Monday, 18 April 2011

Maid in Mumbai

As I dashed downstairs to the gym to meet my personal trainer I stopped short: “Oh no, I forgot to ask the maid to chop the watermelon!”  What am I like? Who is this person I have become? The maid rarely picks up the phone so I contemplated calling the driver to go up the stairs and tell the maid I wanted the watermelon chopping.
OMG! Get a grip! Who do you think you are? Madonna? Then I conceded I could probably chop the watermelon all by myself, after all, I don’t have much else on.  But then I thought: “No, we’ll have the watermelon tomorrow.”
When I think what I used to have to do less than two years ago, it’s amazing how quickly you can get used to a thing. I used to drive the kids to school, come back via Asda, do the breakfast pots, make all the beds, do the bathrooms, walk the dog, vac, iron, spend two hours bidding for random stuff on Ebay, pick up the kids, get the dinner on, wash up, kids to bed and then make the packed lunches. My only ‘me-time’ was between 8 and 9pm when I’d watch a property show with a glass of wine and fall into a coma.
Now I hide out in my office all day, the only room in the house without air conditioning and sweat my socks off while Lucy runs the rest of the house like a well-oiled machine.  I find it’s best to stay out of the way and when she’s goes at 4 o’clock, I have a little wander round and move the cushions on the sofa, run my finger along the surfaces and experience a tremendous feeling of satisfaction.  Back home in the UK I used to think”“Blimey, if I ever finish everything I need to do in the house, I’d sit down and write a novel.”  But housework is like the Forth Bridge, it will never be finished, there’s always something to do, especially if you’re a bit OCD like me.
But now Lucy is in charge of the house and Samir drives the kids wherever they need to go, I have no excuses yet I have still to begin my magnum opus. I sit in front of this computer all day and do anything but. For example, today I have been sitting here for three hours, I am dripping with sweat, I have checked Facebook a few times (0 messages, 1 friend request from a child I barely know) I have ordered ‘Madmen’ season four from Amazon and written the above four paragraphs. I have also checked train times for my trip to Manchester in July and arranged my CDs alphabetically. Where does the time go? And yet there is plenty of it in which to worry about the minutia.
I am now debating whether to tell Lucy that I actually want the oranges to be cut into quarters, not halves because they don’t fit into the juicer otherwise. When she first started, I told her ‘Sir’ liked fresh orange juice for breakfast so she would need to peel and chop oranges every day and leave them in the fridge (they weren’t for ‘Sir’ at all, they were for me but I rolled my eyes and made out the man she rarely saw was such a fuss pot/ogre we just had to do what he said) But every time I feed them into the juicer, I need to cut them again. I daren’t tell her to change the routine now; I will just have to soldier on.
What worries me is what will happen when it all comes to an end, as one day it must. I will be left high and dry like an incompetent minor royal not knowing what to do, standing in the car park in Tesco’s waiting for the driver to roll up in front of me and load the shopping. Who will peel my pomegranates? What will happen if one of Mick’s shirts gets creased when it comes out of that big white thing that spins round and round? So, enjoy it while it’s here, ladies because there might come a day when you are on your hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor and you’ll look up, mop your brow and stare into the middle distance remembering a time when you  could spend your days doing exactly what you wanted to do and nothing else.

