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!
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.
A pilgrimage to Huddersfield yesterday, to see Town's last home game in the Premier League. This has been a dismal season - we have been rooted to the foot of the table for several months - and Lord knows when we'll be back.
I went by train - a thirteen-hour round trip from north London for an hour-and-a-half of football. But this is big!
In the thirty years before my birth, Huddersfield Town spent just one season out of the top tier of English football. In the past sixty or so years, they have had just four seasons in total in the top tier.
I remember well Jimmy Nicholson's team - Frank Worthington and Trevor Cherry were among that number - which won the old Second Division championship in 1969-70. After two seasons in the First Division, they slipped down - and down - and down.
Town were perhaps fortunate to win the play-off place and get a bunk up two years ago into the Premier League. But last season was glorious - I saw them win 3-0 at Crystal Palace in their first ever Premiership game and, towards the end of the season, I witnessed them secure a hard-earned draw at Stamford Bridge to keep their place. This season, there has been very little to smile about. We've lost our manager and our chairman, both great guys - and just about every game we've played.
I'd seen perhaps half-a-dozen games over the season. And I hadn't seen Town win. Jeez, I hadn't seen Town score ... until yesterday.
What a wonderful way to depart the Premier League - holding the Red Devils to a draw! Our heads held high ...
Two years ago, the Cowshed - the most vocal of Town's fans - were declaring: "we're going up!". Yesterday they were singing, with almost as much pride: "we're going down". It took away some of the sting of saying goodbye to Town as a Premiership team.
We all knew it couldn't last for long. It's been a grand two years. And I really hope to be around to watch Town fight their way back up again.
This is a spectacular ghost sign - and although huge, it's also one of the most hidden away I've ever come across. It reads:
HOLBORN BOROUGH COUNCIL
CIVIL DEFENCE HEADQUARTERS
VOLUNTEERS WANTED ENROL HERE
It dates, I would guess, from the Second World War - when, as you can see, Holborn had an active civil defence operation. It's just possible that it's from the period of the Cold War, when fear of a Soviet nuclear strike prompted a revival of civil defence teams, particularly in sensitive areas such as Holborn in central London.
The sign is entirely obscured by Holborn Library, a building completed in 1960 - this photo was taken from the local history section of the library on the second floor looking out through a rear window.
The library building itself, on Theobalds Road, has been described as 'a milestone in the history of the modern public library'. Camden Council intends to refurbish the building - the spot I took this photo from is set to become a luxury apartment, and the local history collection is to be banished to the basement.
And the former Civil Defence HQ - in a building built between the wars as a furniture warehouse (and currently used by the council for storage and as the base for a number of arts and similar organisations) - is set to be demolished, though we don't quite know when, and the site redeveloped. Its side aspect is on John's Mews, if that helps.
Holborn Borough Council, by the way, was swept away in the 1965 reorganisation of London local government when it was amalgamated with St Pancras and Hampstead in the new London Borough of Camden.
So if you are in to ghost signs - or Holborn's history - or you are just curious (which is a good thing to be) - don't delay in getting a glimpse!
We're just back from a few days in Rome, staying in Trastevere - literally 'across the Tiber' - the once working class area of the inner city which is now immensely fashionable.
From our guest house window, we looked out on the flank wall of the 'Casa di Dante' - Dante's house. This is a bit of a mystery - it doesn't seem to be open to the public and the house itself dates from the mid-sixteenth century, so roughly 250 years after Dante's time.
About a hundred years ago, it seems, the building was designated by an Italian minister as a study centre devoted to one of Italy's most renowned writers. Though what studying or similar goes on there, I really couldn't say.
I can't quite decide whether these architectural embellishments are charming or sinister - I think both! But they are small - and our room must be the only vantage point.
What a wonderful cover design this is - the sort of artistic magic that a novel of this quality merits. It's the work of Cyril Satorsky for Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's fourth novel The Householder published in 1960.
And thanks to Cyril, here's the story behind the design: a compelling tale of three Indian women (and there was a fourth in Cyril's life, but that's not for telling here).
Cyril was born into a Jewish family in Whitechapel in the East End of London in 1927. He now lives in New Orleans and as his website testifies, he is still busy as an artist.
