A bit of both…
(*) Thanks to Chiara for the anti-dust mask: highly appreciated
I have been looking for a while for an image that could give a visual representation to those who have never been in Delhi of what Old Delhi is.
And in my opinion nothing represents better Old Delhi than this: an ‘accrocchio’ (mess) of dusty electric cables, wound around each other, disorderly piled up generation after generation, family after family, and now forever part of this urban landscape, as lianas in a jungle…
Over the week end we visited the Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib, one of the most prominent Sikh* Gurdwara (or Sikh House of Worship) in Delhi. Situated in Chandni Chowk, at the heart of Old Delhi, this temple is easily recognizable for its golden domes that tower over the surrounding market.
Recommended by a friend of us, we were not, telling the truth, particularly impressed. What struck our attention instead was the attached refectory: a huge dining area where about 30,000 people (irrespective of their religious beliefs) are offered a meal every day. You just need to enter and sit, and someone approaches you asking what you would like to have.
And we did: we entered, we sat, and we were offered a chai (masala tea with milk, the Indian specialty) - which I politely declined, but Mathilde accepted it, liked it, and is still alive. We visited the kitchens, we entertained with a few people sitting close to us (always curious to see a foreign penetrate that ‘deeply’ India), we felt for half-hour ‘true Indians’…
In sum… who said that the most interesting part in a temple is the temple itself?
(*) For more information on the Sikhism, have a look at: http://www.matteoandmathilde.org/2009/11/guru-nanak-jayanti.html
As two good environmentalists, we attended yesterday evening the Earth Hour 2010.
Earth Hour is a global campaign which began a few years ago to raise public awareness about climate change. During the ‘Earth Hour’, individuals and municipalities worldwide are invited to switch off the lights for one hour to save energy.
Here in Delhi, the event was celebrated at the Indian Gate, one of the main landmarks of the city. During a tedious ceremony, the authorities on duty switched off a gigantic switch which should have symbolically switched off the lights of the Indian Gate and of the entire city. The turning off of the gigantic switch was preceded by pretty boring and empty speeches. In sum, all quite disappointing.
However, the evening was far from being a waste of time. On the contrary, it gave us the opportunity to make a new discovery. During the hour in which the lights of the city were off in fact, an Indian group that we didn’t know yet performed a concert by candlelight.
The Indian Ocean, that was the name of the group, is an Indian band that plays a mix of a newageish-fusion-traditional-jazz-&-blues music: electric sitar, guitar, bass, drums and percussions. Some of the songs reminded me those of the Tazenda (ve li ricordate???), but beside this vague association of ideas, we found this group and their music pretty original.
I looked for them on Youtube, but didn’t find many videos of them (but have a look at this just to get an idea of the kind of music they play: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0gxeUnP44I - or, if you have more time, click on “Launch Radio” on this site: http://www.indianoceanmusic.com/susmit.htm).
Anyway, you know what? Tomorrow I am going to look for their cd!
Sorry. I know that talking about the weather is a bit boring, and it seems to suggest that someone has nothing else to tell - and I apologize for this. But it is undeniable that since last week the weather conditions in Delhi have become a fixed idea in my mind. 39 degrees. Every day. And my (Indian) colleagues that, sniggering, keep on repeating: “This is nothing. You should see in May or June”. If this was meant to frighten me, well they have fully succeeded…
Anyway, while I have to confess I am a bit scared by the perspective of spending the next six months with temperature ranging between 45-50 degrees (every single day for six months!), I also keep on repeating to myself “If they can bear it, I can bear it as well”. Autogenous training? Perhaps…
For any problem, there is a solution - I was taught. A couple of days ago I had just come back home hot after a ride on my scooter in the Delhi traffic, and I thought that there is nothing better than having a refreshing shower to refreshen up myself. As I automatically do, I mixed cold and hot water, but, strangely, the temperature of the water was boiling. I progressively closed the hot water tap thinking I made the wrong mix, but there were no changes in temperature: the shower was still burning. Depressed, I gave up after a few minutes.
