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Mezze is widely served in the Greek and Middle eastern world. An assortment of little dishes and tasters which accompany a nice ouzo or a glass of wine. So when you read mezze moments you will have tasty snippets of life as I live it, India for four years and now Brisbane Australia, all served up with some Greek fervour and passion.

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Friday, 30 April 2010

New Delhi Railway station and Lost railway children

I want to share a story with you that is close to my heart and which has made me view things here in a wholly different light.
Did you know the railway station raises children ? Not as we would expect from a mum and a dad but because there is no mum and no dad and there are children, hundreds of children, indeed thousands who find themselves taken in by this strange, rather large, frightening parent where they can live, if not thrive, barely eat and yet survive.
Children who come because of the thrill of riding one of these beasts into the unknown. God knows all our children have wanted that adventure. The difference is that ours return and these do not. Children who are brought here by impoverished parents, like Shahadutt whose father brought him to Delhi to work in an embroidery factory aged 6 and was then abandoned. Children who come to festivals and events and just lose the grip of a parent and end up in an unknown city seeking refuge in a place that is alive and going 24/7. Street children who have run away from abuse, and ill treatment and find solace in peer groups and companionship.These children number over 3000 a year. It is a staggering number of lost little ones.

The amazing thing is that the railway for all its noise,dirt, congestion and dangers is the place where these children come to find food and comfort. Food, I have found out, is never an issue. They eat the remnants off the train and the temples nearby will never turn them away. They make some money being chai wallahs and shoe shines boys or running errands but never more than they can spend because as one boy said - it just gets stolen. If they have a few rupees in their pocket they spend it watching a Bollywood movie.
There are drugs and there are gangs. There are pimps and there are young girls who are shamelessly abused and led into prostitution. The boys are hardier though not immune to the precariousness of their existence, sleeping in the eaves beneath the railway bridges and eating what scraps they can find.
Salaam Baalak trust which basically translates to "Salute a child" was started in 1988 and now runs three boys shelters and one girls shelter with hundreds of children that agree to abandon their ferous parent for another, an institution that promises education,sometimes a vocation, food and shelter and above all safety.
I went on a City Walk led by a former street child which is conducted in and around New Delhi Railway station where I was shown the contact points for the kids, where they live and sleep, where they get their supplies and where if they need to, they can access medical care. For me however the most moving part of this experience was meeting the little boys who are being held in the holding shelter a few roads in from the railway station. Boys of 5 to 15 with smiling, loving faces, waiting to hear the outcome of their lives. If they agree to come away from the station they are kept here where they are investigated to see whether they are able to find their families and return to them or whether that would not be suitable.
These boys seemed like prisoners but I acknowledged that they were locked in to keep them safe from the predators that would otherwise take advantage of their vulnerable lives. They can then be returned or accommodated in one of the hostels where they are able to go to school and live normal lives.

I have found their innocence and their acceptance of what life has dealt them heartbreaking. I hope to help whether it is to advertise the City walks - anyone can participate, just ring 9910099348 / 9873130383 and ask to go on one.
or to ask for sponsors of the children's education for rupees 28,500 per annum, less than £500 a year.
or to see what what some of the children have managed to achieve.
Log on to http://www.vickyroyphotography.com/ to find out about how Vicky rose from being a lost railway child to a celebrated photographer able to make his own living.
or to collect Lego which is my small hairbrained western idea of something to occupy idle hands
There are opportunities for volunteers and for materials like pens and paper, clothes and shampoos.
Whatever the Trust or any one of us can do for these children will be a fraction of what they deserve and can expect from life so please think about ways in which you can make a difference to these children today.
Finally there is an additional reason why I am writing today to encourage you living in Delhi to go to the Indian Habitat Centre The Visual Arts Gallery to see the Art Exhibition entitled Where the Streets have no Names curated by Dr Alka Pande with a string of well known artists who have teamed up with the children to produce some fabulous works of art. If you are in Delhi go along on the 29th and the 30th to see this wonderful collaboration.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The deserts of Rajastan are in the air

Last night at about 900 pm I went out with the dog and while I did not capture for you the lightning and the thunder I can tell you that the tall eucalyptus trees were swaying wildly in a wind that was full and I mean full of dust particles. You could sense them and breathe them. Even this whirly wind of dust had its silver lining ( and in this case literally ) because all of a sudden we felt big drops of water in the air pelting down us as we dashed for cover. Its preciousness not unfelt.

