Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Happy Families

You know those happy families whose smug mugs feature in the Daily Mail, showing off about how clever they are because they moved abroad before the recession, well, that’s us, that is.
At the time of writing we have not yet appeared in said rag but I am told it will be soon because of the current media trend of ramming India’s great booming economy down the throats of everyone who stayed at home. Even Jeremy Vine off of Radio Two came to Mumbai last week to broadcast his show from Café Leopold.  He was running up and down “Colaba Street” comparing the Gateway of India to the Arc de Triomphe and punctuating his blather about Tata and Tesco with Katie Perry records. From the way he was waxing lyrical about Mumbai, I imagine everyone listening at home will be on their way right now. Will the last one leaving Britain please turn the lights off?
So how come we are lined up to be in the Daily Mail? Mick wouldn’t normally wipe his arse with my mum’s newspaper of choice but soon he will be gurning at her from its centre pages, extolling the virtues of living in Mumbai. She’ll choke on her egg!
 A journalist from a Delhi-based news agency read my blog and contacted me about ‘doing a piece’ on 'reverse emigration' as a nice flipside to all the doom and gloom currently in the British press.
He went on to ask me why we had made the move and how our lives had improved since making it. To be honest, I spend so much time moaning about all the things I don’t like about living here, I hadn’t really thought about the positives. But now he comes to mention it...
Obviously the main improvement in my life, since coming to Mumbai in 2009, is the acquisition of my Mulberry handbag. I used a variety of plastic bags when I lived in the UK, so this is definitely an improvement.
And here’s another good thing. It’s 3.20 pm now as I write and instead of driving like a lunatic to the school, I am here in my office sipping tea (thanks Lucy) while Sameer does the honours. Nor do I have to worry about going to Asda or what’s for tea.
I am being flippant, of course. Although I wouldn’t say life is infinitely better than it was in the UK, it is infinitely different. Last night, for example, Mick was invited to the MI 4 world premiere with Tom Cruise. He most definitely would not have been afforded that opportunity in London.
And on our son’s last visit from boarding school, we flew to Nagpur and drove on to a tiger safari in Madhya Pradesh. This is not a sentence I ever thought I would write.  Our annual holiday used to be a fortnight in a caravan in France but here we are taking ad hoc hols to hitherto unknown destinations. (We didn’t see any tigers, by the way, and it was galling, at G and T time, to hear the tall tales of those who did: “Yeah, we couldn’t believe it; it took down a deer in front of our very eyes!” Hmmm, we only saw a leopard pooh).
On the second week of Hugh’s visit we hung out on the beach in Goa and knocked back some Long Island Iced Teas. Yeah, it’s not so bad living here, is it?
Back to the Delhi journalist’s question: Why did we make the move?  I think I said that it was a fantastic opportunity blah for Mick to work in a burgeoning economy with its young and dynamic population blah, blah or something pat like that but the truth is, the opportunity arose and we took it. You go where the work is. We were lucky; I don’t know what would have happened had we stayed in the UK, maybe nothing. I am beginning to hear of friends who have been made redundant and, there but for the grace of God’ I suppose.
Just the other day, after a Mumbai Connexions do in town, a group of ladies and myself went off to the Taj to look at diamond earrings. Again, that would have been a sentence alien to me a couple of years ago.  Time was, not so long since, I wanted a cardigan from the Boden catalogue but couldn’t afford it. I waited and waited and ended up getting it in the sale. Good things come to those who wait.
The acquisition of material things is, of course, one positive aspect to making this move but sometimes I feel I am acquiring them as compensation for not having other things - fresh air, walks with the dog, dinner with old friends or chatting with my mum at the kitchen table. What price these?
The one thing that we are all getting in spades here is life experience as well as diamonds, new teeth, liposuction and bags. We are the pioneers who lived in India before the days of Tesco and Wal-Mart, before it became as homogenized as any other country in the world and then we'll have some tales to tell, gnashers gleaming, diamonds a-twinkling.

Yuatcha - Youbetcha!

