How Police tries to get the Traffic under Control

I laughed very hearty and very long this morning when I opened the newspapers. Delhi Police tries to get the traffic under control – not by actually controlling more, but by posting advertisements that explain basic traffic rules. Most of them are so basic that my tears of laughing turned into tears of sadness. My favourite piece says: “Don’t change lanes without a reason. And without indicating.” If police would actually try to enforce this rule, they would have to stop every single road user. Including me.

Now I also have an idea why the traffic actually  is that chaotic. The Chief Operating Officer of Delhi’s only taxi service for women by women told me that practicing on the road with a teacher when you want to obtain a driver’s license is not mandatory. And lessons in theory are only compulsory on paper. “If you give me 2000 rupees, I can get you a driver’s licence by next week”, she said and snaps her fingers. “Like this.”

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My new Flatmate

My terrace is so lush and lovely, that a bird decided to choose it as a nesting place. It already laid two eggs and is guarding them day and night – as long as I don’t come too close with my camera and scare it away. Sometimes it currs in a lovely tone, but so far I didn’t see it’s partner bringing some food.

birdy

The only female auto rickshaw driver in Delhi

Sunita Chaudhry drives men and women, day and night. “The more problems you face, the harder you get,” she says. After hearing her story of how she became Delhi’s only female auto rickshaw driver, I guess she must be granite by now.

Born into a Jat family – a peasant caste known for it’s temper – she left her village when she was 16 and tried to make her way in Delhi. But in the capital, she explains, you either need money or good education or a family that supports you. She had neither. So she had two options left: “You can do wrong things or work very hard.” She opted for the second one.

“But in the beginning I could’nt find work,” she explains. So it finally was “a necessity” to turn to an auto rickshaw. But no one took her seriously. Three years she fighted before she got a licence. “But I never give up.” After obtaining her yellow-green vehicle, the others drivers cut the curtains and stabbed her tires. “The world slaps you and tells you a lection,” she comments. But finally, when they realised she wouldn’t leave, they accepted her.

Sunita Chaudhry

When the 35 year old drives around, she doesn’t carry pepper spray or a gun. “I don’t use that. I don’t like that,” she says. Not even at night, when she picks up people at 1 am from the airport or at 2 am from the New Delhi railway station and drives them into every area they want to go, because otherwise she fears loosing her licence.

It seems her licence and her auto is all she cares for. When she curves with a tight grip on the bar through Delhi’s chaotic traffic, clad in white trousers, a spotless shirt and 10-cm pumps, and then starts speaking about mud, she doesn’t mean splashes on her clothes in the open three-wheeler, but the motor which could falter due to the wetness.

Can she conduct small repairs? “Sure!” She even owns her auto rickshaw now. In the beginning she rented one for 300 rupees a day, but after she wrote a lot of letters to the transport departement, the president of India and Sheila Dikshit, Delhi’s chief minister, she finally got a special loan with which she could finance it. Sunita isn’t married. “The auto is my home and my partner.”

So far she never got hurt, she says, even though a lot of people start drinking as soon as the sun sets. “But one or two times I had to kick a passenger.”

Sunita at India Gate

Delhi Wallbook

You want to know what Delhi’s youth thinks? Well, go to the North Campus of Delhi University. More than five hundred artist, most of them students, have today painted a one kilometer long stretch of wall there. They picture a society plagued with social evils such as bribery, crime against women, ineffetiveness of CCTV, public urinating and showmanship. Impressive!

I’m a lover of street art, because it takes art from the galleries and museum, where only few people see it, into the public spaces, where it hits the unprepared eye of every passerby. So far there wasn’t much street art in Delhi. Maybe some of these graphic artists and painters now also brighten up other neighbourhoods.

How much space does a person need?

A colleague just moved into a flat close to mine. It’s in a new, four storey building with a lift and lot of glass and high ceilings and nice stone floors. The ground floor is reserved for cars – but so far no cars are there. The rooftop terrace is reserved for him. Here he has ample space to lie in the sun without being seen, he can built a bar here and on the other side he can set up his fitness equipment – and then there is still enough space left for a game of soccer. He even has articicial grass there now, so it is nice to the feet.

The flat itself is enormous: a long stretched living room in which his two by three meter couch looks tiny. There is a large guestroom with balcony and attached bathroom, a sleeping room with attached balcony and bathroom, a music room with bathroom and a big kitchen (next to bathroom number four). 130 square meters, he says.

I went there because the sister of my maid is looking for a job and the new colleague is looking for a maid. After we had seen the impressive terrace, the impressive rooms and the impressive parking places, we went to see the servant quarters. They are built in the last corner of the rooftop. Only covered by a corrugated sheet (so it will get unbearable hot in the summer). With a raw concrete floor. Six square meters big. Without windows.

n-IMG_2469

Yuck!

my terrasse

Sigh. I was so looking forward to a day on my terrasse, lounging on the sofa in the sun and reading all the books I brought home from the Jaipur Literature Festival (well, at least starting with one of them).

