Our impressions, day-by-day, published from Delhi, India

Trinity News is in Delhi, India, reporting on education & development there.

Trinity News is in Delhi, India, reporting on education & development there. The trip is funded by a grant from the Simon Cumbers Media Challenge Fund, set up in memory of Simon Cumbers, an Irish cameraman & journalist who was killed by terrorists while filming for the BBC in Syria. The fund is “aimed at assisting and promoting more and better quality media coverage of development issues in the Irish media”, and this is the first time that student media have ever been awarded the grant.

Monday, 8th December

The view from the rooftop terrace of our hostel, looking down on Pahar Ganj’s main bazaar.

Arriving in Delhi airport, we were immediately aware of the change in atmosphere before we even left the plane. The air was drier, dustier and from outside the plane windows there was an endless expanse of dusty ground, dotted with the occasional green tree. Outside the airport the throngs of people and taxi drivers were completely overwhelming, it was barely possible to move through the crowds, and we looked incredibly out of place, given that there were barely any other foreigners there. The taxi ride to Pahar Ganj was also a departure from anything I’d previously experienced. The taxi looked like something out of a 1940s film, had no seat belts or wing mirrors and the driver drove with a degree of recklessness that in Ireland would have been interpreted as a suicide wish. Beeping the horn every ten seconds and swerving in and out of the lanes of traffic, it seemed incredible that we got to our destination unscathed. We were dropped off in the main bazaar of Pahar Ganj, and were immediately targeted by a huge number of people looking to extract money from us. We managed to find our way to the hostel, by enlisting the help of a boy pulling a rickshaw, and checked into our rooms, which were certainly on the basic side. After a rather traumatic experience involving one of the hostel staff trying to procure us illicit beer, we retired to bed, somewhat shaken. It was at about that time that the cockroaches surfaced. CG

Tuesday, 9th December

After spending the morning looking around Pahar Ganj, and briefly visiting a state market, we went out to the Lodhi Estate, as we had an interview set up with Vaj Singh from the World Bank. We had a brief look around the Lodhi Gardens and saw some beautiful ruins, that were populated by green parrots and squirrels, and got hopelessly lost in the Lodhi Estate trying to find out where the World Bank was. When we eventually found it, it was almost deserted, as it was a bank holiday in India, but Mr Singh had very kindly agreed to meet with us anyway. We ended up sitting on the huge terracotta steps of the gardens of the World Bank, which was incredibly peaceful compared to the noise of Pahar Ganj. Mr Singh gave us a very good overview of India’s economy and also the educational problems that the country faced.

After the interview, Mr Singh advised us where to go for dinner, and very nicely dropped us there in his car. The restaurant was very near India Gate, so we made a brief detour and had a look at the huge monument, which comemmorates the Indians who were killed during the First World War. After dinner, we met up with a friend of one of the other Publications editors, who lives in Delhi. The difference between where we were staying and Rohit’s house was unbelievable. The gates to his house (which wasn’t his main residence, but where he stayed during the week, as it was convenient for getting to the airport) were opened by a servant, and we were shown in by another servant. Inside, the house was furnished in a completely Western style, which, to be honest, personally came as a bit of a relief, after the extreme culture shock that we were experiencing.

Motorcycles are ideally suited to the anarchic nature of Delhi’s roads. They weave, constantly beeping, through pedestrians, cars, bicycles and autorickshaws alike.

The journey back to the hostel was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, with the very dodgy auto rickshaw driver and his equally dubious companion making an unauthorised stop at what looked like a makeshift camp at the side of one of the deserted bypasses off the ring road, where we were asked to pay his friend an extra 50 rupees. Luckily, we got back unscathed.CG

Wednesday, 10th December

In the morning, we went to Delhi’s Red Fort, which is a particularly impressive historic monument, although the experience of visiting it itself was not very pleasant. First of all there was the heat, it was the hottest day of our trip so far, which made things a bit uncomfortable. Secondly, we had to pay “tourist prices”. The locals paid 40 rupees to see the fort, while we had to pay 250 rupees each. Also, there were very few tourists at the fort, it was almost entirely locals, so we looked quite out of place. Apart from this, though, the fort, and the gate to the fort in particular, was definately worth seeing, as the architecture was breathtaking.

