A few snaps from Delhi

I have a lot of photos yet to post from my visits to Bangalore and Trivandrum, but those are substantial posts and I’m short on time.  So today let me just post a few random photos from Delhi, where I’m staying in the guesthouse of the Indian National Science Academy, a centrally located and comfortable place. But the smog is godawful here, as everyone knows. Caused largely by the burning of crops in surrounding regions, it’s deeply unhealthy and also contributes to the fog that often cancels flights from Indira Gandhi Airport.

Here’s a smoggy view from my guesthouse window. It’s not overcast: that is BAD SMOG! Read about the problem here.

Besides giving a talk here on the fourth, I’m also in town to attend a wedding celebration hosted by my good friends Kunal and Shubhra (below). Kunal teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Shubhra at Delhi University. I’ve known them since we met years ago at Bellagio, Italy, doing a month’s research gig at the gorgeous Bellagio Center of the Rockefeller Foundation. Since then they’ve visited in Chicago and, more often, I’ve visited them Delhi and their ancestral city, Calcutta. We’ve also traveled together several times.

It so happens that their son Baishakh got married in Calcutta about ten days ago, but although this was a secular wedding, there were still two parties in Calcutta: one thrown by the bride’s family (her name is Poonisha) and the other by the groom’s. I’m not sure which one included the formal wedding. Now there must be a third party in Delhi because Kunal and Shubhra live here and their friends must share the festivities.

So, tomorrow afternoon I’ll get dressed up and head to JNU, where there will be a large tent sent up for the festivities: a 90-minute classical Indian music concert on sarod, accompanied by tabla, followed by an hour of “nibbles” and then a formal dinner at 8. I’m told the dinner will be Kashmiri food—something I’ve not tasted—and will be catered for 160 people (that’s a small wedding party!). The sweets will be Bengali, specially flown in from Calcutta and made by the factory of Mr. Das, the subject of my children’s book. (He came to one of my talks in Bangalore.) I’ll take lots of photos.

This morning I took an auto-rickshaw into town, a ten-minute ride that cost about eighty cents. The auto-rickshaws (below) are the cheapest way to travel in Indian towns, but be prepared for some fierce bargaining (meters “don’t work”). Fortunately, I knew what the correct fare was supposed to be.

Near the auto-rickshaw a lone figure dressed in colorful clothes stood silent and immobile on the sidewalk. I’m not sure what this person was doing, but I couldn’t catch his/her attention to ask permission to take a photo:

My goal for today’s trip was some shopping and some food (lunch).  I visited some of the state emporia, government stores that sell handicrafts from each state (one state per store), as well as the “all-India” Cottage Industries emporium.

But I soon realized that, over the years, I’d bought everything for myself in India that I ever wanted. I have a big collection of Ganeshas (I added a small one this time, as I always buy at least one Ganesha per trip), weavings and hangings, a very nice collection of Indian kurtas and trousers (with some nice silk ones), and various other oddments. I therefore confined myself to buying a couple of presents while coveting some of the Ganeshas that were beyond my pecuniary means or my ability to carry (below).

Ganesha’s “vehicle”, the animal that carries this elephant-headed god of good luck about, is a rat, which you can see in the second and third photographs):

I have a huge collection of Ganeshas, all different and most in brass. Here’s one for sale in polychrome wood, standing on his vehicle:

Here’s a lovely woven shawl at Cottage Industries, hand embroidered with flowers and birds. It was about two hundred dollars, as I recall. (I didn’t buy it: I was just looking.)

Close up:

I then went to the Khadi Bhavan to buy handmade soap for myself (one of my indulgences is having nice soap at home and in my lab). They have a gazillion soaps, each scented with purely natural products. Here are the five I purchased at about a dollar each. The coconut milk soap smells fantastic.

“Khadi” refers to homespun cotton cloth, an industry popularized by Gandhi as a way for Indians to stop relying on British goods and to engage in the meditative act of weaving. (Gandhi himself, of course, spun cotton.) The Khadi Bhavan is an enterprise honoring Gandhi by selling handloomed cloth and other handmade goods. A statue of the Mahatma himself greets you as you enter the store:

Only a block from Cottage Industries is a branch of Saravana Bhavan, a vegetarian South Indian restaurant that was the first place I dined on this trip (but at another branch). The food is fantastic and cheap, and it’s very clean and immensely popular. There are branches all over the world, including New York City and Texas! If one is near you, go!

