Delhi Diary-One day. Twelve Pictures

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The slum I am working in made it on top of page 5.

Not so good. However muesli and guava juice.

Mrs Rajasthani snorts.

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Only in Delhi.

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Hindi and I. It is a story of many dark spots

and only very little light. Uff.

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No one can say, she didn’t make her point clear.

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On Wednesdays I teach at JNU.

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Here, politics do matter.

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Kafka matters and I hope I do not loose

the key. I am very good at loosing things.

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Well, Kafka and his readers

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Back in the slum the women try to repair

generators. It’s always the women doing so.

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Pouring Rain. The rickshaw driver curses

the gods and the traffic.

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I feed my favorite cow. Her calf was born just

a few days ago. She loves bananas.

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Dinner is ready, says Mrs Rajasthani.

You better hurry up!

Many more pictures of the same day you will find here.

Delhi Diary- Digging up

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The rain sets in around 10 AM. Of course my umbrella is at home and not in my bag. The metro is late, the traffic is even more a mess than on normal days and the streets and the stairs are so slippery that I am about to fall down nearly twice. When I switch on the light, the electricity goes off, but there is nothing that can be done and the hallway outside is packed with people. For another minute or so I look out of the window on the wet street, at the opposite of the road construction work is underway, the men and women working there having no protection coats or even boots. But then I turn around and the day begins and for a long, long time I do not think at all. When I look up for the first time several hours later the world is covered in grey, a dusty veil and it is still raining. Still the men and women doing construction work are on the street soaked wet by now. But the door is opened again and more people are still waiting outside. At 4 PM I hear but only from very far away a siren and some shouting from outside. But I am not too sure, I barely can see anything and the world outside is covered in thick grey clouds. At 5 PM I ask N. if something has happened. An accident she says, but she does not know more either. Half an hour later,  there is turmoil outside, not again I think, please not again. But a second later my door flies open and a group of men and women and N. storms in. One woman holds a metal bowl. One of those bowls the men and women doing construction work are using to carry bricks and concrete and stones on their head from one point to another. Mostly women are doing this, they are carrying probably more than half of their own weight. But in the middle of the bowl there are no stones, no bricks and no concrete. In the middle of the bowl I can see a foot. A female foot. Smashed but unremarkable a foot. Still you can see the tiny rings the woman was wearing and in the long moment where I try to come up with something to say, the women that holds the bowl starts to howl as if something deep down in her is falling apart and she screams as if haunted by a terrible beast and the bowl with the foot slips out of her hands. „Take her out, take her out“, I can hear me screaming and get me a pair of gloves, to pick up the foot and the bowl. N. accompanies the woman out of the door, still screaming and howling in a desperate way. Finally a man speaks up. He is telling me that one woman, who was part of those doing construction works on the opposite side of the road, slipped on the wet and muddy ground, the bowl she was carrying on her head fell down and smashed down on her foot. The ambulance took her away, they say but they forgot the foot somehow. They are shrugging with their shoulders looking down on the foot. No one among those present, knows where the ambulance was going to, the other workers disappeared into thin air and left behind the bowl with the foot. One and half an hour later after endless phone calls, the woman could be located and we are sending courier on his way. The foot not in the bowl anymore, just in case you were wondering. At 8 PM I again stand at the window leaning against the cool glass. I don’t want to look down at my shivering hands and for a minute or so I close my eyes. Everywhere in New Delhi you can see the men and women doing construction work on the many streets of the city. They women wear cheap sarees and flip-flops, no one wear sneakers or even boots. No one has a pair of security gloves or a mask to protect the lungs from the dust. They dig, they divert, they dry out and dig up.  The men make around 500 Rupees a day, the women maybe earn 300 Rupees. Tomorrow the sun will be up again, maybe it will rain again- who knows?- another day will begin and the construction work on the opposite of the road will go on. Whoever can work let him work, they say and the mean what they say. And whoever can not work, does not count anymore or is dead. By tomorrow the woman will be replaced and forgotten. Words do not help.

