12
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.

 

  1. Cathy says:

    I think you’ve done a great job with the images this week.

    Just a thought. I’m not sure if you’ve been to Kolkata before, but if you’re finding Delhi difficult…well Kolkata is up a notch or 10. Although there are fabulous 50s style taxis there :)

  2. india says:

    i struggle with India…though we share a name. the extremes of wealth and poverty, the filth in the air and the soil that contrast with the beauty of the flora and what is left of the wild [which of course you wouldn't find in the city]. great pix.

  3. Georgie says:

    Go to Kolkata – GO! It is a thousand times more charming than Delhi – the buildings & architecture for one, but the soul of the city is enchanting. Yes it will be hard, India is hard…but you’ve conquered the 2 week breakdown point and you’re in the mix now.

    Go.

  4. Eliza says:

    Loving it, m’lady… Husband shopping… so simple!

  5. Larissa says:

    I think u are a miracle worker, actually- the
    Photos are beautiful, as always

  6. Jen says:

    I could not stand Kolkata. Although it was the last city I stayed in after a month of experiencing India, so perhaps I was just tired of it when I was there. But really, I didn’t see anything lovely in Kolkata – the only nice place was the Park Street Cemetery. Oh, and you would love the Mullik Ghat flower market! Underneath the Howrah Bridge.

  7. suzanne says:

    The shot of the boy with balloons alongside plate of bright food/chilli is really beautiful. One of my all time fav’s. Look after your health you two. Take care.

  8. Gretel says:

    I am so glad you are making us all step out of our comfort zones. I am enjoying seeing the world through your eyes that explore and find beauty, humour and humanity in the most unlikely corners. You are helping to break down barriers :-) Take care of yourselves.

  9. Bird says:

    I am hooked on every update and every photo tells its own story of places I’d never knew existed and would probably never set foot in (often by choice).

    Get well soon to you both x

  10. JENNY says:

    I’ve never visited India apart from Delhi airport, hence
    your descriptions are so interesting and vivid. If you do manage to go to Calcutta (health permitting) I will look forward to your next blog.

  11. Louise says:

    Cathy – I’m not so much finding it difficult, I’m just cross about it. There’s so much potential here and the people are generally so lovely. I understand the overpopulation issue but why can’t they just blooming well clean up the joint! Anyway, I know I run the risk of sounding like a naive, Western prat but I can’t help it. On a positive note I do like the sound of those 50s taxis in Kolkata!

    India – Yeah, the air and soil issues are pretty huge aren’t they?

    Georgie – Thanks for that. The first week was actually the hardest, the second enjoyable, but this last week I’ve just felt so frustrated on behalf of people living here. And I guess the last neighbourhood wasn’t my favourite so that has tainted my view on things.

    Eliza – Thanking you!

    Larissa – That’s really lovely of you to say.

    Jen – Huh, interesting how different people find India isn’t it? Or else as you said, you’d just had enough by then.

    Suzanne – Glad you like it. Those poor kids, I hate to think what conditions they work under.

    Gretel – Well, that sort of comment makes it all so worthwhile. So glad you’re getting so much out of the project, thank you for saying.

    Bird – Again, it makes me pretty happy to hear that. Thanks.

    Jenny – Glad I could show you beyond the airport. I always find that a little frustrating – so near yet so far.

  12. bronnie_beede says:

    Wow. I went to India for a month, just to Delhi and Rajasthan and didn’t get any photos like those and you didn’t bore me with ones like mine (all amazing temples and marble palaces) – thank you, very interesting as always. Those rickshaw drivers sure have a uneviable lot in life, don’t they. They sleep in their rickshaws, have family stuck in the countryside and no opportunities to escape the cycle or improve things. If you think that neighbourhood was bad read “City of Joy” (much better than the film) and see the 2 part series “Slumming It” wherein Kevin McCloud goes and stays in a slum – both must-dos when you get home, Louise. In the meantime get well soon and keep going. Remember, a bad day travelling is still better than a good day in the office!

  13. Steve says:

    > Remember, a bad day travelling is still better than a good day in the office!

    Too true

  14. Anthony says:

    I was only in India once, travelling around for eight weeks with no fixed plan, using all sorts of local transport. Found it fascinating and hard work. By the end I was really glad to get away – and within weeks was thinking how much I’d like to go back and see the (so many) bits I missed. Haven’t managed it yet, but still think about it from time to time.
    Louise, I could ask lots of technical/artistic questions about your marvellous photography, but there’s one that’s really burning: how do you manage to get your camera into the faces of people – often poor, downtrodden people – and get such relaxed portraits?
    I’ve usually been too shy, and many wouldn’t enjoy being photographed. I usually try holding my camera up without pointing it at them, smiling at the subject and pointing at the camera, and waiting for a reaction – but I’ve never managed such closeups.
    Cheers, get well soon, and keep up the good work,
    Anthony, ex-Cabramatta, currently Munich

  15. Louise says:

    Bronnie-Beede – Well, that’s the precise aim of this project, to avoid the usual postcard shots of grand palaces etc and instead focus on the ordinary. Glad you enjoyed it. And you’re absolutely right about a bad day travelling is still better than a good day in the office.