I have put an inch on each thigh and God knows how much around the middle this week because of all the eating out I have been forced to do. Last night, a Sunday, all I wanted to do was slob around and watch the telly, nursing a hangover from the night before, when we were suddenly invited out to a Chinese restaurant by an Indian family we know. I had just finished my Sunday Lunch of roast chicken and Yorkshire pudding but because I am a trooper, I put on my lippy and hauled my behind off to meet them. I was so full when I got home, I was like Mister Creosote out of Monty Python, I couldn’t have eaten a wafer-thin mint!
I cannot get used to all this late night eating; it is getting out of control. I always make the mistake of eating all the hors d’oeuvres and then being surprised when I think it’s time to go home and suddenly everybody is called to a sit down dinner. How many times have I been caught out like that? The last thing I want after a skin full of sparkling wine and a bellyful of fancy little snack-lets is a full-on four course Indian meal.
Lots of my skinny Indian friends are ‘feeders’ too and insist I try everything, especially the gulab jamon and will not take no for an answer. I watch with awe at the beginning of the evening when they all sit around shoo-ing away the waiter’s offerings and declining alcohol, “Just a little room-temperature water for me, please.” If only I could be so disciplined. Everybody is so serious; I need to drink to lighten the mood a little even though I know I will pay for it in the morning, especially on a school night!
So, when Mumbai Connexions members were invited to the preview opening of new Bandra Kurla restaurant Yauatcha, I was pleased to hear it was a lunch time event and there would be no alcohol served – only tea.  Imagine my surprise when I arrived to find everyone sitting around cheerfully with a glass of wine in hand - on a Tuesday afternoon as well! It’s profligate, but it’s also free, so I ordered a nice glass of chilled white.
Yauatcha is the little sister of our favourite Cantonese restaurant, Hakkasan; it is, essentially, Hakkasan-lite.  It’s a lighter, brighter canteen but invokes the same underwater atmosphere with its huge tranquillizing aquariums.  Soon to arrive at the table in thick, ceramic bowls was the steaming Cheung Fun– a type of dim sum, they have 45 different varieties here!  Most are priced between Rs 225 and Rs500, with a couple of very fancy exceptions (the Chilean Sea bass dumpling with lotus root  at Rs950) The table went very quiet while we devoured the Cheung Fun with the sublime accompanying sauce. There was only one ‘mention of ‘slimy’ but that particular critic was pretty quickly silenced by the ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘ahh-ing’ of the others.

The service was speedy and the wine flowed and next came the aromatic crispy duck. People were visibly salivating as the waiter shredded the duck at the table and we couldn’t plum-sauce-up our little pancakes quickly enough! Along with this we were served glistening, tender pork-belly in a perfectly balanced sweet and tangy sauce. Along came the Sea Bass in ginger and after that, it all became a blur.
Just when we thought we couldn’t eat another thing, a plate of jewel-coloured macaroons was placed before us. The idea is that you accompany them with one of the huge array of teas. The waiter will advise on which tea complements which particular dish. There are all sorts of delicately-flavoured mousses, ice creams and desserts to choose from, it’s knowing when to stop!
Now the question is which is better - Hakkasan or Yuatcha?  It’s a toughy, maybe I will have to try them both again!
Yuatcha is open from 12 noon to 1 am and can be found at Raheja Tower, Bandra Kurla Complex (E) Call: 26448888

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Big Game

Sometimes when I am out shopping in Mumbai, it feels like I am being hunted down like big game. My hearts sinks when I walk into a shop where I am the only customer. AC’s are suddenly whacked up and I can feel the eyes of the hunter/assistant boring into the back of my neck. I am a helpless gazelle, quivering, looking for a way out but it's too late. My personal space is invaded and a painful ‘I know you are there but I am not going to look at you’ dance ensues.
My eyes fall randomly upon an item. The hunter says: “That is a stapler.”  I move on trying to show absolutely no interest in anything at all, which is hard for me because I am a tactile shopper. I want to pick things up but I can’t bear the statement of the bleedin’ obvious that will follow as sure as night follows day: “That is a pencil.” I want to scream out: “For the love of God, I am not blind or stupid, you are making me uncomfortable, leave me alone.” 
I went into the Nike shop and the hunt started immediately with me ducking around rails only for the assistant to appear suddenly like Mr Benn in front of me. I touched a pink running top, only briefly and maybe by accident. I didn’t even like it.  Without drawing breath, she said: “We have that in an XXL.”
“Do you think I am an XXL then?” I asked.
She stared at me, a rabbit in the headlights (ha, the tables have turned) not knowing what answer to give. It was a trick question, I probably am an XXL but I wanted her to say something like: ‘they do tend to come up very small.’ Is that very British of me? I would prefer someone to be polite and lie than to be totally direct and honest.  I wanted to burst out laughing but instead, I turned on my heal and pretended to strop out of the shop.
If I walked into a shop with a placard that read: “I am only browsing, I will call you if I need you” would that be too subtle?  My Indian friend, Rita cannot understand my idiosyncratic Western ways. “This is a shop. That person is a shop assistant, let them do their job!” She is quite right; of course, it’s the Indian way to expect service. I just feel like a shoplifter under surveillance (guilty conscience, eh, Linds?)
Anyway, I’ll just have to get over myself because this Shop Review won't research itself.
And so to the newly-revamped ‘Turqoise’ in Bandra. (Yes, they spell it without the ‘u’)
The last time I tried to visit this store at its previous address; the door of my car was ripped off at the hinges by a rickshaw driver as my friend leapt out into the street.(yes, Hayley, you know who you are!)  This resulted in an ugly punch-up, an attempted bag-snatch and a James Bond-style rickshaw getaway so we never actually made it into the shop. I vowed never to go to back in case I was recognized. So I was quite pleased to hear that they had moved.
I arrived at the shop at about noon. Typically, I was the only person in there and fans and lights were switched on pronto. The sales lady, as per, is millimetres behind me and sure enough, tells me that the pink elephant I am looking at is a pink elephant.
“That is a pink elephant ma’am.” I bite my lip.
She is very attentive but her constant sniffing in the otherwise silent shop is a bit off-putting to the shopper (i.e me)
I was not bowled over by Turqoise, I felt that I’d seen it all before, yatter, yatter, yatter,  Buddha’s, tick, lotus tea lights, tick Crawford Market candles, tick.  It’s all here. But they had some other stuff too which I had never seen before (and hope never to see again!) namely, foot-tall musical instrument-playing welded ants! I am not a fan of the comedy ornament but there must be people out there who are because they are also selling these ‘sexy’ pink elephants reclining nude and looking a bit ‘come-hither’. Whatever floats your boat I suppose!
The following day, I took a trip down south to have a look at the new Design Temple in Colaba. I have been aware of Design Temple for some time as they organized an Art Workshop for kids earlier this year at BMB Gallery and I was well impressed  by the work my son produced with them.  I also bought a couple of the Animania prints they sell through Good Earth.
The shop is small and I want to buy every single item in it. The ‘Animania’ art work on the walls is a vibrant and whimsical take on the Sacred Animals of India. I quote: “It fuses the playful interpretations of seven graphic artists from across the globe with a subject of much gravitas in Indian mythology.” The exquisite mirror on the wall is inspired by the peacock artwork and the tiger rug is the most beautiful home décor item I have even seen. Gimme, gimme! There is even a space in the shop “for thinking.” Yes, even though it is only a small shop, they have provided stools to sit at and stare out of the window if you feel like. Artists? What are they like?
While I was in this neck of the woods, I popped into the new Attic just off Arthur Bunder Road, a little bit down and round the corner from Bungalow Eight (my second favourite shop after Good Earth) If you know and love the Attic in Khar, this is a bigger and brighter version, run by the same lovely sisters. Here we have colour, colour, colour and  lovely shiny things for all you magpies. The hand-made clothes are kooky, bright one-offs, there are shoes and handbags to drool over and bits and pieces for the house which are funky and different (hey, maybe I do like fun ornaments after all!) I spent over an hour in this shop and not once did the assistant ask if she could help me, she just smiled and said: “Just call me if you need me.” Now that is what I call good service!
Turqoise , 2 &3 Sunbeam Apartments, Perry Cross Road, off Carter Road, Bandra (W) Tel: 3240 9827
Design Temple (by appointment only - so they say, but I just turned up unannounced)  No 11, 9 Best Marg, behind the Taj, Colaba Tel: 2282 1001
Attic, 5/5 Grant’s Building. First floor, HNA Azmi Marg, opp Café Basilico, Arthur Bunder Road, Colaba Tel: 6565 0444