My Name is Lindsey ... and I am a Shopaholic

Okay, Francis has gone; I’m the shopping queen now! I will try to be as impartial as she was but I have to admit, I do have a favourite shop in Mumbai and everywhere else seems to pale by comparison.
Whenever I walk the hallowed floors of my personal temple, also known as Good Earth, my brain releases tiny spurts of the love chemical Dopamine and I feel I am dead and gone to heaven. I am in awe of the simplicity of design, the scale of furniture and the bold use of colour. My eyes become a lot bigger than my purse and I struggle to not quickly whip out my credit card and spend until it bursts into flames. I want it all!
So, it was with some skepticism that I read in Time Out that a new shop called ‘The Shop’ was a cross between Good Earth and Fabindia. My antenna began to twitch.
Readers, I will tell you that ‘The Shop’ is OK but no way on God’s green earth can it be compared to my beloved Good Earth. (I do not work for them, in case you’re wondering; I am just a big fan) Anyway, I was happy to check out ‘The Shop’ and did in fact make a purchase of a bright yellow cotton kimono  (770/-) ‘The Shop’  is just opposite from Pali Hill Café and is housed in a quaint little bungalow. It offers home accessories, spa products, printed cotton apparel for adults and kids and a few sticks of furniture. It is a lot cheaper than both Good Earth and Fabindia and I might go in again if I ever need a table cloth or a bar of soap shaped like a slice of lemon. Again, it was OK, but I did have the feeling that I’d seen it all before.
Later in the week, I bumped into a friend (funnily enough, I was mooning about in Good Earth at the time) She said: “Have you been to ‘Mozaic’ in Turner Road?”  So, as my time is my own, I jumped into the car and headed towards Bandra. You may conclude from this that I am a shallow and vacuous person who has nothing better to do and measures out her days in shops and shopping, you may well be right!
‘Mozaic’ is also housed in a wonderful old heritage bungalow and uses the same layout style as ‘The Shop’. Stuff for the living room is displayed in the actual living room and stuff for the bedroom is displayed in the actual bedroom, etc.  I walked around wishing I could live in this bungalow with its fabulous vintage mosaic tile floors.  But if I did, I would want to chuck out most of the stuff and fill it up with stuff from you know where. Don’t get me wrong, there are some beautiful pieces, I particularly liked the ornate chandeliers but everything was outrageously priced. I wanted a small, turquoise Buddha which was moulded not even carved and they wanted 7,000/- for it! The woman in there was totally useless. She followed me round the shop at a distance of approximately one inch and knew the price of very little. Another customer bought some coasters and had to wait half an hour for the change. Why do so many shops in Mumbai fail to organize a till float? It’s beyond me.
Another day, another shop. The Great Eastern Home is housed in a huge mill in Byculla. I went with a friend and we were the only customers in there. Lights were switched on behind us, as were ACs and wandered about marveling at the huge antique pieces from all over the world. There is very little anyone could realistically take home unless they were a pop star or a millionaire. I loved it all but it was seriously out of my league. My friend expressed an interest in a picture of a tiger which cost God knows how many lakhs. “I’ll think about it” she murmured, and wandered off.
The best find by a Mumbai mile this week was undoubtedly ‘Freedom Tree’ situated, conveniently enough, in Raghuvanshi  Mills. I had a bit of trouble finding it and it involved going round the back of somewhere and up some stairs  but when I got through the doors I was instantly delighted by the riot of block colours. Freedom Tree has an eclectic collection of furniture, tableware, textiles, rugs and lighting , all designed in house and made in India and very much influenced by simple mid century design. I particularly loved the citrus and green. Director Latika Khosla is an international colour consultant and forecasts colours for major companies like Asia Paints and Godrej. Fed up with all the  blinging’ home ware stores in Mumbai , Latika opened Freedom Tree “to celebrate modern India as a vibrant design destination.”  I must admit, it reminded me a bit of Habitat in the UK and the products were bright,  fun, and affordable. (You don’t get that in ‘Honey Homes’ – though you might get a life size gold ceramic horse with a lampshade on its head.) 
I have to confess, I went back to ‘Mozaic’ to get that little turquoise Buddha but they had sold it. Lesson learned.

Mum Knows Best

With Spring Break fast approaching and still no holiday plans, I was beginning to get a bit panicky.  The novelty of the beach shack in Goa was wearing thin and the pressure was on for me to sort something out…and fast. We’ve only just recovered from the cost of Christmas in Thailand so I was looking for something economical and child-friendly. Orissa was rejected by the kids for being “too templey” and Kerala is apparently “too swampy.”
It was a stroke of genius on my part to insist we visit the Travel Exhibition at Bandra  Kurla after a particularly exhausting day in South Mumbai. Typically, nobody wanted to come and all three of them dragged their feet and moaned all the way around the exhibition. I had a word with a couple of tour operators who were only interested in selling me expensive international holidays and looked at me blankly when I said we only had a week and didn’t want to spend much. “So, how about Australia then?” er, no thanks.
I was about to give up when I came upon a stand for Shah Holidays manned by a very affable Jimmy Shah who said: “Madam, I have two words for you…Orange County. ‘’ The pictures of the private pool villas in  both resorts did look fantastic and I later found out are listed in the Small Luxury Hotels of the World directory.  Yes, but how much would it cost? Jimmy explained that it would be a two resort holiday - Coorg, and Kabini,  100km apart and a six hour drive from Bangalore. The price included airfare, a/c Innova, all meals and a ‘pick and choose’ itinerary of sightseeing and nature walks. The cost was a fraction of what we paid for Thailand, in fact, it seemed too good to be true but Jimmy promised me that if we didn’t love it the moment we arrived, he would give me a full refund.
And so a couple of weeks later we found ourselves driving out of Bangalore and into the lush green Karnataka countryside. The pace of life was suddenly much slower and it was a pleasure to see how rural India was coping with modernity – very well, thanks very much!  Driving past blue lakes and green fields, we eventually arrived at a coffee plantation nestled in the heart of the Western Ghats which was home to Orange County resort, Coorg. The air was clean, there was no litter and tiny coloured birds flitted overhead.
 Hugh said:  “Wow mum, it’s like Center Parcs but a million times better! “ Praise indeed from a normally grumpy 13-year-old.
Within hours, the kids had hired bikes and were off into the forest exploring the resort and we were in the deckchairs by the private pool,   digesting the enormous buffet lunch which had welcomed us.  The air was still and silent but for a few bird calls and our children ringing the bells on their bikes and shouting to each other in the distance.  When they came back, they were full of it.
“There’s three restaurants and you can eat whatever you want and there’s a big pool and a playground and a shop and a spa and a jackfruit tree and tribal dancers are coming at sunset and can we go on the bird watching tour and the spice tour?

