Being part of a jury

Thanks to my great german language skills, I was invited to Bal Bharati Public School in Dwarka which, despite the name, is a private school, to judge pupil’s plays from different schools there.

dancingThey had to act in a mix of English and either French or German, and we had to evaluate both their language as well as their creativity and coherence of the play and so on.

It was great fun, and afterwards we were rewarded with a McDonald’s burger and filled puff pastry. But the best part for me was the dancing before the event. I didn’t know the students learn these traditional dances at school. Gorgeous!

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World’s biggest democracy at work

ticket Lok SabhaIt took me three stamps and four signatures at the multiple security checks, five times of scanning the invitation card and four times frisking to get into Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament of India. Seriously, no exaggeration. Doing it once thoughtfully would serve the purpose of security better, I think, but who am I to give advice? Anyway, the frisking was so inattentive that I was able to smuggle my pen and papers inside.

On the visitor’s gallery literally nothing was allowed. Like choosing your own seat. Or sitting cross-legged. Or whispering. Or taking off your shoes. Every time someone tried, one of the many watchdogs (one for every seven visitors) corrected us sharply and threatened to throw us out. Lucky me there didn’t seem to be a rule against writing. So I could quietly take down notes.

Down below the regulations didn’t seem to be so strict. As soon as the group of parliamentarians from Papua New Guinea – visiting India to see democracy at work – had been welcomed by the speaker, the house fell apart. Everybody was shouting, opposition as well as government parties. I didn’t even understand what the controversy was all about.

Lok SabhaAfter about five minutes most of the parliamentarians quieted down and the question hour could start. Later on Prateep, with whom I visited Lok Sabha, explained to me that this was in fact the first time in the monsoon session – already some weeks old – that the question hour was allowed to be held.

Until this day, parliament was characterized by adjournments – on the first ten days, Lok Sabha lost 88 percent of it’s sitting time. They hardly ever got to work, didn’t pass a single bill, because opposition hindered any kind of discussion by disrupting the house over and over again. Reasons for their shouting and screaming was: the decision on a separate Telangana state, alleged land deals by Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra, Chinese incursions, killing of five Indian soldiers along the Line of Control, mission coal scam files, the hike in fuel prices  and maaaaany other issues.

The speaker already threw 13 people out this session. But what do you do if half the house is agitating?

Night Encounter

I respect women

The tourist industry also got hurt badly by the international news – here’s a desperate move by one tour agency in front of Qutub Minar.

When I rode my bicycle home at around midnight, a young couple on a motorcycle took notice of me. After they overtook me, they slowed down and waited till I had catched up.

Then the young woman – in her early twenties, with a muslim headscarf and  beautiful make-up – shouted at me: “It’s not safe in Delhi!” When I replied that I do feel safe (despite me being more cautious when I see groups of men in the streets, I have to admit), she said: “No, it really isn’t.” Then she advised: “You should go home.”

That is exactly what I fear: The whole media coverage of rapes and the discussion about women’s safety in India is not leading to a safer environment where men rape less women and get conscious of the misogynic society, but to an environment where women hardly dare to go out of the house alone, let alone at night.

Only yesterday I heard of an employer who lost most of his women employees because they sometimes had to work long hours. Now when he is having a job interview, he explains that under no circumstances do they have to stay longer in the office than 5pm – otherwise they won’t take up the job.

Thanksgiving Ardas

“Sukhara / Thanksgiving Ardas will be held during Morning Diwan”, a message from my landlord, who is a Sikh by faith, said. So as I had no clue what either a Sukhara or an Ardas or a Diwan was, I thought I should go to the Gurudwara (Sikh temple) on sunday morning and find out.

