Holy Cow Feed
Sandiya is thirteen and she runs quite the most unusual roadside stall I've come across.
She sells cattle feed - both greens and grain - in small quantities to motorists and scooter drivers who stop off here and spend twenty or thirty rupees on a bunch or bowl-full of nourishment. They then give that to the cattle waiting all around (and the ever grateful pigeons) apparently to get the benefits of a good deed - cows of course are revered within Hinduism.
Business is brisk - I've passed by quite a few times and there's usually someone either buying or dispensing the feed. The stall is close to a car park serving people using Mayur Vihar Extension metro station in Delhi - though many of Sandiya's customers seem to come on scooters and to be regulars at the stall.
It seems a strange combination of livestock management and devotionally-minded benevolence. But, hey, it works!
Stranger and stranger! I went today to the shopping malls and crowded market streets of Noida Sector 18, part of a city of a million plus which is now the eastern-most part of Delhi (though it's across the state border in Uttar Pradesh). It's a middle class area, largely prosperous but not on a par with the tree-lined elite colonies and housing developments of South Delhi and Gurgaon.
The mall I popped in to bore the name ...
.., but judging by the array of western shop names, there's not all that much of India in the place.
I popped into a coffee bar - Costa, of course - for a flat white, and ended up forking out 240 rupees (that's not far off £3). So some of the prices are more firangi than desi as well as the brands.
But the most remarkable sight was a London bus - OK, it was novelty for kids, but bearing the label 'LONDON BUS' - perambulating round the mall. And you could buy tickets for your 'bus' ride at a mock-up of a red London phone box.
It's amazing the way that these iconic London institutions have found a resonance in Uttar Pradesh!
Overwhelming the Sector 18 skyline is a vast new development - mall and offices, by the look of it - which is evidence of the investment still pouring into this part of India's capital. Cycle ricks still ply their trade in its shadow, reflecting the deeply uneven development India is undergoing.
On the streets, there's still the food carts and the mehndi stalls. This woman was doing something I'd never seen before - having mehndi applied to both hands at once.
Noida is a beneficiary of the most spectacularly successful of Delhi's innovations - the metro. It's cheap, clean (really!) and ultra-efficient - and Noida is now no more than half-an-hour from Connaught Place, the heart-beat of Delhi.
It's so much quicker than a London bus!
Voting day in Delhi
It's more than a month since the first votes were cast, but still India's election juggernaut rumbles on. Today is the sixth of seven polling days - the final day is in a week's time - and Delhi is among the areas where voting is taking place.
I'm in the Indian capital to be an election pundit on WION, a news channel which is part of the Zee group. I popped out this morning to see how voting is going. This is the East Delhi constituency - currently held (as are all seven Delhi seats) by Narendra Modi's BJP, but where the Aam Admi Party (it means the party of the common man) is putting up a strong challenge.
There was a steady stream of voters at this polling station in a government school, but hardly a torrent. Turn-out in Delhi is usually well below the national average, and is lowest in middle-class areas.
In many countries, it's the marginalised underclass that doesn't engage with elections - in India, the poor know their electoral strength and it's the upper middle class who are often the most reluctant to cast their ballots. That's partly out of disdain for 'dirty' politics - partly that they feel they will be hugely out numbered by the hoi palloi - and as the temperature is touching 40 degrees and you can taste the grime in the Delhi air, it's very tempting to stay put in air conditioned comfort.
At some distance from the polling stations - about 200 yards away - the main political parties have stalls, keeping track on who has voted and offering encouragement (and in the BJP's case free saffron-coloured caps) to those heading to vote.
The party workers all have voters' lists complete with mugshots and make attentive notes about whether their supporters are showing up to vote. The Election Commission has really cleaned up the polling process over the last twenty years. Voting is electronic, and all those who vote get an indelible mark on a finger which takes about a month to fade away.
But there are still huge problems - with the under-supervised use of WhatsApp and other digital platforms to campaign, cajole and sometimes misinform ... the huge amounts of cash disbursed to buy votes and favourable coverage (voting has been postponed in one South Indian constituency after the seizure of cash amounting to more than £1 million believed to have been intended to influence the result) ... and a persistent problem of personation.
The friend who showed me round the Mayur Vihar polling stations said he and his wife won't be voting - but by 6pm, he added, his vote would still have been cast. Those who don't vote are sometimes victims of impostors voting in their name. And some of those who come to cast their ballot late in the day are told that they have already voted - even though they haven't.
And what next? Well, the exit polls will be released when the last polling stations close next Sunday - and then votes are counted four days later, on May 23rd.
Who do I think will win? Watch WION - and you'll find out!
This marvellous photo was taken by Brian Shuel during Bob Dylan's first visit to London in December 1962. The venue was the Pindar of Wakefield on Grays Inn Road (it's now the Water Rats!), where the Singers' Club - then run by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger - gathered every week. Was this Dylan's first ever public performance in the UK? Well, that's discussed in my Curious King's Cross - here's the link. But because of Brian's photographs, Dylan's performance at the Singer's Club is the best known episode of the 21 year old's initial musical encounter with London.
I have often wondered about the young women in the photograph who are so clearly enraptured by Dylan and his music. Who are they? How did they come to be there? A week or two back, I gave a talk about Curious King's Cross at Holborn Library and showed Brian Shuel's photo - one of those who had come along came up at the end to say that she thought she recognised one of the women in the photo.
That's how I came to have a cup of tea the other day with Natasha Morgan - she's the woman in the bottom left of the photo.
Natasha was then sixteen, living with her left-wing parents in Surrey and she had a few months earlier travelled with a coach-load of folkies - 'lovely people' - to a CND peace march. She knew Bob Davenport, already a key figure on the folk scene, and in spite of her parents' concerns about a young woman wandering alone around King's Cross - Davenport would make sure she got a taxi home - she was a regular at the Pindar's folk evenings.
'I didn't know Bob Dylan was going to be there - the name didn't mean anything to me', Morgan recalls. 'But he was so different from the other singers - for a start he was young, and he didn't simply sing the traditional, unaccompanied songs.'
'At the Singers' Club there was an emphasis on being authentic - many of the singers and performers were older men, a bit beery, slobbery. You had to watch your bottom with some of them - they were always saying "come sit with me". Dylan was very different from that.'
Next to Natasha Morgan in the photo is Anthea Joseph, now dead, who was already an important figure on the folk scene. Natasha was friends with her brother, Tom - a 'natural troublemaker' in the words of the obituary of him in the Camden New Journal.
The legion of Dylanologists has tried to resurrect every one of the singer's set lists - but there is no unanimity about what Dylan played on his handful of informal appearances during that desperately cold London winter.
Morgan is fairly sure he sang 'Masters of War' at the Singers' Club and thinks that he may also have performed 'Blowin' in the Wind'. A few months afterwards a friend taught her to play guitar, and her initial repertoire included 'Blowin' in the Wind' and 'Don't Think Twice'.
She saw Dylan several times on later concert tours - but never again looked on with such rapt attention.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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