    Anthony – I know that’s exactly how I’m going to feel when we leave: glad to go but within no time, wishing we could be back. To answer your question about taking portraits of people, I usually start a little wider and then gradually over the space of a minute or so move in until I’m happy with the framing. I think that actually helps the subject relax – you’re not just taking a quick throwaway snap, you’re serious about it. I think someone can sense that. I also think that it’s the people who aren’t madly rushing around in a high-powered job who are more willing to ‘sit’ for their portrait. It’s a novelty and a diversion for them. And lastly, you just have to get over the being shy bit – what’s the worst that can happen? Someone says no. If ever I’m feeling a little apprehensive about approaching someone to take their photo, I ask myself, what’s worse, that brief feeling of discomfort or missing out on the shot? It’s always the latter, so I always take the shot! Hope this helps and best of luck with it.

  16. Liz says:

    Come to Bangkok..I’d love to show you around.
    Liz ( Gay’s friend )

  17. Robert says:

    To be brutally honest Louise, this is not the India i ever wish to visit. In fact I would say that all of India would be well down around the bottom of my list of place not to visit.
    However your photos and courage is admirable.
    Once you are out of India, I am certain that Europe will cheer you up as well as improve your’s & Coco’s health.
    Yeah, henna tattos… could take off here as a trend.
    I am sure plenty of Ruby Rose “wanna be’s”, will line up for them.
    Anyone doing them in Sydney ?

  18. Louise says:

    Liz – Hi! Sounds tempting but I need to keep heading westwards! Many thanks anyway.

    Robert – But the thing is, unlike easier places, India gets under your skin because of the intensity, good and bad. So as Anthony said, you’re happy to leave it but pretty soon you want to go back. At least that’s been my experience the three times I’ve visited India. At times the filth, poverty etc gets to you but I certainly don’t regret coming here – I got a lot out of the first two neighbourhoods in Delhi especially. And I LOVE the henna tattoos! I’m sure they could take off in Sydney. Maybe I’ll open a little hole in the wall mehndi boutique when I get back…

  19. Jimmy says:

    Louise – another stunning live cross. I adore India & feel completely vital and energised in her presence. It started with a sparkly cushion and ended with an Indian partner. He says India is fabulous if you’re not Indian – which I get. Both of us love your photos and the honesty of your thoughts and words. India is hard work its not a Merchant Ivory film set – not always great, not always lovely but always worth it.

  20. yumi says:

    Thanks for yet another great post. I hope both of you are getting better. If you wish to try a different take on the subcontinent, make a quick trip to Kathmandu! The beautiful old architecture, temples and stupas more than make the effort worthwhile.

  21. Amelia says:

    Louise – the honest commentary and the beautiful colours are equally moving and inspiring. Thanks, and all the best for a speedy recovery

  22. Sarah says:

    Oh dear… being sick whilst travelling is horrible (and something you were worried about pre-departure). I was you a speedy recovery. I’m not sure about more time in India will be the cure, but you never know! I’m glad I visited it, but I’m not sure I’d return unless I was on the five star version of India (which is never going to happen, but a girl can dream right?)

  23. Kate says:

    …hope you’re feeling better soon – I could look at mehndi images all day – the colour of India is amazing, what a crazy place! …and an honest traveller, it is so refreshing!

  24. Louise says:

    Jimmy – Wow, that’s a great story. Still have the cushion?!
    Yumi – Love to go there, never been.
    Amelia – Thanks so much.
    Sarah – Yeah, the 5 star version would be pretty amazing and entirely surreal. And thanks, Coco is much better and I now just have a lingering hacking cough. Delightful.
    Kate – So glad someone else loves the mehndi!

  25. Fiona says:

    Hi Louise,
    The photos are amazing – great camera and more importantly, great photographer! Fantastic to be able to see the ordinary in all the suburbs you are visiting. Really enjoying all your beautiful photos and posts. Love the henna – didn’t realise it could be so 3D. Hope you are feeling much better now!

  26. Claire says:

    Hey Louise… another great post… the photos are gorgeous and remind me of my times there.. I loved it.. for all the reasons you do.. Sorry to hear you are/were both sick – Delhi belly – always the downside… xxx

  27. James N says:

    Hi,

    I (like most visitors) found New Delhi fantastically interesting yet very draining – sounds like you need a break. Two places that help us recharge our batteries while in India were Shimla (just north of Dehli) and Sarnath (a short tuk-tuk out of Varanasi, very quiet and relaxed, perfect break between Dehli and Kolkata).

    Hope this helps – great site!
    James N

  28. Trish says:

    So enjoying your photography and stories. Did you happen to come across a home for destitute women built by Quota International. Apparently, women whose marriages break down have nowhere to go as they are not accepted back into the folds of their own family, nor of the husband’s family and mostly have no way of earning money to support themselves and their children. This home tries to teach them some skills, provides clothing and educates the children etc.

  29. David says:

    Louise
    Well we all knew that India would be colourful but you have done an extraordinary job in that place. God you’ll need special help when it comes to editing for the book!

  30. Kris says:

    All of your photos are so wonderful, I particularly love the way you captured all the mehendi! So artful, I love them all, you have great vision.

    • Louise says:

      Kris, thanks so much. Oh, I loved the mehendi, those guys are mesmerising to watch!

  31. Jyothika says:

    WOW! Isnt india just the most beautiful place on earth!! Despite, the poverty, dirtiness, etc. it has this amazing rich culture that no where else in the world can top especially nowhere in the western world. I love India! :)

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