Delhi Diary- Toes, Thumbs and Claws

I can smell it before I see it. The woman, who enters the room has no toes. Or better the woman that stands in the middle of the room has toes that look exactly like cigarette butts. But she hasn’t come to have someone looking at her feet. I take a deep breath and have a look and then a second and a third. The woman is impressively indifferent. The woman wants to collect medication for her daughter’s baby. I shake my head. No, I say and try to breath out again. No patient, no medication. The woman glares angry at me, while I clean and bandage the former toes the best I can. I learn new swear words in Hindi. Quite impressive I think, her vocabulary. „Your feet“ I say, but she waves with her hands as if I were one of the many flies around us. I clearly failed her expectations. She rushes out off the door. The smell lingers in the room all day long.

„I am leaving for half an hour to bring these to the post-office“, I say to N. and wave with a pile of letters in my hand. At the corner where I have to cross the street a group of drug addicts gathers around a wooden bench that stands in a dark and shadowy corner. They are five. They share one syringe. The syringe looks like made before the English left India. Three men and two women. One man sucks another man’s toes. Two women are crawling on the ground searching for somewhat that probably never existed. It is a lively place, despite its dark corner. Roasted corn is sold, you can buy cigarettes or sip a cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice. The left-overs of food are thrown into the corner and land short to the feet of the three men and two women laying or crawling there. When I cross the street again, on my way back, only one man is still there. He lies on his back, now sucking at his thumb with the same intensity he did a few minutes ago, when he licked his neighbor’s feet.

On the way back home, standing between too many fellow travelers, I think of a newspaper article I read a few days ago. A woman has been arrested a fortnight ago at a railway station in Delhi because she was found eating peacock claws. I never knew beforehand that peacock claws were eatable stuff at all. I always imagined them being bony, tiny and pretty hard. However, the woman was arrested under a Wildlife protection law that forbids the very consumption of peacock claws. The article left open, how the police officer immediately recognized the type of claws he was confronted with and obviously had not a minute of doubt that they must belong to a peacock. But no, I don’t want to know the details, I just wonder why peacock’s claws are so much more protected and recognized as something to be saved, while a woman just enters through the door, who has no more toes left due to a long life of neglect and a man sucks wholeheartedly at a pair of toes as if they were a delicacy at their own and not a sign of more neglect and passionate ignorance of a surrounding that does not care much. ( The body of the peacock could not be found among her belongings said  the article.)

When opening the door, Mrs Rajasthani scolds me that I again took no lunch with me and asks how my das has been: „toeless“ I say and she cries: „Read On, don’t you scare me like this, or I will make Okra for dinner!“

Delhi Diary- Wishful thinking

photo (1)

Sometimes I wish it would be different. Then, I would not stand upon my desk trying to fix the light-bulb. If things would be different it would not be scorching hot at  9 AM and my blood would not simmer as it did and I would not wipe my face with a horrid smelling wipe. I would, never, ever wear my old blue shirt with the print „Let’s get lost“ and of course I would not wear worn-out old khaki trousers I never have the heart to throw out because they are so comfortable. My desk would not be in a mess and most of all I would not swear like a coachmen. Oh, if things could only be different and I become someone else, then not out of sudden a door would be opened and B. would storm into the room. Of all people B! B. and I met a few years ago in place like this. Back then B. was the admired star till I arrived and he had to learn that I was quite convinced that he was not g*d and had to endure opposition just as everybody else. Now, the same B. looks at me and growls: „I heard you are back. But I had to see it with my very own eyes.“ Well, nice to see you, B. say I and try to climb down as graceful as I only can. B. shakes his head. „Will you ever learn to behave more professional, he asks?“ „Climbing around as, as“ and while he searches for the sufficient word, I interrupt him, because he is used worse things from me than standing upon a desk looking ridiculous. In length B. begins to lecture me what he would do different ( meaning better ) and why I will fail ( because I did dare not to consult his opinion ). I feel a headache coming. B. I say, „do you see how many people are waiting outside? Do you really, really think I have the time or the nerves to listen to your silly speeches? B. grasps for air. Before he turns away and storms out of the door, he musters me again and says: „This shirt looks ridiculous, you know this don’t you?“ He sounds exactly like Marlon Brando whispering the „horror, the horror“ at the end of Apocalypse Now. When I leave too many hours later I see B. leaving as well, he holds hands with a gorgeous looking woman in a fire-red dress. They giggle as I walk by, now my shirt looks even more devastated, a child got sick over my shoulder and my cleaning efforts were not too successful. Sometimes I wish it would be different, sometimes I wish I would be beautiful myself, sometimes I wish I would not care much about B.’s opinion and sometimes I wish B. would smile at me just once. But I am awake for too long to wish anything at all.

