Delhi Diary-On the road

It is early. So early that the streets of Delhi are as empty as I never saw them before. I leave the house with a big thermos bottle of chai and a long list of warnings of Mrs Rajasthani. Mrs Rajasthani has strong beliefs about such matters as driving alone and speaks to me as if in the countryside dragons would wait to be slain. I wave her goodbye and am astonished how silent it is. Just the occasional boy with a broom crosses my ways, no one is honking and I drive all alone through the still sleepy city. I am not often in downtown Delhi and am always astonished how green Delhi is and Edward Luyten’s plan of big boulevards becomes for the first time truly visible at least for me. The embassy district I cross and I have to laugh out loud while passing by the pretentious Polish embassy. A nightmare of Socialist Realism. A group of boys starts to kick football in the green part that separates the street from the splendid buildings. I still get angry. This waste of space and resources, the waste of water to keep the lawns and the gardens lush and pretty but those, who live here and I we never meet, not in the late and not in the early hours of any day. The highway out of down is empty as well. Just a few milkwallahs, their motorcycles overloaded with the cans are passing by and a few buses, all the passengers are still asleep. Half an hour later, Gurgaon stretches out wide in the horizon. Not only an industrial area or a technological park you see here, but a dream, a dream of a clean and smart India, with skyscrapers and shopping-malls, a dream of a bright and clean future, the New India, whatever this might be. The massive apartment blocks, the dinosaur’s of our days are mist often only half-built, and you never know if this means: to be finished soon or abandoned already. But the names of the soon to be built homes are promising: “Wonderland” has still free ” BHK apartments and “Dreamland” gives you the best offer of your life and “Paradise” fulfills your wishes for smarter living. ( Whatever this might be.) The highway gets fuller now, the trucks are coming, with their loads of bricks and garbage, goods and gas cylinders. I drive through Manesar, a place you won’t find in any travel guide even several thousand people commute between Delhi and the vast industrial zones, every single morning. But I don’t have too much time and still many kilometers to go and so I drive on and on, on the Highway 8, till the land gets flatter, and more dustier and fir the first time since I arrived in India I see cows eating grass and searching for green spots among the shrubbery. In Delhi it seems they solely live out of dustbins. At half past ten I drink a chai in a place along the road and yawn, because soon I will leave the comfortable highway and have to make it through the countryside. The fields are green. Plenty of corn. Kilometers of corn. Then the streets are getting steep and narrow, the car humps up and down, up and down. Kilometers of up and down. Women are carrying large bales of grass and hay, fodder for the animals. Kilometers of women. A truck passes by on its back a couple of black and strong bullocks. Their strong, black bodies glimmer in the scorching sun. At a toll point a lorry pays the fee before me, his car full with onions. Small are the onions and high are the onion prices, when I arrived 40 Rs a kilo, now the kilo costs the double amount of money. Finally the sign to Alwar appears, and 4,5 half hours later I arrive at the small clinic. I unload medications, gloves and gaze in all forms and shapes, and probably most important a water filter. Here you are, says D. and I nod, here I am. We sit on a charpoy outside and I drink cup after cup of the sweet hot tea and listen to the stories of what had happened and what had not happened. Hours later in the hotel I swim in the pool and dive as deep as I can to get rid of the dust and the sand of the road that is everywhere and I am afraid the chances are rather low that I will ever be able to lose it again.

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On the road.

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Women and their heavy load.

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All in black.

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Oh, Namaste, Mr Camel. And yourself? Oh, the heat, yes the heat….

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Nearly there.

The photos are even worse than usual, photographing while driving….