This was all particularly appealing to Hugh and Polly because they spend so much of their time in Mumbai plugged into the X box or glued to YouTube, here was something they hadn’t experienced in a while… freedom.
So off they went again on the bikes and we got back to our books, it was shaping up to be a great holiday, everybody’s happy. Later on I had a bath in the inside/outside bathroom and a tiny multi-coloured bird flew in to drink nectar from the enormous flower that grew in there. I experienced one of those ‘I love India’ moments that are quite rare in Mumbai.
Over the next few days we stuffed our faces three times daily and waddled out to watch tribal dancing in the evenings. We went on nature walks and plantation tours and now I know absolutely everything there is to know about coffee. We visited a Tibetan Temple which was far grander than any I saw in Thailand.  I didn’t want to leave Coorg because I didn’t think anywhere else could be as perfect.
And then we arrived in Kabini - the second resort of the holiday.  The welcoming committee was marvelous, we were played in by a groovy little band, had our foreheads daubed with red powder and met the friendly resort elephant. Whereas Coorg was all about flora, this place was about fauna. After a delicious lunch, the children went down to the lake to wash the elephant and then we all took a ride in a coracle, no wallets or purses needed here. We went on a boat Safari and saw more animals than we thought we might though not the tiger that the earlier safari goers reckoned they saw. But there were elephants, warthogs and monkeys aplenty.  
“I like this place even better than the other place,” said Polly. Personally, I couldn’t really say which I liked best.
On the last evening, sitting in the Watering Hole with a couple of beers (wallets were necessary here) we watched as the kids and the elephant turned to silhouettes against the sunset  and reflected that this had indeed been a holiday of a lifetime and that we probably wouldn’t be asking Jimmy for a full refund.

Battle of the Senses

I had to physically drag my daughter out of bed to come with me on the Temple Tour.  She never spoke to me until we got to the Sealink and that was only to tell me she hated me for ruining her Saturday. A couple of hours later we found ourselves in a hall at the Radhagopinath Temple surrounded by hundreds of people plucking the petals off tens of thousands of marigolds. The hall was filled with baskets of orange petals and the smell was heavenly and fantastically intense.  It was a shock to my senses-  as was the smell that assaulted me when I opened my window that morning, I can only describe it as rotting fish and corpses. This is India, doing her thing with extremes.
A model agency has just taken an apartment in our building for foreign models to use whilst here on assignment. They make the most of the sun and sun bathe poolside in tiny sequined bikinis below our third floor balcony. Both my husband and son are delighted with the new, improved view which was pleasant enough before with its manicured lawns, hot pink bougainvillea and swaying palms. I only have to walk to the window at the other side of the room to look out onto a slum made of corrugated iron and dirty black plastic. There are no models here, just a few kids scratching in the dirt and a rat on a roof, bold as brass.
We do have something in common though, the models, the slum dwellers, the rat and I – we are all forced to listen nightly to the god-awful music that pumps out of the function hall next door. If I never hear ‘Anjaana, Anjani’ again, it’ll be too soon. This abomination is usually followed by ‘Mr.  Lonely’ (“I have heard this song lakhs of crores of times” complained my neighbor)  Both tunes are played seemingly alternatively throughout the evening, punctuated, only briefly,  by a horrible recorded version of ‘Happy Birthday’ where instead of saying the name, it just says happy birthday throughout, making it anonymous and cold. And on the flip side (are you getting my theme here?) I am often struck by the enchanting call of the Iman as his call to prayer floats across the air and makes me feel all is well with the world. Actually, a new Iman has recently taken over and sadly, he is not so blessed in the voice department. He is more of a ranter than a songbird and I wish the other fella would come back. As I write I can hear at least two power drills and a banging hammer and now, a new, odd sound, a plinking, like someone is dropping a glass marble on the floor above me and it is rolling across the stone floor. Also, I can hear little children playing in the playground below, which I like.
I am fed up with rice and dal (you see where I’m going with this) Sometimes I just want a scotch egg or a Tesco’s Finest pork and leek sausage. Don’t talk to me about chicken sausages. They have no right to call themselves sausages. “Bland, bland, bland” I want to scream. But then take me to a five star buffet in Mumbai and I’ll delight in each and every flavour until the cows come home.  I have never known a fig to taste so much like a fig or a cauliflower to taste so much like a cauliflower until I came to India. I can spend all day Sunday gorging myself into a trance until my taste buds explode and then go to Hypershitty (sic) the next morning and find myself gagging in the meat hall, vowing to turn veggie.
And finally, touch (there, I’ve spelt it out for you). I didn’t know what sanitizer was until I came here.
What I miss most about England, even more than scotch eggs, is my dog. Tickling and stroking him was something I did a lot and found enormously comforting.  On holiday in Goa last time, we fostered a beach dog. She came and sat by me every day and we fed her. I grew very fond, but the ticks hanging on for dear life all over her coat, put me off even stroking her. I considered going to find some rubber gloves and burning the ticks  off with a match, but what was the point? They would come back. She tried to get in the taxi with us when we left. It broke my heart.
Mother India, you have it all. I hate you and I love you at the same time. Much like my daughter’s feelings for me. After the temple tour we had lunch and did some shopping. Delving into the Zara bags on the way home she said: “Thanks mum, it’s been a great day. I do love you really.”