Ardas, I got explained, is a Sikh prayer that can be spoken before or after eating. Even though I came nearly an hour late (on purpose, I have to admit), the prayer was still going on. So I sat down on the carpets next to the landlord’s son. I remembered to cover my head inside the Gurudwara, plus I sat properly cross-legged – but on the men’s side. Oops.

langarThe prayer was going on and on, so the landlord’s son and I started to write text messages back and forth. Apparently during a lot of Sikh functions, talking is kind of tolerated, but not on this day. So we kept quiet until everybody got up to go to “Guru ka Langar”.

This obviously I knew. Sikh’s serve free, vegetarian food to everybody present, no matter which religious background, gender, caste, race or social status. Everybody is sitting equal on the floor and the distributors walk along the long lines with big buckets and heaps of bread. Like always in the Sikh communities, I felt welcomed and included. And I had to eat everything that was on my plate.

Fort of Ferozobath

One more tour, much more knowledge: This time Navina Jafa guided me and others through the Khooni Darwaza and Feroz Shah Kotla, explained about a column from 300 BC, talked about the planned cities of Delhi by the Tuglaqas and the Sur Dynasty from Afghanistan, told us enjoyable stories of the odd young djinns in the complex of imposing structures, and showed us one of the heritage stepwells.

When the gridlock eases

Traffic in Delhi often is bumper to bumper, bullock carts are negotiated between huge imported SUVs and reckless driven buses, lane driving is seen as an odd, foreign practice, and the air is black with fumes from the growing amount of the new middle classes’ cars.

That changes after midnight. Then the constant flow of people rushing somewhere eases, the gridlock opens, and even most of the trucks – honking, overloaded, low-geared, multicoloured road behemoths –  that cross the city during the night have passed.

But even though the roads empties in the small hours, this is the time when most fatal accidents happen. I have already seen a share of badly looking ones: A truck driven against a tree, a severe hit into the driver’s side at a crossing, and now an overturned taxi.

overturned taxi

India’s many, but not properly qualified Young

Shashi Tharoor

Shahshi Tharoor speaking at the Gen Next Workforce Summit

India will have 116 million workers in the age bracket of 20 to 24 years, as compared to China’s 94 million, said Shashi Tharoor, Minister of State for Human Resource Development, at the Gen Next Workforce Summit 2013, citing a prediction by International Labour Organisation (ILO). It is further estimated that the average age in India by the year 2020 will be 29 years as against 40 years in the USA, 46 years in Europe and 47 years in Japan. So, according to the Tharoor, this demographic fact has the potential to be the biggest competitive advantage of India in the years to come.

The charismatic political leader also understood to entertain his crowd. He said: “When my children were young  I was told that they were part of Generation X and today as we discuss debate  on the working environment of the next generation that is Generation Y, I wonder what the successors of the next few generations will be called, now that we are nearing the end of the English alphabets! Perhaps from Generation Y we will have a Generation Why Not?”

microphones

the media, trying to catch his every word

Tharoor went on, that the the quality and employability of the vast majority of the graduates in India is both seriously questioned. “I have spoken to CEOs who feel that once you get beyond the top institutions, the graduates they hire from the rest need a year’s remedial education—not on the job training, but a year’s actual education to make up for the deficiencies of what they have learned, or rather not learned, in College.” According to him, that is why Infosys has built a campus in Mysore and TCS in Thiruvananthapuram.

He is also concerned about the enrollment figures: 116% in primary schools, 69% in Class VIII, 39% in Class XI, and only 18% go to College. Students should be free to pursue formal education when they want it in life and the skills they want to acquire.  “This is an overdue need in a country where, for 3000 years, if you wanted to be a cobbler or a carpenter, you had to have a father or an uncle who was a cobbler or carpenter, because no one else was going to teach you.” To Shashi Tharoor, that is why there is a caste system and why sons and daughters of movie stars are movie stars – and the sons and daughters of politicians are politicians.

Difficult task: Peace concert in Kashmir

press conference

ambassador Michael Steiner (m) after the press conference

Zubin Mehta and the Bayerische Staatsorchester (Bavarian State Orchestra) will give a peace concert in the crisis-ridden Indian part of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. I’m really curious what kind of people are going to comprise the audience, especially if, how the german embassador to India, Michael Steiner, put it, “people from all walks of life” are going to come.

