No Crash Helmet.

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Mini adventure into the city of Delhi, sights, sounds, new and original, different and dangerous, normality and ordinary. Lajpat Nagar central market, a hive of little shops, market stalls and services, shop, eat and have tailoring done all at once. Dazzling colours, stacks of bright clothes, folds of golden-edged cloth, foods to fill every need piled high, household supplies layered in pyramids of glass and china, gleaming jewellery, glinting in the sun, hanging, lying, coiled, chains, bracelets, rings, bangles. Anything and everything, even a Charlie Chaplin.

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Amongst it all, workers re-fit shops still open, new signs hoisted over doorways while shoppers walk in and out and air-conditioning units dragged and balanced above heads on busy walkways. Struggles to raise a heavy unit, below men balance it on poles, too short, above men try to drag though out of reach, another man half way between tries push, ineffectively, with his feet. Those above laugh and shout at those struggling below, as groups of onlookers stand and watch the push-me-pull-me sit-com, each chatting of solutions to the stalemate.

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In the hot afternoon sun, legs beginning to tire, thirst growing, energy levels dropping, a welcome cold Kulfi seller, refreshes and revives the weary shopper. An Indian speciality like a mix between ice-cream and frozen yogurt, flavoured with pistachio, saffron or cardamom. Sweet, cold and  delicious.

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A cobbler by the roadside, outside the market, fixes shoes on a metal last, smooth and shiny through years of use, next to his box of tools, made from an oxymoronic sign, not an advert for his trade, an unintentional amusement.

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On the way home, time to spare, time to waste, time to wait, a trip to the Police Chowk to report the stolen wallet, only 5 days after the event but better late than never, a little protection from misuse of the driving licence. The police station is everything it would be expected to be, slow, laid-back, a little dirty and unkempt, deserted apart from a couple of cops behind a long desk upon which the only item is a huge tome, the station daily diary into which everything is written. Led to a room to sit and wait, and wait, and wait, as expected.

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At last an officer comes to register the theft, bringing with him  the station chai walla to serve tea, a nice surprise and treatment. The officer wonders why register the theft, in case the driving licence is misused, some protection in case,  to inform the authorities the theft of the licence was reported. He sighs, long and deep, contemplates for a moment, mumbles something in half-English, reaches for a blank scrap of paper and says write. He dictates the statement, word for word, and says the driving licence was lost. Hold on, hold on, the wallet was stolen. He is very reluctant to register a theft, gets very persuasive, still polite but insists it is best to say just the licence was lost from out of the pocket, not stolen, very difficult if stolen, many visits back to police station, much paperwork, many hours waiting. He is convincing, to hot and bored to argue, the statement is written about the LOSS of just the licence. The statement is whipped away, it will take half an hour says the officer and exits the room, left alone, waiting, bemused. A little while later a constable comes in, gestures to follow, that was quick, but no, he hands back the statement, leads outside, dons a helmet, straddles a Royal Enfield motorbike and points to get on. No helmet, a t-shirt and shorts, just a pair of sandals on feet, exactly the attire a conscientious rider has been told never to wear on a motorbike and certainly always wear a helmet, without fail. It is illegal in India not to wear a helmet on a motorbike, large fines are given to those spotted not wearing one. No matter it seems if you are travelling with the police, so astride a yellow and tan police motorbike, piloted by a uniformed constable, the heavy Delhi traffic is negotiated, at speed, side roads, whizzed down, blind corners cut, to who knows where, visions of trouble fly through a mind wondering where the journey is to, after all a false statement has just been given. Another police station looms, busy, many uniforms standing around, laughing, joking, the constable is grabbed as he dismounts and ejected by four officers, onto the street…oh its only a joke as its not his station. Led to another large desk with another large tome of station diary, the details are entered, again, after a few minutes an un-uniformed man asks to follow into a little back-room full of computers, this is where all details are entered onto the system. The man needs help to enter the details and make sure they are correct, it takes but a few minutes. Above the bank of computers is a sign ‘No sensitive crimes to be entered on the computer system, especially those involving children’. Seems a very strange thing to not enter, surely these are the crimes most importantly need to be entered, at best guess, probably, high level officers are wanting to make sure things are done properly and it is not their station labelled by the media as corrupt or not entering crimes correctly, at worse guess, perhaps,  someone high ranking doesn’t want these crimes entered at all, no attention or mistakes can be made if no crime is recorded. Which ever the reason, it is a strange notice to have posted.
Papers stamped, free to go, outside there is the police motorbike, lone, singular, but no constable to be seen to offer a lift back, even though he was hanging about for that exact purpose, no matter, another trip in the rush hour with no helmet is not really desirable. Fresh air is relief so a walk home in the late afternoon sun is welcome, pleasant even, past the busy traffic, along the flyover, beneath which the beggar families sit, lie or chat, the children play after their long day dodging cars and bikes in pursuit of a few Ruppees. Almost an idyllic scene, in the long shadows and amber sun, if it wasn’t a concrete island surrounded by filth, traffic fumes and deafening noise.