Thursday, 29 September 2011


The  time has come for me to reach far into the depths of my inner

sanctum and try to pull out the strength I need to make that trip

to the hell hole we all know as the FRRO.

Just the thought of entering those doors, ascending those stairs

and waiting behind those ropes until the clock strikes nine fills me

with a primal fear. 

 The sign on the wall says: “Do not stand beneath the ceiling” and

I know that once again I am about to enter the Graham Green-

esque world, the parallel universe that is the Foreigners

Registration Office with its surreal twists and turns. Even the extra

‘R’ in FRRO is there to confuse and torment me. I can’t even say

FRRO without sounding like a pathetic, stuttering dog.

The trick is to stay calm despite the nest of vipers squirming in the
pit of my stomach. I have in my hands umpteen copies of umpteen
documents but I know this will not be enough. Past experience has
taught me that if I have ten copies of a document, they will
require 11. Past experience has taught me that after a patient 15
minute wait to use the Xerox machine, someone will announce
the machine is broken: “Come back in some time.”
The dilemma is;  do I wait in the hope that the machine will
magically start up again,  just as magically as it broke down, or do I
go into the street and wait in a long line for use of another Xerox
machine – all the while painfully aware that the clock is ticking
and they will soon close for their two hour lunch meaning I will
have to return the next day and possibly the next and the next...

The very first time I darkened the doors of this ramshackle hell
hole I was an ignorant fool. I thought we’d just waltz in with our
British passports, get them stamped and then mooch off to Colaba
for a lovely lunch.  

No, that first time I had to be helped down the stairs by a
bemused European backpacker (whose handkerchief I still have)
as I cried “but I don’t understand” to the porcine official in the
regulation navy sari who made me wait for four hours before
telling me I had the wrong documents, without giving away what
documents I would need.

The next time I went, I took the kids as instructed and they sat in
their uniforms, again for four hours, before I was told I didn’t
actually need to bring them. You can bet your bottom dollar that
if I hadn’t brought them, they would have insisted on habeas
corpus.   On that particular occasion I broke the mouse on the
computer in frustration and stood up and screamed like the
Edvard Munch character as I failed, repeatedly, to register us

online.  A Japanese lady put her hands over her ears and began to

rock back and forth. Grown men wept. We were like the wretched

souls of Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa. In hell!