The following day I told the episode to a few friends of mine, provoking ironic giggles: “Obviously, this is your first Indian summer”. Bruno, a veteran here in Delhi, explained me that our water is collected in water tanks on the top of our roofs (ref. picture above): thick tanks of black plastic. Well, certainly a great invention - but the one who decided to install them on the roof-tops of the houses of Delhi is definitively not a genius! These tanks, radiated uninterruptedly for 180 days by the Indian sun, act like a pressure cooker: the water inside literally boils.
My facial expression must have said more than any word could have said, while the perspective of not having a cold shower for the rest of the summer progressively pervaded my mind…
But here the ‘importance of local knowledge’ comes. Bruno reassured me explaining that there is a simple trick to keep on having cool (if not cold) showers. To switch off the boiler (the water heater) and use the water from the boiler, instead of the water from the tank, to have cool water.
Smart, isn’t it?
Udaipur is famous for its handicraft, folk music, traditional dances, and… puppet shows!
Puppet shows in a way gather and synthesize all the above forms of art in one. With their carefully painted faces, bright coloured dresses and dazzling jewelry, puppets are indeed extremely refined pieces of handicraft. And in their shows, puppets perform traditional dances at the rhythm of folk music and magic in a captivating mix.
Already back in November, returning from her first trip to Udaipur, Mathilde had signaled us this performance. When we recently decided to visit Udaipur, she insisted that we had to see the show.
And we did: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=goMyGvIJlPY
Over the week-end I flew to Udaipur and joined mamma and Massimo in their last leg of their trip around Rajasthan: Agra, Ranthambore, Bundi, Chittorgarh, and, precisely, Udaipur.
As in most of the cities in Rajasthan, the main attraction in Udaipur was the former Maharaja’s palace, the City Palace. Besides the very nice location though (rising abruptly from the waters of Lake Pichola) the City Palace didn’t enter among the top palaces in our rankings.
However, our stay in Udaipur has been very pleasant, and, above all, an opportunity to chat and catch up after so many months apart.
Unfortunately, as in any self-respecting fairy tale, ‘midnight’ has come too soon - exactly when we were re-gaining that confidence that the time spent apart had made a bit rusty.
Mum and Massimo have in fact left India on Monday morning, back to Milan. Have a safe trip back. Happy you came and, above all, that you managed to see in person another stopping place in my itinerant life…
(Continues from the previous posts)
Rule number one when you travel: fidarsi é bene, ma non fidarsi é meglio (to trust is good, not to trust is better).
Remember when I paid my driver and dismissed him before jumping on the policeman’s vespa? Well, consistent with rule n. one, I took that opportunity to quickly remove most of the cash from my wallet and keep in it only the change that the driver gave me back. So, when the two cops asked me how much I had in my wallet, I almost apologized showing them that, unfortunately, I didn’t have much.
When I finally left the scene, I drew a deep sigh of relief: “God willing, this night is really over…”
End of the story? Well, not completely…
A few days have passed, and still the annoyance for how that night concluded has gone away yet.
The annoyance for having suffered an abuse of power, a wrong. The annoyance for not having been able to say no, for not having been able to oppose to an abuse. For not having been able to be consistent with my principles and values.
And it little matters that, with hindsight, that has probably been the wisest decision I could take in that very moment, the best way I could handle that situation. That in the end I paid much less than if I had had to pay the fine…
In the deepest part of my heart I know I could have said no. And I didn’t. And this bothers me enormously…
(Continues from the previous post)
In the middle of the night, with a tuk-tuk driver as only companion, on board of a rickety rickshaw, I began my journey into the darkness of Delhi - in search of my lost scooter.
And in fact, Delhi by night seems a totally different city. As much crowded and noisy during the day, as empty and quiet during the night - a ghost town: faint light from the street lamps, no one around but a few dogs. All is still, all is motionless. As in a dream...
And yet, every time we stopped at a crossroad looking for someone who could help us in finding the police station, a multitude of individuals emerged from the darkness. Dozens and dozens of skinny and half-naked men, from the garbage piled up on the sidewalks, from the flowerbeds of the roundabouts. Dozens and dozens, emerging from everywhere, as in a Romero’s movie...
