Swachh Bharat 27.12.2014

As we inch our way towards 2015, I have decided to start one of my New Year resolutions early.  And this resolution is to do my own extra little bit for the seemingly impossible task of cleaning up India, my adoptive home.  As it is, I seem to spend my life (when I am out walking the dogs, for example) picking up discarded bottles and plastic bags and either throwing them in the next available rubbish bin or bringing them home to dispose of them properly.

The official government campaign, launched recently with much fanfare and many celebrity photo shoots, is called “SWACHH BHARAT” or Clean India.  And if ever a country needed cleaning up it is India.  It is often difficult as an outsider – which I will always be perceived as, no matter how long I live here – to criticise India.  This is one heck of a touchy country, and if criticism comes from “outsiders” it is seen as that much more offensive.

But it behoves me to say, as a lover of this country and as a committed resident, that India is one of the filthiest places I have ever visited.  And before anyone starts telling me (with, admittedly, a lot of justification) that there are no rubbish bins, or no-one collects the rubbish –  both of which are true – take a look at the photo below, which I took this morning.

This is the Lodhi Gardens, one of the sublimest places in Delhi –  a cluster of 15th century tombs, scattered over 90 or so acres of manicured, pampered, well-tended gardens.  This is one of the loveliest places in the city.  It also has, seriously, more functioning rubbish bins per square foot than anywhere else in Delhi.  You literally cannot move in the Lodhi Gardens without coming across a wastepaper bin, many of them painted in bright jolly street-art-like style.

And so what must one therefore conclude, on seeing a sorry sight like this one below?  2 rubbish bins clearly visible, and there was a 3rd one behind me…and yet whichever slob sat and ate and drank on this bench simply could not be bothered to walk  – what? –  50 metres to chuck his/her rubbish.  There was more garbage under the bench, and lots more behind me.  I thought of doing a panoramic shot, but you can get my drift from this much.

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This isn’t exactly a name and shame moment, since we do not know who walked off and left their litter behind.

But it indicates the enormity of the task this country faces.  If one of the country’s most prestigious monuments, and one well-supplied with rubbish bins is – even so – littered, what is to be done?

How do you start to instil a sense of civic pride?  How can you educate people?

I certainly don’t have all the answers –  though education & punishment do spring to mind. But watch this space, as I start chronicling as best I can, how to try and clean up Bharat.

Oh no. I could’ve outsourced Christmas to a Crib Designer & a Wrap Artist

I mentioned to you the other day that Delhi is adopting Christmas as though to the manner born, with pop-up stores selling headless reindeer.  Go on, check the photo, and you’ll see what I mean.

Every year we get out the increasingly battered old tree ornaments (there will be 2 less next year, thank you, Yoko), with their faded glitter and shine, but loads of memories that have travelled the globe with us.

Every year we set up at least 3 cribs –  the Italian crib, the Madagascan crib and the South African crib, which date respectively from when Hari was 3 months old/Mauritius/Johannesburg.  My main crib is an eclectic mix of Italian figures + 2 statues from Réunion + South African wire cattle + a rather lovely yak statue I bought in Ladakh this summer + small baobab trees from Jozi + Vietnamese water buffalo & a fab buffalo from Varanasi.  I take the analogy of “the cattle are lowing” rather literally.

And all of this mishmash-ery is because I had no clue – as in no clue – that you can pay people to set up your crib for you.

Very odd, if you ask me, because there ain’t really anything to it.  Get out statues, dust them off, arrange, sigh over years worth of memories, wipe away tears. Finito.

But clearly not…

xmas2014I tell you there is no limit to the amazing things in this country.

There was even a crib in the mall yesterday – which I guess is rather like Selfridge’s having a display of Hindu gods…

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Our un-outsourced crib is up, the trees are smothered in tinsel and old ornaments and distinctly dodgy Made in China fairy lights.  We have trees, by the way, as opposed to a tree because (a) you can’t get a pukka, real Xmas tree here which means the local equivalent is small, so we need several to house all the ornaments…and (b) I have never been able to throw Xmas trees away, so we pot them and they just keep on growing.  Spindly and rather gawky looking, but their place on our balcony assured from one year to the next.

