Delhi stories: Onion argy-bargy

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The Independent Online

In recent weeks there has been talk of a political crisis in Delhi over the humble onion. The price has been soaring across India because of an exceptionally poor crop - and it is not a matter to be taken lightly.

So fundamental is onion to north Indian cuisine that governments have fallen over the price. A few years ago a similar shortage was believed to be the reason the right-wing BJP unexpectedly lost control of the city government in Delhi, foreshadowing its defeat in national elections last year.

This year's shortage has been caused by record heavy rains.Delhi's Muslims have been joking, however, that as the city's main consumers of meat (orthodox Hindus being vegetarian), the onion shortage is a conspiracy against them. And in Delhi they feel meat is virtually inedible without the flavour of onions.

Beware the short hack and sides

Getting a haircut in Delhi can be a complicated business. I went to one of the city's five-star hotels recently. "Head massage, sir?" the starch-smocked barber enquired. When I replied that I had come for a haircut, he added: "Yes, yes, no problem. But after haircut, head massage!"

The haircut proved a rather desultory affair: the barber simply chopped a length off the back with three snips and then said, eagerly: "Now, head massage!" The result was unflattering. My hair now ended too abruptly in a straight line at the back of my head. Other clients cast disapproving glances at my protests.

This is, it seems, a Delhi phenomenon. In some other parts of India, men wear extravagant haircuts. You even see the occasional mullet. No Tamil man from Madras is ever without his plastic comb to attend to his locks. But staid, conservative Delhi remains the redoubt of the short back and sides. Here, it is the moustache that a man grooms with real care.

When the barber's hacking had been somewhat tidied up I finally, to his delight, acceded to the head massage. I wish I had not. He began to pummel my head violently, yanking it from side to side, pulling some of my hair out. Eventually I was allowed to leave, by which time I looked more dishevelled than when I had gone in.

Air force majeure

Sometimes the decisions of Indian officialdom defy belief. For several days in a row, Delhi's international airport was closed to all flights for hours, right in the middle of busiest time of day, so that the Indian air force could practise for an air show. Flights were delayed for hours. On the ground, huge crowds of passengers waited in misery while incoming flights circled overhead.

With hundreds of bases all over India to choose from, it was curious that the air force insisted on practising at the country's main tourist airport. One flight, from London, had to circle for so long that it ran out of fuel and was forced to divert to Pakistan. This was hardly a happy result for India, diverting visitors to its arch-rival. Lahore airport was only too happy to receive them.

Yet the air force did not appear remotely chastened by the debacle. When challenged, one of their brass hats replied that the airlines had been given plenty of notice and should have rearranged their timetables to suit military needs.