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.
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.