called the officers up, and were directed somewhere.

Which turned out to be false again.

Even though we had started at 7.30 am, it had gotten dark by the time we were sent from one point to the other – just to locate the police station. Let alone the village.

So we called it a day.

Needless to say googlemaps failed again when we tried to get to our hotel in Agra. It gave the wrong place, and navigated us in such a back lane, that the car grounded and could move neither forwards nor backwards.

Let’s see what tomorrow has in store for us.

Of Brooms and Sweepers

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: India doesn’t lack sweepers, but has too many people throwing garbage everywhere.

And that was true even before the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was started, the big Indian cleanliness campaign. Since the inauguration on October 2nd, everyone who loves a good picture took a broom in his hand, asked some helpers to drop rubbish on the floor, and swung the stick till the photographer was done clicking.

The Prime Minister himself, Narendra Modi, swept the road. And so did the Heavy Industries Minister, the Civil Aviation Minister, the Minister for Science and Technology, the Minister for Minorities, and so on, and so forth. If that weren’t enough: Every single government office had, by order from the top, to administer a cleanliness pledge.

In fact, thousands of central and state government officials were forced to come to their workplaces for the start of the campaign. And that was, thanks to the Prime Minister, on a national holiday. So no long weekend for all of them.

Needless to say, many people doubt the campaign can be successful. Twitter was full of comments on “Muggle Quidditch” and the appeal to better sweep away corruption. My most favorite comment on the whole thing comes from the political psychologist Ashis Nandy. In an interview with the news website scroll.in, he said about Modi:

“[H]e believes in controlled democracy and wants the world to know India by cities which are spic-and-span. Image is very important to him, that we shouldn’t be considered second-rate by the white-skin or the yellow-skin ones.”

And further: “But some good will come out of this campaign. Government offices are excruciatingly dirty. It is not because they don’t have money. Habits are dirty. People have not learned to look for cleanliness outside their homes. They will pee on the wall. Cleanliness in the public place is not what is understood.”

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