That afternoon I was informed that I would have to come back the
next day with rupees converted from however many dollars it was
for our visas. That night, I took the conversion rate from the Bank
of India website and withdrew the exact amount in rupees. The
next day I stood in line with my rupees in a dirty, brown envelope

and when I handed them over, was told I was 500 rupees short.
I  Googled the rate and shoved the iphone under her nose.  
“We use the Thomas Cook rate,” she said.
“Arrrrggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, but it’s the Bank of India!”
“Either give me the correct money or stand aside.”
So that was the last straw. I handed over the extra money and fell
back into the plastic sofa, defeated, a shadow of my former self.

All anybody wants to do is to get into the chamber beyond the
ante-chamber because then there is hope. The queuing system,
which, on the face of it, looks as easy as taking a ticket in a Clarkes
shoe shop, is actually based on chaos theory and is impossible to
fathom. People just shuffle silently towards the door, pointing
their toe forward a little if it looks like someone else is going to
push in.

It was not until the third or fourth visit that we began to notice
that some people had agents. The people who appeared calm,
those who were not crying, had representation. I marched up to
one of them and demanded his card and since then, dear reader,
the experience has become a little less fraught.
We now go along with the agent, feeling like children in the
presence of an appropriate adult. We pay him an absolute fortune

and he does the necessary while I sit in a chair  like the Jack

Nicholson character in ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” after

he’s had the lobotomy. Silent and defeated.

I am tempted to go in this time wearing my Anna Hazare T-shirt

and white topi but I don’t want to make it harder for myself.  Let’s

just hope the ceiling doesn’t come down on the lot of them!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

About a boy

Well I did it - I swapped my 13-year-old son for a Mulberry

handbag! I dropped him off at the boarding school on the Monday

and by the Wednesday I was in the Mulberry shop at Heathrow

Terminal 4 deliberating between the ‘Bayswater’ and the ‘Alexa’. I

had been looking forward to this moment since I don’t know when

but when it came to it; my heart wasn’t really in it. I was a bit sad, a

bit drunk and 10 kg overweight – and so was my luggage!

That morning as I sat in my friend Louise’s flat in Stoke Newington,

we both marveled at how I could get so much stuff into one

suitcase. I had popped to the supermarket and come back with two

bags of meat and dairy products which, between us, we managed to

shoehorn in between all the DVD box sets, books and the yoghurt

maker I bought on a whim at Robert Dyas. Not to mention the

gorgeous cushion I had to have and huge fluffy dressing gown I

bought for my daughter which she doesn’t need. The main worry

was that the fillet steaks would literally bleed into all my lovely new


It was not for the first time in our 28-year-friendship that Louise

saw me off at a bus stop with a massive suitcase.

“Good luck with that!” she chuckled and went off to work.

I was going to meet another friend, Tony, at Finsbury Park for a

quick drink before taking the tube to Heathrow.  He burst out

laughing when he saw me lugging the great suitcase behind me, red

in the face, sweating and panting.

“And what’s the luggage allowance again?” he asked.

I was beginning to wish I hadn’t worn the cashmere sweater and

Ugg boots but I quite literally couldn’t fit them in the suitcase. Tony

took the suitcase from me and dragged it to the World’s End pub

where a Staffordshire bull terrier woke from its slumber as soon as

we sat down and started sniffing excitedly at it.

“I hope he doesn’t work at the airport.” Tony laughed.

Blinking into the sunlight three large white wines later, I didn’t care

about the extra kilos, I developed a nonchalant attitude. If caught

with the meat and dairy, I would just tell customs I was on the

Dukan diet and could only eat protein. What’s the worst they can


By the time the tube stopped at Terminal 4, I was dry-mouthed,

head-achy and desperate for the loo. But the suitcase was weighing

me down mentally and physically. I thought I’d just get rid of it first

then go to the Ladies, get some water, buy the handbag and have a

celebratory glass of Pinot Grigio at ‘The Bridge.’

“The luggage allowance is 28 kilos madam. You are 10 kilos

overweight. I will have to charge you 24 Pounds per kilo, I am

afraid. That’s a total of 240 Pounds. What have you got in there?”

 A yoghurt maker plus yoghurt sachets, six fillet steaks, three large

packets of cheese, 20 CDs, four HBO box sets, all the Sunday

newspapers and supplements, a large cushion, a packet of 3 amp

fuses (impossible to find in Mumbai) trainers and gym kit (unworn

the whole trip) and any number of packets of bacon, ham and

turkey breast.

I didn’t say any of that. I was thinking on my feet.

“Books. I am taking them to India on behalf of a charity” I blurt.

“What charity.”

“Actually it’s called Mumbai Connexions. It’s an excellent

organization which raises money for several charities, partly by

selling second hand books.”

He looks at me for a moment. Does he know I am drunk? Can he

smell the bacon?

“Ok, what you can do is remove 10 kilos of books from your

suitcase and carry them as hand luggage, please repack and then

come back to this desk.”

So, half an hour later I am plonked in front of the Mulberry shop

having gone through customs weighed down by the extra 10 kilos of

hand luggage, plus the cushion. I vow to give Mumbai Connexions

a load of books next time I have a clear out.