Pass the Resolve

Flying back to Mumbai on the second of January last year, I leafed through New Magazine to see who was hot and who was not.  Looking at those celebs in their bikinis, on their sunshine getaways, I vowed 2010 would be the year I shed my excess baby weight (from 11 years ago!) Twice in the past few years I have been asked when my baby was due. Once by a beauty therapist who refused to give me a massage because of ‘my condition’ and then couldn’t stop laughing when she realized her gaffe. The other by a bloke who worked in the chip shop.
So, within a day of arriving back in Mumbai, I signed up for thrice-weekly yoga and ditto weight-lifting sessions with a trainer. I even resolved to run the Mumbai Marathon (which seemed like a long, long way away then but is now only days away) and have been training since September.  However, exactly one year on, I can report that I am two kilos heavier than I was then.  What the hell happened?  Who am I kidding? I know exactly what happened… the Mumbai Sunday Brunch.
Every time I walk through the doors of those five star dining establishments, I call to mind that TV show where they encourage fatties to eat less by showing them a vast glass cylinder containing all they have eaten in the past week. I imagine that glass cylinder is me and try to be disciplined but by the time I’ve finished the first glass of fizzy Sula, I’ve forgotten and in I plough.  I always start off well with a bit of sushi and some tiny bits of salad  in a shot glass but then it all goes belly up and I end up tucking into the roast beef,  bbq chilcken, Thai green curry, mini pizzas, a crepe or two, a tiramisu and maybe a little tart just because it has some gold leaf on it. All washed down with a couple of buckets of Sula Brut(al) . It’s not like I lived during Rationing, it’s  a kid-in-a-sweetshop thing. I just can’t help myself. Anyway, point is, my resolution wasn’t wasted:  I am ‘fat but fit’ in the words of my trainer and I do expect to finish the Marathon this month.
So I will continue to make resolutions and if I get half way there, it’ll be an improvement. This year, 2011, I resolve to be more patient because patience is the key to happiness in a city like Mumbai.
Instead of huffing and puffing when asked by a person in a shop to “sit for some time” while they sort out a simple bill, I will relax, accept their offer of a sugary thimble of chai and watch the world go by.
My usual reaction of going ballistic and frantically tapping my watch is not good for me nor anyone else near me.  I have all the time in the world to enjoy this city so unlearning my western ways can only result in a happier Mumbai experience.
Resolution Number Two is to do a bit more exploring and look behind more doors. After 18 months in Mumbai I have only just discovered the glory of an early morning run along Juhu beach, watching the world and his wife salute the sun. I have also been introduced to the joys of a dawn jog around Aarey Milk Colony where I watched the buffalo and the pigs go about their business in the morning mist. This time next year, hopefully, I’ll have a list as long as my arm of fantastic new places I’ve discovered and  will be super laid back because of my new found patience and then I won’t care if I’ve put on another two kilos.