1 Euro are 70 Rupees. The working hours range from 12 to 16 hours a day.

Delhi Diary- Fosterganj

„Good morning, early bird“, says Mrs Rajasthani when I climb down the stairs early on Sunday morning. „Good Morning, Mrs Rajasthani“, say I. I yawn and try to make my unkempt hair look at least a bit decent. Mrs Rajasthani yawns as well. She only got up to fetch the milk,a boy brings in the morning. But she does not disappear back to bed before she has made me a big cup of tea and an enormous slice of banana bread. Mrs Rajasthani’s banana bread is legendary good. Everyone else is still asleep. Not even the monkey, who has the habit to jump from a peepul tree to the terrace roof with a loud bang is to be spotted. And so the terrace is all mine. I slowly sip tea and munch banana bread. Only then I turn the book around that rests on my belly. Then I turn my back to the world and travel to Fosterganj. A small village in the mountains of the Himalaya. In Fosterganj nothing ever happens and so we follow Hassan the baker, a man of great strength and many children for a while, through the streets of the village and on another walk we learn that something happened to him. We, who are just temporary visitors of Fosterganj, shyly approach the home of Foster, who listens to old songs, has no ideas of poultry and whose thirst is as unquenchable as his optimism. We meet a boy, who is no boy at all and a woman, who is unbearable sad. A hand might appear in the night but this is not for sure, for sure is: better be aware of leopards. A professor lives in Forsterganj, who is excited by funerals  till he goes to his own. We get acquainted with an unlucky pickpocket and unusual bank clerk. Jewels are found and lost in nearly one breath and the writer, who took us to Fosterganj in the first place gets lost and doesn’t use his typewriter much, but tries to catch a lizard and falls into the river. Maybe this is the way to write stories. In the meantime Fosterganj remains nearly the same, even a fire is just a temporarily disruption because Fosterganj in the outskirts of the Himalaya is a place where nothing ever happened. But the time in the village is well spent and for sure, who went once will come back sooner or later. In the meantime the sun in New Delhi stands high up the horizon, the children want to play UNO but can’t find the cards and downstairs the vegetable vendors appear with their wooden cart: „Sabzi“, „Saabzi“ they shout out loud and Mrs Rajasthani comes out of the bathroom with wet hair: „Read On, she says you have to fetch onions, peas and cauliflower and maybe some aubergines if they look good, will you?“ Of course I will, Mrs Rajasthani say I, fetching my shoes and add a kilogram of apples fresh from the Himalaya, maybe from a village close by to Fosterganj, crisp and sour, exactly as I like them best.

Ruskin Bond, Tales of Fosterganj, New Delhi 2013, Rs 295. 

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Delhi Diary-„Down there“

Every Saturday morning the older girls of the slum are coming to me. They bring scented candles I find so very hard to stand for longer than 30 seconds, I offer tea and sweets and my notebook. Fifteen girls between 13 and 17 years old are cuddling on the chairs, the floor and on my desk. They giggle and are watching their favorite Bollywood music clips on YouTube. They dance  Two of them are fiddling with my hair and while I am wearing a louse violet shirt they giggle even louder when they spot one of my bra straps. They love to paint their nails and are excited when I admire their colorful toes. They are young and full of life. They are all about to marry in the next few months. When I look at them I remember the first of such a Saturday session I ran in    a different slum in a different country a few years ago. I showed a picture similar to this one and 30 seconds later the room was empty. But the problem is still the same. The questions are still the same. The topics are still the same. The girls are getting to be married and it still is nearly impossible for them to talk about the sexual part of those marriages. Addressing such issues is the same thing as having ‚bad thoughts‘ and who would be the one to confess? But sometimes in this room on a Saturday morning with tea and giggles it becomes possible to go „down there.“ Maybe because the room is sch an outer space to the world they come from, maybe because I am such an outsider but not more than ten years older than them and maybe because they can come across my bra straps, pushing it back and giggle as loud as they want. Maybe its the scented candles. I do not know. But on most Saturdays at a certain moment they gather around my desk, sit on my lap and try to ask questions. It is not easy to get „down there“, and not only because my Hindi lacks in the ability to express such issues, but in the mere fact that the girls have no words themselves for the issues they want to talk about. None of the girls is able to name their own private parts or the respective male one. Introducing terms such as „penis“ or „vagina“ is a challenge of its own. „Down there“ is a dark, sinful and dirty place that causes embarrassment and shame and in respective to men: fear. Again and again I try to explain that the penis does not consist of a bone and therefore is and will never be: hard as iron or steel. You can see them breathing out. Sex and especially the first night after marriage is nothing shared in private but part of a social pattern.  The girl has to prove she entered the marriage as a virgin and I am always asked with eagerness: „How much blood will appear?“ The expectations are high and they stare at me in disbelief when I try to make clear that the rupture of the hymen is comparable to a pin-prick and not to a bottle of ketchup spilled over the table. Some girls want to know: „How much does it hurt?“ I always want to tell them that they should talk to the man they will be with, making their first sex for themselves as pleasurable as possible, but this is not going to happen. I try not over exaggerate. I try to explain that it is not that easy as widespread legs and man on top suggest but I have the feeling I always fail.  No I say, eating papaya/ pineapple/ tomatoes does not help to prevent pregnancy. No, dripping lemon juice onto the vagina after sex does not prevent pregnancy either. No, till you do an ultra-scan it is not possible to know the sex of your baby. I look into stunned faces. No, no won’t ever happen. i often try to encourage them to talk with their men after their married about their concerns, about themselves. But they look embarrassed and I stop. Girls I say, I make some more tea, tikke? Tikke,ok they say and turn their heads back to the music on my laptop. While waiting for the water to boil, I think of the many Saturday girls sessions I did between Dhaka and Delhi, trying to answer always the same questions. But still I makes me very sad that all questions concerned with „down there“ are full of fear and suspicion, of shame and disgust and never, not even once a girl asked me if sex can be something pleasant, intimate or desirable. None of the girls ever told me a phantasy or a wish, nor oral sex or an orgasm. None of the girls in no language ever spoke of making-love.