Delhi Diary-Blueberry Pancakes


It is 6. 30 in the morning. Two children jump upon my back. They pull my ears and shriek: „Read On, wake up. You promised us pancakes.“ „Blueberry pancakes, we want blueberry pancakes“ they shout quite rhythmically and continue to jump up and down my bed. „Ieeeek“, say I and try to disappear under my mosquito net. But to make a noise, was a big mistake. „You are awake, awake, awake it shouts from above my head, where too many fingers try to lift up my eyelids. One has to know, when surrender is the only option. „My glasses first“, say I to the two little tyrants, who grin triumphantly. Two children stomp down the stairs and a yawning Read On follows them down to the kitchen. Two children sit at the table, hammering loudly with their forks: „Blueberry Pancakes! Blueberry Pancakes!“ It sounds like a cry of warriors before running towards the battlefield. 10 minutes later two children happily munch blueberry pancakes. Even if I am not quite sure if pancakes with Nutella, strawberry conserve and cream still fit into the genre. Two children kiss me. My face is plastered with Nutella, strawberry conserve and cream. I yawn again. „Where are you going?, cry two kids simultaneously. „Into my bed, I want to say, but before I am able to finish my sentence two children monkeys jump upon my back, shouting: „No.“ The Barbies have to take a bath now. I look quite astonished. I always thought Barbie dolls would not be in need of such profanities. But obviously they are. I fill a large bucket with water and two children, many barbie dolls and a yawning Read On are getting soaked wet. The Barbie dolls are looking quite tired as well. Two children throw soap at each other. „Read On, you have to make bubbles!“ Two children are giggling and catching soap bubbles. I hang the poor dolls at the clothes line. They look exhausted. I yawn. „Read On, say the kids, we want to hear a story.“ They arrive with a pile of books. After ten minutes of heavy fighting, thy agree on a book called „Stinkbomb.“ The book is as boring as the telephone book. I don’t know why children books are so often written by obviously totally humorless persons, who lack in fantasy as well as in the ability to invent a story. Fifteen minutes later two children sleep tucked under my arms. The barbie dolls drip from above. Two minutes later Mrs Rajasthani arrives. she yawns. „Read On, she says, why are you up, so early?“