These are the ‘PBPL’ of our reports and statistics: ‘people-below-the-poverty-line’, the poorest of the poor, individuals with no name, no age, no house, no rights or entitlements: nothing of nothing.
Deformed, ugly, stinky, and yet friendly and warm-hearted: they all took my case to their hearts when the tuk-tuk driver explained them the situation, and tried to be helpful as much as they could: spreading the word to the other tramps, offering to accompany us to the police station, simply being solidly behind. A gleam of human warmth in the middle of all that misery…
Following their directions, through a labyrinth of lanes and alleys, we reached three different police stations. Rather dreary places: shaky neon lights, stale smell, half-sleepy policemen in empty offices. Reluctantly, we were accompanied each time to the station's car deposit (more similar to wreck deposits than anything else) - each time to verify that my scooter was not there.
I had almost lost all my hopes, when at the forth police station we visited, the policeman on duty (a more zealous fellow than the ones we met before) asked me a few questions, made a few telephone calls, and finally told me to go with him.
Pervaded with a new hope, I paid and said good-bye to my trusty driver, and jumped on the Vespa of the policeman. In a few minutes we reached another deposit, where another cop was waiting for us. I hadn’t even crossed the gate of the deposit that I recognized my scooter parked there. I heaved a sigh of relief: “End of the nightmare” I thought.
We spent the following few minutes dealing with the usual paperwork: I showed them the documents of the scooter, they asked me the usual questions (name, address, what I was doing in India, etc.), etc., etc.
I had just finished pronouncing my deepest thanks and was ready to leave, when the two cops mumbled something. Before I understood they were saying “tip, tip”, one of the two asked me straightforwardly: “How much do you have in your wallet?”.
“Oh f…ck!” I thought, analyzing the situation. I was alone in a car deposit, at three in the night, with two armed cops who were asking me how much I had in my wallet. And I had just withdrawn cash that day…
“Oh f…ck!” I repeated to myself…
(I’m leaving tomorrow eve to Udaipur, Rajasthan, to join my mum for the week-end. I’ll be back on Sunday eve, and will conclude the story and tell how I dealt with the situation at my return. I am however curious to know what you would have done if you were in my shoes. Do let me know…)
“Is it safe to leave your scooter parked outside unattended?” asked me Garvey while we were saying good-bye to each other yesterday night. “Well, I’ll tell you in five minutes” I answered laughing, leaving the hotel.
If there was one thing I was quite confident about Delhi in fact was that it is a safe place. Never experienced or heard of any theft, robbery, etc. In short, never been worried of leaving my scooter unattended.
You can then imagine how I felt when I realized my scooter was not where I parked it anymore.
After having cursed Garvey (“Bird of ill omen!”), I started cursing myself: “Why didn’t I take a taxi tonight?”, “Why did I park it here?”, “Why me???”.
However, if there is something I recognize about myself is that I rarely panic. I noticed a few tramps who were sleeping on the sidewalk where I left my scooter. I approached them, I woke them up, and (gesticulating) I tried to ask them if they knew what happened to my scooter.
In an instant I was surrounded by a dozen of tramps who were confusedly speaking to me in an unknown language (Hindi? Urdu? Telugu???) while holding me by the arms, by the legs, by everything (!) - while other odd characters were appearing from nowhere and adding up to the small crowd. I was trying to politely wriggle out and sneak off, when someone in the crowd said “Police”.
In short, what I guessed out of the conversation with this person (but please, do imagine the situation: trying to ask questions to someone that only speaks Hindi - if it was Hindi at all) was that the police removed my vehicle as it was illegally parked on the sidewalk.
I gave a sigh of relief. Even though I was literally astonished thinking that the police had the time to remove a scooter from an empty sidewalk in an empty neighborhood in the middle of the night (they really have nothing else to do!), at least I was relieved by the fact that my scooter seemed not to be stolen. However, immediately after I started wondering “How the hell can I find my scooter back in the middle of Delhi in the middle of the night???”.
With the help of my tramps we managed to find a rickshaw (indeed not an easy task as all the streets were empty as if the city had been abandoned). I jumped on it and - ordering the driver “Police-station, police-station” - I started what, in truth, has become a journey in the darkness of Delhi…
I already said it, but I re-confirm it. We have received more visits in Delhi in five months than in DC in five years.