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Botanical Wasteland

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A trip to see the Yamuna River as it flows by Delhi. A mighty, arterial life-giver flowing past some of the most amazing places in the world. At Delhi in the monsoon season it is wide and green, lush floating vegetation along its marshy banks, in the dry season it is a thin, brown, strip oozing between drying mud flats. A failed mission, all approaches are fenced off, five meter high, double mesh, busy highways well policed against stopping, the road leads over a low dam, more a huge sluice, no turning, no place to stop. Out of Delhi, into the new high-rise pit of Noida, shopping malls, theme parks, no charm, a mass of building sites and highways. Trapped on highways, no place to turn around or escape, suddenly a sign, Botanical Gardens, right by the side, a quick veer across traffic to land outside gates, shut and with guards. A little sign language and a guard points to just leave car right there outside the gates, by the side of the busy road, and come in, sign the entry book and another pointing guard gesticulates to just walk anywhere. A little well kept lawn, tended by squatting women, babies on sheets in the shade, each woman tugging at tufts and weeds by hand, around the corner the vista opens up to flat fields stretching out. Beginning with wetlands, then quickly changing to dry plain, one side, plantations of young trees, plants in rows, the other side a wasteland, separated by a thin tarmacked strip, a black line, heat-hazing into the distance, no shade, just relentless sun and greenery. Kempt or wild, either side of a slow roasting walk, a path beckons into the waste ground, almost over grown. As feet pad sandy soil, legs brushing aside grasses and millets, the ground comes alive, thousands of ticking, jumping crickets, grasshoppers, almost invisible, swish a miraging cloud of every step. Bushes, flowering, butterflies, a myriad of colours, pale, bright yellow, multi-coloured, iridescent, chasing in flight, settling to suck ample nectar, huge dragonflies arch in flight, newly hatched damselflies settle to dry and swell wings in the sun, cranes step tentatively through shallow ponds, beady yellow eyes on prey,

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Cactus bloom in thorny isolation, solitary, as though spiny armour wards off other plants too, warning bleeps in trees as birds announce a visitor to the wilds. Thick lines of ants, deep-dark black, an inch long, march relentlessly, one way empty handed, the other laden with cut leaves or insects born above their heads like trophies, carried into wide holes to share their spoils.

Botanical wasteland 2

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The wilds, definitely the better path to take, now only the long, slow walk back to below searing sun, to contemplate, it’s no hardship surrounded by nature. To guarded gates, a super-heated car and the wildness of manic traffic.

Day 31 – Bedford.

Bedford

The last day of a month of photo-a-day and perhaps the most difficult. Where to find anything in Delhi relating to the hometown, Bedford. Surely a hotel named so…no, an old colonial house maybe…no, a Bedford truck perhaps…no, something, anything, however remote…nothing, not a thing. All day looking, trawling, thinking but not even the most tentative of connections. Evening comes, the room in Delhi, no inspiration comes, about to give up, a look at a memory of home while thinking of home. There it is, been there all day, the most prized of thing from home, the one thing of all, the most important thing packed and brought 4000 miles, the most treasured memory and memento. The photo from a father’s desk in Charles Wells brewery, the one he left the morning he was lost, of proud him and proud mum, of shy son and laughing daughter, the niece and nephew of a brother now lost, of sister’s first born. All Bedford connections, the one thing to remind of home, a most personal of thing but proud to share.
In front three treasured things, complete the shrine, a Ganesh given by Bedford born offspring, a Hanuman given by the class of special needs guys in Delhi and a glass Ganesh bought from a street seller outside the Dali Lama’s temple in the Himalayas.
All posts during the month of July have been part of an on-line photo-a-day project organised by The Bedford Clanger cultural monthly newspaper in Bedford, UK. to show the best of this small town, This blogger was given special permission to post within the project from Delhi, to share, with the other entrants, life in another place far removed from the hometown.