Delhi Diary- Mourning

When I hop off the auto-rickshaw I am stunned by the silence that surrounds me. This is highly unusual, because whenever I arrive the many children of the street are arguing, whose turn it is today to ride on my back. Today not a single child is to be spotted. While walking down the street, I see that in front of Dadu’s house a big, orange shining linen sheet was hung up between two trees. Under the tree, in front of the house, on the neighbour’s houses steps people are gathering. Most of them are women all clad in the most colourful sarees you might imagine. They wear sarees in peacock blue, sarees in saffron-yellow, sarees in tomato-red with golden embroideries and sarees in forest-dark green. But their faces are all covered and the closer I come the louder I hear their voices, I hear them clamour and I hear them cry. I hear screaming and sobbing and a minute later I realize that the women and few men are gathered around a body, a death body and I need two more minutes to realize that Dadu is dead.

Dadu ,meaning grandfather in Hindi, was not only the grandfather of eight grandsons and three granddaughter’s, he was the grandfather of the whole slum. And even if it is impossible to say exactly how old Dadu really was, he was exceptional old for an inhabitant of a slum, were most inhabitants die in their late thirties. Dadu was an authority and in terms of the slum a man of quite modest means. He sold vegetables, as did his father, who even grew vegetables at the banks of the Yamuna and his eldest son sells vegetables as well. Dadu sat prominently on a chair, chewed betel and smoked cigarettes while chatting with neighbours and closely observing if his son did well behind the vegetable cart. Dadu had a talent and one has to recognize talent whenever it occurs. Dadu was able spit the betel out in a way that it landed almost but never entirely in front of everyone else’s toes. It would not be over exaggerating to say that Dadu was a true connoisseur in the art of spitting. And Dadu made good use of this art, he spitted at all the children, who tried to steal Okra or an apple from his cart, one truly can say that Dadu knew how to gain respect. Now Dadu lies wrapped in a colourful carpet in the middle of the street, his body underneath wrapped in white linen. The colourfulness of the scene stands in sharp contrast to the crying and clamouring women, who lean on each other’s arms, the cries of the widow are heart-breaking and seem to be repeated as an echo in her daughters and daughter-in-law’s cries, till they fill up the whole street in an ever-repeating sound. When I come to pay my condolences to the widow,the youngest son, he himself crying leads me to his father’s corpse and takes back the white linen sheet that covers his face, so I can see Dadu for a last time. Peaceful he looks, his mouth slightly open as if not sure if to light up a cigarette or to chew on a new piece of betel. For half an hour I sit among the family and the neighbours, trying to ignore the smell of the incense sticks and the black flies that are covering the body despite the big blocks of ice lying underneath. The crying and clamouring gets louder as if to proof that the sadness is true and the loss unbearable because all the neighbours are standing on top of their roofs, on the street, leaning in their windows and grief has to be visible and needs to be heard. When I leave more relatives come and three hours later the men of the family will carry Dadu’s corpse away to a place where the body will be cremated. In the afternoon the rain sets in, the widow sits surrounded by close members of her family on an iron bed frame, someone carried outside earlier. She is not crying, nor clamouring anymore, she sits there forlorn and lonely, sobbing and drenched wet in her colourful saree that is the saddest colourful piece of cloth I ever saw. In the meantime the children are back on the street. The big ice blocks that were left behind are too great an attraction to go unnoticed in a slum, where nearly no household has electricity. Soon, more and more bulky pieces of the ice disappear to keep food cool instead of Dadu. The widow seems not to notice, for today she is lost to the world she lives in.