Delhi Diary- Two monkeys

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“Read On, Read On”, scream the children at noon. You have to come. The monkey is here. I am most reluctant, not only because the hallway is as usual full of people, but I do not like monkeys at all. But when I get up, I see it is not the usual bunch of monkeys that search for food in the dumpster outside but two monkeys on a rope attract the children more than usual. I am even more reluctant than usual, because I do not like monkeys at all but even less I like those who travel around with monkeys on a rope or better on a chain. The man, who accompanies the monkeys is drunk. He carries with him a small drum and is so drunk that the usual stories he tells to entertain the children are blurry and hard to understand. The monkeys apart from their obvious neglect, look at their master with disdain. They do the tricks like businessman, eager to impress but without much effort, rather ironically they jump up and down, turn back and forth to the music, their eyes half-closed and not half-open, they walk on their feet, self-conscious and look at us with pure boredom. We have nothing to offer, their master and you can see it in their look is nothing more than a bit of pity for the silly drunkard, who merely is able to walk straight. The children are nevertheless impressed and look at the creatures with a mixture of admiration and fear. The drunk master goes on with his shriek voice and silly tale that praises the wit and the cleverness, the wild heart and the godly soul of the animals. Nothing of this you will see here. Here, you see two outworn athletes, who do the tricks and to whom, we mean nothing. Nothing of the two monkeys resembles Rilke’s panther, whose glowing eyes were a constant reminder of free and wilder days, he the panther  had given up his desires, but the two monkeys have given up hope long ago. Ashamed I feel, looking at them, being neither human nor animal, but a disturbing mixture of professionalism and broken souls. Purpose-made and over the purpose everything else got lost. Outrageous i think it is that I stand here and stare, cheap voyeurism and therefore mocked by the monkeys. Then I turn around and haste back. I do not even look back, when the drunkard keeps shouting obscenities at me, demanding Bakshish for his show. Bakshish, Bakshish, his blaring voice is to be heard and he giggles as if this would be something particular funny. But nothing beside of the children, who stare in amazement and fascination is funny here. Half an hour later the drunkard has totally lost control over himself and is barely able to hold the rope tight, he asks for money and the children throw coins to the monkeys, those pick the coins up, licking and kissing them, before handing them over. Pecunia non  olet, the Romans said, and the drunkard collects the coins from the monkeys, who again look at him with sheer mockery and when he stumbles away, they walk behind him, more elastic and faster than I had assumed, such as if for a second or so, the reminder of another life came back to them before they reach another destination for business as usual.

Delhi Diary-Click, Click, Click

Tired feet. A tired heart. Tired is no feeling, no? It is just a description, nothing more, nothing less. The rain fills the well in the slum and the water with all its sewage floods inside the huts. Cleaning and cleaning and again cleaning up, the effect is not much visible. A puppy, chocolate brown got electrocuted and I do not even know, why the death of a stray dog upsets me so much. Probably I am just too tired. Sometimes a group of visitors comes to the slum. Slum tours seem to be the new big thing. They all wear white t-shirts with a silly inscription printed on top. I don’t know what they are afraid of, that they got lost without their T-shirt? They stare and when they do not stare, they get out their big and expensive cameras. Click, click, click, you hear them before you see them and when they are already gone, you still hear their click, click, click. Mechanical, I think and wonder if back home, they tell with a shudder of the unbearable conditions of “that place”. They hold their cameras very firmly. They are always afraid that the people living here will steal them. They don’t get the point. The people are living here and they are wandering through their living-rooms. They are never wondering if they are stealing anything. Sometimes the visitors ask me. They always ask questions as if they find themselves in a horror movie. “Are there many homocides?” “Do people die here from the bubonic plague?” “How many people die of Dengue fever?” Do the men rape their women?”No, no, no, no, I say. Sometimes I wish I could shout and shout at them that the people here are just dying from diarrhoea, because there are no toilets and the water is contaminated. You understand? It is as simple as that. Death is simple and frequent here. The visitors are clearly disappointed. Then they are gone but the rain is still here and we fill more and more buckets with muddy water till I forget my name and just remember that I am tired. So very, very tired.

Delhi Diary-No point

It is 11PM. Madanpur Khadar. A big street. South-East Delhi. The street is full of men selling roasted corn. There are vendors selling ice-cream. 21 cows I count on my way along the road. There are men on bicycles. There are men walking. There is a guru, who sits under a tree. There are many men fiddling around with their motorbikes. There are men, who are sleeping on top of a bus. There are men playing cards behind two silver-grey Suzuki-Maruti. There is a paanwalla. There are workers loading up metal frames on the back of a lorry. There are men selling samosa’s. Mr Salman is about to drive away from his shop, he waves at me and shouts something I can not understand. There are rickshaw-driver’s waiting for customers. There are young men listening to music from a  phone. It is 11. 15 PM when I reach the gate to our apartment block. It is shortly past 11 PM, and I am the only woman out on the street.