Delhi Diary-Plenty more

photo N. leans against the door-frame, while I argue with someone on the phone. She looks down at her feet. Another ten minutes pass by till she comes over and whispers nearly voiceless in my ear: „Read On, Can I talk to you for a moment?“ „Of course you can“, say I and make space for her on the stool next to me, where a piles of notes are stacked. Firstly, she asks if I enjoy the tea she made me this morning. I praise the tea and hope Mrs Rajasthani may never find out that I drink someone else’s tea. Secondly, she wants to know, if I think she is good at what she is doing. I assure her that she is brilliant and nothing of what we do, would be possible without her. Then she blushes and remains silent and begins again: „us, women“, she says and interrupts herself, I nod encouraging and then I have to lean forward to understand her silent whispers and after ten minutes I believe  I caught her point. „You want a tampon?, I  ask, smiling happily ,because I am a big fan. Tampons are great, you can stop nosebleed, put pressure on a wound and probably would be able to fix a car engine with them, I say, while I search in my bag and finally produce a handful of them. „Take as many as you want.“ But N. looks at me in sheer horror. She stammers that her husband would not approve of such things. I swallow hardly, because I find it so very hard to understand, what a husband could not approve of the usage of a tampon. But little I know of husbands. Little I know,why a husband, who sleeps with his wife and lives with his wife does not want his wife feeling safe during her period. Little I know, why a husband tells his wife that she is unclean. Little I know, why a husband, who shares a table and a bed, a cat and a balcony, a closet and a glass of water in the bathroom pretends not to know that his wife is menstruating. Little, so little I know. N. leans forward again and tells me that she is ashamed to go to the pharmacy asking for sanitary pads. The men selling them would give her awkward looks and make comments. N. starts to cry. Listen, I say, I go and buy them. Fifteen minutes later I enter the first pharmacy. The man behind the corner claims not to sell „these things.“ The men gathering in the shop are giggling. I slam the door while leaving. In the second pharmacy I am luckier. The man behind the cashier grabs a package of sanitary pads with two of his fingers and looks at me. „I need more, say I, and while he tries to avoid my look I sternly look at him. He comes up with two more packs. „More, repeat I, I need more.“ Now the man begins to sweat. He speaks quickly with the shop assistant and the assistant blushes. He brings more packs. More, say I bring me more. I need plenty more. Both men and all the men gathered in the shop are looking at me. It is absolutely silent in the pharmacy. Only the shop assistant is to be heard, he wraps the packets into brown paper. Finally, I leave the shop with twenty-seven packages of sanitary pads. The men in the shop stare at me with sheer horror in their eyes. I close the door silently behind me. Back, I put the six bags full of sanitary pads in the middle of a table. Ten minutes later, all packages have disappeared. Before I leave, N. leans against the door-frame. „No, I say, don’t you dare to say thank you.“ „But, N. I say, when you don’t go into the pharmacy and don’t use tampons, what are you doing?“ N. looks at her feet and comes to my desk again. Nearly voiceless, she says: Newspaper or old rugs. N. is a woman of 35 years, she has a profession of her own and she is married. Little I know of husbands, not to say nothing at all, but I can’t believe that a man lying next to a woman, who has old rugs or newspaper between her legs, who is afraid to move or to change sides, can sleep safe and sound. Impossible it is to imagine that a man, who brushes his teeth in the morning can leave with a smile on his face, knowing that his wife puts newspaper into her underpants and goes to work as he does. Little I know and nothing of this I am able to understand.

Another exception in German: Schwarze Fliegen.

Sie erst bemerken als ich ins Wasser tauche, das Wasser ist schwarz, schwarz voller Fliegen, die in großen Massen von den Bäumen und Lampen hinab ins Wasser fallen,wie eine große, schwarze Wolke breiten sie sich aus und schwimmen auf der Wasseroberfläche. Mit geschlossenem Mund ziehe ich meine Bahnen und wische mir die Fliegen von den Wangen. Die Augen schließe ich und schwimme inmitten der schwarzen, zu Klumpen verschmelzenden Fliegen, die nicht untergehen, sondern als dichter Teppich auf dem Wasser liegen, Sekunden und Minuten zucken sie noch mit den Beinen, dann und wann schlagen die Flügel, dann ist es vorbei, schon rauschen neue Fliegen herab. Mit geschlossenen Augen denke ich an Dich und Du denkst sicher nicht an mich. Verloren gehe ich auch nicht in einer Wolke aus Fliegen, sondern in der Traurigkeit, ohne dich. Das letzte Mal versuche ich mich zu erinnern, schwamm ich inmitten solch eines Fliegenschwarms in der DRC. Aber ich erinnere mich schlecht. Mehr und mehr verschwimmen die Orte wie die Länder, manchmal meine ich noch eine abgebrochene Kachel in türkis zu erinnern, an der ich mir den Finger blutig schnitt, aber vielleicht war die Kachel nicht türkis, und ich schnitt mir die Arme auf an einer scharfen Kante, die Bilder werden mit der Zeit seltsam unscharf oder auch nur ich immer müder. Mit den bloßen Füßen laufe ich über einen Teppich aus Fliegen, sie knacken unter meinen Füßen, wie Pergamentpapier und unter der Dusche fallen mir viele schwarze Fliegen aus dem Badeanzug, aus den Haaren, die trotz der Badekappe voller Fliegen sind, und als ich mir die Haare auf den Rücken schüttle, fallen mir die Fliegen aus den Ohren. Wann frage ich, das Spiegelbild, das wohl ich sein soll, bin ich denn eigentlich zu einer solchen Karikatur meiner selbst geworden? Aber das Spiegelbild antwortet nicht, sondern zuckt nur nachlässig mit den Achseln, als wüsste ich nicht, das auch mein Gewicht in der Welt nicht viel schwerer bemessen ist, als das jener Fliegen, mit ihren schillernden, so zerbrechlichen Flügeln, die fallen, berauscht vom Licht und von den Bäumen, bis sie vergangen sind, wie bald auch wir versinken in diesem oder jenem tiefen Grund.