And yesterday evening I had a drink with Garvey, who passed by Delhi on his way back from Hyderabad to DC.
Garvey, who works at the International Relations Office of NASA, was here in India to discuss a partnership program between NASA and ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organization. He confessed me, with a bit of disappointment, that it took four years and half to sign an agreement with ISRO.
Well, according to my experience in India, there is nothing to be disappointed about. On the contrary, I consider it quite an achievement!
By the way, Garvey, did you ask me whether it was safe to leave my scooter parked outside unattended? Well, when I left the hotel, I couldn't find it anymore. But this is another story…
Receiving visitors provides always a good opportunity to discover a new piece of Delhi.
Yesterday we visited Jama Masjid and Old Delhi.
Jama Masjid is the largest mosque in India. Situated at the center of Old Delhi, it represents the heart of the Muslim community in Delhi: not less than 20,000 people crowd together in the mosque’s courtyard every Friday to attend the Friday’s prayer.
Old Delhi is the bursting heart of the city. Messy, chaotic, stinky: a stream of pestering hawkers, decaying beggars, rusty rickshaws, and holy cows. And yet colourful and vibrant. Old Delhi embodies the image that most people have of India.
Definitively, Delhi is not a place for demophobic…
Unavoidably, most of the posts in our Blog tend to be a bit Matteo-centric, or, at least, tend to reflect my personal point of view on most of the things that we observe and that happen to us. However, I don’t want to undervalue - and on the contrary, I would like to publicly acknowledge - the role that Mathilde has in this Blog.
First reader, sometime censor, but more often silent supervisor, she watches over me playing with my new toy as a parent watches over his or her child playing with other children in the playground: distant but always present. And for this reason, I would like to write for once a post for Mathilde. On Mathilde.
Mathilde and India. If it hadn’t been for her, we probably wouldn’t be here.
Fragile and at the same warlike in nature, Mathilde approached India (as life in general) like a storm (or like a monsoon if you prefer) - a burst of enthusiasm, determination and emotional potential. With only one moment of weakness: the second day in Delhi, when she complained of not having friends yet. But from the third day onwards she has been a river in flood. Was she missing Padma? Well, she found Prerna. Was she afraid that her telecommuting arrangement with CI could be perceived as a non-deserved privilege? She tirelessly worked every day from 6 pm to 12 am (and often beyond); she didn’t miss a single team-meeting, a single teleconference - indifferent to the time difference. Was she bored in the morning while I was in the office? She first enrolled in an Indian-dances class, and then - not happy with that - she joined a Yoga Ashram and became a disciple of Shivananda. Was she still feeling somehow not fully productive? She started volunteering for an Indian NGO three days a week, she became the right-hand man of the CEO, and she received a job offer just before she left to France last week.
Shall I continue?
But as a rose, that despite the thorns is yet fragile, so Mathilde tightly holds my hands every time we take-off or land, locks three times our door and can’t sleep if I am out on mission, desperately looks for a hug if we discuss about the future…
And as far as I am concerned, as a constant gardener, I try to take care of my rose, regularly manuring and watering her so that she keeps both her pointed thorns and her delicate fragrance. Because there is no rose without a thorn.
The times in Washington, with me travelling for weeks as a spinning top all around Africa while Mathilde complained about being left alone, seem far far away.
Since my arrival in India, the number of my work trips has reduced to almost zero, with great benefits for my wellbeing: I probably gained the couple of pounds I had lost while in Washington because of stress; I am managing to do sport quite regularly; and, well, can’t say my gray hair (which actually started becoming gray in Washington) turned brown - but at least I have the impression (or the hope?) that they are not becoming grayer…
The funny thing is that it is now Mathilde who is travelling like a spinning top. She was in France-Brazil-US in October before coming to India, she left to France-US-France last week and will be back at the end of March, she might go to Indonesia in April, and again to France and the US in May or June.
The doom of development professionals? A typical modern couple? Or an example of how sometime it is difficult to value gender equality in your daily life?
