Monday 30 December 2013

Liam takes his Moustache Guitar & Hat to India Part 4: Chrsitmas Eve and Christmas Day

Merry Christmas and a happy new year everyone! I started writting this post on christmas eve but a lot happened, and I've been doing lots, so it just kept getting longer...I've finally finished and it is too long! but skim through and hopefully enjoy.

Dec 24th, Christmas Eve
This is my first Christmas away from Mam, Dad, Sion and Ciara and I do very much miss them, and I miss going down to Aunty Tammy’s with them for our family get together. However, I’m having a good time here thanks to the very generous people around me.

After breakfast I was distracted from making Christmas cards with the sound of the Mirambika children singing carols. I remembered that they had a programme on today and Srila Didi, who leads the carol singing group, said I could play along with them on my guitar. So my guitar and I followed the sound, and sure enough, as soon as I arrived they enthusiastically put me on a chair next to the young pianist (she’s 14 and she directed the whole show, played keyboard for it, and conducted the singing). They acted out the nativity story in Hindi and sang some songs. Then I noticed lots of them had Jewish kippas on their heads. An American got up to speak about Hanukah and then they all danced to Hava Nagila! They did it very well.
A trainee teacher from Pondicherry, sings a French song with the kippa wearing children

Mirambika School children singing christmas songs conducted by a fourteen year old girl

I was running late to meet some friends for the next event of the day, but so were they so it didn’t matter. One of these two friends is from a Christian background and she misses her family in California, so she invited me to spend Christmas Eve with her and her partner, my work friend and superior.

In the morning she took us to a place where she volunteers, the Saalam Baalak Trust. It’s on one of the upper floors of a run-down apartment block down a wonderful narrow street in Old Delhi. It’s a place where orphaned street kids are taken in. I think they live there, although it is a very small space for all those children, and apparently they aren’t allowed outside in case they run away. Well, if they were allowed more freedom and regular outdoor activities maybe they wouldn’t want to run away? Anyway, I don’t really know enough about this to comment; I shouldn’t accuse anyone of any mismanagement without any facts.
The people who ran it seemed nice and the kids seemed happy. Camilla taught them Yoga, Nitin translated and I did the moves too so they could copy me. I’m very new to yoga so wasn’t especially useful here, but I brought my guitar with me and the kids were very excited to hear some songs. I played the one Hindi song I know, “Disco Dewane” by Nazia Hasan, and then tried to teach them “Felis Navidad” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” The kids prefer lively Bollywood songs to be honest, so I played “Jai Ho,” blurring through the lyrics (which I haven’t properly learnt yet), and they all danced and sang/shouted “JAI HOOOOOOOO” with much enthusiasm. This is a massively popular song here. There’s a Hindi version of the film apparently. I don’t know if they filmed the dialogue twice, once in each language, or if they dubbed either the English of the Hindi version. I’m very pleased that a film by our own Danny Boyle is so popular here in India (although my friends said it sensationalises reality, or it’s not realistic or something).
Me playing some songs for the ex-street kids at the Salaam Baalak Trust
After that we went to eat Chaat, which is not at all like the Chicken Chaat or Prawn Chaat they serve in the Asha Balti in Llanrwst (I prefer our one to be honest, but the real one is interesting and I like trying new things).
My opinions on food are distorted right now as my appetite has become very small from being ill for a good few weeks (on and off since that one event of bad sickness). Paul, I know a little bit how you felt during first year! I’ve completely gone off curry and chappatis, especially vegetarian curry. Now I crave meat, cheese, fish, fancy baker's bread, Mediterranean and BRITISH food: Sandwiches, roast dinners, cheddar cheese, fresh salad, sausages, peas & sweetcorn... (as a Christmas present to myself I bought some Indian made Cheddar Cheese from the Ashram’s Matri Store – it’s very satisfying and delicious!).
When I first arrived I found the Indian food to be amazing, and the ashram food is generally very good, so it’s a great pity that this digestive problem and homesickness has put me off most of it somewhat.

