In the land of facades, mark the first signs of an Indian spring

Source: John Pilger

When the early morning fog rises and drifting skeins from wood fires carry the sweet smell of India, the joggers arrive in Lodi Gardens. Past the tomb of Mohammed Shah, the  15th century Munghal ruler, across a landscape manicured in the 1930s by Lady Willingdon, wife of the  governor-general, recently acquired trainers stride out from ample figures in smart saris and white cotton dhotis. In Delhi, the middle classes do as they do everywhere, though here there is no middle. By mid-morning, children descend like starlings. They wear pressed blazers, like those of an English prep school. There are games and art and botany classes. When shepherded out through Lady Willingdon’s elegant stone gateway, they pass a reed-thin boy, prostrate beside the traffic and his pile of peanuts, coins clenched in his hand.

When I was first sent to report India, I seldom raised my eyes to the gothic edifices and facades of the British Raj.  All life was at dust and  pavement level and, once the shock had eased, I learned to admire the sheer imagination and wit of people who survived the cities, let alone the countryside — the dabbawallahs (literally “person with a box”), cleaners, runners, street barbers, poets, assorted Fagans and children with their piles of peanuts.  In Calcutta, as it was still known during the 1971 war with Pakistan, civil defence units in soup-plate helmets and lungis toured the streets announcing an air-raid warning practice during which, they said, “everybody must stay indoors and remain in the face-down position until the siren has ceased to operate”. Waves of mocking laughter greeted them, together with the cry: “But we have no doors to stay inside!”

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