But what you can’t outsource is these fabulously, completely vulgar, totally OTT fairy lights that “play” 12 Xmas carols & flash in tempo.  Made in China, bought in India.  Must be a metaphor for something or other in there somewhere.

They are so awful that they are almost loveable.

Friends, wishing you all the most wonderful Christmas.  A happy and a holy and a special time with family and friends.

And here’s a Xmas carol for you…

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Aren’t they fab?

Shiver me timbers, but Delhi is COLD

Colder than London!

Colder than Simla!

Seriously, it’s true.  ’twas the headline of the venerable Times of India, so it must be true.

It is seriously brass monkey weather, especially in our totally unheated homes.  Our house, heading toward it’s 40th birthday (I think) is full of doors and windows that have warped over 40 monsoons, no longer meet properly, and so there are draughts buffeting us from every direction.

I am in 3 fleece mode these days, and trying to type with gloves on.  That kind of cold.

It was when I found myself huddled up like a granny (no disrespect intended to all my granny/grand-mere/gogo friends out there) in 3 fleeces + dressing gown + hot water bottle that I realised that the situation is desperate…bring on the Delhi summer, say I.  And yes, feel free to remind me of this when we are wilting in 48C in 5 months.

And so it was with some trepidation that I headed out to meet up with my running group for a 7am run this morning.  Since I am “vela” (Hindi for jobless, basically) I have taken to running in the middle of the day, when the sun sometimes manages to pierce through the fog (oh, did I mention that it is foggy too?) but because I run with lots of non-vela folks, 7 am it was.  They all have day jobs, in other words.  Getting up in the freezing dark, driving through empty dark streets, shivering our way around the Lodhi Gardens –  arre, what a cold run it was.  Brought tears to my eyes.

We all wore Santa caps, but didn’t elicit many smiles from the decidedly grumpy crowd plodding round the gardens.  We proffered a few “Merry Christmas” greetings, but not much reaction.  I guess everyone was just way too cold.

The only amazingly happy and smiling face came from a super cheerful lady to whom Doc introduced us –  Sunita Godara – and what a brilliant encounter that was.  I didn’t know anything about Ms Godara, I must admit, but I do now.  I do so love such serendipitous encounters.   If we hadn’t hung around debating where to go for a post-run breakfast, we might never have met this delightful, enthusiastic lady.

Talk about a running legend.

I give you an extract from her Wikipedia entry :

“Sunita Godara holds the record of running the maximum marathons run by an Indian. She has runs in 71 full marathons, starting with the Rath Marathon in 1984. She finished first 25 times, second 12 times and third 14 times. In addition to that, she won 23 half marathons and has runs 200 international races in all continents.”

Inspirational.

(And yes, silly Santa cap photo below)

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“Be in a easy condition” – er, yes, sure, why ever not…

Bright and early this slightly-chilly December morning, I met up with Doc (our coach) and 2 of my running girls for a nice slow-ish run around Panscheel Park.

Since Sonam, Sameeksha and the group Auntie (c’est moi) are running the Mumbai Marathon in –  gulp – less than 40 days***, it is high time we got back into shape.  We have all relaxed a little after the Delhi HM, and so this morning was our first proper post-ADHM run.

Panscheel Park, a well-maintained DDA Park, was new to me, and for those of you who don’t know it either, it’s worth it.  For the nice looping around wooded running track.

And for the brilliant signs which accompany the exercise zones that are scattered around the park.

Sonam and Sameeksha gamely tried out all the equipment for us, and so as well as a good attempt at getting-back-into-half-marathon-running shape, we also had a hilarious work out.

Check the signs for yourself.  Gotta love the picturesque English :

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The girls decided this was what “jump hurdlers jump” meant, though it seemed insensitive to point out they were absolutely not jumping of (sic) with 2 feet :

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I love the sign below, and even though we had all forgotten to bring our logs with us (go on, read it again) the girls interpreted the instructions as best they could :

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After all this exercise, and a good 7.4km run, we all deserved some rest :

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The good folks doing yoga, below, were clearly in tune with nature and in a (sic) easy condition.

Early morning yoga in local park, New Delhi, India.

