8

Tilak Nagar

TN intro

 

Week four in Delhi and the lucky last in India. (Yes, I was contemplating extending our stay on the subcontinent, maybe swinging over to Calcutta for a quick look see, but in the end I decided to stick to the original timings and press on westwards to Istanbul tomorrow.)

Having touched briefly on Islam, Hinduism and the Jains over the last three weeks, I wanted to spend our final week here taking a look at the third largest religion in India, Sikhism.

So I nipped over to the biggest Sikh temple in Delhi before heading west to the largely Sikh neighbourhood of Tilak Nagar, some 17 km from the city centre.

While 17km isn’t very far, west Delhi felt quite different to the south where our last three neighbourhoods have been. It’s as dirty and dusty, probably more so, but there’s just something I liked better. Perhaps it’s the Sikhs themselves, infusing the place with their noble principles of equality amongst all humans, no matter what caste, creed or gender.

Let’s go Tilak Nagar!

 

Part 1: The big Sikh temple

Although I usually shy away from anything remotely big or touristy, I made an exception with Bangla Sahib Gurudwara, Delhi’s largest Sikh temple, located slam bam in the city centre. As I was pretty clueless about Sikhism I thought I might meet some Sikhs there and get a heads up before hitting the suburbs. The place is impressive but I went on a Sunday when it was so crowded with devotees and tourists that I didn’t dally.

Before I left, however, I met a bride-to-be performing a pre-wedding ritual with her family, and had a quick glance at the Sikh langar or ‘free kitchen’ that feeds up to 10,000 people a day no matter what their caste or creed – because Sikhism is all about inclusiveness, sharing and community.

 

finery

finery

 

 

 

Sunday best

Sunday best

 

 

 

the blushing bride to be

the blushing bride to be

 

 

 

super-size me :: 1

super-size me :: 1

 

 

 

super-size me :: 2

super-size me :: 2

 

 

 

super-size me :: 3

super-size me :: 3

 

 

 

Part 2: The little Sikh temple

After my flying visit to Delhi’s largest gurudwara, I headed west to possibly Delhi’s smallest, in Tilak Nagar. As usual, I found the local, untouristy alternative so much more satisfying.

As soon as I entered the gurudwara I was ushered upstairs by a gaggle of kids to meet the families who live on the premises. There wasn’t a lot of chit chat until I met the charming and cheeky Navneet Singh, a 14 year old Sikh nicknamed Paras who speaks perfect English. He lives outside the temple but was there with his sister and cousins for their regular music lesson. Luckily for me he was early and I was able to quiz him about all things Sikh.

Thanks to Paras I left the little gurudwara not long after feeling slightly less clueless than I had when I’d wandered in.

 

residents of the gurudwara :: 1

residents of the gurudwara :: 1

 

 

 

residents of the gurudwara :: 2

residents of the gurudwara :: 2

 

 

 

his turban was the colour of Jalebi

his turban was the colour of Jalebi

 

 

 

Navneet Singh, 'Paras'

Navneet Singh, 'Paras'

 

 

 

free spirits

free spirits

 

 

 

Prabhjot Kaur, friend of Paras

Prabhjot Kaur, friend of Paras

 

 

 

waiting for their music teacher

waiting for their music teacher

 

 

 

2 of the 5 K's - the Kara bracelet and Kirpan sword

2 of the 5 K's - the Kara bracelet and Kirpan sword

 

 

 

filling the gurudwara with their music

filling the gurudwara with their music

 

 

 

Part 3: Tying the knot, Sikh style

The second thing that made my visit to Tilak Nagar so unexpectedly enjoyable was also completely unplanned. For the past few weeks I’ve been wanting to stumble on a wedding. I’d almost given up hope of serendipity providing me with one when on visit number two to Tilak Nagar, I noticed jasmine in the hair of a woman as she walked quickly past my taxi. Now, jasmine in your locks can only mean one thing in India – a wedding. So I leapt out the taxi, ran up to the woman and with all the grace of an excited five year old stammered, “Wedding?!”

Yes, wedding. And what was more, I was in time to join the procession to the gurudwara which entailed a horse-drawn carriage and the wedding party dancing in the streets. Far from being viewed as a nosey outsider, I was welcomed like an honoured guest. In fact, for the first time in my life I think I was auspicious; as soon as I joined in the dancing, everyone clapped madly and money was waved over my head, in exactly the same way as the Jains had done two weeks earlier. Either that or they thought it was hilarious to watch the white chick trying to emulate their hip shaking dance routine. It was all caught on video by not one but two videographers. The things you do.

