Delhi – hot, colourful, polluted, noisy, crowded. Wonderful in it own particular way.
The roads, traffic seething: cars, three-wheeled autos, pedal rickshaws, buses – some new(ish), some distinctly rickety. Taxis, swarms of bicycles, motorbikes, some seemingly transporting entire families.
And people, all ages – that’s ‘all’ ages – crossing the turbulent traffic sea as the mood or need takes them with what appears to be suicidal intent; though, eventually, I, too, acquire novice suicidal status, willing oncoming traffic to avoid me as I hazard to cross to the other side of the road.
The streets and pavements: clean and maintained (more or less) in the well-off/middle class areas – a minority’s privilege. And everywhere else: pot holes, loose drain covers, random holes, litter – Oh! such amounts of litter and detritus – and people, and more people, and still more people.
Cows: calm, some wandering, some tethered. Ruminant – chewing the cud with meditative intensity – seemingly well-adjusted to the urban cauldron.
Then there’s the markets, plying their goods into the early night. You can buy a chair, a pomegranate, light bulbs, a mattress, green coriander, hot bhajis, onions and oranges, a length of cloth. Anything. Likely as not it’s here.
And everywhere children and teenagers walking, crossing roads, playing their self-made street games, working in the market, cycling, running errands; going to and returning from school, pristine in uniform and overburdened backpacks.
And then I read of a study that found (many of you will know of it):
‘A large proportion of children [in the European survey] under 11 years old in most of the countries do not have the freedom to get about their local area.
Even the oldest children are restricted in what they are allowed to do, at an age when many of the rights of adulthood are close to being granted, including the right to drive vehicles on the road once the test has been passed.’
I weary to repeat points made before, but my recent Delhi weeks impel me to notice, yet again, not only that here in the UK children and teenager’s spatial freedoms have been grossly curtailed but, perhaps more worryingly, that the very reference points by which a society judges the actual and potential competences of its young have become obscure; or entirely lost, leaving only institutionalsied simulacrums of experiences that once had substance.
Thanks, Robin. I think you may have something there – time to found the Society for the Propagation and Maintenance of Pot Holes. We could be joint founder members. The more one thinks about it, the more one sees the social benefits that would accrue if the Society were successful in its objectives.
Hi Bernard, Well what a wonderful evocation and what about the cricket played in front of the Viceroys palace (or whatever)? batting ends at right angles, taking it in turns to bowl!
When we visited our Indian Architect friend living int the southern Suburbs, we approached his Eco Option home along a pot holed street covered in children and cows, just as you describe. When I commented with enthusiasm, he told me that the road was to upgraded and tarmacked. I begged him to dissuade the authorities on behalf of the local children, but alas my pleas fell on deaf ears! the street is now tarmacked and devoid of random life!
When we were in Delhi (and Mumbai for that matter) it felt, I thought, rather like Italy in the 1950-60s, two wheeled scooters and three wheeled working transport (goods and people). Optimism and self belief, so different to our own sad society!