Photoshoot in Old Delhi

IMG_6131 IMG_6166 IMG_6172   IMG_6209 IMG_6213  IMG_6178 IMG_6197I was out and about in the winding lanes Old Delhi doing a photo shoot for the WHO- trying to get pictures for lead and chemical safety at a wholesale market which sells any type of chemical you can think of (although, to be fair, I can’t think of that many chemicals- chemistry was  my weakest pre-medical subject). It was a fascinating visit to a this Muslim part of town that doesn’t get too many foreigners because chemical market is not usually in the Lonely Planet guidebook.

From a professional standpoint, however, it was pretty difficult. No one wanted me to take their photo. This was strange because people in India have been amazingly generous about allowing me to take their photos, especially when asked in my special brand of Hindi/English/charades (Hinglrades?). In fact, some people are downright insistent that I take their photo even when I don’t especially need or want to. I will almost always oblige (yay digitial cameras) unless it’s a particularly insistent group of young men because you never engage with a manpack.

For example, earlier I was trying to get a shot of an old man drinking from a watertap. But by the time I had communicated my request he’d stopped drinking. A young man nearby saw me ask and eagerly jumped in to pose for me. Errrr, OK. Seeing this, the old man subsequently pushed him out of the way and started to drink again, even moving his hand to give me a better angle. Another young man attempted to elbow his way into the scene for a moment of glory but by that time I’d thanked everyone involved and moved on. Phew.

Back to the chemical market: no one wanted their photo. My companion from a local chemical safety NGO asked why and it had something to do with terrorism investigations and the police (like they thought we were the government shaking them down I guess). Not entirely sure but I managed to snap a few shots that should do the trick.

The funniest moment for the daywas when we were grabbing a bite to eat and I was washing my hands at the sink in the middle of the dining area (common here). I reached for what I thought was a bottle of soap until I heard some kerfuffle, and my Indian companion came hustling over: “no, no! That is toxic floor cleaner!” I looked over and the cooks were shaking their heads like “stupid foreigners.” To be fair, it was in a bottle right next to the sink and it looked just like liquid handsoap. It was like a sanitation boobytrap.Is there any end to the mistakes I can make in India? Love it anyway.


Baroda by Bike

Perhaps my favorite part of my Gujarati weekend was an hours long bike ride I took with Dr. Verma. An avid cyclist, he arranged for me to borrow a friend’s bike and we headed off around 6:30 am. The ride took us through the outskirts of town, weaving through cars, people, cows, rickshaws, stray dogs and motorcycles. After about 30 min, however, we ended up on a stunning road through several tiny rural villages. It was a perfect way to see the countryside. There is something fascinating about seeing these small, tarp covered homes. I was pondering why they drew my eye more than, say, an impressive concretehouse in the city and I theorized that it’s because the domesticity of these dwellings was much more in your face. We drove by people cooking, giving a bath to (an adorable) baby, brushing their teeth in a drainpipe, drinking tea at one of the innumerable chai stalls, praying, eating etc. Even moving at a decent clip on our bikes- it still felt like a strangely intimate experience.


And when we did stop, everyone was incredibly friendly. First we took a break to see some buffalo being milked because duh. The family who owned them immediately started speaking in Gujarti to Dr. Verma and insisted that we try some fresh milk. I watched the woman of the house clean the tin cup with her sari and did some quick gastrointestinal risk calculations (which, if you’ll excuse some foreshadowing, may have been sorely misguided) and decided that of course I need to at least try a sip. It was rich, creamy and more like a milkshake than anything that we call milk.

Along the way there was lots of flora and fauna to be seen above and beyond the usual multitude of cows and dogs: monkeys, wild peacocks (!) and colorful parakeets were the highlight but we also saw lots of other big birds (my father, a bird enthusiast, will be appalled but not at all surprised to see me reveal my avian ignorance. Dad, some looked like egrets or ibises or cranes or something? Best I can do). Let’s also not forget the veritable zoo of insects that wedged themselves into my eyes/mouth as we pedaled (it’s just like home!) or the two dead snakes we saw. 

But the real treasure of this ride was simply the lush, green countryside- dotted with farms, banyon trees and incredible foliage. Throughout our journey Dr. Verma (who is almost 30 years my senior) was, of course, riding circles around me- that man has some serious stamina! He was fresh as a daisy after almost 4 hours of riding. Luckily I am used to people double my age smoking me on the running path at home so my ego wasn’t even dented. I am so grateful that he let me tag along and see his beautiful state in this unique way. Image