A bad sign on the roadside?

Initially I didn’t find time to go to the demonstrations. But finally on the 30th of December I drove towards Jantar Mantar, where the protesters gathered, the thousands that came onto the streets to fight for justice for the girl who was brutally assaulted and gang-raped two weeks earlier. And who died the day before. But they also came to shout slogans to hang all rapists or tp sterilise them. Others demonstrated for more women’s rights. The situation was tense. Some feared it could get out of hand again – then police would for sure not hesitate to use batons, water cannons and pepper spray as they did before.

Close to the spot, I found a dead and stripped bird. A disturbing sight. I lay there, dumped on the roadside, naked -just like the 23 year old girl. Fortunately I’m not superstitious, shrugged it off and went on.

dead bird

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Entering the great lawns

Hyderabad House

The national and international press was invited by minister of external affairs, Salman Khurshid, onto the lawns of Hyderabad House, where on other days state visits take place. I couldn’t miss out on that – also because I was hungry.

Food turned out to be great. But the talk with the minister wasn’t. Journalists surrounded him, as soon as he came to the tents. We were all eager to hear what he had to say about the brutal gang rape (at that time the victim had been brought with grave injuries to Singapore but was said to be alive still).

We asked: Was it a political decision to fly her out? Is there a new civil movement evolving on the streets? How patriarchal is India’s society? Have women in this country ever before fought in such masses for their rights? How does he think foreign countries perceive what is as going on around India Gate?

The minister didn’t really give a single answer. He also didn’t seem to care. He looked like someone who feels safe in his world, untouched by what was happening on India’s streets. Like so many politicians, he obviously wasn’t able to connect to the middle class, let alone the people in the countryside.

Did he not realise this could change India’s society? Or did he assume that this wave will roll over the ruling class and vanish like all the others before? Looked like he wanted to shake it off and move on.

When you don’t have a roof

… you are happy when you are able to built a shelter. And it’s easier when the tarpaulin is not only supported by loose bricks, but by a real wall. Or a mosque. Or a tomb. Or a heritage site. As it happens in Hauz Khaz. One side of the dwelling, which is a kind of standalone village in the moloch Delhi, has developed into an upper class residential and commercial area with boutiques and art galleries. But on the backside, poor people use the structures of medieval buildings. These mosques and tombs are overlooking a once lovely lake from the 13th century – but Delhi doesn’t seem to have the money to invest into preserving these treasures.

heritage site

How I fell off the bike

living traffic block

It wasn’t the big fat elephant on the street. Nor the horrible bus driver that didn’t take into consideration what happens with the length of his vehicle when he turns left while overtaking me. I also wasn’t hit by one of the crazy auto-rickshaw-wallas or their tricycle counterparts.

All I needed to fall off my bicycle were some cards with vocabulary on them and a wide trouser. So here is the story: When I was late for my hindi lesson (foolish), I biked quite fast (foolish) with my fixie (foolish) while learning vocabulary (very foolish) without having my hands at the handle bar (absolutely foolish). And then the trouser’s right leg, which I had rolled up, got loose and I decided it would be enough to roll it back up again at the next street light (damn foolish).

So when going downhill after a bridge, the trouser’s leg got caught in the gear-wheel. Because I drive a fixie, the wheel wouldn’t stop. So I got pulled to the front-right – and because my hands didn’t hold the bar, I landed straight on the floor, hitting the tar hard with the helmet.

Now, having let pass one day, I can raise an inventory: a minor headache, a shin barked, a bruise at the hip bone, one more at the elbow, small abrasions at hand and finger plus a dragging pain in the neck and in the right upper arm. “It’ll all be gone until you marry”, my grandparents used to say to such kind of injuries.

When falling, I remember that my first thought was: “I don’t want to end up being in one of the public hospitals in Delhi.” Sad but true.  I had heard and read too much about ambulances that don’t arrive for ages and an oxygen supply that ran out of oxygen because someone forgot to change the bottles in the cellar. And no nurse or doctor was there to save the patients when the alarm went off.

Anyway, I was fine, more or less. But when I lumped to collect my bicycle, not a single car on the four lane road stopped to help me or inquire if I’m okay.  Only an auto-rickshaw driver stopped ten meters ahead, but didn’t come out. Looked like he sniffed a chance to make some money when getting me home or into a hospital. Even more sad, but also true.