I Facebook, therefore I am

Unfortunately I cannot accompany this article with a photograph of an elephant pinning me to the floor with its massive foot because when it actually happened my husband didn’t think to pick up the camera. Let me explain. We were at an elephant show in Thailand when the, er, ringmaster asked for a volunteer. A stony silence fell among the crowd and after a while it got a bit embarrassing. Frankly, I felt sorry for the elephants who were standing round shuffling their feet and looking awkward. I don’t know whether it was that, or maybe I was thinking about Facebook when I slowly raised my hand. Possible new profile pic?  Status upgrade?
“And now our volunteer will lie face down on the ground and get a lovely massage from Jumbo (I am using a pseudonym here because I cannot remember his or her name) First there was a little light slapping of trunk on my back but then a sudden gasp from the audience as the great beast raised its wrecking ball of a foot and brought it down on my spine.  It was enough to knock the wind out of me but bearable.  Much applause as I went back to my seat.
“Let’s see the picture then?”  I asked.
“Oh, sorry,” said Mick, “I didn’t take one”.  Now this is where we differ. Over the 10 day period of our holiday, I took, roughly, 250 photographs, mostly of Mick and the kids and some of myself at arm’s length in front of various temples etc. He took, roughly, none.  I am going to be generous here and say he did not take the photo, not because he is unthinking or lazy but because he lives in the ‘Now.’ He was able to enjoy the ‘Moment’ of his wife possibly being crushed to death by an elephant without feeling the need to record it for posterity. Whereas I have increasingly come to validate my life through Facebook.
It is interesting that a middle-aged technophobe such as myself  feels the need to edit only the good and interesting parts of my life and present them in a polished montage through a social networking site. I Facebook, therefore I am. I am sure this has only come about since I became an ex-pat wife or ‘trailing spouse’, if you will. (I always have this image of Mick dragging me along by the hair when I hear that.) Have I lost my identity? Am I trying to create a new one?
I read about a teenager  in Thailand who crashed her car and killed a man and had updated her status on Facebook before the police arrived at the scene. I’m not that bad yet, I hope. Though perhaps I should make my profile page a bit more representative of my real life here in Mumbai by including a picture of all the human excrement I had to jump over when I took a wrong turn on my morning run in Aarey Colony today. Or mention in my status that I watched a man get beat up by the police until he confessed to stealing my phone. (I had to withdraw the accusation to stop the beating.)
On the whole, I do believe Facebook  is a good thing  for us ex-pats as it keeps us in touch with friends and family and allows me to cyber stalk  neighbours and acquaintances when I feel like it. Though  perhaps  I shouldn’t feel  envious of their  lives as I study  pictures of them building snowmen and tucking into fish and chips on Brighton Seafront because you never know what they’re not putting on.

Touched by your presents, dear

I missed the Obamarama because I was in Goa escaping from the firecrackers but I did enjoy reading about Michelle’s shopping trips when I got back.   
She bought so much stuff in the handicrafts stores that she actually ran out of
money.  You go girl!  Her bags were stuffed with elephant key chains, anything
with sequins, bedspreads, a fan (made of rice?) and, I don’t want to ruin
anyone’s Christmas here , but if you know the Obamas, it looks like you’ll  
be getting a  Kutchi cell phone pouch in your stocking!

It’s a good job my purchases aren’t listed in the Mumbai Mirror or Mick would be
having forty thousand fits.
“This week Lindsey bought a leopard print dressing gown, a lime green velvet bag, a bottle of Bengal Rose diffuser oil , a funky lamp shade and a gorgeous candle from Good Earth.”
She declared :  ‘They  will make  ideal Christmas gifts’ (for myself) 
Yes, anonymity is preferred in all matters of shopping.  I once went to the Christmas Market in Leipzig and came back with a lovely coat for myself and sweet F. A  for anybody else.

Anyway, having wonderful gifts for everyone doesn’t necessarily make for a perfect Christmas.  Last year I went mad. We’d been in Mumbai for five months and I wanted to go home laden with exotic gifts for one and all.  I got on the plane carrying a giant hookah for my brother and a two foot lantern for mum. Our suitcases were stuffed with gifts including a glass tray from Bombay Store which shattered into a million pieces. 