 

*** I lie.

The Mumbai Marathon is not in 40 days.  It’s in 39 days and counting.

I got so spooked by the second counter whizzing down while I watched, that I quickly left the website.

scmm

Oh no! Disaster! Apparently I didn’t run the whole half marathon…

Well, if the venerable “Times of India” is to be believed, that is.

And I quote :

“The half marathon, covering a distance of about 21km (fair enough, it’s actually 21.097. But it doesn’t take much to verify your facts these days.  Google it, mister…) started at 7.30 (no, it didn’t.  The last batch set off at 7.11) and ended by 9.30 (dunno, I had finished my race by then, but it certainly seemed to me that there were still a good many folk running at that stage, so I very much doubt it finished then…). It covered Lodhi Road, India Gate, Rajpath and CONNAUGHT PLACE, among other areas.”

Oh no!  Can you credit it? I missed Connaught Place, folks.  How on earth did that happen? How could I be so stupid?

Yes, yes, obviously I didn’t miss CP, because obviously CP wasn’t part of the route. But it all goes to show how sloppy, sloppy, and did I mention sloppy, the level of reporting can be here.

OK, we get it, a half marathon isn’t cricket, and so isn’t actually considered to be sport with a capital S.

And since it’s not cricket, I suppose the theory goes that it’s therefore not of that much interest to most people, but damn it, can’t you at least get your facts straight?  All they had to do was go onto the ADHM website and get all the info they needed.

And, of course, there remains the $64000 question…

If the press can’t even report a half marathon correctly, what else are they getting wrong?

How much of my morning news should I believe?

And, before I sign off for the evening, I have the following observation to make : as an elderly participant, I am distinctly miffed that I didn’t get the treatment reported in the same newspaper:

“Despite presence of celebrities like cricketer Gautam Gambhir and actors Bipasha Basu and Vinod Khanna, the elders were the star of the event.  They were greeted by bystanders and even by on-duty volunteers with cheering claps.”

Huh?

You know what, I am beginning to wonder if perhaps I wasn’t at a different event altogether, and that there was something for the wrinklies happening at Connaught Place.

What a brilliant half marathon that was (Pity about the salty orange, though)

And so, after many early mornings spent pounding the streets of Delhi, today I ran the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon in a good time (clipped 4 minutes from my previous HM).

A fabulously well organised event.  Not as crowded as I had feared –  I reckon we were hundreds in each starting group, rather than the threatened thousands.  Great weather.  Not too much of Delhi’s infamous winter pollution.  Wasn’t even as cold as we had all feared when we assembled at 6.15-ish.  Quite a lot of good folk out cheering, which was lovely.

All pretty amazing, actually.

I won’t bore you with the technical stuff (though I only have my own GPS time for now, since the official timings and splits are not yet out**) but will rather share with you the few photos I took with my mobile.

Walking to the venue before sun up.

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A Japanese running group warming up, in a very organised manner.

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Checking my starting time (Zone C)

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2 of the beautiful young women with whom I run –  Kathakoli and Samiksha.

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And the group “Auntieji” (c’est moi) with Katha –  we were in the same starting group and ran together as we set off.

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Note to self.  Choose nicer location next time, rathe than outside the portaloos…

We were barely 4 km into our race when the élite men (Africans to a man) came rushing by in a tight knit phalanx of speed and focus.  They were, of course, heading back to the finish line, when we had 17km more to go…

A good 10 minutes later, the élite women passed us, and I managed a quick video (yes, probably cost me time, but I speed-walked while I took it, hence the wobbliness)

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Once we crossed the finish line, we collected our medal and bag of snacks (I gave my food to a grubby tiny girl sitting on the pavement).

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To get back to the car, I had to cross the overbridge and before a cop stopped me filming any more, this was my view from up top –  half-marathoners on the right and the 6km Great Delhi Run setting out on the left.  That was where this journey began, last year, with my running group and our run.  And today, we did a half marathon.

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I met all my running girls, although some of them only briefly –  Sonam, Katha and Samiksha.  We spotted Anita just as she was entering her start zone, and I ran past Shweta on Raj Path.  All present and correct.