A few days ago I went to the “English Medicine” doctor and he prescribed me some anti-biotics which will hopefully clear it up. He said its only traveller’s diarrhoea which is common with foreigners, and he said I could have amoeba in my intestines.
They call Western Medicine something like “aleopathic” and offer it  for free at The Mother’s Integral Health Centre along with the alternatives: Homeopathic and Ayurvedic. When I went to the registration about a month ago, the day after the severe stomach upset that was probably the dreaded food poisoning known as “Delhi Belly”, they asked me  “which doctor do you want to see, alurrrblolopathic, ayyoooblrrblrrr or homeopathic ?” and I replied, ”…ummmmmm” so they sent me to homeopathic. I thought, “yeah, why not give it a try, I’m mostly better now,” so I met him and he prescribed me some homeopathic remedy. I went again a few days later as I still wasn’t completely back to normal, so he gave me a different homeopathic remedy and put me on a diet of curd, rice and yellow daal! This was bloody difficult to stick too. I ate yogurt and rice for lunch at work and then I was really hungry in the aftrenoon.

I failed to stick to his diet and still wasn’t better; I didn’t want to go back to the same doctor because I hadn’t taken his advice and he’d probably give me another homeopathic remedy which I’d have to pay another hundred rupees for (it’s a donation and it’s a free health service so it’s fair enough). So this week, like I said, I saw the “English Medicine” doctor instead.

Back to the story of My Christmas
After Camilla and Nitin dropped me back at the Ashram I went for a nap. I woke to see it that it was five o clock and time for choir practice!!! The choir are ashramites and vocational trainees of various age groups who want to learn Christmas carols to sing in the meditation hall on Christmas day. Srila Didi kindly enlisted my help in teaching them the carols and leading everyone with my guitar and confident singing. It’s been fun, and we've improved massively since the start, although I’ve not been successful at teaching harmonies. They’ve taught me some carols too.

After the carols, I rushed to the meditation hall to hear the Belarussian student play Indian Classical on his Traditional Indian Flute. I forgot to take off my shoes! It was very embarrassing. As soon as I sat down on the cushion, Tussar, who also stays in the boy’s hostel, came up to me and sternly sent me out to remove my shoes. A girl called Bhavna laughed quietly which made me feel a bit better.

After meditation (still embarrassed) I rushed to my room to look up directions to the Vatican Embassy, where Camilla had invited me to join her and Nitin for a Christmas Eve English language mass.
I skipped dinner and went there in a tuc-tuc, via the cashpoint (we were already late...why did I agree to pay his stupid foreingers fair or 150 when he'd already reluctantly agreed take me for 117?). The autowaller didn’t know where or what was the Vatican Embassy (fair enough really as the sign says “The Embassy of the Holy See”) so we drove along the road with all the embassies for a while, looking for the place we wanted. (I wonder how many embassies they can fit along this road, surely not one for every country???)  He eventually took me to the British Embassy and we finally saw the Vatican one was just next door.

I arrived late but I think it had only just started. The service was packed. About half of the people there were foreigners, mostly Europeans and Africans plus a few South East Asians. I think they were mainly diplomats and foreign embassy staff. We started singing Silent Night, and someone at the front went “now in French” and a few people mumbled the verse in French. Then there was Italian, and when he called “now in Spanish” another priest with a strong Latin accent shouted “JUST ENGLISH, PLEASE.” It was quite funny. The main priest was African/Italian. He had a mostly Nigerian accent but said “blaad” with a strong Italian accent. It was an awesome accent to listen too, and quite amusing. There were other priests and speakers from different countries.
Half way through I saw Nitin and Camilla up on the top balcony so I went past loads of people sitting on the spiral staircase to meet them. I sat next to an English lady from the British High Commission!
After the service I met some of Camilla’s friends, 2 Indians and one Iranian and they could all speak French. I really want to learn more languages when I get the strength of will to make some time for it and commit.
I was a few hours late back to the Ashram. Luckily there was another boy waiting outside who’d already buzzed the bell. I went in with him but he doorman recognised me and told me off (I was already late twice before, within the last two weeks).

Dec 25th, Christmas Day
This morning I woke early and rushed to the dining hall to sing carols during breakfast time, as was our plan. Everyone sang very well and people complimented us afterwards.

