Monday, November 21, 2011

Polo Match

We were invited by a friend to attend a polo match yesterday at the nearby Jaipur Polo Club. These Delhi polo grounds have been in existence since around 1900 (older than the city of New Delhi, which was established in 1911). As most know, polo was popularized by the British in the 19th Century and is now played throughout the world. But the game actually originates from right here in India. The first official Polo Club was established in India in 1834. None of us had ever gone to a formal match before, so we were excited to attend.
The grounds were beautiful and well-maintained. They are largely a product of the Indian Army. Because we weren't VIPs we didn't get a chance to see the inside of the clubhouse. But we did get to sit in very nice, covered seating. The crowd included quite a collection of expats, wealthy socialites and Delhi personalities.

The match was the 2011 Army Championship, so it was quite an affair. We walked along a red carpet to enter the pavilion. Many of the attendees were formally dressed. A few men wore dinner jackets with their Jodhpurs and riding boots. Some of the wives were adorned in pearls and high heels. The players were all current or retired Army officers and the game was face-paced. Audrey and Evan enjoyed watching the horses race by as the players whacked the ball up and down the lush, green field.
At the halfway mark it is a tradition for everyone to walk out onto the field for "divot stamping" (called the "tread-in" here in Delhi). Wine or champagne is served and the spectators socialize while everyone helps to smooth out the playing field by stomping on torn patches in the turf.
Can't help but love these moments...  attending this polo game was another unexpected opportunity and new experience for the SayerRanch... Such a lovely way to spend an Autumn Sunday afternoon with friends and family.

Monday, November 14, 2011

November 2011 Campout

Evan, Audrey and I went on an overnight camp out with Cub Scout troop 3060.  Lesa and her Mom were off to Kathmandu for the weekend so the timing was perfect! This was our second trip out to Camp Wild! near the Haryana village of Dhauj. The camp is about two hours drive from Delhi.
November is a beautiful time of year to camp or trek in India. There is little rain and the chilly enough at night to enjoy a warm campfire. I can tell you Indian's don't fool around when they ignite a bonfire.
Although we were not really that far from the bustle and crowds of Delhi, Haryana seemed like we had traveled to some far off land... Camp wild is nestled in the ancient (700 million) Aravali Mountains. The peaks there have been worn down from centuries of wind and seasonal monsoon rains. The landscape is desert. Cattle and goat herders wander across broad, dusty valleys and the rocky hillsides found throughout this region.
The kids and I were able to do a little hiking, rock climbing and Evan was able to complete parts of several steps for some of his Outdoorsman and Fitness badges.
Our little adventure gave kids and I had a nice break from the traffic and crowds of Delhi... plenty of exercise, great traditional Indian food and time shared with good friends.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Nizamuddin Dargah

This is the mausoleum of one of the most famous Sufi Saints, Nizamuddin Auliya (or Hazrat Nizamuddin). (1238-1325).  He is the man our neighborhood here in Delhi is named for. He believed that you came closer to God through the renunciation of the world and by giving yourself over to the service of humanity. For him, his love of mankind represented his love for God. Sufism is one of the many "flavors" of the Muslim faith. I've come to admire many of the beliefs of the Sufis. Their faith, similar to the Faith of Christianity, focuses on Love. Their music is wonderful. Worshipers often represent love through art, music and song.
We took the kids and their Grandma to see this famous Dargah last night in neighboring Nizamuddin West. Every Thursday evening there is a small concert of Sufi music for followers, Sufi music aficionados, and the curious. It's free to the public and usually starts sometime after 6pm. Last night, I would guess at least 10% of the listeners were Westerners. If you go, men should wear long pants, and women should be covered - long pants, and a scarf.

The Dargah is the focus of the local mosque in our neighborhood. The mosque has been there at least since the 12th Century. The Dargah itself is from the 13th Century.
Many Pilgrims travel to the Dargah from very distant parts of India as well as the world because it is so famous in the Muslim community. There are special areas for prayers devoted to the sick, the demented, and a special Mosque for women. Ladies are not allowed inside Nizamuddin's Mausoleum, but can bring offerings, and may pray outside. 
All are welcomed here and are encouraged to listen to the music. The musicians and singers are from families who have made this music for generations. The songs are passed down from grandfather to father to son and have probably been played in this way since before the time of Hazrat Nizamuddin.