Delhi Diary-Among the gods

The museum is nearly empty. Just once in a while a few tourists walk through the rooms or a family father tries to remember something he might have heard in school long time ago, while the children quickly loose their interest. You can see the relief on his face, helplessness in front of children is never good to occur and the family hastily leaves the room as well. Then you are alone with the gods as your sole companions. Old are the gods, older than you and I. Some are as old as the world itself. Silent they are and reluctant of letting go their secrets. But if you have enough time, you might discover the Gana rides on a crocodile, even if the crocodile’s head is missing. Gana, who wanted to marry Shiva. But he refused her hand and her fury was red and of a glowing intensity. Her need to flood the world so urgent that only Shiva was able to stop her. Proud and erect she stands in front of you, not too interested in your humble affairs, she who now is the Ganges has more important things to handle than you and I. Next to hear stands Yamuna, beautiful clad and with huge earrings, calmer and more at ease with herself. She looks at you while riding on top of tortoise, sceptically examining your feet. How profane to walk if such nice transport is available, indeed. You might sit on a chair for a while, under a dusty Yucca palm and rest your eyes on Vishnu, the preserver. Beautifully he is carved in wood or stone. Look how elegantly he moves his hand in the slight breeze waving through the museum. Impressive is his messenger Garuda as well. Half human, half bird, he the enemy of snakes and therefore of much sympathy to me, carries the god through the time till today and till the day, when we all are long gone. Ganesha you will spot often, most impressive when holding soft-pink lotus in his many hands but distant as well but for an elephant god, intimacy would probably feel most inappropriate. Empty are the rooms of the museum and so you can admire a beautiful turban- crest and a Mughal fly-whisker totally undisturbed. I envy the fly-whisker. Such a thing made of carved wood and plum-feathers would make my life much more pleasant. It is hard to decide, which one among the many Mughal paintings, all of them beautifully coloured you might like best. But impressive and a reminder of long gone splendour is the painting showing the wedding of Shajahan’s son. He rides on a chestnut brown horse, the son, feminine and most fragile, in the background his father on a horse half black, half red and surrounded by a blue shining halo. A firework in the background lights up the otherwise completely dark sky, but the bride, the bride you might be looking for is absent, in the picture she is present just as a promise of a beauty too great as to be depicted. Before you go upstairs to see music instruments or a dagger here or there, you might visit the canteen downstairs. There you will meet the tourists again, mistrustingly looking at the food served, but the family father will be there again. Now, no longer searching for words, but in his element. Sorting out sandwiches, preventing arguments about crisps and joyfully opening Sprite and Coke cans for his daughter and son, with a gleeful: Cheers!

The gods upstairs pretend not to notice, they are older than times and times they know, will come and go and seldom change.

National Museum, Janpath, New Delhi, India. Open: Tuesday-Sunday, 10 AM to 5PM, Metro: Udyog Bhawan 