After this I hung around the Ashram a bit, admiring the tree that Hrishikesh’s department made from brushes and paper, and the other decorations. These Spiritual Hindus really go all out for Christmas! Then I rushed to finish Camilla & Nitin’s Christmas card, supposed to be a nice painting but actually a pretty average and unfinished sketch.
I was sitting outside and a mate from the boy’s hostel walked past. Turns out he’s a Christian and he was going to the Green Park Free Church, so I joined him. I knew the way but he said he knew a short cut, and took us the wrong way, so we had to get an auto, which I had to pay for because he has no money (I know he has none because he asked to borrow Rs. 250 from me once – too many people want to borrow money from me! it’s quite annoying). But it was lovely weather.

We arrived late to the church, sat outside as it was jam packed, then left early because I’d been invited to my friend’s place for coco, eggs and/or pancakes. I had no credit to tell them I was late! So I arrived, was warmly welcomed, and we listened to Christmas songs on youtube and took some photos. They gave me a lovely present – a cushion cover with a stitched elephant and vibrant colours. This will become my sitar playing cushion when I get home!
Camilla made some delicious scrambled eggs on toast – haven’t had eggs for ages! I didn’t realise how much I missed them. They don’t serve egg at the ashram, I don’t know why as they serve milk, and it’s surely more cruel to take milk intended for calves rather than to take unfertilized eggs that would otherwise rot or be eaten by another animal (but there’s more too it with eggs, so my vegan cousin told me, so I’ll have to look up what she said).

I returned home happy and had an afternoon nap. After a special Christmas afternoon snack (they call it tiffin for some mysterious reason – tiffin is the name for the lunch boxes that are consumed daily all over Delhi!) everyone went to the Hall of Grace to play games. It was really fun! There were lots of challenges and brain teasers, and if you won you got a Christmas present, randomly. I won three games, but only got two tokens as the third game I won, hitting balloons through a hoop, had run out of tokens (because the game was quite easy).My two lucky tockens got me two parcels, neatly wrapped in newspaper. Two old handbags, neither of which contained chocolate.
These are the prizes I won in the Hall of Grace. My lucky day!
I met another architect! So we chatted and then I had to rush to the meditation hall to be ready for the carols. I was little bit late, and choir were already there, but we had ten minutes ‘til seven o clock when meditation would begin. It went very well and was an enjoyable, relaxing and rewarding experience. We sang “we bow to thee oh mother” (about The Mother), “angels we have heard on high”, “joy to the world”, “we three kings of the orient are,” “Felis Navidad,” and many more. We kept going until quarter to eight and most people stayed to listen, which Srila Didi said was a big compliment. Srila asked me to close with a solo rendition of “Amazing Grace”, one Karuna Didi’s favourites (she’s the elderly lady who usually sings and plays harmonium during meditation), and I felt honoured, and obliged them. I sang it in as controlled and concentrated way as I could, hoping to put in passion etc. I remember the silence and the sound filling the hall, and everyone listening. I was very pleased with how it went and felt very happy.

People left for dinner and I was delighted to see that Pronita had made it to watch! Then Nitin and Camilla appeared at the back, but they’d unfortunately been stuck in traffic and missed it. We all had a jolly good laugh together outside the meditation hall, and then Pronita and I went for some food and beer in the Hauz Khas Village. We went to the Delhi Smoke House and ordered a very delicious European style meal of chicken breast, mash potato, green beans and spicy rice. It was really good; succulent and full of flavour. They gave us proper fresh brown bread, onion bread and bread sticks with some dips for starters, free of charge!
I got back ten minutes before the curfew and spoke to my lovely family on Skype. So, thanks to the Grace of God, I had a very nice Christmas with lovely people, and I’m grateful to all of them. I feel very lucky.
Pronita and myself next to the Ashram's Christmas tree

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Liam Takes His Moustache, Hat and Guitar to India Part 3: The Boy's Hostel

Sometime back in November
Finally had a bath today! When I say finally, I mean since being ill for the last few days, not since I arrived. When I say bath, I mean a bucket. You fill it up from a single hot water tap then go into the cubicle and wash (see photo).

