One of their biggest fans. The wait was long, the heat nudged 38°, the humidity topped 75%, no breeze to cool. The battle of the bands at Dilli Haat, New Delhi was promised and promised to be only minutes away, again and again, by the, more than, grumpy host, the audience waxed and waned but mostly melted. The surly young lady, hosting the stage, stepped up to the microphone again, perhaps it was about to begin…’Ladies and Gentlemen, Uncles and Aunties please…’ What? Please put your hands together? Please welcome our first band? No. Though she used the respectful term to address her elders, uncles and aunties, she rudely told them to hold on to their children, they ignored her, not deterred she insisted, ‘I’ve asked you once already, please keep a hold of your children’. They were bored by this point, what did she expect, for the children to be sitting patiently? Two minutes later, the host was back on stage and this time to call up the first band, they leapt on stage, only to stand idle while a technical problem was briefly sorted. When they began, not the rock music, nor bhangra beats they looked like making but a serene and haunting song, millennia in tradition, wafted from the singer interspersed by the insistent tabla drums, sharp but pitch floating. Beautiful and ethereal, timeless and soulful, the song ended, but not a single applause, just the rattling of the many whirring propellers. Their biggest fans.
A culture clash. A cultural quarter. A cultivation of tolerance. Multicultural, intercultural, subcultural. Govind Puri, New Delhi, less than a square mile cramped with thousands of people, living on top of each other, within feet of each other across the, thirty or so, narrow galis or lanes. Each gali half a mile long or less, a warren of interconnected alleyways, with ramshackle flats and apartments rising above shops and doorways, four or five stories high.
A clash of cultures where old meets new, adverts for gyms and cyber-cafes hanging next to washing drying on the railings and religious flags hung from walls.
A cultural quarter of life on the streets, a myriad of different shops selling everything from bangles to leather slippers called jotis, from food to icons of gods, hawkers walking up and down the galis announcing their wears or services, electric repairers squatting on the path with the innards of motors spilling out in their hands next to clothes pressers sliding their coal-powered irons on tables stacked high with piles of laundry service.
A cultivation of tolerance to others lives, with so many people living on top of one another there has to be a lot of understanding and acceptance as well as ignoring of those lives around them.
Every religion, every area of India and beyond, every food imaginable, all represented for good or for worse.
All this, so many people, so much commotion day and night but so little crime, a safe place to walk, to live, to visit unaccosted, well away from the tourist traps. A pleasure and delight to stroll around, to sit on a step and watch go by while sipping a cup of chai, to gaze down upon from a balcony above. The culture of Govind Puri.