 

must be a wedding

must be a wedding

 

 

 

smiling band

smiling band

 

 

 

east and west-ish

east and west-ish

 

 

 

Before the procession started, we all had to wait around a fair while. Which is kind of tedious when you’re just a tot. Even when your twin is right beside you. And especially when you have to wear beads in front of your face as part of some century old tradition. Bor-ing.

 

double despair :: 1

double despair :: 1

 

 

 

double despair :: 2

double despair :: 2

 

 

 

double despair :: 3

double despair :: 3

 

 

 

c'mon kids, at least you're not at the dentist

c'mon kids, at least you're not at the dentist

 

 

 

the wait over, they make their way to the gurudwara

the wait over, they make their way to the gurudwara

 

 

 

dancin' in the streets

dancin' in the streets

 

 

 

and then the world exploded

and then the world exploded

 

 

 

Eventually the procession ended up at the gurudwara and after a few rituals – garlands of flowers being donned, prayers sung – the bride suddenly appeared and made her way over to the waiting groom. The groom unveiled the bride’s chooda or wedding bangles and then rid himself of his own veil, before they all filed inside the gurudwara; I stuck my head in briefly to see everyone sitting around while various songs were sung and rituals performed. I felt I’d intruded long enough and it was time to go.

 

the bride appears

the bride appears

 

 

 

approaching the groom

approaching the groom

 

 

 

unwrapping her 'chooda', wedding bangles

unwrapping her 'chooda', wedding bangles

 

 

 

a wedding where the man wears the veil and she wears everything else

a wedding where the man wears the veil and she wears everything else

 

 

 

the bridesmaid and the flower boy, maybe

the bridesmaid and the flower boy, maybe

 

 

 

all the best for a long, happy marriage my children

all the best for a long, happy marriage my children

 

 

 

Part 4: And just for good measure, a Hindu temple

In the Sikh spirit of inclusiveness, and seeing as it was the birthday of Hindu god Shiva this week, I made a brief visit to a couple of local Hindu temples in the area.

 

look Shiva, she's getting married on your birthday

look Shiva, she's getting married on your birthday

 

 

 

Hindu temple of Santoshi Maa, Mother of Satisfaction

Hindu temple of Santoshi Maa, Mother of Satisfaction

 

 

 

Santoshi Maa temple and devotee

Santoshi Maa temple and devotee

 

 

 

Hindu and Sikh, living in harmony

Hindu and Sikh, living in harmony

 

 

 

Part 5: On the road

One of the things you first notice when you arrive in Delhi is how many taxis are driven by the turbaned Sikh. And seeing also as I have spent so much time sitting in taxis over the last month, in traffic or just getting from A to B, I thought it apt that we end with images from the road.

 

Mr Amar Singh, taxi-driver for 40 years

Mr Amar Singh, taxi-driver for 40 years

 

 

 

mobile gurudwara - reading prayers in his cab

mobile gurudwara - reading prayers in his cab

 

 

 

white as a Hindustan Ambassador :: 1

white as a Hindustan Ambassador :: 1

 

 

 

white as a Hindustan Ambassador :: 2

white as a Hindustan Ambassador :: 2

 

 

 

white as a Hindustan Ambassador :: 3

white as a Hindustan Ambassador :: 3

 

 

 

through the car window - the eunuch and the armless man

through the car window - the eunuch and the armless man

 

 

 

through the car window - the flower seller

through the car window - the flower seller

 

 

 

through the car window - the window cleaner

through the car window - the window cleaner

 

 

 

The Wrap

Tilak Nagar ain’t no oil painting. But I really enjoyed it, thanks largely to Paras at the gurudwara and the Sikh wedding party. My visit to India would’ve felt incomplete without a wedding; I bow low before my god, Serendipity, and give humble thanks.

 

Thanks India, it's been wonderful and terrible, uplifting and depressing, joyful and sad

Thanks India, it's been wonderful and terrible, uplifting and depressing, joyful and sad

 

 

On the ‘home front’

Coco and I would also like to say a huge thanks to everyone in the house here for the various ways in which they’ve all helped over the last month. To Ronnie, Suzy, Wayne, Jed and Jennifer, dhanyavād!

I know he’ll never read this but thanks also to Sebastian, for fighting the traffic chaos to deliver me safely to whatever destination madam required.

I am looking forward to getting on that plane tomorrow – but there are things I’m going to miss. The colours of course. But other less obvious things, like being asked what my ‘good name’ is. And seeing joy go dancing down the streets, in the form of a Jain celebration or a Sikh wedding. And the street kids, who don’t know they could justifiably complain to the high heavens about their circumstances but instead just get on with it, playing under the overpasses and laughing their way through the dust and dirt.