The evening was yet again, another wonderful and unique India-experience for all of us!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why are the Streets so Filthy in India?

I just came back from Sri Lanka after an enjoyable family trip.  As soon as I stepped out of the impressive, new Indira Gandhi Airport Terminal I was immediately struck by the contrast India presents to its visitors. Sri Lanka is obviously much smaller and probably considerably easier to manage that India ever will be.  But I have to be honest. My observations of Lanka gave me a clear impression that life is cleaner, safer, and more efficient there. And if these things are all true, Why?  Could it be just because Sri Lanka is smaller and less crowded?
I love living in India. But like any place you chose to live there are things you like and admire and some things that really bug you. For me it's the mess. Why are most of the streets here so filthy? After living here for nearly three years, I believe population and caste are probably the two biggest factors that contribute to the litter and garbage that is almost everywhere. 
In Sri Lanka the population (20 million) is only a fraction of India's (1.2 Billion). It's just not much of an issue there. But over-population obviously fuels India's ongoing struggles with infrastructure (stable electricity, clean drinking water, road maintenance and modernization). India is working hard to modernize and improve, but has yet to seriously address the issue of population. There's just a lot of people here and they aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

Sri Lankans have essentially rejected the notion of Caste. Probably because that country is predominantly Buddhist. I have witnessed few beggars, and after traveling through many small towns and villages, I have seen very few desperately poor Lankans. But is this why Sri Lanka is visibly cleaner?  It's not that there seem to be less poor people in Sri Lanka. I believe its about personal responsibility.  I think India's willingness to accept caste conveniently simplifies what people perceive to be as their personal responsibility.
Litter is the easiest example of this. And the topic of litter gets me back to the thing that really bugs me about India. In Sri Lanka I have never witnessed someone drop trash on the ground. Sri Lanka is not without litter, but Lankan streets and public spaces are generally much cleaner, better groomed and more well-maintained than India's. 

Here in India I have seen hundreds and hundreds of people drop trash on the ground without any hesitation or care. Personal drivers have littered right in front of me. Wealthy Indians on safari (right inside India's beautiful National Wildlife Preserves) have tossed empty plastic bottles and snack wrappers while standing next to me. Policeman, college students, businessmen and women, even Catholic nuns -- they have all been active participants in dumping personal trash on the ground in front of me. Often I confront them on the spot, but 1.2 billion people can generate a lot of curb-side garbage. I know not all Indians believe or value this age-old idea of caste, but I blame your mess squarely on your society's anachronistic belief that some people are above certain duties. Tell me, is it really someone else's responsibility to deal with the litter you or your organisation has discarded? (What do you think?) 

Every place I have ever been (with the possible exception of Singapore) has its own share of pollution, and litter... Americans sadly still litter, and we certainly need to drive less, buy less and use less packaging. But our streets, neighborhoods and public spaces, like Sri Lanka's, are generally cleaner. Europeans certainly need to smoke less, and the Chinese have had a knack for quickly adopting many of the West's bad behaviors. India wants its rightful place on the worlds stage - as it should have. But she will never be an equal partner in the eyes of outsiders until the population here acknowledges the visual mess it presents to the world.

I believe it's not a problem for your government to solve. Government can help though public awareness, but to actually eliminate the waste - the trash that is just about everywhere... That is all about acknowledging personal responsibility. If there is a dustbin, please use it. If there isn't one, hold on to your garbage until you find one. Take charge. Don't just clean up your yard, clean the street in front of your house (or if you can afford it, pay someone to do it for you).  Organize your neighbors to clean up and maintain your block, your neighborhood park. If you think it looks messy, I REALLY think it looks messy. And above all, if you see someone else litter, give them a hard time about it. It's not someone else's role to do it for you.
Like it or not, until these habits improve, I believe places like Sri Lanka will always look brighter and cleaner to her visitors. Lankans may even be a little happier despite their own share of the world's problems.