As an exception in German: In all diesen Jahren

Es ist heiß. Die Haare kleben mir im Nacken und ich kann mir die Handschuhe kaum über die Hände ziehen. Schwarze Fliegen sitzen überall und sie belächeln müde meine angestrengten Versuche sie mit dem gelben Pappordner vertreiben zu wollen. Ich rieche nach Insektenmitteln und Desinfektionsspray. Über dem Mundschutz beschlägt meine Brille. Es ist noch nicht einmal acht Uhr am Morgen. Die Frau, die das Zimmer betritt, ist vielleicht siebzehn, aber vielleicht auch neunzehn, dreiundzwanzig oder fünfzehn Jahre alt. Ich weiß es nicht. Sie weiß es nicht. An ihrer Hand klammert ein Bube, er ist vier oder fünf. So ganz genau, weiß es keiner von uns dreien. Sehr leise flüstert die Frau, dass sie zum Impfen käme und ich nicke. Der Bube hopst aufregt von der Liege. Geschafft. Die Frau ist schwanger. In welchem Monat kann sie nicht sagen. Für Frauen wie sie gibt es keinen Mutterpass, keine Vorsorgeuntersuchung und auch keinen Ultraschall. Ob ich einmal sehen dürfte, frage ich und die Frau dreht ihre Armreifen in der Hand hin und her. Schließlich nickt sie. Ihr Oberkörper ist mit blauen und schwarzen Flecken übersät. Das Kind denke ich, liegt kompliziert. Gerne möchte ich sie überzeugen zur Geburt hierher zukommen. Aber noch während ich auf Hindi versuche sie zu überreden, merke ich dass mir die Worte zerfließen, so als würde die Hitze die Worte in Wasser auflösen. Hilflos komme ich mir vor, mit meinen mangelhaften Worten, die so verloren im Raum stehen, nicht nur deshalb weil mein Hindi so fehlerhaft ist, nicht nur weil ich keine Sprache wirklich beherrsche, sondern weil ich in all diesen Jahren wieder und wieder, versuche die gleichen Sätze zu sagen , von denen ich doch weiß, dass sie schief klingen, um so viele Oktaven verschoben, aus so einer anderen Welt sprechen, dass sie einem hohlen Echo gleichen, das sich vielfach wiederholt, ziellos wieder und wieder ansetzt um sich im Nichts zu verlieren. Die Frau sieht mich an, meine hilflosen Erklärungsversuche und nickt. Sie sitzt mit geradem Rücken, in ihrem roten Sari und hält noch immer den Buben an der Hand, eine der vielen Frauen, aus den vielen Dörfern, die in die Stadt kommen um in den vielen Haushalten abzuwaschen, Gemüse zu putzen, die Wäsche zu machen und all die Dinge von denen ich nichts weiß. Ich unterbreche mich selbst, in meinen lächerlichen Sätzen und frage nach ihrem Mann. Der bügelt sagt sie und ich kann ihn mir vorstellen, einen der vielen am Straßenrand sitzenden Männer, auf nicht viel mehr als einer Spanplatte arbeitend, ein Bügeleisen und heißen Dampf neben sich, den Verkehr, einen ganzen Tag, ein ganzes Leben lang. Keine Brandwunden, denke ich, immerhin, nur Schläge. Immer sind diese Frauen geschlagen wurden, von ihren Vätern, Großmüttern, Brüdern und Männern, sie selbst schlagen die Kinder und ich höre mich sagen, drängend und ernsthaft, wie wichtig es wäre, sie käme zur Geburt ihres Kindes hierher zurück. Sie denkt vielleicht an den Einkauf, ob Geld übrig ist für Huhn oder nur für Auberginen. Dies sei gut gegen die Krämpfe sage ich und gebe ihr die Tabletten. Eine Zahnbürste und Zahncreme für den Buben und sie dreht beides in den Händen, während ich noch immer rede, steht sie auf und nickt mir zu und ich bin endlich still. Während sie und der Bube den Flur hinuntergehen, sehe ich ihnen noch einen halben Augenblick nach, sehe in den Flur, der voller Menschen ist, es ist noch nicht einmal neun. Es ist heiß, die Handschuhe kleben mir an den Hände, ich suche nach der Schere, um sie durchzuschneiden. Die Fliegen schwirren durch den Raum, auf eine Karteikarte, trage ich all das ein was ich nicht weiß und bin mir fast sicher, die Frau nie wieder zu sehen.

