The Season of the Tap Confusion

Every year, there are two seasons of tap confusions. In the winter, warm water streams out of the shower head, when I turn the left knob, whereas in summertime, warm water comes after turning the right knob. And in between, when I try to remember which one was which, I’m confused for days if not weeks.

To explain the switch, I have to start with the unreliable water supply in Delhi. I live in one of the 75% of the households that are connected to Delhi’s piped system. 25% are not, they get their supply through either tankers or bore-wells.

But: This doesn’t mean there is a 24/7 water supply. As Debashree Mukherjee, former chief executive of the Delhi Jal Board, the municipal water supply agency for the capital, nicely put in an interview with the Wall Street Journal: “We’ve started pilot projects to move from intermittent supply to continuous supply to show that it can be done in Delhi.”

So, because there isn’t a ccontinuously pressurized systems, but instead one with a lot of vacuum in the water pipe – by the way also due to leakages: physical losses are 22% to 25% of total water produced – the house owners play safe. They install, if they can afford it, huge water tanks on their roofs. Black ones. And because there is no warm water supply by the Delhi Jal Board, they built water boilers into the bathrooms.

Now in wintertime, I switch on my personal water heater. Then warm water streams into the pipe from the tank, and cold water is added from the pipe that comes directly from the tank on the rooftop.

Whereas in summertime, the water in the tank heats up so much, I can use it as warm water, whereas the water from my (then switched off) heater serves as a cool admixture. No joke. In May and June, I can’t have a shower in the evening with the rooftop water. It’s boiling hot.


A fine example of Jugaad

If you can’t fix something, make do with what is available. This is called Jugaad (or jugaar), and one of the most important principles in the country.

my staircaseHere we have a wonderful example. The light  bulb busted (or so I think, as it hasn’t been proven as of yet). I couldn’t reach for the ceiling, so I thought: Why don’t we call somebody? In Delhi, workman and craftspeople are called for any kind of work. Even if a nail has to be hammered into the wall. No joke, I saw exactly this happening in my office.

Anyway, I did as an upper middle class lady without much knowledge of Hindi does: I told my maid to call the electrician.

When I came home, it got fixed, but not as expected. The electrician, my maid told me, also wasn’t able to reach the lamp. And because the lamp is placed right between the descending and ascending stairs, he couldn’t place some chair or stool to shorten the distance. So he got his tool kit out, and installed a new bulb, cable and switch instead (left side of the pic).

Let me close with some of John Elliott’s words: “One of the magical things about India is its unpredictability and its ability to turn muddle and adversity into success. … Jugaad … is the knack of turning shortages, chaos and adversity into some sort of order … such as using a belt from a motorbike wheel to run an irrigation pump, using a Pringles potato chips container to bridge a piping gap in a car engine, and applying turmeric powder to fix a radiator leak.”


“Jugaad is a brilliant patchwork solution for a deprived  and underdeveloped society, but it is not enough for a country in India’s state of development because it deters efficiency and innovation and destroys institutional structures. In the past few years, India’s pace of events has overwhelmed jugaad, making it impossible for the country to cope with basic services, projects and development – and that is now leading to the risk of implosion.” (from Elliott’s book “Implosion. India’s Tryst with Reality”)

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.

Living at a friends place definitely has it’s upsides


Monsoon creatures

So I was already complaining about the humid, hot, damp monsoon weather. In which every creature flourishes, be it insects or worms or plants or fungus. Well, mildew also likes these conditions. So two of the pictures I got less than two month ago and put up in my living room are already rotting. Only the one that hangs not on the outer wall but on the wall which leads to my bedroom is still good. Let’s see for how long.


Power Shortage

Power cuts are a common thing in Delhi. So I didn’t pay much heed to the fact that some of my lights didn’t work when I came home from work. Clearly my Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) had taken over, which only powers some of the electric circuits I need for not standing in complete darkness, but not all of them, as the batteries – even though they are the size of a small fridge – would for sure empty in no time when I’d connect the UPS to my ACs.

But when I came home again a couple of hours later, power still wasn’t restored. Too tired to take action so late at night, I sank into my bed and hoped the monsoon had cooled the air enough so I could find sleep without the fresh wind and the soothing tone from my AC. Turned out I could sleep at 26 degrees celsius (plus 2 or 3 degrees, as the walls of my top floor flat store some heat of the day).