I met Chetan Mahajan and his wife twice (they ran a seriously fast race).  Many people greeted me by name, because our new running group T shirts have our name on the back.  And how kind and friendly people were.  Every time I slowed down, someone would ask if I were OK, a level of concern that you otherwise never experience in Delhi.

I saw Rahul Bose, the actor, running, close to Jantar Mantar.

What else did I spy as I huffed and puffed through Lutyens Delhi this morning?

A man with only one leg and a prosthetic limb running, carrying a rather large Indian flag.  Way faster than me.  Now that was very humbling.

Barefoot runners.

A man with only one arm running.

A very old man (even by my ancient standards) running hand in hand with a rather buff man in a lycra body suit.

I was overtaken by an elderly man wearing a kurta pajama and those plastic shoes that yer average Haryana villager wears.

All in all a brilliant morning.

Pity about the wretched orange*** which cost me a faster time, I know for sure.
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 ***I stupidly took a slice of orange with salt as I ran past one of the stations, when I was feeling a bit jaded.  2 segments of orange was all it took for me to feel nauseous.

WHY do I do this to myself?

I have been through this on Kilimanjaro (Gatorade), on Kangyatse earlier this year (mango juice), on my first half marathon last month (Gatorade)…and yet I took the salty orange…

 

** While writing this, the official results went up online and my time was indeed 2:11 so am very happy.

Running leads you in many different directions…

Yes, I know, talk about a self-evident truth.

Obviously if you run, you go in a direction, I can hear you all muttering.

But what I want to share with you tonight, before I toddle off to bed nice and early, so I can be ready for the half-marathon tomorrow, is that running is leading me in some unexpected directions too.  Beyond feeling good/getting fit/exercising –  all of which are fabulous enough reasons for running in themselves – but beyond all these, running is, well, taking me off in other directions.

 

Take Chetan Mahajan, for example.

I met up with this lovely man for a coffee on Friday, for an exploratory chat about his extraordinary story.

And all because of running.

Let me explain.

After being kindly allowed a late entry into the Delhi Heritage half marathon a couple of weeks ago, I now follow that running group (RWM) and Chetan posted on their FB page that he had some T shirts to give to runners.  Intrigued by the mention of the word “jail” in his Facebook post, I followed the audit trail (yes, obviously I googled him) and discovered an amazing story.

 

Wrongly arrested in Jharkhand and slung into prison, Chetan would spend a month in Bokaro jail, until he was released and exonerated of all charges.  He wrote a book about his experience and now works with Amnesty International to highlight the plight of under-trials who are kept in jail when they should be released.  There is provision under the law for them to be released, but since many prisoners are poor or ill educated or both, and invariably without connections, these poor folk languish in jail when they should be out on bail.

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I met up with Chetan in Starbucks in Connaught Place on Friday – there are 2 of them, by the way, and I went to the wrong one, but that’s another story.

A more charming, low-key, down to earth man you could not wish to meet, and between telling me his story, and giving me tips for the half marathon tomorrow (he’s a super experienced runner) and giving me one of the famous T shirts, he had me thinking.

Running had led me to this.  Discussing under trials.  Thinking about Indian prisons.  Making a new friend.

I shall read his book, “The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail”, and then, I hope, meet him again for a longer, more wide-ranging chat.

And all the while, you thought I was running just for exercise!

And on this happy note, let me leave you with a sound clip from one of the songs on my ultimate running playlist which will, I hope, power me around Delhi tomorrow.

Good luck to all you fellow runners out there.

Jai ho!

Of buses and bibs and other such things

I know, I know, ANOTHER post about the joys of running in Delhi.

But hey, just bear with me for one more week, and then the half marathon will be over, and normal service will be resumed…whatever that may be.

Yesterday I went to collect my bib for next Sunday’s race, and got a taste for what lies in store.  Although I got there just before the running expo shut up shop for the day (thank you awful Delhi traffic) there were still hundreds of youngsters milling around, dashing frantically from one stand to another, mainly in search of goody bags, which had, I gathered, run out.  As a half-marathoner (how pretentious, did I hear someone say?) I don’t qualify for a goody bag, so I went in search of my free T shirt instead.  Slightly calmer atmosphere there.