On Christmas Eve I managed to get glitter in my eye and had to go to A &E on Christmas morning.  I couldn’t wear the new eye makeup I’d bought at Duty Free because I had yellow dye in my eye and I looked like a  freak. Then, would you believe it, I got a raspberry pip wedged between two molars on Christmas night which caused a gum infection after I tried to get it out with cocktail sticks. I was driving around Kent on Boxing Day morning looking for an emergency dentist while my brother accused me of being an NHS tourist.
So, as lovely as you always think it will be to be at home surrounded by your friends and loved ones at Christmas, in reality, it can be a bloody nightmare which culminates in a massive argument about what to watch on TV.  And no, I do not want to play Monopoly!
So this year, we have decided to make the most of our time here in Asia and visit Thailand with the kids.  Great, I thought, we’ll tell everyone not to worry about pressies this year and save a fortune.  So,  two months after paying for our hotel stay, the travel agent has just remembered that we need to cough up  a further $1,000 for the compulsory Gala Dinner. I think I might choke on it. Happy Christmas !

Have a Nice Day

At a parent’s evening  this week  we were asked to get into groups of six and write down our own experiences of school life from ages 11 -16. In my group there were four Indian mums and an Indian dad. As we went round the group each member said they had enjoyed school and that it was ‘very nice.’  When it came to my turn I said that we had moved to South Africa when I was 11 and I was bloody terrified. The R.E  teacher threw his crutch at my head.  Blank expressions all round. 
When asked for our group’s overall experiences, the dad stood up and said we had all had a ‘very nice’ time at school.  Did that just happen? If I had said that I was mercilessly beaten every day and had my head flushed down the toilet would he have interpreted that as ‘very nice’?  It seems to me that stuff quite often gets swept under the carpet if it’s not what people want to hear.
Picture me in ‘Landmark’ yesterday.
“Hello, do you have Jay-Z’s new album?”
Assistant shakes head in the affirmative.
“Can I buy it please?”
“Ek minute”
There follows a painfully long check on the computer and 20 minutes of looking under ‘J’ (where I obviously looked before approaching  the assistant) before he says: “it’s not there” as if it had been there a minute ago but  just jumped up and legged  it out of the shop. We had both wasted 40 minutes of our lives. If only that young man had had the courage to give me the bad news early. It seems yes means yes and yes means no.  I honestly think he just didn’t want to upset me and was putting off the inevitable. That is rather lovely in itself but when you are a child of the west and have a time-is-money- mentality, it’s just annoying.
Having my nails done this week (one of the bonuses of Mumbai life) the girl cut off a chunk of skin with the cuticle cutters. While I was yelping in pain, she quickly wiped the blood away and painted over the wound with clear nail polish.  There, it never happened.  This airbrushing is a cultural difference I can’t get my head around. It confuses, frustrates and amuses me no end.  
I do not huff and puff with exasperation as I did when I first came here. Obviously stuff is happening that is way over my head, it’s a question of learning to understand by experience.
The judge in the Babri Masjid case did not want to offend and so has deliberated for 18 years until looming retirement forced him to deliver a verdict.  Schools and offices were closed for the afternoon on 30 September in anticipation of political unrest.  Nothing happened.  I still don’t know what the outcome of that was, but maybe it’s not a bad way to carry on if it keeps the peace. Have a nice day now.

An Elephant Never Forgets

My love/hate relationship with this city was a little more love than hate this week after a series of serendipitious moments which made everything make sense. After a period of random drilling and banging, people not turning up to fix things, 'infestation' and the constant worry of my 12-year-old son watching too much T.V, I suddenly found myself 'over it' and enjoying the bigger picture. It started when he said: (in a rare moment when the telly was off)

"Mum, what is this fat elephant god all about?"

Well, obviously, I knew the bit about Shiva cutting the boy's head off while his mum was in the bath but that's about it. I sometimes feel totally ignorant of the stuff that goes on around us so I made it my business to find out. Flicking through 'Time Out' I came across a piece on 'Beyond Bombay' a tour company who, as luck would have it, were taking bookings for an 'Idol Walk,'  a cultural tour of the lanes of Lalbaug, home of the Raja, the biggest and most revered Ganesh of them all.

So, on a Saturday morning, we found ourselves outside Ganesh Talkies in a part of South Mumbai we'd never visited before. Vaydehi, our guide led us through doorways which looked like nothing from outside but revealed vast spaces filled with hundreds of giant Ganeshas. Each one a masterpiece being airbrushed and bejewelled by artisans in preperation for Ganesh Chaturthi which I now know marks the birthday of Lord Ganesh.

Vaydehi explained how families install idols of their deity in their homes or get together in societies to erect tents in which the gigantic statues are enthroned, later to be immersed. We didn't get to see the Raja as he was hidden behind sheets until the big day. A million and a half people will come to pay their respects every day throughout the festival.

A newsteam covering the tour interviewed my son in a factory filled with these amazing statues and it was with some pride that I watched him give News 9 his interpretation of what this festival was all about. He did not use the words 'fat' or 'elephant' at all and seemed to have the air of someone who knew what he was talking about.