One of my concerns is: What they will do if there is a bandh, meaning a complete curfew, as there are so many on so many days in Srinagar? Will the orchestra still play in the Shalimar Bagh, Mughal Gardens, with hardly anyone listening as travelling on the streets might be impossible?

Other questions also arise. According to the official statement, Steiner said (he actually didn’t read it out this way, but anyway): “Music is a universal language. Music connects. With the magic power of music, crossing geographical, political and cultural borders.” But what kind of boarders – can this music actually cross the India-Pakistan border, when people can hardly get to the other side? Will the normal, “all walks of life” people from Pakistan really be allowed to come over for the concert?

For me there is also the problem of how to cover the event. I’m not capable at all to write about the musical skills when listening to the works of Beethoven, Haydn and Tchaikovsky. So do I focus on the conflict between the nuclear-armed South Asian rivals, who have fought two of three wars over Kashmir since gaining independence from Britain in 1947? Or the communal and religious tensions in the Indian part, which over and over again turn into violence?

When it rains in Delhi …

… the water often doesn’t know where to go. 90mm in 90 minutes, this fills up the streets pretty quick – and people either have to stay indoors or wade through it. Or try to drive, and hope the car doesn’t drown. Or push the bicycle / motorbike / car. Anyway, getting around becomes rather difficult.

And the next day, dozens or hundreds or thousands of people line the streets with their shovels and brooms and clean the streets of mud and earth. I haven’t seen a single street sweeper so far, these vehicles one can drive around with. After being here for 11 month now (oh gosh, eleven!), I still can’t believe how cheap labour must be so that a machines doesn’t pay off.

drowned

view from the terrace at my office

Onions on Rakhi

Today is one more of India’s oh so many semi public holidays: the Hindu festival Raksha Bandhan, or short Rakhi. Sisters tie sacred threads around their brothers wrists for their protection – so the bond between them is celebrated. Brothers in return offer a gift to their sisters.

Yashwant Sinha, a senior politician, said a couple of days ago: When my sisters come to me to tie ‘rakhi’ i will give them onions instead of Gold or Silver.

onions

I did it – I bought some of the expensive vegetables.

Amidst soaring prices, especially in food, onions have once again become a symbol for inflation. Most Indians are using onions in basically every meal, and some form of bread with onion is regarded as a basic diet for the poor.

Besides their importance of being staple food, onions are also a yardstick of how happy Indians are when they go to the market. Local media are reporting that it’s inability to control onion prices had led the Bharitya Janata Party (BJP) to lose power in Delhi in 1998. Since then it has failed to return.

Now the ruling UPA coalition is under fire, because the volatile onion price climbed to 80 Rupees per kilogram (about 1 Euro). People started protesting on the streets, wearing necklaces made out of onions. In Jamshedpur in Jharkhand, a tyre seller was giving away free onions as a mark of protest against the rising prices.

The main opposition party BJP took the opportunity to catch some votes and sold onions at a reduced price of INR 20 per kg to slum dwellers in Bhopal. The ruling parties, in an attempt to secure their power, are selling onions through mobile fair-priced shops, for example in West Bengal and the capital. Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit wants to bring down the prices to 25-30 Rupees.

Even imports from the unfriendly neighbour states Pakistan and China were considered – despite the ongoing ceasefire violations at the Line of Control. And newspapers are printing onion-free recipes (“No onion? No need to shed tears!“)

Onions are also trending topic on twitter over and over again. @prash_Shuks wrote: “Today no one is worried about rising prices of petrol, thanx to #onion policy of our govt.” And @anuradha_kush is lashing out on both, the onion price and the crumbling rupee: “What rupee is falling, rupee is falling? Look at the bigger picture. Even our onion is more valuable than their dollar.”

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