Culture shock, the other way round

After a tightly regulated drop-off at the Zurich Airport (5 min max – otherwise the car driver gets charged), a high-end self check-in (one even has to affix the baggage tab) and a super smooth, fast and reliable security check, I obviously had to secretly compare the Swiss (respectively German) standards to what I know from Delhi.

Innumerable people had also asked me in recent days: What struck you on your return to Germany?

To be honest, it’s not that much. Foremost, I felt and saw darkness. People, for example, like to wear black clothes, and nothing but black (well, every now and then, a blue jeans or a sombre beige is standing out). The sky prefers to obtain all shades of grey, and the fact that it gets dark at 4pm also doesn’t help.

Public display of things that remain private in India also catch my eye: the guy drinking a bottle of beer and staggering along the train station, a couple kissing intensely, someone (not belonging to the lower classes) openly lighting a cigarette, young people singing out on the way to the next party.

And no one is staring at me. Initially, I felt a little disappointed. Not outstanding anymore because of my skin colour, no one took notice of me. But after a while, I started feeling comfortable being just one in a million again. We’ll see how I’m going to feel back in Delhi.

Art in the Park

How Bollywood influences Indian society

I had a very interesting interview today with an Indian film critic, Suparna Sharma. Unfortunately I could only put one of her quotes into my dpa story. As this didn’t do justice to her elaborate thoughts, I decided to publish the rest here. Enjoy.

There is no doubt that lead female characters in Bollywood films are mostly pretty props to delight not just the men, but increasingly to cater to women as well. They have perfect skins, gorgeous hair, lavish designer clothes, concave stomachs and the silouete of apsaras (celestial nymphs). They are perfect creatures for product placement.

And this hasn’t changed for a 100 years. But neither has the male character(s). We still have the angry young man, the eternal lover, the superman, with the same, age-old compulsions.

As a society, as a culture, we are today almost anti-nuance, anti-intellectual, as you see in the debate about sexual harassment, rape etc. Kill the rapists is the general reaction. We seek retribution, not justice. And that’s exactly what Indian cinema has portrayed for years. This hasn’t changed on ground, and is unlikely to change in cimena.

In two landmark rape films – Insaaf ka Tarazoo (the man who was a rapist in that film is now a politician, Raj Babbar), and Ankush – the rapists are killed, and in one the raped woman commits suicide. It’s this narrative, the linking of a woman’s and her family’s honour with her body that needs to change – not just in cinema, but on the gound as well.

Today a lot of responsibility for the treatment of women is pegged on cinema. People assume that it will somehow have an impact on how men act – that reasoning is screwed.

This strange link – man sees item number/sexy female on screen and this titilates him and thus he may go out and rape – doesn’t just reduce men to unthinking criminal imbeciles and reduces rape merely to a physical, sexual act, but also questions the woman’r right to show her body the way she wants to, to wear what she wants.

It’s an extension of the old patriarchal argument that women must not be seen – that they are things that tempt men and are thus best kept in burqas, purdahs, ghunghats, squarely placing the responsibility on the woman for the man’s criminal act.

In Bollywood movies, women unquestionable get shitty roles, without real jobs. And that won’t change for a while, I don’t see it happening for years to come. There is an audience responsibility as well: People love stories of complicated relationships and love triangles. If they keep on watching them, this is what they will get.

Cinema, after all, is a mass medium, it is made to entertain. Even if films are portraying women as CEOs of big companies, the ground situation is not going to change.

We are gaining strength

We might not be the most powerful road users. But we are getting stronger, at least in numbers. Today a fellow Parkour group member told me: He was so inspired by my bicycle riding that he got a bicycle for himself and now pedals to our lessons all the 15 kilometers from East Delhi.

Also acceptance seems to grow. Less and less people frown when I tell them I cycle to work. And as Avikal Somvanshi in an article rightly points out: on the road we are all the same. “Delhi roads are unforgiving to everyone; in fact, they have even upped their cruelty against our holy cows.”

Compared to others on the road, cyclists are actually the gentlest drivers, the ones least prone to fatal accidents, and the fastest during rush hours. Plus they safe fuel for the sake of their wallet and the global health – and they don’t even need a gym.

I also get my regular adrenaline rush through cycling. Today I managed to fling my yoga mat into my spokes and dived through the air before I rolled sideward to get out of the way for my bicycle to land. Nothing happened. But again I felt like I’m still more 13 than 30.

Addition on 25.01.2014: A friend of mine, a lawyer, also bought a bicycle. At least twice a week he rides it to High Court, makes his way through the compound (no vehicles allowed) till the main entrance and locks it onto the staircase. When a senior lawyer complained, my friend asked where the designated bicycle parking area is supposed to be – he is still allowed to chain it there.

