Lodhi Art District

The tranquil Lodhi colony, built by the British around 1940 for soldiers stationed in Delhi, and now used as a housing area for middle-ranked government employees, has been transformed into a public gallery.  It’s a spectacular sight.

More than 25 artists from India and around the world – the US, Iran, Switzerland, Cambodia, Japan, Mexico, among others – used the two story high walls as their canvases. It took the dedicated crew of St+Art Delhi nine month to get all the necessary permits. And even after that people opposed some painting or the other because maybe black paint was used, which is considered inauspicious.

More often than not, the artists interacted with the locals or the location and developed their work from there. The German Hendrik Beikirch for example painted a woman he met in the nearby railway colony. Dwa Zeta from Poland created abstract forms which refer to the flow of Delhi’s streets. And the Spaniard Borondo  interprets the concept of life and birth in his river – opposite a maternity hospital.

More typical Indian themes can also be found on the walls. The lotus, India’s national flower, features prominently in the signature of Suiko. And Indian art traditions and styles like Gond Folk art were also used.

More here: http://www.st-artindia.org/

 

Lodhi Art District – “2 Hands Unterwater” from Doreen Fiedler on Vimeo.

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Three ways to arrive in Delhi

There are three ways to arrive in Delhi, the travel author Helge Timmerberg writes in “Shiva Moon”. “The dead cheap version, the horribly expensive version, and the «La Sagrita».” (the bumpy translation obviously is my work)

He explains: “The dead cheap one is in proximity to the train station and costs five dollars per night (in fact, it can be even cheaper, but maybe he gets cheated every time, even though he claims he has been in Delhi 100 times). The room has a small balcony towards the street, where people sleep and dogs bark and cats roam. It isn’t clean, but the staff is nice, and they organize warm beer, no matter when you arrive.”

Timmerberg continues: “The second way of arriving in New Delhi, is the «Imperial». The most beautiful hotel in the world, a mixture of Mogul and colonial, maharaja and officer, turban and crown, elegance and might.”

The third option is always fully booked, Timmerberg says. Always.

As my temporary roommate had read the book before coming to Delhi, we decided – after we had already explored the unnerving Paharganj area next to the New Delhi train station after his arrival – to venture to the «Imperial» for his departure drink.

Timmerberg gives no further advise on how to conduct oneself in the – we have to admit – truly astonishing palace. (The author drinks three Gin Tonic, then likes the receptionist behind the mahogany counter, therefore books a room, but then doesn’t describe the best corners of the lavish building further (maybe he has a headache). He only mentions his discomfort of constantly having to tip everybody.) (<- stupid guy: tipping is not necessary in India, fewest of all for the guy who twirls his mustache at the entrance)

Anyway, my roommate and I ended up spending the evening in the «1911 bar», with leather chairs, period portraiture, stained glass roof and wood panelling.

There even was a saxophonist, but he was on the other side of the huge glass window, inside the restaurant. No one was sitting there, and he was apparently not allowed to come over, as we had soothing lounge music, so he just shrugged his shoulders and left.

1911 bar

500 varieties of beverages in the «1911 bar», and no one to – exept us – to sample them

 

 

What a sad hospital

What a sad hospital, where flowers are not allowed.

What a sad hospital, where flowers are not allowed.

But other than that, the Appollo Hospital in South Delhi is pretty impressive. Staircases are spot clean, the receptionist knew what she was doing, and I didn’t have to wait for a minute. The central hall feels like a mixture of shopping mall and the waiting area in front of gates at an airport.

Except for the huge pharmacy, of course, which had a perfectly organised system, where one gives the prescription at one of five counters, gets a token, and can collect the medicine some minutes later when the number is announced electronically at the cash counter.

When a man on the counter next to me didn’t stand in the two-people-long line, but walked up front and made some space for himself at the window next to the first one in line (as most people would do anywhere else in Delhi), the guy who’s turn it was told him to stand in queue! And the bold one apologised!!

It’s all about who you are – or pretend to be

Status matters in India. A lot. So I’m not surprised that a gang leader, disguised as a lawyer, could just walk past all the security checks at Rohini court in Delhi without being stopped. If he just looked like he entered through the lawyer’s gate every day without flashing his card, he for sure didn’t have much problems.

As the “Times of India” reports, the guy was wearing the black mantle of a lawyer, when he and nine other men set out to kill a rival gangster on the court premises. “He carried a couple of  ‘case files’ which contained two pistols and stood outside the courtroom waiting for the target,” the article reads.

But the police was second to none. “Around 11am, at least 100 men from the special cell armed with Glock pistols spread across the court premises. A few were dressed as lawyers, others as litigants, while some pretended to be ‘bad characters’, walking around with shirt buttons open,” the paper reports.

Sharing the story with my colleague, he tells me that while researching stories, he sometimes only says he’s “calling from Delhi”, when he tries to get an official or manager on the phone. The office assistances or secretaries then assume he’s calling from the headquarters or the branch in Delhi and transfer the call – which they otherwise often wouldn’t.

Every now and then, he also profits from some misunderstanding. More than once he correctly introduced himself as “calling from the German Press Agency”, and the call got transferred, him being introduced as someone “from the German Presidency”.

But back to the security guys: I also always look super-confident and if I knew where I was going when I enter business houses or civil servant’s offices. Most of the time, no guard stops me. Otherwise they would get out a huge big book where I have to write down all my details (including visa number) or, worse, ask for some permission from someone.