The winter temperature here in Delhi is very pleasant for me, but even so I felt quite cold standing naked in the cubicle. It must be freezing for the Indians! It was really nice to put my feet in the bucket of warm water. When I first washed this way I didn’t know about the hot tap.

During my first week at the Ashram, I stayed a guests dormitory which had a shower and a sit down toilet (that was also designed so people could lift the seat and stand on the rib is their used to crouching toilets…a well-designed, thoughtful, architect’s toilet!). I had roommates too, first a young Russian from the Ural valley who was learning to become a yoga teacher, then some Indian guys, one of whom was an Indian classical singer and keyboardist working in Dubai. But the day after I met these two Indians, my new roommates, my request for long term stay was granted and I was asked to move to the boy’s dorm of the Mirambika School.

The good part about it…

  • The other lads here are very friendly and welcoming. I think they are mostly around my age. The guys I spoke to first where 21*. They always say hi and are interested to come and chat. I’ve started giving one of them extra guitar lessons.
  • I have my own spacious room and peace and quiet
  • The building's nice

The bad parts

  •  No wi-fi (I will get a dongle at some point)
  •   It’s a few minutes’ walk from the main ashram which is where I have to go to use the internet
  •  The front door is closed at 10.30, so not much time to use the internet in the ashram between returning from work and getting back to the dorm
  •   I left my soap in the bathroom on my second night and in the morning the cleaners had cleaned it away
  • Crouching toilets (but it’s good to learn to use these as now I can use any toilet in the world)
  •  No shower, I have to use a tap and bucket

Overall though it is a very good place to stay; the bad points are really small and unimportant.

*even though they were really tiny! The standard height of Indian men is very short compared to Europeans. I think my height is perfect…I may be a bit short in comparison with the mighty Notts lads, or my brother, or Nicolas Woodius and the Bristol Massive, or Ieuan but still not noticeably shorter than average, and here I’m a bit taller than average but still pretty much average. I am a universally average heighted man.

It’d hard write emails and facebook messages to my friends back home the common area of the ashram because people always come and speak to me. It’s nice that they’ve very friendly, but to be honest I want time alone to focus on my online tasks, like this blog for instance (which I’m typing on word in my room and will upload later). Last Sunday, I was checking my emails and writing a message to Bella when one of the fellas also staying in Mirambika, who I’d, met before but hadn’t remembered, came and sat right next to me and looked at the screen with me. I wondered if this was normal in the Indian culture; someone told me later that it was. I felt awkward doing my emails in this situation. By the time he went my battery ran out, or something else got in the way, so I gave up and left it until later.
Recently I got a dongle with the help of one of my friends here in the boy's dorm (the one I gave a guitar lesson to). I can now use the internet anywhere in India. Thank you Hrishikesh!
My room

Boy's Drom of Mirambika School

December 16th
 I came back from the toilet at about 10pm to find one of the other boys, who often comes to my room after the dance class to learn guitar (uninvited), waiting for me outside my room in the dark with only the light of his phone. When I entered my room, so did he and said something about transferring music from his phone onto my laptop. He can’t speak much English and he always has an intense and slightly aggressive look on his face, an expression which never changes.
I got out my laptop and plugged in his phone with my USB adapter (he wanted to insert the small phone memory card into the laptop which cannot be done). He faffed around in my music library and D drive until I stepped in and opened the folder in his phone that he was after. His complete inability to use the computer or follow my simple guidance in what to click on was a bit annoying, as was his presence in my room when I was about to go to bed. I have to be up early for work tomorrow! And I have to write Christmas cards, and update the blog which I’ve been planning to do for weeks and haven’t got round to doing.

