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Hello from India!

Anu Anand | 05:29 UK time, Monday, 13 November 2006

flyingparrot.jpgWhile the rest of the team has been barnstorming around the US, I've been settling into life here in the capital of the world's biggest democracy. The blog bug's been hounding me, so I thought I'd take this chance to say hi while most of you are still waking up! I'm on the fifth floor of the Hindustan Times building, in the heart of Delhi, near Connaught Place.

Here at the BBC Bureau, it's all work all the time, but at lunchtime, everyone pops open their tiffins, and dishes out steaming rice, rotis, curried vegetables, spicy lentils, home-made salads, and the odd pizza.... and we all share whatever's on hand. You'll be pleased to hear, Mark, there's no fish so far!

I arrived nearly two weeks ago to find Delhi shut down in a city-wide strike. Now, this is a town of traders- people whose families have been buying and selling across the subcontinent for generations. Yet, for days, we couldn't even buy shampoo (an Indian word!) So instead, we walked around taking pictures of parrots and beautiful Mughal monuments, like the Lodhi tombs. Our flat/apartment has something called a 'servant's quarter', which sounds grand, but is actually a room, about six feet by three feet, with a light, a sink and a toilet. I imagine death row has more to offer in terms of basic needs. We don't have servants, but I shudder to think how they would live in such a cramped space.

But back to the strike. Basically, Delhi's grown from a city of a few million to about 14 million today. Instead of city leaders planning new roads, schools, hospitals or shopping districts... they've allowed the city to spread like an ugly rash. The roads are jammed, there's no water, the rivers are choked with trash... there was even a report of the front page of yesterday's Hindustan Times, saying tap-water is carcinogenic! Another poll I saw shows most Indians rank the environment as one of their lowest priorities, behind jobs and growth. That's probably the case in much of the world, but if you saw the toxic-looking haze outside my window... or considered that a drink of water here might kill you ... it would surely make you think!

Anyway, since the government's essentially decided not to govern... some fed-up Delhi-ites decided to take them to court. One of the issues the court's ruled on is closing some 40,000 illegal business.

Imagine walking down your street and finding there's a car park between you and your neighbor's house and someone's opened a couple of clothes stores and an international bank. In some Delhi neighborhoods, you run the risk of being hit by a chauffer driven car, carrying would-be shoppers, every step you take. Pavements are shrinking, as businesses expand illegally. And the water and power crunch is getting worse.

Well, the court decided it would order all illegal businesses to close. So the traders- legal and illegal- went on strike. The city government, not used to taking action, went back to the court, essentially saying, 'do we really have to do this.' And the court held firm. There were fears of riots. Schools were closed for days. Ominous threats circulated.

In the end, the police carried out their orders. Businesses are mostly open again. The lure of profit has kept Delhi going. But it does make you wonder about a country that has to sue its own government just to get the streets or water pipes fixed!

There are a million and one things to talk about here. I better get my microphone and camera out and get cracking on several stories in the works, including one about the crusading lawyer behind all this public interest litigation.

I'll be working with Mark and Peter to set up our forthcoming trip to India. And I'll keep you posted on where we might be going. Hyderabad is one of my favorite places. It was one of India's richest Muslim princely kingdoms... and today, it's giving Bangalore/Bangaluru a run for its money!


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