Who was it who said televsion is for appearing on and not watching?

And as I write, my daughter has just walked into the room and performed a fab Bollywood routine she learned at school. This will be their Mumbai legacy not the banging or the insects or the broken drier. This is the stuff my kids will remember.  

Sunday Morning Fever

It’s Sunday morning and already we’ve polished off all the bacon and extra mature Cheddar I smuggled back in my wash bag.  So there’s no bacon butties  for me.  And that’s not the only reason I’m fed up. This morning‘s Independence Day celebrations for our building kicked off with an ear-splitting disco at 5.45 am which stopped suddenly at 8am. Earlier in the week we were given tickets which clearly stated an 11am start. What is going on?
The kids went down at 11o’clock  and said there was nothing doing so I stayed in my pajamas and watched ‘The Inspector Lynley Mysteries’  because we had no other plans and it was the driver’s day off.  I was finding it difficult to hear what was going on with old Lynley  and Havers  because the drilling coming from upstairs  was making both my ceiling and brain rattle. I must say, England looks quite calm and peaceful in Lynley’s world, except for the murders.
It’s raining outside (and inside), and the shoe storage space beneath the ill- fitting window is awash. My wooden clogs are floating on the surface like sad boats. Time to get dressed and face the day (I am not even going to mention the mould in my wardrobe). Today I am going to roast a chicken in my brand new convection/microwave oven. (I was going to do Lasagna until I saw the weevils)
 Actually, I’m pretty excited about this, especially as one hour later, when I peer through the glass; it looks like it’s roasting to perfection. At last, something works today!
The phone rings and my husband, Mick comes in to the kitchen (ette) covering the phone and mouthing the words: “Do we want to go out to dinner?”
“But I’ve just par-boiled the spuds!”
And so, two hours later we find ourselves at the home of Om Puri, one of India’s classic actors (whose son happens to be in my son’s class at school). Also present, Killing Fields director Roland Joffe who was in town casting his new movie and a selection of Bollywood  movers and shakers. The whisky flowed and the conversation sparkled as they discussed various international projects. I hadn’t had this much fun since I bought my electric mosquito zapper.
And there was me thinking the highlight of my day was going to be a chicken dinner in front of another episode of Lynley.
Mumbai, don’t you just love it!

Go Goa

The idea of being holed up in Mumbai with the kids for the Easter Hols was too much to bear. 
“I’ll go crazy” I said to my friend Amanda. “I can’t face going to The Club every day and I don’t know what else to do with them.
“What we need is a cheap holiday; somewhere we can read our books while the kids dig a hole in the sand for six days.”
Now I know for a fact that Amanda and Henry take their kids to the same spot in Goa several times a year and were planning to go again at Easter. It’s their little secret.
 “Where’s that place you go to again?” I enquired casually
She tried telling me that there are plenty of fabulous beaches in Goa but I got it out of her in the end and  over coffee that morning I managed to invite myself, husband and two kids to crash their  holiday in Agonda, a quiet and picturesque beach north of Palolem.
Amanda and family always stay at Sami’s, a very basic beach shack with flushing toilets, two double beds and a cold shower. It costs buttons and is next door to a rather fabulous bar called Madhu’s. More of which later.
As it was Easter and end of season,   the place would be deserted and Amanda reckoned we could just show up and take our pick of beach huts. But we are not quite that Bohemian so I booked something online before we set off.
“How much is it? “ Mick asked for the third time.
“Six hundred rupees a night”
“What? Per person?”
“No, for  the whole cottage.”
“Let’s take two!”
Goa’s a hop and a skip away and we arrived at Palm Beach Lifestyle Resort an hour after  we landed at Dabolim. Two minutes later the kids were in their costumes and snorkels.
“Can we go to the beach now?”  Let the digging commence!
After a couple of chapters and a half hour snooze, I went back to the cottage to change  for the evening and make the place a little more ‘homey’.  I had brought my own Egyptian cotton bed sheets as I am funny about bed bugs and kid myself that the extra thickness of my own sheets will somehow slow the progress of the bugs emerging from the mattress to bite my legs. I placed a Jo Malone candle by the bed and put on some colourful ‘ethnic’ trousers which I wouldn’t normally be seen dead in. What is it about Goa that makes you think it’s ok to dress like a hippy?
I collected my family and we wandered up the beach  in search of Madhu’s bar where we’d planned to meet Amanda and family. We had only been in Goa for five hours and already  my husband  looked ten years younger as the city worries fell from his face. Goa gets you like that, with its Old World Portuguese charm and vibrant beach huts. It’s like being in a Bounty advert.
Agonda  Beach is  long,  white and, at this time of year, almost deserted except for a few cows, dogs, pigs and people.  It is lined with shack after idyllic shack, some very basic, some very luxurious , like H20, with its ambient music floating out to sea and guests lounging on purple sun beds.

