Things to know about Republic Day parade

Republic Day rocket launcher

Republic Day is when India shows all it’s military might on the widest road Delhi has to offer, and when the nation can boast about it’s achievements. (Originally though it was the day the constitution came into force back in 1950.)

Republic Day, camels

It’s also the day when people applaud stuntmen on motorbikes and soldiers with big funny hats marching in step, swinging their arms simultaneously, resembling rows of jumping-jacks.It might be the only day of the year when the public can listen to marching bands that’s musicians – other than at weddings – actually know how to play – even the clarinet and the bagpipe (the amount british influence is simply unbelievable; I didn’t see any Indian instruments at this day). Another treat for the audience: They can admire at the cultural heritage of the country, jammed on a couple of floats.

Republic Day, culture

But to be allowed to the spectacle at Rajpath in the heart of Delih, one is “requested not to bring” (meaning: DON’T YOU DARE) the following items: bags, brief cases, food (actually, the wrote “eatable”), radios, tape recorders (do they still exist?), palm-top computers (whats’s that? and what about other computers?), remote controlled car lock keys (and how shall we lock the car then?), arms and ammunition, daggers, explosives (oh, really!), water bottles (but no water was available inside, and everybody was sitting there for hours), cigarettes, bidi (as if this weren’t a cigarette), perfume, handicams (???), wires, and so on, and so forth.

Republic Day, pencils rocket launcher But: to “establish the identity”, everybody needs an identity card, like a passport – or a weapon licence. No joke.

Well, anyway, Nikoleta and I got in, with our mobile phones tucked away in the underwear. Unfortunately the big camera had to be left behind, as even all my waving around with my press identity card didn’t help (often it does, as it has a very impressive government stamp, but this time the security guys were unrelenting… well I didn’t try to bribe them).

So after seeing a lot of mitary uniforms and more uniforms and even more uniforms I went back to where my bicycle was standing – but it wasn’t there anymore. With all my Hindi scraped together I asked the policemen who were standing around, and found out they took it away – because someone could have placed a bomb inside! (The frame has diameter of not even 3cm, and it weights less than 8kg, but what to do.)

Republic Day, jet

I was told to wait, so I waited, but then other policemen came running towards me, telling me to get out of the roundabout where I was sitting. When I refused to go, as I was told to wait, they pushed me with their guns. We argued back and forth, and finally they made me sit down together with another bunch of people. The armed men guarded us, weapon at the ready, like we were criminals – until the motorcade with the president had passed by, and all the tension suddenly vanished. They very friendly even apologised. “We are only doing out job, madam,” one said. Note: Never come in the way of the VVIPs.

Republic Day, sealOne police guy who spoke some English and made it a point to help me, told me to walk over to Tuqlaq Road Police Station. So I walked there, passing dozens or even hundreds of very bright seals on gutters, locks, lampposts, doors… you name it. The whole area was secured, square kilometer for square kilometer.

At the police station, I was told to go to the “women’s help desk” – mine was not a women’s issue, but well, it helped anyways as the policewomen spoke some English. But first, I had to drink some tea. Then once I had relaxed, she had talked to ten other people, I told her the story of my bicycle again. Her problem was, what held her from filing some papers: I didn’t know the number of the bike frame. It didn’t matter I told her ten times the bike is very colourful and unique in Delhi and I have the key to the lock.

I was lucky once more as a guy walked in who overheard my story and knew about the bike. The traffic police on the spot hat brought it back to the roundabout – and the information to go to Tuqlaq Police Station was actually wrong, I was supposed to stay. Well, now the prpblem was solved. A very senior and gentle policeman, accompanied by a young policewomen (you can’t let a woman alone with a man in India) drove me back in a police car. And I was reunited with my bicycle.

Republic Day, horsesAfter that we lived happily ever after. And the police never demanded a fine from me, even though I parked the bicycle in the security zone. Nor was someone angry about my being so stupid and leaving it there. In fact, I found the police to be very nice (apart from the incident when the men secured the ground for the president – but hey: nothing is more important in India than the VVIPs).

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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.

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.