The moisture was too little and was sucked away almost immediately. There was a perceptible coolness in the air this morning and a tree that had been brought down by the storm. The house was covered by this thin layer of dust once more, the bain of every housemaid within miles.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

The 15 Minute Morning walker

An advertisement in the paper had the testimony of 15 people whose lives have been changed by their 15 minute walk. Oh I thought a group I can relate to and hungrily read on only to discover that this was a machine where you lay down put your feet on it and it walked you 10,000 steps in 15 minutes.
I applaud the entrepreunership
I howl at the joke value of such a machine
I am unbelieving that even 15 people have even contemplated using it
It is extraordinary what people will do to avoid walking
Is there a greater pleasure than to walk and take things in all around you ?
Why would you want to play dead and pretend you did it unless you were old and infirm and had medical cause to need this assuming it was even proved to be effective which I doubt?????
Readers get real, look around you and see the obese people and kids who are the future of diabetes and heart disease in this country.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Burnt earth calls for bright colours

There is nothing left to the texture of Indian earth - it is parched and pulverized. Its particles find us at every corner and outlet. A thin film of dust covers everything and it is of no consequence how diligent you or others are at cleaning - dust is the outright winner of this season. The reason I write about it is because I have never lived in a country where the conditions are SO harsh and so punishing and yet and yet ...

This is the season for Flame trees. (Flamboyants )These eternal trees of spring and joy in Africa which brightened so much of our life when we lived in that continent and whose origins are from Madagascar.Here they are blossoming now all over the city but we often have to lift our eyes way above our normal horizon of lines of traffic or autorickshaws to get any view of them.They are resplendant and glorious. In India they are known as the Gulmohar. In West Bengal  and Bangladesh they are called Krishnachura.

And then on my daily early morning walk with beloved pooch who is also feeling the heat there are these.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Behind Closed Doors

In temperatures like these there is a tendency to stay inside and perhaps behind closed doors where the rooms are dark and the currents are cool, where mattresses and cushions are laid out on the floor and where refreshing drinks are served to parched souls. I walked through a hot old Delhi and I could not help being curious about life behind these doors if only because the doors themselves are like works of art waiting to be displayed and admired by every bystander. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

When in Delhi ....

Do like the Delliwalllahs do ....
The temperatures are sky high at the moment. A heat wave is gripping us and at 44 C it is ripping every bit of energy and moisture out of us. We look like this piece of ground from a pond nearby.

Delhiwallahs and perhaps other cities as well have found their own way of keeping cool and these systems have intrigued me ever since we arrived. They look like giant fans in a big box and they have grass lining in them which is kept wet. When the fan sends air through the wet grass the moisture translates into a noisy (to add to all the rest !) but effective cooling system. I tried to find out who invented this because it is ingeniously simple and clever. We have one installed in the house which cools communal areas which are not air-conditioned and every year the system is serviced - well new grass needs to be put in the frames for it to work efficiently. I captured the men doing the service in the garden.

I have found out they are called Nagpur desert coolers because they are very common in the central Indian city of Nagpur where the temperature is usually over 40C (104F) during summers.In Delhi the temperatures in May are closer to  40C - 45C.Some people prefer these desert coolers, not to mention that these are significantly cheaper compared to an air conditioner and more ecologically friendly. A good Indian Invention if it is that - any information gratefully received.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

The new resident

The latest addition to the family.

In Geneva we used to have a family of kites who came to nest in the trees growing in the forest area by the stream at the end of our garden. We watched them mate and then be proud parents of a young kite and we followed their life with considerable interest.

So when this young kite appeared we took it as a sign of good luck and are looking out for it here too.
The suggestion is that it nested in trees not far from us but that perhaps it fell out of its nest, or had a teenage revolt or at any rate seems to be at logger head with its parents.

It comes and sits on our garage wall and drives the dogs crazy.
We love to see it and wonder if it is a Kate or a Kevin,
a Khan or a Kumari.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Still hot but beware the forces of nature ..

It has been getting hotter, and while still on this theme I decided to have a swim at dusk. So I jumped in the pool and enjoyed its coolness as I listened to to the kaaaaaaaaaaacalls of the peacocks and the nervous chirpings of plovers nearby. A beautiful indian jay was silhouetted on the sausage tree.
I swam with a halo of mossies around my head and that made me think that perhaps this was their way of redeeeming their otherwise worthless existence- elevating mine to saint /goddess status.
I had to think again though as suddenly I saw something heading straight for me - I ducked and thought this bird needs a better GPS but actually no sooner had I turned then another dive bombed for me again.
Fruit bats frolicking with human decoy.
Time to exit pool and seek refuge in marble fortification.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Khajuraho an erotic heat

