Bottlegourd Bokchoy Ballet* – Khoj, New Delhi.

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My search started not far from Khoj, near the archaeological ruins of Satpula, a pre-Mogul dam. I was especially attracted by a drain, hidden from view – but not from olfaction –  by an embankment. Although very polluted the place emanated some aura. I later realized that this water body is merely called “drain” on Google maps, nothing but an open sewer. Sewers don’t have names, don’t have past nor identity, and hopefully they are soon or late buried under the city. However it was a sewer with aura.

A down-stream journey brought me to the merging point of the drain and Yamuna. But my journey was also metaphorically up stream, in the denied past of the drain. Driven by Sohail Hasmi, I engaged into a sort of archaeology of naming processes regarding this drain, and possible counter-representations.

Chiragh-e-Dehli was the nikname of the Sufi Saint Sheikh Naseer-Ud-Din and so the stream associated with him was known as Chiragh Dehli Nala, though in colloquial Hindustani it became Chiragh Dilli or Chiragh Dilli Nala. The water of this stream was regarded as sacred both by Muslims and Hindus, it was collected in jars and considered having healing properties. The lost of its name, together with its historical and religious identity, is both connected with the eradication of the local Muslim population with the 1947 partition and with the subsequent chaotic growth of illegal colonies along the stream. But a vaster eradication is still in process, in the form of a “drainisation”, and therefore burial, of Delhi’s water catchments, including Chiragh Dilli Nala. And it looks like the invisibilisation-destruction of Delhi’s water system progressed so far to a very advanced stage. The merging point of Chirag Dilli Nala and Yamuna (or Jamna) is a beautiful but possibly very corrupted farming landscape, here I collected several vegetables, especially lauki or bottle gourd, that are very familiar to me, under the southern Italian dialectal name cucuzza. The vegetables looked nice but I was concerned with their possible invisible corruption: I sent them to a chemical laboratory in order to search for the possible presence of heavy metals.

 But my up-stream khoj (“search”) brought me also in Majnu-Ka-Tilla, where water activist from Toxic Links carried a vast – and quite dramatic – survey on locally farmed vegetables. I spent a beautiful afternoon in the Tibetan refugee camp and its riverbank, where local peasants have being trained by Tibetans to farm Chinese vegetables, familiar to them (and to me), but named differently. The vegetable internationally known as bokchoy is here very popular, and is named pesa, while in my neighbourhood in Tuscany, Italy, is called xiang gu cai by Wenzhounese migrants. Uncontrolled denominations. In Majnu-Ka-Tilla this small vegetable means many things at the same time: an umbilical cordon with the lost motherland, a geopolitical paradox and a surreal genetic journey of Brassica Rapa Chinensis back to its roots. This vegetable is in fact the outcome of a secular process of domestication, started about 900 hundred years ago from the possibly native Indian Brassica Rapa, while the vegetable started a slow migration-transition from the Sub-Continent to China.

Like for the lauki I also checked the bokchoy, searching for the invisible poisons.

The result og the tests was made public in the opening day, during a tasting of Sicilian lauki and Tuscan-Chinese bokchoy recipes.

* a special thanks to Sidharth Srinivasan for suggesting me the title “Bottlegourd Bokchoy Ballet”

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