Exhausted from their recent arrival into India but eager to begin exploring this new world, our group of 7 (two remain back to catch up on some sleep) dive into the traffic of Delhi with our 3 hired cars and head to the National Handicrafts and Handloom Museum. There, in a beautiful setting, we walk into rooms of rural art, great carved wooden statues from one state and finely chiseled metal work from another. The textile museum has an incredible wealth of fabrics displayed under glass with poor lighting and decaying display cases. Smoke and pollution pour into the room from an open window and we smell diesel fumes which must be impacting the fragile, ancient fabrics. We spend an hour here but it is not nearly enough time to catch a sense of the great regional differences here in local art forms.
After lunch at an excellent restaurant serving, it is said, the best tandoori and butter chicken in town, we meet our other two compatriots at the entrance of the Nizamuddin Basti area to visit the Hope Project. The area is entirely Muslim and the lane we are on leads up to the shrine of a famous Muslim saint and is lined with sellers of rose petals to be presented in devotion at the foot of the holy place.
After asking a few people for directions, including the postmaster of the tiny local post office who appeared to know nothing of the area he serves, we finally find the doorway to the Hope Project and find ourselves in an office to learn about the Women’s Self-Help group which is only one of many institutions of the project providing assistance to the very poor: a creche for infants, kindergarten and primary school for girls only (the boys have other options) and a health clinic. Our tour guide, a young man raised in the neighborhood who has graduated from Delhi University and is now taking post-grad courses to become a teacher, takes us through the warren of small streets to see some old monuments and hear about the history of this enclave of Muslim life.
We see lovely things, including an area with perfume, and difficult things, such as chickens being slaughtered and freshly-butchered meat hanging for sale. There are many feral puppies and goats in the middle of the narrow street, with motorcycles trying to squeeze by pedestrians who fill the passages.
It is a timeless bazaar of sensory experience in one small place and everyone in the group seems to enjoy it.
Some of us go out to for a Hyderbad biriyani dinner, way above my usual spice tolerance but very enjoyable. And then we wind down to begin another day