Instead of going into the shop, I sit and think about Hugh. I call the

housemaster and leave a message on the answer phone. I haven’t

heard anything since dropping him off two days ago.

As we drove to the school in my mother-in-law’s car on that

Monday afternoon, I reached round the back of the passenger seat

and took his hand. He squeezed my fingers for a minute and then let

go of them one by one. My eyes prickled, for the first time since we

first came up with the boarding school plan. It was only now hitting

home that this was ‘it.’ I blinked away my tears silently and turned

round to look at him.

 “I can’t believe it’s actually happening” he said.

An hour later I was dropped off at the station and headed off to

London when I realized I had left my camera in his room.  I

couldn’t even look at the last snaps I had taken of him all smart in

his black suit and tie.

And so it was I bought the bag. I went for the ‘Bayswater’ as the

assistant thought the ‘Alexa’ might be a bit “young” for me. Ta

very much, b-yatch. Sitting on the plane before takeoff, I tried the

housemaster again and miraculously got though. He called Hugh to

the phone.

“Hello Mum?”

“Hey love, how’s it going? I’ve been thinking of you.”

“It’s great, brilliant, I love it but can you get off the phone because

we’re watching a rugby match on the telly and my hot chocolate

will be getting cold.”

And then I flew back to Mumbai alone.

A week later and I’ve still heard nothing. No emails, no texts,

nothing. It’s funny but walking through Shopper’s Stop in Malad

today I was confronted by a ten foot image of my son looking down

at me from a giant advertising poster. Some months ago he did an

ad campaign for Ruff Clothing’s A/W collection. He is not the

modeling type but wanted the money for an X-box game. I looked

up and felt my heart swell with pride and sadness. Tears were

rolling down my cheeks as a security guard approached me. Where

would I begin to tell him why I was standing in the middle of the

shop staring at a kid’s clothing poster crying my heart out? Do I tell

him that 13 years ago, I had a baby who grew up to be a lovely boy

who now lives 4000 miles away from me yet is standing here, ten

foot tall in a department store in Mumbai? That would be too much


“Hey” I smile “that’s my boy!” and then I walk away.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Mama's got a brand new Bag

 Hey Maximum City, I’m back!  What’s happening?  Has anything changed while I’ve been away?  Have people stopped falling into holes? Do shops have change in the tills? Has Landmark put all the books in alphabetical order yet?  Thought not. (Yes Landmark in Infiniti Mall, I am talking to you!  – alphabetical by author surname please!)
But it is good to be back. I picked up my Mumbai Mirror this morning to see that the problem page had not deviated from its single preoccupation, namely the solitary past time of young men. (So many variations on a theme!)
And here, at my car window, is the man without fingers,  a-gently tap-tapping with his tin, in the rain. Aw Mumbai, I’ve missed you.
Living out of a suitcase and sleeping on people’s blow-up beds for two months made me a little homesick for Mumbers.   Laying in the dark at my in-laws house in Sussex, listening to the grandfather clock chime every fifteen minutes until sunrise ,  I started to pine for  home – not my cottage in Kent (rented out)  - but the tiny  flat in Andheri which now contains most of my life. 
Don’t get me wrong, I had a fab time in England. I went to music festivals, stayed in a fisherman’s cottage in Cornwall, pottered about in the Lanes of Brighton and had my hair done in London but the most fun I had, without a shadow of a doubt, was...going to Waitrose.  I sailed up and down the aisles trying not to drool as I filled my trolley with anything that took my fancy.
 “Mum, can we have these anchovies, fillet steaks, Wensleydale, fresh rocket, thick and creamy yoghurts?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, chuck it all in, I don’t care.”
Waitrose is never knowingly cheap and I could have bought a small car with what we spent on food in there but who cares?  I was back in Star Bazaar this morning buying dusty, dented tins of stuff, stale bread, soft Cornflakes and manky veg.  It’s ok though, because my freezer is packed with fillet steak, sausages and bacon smuggled in past customs.
I thought Mick was so pleased to see us as we came out of Arrivals but his eyes were firmly fixed on the luggage: “did you get the sausages, please tell me you brought sausages?”
As I opened the door to our flat I was greeted by the deep, dank smell of damp. I looked at Mick, at the green mould on his shoes and belt.
He doesn’t notice these things.
So I wheeled out the dehumidifier, chucked all the clothes in the wash, lit my Jo Malone candles and fried up the sausages. Mummy’s home and all is well. Except for one thing, the air conditioner remote is not working. We have managed  to lose all but this one and now it’s not working.  I change the batteries. The sticker on the back says:  “After inserting new batteries, press ‘reset’ button for some time.”  I look, there is no reset button. 
“Give it here” Mick says, snatching it off me. He studies it carefully, takes the batteries out,  puts them back in again but he cannot find the reset button either.  I get on a chair to see there if there is a  manual way of switching  on the a.c . There is not.
The sticker also gives a 1-800 toll free number, a helpline? We exchange glances. I roll my eyes.  I know with almost 100 per cent certainty that the phone call will be fruitless. Is there any point?
Mick has more faith. He calls the number.
“Hello, ” he says slowly and clearly, “I have here in my hand the remote control for the Voltas  air conditioner . A sticker on the back says press the ‘reset ‘ button but there is no ‘reset ‘ button . Can you tell me where the ‘reset’ button is, please?
He is met by a long silence and then, a tentative…”hellooo”
He repeats the question, again, silence, then “hellloooo?” This goes on for about fifteen minutes but it’s all too much for Mick and he finally hurls the phone onto the sofa -  but not before calling  into question the person’s ability to help. 
So, I have been back a few hours and already we are being challenged by new and interesting problems. The flat is humid and smelly, we have no air con and , to add to it all,  new noisy neighbours   (two-year-old twins with squeaky shoes and massive hooters on their identical trikes which block  the hallway)  I soon  fall into a  daydream about my return trip to the UK in September when I will be taking my son  to start boarding school.
I plan to drop him off, cry a little, then go to Waitrose and stock up on meat for the freezer. I also hear that a trip to Westfield Shopping Centre in Shepherd's Bush is a good way to mend a broken heart. And then it will be time to fly ‘home’ to Mumbai, alone, without children, just me and some  magazines. For years now, I have dragged the kids through terminal four, struggling along with their hand luggage while they pester me for  X -box games and giant Toblerones. But not this time; this time is my time.  I am going to go to the Mulberry handbag shop and I’m gonna get me one of those Mulberry ‘Alexa's’  in tan. I have resisted the temptation for years, longingly pushing my face up against the glass and swooning over Mulberry bags of all shapes and sizes.  There will, after all, be an aching void in my life which I think can be nicely filled by a soft leather bag. Hugh, as I drop your little hand, you will be comforted to know Mummy  has a new Mulberry to cling onto. Son, this is a big day for us both!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Palate in a Coma

