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.

 

6

Lodhi

Lodhi intro

 

After last week’s foray into a small but densely packed Islamic enclave, I thought we’d turn our gaze to a larger, sprawling area in Delhi called Lodhi.

While Lodhi is actually quite close to Nizamuddin West, it’s an entirely different world, containing bungalows built in the 1940s to house government employees, post-independence (1947) public housing, a handful of cultural, educational, and international institutions, a couple of temples and the oasis of calm that is Lodhi Gardens.

Okay, let’s wander.

 

Part 1: The band and the Jains

My first stop in Lodhi was a local Jain temple. While the temple itself wasn’t much to look at, I was told to come back early the next morning to see a big annual celebration called rath yatra. So at nine am sharp I raced over to see it. I need not have hurried because the Jain community were all on Indian time – which seems to mean ‘any time’. So the band who were booked for the celebration and I just waited.

 

waiting to get the show on the road

we waited

 

 

 

and we waited

and we waited

 

 

 

In the absence of anything Jain to photograph I turned my camera on the band. And what an accommodating lot they were too.

 

can whip up a band costume in a jiffy

can whip up a band costume in a jiffy

 

 

 

fancy indeed

fancy indeed

 

 

 

are the best, toot toot

are the best, toot toot

 

 

 

threads, sacred and sewn

threads, sacred and sewn

 

 

 

 

By this stage, an hour and an half had elapsed and still no sign of the Jains. Some of the local street kids came over to see what the woman with the camera was doing. So I photographed them too.

 

 

 

steet kids :: 1

steet kids :: 1

 

 

 

street kids :: 2

street kids :: 2

 

 

 

Then the band started producing their own ‘cameras’. A great opportunity for a few of them to put their arm around ‘madam’ to have their picture taken.

 

the photographer becomes the photograph

the photographer becomes the photograph

 

 

 

It was all pretty funny.

 

funny

funny

 

 

 

Then finally, hours later than expected, the Jain celebration kicked off. The band played, a tiny Buddha like Tirthankara idol was carefully lifted onto the carriage and the show hit the road. The band led the way followed by the procession of devotees and then the carriage. Every ten metres the whole lot would come to a halt and a woman would suddenly leap out from the crowd to take centre stage in front of the Tirthankara, and dance madly while people waved money over her head. Apparently she was expressing the joy of being a Jain, and the money thing, well, not entirely sure. Then off they’d go again for a while until they stopped to do a repeat performance.

 

shake it

shake it

 

 

 

tiny Tirthankara

tiny Tirthankara

 

 

 

marble and flesh

marble and flesh

 

 

 

leading the rath yatra

leading the rath yatra

 

 

 

joyous Jains :: 1

joyous Jains :: 1

 

 

 

joyous Jains :: 2

joyous Jains :: 2

 

 

 

joyous Jains :: 3

joyous Jains :: 3

 

 

 

After a couple of hours the procession returned to the Jain temple for some lunch. 100% vegetarian lunch with not a clove of garlic or hint of onion to avoid over-excitement.

 

maybe that's why Jains are so calm

maybe that's why Jains are so calm

 

 

 

And that was that. Worth the wait entirely.

 

Part 2: Modernism in India

Two friends visiting Delhi told me about the India International Centre in Lodhi. So glad they did. American architect Joseph Allen Stein designed the 1960’s IIC in the Modernist style but with Indian touches such as the cast concrete jalis (screens). In fact, Stein designed a few other landmark buildings in Lodhi giving the area the nickname of ‘Steinabad’.

 

India International Centre, in 'Steinabad'

India International Centre, in 'Steinabad'

 

 

 

Modernist take on ancient jalis :: 1

Modernist take on ancient jalis :: 1

 

 

 

Modernist take on ancient jalis :: 2

Modernist take on ancient jalis :: 2

 

 

 

all very retro

all very retro

 

 

The centre is where the city’s intelligentsia hang out and is Member’s Only in the lounge and terrace area. On my first visit two Indian men took pity on the woman peering through the window and invited me in. And that’s how I ended up having tea with a Brahmin and a Jain. They were both very charming but I found the Jain, Virendra, the most interesting having just seen the Jain festival the day before. The most curious part about the Jains I discovered is that they aspire to non-materialism and yet they are among the wealthiest in the land.

 

tea on the terrace

tea on the terrace

 

 

 

my Jain pal, Virendra

my Jain pal, Virendra

 

 

 

tea on the terrace :: 2

tea on the terrace :: 2

 

 

 

Before I left the IIC, Virendra and I wandered over to a little outside area called the Gandhi-King Plaza. Of the two inscriptions there etched in stone, one was particularly poignant, given that just a few kilometres down the road from this elite place are Delhi’s struggling.