Now, remembering my experience in last year’s ADHM (Airtel Delhi Half Marathon) when we were all shiny brand-new runners, and did the 6km Great Delhi Run, I realise now that lots of the hyper active youngsters rushing around with armfuls of bibs, were indeed Great Delhi Runners.  Which means lots of them will be running as part of their company’s CSR programmes, which means they will have banners and matching hats, and much fun will be had by all.  I also know (judging from last year) that many of them will peel off after a while, and that many more of them will walk, as opposed to run.  Our little group last year had seriously over-trained for the 6km run –  but of course that would explain why we are all still running a year later…

But anyway, the posse of over-excited young girls dashing around with armfuls of running bibs couldn’t have been sweeter, and I wish them well.

And a bib, by the way is this :

IMG_8492Name, rank & serial number.  And starting zone C.

A is for the elite runners, most of whom will be halfway through, I imagine, by the time we C-walas shuffle to the starting line…B is, I imagine, for faster runners than C and so it goes on down the alphabet.  As to how many hundreds of people are in each zone, no clue.  Are there hundreds of half-marathoners or thousands?  If the latter, there will be hundreds of people in each starting category, I imagine.  I’ll let you know next week.

What you can’t see here is the chip behind the bib that will record my not so brilliant time for posterity.

So that’s a bib.

And what’s a bus did I hear you ask?  Now this fascinating piece of running vocab is my linguistic discovery of the week.  A bus is –  in running-speak –  a person who paces you as you run, and you join their bus.  So, say I am aiming for 2.30 (2 and a half hours) then I would find the pacers doing that timing (they have flags, so I’m told) and join their bus.

Or at least I think that’s how it goes.

All terribly exciting, having the inside catch phrases, but of course I have come a cropper  – in that I have absolutely no idea what time I should aim for, so how can I join a bus…dilemma indeed.

Basically, am going to play it by ear, so to speak.  Each time I read a FB post or a blog about calculating times + speed – water stoppage time etc etc etc., my mind blanks out –  it’s all too much like a maths problem from school days. So I shall simply tootle along in a totally unscientific way, and have fun.

Which is what I had this morning, as I ran around Lutyens Delhi in the cool morning.

I had so much fun.  Loads and loads.

Saw such fantabulous stuff.

India Gate was, as usual, gorgeous :

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But today the undoubted star was Teen Murti, where soldiers were standing around waiting for a ceremony to start (couldn’t get a clear answer from any of the dear boys as to what the ceremony was), but one thing’s for sure, they all looked a million dollars ;

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I imagine the ceremony was to do with the centenary of the World War I –  but it was more 2 hours to kick-off, so I didn’t hang around but eventually ran off.  And another run time became s-l-o-w, with all the stopping and watching and filming.

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Such gorgeousness bright and early in the morning…this is the reason I love to run, not so much the bibs and buses.

 

Going that extra mile – and being oh so brilliantly rewarded for it

5 of us met up in the dark this morning to run.  As one does on a slightly chilly Sunday.  With the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon exactly 2 weeks away, the plan is to do a long run this Sunday and next, and then, after that the rest is up to us….

Anyway, we met at 6am and it was still dark.  As in dark.  As in no street lights working.

So we warmed up in the Lodhi Gardens for a while, a safer bet than running on those dark streets.

IMG_8137I TOLD you it was dark.

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Imagine being able to run around such fabulosity as this…

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However fab the Lodhi Gardens are, they are crowded, so once the sky got light, off we headed through Lutyens Delhi towards India Gate.

I’ve told you in previous blogs that sometimes I have all the magnificence and splendour of India Gate and Raj Path practically to myself.

But not this morning.

Masses of people running –  there was a trial run for the half marathon – and there was just, basically, a whole lot of stuff going on.

Munchkins bombing along on their skates :

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A brilliant couple cycling along to the soundtrack of the Lion King.  I missed the moment when, at the traffic lights, they both hopped off their bikes and did some stretching exercises.
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Then I met up with a friend.