In the afternoon we went to Dilly Heart market, which is a much more laid-back version of the street markets. As there is a 15 rupee admission fee, it eliminates the beggars and aggressive street vendors who make browsing for souveniers in Parah Ganj very difficult. Dilly Heart market was amazingly clean and well-organised by comparison and far friendlier, at one shop where Martin and Luke bought pashminas and I bought some fabric, we were given free chai tea. The haggling which we have had to engage in since our arrival in India (tourists tend to be given horrendously over-inflated prices) is beginning to pay off – after a particularly protracted argument with an old man whose mouth was stained bright red from chewing paan, I get almost 1000 rupees knocked off the price of a beautifully embroidered blanket, halving the price.

After Dilyhat, Luke recommended that we go to a hookah bar, and after several ill-fated rickshaw journeys, we eventually located the one recommended by Lonely Planet (which has been our lifesaver so far). After several cocktails and a hookah, we decided that it might be a good idea to eat something, so we went to a nearby Japanese restaurant, as Luke had never tried sushi before. Apart from the wet floor, the food in the restaurant was very good, and when we left at 11pm we were considerably fuller, though lighter in pocket.CG

Thursday, 11th December

Prayas Delhi HQ

Some of Prayas’ charges wave from the HQ, which also houses children rescued from abuse.

On Thursday we got up early. This was to be a day of journalism, when we would visit Prayas, an Indian NGO that deals directly with those children left out by the state education system here.

The Delhi Prayas Headquarters is in South Delhi, about an hour’s auto-rickshaw journey from the city center and Paher Ganj. As such it was 11:15 by the time we arrived at the Prayas HQ complex, about fifteen minutes late for our meeting with Vir Narayan, who is in charge of Prayas’ operation in New Delhi.

Nonetheless Mr. Narayan seemed pleased to meet us, after finishing off a meeting with some Indian businessmen he greeted us and enthusiastically answered our questions about Prayas’ education-related activities. We were then taken on a tour of the airy, quite open building (for example the major corridor from one end of the building to the other, which is the same on every floor, is almost completely open on one side, with only a waist high wall and occasional columns to show that you are still “inside” the building.) The building is built almost completely of concrete and appears vaguely Soviet with its blocky-style architecture. Certainly one would be unimpressed in Ireland, and it does not compare well to the World Bank building either. But compared to the rest of Delhi it is extremely clean and pleasant.

We are shown the “education centre” in the ground floor of the building, where about twenty children squat at low-level desks (there are no chairs for the children) with their teacher, one of the first Indian women that we have seen working. There are also vocational training rooms in the Prayas building for youths over 14 who learn (among others) typing, bakery, IT and computer skills.

We are also shown two education centres “in the community”, near Dakshinpuri. The two centres are both simply rooms in what are presumably otherwise residential buildings – outside there are no streets big enough for cycle or auto rickshaws, just walkways, but even these are overflowing with people and market stalls. These schools are not as well equipped even as the centre in the HQ building, one being just two four meter by four meter rooms, connected by an open doorway, with no furniture of any kind for the 25 or so children. We are treated to lunch by Mr. Narayan and Ashok, another person from Prayas who has been accompanying us, and thank them profusely before heading on our way.

In the afternoon we visit the Citywalk mall in Saket. The difference between this environment, which is like a bigger and better version of Dundrum, and the other locations of the morning, is palpable. Once inside it is hard to shake the feeling that one could in fact now be in California. The prices reflect the difference though – no longer the two euro meals – in here we pay only a little less than one would in Dublin. We have a relaxing afternoon, going for coffee then a film and finally a meal in “Spaghetti”, a delicious Italian-style restaurant in the shopping centre.

At the end of our meal in Spaghetti the prospect of Paher Ganj causes us to linger slower and slower over desserts and coffee – to the extent that between when we sat down and when we finally girded our loins and departed, two groups of guests managed to enjoy their entire meals consecutively at the table next to us, the first arriving after us and the second leaving before us! Ah well, we deserved a break from the rougher parts of India I think.LM

Prayas school kids in Dakshinpuri from Martin McKenna on Vimeo.

Friday, 12th December

Perhaps it was the trauma of yesterday, perhaps it was those sweets and cake from that stall, but whatever it was, today was not a good day. Having decided yesterday night that going to Agra might not be the best idea given our state of exhaustion, we ended up sleeping in until some ridiculously late hour. Martin and myself were feeling particularly unwell, so spent the rest of the day virtually incapacitated. That was about it, really.CG


The team, from left: Martin McKenna, Catriona Gray and Luke Maishman.