Extended version of this post (maybe I should have edited put the following details before posting):

This is how it went: he plays a song, and then turns to look intensely at me whilst humming it out-of-tune in my face. Then he changes the song and does the same thing with the next one. Was he trying to get me to teach him these riffs on guitar, or learn them myself? Or was he just trying to share his favourite music with me? I thought that was what he wanted to do, so I selected all the songs and copied them to my D drive. The transfer was taking ages though, so he cancelled it and then lost the folder he wanted and started to faff around. After I opened up his folder for him again he proceeded to flick through all his Bollywood music videos and watch snippets, turning to me each time to hum out of tune in my face with that unfortunate blank expression of his. I thought maybe it was just the culture and he was being friendly but has got a social disorder. But then after I convinced him that I really did have to go to bed and would he please go, he asked to borrow my laptop (pointing at the laptop: “my room tonight, yes,” in a demanding way). After I’d finally guided him out, I got my laptop out again to angrily write this entry for “December 16th” I concluded that he must thinks I’m a dumb foreigner and a pushover and he wants to use my laptop, even though he is not computer literate. Today on the 17th, after he said hello perfectly nicely at breakfast, I’ve decided that it is just cultural difference and he means no offence and wants to be friends. Perhaps he has some social or learning disorder. If he reads this after mastering his English, I'm very sorry for misinterpreting you my friend! Cultural differences.

The boy who sat over my shoulder whilst I was on the laptop, as I described the first part of this post, also comes to my room uninvited sometimes. He asked to borrow 100 rupees the other day to go and visit his family in Gaurgao (in the Delhi outskirts), which he does every Sunday (so how does he normally afford it?)
If he really does pay me back at the end of the month then he’s genuine and friendly. I’m sure he will. If not then he won’t get away with it.

A few days later this other guy, who always needs help with some problem or other and has a bad reputation with the other lads, asked to borrow Rs. 250 which was not going to happen! Luckily he didn’t ask again after I turned him down. Maybe he too was genuine and the other boys distrust him unfairly.

Hey, I should thank God that they are friendly, welcoming and inclusive; better to be mildly annoyed sometimes by too many people asking for help, unintentionally making me late for things and coming uninvited into my room, than to feel unwelcome, lonely, excluded or ignored.

The next post will be about all the interesting things I've been up to, when I get a chance to write it! Work is fairly busy and the rest of my time is spent socialising and sleeping.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Liam Takes His Moustache, Guitar and Hat to India Part Two: more surprising animals on the road, bollywood movie #1, Indian wedding #1

November 15th
Today on my way to work I walked past a colourfully dressed man taking his equally extravagantly dressed cow for a walk.
On my way to and from work I have to cross 4 roads. The first ones, under a flyover, are busy and this part is quite scary! But at least they do sort of stop here for the lights. There’s a poor family living under the flyover in between both roads but none of them have asked me for money so far. In fact, I haven’t once been approached by even one begging child, or old lady! I get asked for money more often in the UK.
I met Mr Prakash today. He seems like a warm-hearted person.
I had lunch in work. It costs 50 rupees and our helper, Jitin gets if for us. It was really nice!!! Best food so far. We all sat around the table and chatted and everyone shares their food. Lots of different vegetarian curries with naan, none wasted, no prudish table rules. And the takeaway comes in metal pots and a nylon bag which they come and collect later (or Jitin takes them back, I don’t know). Very sustainable! But Sanjay told me that they only did this because it was cheaper to wash up than use disposable packaging. This is cheaper food (although not the cheapest). Typically, middle class people get takeaways in disposable plastic and aluminium. But the upper middle class get takeaways from plastic free, ethically aware, expensive places which use biodegradable paper packaging.
We had the end of week meeting where everyone discusses what we’ve finished and what needs doing and in which order of priority.
I managed to catch the end of the meditation session today. As previously advised by people, I thought about my nose and breathing air, whilst listening to the spiritual music sung by an older lady with a harmonium.
I came back to find I have a roommate! He’s from the Urals in Russia, a very friendly guy.

November 16th
Today on my way to work I saw a man riding a camel down main the road. Seriously! Still haven’t charged my camera unfortunately to capture these peculiarities.
In the office I made a massing model on sketchup of an educational campus in Diu, Gujarat, for a competition we’re entering. I took too long and felt very anxious at the end of the day…I hope I can keep up and be useful. They’ve shown me a lot of goodwill by hiring me, and I get real input in the projects. It’s a lot of responsibility, and I don’t want to embarrass myself and them, or let down the projects. I really like what they do; the briefs, the environmental and social awareness, the use of materials, the style.
The Ashram which I’m staying in is a really beautiful building, and Sanjay Prakash designed it. I’m very lucky to have this placement, it’s perfect for me, exactly the sort of architecture I’ve always wanted to do (although I may not be good enough for it).
I may get to go to Orissa and do some NGO work designing resilient houses in a zone devastated by a recent typhoon. My colleagues say that Delhi is really posh and I’m much more likely to get ill in the rest of India, particularly Orissa after the disaster.
I got invited to my colleague’s sister’s wedding.
There are fireworks every night in Delhi.