South Africa 2010. No, it’s not the venue of the World Cup 2010, but the winner of the ‘United Cup 2010’, the yearly six-a-side football championship for foreign-residents organized by the New Delhi United Football Club.
It was an extraordinarily well organized event: 16 teams representing 15 different countries of 4 continents (from Chile to Bangladesh, from Tanzania to Malaysia, from Austria to Malawi just to name a few) + us, the World Team (2 Irish, 2 Colombians, 1 Brazilian, 1 Argentinean, 1 French, 1 Ethiopian, 1 Kazakh, and of course 1 Italian). 4 Groups of 4 team each. Qualifying rounds, quarter-finals, semi-finals and final. Sponsors. National anthems at the beginning of each match. 1,500 US$ prize money. VIPs. Fireworks during the prize-giving...
And, in a way, our tournament has been truly epical. It had a bit of everything: thrilling and glory moments for an unhoped recovery and a last-minute win, the controversy for a bad referee decision, the pathos and the drama of the penalty shoot-outs, and, unfortunately, the bad luck in some key moments...
Passed the qualifying round as second-best team in our group thanks to the goal-difference (actually this happened last week-end, when we were in Kashmir), we won our quarter-final against Israel on Friday in an epic match, during which we had a terrific comeback from 0-3 to 5-3 in the last 15 minutes. It was a particularly sweet victory, as Israel played a very rough game. Their players (skinhead he-men - certainly from the Mossad!) seemed in fact more focused on tackling our ankles and challenging any referee's decision than on scoring in our goal. But precisely because of that, in the end the victory had a very sweet taste...
The semi-final against Gambia on the contrary was a paean to bad luck. Ahead 2-0 with only 5 minutes left after a match that - without rhetoric - we dominated, we were reached at the last minute because of an unfortunate deflection of one of us in our own goal. We eventually lost at the penalty shoot-outs, but can rightly complain for a ball that bounced behind the line of the Gambian goal that the referee didn’t convalidate. If we only had the instant replay!
We finally easily won the final for the 3rd place against Russia (3-1) in a match that left in us a lot of regrets: “Ah, if we had played catenaccio the last five minutes of the semis!”. But with only one Italian in the team, this was not possible...
Anyway, beside the bruises and the entertainment of the past days, I leave this tournament with the feeling of having found in my team mates a group of very nice people - with whom I easily got along and with whom I feel I could hang out in the future...
And in fact tomorrow, 8 am, I’ll be again on a football pitch playing with them. We need to start working hard to prepare the next tournment...
There are three Italians, two French and two Spanish…
No, this is not the beginning of a joke, but the group of us who travelled to Gulmarg over the week-end.
You already know Riccardo and Patricia from our trip to Jodhpur and Jaisalmer. You already met Elise in the past posts. Now, let us introduce you two new arrivals in Delhi: Roberta from Bari (sweet and mediterranean) and Bernal from Galicia (clean-and-smiling-face).
Nice week-end. Here it is one of the many videos we shot during the trip - a good example of the relaxed atmosphere of these three days: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfAPSsYl7MQ
From Switzerland to the Himalayas, from Geneva to Gulmarg (via Delhi) - and return. Elise (‘Elisetta de la montagna’ as she used to sign at the times of London) brought us loads of smiles and good mood for the past six days, but, alas, time has come for her to leave us and come back to the Alps.
Bye-bye Elisetta, have a safe trip back, and see you soon in Geneva, Paris, or (who knows?) Nairobi…
View from the hotel. (Photo credit: Mathilde)
Together with bungee-jumping, climbing Torre Aguglia in Cala Goloritzé, and visiting Antartica, ‘skiing on the Himalayas’ was certainly in my list of the ‘things to do before 40’.
Well, ticked it off.
Stories and pictures in the next few days. Meanwhile, a few videos…- Matteo & Elisetta - Skiing on the Himalayas:
- Elisetta - Milka style: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOPy2RRMzTc
- Matteo - how to fall: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIirSJeDPkg
This is our journal : notre journal de bord, il nostro diario di viaggio. ?xml:namespace>
Here are piled our stories, our adventures, our memories, our pictures, our thoughts and reflections…
Welcome on board!