Situated in a Madhya Pradesh which is rapidly becoming one of my favourite states, is Khajuraho. Khajuraho gained its name in all probability from the Sanskrit word Khajul which means date palm common to the area.There is romance in the way the place was built and erotic energy in what remains of it today.
Legend suggests that Khajuraho was built by the son of the moon god who came upon a beautiful maiden bathing in a stream. History points to the Chandela dynasty who built these beautiful temples in a burst of architectural uniqueness and expression. Only two groups remain today the western group and the eastern group.The western group temples are exquisite and are well worth a long walk in the beautiful grounds and then catching the interesting Sound and Light show in the evening. It tells the story of the dynasties at the time and uses the grounds to light up the temples superbly.
The temples were built around 950- 1050 and some took years to complete.They are adorned with fine sculptures of erotic art, hunting scenes and  processions. Bestiality and group sex scenes were not uncommon but most beautiful and enduring, at least in my eyes, are the women sculpted with full breasts, always twisting suggestively to the viewer, sometimes wearing diaphanous wrap-arounds which emphasize their curvaceous bodies and their allure.
The sculptures and the extent of detail is truly magnificent and it is still a question in my mind which has remained largely unanswered as to why the Chandelas wanted to show so much of the sexual side of life and how intricate, complicated and unconventional it was. Or was it ? Perhaps that was convention for them and perhaps with the passing of the ages, sexual mores, practices and religion have made us view these temples with our latter day eyes.These latter day eyes certainly saw these women who unbelievably were dusting the sculptures like any good housewives would be doing. It made me laugh.

The light was fading as we left the complex and the sandstone shimmered in golden hues. The night rapidly descending on them when the temples come alive again with all the intrigues and machinations of those who were holy and those mere mortals who relished life to the full.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Getting Hot ?

Stop and sip a nimbu pani and crunch on a kakari. 
These Indian cucumbers are unlike ones I have ever seen and it takes an small act of faith to try them - but I have no hesitation in recommending them. Small, twirling and bright green they are cracking and crunchy with some rock salt and even lime. Try them. Er rinse in some clean water first.

And when you have had enough well curl up and have a sleep

Delhi meteo says heat wave on its wave - 40 C today and getting hotter. Keep crunchy cool.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Hauz Khas Lake

Hauz Khas is one of my favourite little havens in Delhi and I have written about it on a number of occasions. It combines living history with progress and development and it seems to do it well.The beautiful archaeological remains there, not least the Madrassa, are receiving a bit of an uplift from the Archaeological Survey of India.

The last time I visited however the Lake was in such a sorry state. This beautiful tank, lovingly restored by Firoz Shah has ended up not being the cooling, calming and colourful side of Hauz Khas but this stinking mass of sewage outflow which is, I grant you, colourful but for all the wrong reasons.It receives sewage from Vasant Khunj but whereas this should have been treated and aerated it remains untreated and stagnant and has killed off all life while being a massive breeding ground for mosquitos. This is how colourful it is and I wish I could have a means of conveying the stench that emanated from it when I was there. Mercifully I am not that technologically savvy,so you will have to take my word for it - it was not pleasant.

We watched in horror as men bucketed out the filth and then poured it onto the sides. Not exactly a productive exercise you might think- but news today has suggested that where the government has failed to take action, individual citizens are now rising to the challenge- similar to the women whose initiative I praised in my last posting.

The residents of Safdarjung Enclave are holding public meetings and are taking up the cause with the appropriate government department which leaves me hopeful that a civic voice is being raised at last and hopefully will soon be heard as it should in one of the world's largest democracies.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Plastic rubbish

India has a lot of it. It is not surprising. Its development is staggering.
So it is totally heart warming when initiatives are started often around a kitchen table and become important messengers of conservation and recycling.A group of women decided that they wanted an alternative to the plastic bag. So they started making cloth bags in their kitchens over a cup of tea.
That is how SAMBHAV was created. The housewives reckoned that a green grocer may use over 100 plastic bags a day which immediately get thrown out into the environment. Sambhav is now expanding rapidly, the demand for cloth bags is increasing and these women who started this small but important task from their kitchens are now selling to corporate clients and doing the environment a favour in the process.

This is from a similar initiative in Himachal Pradesh.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Indian Census 2011- No April Fools

Is there a word which explains that you have been subject to the Census ?
Is it censud ?
Censured ?
Censussed ?
Whatever it is April 1st marks the start of the Indian Census 2011.
President Prabha Patil will be one of the first to be ..........
Details will be obtained on numbers, literacy and mortality, religion and migration.
Why am I sharing this with you ?
I am impressed at the scale of the undertaking. It is a colossal exercise.
Remember Indias current population is estimated at 1.3 Billion
It will yield valuable information that the Indian government can use for planning the future of this burdgeoning economy and it will use 11,631 metric tonnes of Paper.
Now how on earth did they arrive at that figure I ask you !