But then two days ago the temperatures began to climb – and at this time of the year this means heavy showers. A windy, wet, ugly, gray weekend with hailstorms. Well, thanks.

Good thing though: When it’s bucketing down, the police doesn’t control at the road blocks (what they normally do at night in upmarket areas, especially after the deadly gang-rape), but now the policemen look for (often humble) shelters or stay in their cars. So an Indian friend could drive me home – even though he doesn’t have an license.

Signs you only need in India

signs you only need in India

Turning point?

It’s two month now after the deadly gang rape of the 23-year-old woman on a moving bus in Delhi. Did India change? What did the massive protests do to the society? And did the broad discussion trigger anything in how women are perceived by men and how safe they feel in India?

I just went through my notes from the Jaipur Literature Festival and wrote something about the strong women’s voices I heard during these days here (day 1) and here (day 2) and here (day 3). A formulation that comes up again and again is the “turning point” this incident apparently marked.

“The boil is coming”, said author and feminist Rohini Nilekani for example. Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, who won an oscar for her documentary on acid attacks in Pakistan, told me: “I have hope for tomorrow.” And political analyst Shobhaa De spoke of a “wake-up call”.

Personally I’m not so sure anymore. Recently, when a whole bunch of journalists were sitting together, someone tossed the question onto the table, if we think this indeed will prove to be a turning point. An awkward and helpless silence followed.

India has only two years ago seen people rising in their tens of thousands against corruption. Now every now and then Arvind Kejriwal accuses someone, but no one seems to listen anymore. Last year throngs of people protested against the liberalisation of the wholesale retail market. When the parliament voted on the bill, the protesters seemed to have already forgotten.

Looks like as if the latest provocateur also didn’t lead to a substantial change.

two women

Women’s work in the village Sirohi

predominantly moslem community

Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur, Varanasi, Maha Kumbh, … – it was about time for me to leave the big cities behind and explore the countryside. So I asked the volunteers of the Skilled Samaritan Foundation if they would take me to the village where they are trying to empower women. And they did!

From the last metro station at Badarpur it was a 45 minute ride in an auto-rikshaw through bumpy and dug up city roads before we reached Sirohi in Haryana. A predominantly moslem community where many people are out of work since the government declared mining in the surrounding hills illegal.

children in the dust

The volunteers I went with – during the week they are college students – conducted a survey in all the houses of the village, asked for work (mainly truck drivers and daily labourers), the amount of children (up to twelve) and if they go to school, income (mostly irregular) and special skills.

They came up with the plan to teach the women sewing and stitching so that they can sell garment products in handicraft markets. When I went with them, the 19-year-old students tried to assess if the women are willing to come to the local school for a course.

collecting data

All went well, they even found some women who are very knowledgable and could teach the others – like that they didn’t even had to pay for a professional teacher. But some men thwart the plan by denying their wifes or daughters or stepdaughters to leave the house.

We are talking about daytime. In the same village, basically around the corner. Accompanied by another woman. To earn money. But still: no.

ruling in the house

At one of the houses the women brought big bunches of branches on their heads while the men were sitting on chairs and chatting. When I asked why only the women work, the answer was: “Yes, only women work. They carry the wood five kilometers.”

Later I asked the 32-year-old Madina, which of her six sons and daughters (between 3 and 17 years old) help her with the cooking and washing and cleaning. She said: “All of them.” Then we probed into it again. All of them? The boys make roti? She laughed. No, of course not, the boys have fun and go to school, she clarified.

firewood

The big day (well, not for me)

dressed up for the wedding

Indian dress – even though I got told it doesn’t look like one

And finally the big wedding day of my landlord’s daughter came. Celebrations had been going on for days.  Serpents of lights are crawling all over the place to welcome new guests that keep on flocking in. Drummers in front of the house were beating the rythm to my fingers smashing the keyboard. Nicely dressed women rush in and out.

The bride’s father’s sister brought me to the Gurudwara. In the wedding hall next to it I met hundreds of relatives and ate kilos of food before the big thing even started. The groom finally arrived on a horse (two hours late, but hey, it’s India) and had to sit on a Diwan.

groom

Then we removed our shoes, covered our heads and went into the Gurudware itself. The couple had do walk around the holy book four times and do all other sorts of things I forgot the words for. A lovely aunt explained everthing to me and gave me at least an idea what it is all about.

Poor groom and bride: The weeklong celebrations were only half of it. Because it is a love marriage between a Sikh and a Hindu family, they have to go through the rituals of the other religion as well. Otherwise one side would the two not consider being actually married.

reception of barat

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