Still no power the next morning. I woke up to the horrible peeping my UPS uttered as the batteries were empty now. So I called my landlord – and it turned out I could have had power all along, if I only had turned the fuses.

This solved, the UPS still clicked weird. My landlord’s son came to my rescue, as  I stood helpless in front of it. I revealed to him that I had no idea how these units worked as we don’t have them in our households in Germany. “So how do you bridge power cuts then?”, he asked. When I answered that there are virtually no power cuts, he gaped at me in huge disbelief.

Independence Day Celebrations

“My dear fellow-citizens, brothers, sisters and dear children”, Prime Miinister Manmohan Singh greeted me as soon as I came in at the door from my morning run. The live stream was running, and from the beautifully decorated Red Fort the leader of the nation addressed the people.

“I greet you all on this Independence Day”, he went on. In his 40 minute speech, he explained some history, bemoaned the victims of the floods in Uttarakhand and the submarine tragedy, said something about the economy, praised his legislation,  touched the tricky topics Pakistan and women in India, and then he cheered together with the rest of the nation: “Jai Hind, Jai Hind, Jai Hind”.

independence day decoration

By the way, only when I saw this decoration, I realised my bicycle nearly sports the colours of India’s national flag. Coincidence?

More and more people from the neighbourhood arrived to celebrate the nation on its 67th birthday. Many wore their best clothes, greeted each other gracefully with folded hands, had a flower plugged in the hair or the turban especially nicely done.

“By getting here we all are showing a sense of unity and togetherness”, the former army chief J.J. Singh addressed the Club members.  And he encouraged the attentive listeners, to work even closer together, for example in putting up dustbins and using them, also to encourage children to not throw away their candy paper but to put it in the pocket until a dustbin is there.

The audience didn’t seem to need a reminder, but Singh anyway talked about the “deep civilizational strength” in India: People are still, despite the western influence, eating their daal and sabzi instead of bread, wear their kurtas and saris instead of jeans and t-shirts, embrace their own music culture. Then the national flag was hoisted and the national anthem sung.

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.

It’s raining, man!

One would think that the monsoon is hitting Delhi every year and citizens are prepared for some downpour. It turns out they are not, especially when they are facing the third highest level in a decade.

When the gates of heaven opened on saturday, 123.4 millimeters of rain were thrown on the the metropolis, bringing the city to a halt, flooding roads and colonies knee-deep, snapping power-lines, bringing down walls and damaging cars through falling branches. Even a terminal of Delhi’s international airport was flooded. (Despite all the damage done I have to admit I like the recorded figure: increasing digits, just like the steadily rise of the water levels).

pray to GodMy flat – on the apparent safe top floor – also didn’t get off lightly. The terrace for example looks like ready for a mud fight. So far I never paid any attention to the pipe, with an opening of some 12cm, that is leading onto it. I should have, as it turned out that all the water which is collected on the roof splashes out of it onto my tiles.

The drain my terrace has, in turn, is much smaller, and also has a sieve that is very likely to block the flow of water when the wind brings down some leaves and dirt from all the plants on my terrace (this is exactly what normally happens in these deluges) plus the things that pile up on the roof during the dry season.

The level of my flat is some 5cm higher than the one of my huge terrace, but this volume so created filled up easily on saturday, and the water would have come into my living room (and from there, I guess, would have seeped into the whole house), if I hadn’t been at home and had gone out with an umbrella in regular intervals and cleaned the drain. Who is constructing something like this?

The windows aren’t better. The water that is running down the exterior wall of the house (yes, it doesn’t only rain perpendicular), hits the window frames, and – thanks to the great surface tension of water and the ignorantly constructed shape – makes it’s way around the protrusion, until it reaches the inner frame, from where it flows down, then onto my work surface, further the gas cooker, on the floor, underneath the fridge, and so on. I’m not talking millilitres, but liters.

Other smart water molecules found a crack where my air conditioning is peeking out. So they crawled down the freshly painted wall, stopped for some rest at the lamp, then ran down to my table and finally formed a puddle , so that the legs of the wooden table could well up.

What can be done? I called up my landlord. Sheila Dikshit, the Chief Minister of Delhi, asked the citizens to pray to God so that rains do not return.


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