November 17th
Big adventure! Gaurav took me on his motorbike to the outskirts of Delhi to visit Sanjay Prakash’s house. He didn’t know the way, and we got there in 3 hours by asking a very great many of people on the way for directions.
The house, which Sanjay designed, is excellent. Lots of interesting materials, little innovations and attractive furnishings. I hadn’t got my camera but we took photos on Gaurav’s phone. Afterwards we sat in SP’s garden and asked questions, and he answered and taught us a lot of interesting things.
Back in Delhi, Gaurav took me for a late lunch in a place he likes. Unhealthy, unhygienic, but very tasty, he said. And it did indeed taste great!! Best food so far, and the first time I’ve eaten meat here. It seemed perfectly healthy and hygienic to me, apart from all the flies.
Then we both had a haircut and I met his parents and brother in their flat. They were very friendly and welcoming. Later we went out on the bike and met our work mate, Pronita outside her house, intending to surprise her.
I went back to the Sinha’s flat and Gaurav’s mum had cooked us a dinner of egg curry, daal, roti and rice. This egg curry (like the one in Madher Jaffrey’s book) was in-fact the best food so far!

November 18th
I stayed overnight at Gaurav’s, so in the morning we were rushing into work rather late on the back of Gaurav’s motor bike (scary). Then on top of a busy overpass, we got a puncture! Luckily he noticed it. So we got off and pushed it down the road to a mechanic. He ran his business from the side of the road in front of a very rubbish filled slum. There were many other people there, presumably his family and neighbours, one mother boiling water on the fire for her daughter to drink. Not necessarily this family, but many people here seem to throw rubbish without care, even outside their own shops and homes. It seems to be shopkeepers especially who do this.
Many people can’t speak English, not just the poor ones. I was surprised to learn this, as it is the second official language along with Hindi.
I got a tuc-tuc to work while my friend waited to have his tyre replaced (“10 minutes” the mechanic had claimed, rather over optimistically).
So far I have done my seva (requested voluntary service to the ashram) only on 1 or 2 occasions, rather than the requested minimum of an hour a day. I also struggle to get back in time for the meditation, and when I do, I only catch the last ten minutes of it. However, I decided to apply for long-term stay at the Ashram, so SP wrote an email to the head of the Ashram, and she replied later that day asking for a meeting with me to discuss this.
On the way home I was accosted by beggars for the first time; children of the family who live under the flyover. As I walk past they all reach out, including the mother, and as I go one kid follows me over the road. I have been told to ignore them so I politely say “Namaste” and “no, sorry, bye-bye” (spoiler: don’t worry readers, I do eventually give the poor kids food in a later instalment of this blog)
After a busy few days, I finally got back to my room in the Ashram and sat to write up day 15, 16 and 17 of this travel diary, soon to be blog. I chatted with my Russian roommate, Renat, my Rajasthani roommate, and the Californian girl I met on my first day here.

November 19th
I got up early, went to the kitchen to sort through fenel seeds (my seva), had breakfast and then met with the head of the Ashram. Gaurav kindly joined me for breakfast and the meeting.
It was a good day in the office; I feel like I’m really settling in and I get on with everyone. At lunch, they planned to go and see the biggest new Bollywood movie, Ramleela, and to take me with them! I went with Gaurav on his motorbike and we met Pronita, Nitisha and Mayank there. The film was really brilliant, especially the first half! The second half was much more serious and harder to follow, as it deviated a bit from the famous Shakespeare tragedy on which it’s based. I had to ask my friends to translate a few times. I would definitely recommend this movie, even without subtitles. But I will look up the plot online when I succeed on connecting my frustratingly peculiar or faulty laptop with the elusive  wi-fi password (I’m away all day and when I return, I want to eat, and after that the IT guy’s gone).
The Ashram gates close at 10.30 so I stayed again at Gaurav’s place, and we ate more of his mother’s delicious cooking.