Shahjahanabad through my new 70-200mm lens

Street Art from Colombia in Delhi

Colombian Street Artist Stinkfish

Call a friend and not an ambulance

ambulanceIn case of an accident, an injury or any other serious health condition, I would always call a friend instead of an ambulance. Chances are high he or she is easier to reach, less occupied, faster at the spot and more reliable.

Proof for this theory I saw this morning at a red light. An old, spluttering ambulance crawled up from behind, the siren not working (or not switched on), the emergency light shining faintly. The driver honked, but no one gave way. Only when the co-driver jumped out of the car and chased the other cars away, had the ambulance the space to get through.

‘Still Dirty’ – Jeet Thayil

The – quite rightly so – highly celebrated Indian poet, novelist, librettist and musician Jeet Thayil presented his new music video in Delhi. Called ‘Still Dirty’, it is a tribute to Berlin, the city that – other than Delhi – celebrates it’s filth and dreck. In my most favourite district, @Neukoelln2Null just discovered the graffiti: “Keep your neighbourhood dirty”. And his new track is likely “murky and draggy”, Thayil said.

Before showing us the music video, in which the expressive Thayil wears ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ like aviator sunglasses, he shared some of his thoughts about Berlin, where he stayed for nearly three month during his tour through Europe.

Jeet Thayil

Jeet Thayil (l) in conversation with Robin Mallik, Director Programmes South Asia of Goethe Institute

“I was unprepared that in Kreuzberg you actually live in the 3rd world – unlike Munich or Paris. The graffiti tell you that,” he said. From his hip flat, provided by his publishers, and nearly empty safe for the three huge, framed photographs of factories (“factories!”), he could see a former squat across the road. “I wish the graffiti there would at least have been good graffiti. But the weren’t!” Nobody had made the effort to practice before spraying, Thayil complained.

Initially Thayil felt “solitude and isolation” in Berlin. “But when I left, I felt loyality. Like everybody who lives there for some length of time.” Berlin isn’t easy to like, he went on. “Because history is constantly looking in your face. The streets are not built for humans, they are built for tanks.” But to live there it is like going out with the person no one liked at High School. One starts to like the other – and then would defend him or her against everybody.

The closest metro station to his flat was Herrmannplatz, which happens to be one of Berlin’s drug selling points – Thayil himself was addicted for nearly thirty years. “Having seen junkies in many parts of the world, I was surprised to see that in Germany even the junkies are on schedule”, he said. They would only be at Herrmannplatz between noon and 5.30pm, because then they would go to have dinner.

He was also surprised when one day he saw police talking to the junkies. Finally they got busted, and order will be restored, he thought. But as it turned out, one junkie had stolen the other one’s mobile phone, and the police was only there to reclaim his belongings.



The German Embassador in Kashmir

Today, the German Ambassador to India once again visited Kashmir. He donated  a mini solar plant plus a TV system to a remote village in Baramulla District that has no electricity supply. Michael Steiner and the villagers watched a sequence of the Kashmir concert the Embassy had organised in a Mughal Garden in nearby Srinagar in August.

Reading this in the embassy’s press release, several questions came to my mind.

Why should the German Embassy plunder it’s treasures to give away such presents? Isn’t the expansion of infrastructure the task of the local or national government? And even if Germany is investing here: Don’t we have development aid agencies for that like the German Society for International Cooperation (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, GIZ) or the Reconstruction Credit Institute (Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau, KfW)?

And why does the Ambassador want to watch a concert of western classical music with the poeple – an event that was highly controversal in the valley and upset many people? The concert was widely criticised as being elite VIP entertainment. Entry was only by invitation – so a few enjoyed the music while many more suffered due to the road blocks, checks and other heavy security measures in an area that already is one of the most militarised regions in the world. Strikes were called out and shops remained shuttered out of protest.

But there is another possibility. Maybe Steiner heard the outcry and the threats the separatist groups issued – and he finally listens and starts to interact with the civil society he formerly neglected. I’d like to hope so.

One person in the house likes mud more than the others

dirty shoes

After crawling through dirty gras, spinning on trees, jumping over benches and clinging onto walls – in short: getting dirty in the parkour lesson – I wanted to get back home. But half of Lodhi Gardens got closed during the training for the Japanese Emperor, who leisurly strolled through the park.

And this being India, not one of the dozens, if not hundreds, of security guys could tell me which gates were open to exit. So I had to take a loooong walk around half of the park.

Hopefully at least the new lawns and flowers, planted the night before for the royal visit, will remain after the Emperor left – to delight others as well.

Delhi Encounters

(Daily) News from Delhi

Experience - The Blog by Ash Bhardwaj

Culture. Travel. Physicality

India Real Time

Unique analysis and insights from The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires on the daily news in the world's largest democracy

India Ink

(Daily) News from Delhi