Delhi Diary-Independence Day

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Two nights full of dark and disturbing dreams. Mrs Rajasthani phones her mother to ask which tea helps best against evil spells. Their argument still goes on. The clouds hang low, the sky resembles a grey wall. Happy Independence Day, say I and give two eggs to the children. “Grow your own dinosaur” it says on the eggs, and I think there are worse mottos for a national holiday than this one. The eyes have to be put in lukewarm water for the next twelve hours, but the children are too excited, racing back and forth to see if they can already spot a little crack in the eggshell. Mrs Rajasthani, who rules the kitchen curses me, them and all dinosaurs. I try to disappear calmly but without much success. While walking backwards out of the door I fall into the hands of Mr Rajasthani’s father who embraces me heartily and starts to quiz me about the 1857 mutiny, the last Mughal emperor, the Home Rule Movement of India and of course the Mahatma himself. I do not too great but I pass and reassuringly that this is the case Mr Rajasthani senior pats my back. He does so with patriotic energy and I cough like an old horse. Mrs Rajasthani serves Cauliflower paratha and after I finished two of them I am convinced I will never be able to move again. For an hour or so I just sit there dozing around,then the children come to drag me up: They want to let fly kites on the rooftop. We try our best but the kits are stubborn and the wind is mocking us with a blow here and a blow there and just when the kite is up in the air, the wind decides to rest and we finally give up. For the rest of the day I lazily settle on the sofa reading Rohinton Misthry’s “Such A Long Journey” and do so with utter delight, watching the personage of the novel fail and stand-up, laugh a bit at their misery that is a total one, but not too loud. I  can not decide if I like the bank clerk Gustard Noble or if my true sympathies are with the strange Miss Kapitia, an expert on dark spells, who once decided to stop the time, but nothing of this truly matters. It is a book written for such an afternoon like this. The rain sets in and I remember Tagore’s poem of “Rain falling drip drop/ the river is overflowing”, the Yamuna has no water, just sewage but never let the truth come into a good poem. Then Mrs Rajasthani comes in, “cardamom tea”, she says, and holds a big cup under my nose, “against bad dreams, but drink it and now and don’t let it become too cool, will you?” “No, I say, Mrs Rajasthani, I will have it right now.”

Delhi Diary- As an exception in German: Über den Horizont hinaus

Als ich ein kleines Mädchen war, verbrachte ich die langen Sommerferien bei meiner Großmutter in Deutschland. Einmal aber hatte meine Großmutter andere Pläne und so kam ich für eine Woche zu Yehuda Schechter. Wie alle Bekannten meiner Großmutter zählte auch er zu jenem Kreis der “Auschwitzer” und zu dem noch viel kleineren Teil der im Osten Deutschlands lebenden Juden. Yehuda Schechter hatte keine Kinder und eigentlich auch nie Kinderbesuch. Als ich siebenjährig vor seiner Tür stand, sah er mich misstrauisch an. Nichts anfassen, war sein erster Satz. Sehr misstrauisch saßen wir uns gegenüber auf tiefen, dunklen, moosgrün bezogen Sesseln. Er sah mich an. Ich sah auf den Fußboden und bohrte meine Fußspitzen in den Teppichboden. Yehuda Schechter räusperte sich. Dies ist zu unterlassen sagte er und ich musste lange überlegen, was das wohl heißen solle. Drei Tage lang saßen wir uns mehr oder weniger stumm gegenüber. Yehuda Schechter war auf der Suche nach einem Thema, das ihm kindgerecht erschien und ich war auf der Suche nach möglichst wenig Dingen, die den furchterregenden Satz: “Dies ist zu unterlassen nach sich zog.” Am vierten Tag kippte ich ein Glas Milch um und Yehuda Schechter war so entsetzt, dass er mich unvermittelt fragte, ob ich denn Fahrrad fahren könnte? Ich konnte es nicht. Yehuda Schechter schüttelte traurig den Kopf: “Was können die Kinder überhaupt noch?” Dann verließ er die Wohnung. Am nachmittag kam er zurück. Mit ihm kam ein Fahrrad, kein Kinderfahrrad, sondern ein kleines Damenrad und Yehuda Schechter und ich gingen auf den Hof. Bevor ich auf das Rad steigen durfte, zeigte mir Yehuda Schechter wie man eine Kette wechselt, unterwies mich in der Benutzung des kleinen Ölfläschchens und so lange bis ich es konnte, übte er mit mir den richtigen Gebrauch des Dynamos. Dann endlich setzte er mich aufs Rad und schob mich langsam über den Hof. Er sagte: Jetzt treten, nein, bremsen, lenken, lenken, lenken und immer hielten mich seine Hände bei den Schultern, dann ließ er los, er rief zwar immer noch, lenken, lenken, bremsen, bremsen und langsam, Kind, langsam, aber ich fuhr mit dem Fahrrad über den Hof, ganz allein, eine kleine Königin glaube ich hätte sich nicht größer und glücklicher fühlen können als ich. Zum ersten Mal habe ich an jenem Sommerabend im Innenhof Yehuda Schechter lächeln sehen. Jeden Tag stiegen Yehuda Schechter und ich von nun an auf unsere Räder und fuhren erst durch den Park, dann durch die Straßen und irgendwann hinaus aus der Stadt ins Freie hinein. Oft pausierten wir auf einer Wiese unter einem großen Baum, dann gab es Limonade und Yehuda Schechter trank bedächtig Malzkaffee aus einer alten, metallenen Kanne. Warte hier Kind, sagte er dann, nur für einen kleinen Moment. Dann stieg er noch einmal auf sein Fahrrad, beugte sich leicht über den Lenker und warf sich mit aller Kraft in die Pedalen und wurde schnell und schneller, bis er schließlich mit dem Horizont zu einem kleinen, schwarzen Punkt verschwamm. Kind sagte er, wenn er zurückkam, außer Atem, sieh, ich fahre mit dem Wind um die Wette. Ich nickte, auch wenn ich nicht wusste warum. Zwei Sommer später aber nahm sich Yehuda Schechter das Leben, ein Fahrradunfall sei es gewesen, schrieb mir meine Großmutter. Schon damals klang das schal in meinen Ohren, jemand der Rennen mit dem wind fährt, fällt nicht unvermittelt vom Rad.