This suburb has been brought to you by Simeon and Sarah

See you next week. In Istanbul…

 

7

Lajpat Nagar

LN intro

 

I’m not going to mince words: this week’s neighbourhood is a dump. A dirty, dusty, ugly, maddeningly congested dump. I know this project is all about seeking out beauty and interest where you least expect it but I’m not a miracle worker.

So why did I choose Lajpat Nagar as Suburb No 7? Because amongst the woefulness is what many locals consider to be the best market in Delhi and I was curious to see where Delhiites go to shop.

A few facts before we peruse. This South Delhi hood was developed in the 1950s and named after a famous Indian author, freedom fighter and politican, Lala Lajpat Rai. While the neighbourhood is actually quite enormous, divided up into four sections, I focused on Lajpat Nagar III and the Central Market area. Due to the fact it’s on a Metro line, Delhiites come from all over the city to take advantage of the market’s variety and bargains.

 

Part 1: Central Market

The main offerings at Central Market appear to be clothes, shoes, fabrics, jewellery and all manner of household items. And should all that retailing raise your appetite, a wide variety of street food, including the usual fare of chapatis and fried foods as well as doughy ‘momo’ dumplings, is available for a handful of loose change.

 

escaping from my lens onto a waiting rickshaw

escaping from my lens onto a waiting rickshaw

 

 

 

a modern Sikh in an, ahem, modern city

a modern Sikh in an, ahem, modern city

 

 

 

and the shoes to have them in

and the shoes to have them in

 

 

 

I'd kill for a momo

I'd kill for a momo

 

 

 

balloons

balloons

 

 

 

As I wandered and started taking shots of people, I became curious about the various markings many Hindus wear on their foreheads. As far as I can work out, they fall into three categories. Married women wear the red sindoor in or just below their hairline to denote their married status. Anyone can wear a bindi, which is for decoration only. And tilak marks are applied on both men and women for religious purposes. The most common tilak is the red dot, applied between the eyebrows; the tilak functions as a symbolic third eye for seeing spiritual reality.

It appears that Hindus can wear none of these markings, one or two, or a combination of all three.

 

squiggles also count

squiggles also count

 

 

 

hot pink

hot pink

 

 

 

off to the markets for a quick bite

off to the markets for a quick bite

 

 

 

adornment

adornment

 

 

 

golden brown finer temptress

golden brown finer temptress

 

 

 

the chapati maker

the chapati maker :: 1

 

 

 

the chapati maker :: 2

the chapati maker :: 2

 

 

 

Part 2: Another type of mark

Lajpat Nagar markets are also where you find excellent mehndi or henna work. For 200 rupees, roughly AUD$4, you can transform your hands and feet into works of art, albeit temporary ones. The mehndi artists sit lined up along the pavement, waiting for their next blank canvas to stop by. Once they start painting the incredibly intricate, elaborate designs, which can take up to two hours to finish, they become completely focused, lost in their miniature creations. I went back time and time again just to witness their art and finally to be drawn on myself.

 

artists at work

artists at work

 

 

 

temporary tattoo

temporary tattoo

 

 

 

waiting for the henna to dry

waiting for the henna to dry

 

 

 

After watching half a dozen hands being decorated, I wanted to know why Indian women do the mehndi. Rachel, the girl in the images below, told me that it was compulsory for brides to have it done whereas for the brides’ relatives it was optional but very common. She was attending her brother’s wedding the following day in faraway Rajasthan as were two other relatives and so they were all there being mehndi-ed.

 

one hand done, one to go

one hand done, one to go

 

 

 

finally finished, two hours later

finally finished, two hours later :: 1

 

 

 

finally finished, two hours later :: 2

finally finished, two hours later :: 2

 

 

 

the wedding party

the wedding party

 

 

 

On my third visit to the markets I uncovered my pale white feet and offered them up to be painted on.

 

henna applying

henna applying

 

 

 

henna drying

henna drying

 

 

 

henna dried, two days later

henna dried, two days later

 

 

 

Part 3: Temple

Before I arrived in Delhi I thought there would be a temple on every corner. Seemingly not. While there are quite a few of the small ones enclosed in glass around the place, the big, showy ones are a lot rarer.

Anyway, after some searching I did find a Hindu temple in Lajpat Nagar, called, I think, Shri Lakshmi Narain Mandir. This is where devotees go to perform pujas, which can mean anything from a simple prayer to one or all of the gods, or the full blown 16 step number.

It was hard to learn much there – language barrier the biggest obstacle – but my ‘research’ revealed that Hinduism has millions of gods but they’re all really the same, one god. And you pray to a certain one depending on your problem or desire.

Shiva is the main god here while the elephant god, Ganesha, as well as myriad lady gods, also make an appearance.