Delhi Diary-As an exception in German: Rosenblüte

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„Rosenblüte“, sagt Herr Salman, Sie kommen heute aber spät. Ich ächze und nicke, denn natürlich hat Herr Salman Recht. „Heute, bin ich wirklich noch weniger Rosenblüte, als sonst, Herr Salman, vielmehr ähnle ich einer zerknickten Nelke vom Straßenrand“, sage ich und seufze. Ich sehe wirklich zerfleddert aus.“ Rosenblüte“, sagt Herr Salman, Sie sollten nicht so viel arbeiten. Nun nicke ich und Herr Salman lächelt leise. Als ich Herrn Salman’s Geschäft, dass Sie sich nicht als vollklimatisierten Supermarkt mit Regalen, Kühltruhen und, sondern als langen, schlauchartigen, reichlich dämmrigen Raum vorstellen müssen, zum ersten Mal betrat, da fiel ich über einen in der Tür lehnenden Stapel Pappkartons und fluchend wie ein Bierkutscher krachte ich gegen die Ladentheke hinter der Herr Salman jeden Tag steht. „Rosenblüte, sagte daraufhin Herr Salman, haben Sie sich weh getan?“ Wehgetan hatte ich mir nicht, Rosenblüte aber bin ich geblieben. Jeden Tag gehe ich in der Mittagspause zu Herrn Salman. Ich kaufe Erdnussbutter, Erdbeermarmelade, ich nehme Schachteln voller Horlicks Kekse, ich kaufe Parle-G Kekse, ich kaufe Zahnbürsten, Zahnpasta, Hände voll Kaugummi, ich kaufe Seife in allen Formen und Farben, ich kaufe salzige Cracker und Käse in Dosen, ich kaufe Kakaopulver und Buntstifte, Wassermalfarben und buntes Papier. Am Dienstag und Donnerstag: neun Stauden Bananen. Ich kaufe Abziehbilder mit Superhelden und Abziehbilder die glitzern. „Rosenblüte, sagt Herr Salman, Sie und ihre Kinder.“ Ich nicke und lege noch mehr Seifenstücke auf den Tresen. Auf einem Notizblock rechnet Herr Salman alles zusammen und verpackt das Viele in immer genau so viel Tüten, dass ich sie bequem herumtragen kann. Rosenblüte, sagt Herr Salman, wie kommt es das Sie auf Arabisch fluchen können? Eine alte Gewohnheit sage ich und Herr Salman fragt nicht weiter. „Herr Salman sage ich, sind Sie aus Delhi?“ Gujarat, sagt Herr Salman und ich frage nicht weiter. 2002, sei er nach Delhi gekommen und für einen Moment wird das dunkle Ladengeschäft noch schattiger, noch dunkler als es ohnehin schon ist, so als würde das Licht mit der Erinnerung verschwinden. Wir nicken uns zu,Herr Salman hinter der Ladentheke und ich mit meinen Tüten vor ihm. Herr Salman greift wie jeden Tag hinter sich in das deckenhohe Regal, zwei Schachteln mit süßer Baklava oder Pistazienkonfekt oder süße Kugel aus Kardamom holt er herunter, nur um mit der anderen Hand, tief in das Bonbonglas zu fahren und den Inhalt so als sei es nichts weiter in meine Tüten gleiten zu lassen. „Herr Salman, protestiere ich wie jeden Tag, Sie sollen doch nicht!“ Aber Herr Salman lächelt nur leise, “ Es ist doch für die Kinder, Rosenblüte, sagt er für die Kinder.“ „Kinder sind doch wunderbar“ Danke, Herr Salman, rufe ich ihm zu, während mir sein Sohn die Tür aufhält. Bis morgen, Herr Salman! Bis morgen, Rosenblüte, bis morgen!