After months of dining on pasta, rice, pasta, rice, pasta, Mars Bars, rice; an explosion of fabulous tastes suddenly brought my ailing palate out of its coma this week.  As it spluttered back to life, it must have thought it had been transplanted into the body of some international epicurean off on a round-the- world bender.
The first signs of recovery for my poor palate appeared on Friday night when we were invited to the home of some French friends who had recently returned from Paris. Fortunately, those whip-smart, eagle-eyed customs officials at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport had missed the duck, goose-fat, stinky melting cheeses and saucisson they smuggled through in their Louis Vuittons.
Emilie whipped up her Parisian contraband into something which left us all speechless at the table. The potatoes cooked in goose fat were, and I can think of no other word to describe them, orgasmic. Accompanied by full-bodied French wine, the meal was a triumph and after such a yearning hiatus, it was all the more appreciated. Emilie, my palate thanks you. (My muffin-top, however, does not.)
On the Sunday we were invited to the home of our driver, Sameer, whose wife and mother cooked an authentic Indian meal for us. Although the setting was very different, the same love had gone into the preparation of the meal and the spiced-fried chicken was, indeed, finger-lickin’ . We all had three platefuls each of the biriyani , leaving little room for the fragrantly flavoured milky rice dessert swimming with cardamom  pods.
So, I’ve gone French, I’ve gone Indian, how about a bit of Cantonese? On the Tuesday, Mumbai Connexions members were invited to a preview lunch celebrating the opening of a new restaurant, Hakkasan in Waterfield Road, Bandra.
Well, I don’t know what I was expecting but any expectations I might have had were certainly blown out of the water.  Wow. Big wow!  The place is fantastic! From the outside, it looks like nothing, like most places in Mumbai, but once you get past the beautiful stick-thin girl in the pink satin dress on the front desk downstairs, you are whisked into the elevator and transported to another, dark and atmospheric  world  full of attentive waiters , cool and understated lighting and hip background music .
Hakkasan is  “a modern restaurant serving authentic Cantonese cuisine in a contemporary style” says the invite. Yes, it is all those things, but it didn’t mention just how melt-in-the-mouth  bloody gorgeous the food is.
The waiter (trendy two-tone glasses, looked a bit like Gok Wan) was quick to deliver both menus and cocktails. Our table particularly enjoyed the signature lychee cocktail which tasted like it contained a fair splash of vodka. Other members said the house wine was excellent (definitely not Sula) and, for the second time that week, my dining companions were utterly speechless when the food arrived.
After  two lychee cocktails and two glasses of wine, I cannot read my notes (for the ex-pat rag) but this is what I remember… everyone loved  the beef tenderloin – we all sat with mouths full, slowly chewing and staring at each other going: “mmmmmmmmm”  It was tender fillet beef from a cow not a buffalo and it tasted like heaven. One of my companions  had just come from the dentist and had a mouth full of stitches yet was able to eat it without any problems. We also had jumbo prawns as big as your fist, delicately cooked in aromatic spices. The sea bass just fell away and melted in the mouth.  Everything, without exception, tasted exquisite. Between courses I did a little table hopping to find out what others members thought.  One declared the duck rolls the best she had ever tasted and another  said it was the best food she had ever tasted in the whole of the indian sub-continent. High praise indeed!  The only criticism I could squeeze out of anybody was that the waiters  came around a bit too often  to ask if everything was ok, interrupting conversations. But, hey, I’m prepared to let that go, it’s nice to get such attentive service.
We ordered far too much for the five of us and I felt a bit guilty (as I shoveled in another prawn) because I had nothing in for tea for Mick and the kids. Looking at the succulent untouched sea bass (we ordered two!) I politely enquired if they would wrap it to carry out. “No madam, we don’t do that.”  I shrank back into my seat but wished I’d bought a Tupperware box in my handbag.  I was fit for nothing when I got in so the kids had to order from Dominoes.
Hakkasan is Michelin starred and has restaurants in London, Miami and Abu Dhabi. More sites are planned for Asia, the Middle East and North America.
There is such a thing as a free lunch because we just had one but nice marketing Hakkasan,  if you are thinking we will all return with our spouses , friends and families, you are right. I did notice it is a bit expensive, but not prohibitively so.  Hakkasan -  you are our new favourite Mumbai restaurant, so put that in your cocktail and shake it!