 

chillin'

chillin'

 

 

 

goddesses

goddesses

 

 

 

Laxmi, goddess of wealth

if you're after good fortune, pray to Laxmi, goddess of wealth

 

 

Apologies – more mehndi follows. As anyone who followed my first project, 52 Suburbs in Sydney, may remember, I’m more than a little obsessed with tattoos – and mehndi is really just a temporary tattoo.

 

lattice like

lattice like

 

 

 

light and shade

light and shade

 

 

 

swirls and curls

swirls and curls

 

 

 

Part 4: Looking for a wife or hubbie?

Perhaps the most interesting thing I discovered this week was the ‘Matrimonial Service’ that the temple in Lajpat Nagar provides. Those seeking a spouse fill out a form, stipulating their caste and whether there is “Any defect in any part of body” amongst other things, and they’re then placed in certain files: Professional Women, Business Boys and my favourite, ‘Homely Girls’. You come in, tell one of the social workers what you’re after and they’ll hand you a file with hundreds of potential matches.

I only stumbled across this when I was putting my shoes back on after visiting the temple. I glanced across at the girl sitting next to me who was scrutinising a form and making hurried notes. When I read Matrimonial Service at the top of the form, that was it. Curiosity piqued. Luckily for me Kirta, a 26 year old Brahmin, was very happy to answer my questions. Yes, this was a popular way to find a spouse. No, she wouldn’t marry out of caste. And the three things most important to her? Height, weight and salary.

 

Kirti, 26, Brahmin, husband shopping

Kirti, 26, Brahmin, husband shopping

 

 

 

piles of hope

piles of hope

 

 

 

Bushan, searching for three months for a 'homely' girl

Bushan, searching for three months for a 'homely' girl

 

 

 

perusing the candidates

perusing the candidates

 

 

 

seeking a Sikh - female, 'homely' - for a friend

seeking a Sikh - female, 'homely' - for a friend

 

 

 

I then met the chatty Naresh Kumar, a social worker who oils the machine of the Matrimonial Service, and his sweet colleague, whose name I couldn’t decipher. They explained that the service was on offer in many temples but this one was particularly popular, drawing the hopeful from all around. And that despite India’s tentative grasp on modernity, caste and astrology still played a critical role in finding a compatible spouse.

 

Naresh Kumar, the matchmaking social worker

Naresh Kumar, the matchmaking social worker

 

 

 

romance or the social worker, which one helps Delhiites to get hitched

romance or the social worker, which one helps more Delhiites to get hitched?

 

 

 

Later that day I met one of Delhi’s many ‘lady builders’. I couldn’t know for sure but I doubt she ever had a chance at hitching up with a Business Boy.

 

incompatible

incompatible

 

 

 

Anyway, she was already married and, despite her status in society, would have enjoyed a relatively fancy wedding.

 

even lowly workers have fancy weddings

even lowly workers have fancy weddings

 

 

 

Well, maybe not everyone…

 

I wonder if she'll ever get a chance of being in the pile

I wonder if she'll ever be in the pile

 

 

 

my kind of arranged marriage

my kind of arranged marriage

 

 

 

The Wrap

I continue to be horrified by the level of filth and congestion outside of Lutyen’s New Delhi, the bit built by the British with manicured gardens and well swept streets. And as someone who gets off on the architecture of a place, Delhi is just so bereft – again, aside from the British Raj monuments and the many ancient tombs, the general look of housing and retail areas is just so unappealing. Not charming old nor shiny new, just badly built and hodgepodge. With a population of 13+ million, Delhi has too many people and not enough resources to improve things. And of course when you see the poorest of the poor just trying to survive, you feel ashamed to complain about anything at all.

But, what I also keep being surprised by is that as abysmal as the built and natural environments can be, there is so much beauty in the people, the saris, the temples and the street food. And in the case of Lajpat Nagar, the art that may fade quickly but will leave an indelible mark on me forevermore.

 

there's nothing shiny and colourful about the lives of half a million cycle rickshaw drivers

there's nothing shiny and colourful about the lives of half a million cycle rickshaw drivers

 

 

On the ‘home front’

Coco and I have finally succumbed to Delhi’s putrid air and have both been sick the last few days. I lay in bed last night, shivering with flu-like chills and a racking cough, unable to sleep. And all I could think was, get me off the island, or subcontinent in this case. Just days ago though I was contemplating extending our stay (we’re due to leave in a week) and me hiving off to Kolkata for another fortnight. Now I don’t know if I want to put my lungs through another big, dirty albeit interesting Indian city. A first world problem in a third world country if ever there was one.

 This suburb was brought to you by Jo and Jeremy

See you next week.

 

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