If the founder of that company spoke any English?

they produce ice creams

they produce ice creams

Reasons to come to Varanasi

Dipping, submerging, pouring, splashing, spraying. The holy water of the Ganges seems to be good for everthing. Hindus flock to Varanasi, the spiritual capital of India, to indulge in extensive water activities. Including drinking and cooking. I hope I didn’t try, because everywhere untreated sewage water flows into the river. Believers don’t care. Several times I got told that the holy water of the Ganges is perfectly clean. In fact, it is so holy, it can’t get dirty.

Getting lured

I wanted to write a story about the sari weavers of Varanasi and how their products are sold less and less because Indians buy cheap garments from neighbouring china (even though most people would never admit they do). To find out if they sell chinese goods even in the handicraft town itself, I went into one of the shops.

But then the story got cancelled. And I started to like the fabrics. I tried more and more and really got convinced that this softness is special. So in the end I bought a scarf for me and one for my mother and my sister. For my dad I found two cups made out of marble. Well, at least I had christmas presents now.

skilful salesman

Smile!

You think marriage is a happy time? Seems like in India it’s not for the couples. While the familiy members I saw in Varanasi were dancing and having a good time, the two in the centre of all the spectacle trotted along and looked more depressed than joyful. I can understand the women. From now on they have to live with the husband’s family and are at their mercy, need to clean, to cook, to wash according to the wishes of these strangers.

A colleague told me she once saw a women in a village who was not allowed to speak to the mother-in-law unless she is asked a question. While the visitors were present, she was standing in the corner of the hut, facing the wall. This subordination will only change the day she gives birth to her first son.

“sacred” Varanasi

The spirit that is said to be present in this holy city was not perceptible for me. I disliked Varanasi from the beginning – even though I had a lovely, airy room overlooking the river ganges.

room with a view

But as soon as I stepped outside and walked along the Ghats (big steps into the water for religious bathing), the harrassment began. Decades of tourists that flocked here in their millions gave the locals the deep knowledge that  they can get money from the visiters if they are only persistent enough. And so no meter at the rim of the ganges is walked without someone agressively offering a boat, a chai, a restaurant, or flowers, pictures, nuts.

shaving

shavings are also on offer for the mourning

And then there are all the holy people, the ones that are holy, the ones that want to become holy (and for that purpose sit at the river for hours in weird poses), the ones that pretend to be holy and the poor children that are forced to become holy. Add to that the ones that at least feel inspired and enriched and energised.

little monks

But just because Varanasi is a holy site, it doesn’t mean people are not throwing away their rubbish. Or the city is able to built funcionable waste-water treatment plants. Or men are not peeing at the houses and temples. Actually it is closento impossible to walk along the ganges at any given time and not to have the pungent smell of urine in the nose. Trickles of pee stain the stones everywhere.

old rickshaws

playing alongside the rubbish

Even the Hindu ceremony at the waterfront at night that is supposed to be really beautiful didn’t touch me because it all looked commercial and not holy at all. One apparently holy guy in an orange robe came up to me while I was sitting at the ghat and offered me some food. First I thought it is a nice gesture. His group seemed to be feeding everyone who wanted a share, giving out rice and vegetables from enormous pots. But then, after talking a while, I realised he wanted me to stay in his place. And pay for it, of couse.

ceremony at Gangam

more ceremony at Gangam

So the only thing I was really getting along with in Varanasi were the cows. Maybe this spot is perceived as being so holy because so many of these animals are roaming the streets. Or it’s the other way round: Here they are left alone and not carted out of the city in an attampt to clear the streets and alleys. Or they are fed especially good by the pilgrims.

Whatever the reason: Whereever one goes, they are there. Even at the buring ghat, where grieving relatives set fire to their beloved ones. If they don’t watch out, for sure one of the water buffalos comes along and steels the garlands of flowers that are placed around the dead bodies.

flower cow

hideout cow

Varanasi – what will await me?

Varanasi? This is what other called the city (and so made me so curious I’m going there tonight):

Benares, city of temples, holiest of the seven sacred cities, the oldest living city on earth, cultural center of North India, spiritual capital of India, city of Ramcharitmanas, place of one of the largest universities of Asia – city of learning, religious capital of India, city of lights.

old women

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