Why Delhi can’t use its sweeping vans

A man stood in the middle of the road, a shovel in his hand. He worked on a new lane, which was a little darker than the rest of the tarmac. Repeatedly, he walked up to a heap of a mix of tar and pebble, put something on his shovel, walked back, threw it on the ground, and tried to level it out. No roller, weighing tons, to solidify the sticky mass, no level, for a smooth surface, no measurements.

flyover in front of my colony

Since then, the ride over the flyover in front of my colony is even more bumpy than it already was. In fact, Delhi’s roads are so potholed that according to this article, the municipal corporations had to take their mechanical sweepers off the roads.

28 of these big vans were bought into the ciy only three years ago, but the machines, developed in Germany, didn’t work in India: the tarmac is too uneven, many parts of the roads constantly dug up, cars parked everywhere, heaps of sand and bricks for construction sides, and so on. Also the garbage dumps on footpaths, which appear everywhere in the city, were not removed.

The result: After the high-tech sweepers went through a road, manual sweepers had to clean up behind them. Now the expensive machines were put to rest.

Veg jain meal or veg raw meal or hindu meal?

A fruit salad, another fruit salad, a presumably soy pancake with hot fruits and a bread bun with fruity jam was what Lufthansa presented me as the vegetarian breakfast on the flight from Delhi to Munich. Why this didn’t include eggs or milk or yogurt or butter I don’t know. Maybe they just have one option for all kind of vegetarians and vegans and people who eat kosher or halal and are lactose intolerant.

Air India, the loss-making Indian flagship carrier, does it exactly the opposite way round. When you book a flight, you can choose between a

– bland meal

– children’s meal

– diabetic meal

– fruit platter meal

– gluten intolerant meal

– hindu meal

– infant meal

– kosher meal

– low calorie meal

– low lactose meal

– low salt meal

– muslim meal

– veg hindu meal

– veg jain meal

– veg lacto-ovo meal

– veg oriental meal

– veg raw meal

– vegetarian vegan meal

If you now think it can’t get more interesting (and time-consuming) while booking a flight, surf to the webpage of IndiGo. There, after choosing your meal, you also have thea “Karma Option”, with which you can “share a pie to help children in need”. I would have guessed these children need a roof above their head or good schools or rotis and fruits, but no, pie is what they get, if the (often fat) middle-class has a heart to click.

IndiGo also has a “Clean The Air” option: “Reducing the carbon footprint by funding low-carbon initiatives in villages”. Okay, I thought, this sounds reasonable, let’s contribute something. But I wasn’t allowed to do so: Only Indian flyers can clean the air, the option is not available for foreigners.

Stranded in India

I went to the Delhi High Court today to help as out as an informal interpreter. And to give moral assistance. And also because my journalistic instinct was awaken when I heard the story of this man. And I just couldn’t believe what was happening.

An 80-year-old German went to Kenya last summer for a safari. In a group of friends, he travelled around, saw a lot of wild animals, and enjoyed his time. One evening, when they were all sitting together with the owners of the guesthouse they were staying in, one of his German’s companions asked what weapons they use in self-defence in the savanna. A rifle was shown. A cartridge was handed over as a present.

The holidaymakers went back to Germany. Half a year later, in the middle of January, the old man and his wife boarded an airplane to India. The couple landed in Mumbai, flew over to Jaipur, and later on to Delhi. Never during all these flights did anyone complain about the live cartridge that was still stored away in the luggage.

But when they wanted to leave India on January 29th from Delhi, they were stopped at the gate, shortly before boarding the flight. The luggage had to be opened, and the munition was found. So the two had to stay in India, while the airplane flew without them. For eight hours, they were sitting at the police station.

The next day, the 80-year-old’s wife flew home. (The cartridge was in his wife’s suitcase, but he is the man. It’s not atypical in India for the senior men of the family to shoulder the responsibility for other family members. Whenever I fill in a form – for example to get access to the High Court today – I have to give my father’s name. There even is kin liability: Last year a girl in Mumbai posted a negative Facebook comment about a politician, and members of the politician’s party got angry, and what they did was not to harm the girl, but to destroy the girl’s uncle’s dental clinic.)

Anyway, the octogenarian stayed back – and that without knowing any English. He also had a heart surgery scheduled two days after his planned landing in Germany, which he missed. When he was complaining, he was sent to doctors in Delhi instead. But they either knew German but had no clue about hearts, or they were heart specialists but didn’t know any German. So he refused to examined there, and booked himself a room in the posh Leela Palace instead.

But the nice lodging doesn’t prevent boredom. The old man feels he has seen every corner of Delhi now. And he tried to reach out to every German person living in the city – with success. as someone (not the embassy!) finally found him an interpreter, and others help him passing the long days. 

The case is now dragging on for nearly three weeks already.

UPDATE: It is the 6th of March, five weeks after his scheduled flight, when the 80-year-old finally arrives back in Germany. According to a local German newspaper, he had to go to Court eight times, then he was so fed up that he pribed a policeman to get his passport back and flew out illegally.

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.

‘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.

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