Monday, 16 May 2011

Say hello, wave goodbye

I’ve lost count of all the people who have come and gone in our lives over the past two years. And with another monsoon, comes another mass exodus of newly acquired friends shipping out to new assignments all over the world. You couldn’t move for Champagne-quaffing ex-pats enjoying a last brunch at the Renaissance last week. The atmosphere was heady and excitable as talk turned to warm beer in English country pubs and supplement-heavy Sunday Newspapers.

But is the grass always greener? When we are drinking warm beer in a cold climate sometime in the future, will we be reminiscing about drinking chilled Champagne in a hot climate? For all the complaining that we do, I actually think we might be having a good time, occasionally.

So the booze flowed, the laughter grew louder and the kids ran riot in the marbled halls, fighting with balloon swords and being rather ineffectually marshalled by a large, red-faced woman dressed as a fairy. I don’t remember anyone looking after my kids while I enjoyed myself in a five-star hotel with friends back home. In fact, I don’t think I even went into a five-star hotel back home. And now, here we are calling over the hotel minstrels, asking if they know ‘Homeward bound’ and singing along like drunken idiots.

Being part of a minority and sharing a common experience such as living in India, does bring people together more quickly. I often find that when I meet someone new in Mumbai we can’t stop gassing for the first couple of hours. It’s so nice to meet someone who has the same expectations and similar experiences to me and who just ‘gets what I’m on about’. I had no idea how important humour and nuance in everyday conversation was to me before I came to live in Mumbai and it’s also great to talk to someone other than your husband who is on the phone several times a day (that's my husband I mean, not yours)

My dear friend Rebecca texts me all day long about nothing much and I love it. Backwards and forwards go the sms’s describing the day’s frustrations which, when sent, magically turn from annoying things that happen into funny stories. We go on expeditions around town together, visiting places we’d never visit alone – we even ran the Mumbai marathon together. But now she is leaving… and I am bereft. Mind you, I was also bereft when our Kiwi friends Amanda and Henry went back to NZ this time last year. We have met people from all around the world; they have come into our lives for a while and given the whole experience extra dimension and colour.

So farewell then Sally, Paul, Rebecca, Mischa, Susie, Simon, Emilie and Stephane. I hope you all have nice lives and remember me on Facebook from time to time. Our Saturday nights were getting a bit out of hand anyway and I am sure my liver will be glad of the rest.

But don’t worry about me guys, sitting here in the rain; I’ve just heard we’ve got some new mates shipping in! Out of the blue, an email pinged into my inbox from someone I met once at a party three years ago.

“Hi, I don’t know whether you remember me but I met you at Sarah and Chris’s fancy dress party in Maidstone in 2008. I was Cyndi Lauper, you were Debbie Harry, we got on like a house on fire, remember?”

“Ah, yes, Cyndi Lauper, what a great night that was, I remember.”

“Well, I got your email from Sarah because we’re moving to Mumbai in the summer and were hoping we could meet up with you for a few drinks.”

And, as it turns out, dear reader, Cyndi Lauper also known as Bonnie and her husband Daniel have taken an apartment in our building and, by further fortunate co-incidence, have daughters around the same age as mine. Instant new friends on tap. Result!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Cougar Town


The plan was to go to Jodhpur sans husbands and kids and concentrate solely on shopping and drinking. It was a simple plan and I liked it. We (two girlfriends and I) came up with it one night when I was telling the tale of how my husband and dad had dragged me, kicking and screaming, from the handicraft market the last time we had been in Rajasthan. I just wanted to be able to shop at leisure without being followed by the little black cloud, the shuffling morose unit, that is my family when they are forced to spend more than one minute in a shop which doesn’t sell video games, sweets or car parts.

Flights and accommodation were booked before you could say “Jodhpur, here we come!” and husbands were instructed on what to do with the kids at the weekend. And so, on the Friday morning, I found myself going to meet my fellow shoppers/drinkers at the domestic airport. I should perhaps tell you a little about my travel companions at this stage.