Home Delivery

home deliveryThat’s how I got my new plant for the terrace. These guys drive around the neighbourhood, one of them with brooms, the next one with stools and the third with little trees and shrubs. Very convenient, I must say. There’s even one with a handcart who brings fruits of all kind, including very ripe and delicious mangos. It’s a pity the season is now drawing to a close.

The Bus Driver is honest at least…

break down

… or is it a command? Does the bus try to force me to quit, as I was on my way back from an extremely exhausting 2,5h parkour training? Well, it then only inspired me to pedal harder.

Colour to colour

rangili and peacock… beauty to beauty. Did I ever tell my bicycle has a name? “Rangili”, my Hindi teacher named it. I still don’t really know what that means. “rang” is colour, “rangeena” would  be coloured, “rang-birang” apparently is colourful.

Someone put the magazin “mom & me” on my bike

mom & me

 

…so what does that imply? In India, you are not supposed to believe in coincidences. “Everything happens for a reason,” people tell me all the time. Or: “This happened because you wanted it to happen. You chose this way once, even if you don’t remember it now.”

The good thing though: This means I also can achieve everything if I project it. Just have to figure out how….

 

 

 

Delhi by bike – Yamuna Tour

A tour to the dead river. Gas bubbles ascend to the dark surface, a man on a self-made raft fishes out enough rubbish to survive on it. Our guide explained that the seagulls only live here because the people along the riverbank give them grains – no living fish is said to be found here.

Mythologically, I got explained, a sip of Yamuna shall make one lose fear of death. What foresight: Nowadays it’s so polluted, one could actually die when drinking.

Sad thing is: Because the ground-water level dropped sharply in the last decades, most of Delhi’s drinking water is now provided by Yamuna. And we all doubt the water treatment plant are working properly. The other way round they for sure don’t: Most of Delhi’s waste water flows into Yamuna untreated.

How I got caught

rangili

When I ride my bike around Delhi, I normally use the way that googlemaps comes up with. Like that I happen to use roads that are not built for these slim tyres and roads that are 12-lanes-highways. But anyway, it normally works.

Once I follow a given route, I don’t like to deviate. Even when I see police blocking the street. So when they stood in my way, I wriggled through the road blocks and drove on – only to see after a while that the road was blocked on the other side as well. And scores of protesters behind them.

When I reached the yellow barriers, I tried to talk the policemen into letting me slip through because I was reluctant to go back. But then the angry and violent protesters broke through at one side and were hunted down by the police. So no one dared to open for me.

I turned back and overtook the running protesters and the policemen who chased them. When I reached the other side, all former gaps were now closed. And no one wanted to open because the angry man came running behind me. I pleaded – and finally some women pietied me.

Fleeing the beach

I’m just not the beach type of person. At least not one that sprawls on the sand for days, the only stress being to turn the pages of a book. So I hired a bicycle – what else? – and explored the surroundings.

my bike for a day

Unfortunately the beach road from Negombo to Colombo runs behind a big dune most of the time, bereaving me of nice views. People’s houses line up along the road on that tight stretch of land between the sea and a lagoon, so I got to know all kind of living arrangements in that area. And also where locals go once they die:

beach cementery

 

the crow and the wave

The burial place seemed to be pretty christian on that predominantely buddhist island. I also saw only two temples and one mosque on my route, but at least ten churches. Plus: tons of nativity sets. They literally lined the roads. Most of them elaborate, on a special platform, with real gras grown on it. And almost always the crib figurines had to climb up a steep road to baby Jesus. Would really like to know why.

crip 1

 

crip 2

And – being me – I had to read every sign I saw (most of the time I really could do so, because next to Singhala and Tamil they were also written in English). Most of them weren’t so different from what I knew. But the tsunami sign made me wonder: Where to go on a 15 kilometer long stretch of land, pancake flat and wedged between the sea and a lagoon?

crip 3

Also noteworthy: The canals the dutch built in this area – not that there already was enough water around. And instead of the random windmill, there’s always a palm tree in sight.

dutch canal

 

water

I also started to make contact with the animals that live in Sri Lanka. And I started to notice: There is alway something that flies around me, bites me, crawls over me, looks at me or flees from me.

butterfly

 

muuh

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