 

and women

and women

 

 

 

Part 3: Living in Lodhi

Those same friends who’d told me about the IIC also mentioned they’d seen an interesting old house nearby with a lovely spiral staircase. Nosing around, I finally found it, knocked on the door and that’s how I met the lovely Rasil. Having spent 40 years in New York, Rasil was now living back in Delhi in her childhood home, built in 1942.

I asked her how Delhi has changed over the years and she was pretty scathing. “The Mughuls got it right, the British got it right but recently, no, it’s terrible. For example, the skyline used to be lovely but all these flyovers have ruined it.”

 

1942

returning full circle back to her home

 

 

 

Rasil

Rasil

 

 

 

house of curves

house of curves

 

 

 

For a contrast, I visited some of the public housing in Lodhi built by the Public Works Department after independence in 1947. The residents I met were all government employees and explained that as soon as their jobs ended, they’d have to leave. Hence the lack of ‘beautification’ to the buildings, all of which are pretty run down. But again, it’s all relative – compared to the slums around Delhi, these places are palaces.

 

 

 

public palaces

public palaces

 

 

 

Lalitha and son, Aditya

Lalitha and son, Aditya

 

 

 

Rashmi, 15

Rashmi, 15

 

 

 

And what with the gardens not growing where they’re meant to, there’s plenty of room for cricket.

 

check out the wicket

check out the wicket

 

 

 

Part 4: Lodhi Gardens

Before the Brits ruled Delhi, it was the Mughuls (1500-1850) and before the Mughuls it was the Delhi Sultanate (1200-1500). The Sultans heralded from Turkey way and had a very cool ‘Indo-Muslim’ aesthetic, which they injected into the many tombs they shot up around the city, including a handful of lovely ones in Lodhi Gardens. The British later landscaped around the tombs, turning 70 acres into a peaceful escape from Delhi madness. Nice chunk of green but I loved the old ruins best.

 

Lodhi Garden tombs, built 500 years ago

Lodhi Garden tombs, built 500 years ago

 

 

 

today, they're still being restored

they're soon to be restored

 

 

 

20th century public housing vs 16th century Sultanate

doorways into the past - 20th century public housing vs 16th century Sultanate

 

 

 

regal

regal

 

 

 

And look who I met in Lodhi Gardens prancing around the old tombs one day…

 

Coco does Bollywood at Lodhi Gardens

Coco does Bollywood at Lodhi Gardens

 

 

 

Part 5: Elephants, cows and flowers

There are countless dogs in Delhi – mostly sleeping – but I’ve seen zero cows. Apparently the moos were taken off the streets for the Commonwealth Games and haven’t really returned.

Did see a couple of elephants in Lodhi though this week. And flowers, well they’re everywhere.

 

two ways to get from A to B

two ways to get from A to B

 

 

 

elephant billboard

elephant billboard

 

 

 

the elephant - Jain vs Hindu

the elephant - Jain vs Hindu

 

 

 

flowery

jumbo flowers

 

 

 

Hinduism begins at home

Hinduism begins at home

 

 

 

patience required

patience required

 

 

 

But like I said, no cows, aside from this one.

 

its milk is okay but no eating the cow

its milk is okay but no eating the cow

 

 

 

Part 6: From the car window

As much as I’ve acclimatised to Delhi over the past two weeks, I still find the poverty and desperation gut-wrenching. Especially when you see it up close, right beside you.

 

through the car window :: 1

through the car window :: 1

 

 

 

through the car window :: 2

through the car window :: 2

 

 

 

But this guy, what a smile.

 

through the car window :: 3

through the car window :: 3

 

 

 

The Wrap

Lodhi is worlds away from last week’s neighbourhood, Nizamuddin West, despite being relatively close. For all my complaints about how hard going Niz West was, at times I found myself missing its intensity. But the Jains certainly made an impact as did those band boys. I also enjoyed the time warp of the India International Centre. And the painted elephants. Who doesn’t love a painted elephant?

 

Coco and Durga Maa

Coco and Durga Maa

 

On the ‘home front’

Child, what child? It’s going to be tough when we leave Delhi and all the home help here. I could get very used to having all the normal stuff taken care of – cooking in particular – not to mention Coco’s distance education/home schooling adventure which continues apace with the delightful Ronnie. Once I’m back to being a full-time mum, cook, cleaner, home schooler and 52 Suburbs Around the World-creator, I may need to cease eating garlic and onions myself in an attempt to remain calm.

This suburb has been brought to you by Renai Venables & Grant Bevan

See you next week.

 

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