Delhi Diary- Terrace Throwback

Still when I lean with my back against the wall that is warm from a long days‘ heat I think of the so similar and so far away terrace wall I left so many years ago. I spent half of my days on this terrace, that had the same white tiles as the terrace I am sitting on right now. The plants were different, and most meagre, beside of the hibiscus tree someone left on the terrace for my mother and I moved in. So many afternoons and evenings I spent there, reading, thinking, dreaming, and singing. It was on this very diary when I fell in love with Mr Darcy or began to admire the cool and sensitive prose of Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Many nights I spent on the terrace listening to music from the old record player I bought on a flea-market from my first self- earned money. Schoenberg’s Moses and Aron swirled through the night and I discovered Brahms, which I still only randomly confess. But still today my heart beats faster when only hearing a fee first tones of his music. When I closed my eyes I could hear voices of the domino players downstairs sitting up late at night, talking and gambling and drinking tea. Here, I look down on a busy street. Moto-Rickshaws are waiting for customers, truck horns and cows desperately try to find some green and not only squeezed plastic bottles. But when leaning backwards and listening closely I hear the muezzin from a mosque nearby calling the assembly for prayer. And still I can’t help it to think back at the times, where we both sat leaning against the very wall, waiting for the first muezzin to begin and to call out the names of the mosques joining the chorus. You always let me win and always pretended this were not the case. And I was tucked up under your arms and maybe as safe as never before and never after. This terrace was our secret garden and how young were we and how naive to think this garden would last and carry us safely away. Still today, so many years after our backs became inseparable with the wall I wish I could just for another late evening sit with you, stroking across your knees and listening to your voice, telling me silly, sweet things, keeping us both awake all night. Here, I do not even know the name of the mosque, no one sits next to me and I drop my head down on my knees and call your name as if it would be able to reach you through all this darkness that came and took you away.

Delhi Diary-Blackout

At 1 AM last night the electricity went down with an all too familiar plong. The backup generator tries to do what it can do, but this is not much at 2AM with still 40 degrees outside. But while the plong is a most familiar sound the reason for electricity breakdowns is not a too easy thing to detect. As most things in India it is rather complicated. The electricity network especially in Delhi is not too bad, even when the electricity supply lines are fastened around a mango tree. There are competing suppliers and BSES is the biggest one among private companies, nearly serving two third of Delhi’s population. In most households even meters are installed and possible power cuts are surprisingly often announced. This counts true for those, who are able to pay for electricity. It looks different and even more difficult within the slum clusters, while with every new election cheap electricity and water is promised, in reality there is no such thing as regular supply beside of illegal access but on a larger scale it is not significant enough to cause a larger black-out. But nevertheless electricity is a sensitive issue and government after government introduces plans and measurements to tackle short-cuts. The question of sufficient electricity supply in India is for companies private or (partly)- state-owned a question of surviving. Just recently a law has passed that introduces a range of penalties for insufficient power supply. Power shortages and how to avoid them will become more and more a currency of its own. But electricity is as well and maybe one of the last fields where employees can gain some influence. The latest blackout has been introduced by workers protesting with directed short-cuts against the company policy. And this is when things become even more complicated. While parties and companies are not too be sued for not cashing in „electricity“ promises made whenever it suits their political agenda, disciplinary action is immediately initiated against those who protest. The employees, most of them, even when working for more than ten years in the industry are working as contractual employees without being able to plan a secured future, which means in the first place being able to afford a decent flat with secured electricity supply. For most of them this is out of reach. For two more days the news say, the supply will be restored but when no agreement is to be reached the power-cuts will continue. Electricity here is a powerful thing to behold or to switch off.