Last week, when I was running along Parliament Street, there was a pavement dweller just waking up from sleeping on the pavement, poor fellow.  He was neatly folding up the newspapers on which he had slept, and as I huffed and puffed past him, he greeted me in English, with a cheery “Good morning, madam.”  I replied in kind and was rewarded with a huge smile and a “Good Aunty.”

And this morning, there was my friend again –  still barefoot, still dirty, still wearing the same clothes as last week, and holding a stack of newspapers – and he greeted me with a huge wave and a shouted “Hello Aunty” across Raj Path.

By my next time down that stretch of Raj Path, he had ensconced himself in a prime position to read his papers and watch everyone exercising around him :

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When I took this photo of him, he called me over to show it to him, and we chatted some more.

“What is your good name?”  (all in English)

“Christine.  And what is your name?”

“Swami” he replied with a huge grin. “Swami Vivekanand”.  What a character.

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We saw many more brilliant things, including this lot:

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We watched a flock of Indian Grey Hornbills in a tree opposite the Lodhi Gardens, and just as we were about to pack up, after a run of about 12km, Doc –  our fearless coach & mentor –  suggested one last short run.

OK we all obediently groaned, and trotted off down Amrita Sher Gill Marg.

And this was our reward:

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You can say many things about Delhi (and I do, as you all know) but one thing is for sure.

Never a dull moment.

Never a boring day.

Never a routine run.

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Hello, Madam, how old are you?

Before I tell you how I answered that question, let me get something off my chest.

2 weeks ago, I lay the blame at the door of the army for my poor running times, thanks to all the fabulosity going on at India Gate, all of which inevitably slows me down to a gawping standstill.

This time round, I blame the cops, fairly and squarely, for the fact that my running times are so consistently slow.

This morning it was the turn of the police –  well, the CRPF to be precise –  the Central Reserve Police Force –  who were out en masse rehearsing for their forthcoming diamond jubilee celebrations.

Having set out with the intention of doing a long run this morning (only 23 days till the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon…yikes…) off I ran towards India Gate, which always draws me like a magnet.

Today it was hectic beyond belief.  There were people finishing up their Chhath puja in the Lutyens designed fountains around India Gate.

Yes, well.

And then there were marching bands, and a glockenspiel on a stand (I kid you not) and women in kilts carrying bagpipes (I kid you not Mark II) and women with riot shields marching to Bollywood music (I kid you not Mark III).

So of course I lingered for ages.

And of course I forgot to pause my GPS, so my run stats are shockingly slow –  but what a fab morning.

It was while I was checking out the glockenspiel (as one does) that a group of about 10 middle-aged men (all musicians I gathered) started chatting. The usual “Oh madam you speak such good Hindi…oh, very good, your husband is Indian…” routine and then one of the men suddenly asked me, in Hindi:

“How old are you Madam?”

I could have lied, but after muttering “You are never supposed to ask a lady her age” in English, I replied with the shocking truth.

A moment of stunned silence from assembled middle-aged blokes.  Then the one who had asked me the question and who did look rather shocked at my reply said, with great aplomb :
“Nahi Madam.  Nahi.  Aap young girl ki jaise lagti hai. ” (No madam.  You look like a young girl.)

Quite made my morning, bless him.

 

But what really and truly made my morning was the music and marching.  Loads of it.

What shall I share with you first ?

OK, what I call “conventional” stuff, but pretty good for your average Thursday morning…

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Then there were the ladies in kilts who sadly didn’t march (or play their bagpipes) but a charming young lady from Manipur, in a kilt, patted me on the arm and told me I spoke beautiful Hindi.

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And here are the true rockstars of the morning.

Young women from the RAF  – Rapid Action Force –  who performed to some very jolly music, riot shields and coshes to the fore :

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It all became a bit delightfully Indian at one point, while the riot shield girls demonstrated their skills, a platoon of men hove into view, marching to a different beat

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Apologies for shooting into the rising sun, by the way, but that’s where 2 friendly cops installed me for the “best view”, and it seemed churlish to ignore their kindness.

As the whole marvellous rehearsal wound down, and I realised that there was no way I was going to run another 10 km after all, and so off I trotted off down Raj Path.

Said it before.

Saying it again.

What’s not to love about running in Delhi?

And, yet again, how deceptively orderly Delhi looks here…

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