Viele Jahre später, vor einigen Wochen also, sage ich zu Herrn Rajasthani: ” Herr Rajasthani, ich brauche ein Kinderfahrrad für eins meiner Kinder, im Slum. Herr Rajasthani grummelte, Herr Rajasthani murmelte etwas von: unmöglichen Straßen und überhaupt. Gestern aber, stand auf dem Balkon, kein Kinderrad sondern ein kleines Damenfahrrad, silber und dunkelblau. Neben dem Fahrrad,ein sichtbar stolzer Herr Rajasthani. Und weil Herr Rajasthani nicht Herr Rajasthani wäre, brachte er das Rad und mich heute in den Slum. K. ist sieben, vielleicht aber auch acht oder neun Jahre alt, so genau weiß man es nicht, sie nicht, ich nicht und ihre Eltern auch nicht. K. ist sportlich, ungewöhnlich sportlich, K. möchte Rad fahren lernen. Jeden Morgen in den vergangenen sechs Wochen fragt sie mich, ob sie heute Rad fahren lernen könne. Heute sieht sie das Rad und mich. Für eine Stunde versteckt sie sich, dann klopft es zaghaft und wir gehen hinunter auf die Straße. Ich zeige K. wie man die Kette wechselt, gebe ihr ein kleines Fläschchen Öl und übe mit ihr das Schloss richtig und sicher zu befestigen. Dann sitzt K. auf dem Rad und ich schiebe sie an. Jetzt treten sage ich, lenken, lenken, langsam, bremsen, bremsen, bremsen rufe ich und dann traut K. sich doch in die Pedalen zu treten und ich renne ihr die Hand noch immer an den Schultern hinterher. Aus dem Weg, Straßenhunde, würde ich rufen hätte ich genug Atem, seht ihr nicht, hier kommt eine Radfahrerin, aus dem Weg Rikschafahrer, Gemüsehändler, aus dem Weg ihr Kartenspieler und auch ihr, ihr Frauen mit den Wäschebergen, wir haben jetzt keine Zeit, wir müssen an euch vorbei. K, fährt, sie fährt, und ich renne und laufe und dann lasse ich ihre Schultern los und sie fährt, fährt stolz wie eine kleine Königin, fährt mit dem Wind, furchtlos und schnell, und ahnt wohlmöglich etwas von jenem vollkommenen Glück, das nur der kennt, der dem Horizont entgegen fährt, weiter und weiter, ein ganzes Leben lang.

Ganz sicher bin ich, ich schwöre, als ich lachend und mit Seitenstechen schließlich  stehen bleibe, an eine Hauswand gelehnt und nach Atem schöpfend, das für einen Moment, auch Yehuda Schechter an der Kreuzung steht, lächelnd, wie einstmals, sagend: Das Kind kann fahren, das Kind ist auf dem richtigen Weg.