Delhi Diary-Malviya Nagar

Mr Rajasthani says: It’s crazy to walk there. Why don’t you take a motor-rickshaw as every normal person would do?“ But I just smile and head off. Despite Delhi’s crazy traffic and the insane pre-monsoon temperatures I am very fond of walking at least the two kilometers from the metro to the hospital in Malviya Nagar. Otherwise I wouldn’t have seen: a coppersmith preparing his business for the day. Two women collecting wood for a fire to make breakfast, a stall with fresh Alphonso mangoes, who never make it to Europe but four of them made it into my bag today. I don’t think they will live for long. A shoemaker repairing a  pair of boots, several chai- wallahs whose offers I steadily refuse. Would Mrs Rajasthani know that I drink tea elsewhere, a serious crisis would break out. I passed by two men cleaning their teeth with neem leaves and a group of women carrying water on top of their heads. I passed by the „Smile house“ still of one my favorite names for a dental clinic. I chased away two dogs, crossed the street without being run down by a motor-rickshaw and admired a young man, who transported five bags of flour on the back of his bike. From far away the muezzin called to prayer and a man emptied a bucket of water about his head. I passed by too many children picking up trash and selling roasted corn. Too many young girls I see, carrying children, while being themselves still children. A bus stands abandoned in the middle of the road and every car passing by has to horn with furor, as if anything ever started to work while being shouted at. At the far end corner of the street a vendor sells Laddu and I have to close my eyes because it’s so incredible good. Shortly past 7 I arrive and hear B. crying: „Are you crazy to walk down here?“ But I just smile and offer him my second laddu, but while he walks down the floor, I still can hear him saying: „What a crazy kid, she is, indeed!“

Actual cow count of today’s walk: nine.

Delhi Diary-Mr Rajasthani

Mr Rajasthani waits outside the airport. I can hear him before I see him. Two minutes later I find myself in an embrace that makes my ribs crack. „Here you are“, he says and looks at me. „You look, he starts, „world- weary, cynical and faded“ I finish? But Mr Rajasthani just laughs at me and hugs me again till I am breathless. While we drive from the airport to South East Delhi, I remember it all. The smell of burnt rubber along the roads that maybe is the smell of my childhood. The shadows in the street that are no shadows but children picking up trash. The men who sells jasmine in the middle of the road.Two buses abandoned now standing in the middle of the road. The heat that embraces you even tighter than Mr Rajasthani. When we arrive home Mr Rajasthani’s parents are already waiting. And more rib-cracking hugs follow. Two kids jump down the stairs and climb on my back. We have kittens now, they scream and I think of Queen Cat and sigh. A minute later I held two kids in my arms, followed by two furry balls. It’s 2AM and outside are 37 degrees. I feel like a roasted chicken. Mr Rajasthani’s parents reminded me from the first day I met them of Huji and Tuji, and still today I am convinced they must have some god-like ancestors. They giggle at me and would never, ever call me something else than the „girl- who -spit-out- tea, when- she first-came- to India. The whole neighborhood knows the story that I couldn’t swallow the first masala chai I ever had, because     it tasted like a cannonball exploding in my mouth. But Huji and Tuji never took offense, they just giggled as they do now, she pats my back and offers me a big steaming cup. I smile. Two hours later when I finally sink into my bed, I lay awake for a while and listen. The horns are honking as ever, somewhere next door a dog barks, underneath the balcony someone smoke a cigarette, a radio plays old Hindi music and while I get tucked up underneath my mosquito net I breath in the heat till I am covered in it as in a cosy duvet. Namasté Delhi, I think before I fall asleep.