November 20th
I really want to do my part of the deal with Ashram and do seva and meditation. So I got a lift in the morning with Gaurav’s parents who were heading to work. I made it in time to shower and do some seed-sorting in the kitchen.
No unusual animals on the way to work today, sorry. Horse, cow, camel…next it will be an elephant!!! One hopes.
In work I’m doing a project with Gaurav and Pronita. She is really nice and very good fun!
Tonight after work, the whole office went to our colleague’s sister’s wedding. He is the only one we know but this is normal in India. I was looking forward to trying lots of new foods but one Mayank (one of the younger of the senior architects) and Pronita were going “oh no, you can’t eat that, you’ll get Delhi-Belly and it’ll be too spicy for you.” L
I danced to Harriani songs with Pronita and a big bunch of young lads, who all thought this white guy copying their Bollywood and Bhangra style dancing was a great novelty. When we left they pulled me back for more dancing! One of my female colleagues said “you’re dancing is scary!” So nice! No dancing for you then missy!

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Liam Takes His Moustache, Guitar and Hat to India: A brief Summary So Far

So far I've been to the outskirts of Delhi (Gaurgau) on the back of a motorbike, eaten lots of tasty food including meat from an almost street food place that was hygically a bit risky (according to my friend), been to two Indian weddings, been to see a Bollywood movie in the cinema, gained an Indian family and friends and experienced warm Indian hospitality and proper home cooked food, worked all hours in the office on an architecture competition to design an Educational Hub in Diu and seen three kinds of animal being ridden on the road, and a decorated holy cow. Here in the Ashram I've celebrated Sidi Day, seen the kids sports day, helped make a papier mache lion, learnt to use crouching toilets, met loads of different people and learnt Yoga from a Californian Yoga, who also convinced me that I am infact spiritual afterall and I have a strong connection with God. And I got ill once unfortunately, but that's part of the deal.
I've written about some of this already but I still need time to edit it so I can post it online. Hopefully it will be interesting and not too long, rather than too long and quite boring! (which is subjective so it will be probably both).

Monday 2 December 2013

Liam Takes His Moustache, Guitar and Hat to India Part 1: leaving Nottingham and arriving in New Delhi via Heathrow

Nottingham, November 12th

I was still getting things in the centre, and it was nearly time to go!!! I rushed back to the flat on a slow bus in traffic. Bella said that the bus we must take was at 35 past and I arrived at here flat, running, at about half past. We ran with the stuff to the bus stop. In time!!! But then Sion phoned and we didn’t get on the 36, which we should have got although it doesn’t go all the way to the station. The one that does didn’t show up when it was supposed to. Nor did the next one. Another 36 went past, and we were just about to call a cab when the Indigo finally arrived. We got on but soon realised that it was going too slowly, stuck in traffic, so we might not make it. Bella showed great courage and decisiveness by calling a cab to meet us en route. We disembarked from the bus by Savoy and our cab was waiting across the road (or at least, a cab was there which we waved at assuming it to be ours…we’ll never know).
We told him when our train was and he was unimpressed and thought we should have called a cab much earlier. I was so stressed; my heart was pumping!!!! At every red light we went “noooo! Turn green!” We arrived outside the entrance with about 5 mins to go, and Bella ran out to get her ticket from the machine. I paid him 5.70 (she insisted on tipping him which was very nice of her as he did deserve it, but I was stingy and gave him 30p less than she ordered me to give him [this was what was in my hand after I put the other pound back in my pocket thinking I wouldn’t need it]).
I struggled to get my stuff from the car, then ran through the corridor to the platforms. Bella had her ticket so she grabbed my guitar and we ran down the stairs. We caught the train with under two minutes to go until departure.

Chatted to one of the studio heads Nicola Gerber on the train and told her about my plan to go to India. It was nice bumping into her. Then, finally, I could ring Sion and Paul back and organise the dinner out in London. But the signal was so bad and Bella and I wanted to watch Princess Monoke, which I’d bought earlier in the centre. Thankfully, Sion and Paul organised it. So Bella and I met Sion, Paul and Adam in St Pancras and we went to Pizza Express where we had very nice time.
Bella slept on the tube to our hostel and I chatted to an interesting Travelling Englishman who happened to be a Jehovas Witness.