A diplomat friend even made it a point to ignore the ever-present metal detectors in front of hotels and other premises. She never placed her bag on the belt and just walked pass the body scanner. She always got away with it. But in case some guard would’ve taken his job seriously, she would’ve flashed her diplomatic pass, of course.

 

Illegal sand mining

sand mining

Illegal sand mining is rampant in India. And the problems arising from it are manifold: It causes erosion, groundwater tables are sinking, and even the Katlabodi tigress and her three  cubs are threatened through it.

In recent month, I had also read a lot about the sand mafia and its patrons – a powerful, corrupt, brazen and devious lot. They ruthlessly operate in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, cause bloodshed and turf wars in Bihar, and make huge profits in Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Odisha. Everybody wants to build houses out of concrete, so everybody needs sand.

But just how brazen the gangs operate, I only realized when I was laying at a beach in Goa. In the afternoon sun, a truck pulled up at the beach, ten men jumped down, and calmly started to carry sand away. No one said anything, no one seemed to be bothered.

I asked my hotel owner, a local and quite a number in the area, what was going on there. He said: “It’s only for playground of the local kindergarten, so that the children can play. So it’s okay.”

Hazrat Nizamuddin

Hazrat Nizamuddin is a quarter in Delhi that is definitely different from the rest of the city. Completely moslem in it’s appearance, the main street is dominated by men grilling lamb and goat, baking bread in earthen ovens, and drinking tea.

In many of the labyrinthine alleys, street vendors sell fruits or handkerchiefs, caps, rosaries or religious posters, shops are full to the brim with Qurans or household items, beggars try to get the attention of the passerbys, and blind(ed) boys sing beautifully to get some coins.

In the middle of all the bustle lie the dargas (mausoleums) of Nizamuddin Auliya (1238 – 1325 CE) and Amir Khusrau (1253–1325 CE), as well as the graves of many other people who wanted to be buried close to the Sufi saints. Medieval archways lead to the open space which has a marble floor and beautiful old structures.

long-bearded men talking in front of the mausoleumIt’s close to impossible to pass all the flower-sellers who lovingly pester us to buy a tray of flowers, sweets, or a chadur (cloth) to offer at the dargahs. Once inside, many Sajjadah-nashins (keepers) of the mausoleum ask for money for their blessings and the maintenance of the dargahs. This also includes a daily langar (community meal) for the poor.

I had already been there a couple of times, but always missed the Qawwali, a form of devotional Sufi music, which is supposed to be played ever thursday night (but then, it often isn’t). But this time we were lucky. So we sat down and listened to the men and their instruments until late into the night.

In the lanes of Old Delhi

Expanding the home

Indians are the absolute, unchallenged masters of expanding their homes onto the streets – mostly out of necessity.

They (have to) wash themselves in the streets, dry clothes in the streets, cut vegetables in the streets, have their cattle graze in the streets, come together for a talk in the streets, set up their bicycle workshop or shoe repair point or ironing board or sewing machine in the streets, and some even have to sleep in the streets.

Exploring Street Art in Shahpur Jat

Shouting, undressing and the use of pepper spray

India’s parliament set all sorts of unwanted records in the five-year term that just ended.

Never before in India’s history did a parliament work fewer hours, and this house was also passing the least number of bills. Proceedings were in fact disrupted so often, that the productive time of the lower house, or Lok Sabha, stood at only 61 percent.

Among the more frequent forms of protests were shouting down the speaker and each other, snatching papers from officials and waving placards in front of the speaker’s chair.

At one point some parliamentarians also got rid of their clothes to protest with their chests bared. Others pushed each other around, uprooted microphones, smashed a glass and a computer, and one guy even used pepper spray.

Every now and then some MPs formed a wall or circle around someone who was holding a speech to protect him or her from other democratic leaders. Even the Prime Minister was fenced off like this, while his words were inaudible as the protesters didn’t even stop their shouting for him.

the house of democracy

Gandhi watching the house of democracy. If he would have approved the proceedings inside?

PRS Legislative Research, a Delhi-based research organisation, meticulously compiled the data on this parliamentary session and pointed to the democratic flaws stemming from all the adjournments and disruptions. “Of the 116 Bills passed by the 15th Lok Sabha, a significant percentage of Bills were passed without adequate debate in the House. In the Lok Sabha, 36% of the total Bills passed were debated for less than thirty minutes. Of these, 20 Bills were passed in less than five minutes,” they write.

Another point of concern: “With the last session of the 15th Lok Sabha having ended, a total of 68 Bills will lapse.” These include the Women’s Reservation Bill (one third of the seats of all elected bodies, including the parliament, were to be reserved for women), Direct Taxes Code, Micro Finance Bill, Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill and the Bill enabling the introduction of Goods and Services Tax.

But why on earth do the parliamentarians disrupt the sessions? Well, any reason seems to be justifiable. I saw protests against the government reaction after the detention of Indian fishermen in Sri Lanka, the answer after the death of an Indian prisoner in Pakistan, the perceived lack of retaliation after an incursion by Chinese soldiers, missing official papers after a debated allocations of coal mining rights, alleged financial scams involving the federal government, and so on, and so forth.

Do politicians from the opposition or the ones in the ruling coalition who have deviant opinions think there is no other platform to make their voices heard if they disagree with the government?

Here is a suggestion: Just talk to us. So far, hardly any top politician grants media houses interviews and uses this way of speaking out. Are you afraid of our questions?

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