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Delhi isn’t greek to her

A foreign woman visiting Delhi, gives an idea of how the world sees the Indian capital.

entertainment Updated: Sep 27, 2010 00:39 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi

She clicks the camera button, looks at the image on the LCD screen and is disappointed. “I’m better at writing than photography,” Irene Banias (right) says. We met Banias, a Greek visitor to Delhi, in Humayun’s Tomb. “This is just spectacular. See, the beauty and the harmony of the curved lines trying to reach upward, to the spirit.”

A lawyer, Banias teaches human rights at Bosphorus University, Istanbul, Turkey. This is her first visit to the city. She is staying in a paying guest accomadation.

“The Machu Picchu in Peru and the Oracle of Delphi in Greece are also as deeply spiritual as Humayun’s Tomb,” she says, while showing the entry ticket to the guard. Being a foreigner, she paid $5. For Indians, the ticket is priced at R10. The wind ruffles through Banias’s hair. Her eyes are deep blue; her voice is soft. We look at the red-stone tomb. Humayun was the second great Mughal. His widow had built this mausoleum.

A Greek teacher in Turkey is like being an Indian professor in Pakistan. How did Turkish students take to a Greek woman teaching them human rights, especially when Turkey has quite a few dark spots in its history? “Students were eager to interact with me. I have developed warm relationship with some of my them.” In her course, Banias would often cite references from the various judgments of the Indian Supreme Court.

“I’m impressed by some of the clauses in your Constitution. For example, the right to life which has been interpreted by your courts to include the right to livelihood. In other lands, you don’t have a right to establish a community on a sidewalk where so many are able to find jobs nearby.” Climbing the stairs to the tomb, Banias says, “Economical and social rights are not considered fundamental rights in many developed countries such as the US. This is one thing that piqued my interest in India.”

It is dark in the tomb chamber. Banias walks to one side of the hall and try looking out of a lattice stone screen. Sunlight is streaming inside in patches. “But the extent of poverty in Delhi is overwhelming. Courts alone cannot rectify it,” she says.

We come out of the hall and watch a few labourers working on the stones. “The look of the homeless is the same everywhere. Empty gaze, filthy clothes, disoriented consciousness. The lack of any kind of effective measures to address poverty reflects the priorities of our societies.”

Delhi is becoming too intense for Banias. “The density of the population, the abject poverty, the content of the rich, the destitute and the comfortable living side by side, the great diversity of peoples and cultures, the magnificent monuments… all this is so overwhelming.”

As a human rights scholar, is there anything here that makes her angry? “My stay has been too short to draw any conclusions; but at time, I do perceive a resentment of those who are well-off towards those who are living on the streets. I just sense it though I have no proof. But I also see people who reach out to the poor and give.” In Delhi, Banias spends her time meeting human rights activists, making friends and hopping the city’s monuments. Refusing to disclose her age, she says, “When one reaches a certain age, time becomes of the essence and one must live fully. I think

I’m very happy at this point in my life. I’m glad to be in Delhi.”