Rebecca, 31, from Scotland, looks like Snow White and swears like a trooper. She was chuffin’ away on a cigarette when I met her outside the terminal.

“Ahm checkin an impty bag coz ahm ginnie fill et wi all kinds of handicrafts shite,” she announced, “an if they’ll nae tek it back in the plane I’m ginnie hire a feckin’ camel!”

Rebecca, I should add, is a man-magnet, attracting stares wherever we go. She doesn’t seem to notice the mesmerizing effect she has on men with her blue eyes, pale skin and jet hair.

Sally, 42, is an IT whizz and usually leaves the domestics to her house husband, Paul. She was more interested in the English magazines I had bought than concentrating on which gate we were supposed to be at, she couldn’t wait to get her nose stuck into ‘Hello.’

All three of us were looking forward to a break from being mummy, so with bulging purses and empty bags, off we went!

It was a hairy flight on a little airplane but Sally didn’t notice. Every now and again you’d hear: “I want those shoes” or “How thin is she?” I was quite relieved, when we finally landed at Jodhpur at two in the afternoon. The driver organized by our hotel arrived promptly and took us to Rattan Villas, a ten minute ride from the airport.

It was a great choice of hotel (thank you, Sally!) not too expensive, heritage in style with large, clean airy rooms and lovely deep baths. After a quick wardrobe change we headed out to ‘On the Rocks’ a bar and restaurant highly recommended by a Jodhpur aficionado friend. Unfortunately they stopped serving food at three and it was ten past so we managed to drink through our hunger, a few handfuls of complimentary peanuts took the edge off. And then it was time to hit the handicrafts.

The driver knew exactly what we wanted and took us to warehouse after dusty warehouse of all kinds of paraphernalia and junk. We sat on thrones and sipped on tiny thimbles of chai while we were shown bedspreads and throws and pashminas, one after the other, until we were nearly blinded. We were taken to jewellers where they flashed us diamonds and rubies and sapphires and didn’t stop even when we said we had no intention of buying. I liked the furniture shops the best and fell in love with a beautiful old Rajasthani console table which I was in the process of buying and arranging to ship when the boss came in and said he had already sold it. It was like a knife in my heart.

And so, as consolation, we returned dusty and exhausted to ‘On the Rocks’ where, happily, they were doing food. There also seemed to be an all male disco in full swing. I have never seen a dance floor totally occupied by men before. And it wasn’t even what you are thinking because when we got up to leave, one of them approached me, saying he had felt a ‘special connection’ when I had earlier asked him directions to the loo. Such was this connection that he jumped on his motorbike and chased us all the way home. Sally and Rebecca thought this was hilarious and it was only when the hotel management threatened him with the police that he left. Frankly I was flattered. I was rather hoping he would still be there in the morning. Hey, I’ve still got it!

This unexpected element to the holiday continued when Sally and I clocked a couple of handsome young American backpackers at breakfast and then kept bumping into them all day at the various forts and palaces we visited. Sally and I intended to use Rebecca as bait to get them to have a drink with us that evening.

“What’s wrang with youz two auld cougars”, she announced, “Stop prowling and leave them wee boyz alaine!”

Jodhpur is a beautiful city painted corn flour blue. As we ascended the mountain toward the Meherangarth Fort we snapped away at the sea of blue houses painted in the colour of Lord Krishna. (Most of the homes traditionally belonged to Brahmins) The enormous fort, built in 1459, looks straight down a perpendicular cliff, making it famously impregnable. The tour guide was full of fascinating facts and worth every bit of his modest fee. He showed us the rooms specifically dedicated to opium smoking in the days of old. The ceiling was hung with coloured glass balls and mirrors - all the better for staring at when stoned up to the eyeballs I should imagine. No wonder those maharajas had such creative vision when it came to decorating their palaces and forts. “I know, let’s get a thousand mirror balls in all the colours of the rainbow and just stick them on them on the ceiling! Yes, your highness, that’s a great idea!”

We visited the museum too and what our guide didn’t know about howdahs and palanquins wasn’t worth knowing.

After the guide left us at the café we wondered down into the city and got totally lost. At one stage we were being chased by some cows down a narrow street and had to leap into a rickshaw for a quick getaway. The afternoon was spent visiting more handicraft stores, palaces and museums, occasionally bumping into our American friends here and there. We sipped tea in a specialist tea shop in the Bazaar and were somehow persuaded to buy some even though we didn’t like it. The guy asked me to lose my friends and come back later to drink opium tea with him. Wow, I wasn’t wearing Lynx or anything, second time I pulled in two days! Shame the guy had an extremely unfortunate looking face. At the end of the day we had purchased the following items: Red, green and blue mirror balls, a mask, slippers x3, a quilt, a pashmina and some horrible tea. I wish I could have added an antique console table to that list.

That night we dined at the hotel, cracking open the bottle of Champagne that Rebecca had packed and then some more that she hadn’t. I am pleased to tell you, readers, that the lovely American boys (actually aged 24) joined us to drink into the night and swap stories of our weekend in Jodhpur. Just Sally and I mind, Rebecca, disgusted with us, went to bed!