When I got there for lunch at noon, hardly anybody was eating. I had a coconut uttapam with sambar and three chutneys (I do love my uttapams!). It’s always an eternal conundrum for me at South Indian places: uttapam or dosa? But there MUST be that white coconut chutney, one of the finest foods of India. Everything is eaten with the right hand, of course, and if you come to India you’ll have to learn to do without utensils most of the time.

A fresh lime soda, which is safe as it’s served with an unopened bottle of soda, which you add to freshly squeezed lime juice and then sweeten to taste with a shotglass of sugar syrup:

. . . and the denouement: good strong South Indian coffee, served boiling hot in a metal cup in a saucer. You can pour the coffee back and forth from the saucer to the cup to cool it, a talent I’m acquiring (fingers can be burned as the scalding liquid goes right to the top of the cup):

By the time I finished lunch it was 1 p.m.—Indian lunchtime—and there was a huge line out the door. I’ve learned to avoid the lunch rush:

I’ve seen exactly one cat in India: an orange moggie that darted into my hotel in Bangalore. But of course dogs are everywhere, and so, to placate the dog-lovers among you, here’s a line of sleeping canids on the street this morning, one with a close-up:


  1. Posted January 1, 2018 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    I love the shawl and the napping dogs. And I want that soap!

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted January 1, 2018 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      That shawl is gorgeous isn’t it?! An amazing amount of work has gone into it!

      • Posted January 1, 2018 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

        It’s wonderful!!

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted January 1, 2018 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

        That shawl is to die for. I’d buy it — and wear it!

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 3, 2018 at 1:56 am | Permalink

      + 4!

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 1, 2018 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Looks like a shopper’s delight. I remember some pretty nasty pollution in Soul, Korea and in Tokyo back in the 80s and early 90s. Maybe not as bad as India but much worst than anything you could see here. People would wash their cars daily and if you did not, a white car would not be white for long.

  3. thompjs
    Posted January 1, 2018 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Saravana Bhavan in Houston is great. If you are around try it out.

  4. thompjs
    Posted January 1, 2018 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Saravana Bhavan in Houston is great. If you are around try it out.

  5. Lianne Byram
    Posted January 1, 2018 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Sorry to see Delhi so overcome by smog. I was there in 1986 and remember a beautiful city with wide boulevards under sunshine and blue skies.

  6. Posted January 1, 2018 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    A fully enjoyable accounting! A couple of the dogs look pariah doggish.

  7. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 1, 2018 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    I’m starting to consider bringing my own soap to work because the washroom soap eats my hands. The thought of carrying my soap to the washroom each time leaves me feeling tired.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted January 1, 2018 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      Just a suggestion but maybe keep hand lotion at work.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 1, 2018 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

        Oh I do. And it’s just not any lotion but the same lotion I used when receiving radiation treatment so it’s powerful stuff. Working in a dry, winter environment with cheap soap seems to affect my skin almost as badly as 520o Gys of radiation.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted January 1, 2018 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      Don’t carry soap. Try PURELL [or similar] Hand & Face Sanitizing Wipes. Small packs of 15 wipes works out at around 8 cents per wipe if you buy in bulk on Amazon. And you’re not having to unhygienically touch the faucet [to turn it off] after washing which in itself is worth the extra cost. You can use the used wipe to open the bathroom door too


      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 1, 2018 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

        Good idea though I’d still have to take them to the bathroom with me.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted January 1, 2018 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

          I was primed for that reply Diana, so here’s my option number two, so to speak

          You needz a modern Hugh Denys [Tudor age, Groom of the Stool] 🙂

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted January 1, 2018 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

            Haha. Well maybe I can pay a student to fulfill that role.

  8. ladyatheist
    Posted January 1, 2018 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for starting with the smog. It mitigated the upcoming envy.

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