Juliet Rowan is a reporter for Bay of Plenty Times Weekend

India Blog, day 4: Meeting of the markets

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Bay of Plenty Times Weekend writer Juliet Rowan is in India with a group of New Zealand journalists on an Asia Foundation Media Trip. She has left Mumbai and arrived in Delhi, the capital of the vast country of 1.3 billion people.
India blog: Trucks at the fruit market in Delhi. Photo/Juliet Rowan
India blog: Trucks at the fruit market in Delhi. Photo/Juliet Rowan

It's 7.30am and we're heading across Delhi to visit the city's wholesale fruit market.

We've already been to the Mumbai equivalent and are tracing the final journey of New Zealand kiwifruit that has travelled all the way across the ocean from Tauranga to Mumbai, then two days by truck to Delhi.

On the way to the market, beggars come to the windows of the car when we stop at traffic lights or get stuck in the morning logjam of trucks, buses and auto rickshaws heading in our direction.

It's hard seeing kids the same age as my 5-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son begging in the hot sun, their brutal life on the streets a far cry from my own kids' cosy existence.

Some of the young beggars hold babies, others do performances to try and get cash.

There are also adults but it's the kids I find hardest to ignore and I reach into my bag for my wallet.

Giving money is something I do knowing that behind every kid could be an adult who takes it away but I do it anyway in the hope that the street-smart kids have their own methods of secreting it away from their pimps.

When I give to one, more arrive, one thumping the window so hard in anger when my donations dry up that I think she's going to smash the glass.

Later we are told giving food is a good idea - at least it is something that won't be taken off the kids by the adults who likely control them. We are told many of the children are malnourished and even when they do get to eat, it is usually poor quality food, including scraps picked off the ground.

It's enough to make you cry, especially when we've spent days experiencing the other uber-opulent, extravagant side of India - the India with buffet dinners with 20 different curries, servants in the toilets holding out towels for you to dry your hands, and hotel lobbies filled with grand pianos and flower arrangements stretching to the ceiling.

We learn many of the child beggars are children of migrant workers who have moved to the city from rural areas in search of work but end up living in worse poverty than they came from.

At one intersection where highways run overhead, we hear there are large numbers of people living in the motorway underpasses, the men working in construction and their families forced to move from area to area as one job starts and another finishes.

Children living in such situations have little chance of getting an education because of their transient existence. Looking at their lives compared the lives of our children is witnessing true injustice.

The crowded Delhi fruit market is the eventual destination of kiwifruit exported from the Bay of Plenty. Photo/Juliet Rowan
The crowded Delhi fruit market is the eventual destination of kiwifruit exported from the Bay of Plenty. Photo/Juliet Rowan

At the market, the traffic is terrifying and I wonder if we're going to get to the stalls without getting crushed between one of the 1000 or more trucks we are told cram their way into the area each day.

Our guides, two brothers involved in the management of the place, glide through the melee effortlessly, holding up a hand here or there to stop the traffic.

We watch the fruit auctions, which involve a crazy system of bartering under white serviettes. There are no women, it's all men as often seems to be the case in public spaces in India. The auctioneer holds his hand under the serviette and the potential buyer touching various combinations of fingers depending on his bid. Each finger is worth a different amount and the amount varies depending on the way in which the finger is touched, either one fingertip or two pursed together. It is funny watching the auctioneer's reaction, either rejecting the bid or giving a subtle shake of the head to signal acceptance.

In the afternoon, we visit a slum with a charity called the Asha Society and meet women and children being empowered through education. We meet Asha founder Dr Kiran Martin, one of the most inspirational women I've ever met and who I plan to write more about later.

There is a New Zealand connection to the Kusumpur Pahari slum with our High Commission in Delhi offering internships to talented youngsters who live there. One is now a full-time employee of and I also plan to tell his story later.

In the evening, we are treated to dinner at the High Commission by New Zealand's envoy to India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh Grahame Morton.

He has assembled a group of about 30 Indian and foreign journalists, educators, writers, businesspeople and philanthropists for us to meet.

It is a fantastic evening and a privilege to be at the embassy, which was designed by architect Miles Warren and built in the 1980s when New Zealand reestablished a diplomatic post in India. Sir Edmund Hilary was then high commissioner.


Bay of Plenty Times' Juliet Rowan, NBR reporter Jason Walls, Newshub's Tom Macrae and One News reporter Chris Chang at the New Zealand High Commission in Delhi. Photo/supplied
Bay of Plenty Times' Juliet Rowan, NBR reporter Jason Walls, Newshub's Tom Macrae and One News reporter Chris Chang at the New Zealand High Commission in Delhi. Photo/supplied

- Bay of Plenty Times

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