I bought a first edition of The Householder recently and dropped Cyril an email to say how much I liked his design - and that led to a couple of long phone conversations, the key points of which I record here with Cyril's blessing.
As a young man in his early twenties, Cyril got to know - and like - an Indian writer, Indu Dutt, who introduced him to Tagore. 'I'm still enchanted by Tagore', he tells me. He helped with her book, A Tagore Testament - first published in 1953 - and designed the memorable cover.
He also met Indu's Dublin-educated daughter, Bulbul Dutt. 'I was knocked over by her beauty - she was stunning', Cyril recalls. She was married to a Calcutta-based businessman, Ian Arnold, and had a couple of children. She was a follower of Subud, a spiritual movement established in Indonesia, and in the mid-1960s wrote a book about its beliefs under the name Mariani Arnold.
Both Bulbul and her husband returned to India - he kept in touch for a while but never met them again and understands that both are now dead.
Alongside this introduction to India and its culture, Cyril also attended dance performances in London of the Radha-Krishna story by Ram Gopal and his company - among whom the young Kumudini Lakhia was a luminous beauty and a great talent.
He found the energy and elegance of the performance intoxicating. 'What was mind altering to me', he says, 'was seeing Indian dance.' Cyril recalls that he managed to get access to the dancers' dressing room and got to know Kumi; they became firm friends.
It was the publisher John Murray who approached Cyril to design the jacket for The Householder - an intimate, acutely observed novel about lower middle-class Delhi written by a woman who had married into the country. He read the book and loved it - and the figure of the mother-in-law reminded him of the matriarchs in Jewish families.
So he turned to the design - and to a woman whose beauty lingered in his memory.
The young Indian woman on the cover is Bulbul - though she never knew she was the model. He had a passport photo to work off, 'but my memory of her was sharper than that photo - Bulbul came to me on that page'.
And the other figure? 'The man sitting at the table is me.' Of course. the character he represents is the 'householder' of the book's title, a young, recently married Indian school teacher.
Being asked about the cover, and the network of Indian friendships it brings to mind, has given Cyril a wistful pleasure - a chance to reflect on people and moments which have meant a lot to him. 'I don't think I've ever talked about this before with anyone except my wife, Dale'.
I asked if he had ever managed to make the journey to India. Yes - seventeen years ago, at Dale's urging. And as a result of a chance encounter at an Indian airport, Cyril and his wife spent a week as guests of Kumi and her family in Ahmedabad where she runs a renowned dance school. And so a friendship dormant for half-a-century was rather magically rekindled.
Cyril Satorsky says his connection with South Asia has greatly influenced his art. 'My paintings now are really abstract - but they have jumped out of India. Indian art is not abstract on the surface of things - but go beyond the surface and it is.'
India has also shaped his approach to life. 'For one thing, it has changed my idea about women: women are cleverer than men - their perceptions are larger, deeper, wider.'
Time's up - my semester teaching at the Asian College of Journalism is over. But before I head back to cold, grey, Brexit-limbo London, here's a few warm memories of the last few days. Thanks guys!
It's an unlikely spot for a statue - tucked away under Chennai's first flyover, in the middle of one of the city's busiest junctions, and all but inaccessible to pedestrians.
But here it is - C.N. Annadurai, the key figure in Dravidian (to put it at its simplest, Tamil pride) politics, sitting lotus style reading a book. Above him the traffic rumbles along the city's principal artery. This was once Mount Road - it now takes Annadurai's name and is known as Anna Salai.
Annadurai was the last chief minister of Madras state and the first of the new state of Tamil Nadu, created in 1969. Less than a month after the renaming of the state, Annadurai died of cancer. He was 59.
Ever since his landmark election victory in 1967, Tamil politics in south India has been dominated by two parties - the DMK and the AIADMK - which both regard Annadurai as their mentor.
Krishna Prasad, a friend and renowned journalist, pointed out this hidden away statue to me, and I captured him on video talking about the man and the memorial to him -
If you are curious, the statue is close to the US Consulate, where Cathedral Road goes under Anna Salai - and when I say it's right in the middle of one of Chennai's busiest traffic intersections, I mean it. Good luck!
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