Hyderabad, Telangana: 20th – 23rd July 2019

For our next stop, Maeve had arranged to visit an ex-colleague from One to One Midwives who is working in a hospital out here. Midwifery doesn’t really exist in India at the moment, but an enterprising (and by all accounts, inspirational) obstetrician – Evita Fernandez – is single-handedly trying to change that. Since 2011, she has arranged for European midwives to come to India to train their obstetric nurses in the art and science of midwifery, drawing on the vast swathes of evidence that we have that shows how midwife-led care can drastically reduce maternal and infant mortality. Currently there is no Midwifery Register in India, it is not a protected role as it is in the UK, so all pregnant people must be registered under the care of an obstetrician. The hospital is groundbreaking for India in that there is the additional option of receiving care from the team of midwives. During the visit, a brand new midwifery-led unit was being opened, which will hopefully allow the midwives to practice more autonomously to provide intrapartum care for low-risk women.

Shortly after the visit, the devastating news broke that One to One has lost their contract to provide NHS-funded continuity of carer in the UK. This form of care has been shown over and over again to improve outcomes. Maeve’s colleagues and all the families they were caring for have been abruptly left high and dry. Just as we witnessed the amazing gains being made for families in India, midwifery in the UK took a huge step backwards.

Outside of the visit to the hospital, we had a fantastic meal at a vegan cafe including, finally, a cup of chai, and delicious brownies with ice cream. Jay accidentally spent £5 on the smallest pot of Marmite in the world, having misread the label!

One evening we went for a walk to a local park, and along the way passed a temple where an immense wire statue of Ganesh stood surrounded by bamboo scaffolding, ready to be filled, presumably with concrete. As we stood on the road with pedestrians and traffic flowing around us trying to take a picture, a security guard began gesticulating energetically at us. We apologised and put the camera away, turning to rejoin the throng, but he waved again and pointed into the building works and behind the statue. We followed him into the temple under construction; various statues stood partially completed, either poured into moulds or being hand-carved from clay. We took some photos, declining the invitations to go into the temple proper as we didn’t want to disturb the people who were working and worshipping there.

Later we paid a very small entrance fee (a common thing in India) to enter the strangest park we have ever been to. In one area there were giant plastic insects, in another stood enormous fibreglass fruit that had at one time been a structure you could go inside, but now housed piles of broken timber and litter. Further into the park was an immense moulded tree with plastic animals and fruit hanging from it, and a decrepit broken waterslide emerging from its boughs. A toy train ran through the park and there was a funfair: tacky, a bit like the funfair on Southend pier. Weirdest of all, underneath the park was a delapidated underground space where old amusements went to die – but terrifyingly, they were all still in use. There was a broken air hockey table, the creepiest tiny train ride, lethal looking dodgems and a “Zorbing” pool that was a small paddling pool filled with rancid stagnant water. Beyond these “attractions” were various stalls selling temporary tattoos, jewellery and 50s-style village fete amusements like skittles, but made of cardboard or litter. Most concerning was an ear-piercing stall with a distinctly unsterile piercing gun sat out on the filthy counter. We hurried through and near the end we were actually surrounded by stall holders vying for our attention, literally grabbing our arms and clothes.

Back out in the darkening evening, we were treated to an amazing show as thousands of fruit bats woke up from nearby trees and flew over us to the nearby lake. We stood on a footbridge over the road and watched them drinking from the lake, against the pink post-sunset sky they were an awe-inspiring sight. None of the other hundreds of people in and around the park were the slightest bit interested in watching the bats – this is just a boring everyday occurence!

Hyderabad was an interesting city. Gliding above it in the cool calm of the very shiny new metro, it looked very clean, and interesting buildings with unusual architecture held your attention. On the streets it had a strange edge to it. The roads were choked with pollution, with the usual traffic filling every space making it necessary for pedestrians to walk among the belching vehicles. Jay spent an afternoon exploring on foot and came back feeling queazy from all the fumes. It was also the only place in India where he attracted verbal abuse on the street. It had been an interesting afternoon despite that issue. Walking across a road, he watched as in the middle of a major road junction, in the centre of the state-capital city, a guy set up a stall selling mangos, seemingly oblivious of the traffic. Amazingly, he did actually attract customers.

Another strange thing happened when Jay stopped at a MacDonalds to get a cold drink. Sitting down at a table a security guard came rushing over and he thought he was in trouble.

Would you like to come and see the kitchen, where food is prepared?

Well, why not? It was a bizarre experience. Out of the crowds in the seating area, he stood up and followed the guard behind the counter, where a group of staff excitedly showed him all the various appliances, and how the food was cooked and packaged. It was actually fascinating. The whole kitchen was spotless, and there were entirely seperate areas for the storage, preparation, cooking and packaging of meat and veg items, which was reassuring to see. They also had strict rules about how long food could be out for before it had to be removed, and how quickly vegetables had to be used after they were chopped. It was the cleanest kitchen he’d seen in the whole of India. In 5 minutes Jay was back outside with his drink, wondering what the hell had just happened!

Getting into shops in the city was a mission, with supermarkets and clothes shops having bag drops, security scanners, and pat-downs, before you could go and do your weekly shop or get a new outfit. But despite these things which were unusual or challenging for us, the city also had a style and identity that was very different to other places we’d been, and it had been a very interesting place to visit.

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