Heathrow, Nov 13th & India Nov 14th

The plan, AirIndia, was really nice! And so was food. And there were lots of films to watch and music to listen too from a screen on the back of the seats. Better than easyjet!  

(This next paragraph has uesful advice for those arriving at Delhi International Airport, but you can skip if you don't care about taxi prices etc)
Arrival at the airport I arrived in good spirits, got currency (good exchange rate here), and bought a pre-booked taxi to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram for 410 rupees. However, the men outside kept insisting that I had to pay more; one really annoying, desperate person kept saying the ticket was only for my luggage and I had to pay him Rs.900 to get to the Ashram. He tried really hard to get me into a cab. Some other cabbies said “our friend is only joking, this is pre-paid cabs” and eventually a quiet, moustached, thin, dark-skinned man succeeded in putting my stuff in the cab and, without much response to my continued insistence that I would not pay more, he honked me out of the airport. He really had to honk a lot, because the taxi we entered got into was completely surrounded by parked cabs. We drove along wide, dark roads past urban wasteland, trees and slums until we reached the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. He kindly waited for me to be let in, and I gave him a tip as he was honest and did not ask for more money. I think he was only quiet because he couldn’t speak much English. He wasn’t originally from Delhi.

Although it was about midnight in the UK, I found it hard to sleep. It was just me and one other man in a large, very basic dorm. After a few hours and a small amount of sleep I awoke for breakfast: slightly spicy pasta/noodles, bread, warm milk. A good Liam breakfast! I met a retired accountant who was very nice. He showed me the sterilized water machine. So no need for my expensive UV SteriPen!!!

I asked the reception for Sanjay Prakash’s number (he's the director of Studio for Habitat Futures) and told him I'd arrived.
I had a good sleep for the rest of the morning and woke for lunch: rice, naan, and various vegetarian curries and pulses, some of which were interesting new flavours for me.
A young architect called Gaurav Sinha was sent from the office to meet me at the Ashram. He got me a padlock from a nearby shop for my stuff and then took me on the back of his motorbike through Delhi to the office. This was my first experience of Delhi in the daytime, and it was very exciting. Luckily he brought a spare helmet for me. He said the police were strict on that these days, which is surprising but good to know. 

On the way I saw an Indian man riding an extravagantly decorated white horse with rings on his fingers and bells on his toes
Yes, the road is quite crazy, and really, really busy. But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. And Gaurav assured me that it was ordered chaos.

My new colleague took me through a door and up a staircase to the Studio For Habitat Futures where I met the studio leader, Mayank and the others. All very young; I guess many of them have quite recently graduated. I was introduced to the projects which all sound very exciting. I’ll be working on a few at one time.
My first task was to do some hand renders of some sections for a presentation of the IICT-Jodphur campus masterplan.
I was a bit slow but the drawings were satisfactory.
There are two in-house waiter/servants, Jitin and Subhash, who bring us water, tea, coffee and Indian sweets!!! This is really great.

Most of the people I met struggled to understand my accent though because I think I talk too fast and too indecisively.

Got a lift back some of the way on another colleague’s motorcycle, this time with no helmet, at night (no police at night, you see)!! But the scariest part was crossing the road after he dropped me off. I walked up the road as instructed but I went too far, and ended up in a busy, interesting, poor and dirty looking area. The main street side of a slum I guess. So I asked a few locals (a teenager with his mum looked like a safe bet) and went back the way I came, eventually finding it.

At dinner I met Sarah, from California, studying East Asian religions and yoga with an ambition to become some kind of guru, and Shiv, a local lawyer. He kindly invited us to his father’s boutique hotel where we drank chai and ate some delicious sweet syrupy thing. He dropped us back (in his posh white car). I showered and now I’m here writing this, still with no internet access and only 1600 rupees…(need to load up my Indian Rupee Bank card soon!!!).

Good night, diary and patient readers x
(I can’t wait to sleep now!)