Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Incredible India: Penny Dolan

What can I tell you about? Please sit down, get comfortable, for I have lots – probably too much – to write about. The mad traffic from Delhi airport, full of battered cars, auto-rickshaws, buses, trucks, motorbikes, bikes, most crammed full with people. Breakfast on a sunny balcony with the birds singing different songs from the green branches. Goats filling the road to Jamid Masir, tinselled necks marking them out for the Great Feast of Eid.. Mohammed, the stylish rickshaw driver who cycled us round Old Delhi, mobile phone pressed to his ear. Streets of tiny shops where people sat on carpets, discussing wedding saris and jewellery. Dust from the huge sacks of chillis burning your throat in the spice market. The view from the top, staring down at the gently decaying building, while men sleep on lower roofs and carts of goods are continually blocking the streets below. Then, on to the modern tiled Metro, where we were sped away to the more orderly Connaught Place, a hive of pavement laying and beautifying.

Or what about the mathematical tranquillity of Humayan’s Tomb, where the sun squinted through the jali screens into the cool darkness within? Families out in their weekend best, posing for photographs around the site of the Qtab Minar, where children ran and rolled laughing down the grassy slope. Or the ancient Haus Kaus college site, where students study geometry homework among the shaded arches while down below a less carefully-minded youth sculls in a giant inner tube across the poisonous jade green lake.

Or the sense of people living everywhere, starting with the cloth tents and corrugated iron shacks along almost every roadside? Construction workers – men chatting, women working and children helping – camped in the shadow of the concrete fly-overs. Small children tapped at the car windows on main roads, selling books or calendars, turning cartwheels or more, under the gaze of their teen minders. Cows went wherever they wanted to be, tugging at rubbish, wandering across motorways, gathering in slow companionable groups, taking their own Indian time.

Then there were regular visitw to the vegetable and fruit stalls, each item beautifully on display – or the chai stall nearby, where, one night, great skeins of halva paste were being tugged into smoothness over the foil-wrapped branches of a tree to make a smooth biscuit dough. Or trips to the stationers shop where all things could be found, no matter what it said on the box. The haberdasher who could – in a shop smaller than many living rooms – find an assortment of string, ribbons and craft materials, plus a hundred yellow "Bookaroo" rosettes and two handsome tie-on beards for a visitor to take home for her children’s dressing up box. There were trips to the MESH shop, home of a good charitable trust, where craft goods made by the handicapped are sold. Or, in the block we went to for bread, the tall glass-fronted Benetton store, the sight of a man dangling from a ladder on a rope, wiping the fourth floor windows. More and more and more images come into my mind, and I hope soon to find a place for them on my website. (Twitter? Blog? Impossible. I needed all my head to even take in such sights!)

But, apart from all this, there special reason why I was delighted to be there. I was there for the weekend of BOOKAROO, the most wonderful Delhi CHILDREN’S BOOK FESTIVAL, now in its second year. For two days, children from toddlers to teens milled around the sunny green garden of the Sanskriti museum, meeting writers, artists and storytellers from across India and Asia, as well as visitors from Australia, France and the UK.

JENNY (Violet Parks) VALENTINE and ANDREW (Spy Dog) COPE were there, as well as WENDY COOLING and JO WILLIAMS, collecting a great crowd for their Elmer the Elephant books and activities.

The festival bookstall, run by EUREKA, the specialist Delhi children’s bookshop, supplied books by most of the speakers. Their array of Indian books surprised me, books that we rarely see in our shops. I particularly loved TARA BOOKS picture books, works of beauty using traditional styles of art to simple but stunning effect – do look up their website! I also discovered some modern Y/A writers like PARO ANAND and others whose books deal with the political and social issues affecting young Indian teens.

And how was my BOOKAROO? I absolutely enjoyed sharing stories with the smiling crowds of children under the big banyan tree, though I must add that all the while, I was trying not to pinch myself in case those moments would all turn out to be a dream. In a way that is what my trip was, a dream come true - a wonderful, incredible, great trip that I have not yet stopped thinking about or pondering on.

I must add that after more adventures, I even got to see the Taj Mahal, where my grandmother and mother had once stood. My deepest thanks to all involved! Namaste! And thank you for listening.


Carole Anne Carr said...

Thank you for a wonderful post, how I longed to be there.

adele said...

Fabulous to hear your adventures...and on such a SNOWY day! Thanks!

Leslie Wilson said...

A wonderful blog, and I have to add that I heard from Wendy Cooling that our Penny was an utter star and performed BRILLIANTLY beneath her banyan tree

Katherine Langrish said...

Such an experience, Penny! It sounds wonderful, colourful, and amazing.

Sue said...

Sounds wonderful, Penny. Especially enjoyed this as I'm just reading Kamila Shamsi's The Burnt Ones, and she describes some of the places you visited.

Sue Purkiss

Penny said...

Thanks, everyone, and especially for the kind words, Leslie. It was a really special time for all sorts of complex reasons. Since writing this post, I've spent all day sighing nostalgically and wondering whether & how I could go again. Though maybe that's just part of taking the glittery decorations down.

Will look out for Shamsi's The Burnt Ones, Sue, though it doesn't seem to be on amazon? I am about to start Indian Summer by Alex Von Tunzelmann, about people and events leading up to the end of Empire, including Edna Mountbatten. Read some when I was in Delhi, so put it on my Christmas list.

Catherine Johnson said...

Hope that's just a brilliant start to a brilliant new year Penny!