Zurück, drei Straßen weiter, stehen A., N. und P. schon in der Tür.“ Sie kommen spät, Read On“, sagen Sie und haben natürlich Recht. „Warum, fragt die N. mich später, nachdem alle Kinder, auf Marmeladenbroten, Keksen oder Bananen kauen, kaufen Sie eigentlich bei Herrn Salman ein?“ „Ich mag ihn und sein Geschäft“, antworte ich und sehe sie an. „Aber sagt N. und zögert schon, er ist doch ein Muslim. Gewiss, sage ich und weiter?“ und gucke dabei nicht einmal von meinen Notizen hoch. Ich weiß auch so, dass N. rot und verlegen zu mir herüber sieht. „N. sage ich ziemlich bestimmt, Sie kommen morgen mit zu Herrn Salman zum Einkaufen und laufe aus dem Zimmer, hinaus in den Hof, wo 200 Kinder, Bonbons lutschen, kichern, hopsen und schreien. „Sehen Sie Rosenblüte würde Herr Salman sagen, es sind doch wunderbare Kinder“ und streckte seine Hand noch viel tiefer, leise lächelnd in das Glas voller süßer Bonbons.

Delhi Diary-As an exception in German: Inmitten der Stille

Es ist ganz still. Frau Rajasthani lässt sich die Nägel machen. Im Zimmer ist es dämmrig. Herr Rajasthani kauft ein. Die Kinder sind in der Gitarrenstunde und die alten Rajasthani’s sind auf dem Weg nach Nainital, einem Paradies nicht nur für indische Rentner. Es ist ganz still. Auf dem Rücken liege ich halb im Schatten, halb in der Sonne, in jener merkwürdigen Dämmerstunde, die nie Tag und nie Abend ist. Lange schon ist mir das Buch aus der Hand gefallen. Eine ganze Stunde liegt  vor mir in der alles still ist. In die Stille hinein fliegt manchmal eine Taube, die sich aufs Fensterbrett setzt oder von weiter Ferne her quietschen die Reifen. Ansonsten ist es still. Müde bin ich, so müde und noch viel mehr. 100 Jahre lang schlafen klingt nicht schlecht. Ein wenig aus der Welt geworfen, schief und ein wenig verzogen fühlt sich das an. Ein wenig im Internet herum gelesen. Schneller noch wieder aufgehört. Gestaunt über das allerorten angerichtete Essen mit dazu präsentierten Weinetiketten. Immer wieder ein Staunen über die Festigkeit und Wohleingerichtheit anderer Leben, die nie ein Stück Käse vor dem offenen Kühlschrank essen oder schnell ein Blumenkohlparatha im Vorbeilaufen. Eine ferne Welt die ich nicht kenne, eine Welt aus Ehepaaren und Sonntagstatort, gutem Wein und tiefen Gesprächen, in ihr war ich immer nur ein entfernter Besucher, der sich nie recht zu benehmen wusste. Anderswo wird gebastelt, gehäkelt und gestrickt, ich sollte das schön finden denke ich, aber vor allem finde ich es langweilig und unendlich gleich. Ich wusste gar nicht, dass man sich um eine Schultüte den Kopf zerbrechen kann, aber ich war auch das Kind, das als Einziges keine Schultüte hatte und die Mädchen, die basteln und Schön schreiben konnten, waren alles, was ich niemals sein würde, das habe ich gelernt sobald ich in die Schule kam. Dann klappe ich das Notebook zu. Was habe ich schon zu erzählen? Und wer will denn hören, dass K.’s Mutter mir gestern stolz die Zahnbürste zeigte, die ich vor Jahren hier verteilte. Genutzt von fünf Personen. Mir selbst ist ja die Vergeblichkeit mit der ich heute loslief und 200 Zahnbürsten, das Stück 16 Rs besorgte und Zahnpasta dazu, klar und dennoch mache ich es, wohl auch weil ich kein Einhorn aus goldenem Zwirn stricken kann und keine Ahnung habe von indischem Wein. Eine stille Stunde nur, die langsam vergeht, die zögernd durchs Stundenglas rinnt, halb in der sinkenden Sonne und halb im dunkler werdenden Schatten liege ich, inmitten der Stille und verborgen vor den Augen der Welt.