The first time I returned to New Delhi, after moving to the US in March 1998 was in December 2002. Those five years were the longest stretch away from my parent’s homes, and my eyes were unaccustomed to the myriads of changes and the "differentness" of it all, after having lived continously in the USA for that length of time. Adding my subsequent exposure to the concept of user observation, meant taking the most unusual vacation photographs. Here are some with explanations,
The first shock to my "phoren returned" eyes was our apartment block. Alaknanda is a DDA colony, built to finance the Asiad Games in New Delhi in 1982 and the flats were allotted by lottery. We got lucky to get lots of sunlight. To me, however, they looked like slums. Ours is the top flat, the two differently sized windows belong to the master bedroom. It’s a duplex flat, the balconey right below opens out of our living room. That red Maruti Suzuki van is the vehicle in which I proudly tested for my first driver’s license at age 28 (so I’m a late bloomer). I loved driving that van, it has the smallest turning radius I’ve ever come across and it has been known to seat 7 on weekend nights.
Once I realized that my eyes were unaccustomed to things that I had once taken for granted, I decided to capture all the differences. Here, for example is a broom or "jhadoo" that mother’s helper uses to sweep the floors every day. You squat on the floor and sweep in wide semicircles. When new, it leaves behind parts of itself, as it’s made from dried rushes.
The next item that caught my eye was the ultra violet water treatment unit attached to the ‘fresh’ water tap – the municipal water supply that was released for one hour two times a day (if you’re lucky) – as opposed to the ‘regular’ taps which are connected to our overhead tanks, that in turn are filled by our ground level tank in the garage (door seen behind van) using a timed pump. Why? Because water pressure is never sufficient to fill overhead tanks on the third floor and water supply is intermittent. This is standard. Most homes also have a small diesel or kerosene generator to run a light or fan during regular power (electricity) outages. I wonder what it’s going to be like next month, 3 years later.
We use cooking gas in the kitchen. Usually there’s the main cylinder and a spare. I won’t get into the politics of it, but rest assured it’s not easy to get them. I also noticed a gas cylinder delivery fellow on his bicycle. Each cylinder weighs about 30 pounds. He managed to maneuver his way through extreme traffic without a hitch.
On the streets, the first thing that caught my eye were Delhi’s concrete road signs, which spell out the name of the street in 4 languages commonly used locally – english, devanagri, punjabi and urdu. This is through a car window on a rainy night on our way to some cousin’s house for dinner. Hmmm, we seem to be going the wrong way. Factoid: Panchsheel Marg is the US embassy’s street address in New Delhi. I also couldn’t help but note that the cars on the streets had changed into these ugly boxy mostly Korean cars which seemed squashed somehow. Did I mention that Delhi is the most polluted city in India? Or at least was, in my time.
Lastly, I was unexpectedly saddened by the demolition of our neighbourhood slum. Don’t ask, it’s too complicated to explain why there should be a neighbourhood basti anyway or why I should feel a pang, but in this case it grew up from the construction worker’s housing that had sprung up when this colony of apartment blocks had been constructed over 20 years ago. It had been part of the scenery, the local source of household help and local labor. You’ll note that they’ve stacked their precious building materials and bricks, to be used in their new location (I heard they were being relocated a few miles away) to rebuild their homes.