Situated quite high in the International Trade Tower at Nehru Place, the KMC office has great views of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) land stretching out towards the Lotus Temple. Roads are slowly being built across this land and peasant people live on it, some breaking up rocks to be used in the road’s foundations. Their homes are shelters erected like tents, constructed skilfully from all kinds of materials and secured with plastic sheeting to give protection against the monsoon rains.
I idled across this land last Sunday – Independence Day – on my way to the Lotus Temple. Whilst it wasn’t particularly sunny, the heat was oppressive due to the humidity – I was dripping within minutes of going outside. People were laid out resting, some on low narrow walls, others under the shade of trees. Naked children were running around and I was quickly conscious of the locals’ stares. Having only arrived in Delhi the previous night and now finding myself clambering across scrub land (and human waste) I was apprehensive whether this was the most appropriate way for me to immerse myself back into Indian life, but I wasn’t about to turn back. Playing children would stop dead in their tracks as I neared them: if I smiled or waved, they giggled and returned the gesture excitedly. These people seemed happy and it amazed me how content they appeared.
The afternoon of Thursday 19th August saw a really heavy rainfall which was great to watch from the dry comfort of the KMC office. Whilst the adults on the DDA land battled against the winds securing plastic sheeting, moving objects into tents, channelling the water away and taking shelter themselves, the children splashed in quickly forming pools. A bunch of small boys dragged a bathtub from somewhere and looked to be having the time of their lives, seesawing on its rim while it filled with rain in which they could splash. It could almost have been a film-set for a Grapes of Wrath movie.
As I left the International Trade Tower that evening on my way to the health club, I passed an empty office (not just empty of people but the internal construction wasn’t finished yet) where sparks and explosions were ripping across the ceiling. Slightly panicked, it seemed that an electrical fire was about to start at any second but I was relieved to see it burn out instantly. An hour or so later, lying alone in the steam room in a comfortably hot, dazed and truly relaxed state, the explosions erupted again: a loud burst of hissing and even closer this time. I left the steam room more speedily and less relaxed than I had entered!
The following morning, Friday, the office was without power and the network was down.
On Friday morning, Deepti invited me to join her at her cousin’s wedding that evening. I was really thrilled especially when I realised it would entail a shopping spree for local dress wear. That afternoon, Poonam, Ekta and I took an auto-rickshaw to Central Market, Lajpat Nagar, a nearby market which caters for locals, not tourists…
The first shop we visited, Libas Fashions Pvt Ltd (using the company legal name of course, alias Libas ;O)) sold the widest range of suits and saris in all colours and patterns. The shop assistant pulled dozens of them out for me and laid them all out, all over the counter. Nothing seemed like too much trouble. Thanks to Poonam and Ekta, we narrowed the selection down to a number I could realistically try on in our limited time for a mad-dash-shopping-spree. Exit Libas Fashions, one contented customer with a beautiful orange suit comprising a top embroidered with a leaf pattern, beads and tiny sequins and pants and shawl in a two-tone orange tie-dye pattern. Next stop was shoes (glittery heels from First Step) and then jewellery (bindis, bangles, earrings and necklace set, hair clips). This was such a great market – I was disappointed to have forgotten my camera in the haste. Note first lack of photos. Our final stop was a shoe shop belonging to a friend of Ekta’s called Shyam Footwear, selling all kinds of Punjabi jutti and chappal which are exported all over the world. There’s a range of hand-crafted leather shoes (flat mules) with a variety of stitching patterns and a range of exquisitely embroidered and patterned shoes too. They were so comfortable, I took a pair of each type.
It was around this point that Deepti texted us to make sure we’d been able to find some appropriate dress wear. My immediate reaction was to draft a reply enthusing over my new purchases, but then my mischievous side got the better of me: Deepti was led to believe that I’d been unable to find any clothes and would be wearing the office clothes I’d had on all day…