We stopped for a drink half way up the beach to watch the sunset but made the mistake of sitting next to some nut-brown old soap dodger from Birmingham who was boring everyone with his, frankly nonsense tale of spotting a UFO over Agonda beach back in the Eighties.
“It was like a giant white pearl hurtling through the sky”
Yeah, it’s the drugs mate or you’ve been in the sun too long. Go and wash your hair!  I thought but did not say.
And so we found our Kiwi friends looking very comfortable in their deckchairs at Madhu’s Bar and Grill. A couple more Long Island Iced Teas were ordered and all four kids started on their next Big Hole Project.
We pretty much sat in those same chairs for the next six days, watching the sun go up and down. We dined on lobster and crayfish in the evenings and porridge and coffee in the mornings. Occasionally we had a game of backgammon, a snooze, a read, a chat or a swim. One day the men folk helped with the hole while Amanda and I jumped on a moped to visit Palolem and the fabulous Spiral Ark to feed our retail habits but by 5pm we were back in our chairs again, chillaxing, L.I.I.T in hand.
The next day we went crabbing in the rocks at Colomb Beach. It was great for a couple of hours but even the kids wanted to go back to Madhu’s and The Hole. We never tried going anywhere else after that.
Agonda  is  the protection centre for rare Olive Ridley eggs. It is truly a magical place – and generations of marine turtles can’t be wrong!
Amanda and Henry’s little secret is now everybody’s little secret. But it’s Ok , they are leaving Mumbai so I feel I can tell you!

The Golden Triangle, from my Angle

What better way to celebrate your parents’ Golden
Wedding anniversary than to take them, and your
two tweenage children, on a road trip of India’s
Golden Triangle.
Yes, what a thoughtful daughter I am. I imagined us
puffing through the Indian landscape on a
magnificent old train, sipping sweet lime and
garlanded with marigolds and roses. When I
mentioned the word ‘train’ to the travel agent, she

almost choked on her chai and asked if Mum was a

good runner. Well, she has just had a new hip.

“We can’t have your 72-year-old mummy running
along the platform, goodness gracious no, better to
book an Innova.”
A quick calculation…driver in front with my husband
(Mick), Mum and Dad in the middle seats and me
wedged in between son and daughter in the back.
The plan was to fly to Delhi, have a couple of days
sight-seeing and then drive to Agra to see some old
Mausoleum there and then on to Jaipur for the City
Palace and Amber Fort. Then fly back to Mumbai.

We set off on a Tuesday morning, Dad insisting we
leave three hours before the flight which led me to
panic and leave my make-up bag behind. We arrived
at the domestic airport precisely two hours and forty
minutes early with me in a right old strop.
“It’s not like a proper airport with a nice Lancome
counter where I could buy more make-up, is it?” I
complained. Aah, family holidays have to start like

this, it’s tradition.
Arriving in Delhi early afternoon, we met Ali, our
driver and his (v.old) Innova and transferred to the
Sheraton Hotel. Squashed as I was in the back, I had
 a good feeling about this trip and relaxed into it
especially when Mick told me the Sheraton was next
 to a giant mall. He always stays here on business so
 had arranged a special package for us.
Mum and Dad were delighted to get the preferred
customer treatment, flowers, finger-food etc. In fact,
 such was everybody’s delight in the hotel (the kids
had a quick swim) there wasn’t that much
enthusiasm to go sight-seeing. But sight-seeing was
what were here for so at 3pm we dutifully returned
to the car and Ali promised us a magical mystery
First stop, the Baha’i Temple, built in the shape of a
blossoming lotus. The petals are clad with white
marble and, in contrast, red sandstone is used for
the walkways and stairs. Around the blooming petals
there are nine pools of water, the idea is to create
the illusion of a floating lotus. And I have to say, the
 organization of getting people in and out was
fantastic. Shoes off, a quick introduction in English
 and in you go, no waiting. Total silence is demanded
once you enter and I must admit, the atmosphere
was kinda spiritual. It is a spectacular 20th century
structure in a major city, made all the more alluring,
in Dad’s eyes, because it was free to get in. Unlike
the Qutb Minar which was the next stop.
Green parrots flew overhead as the sun set
illuminating the red sandstone of this magnificent
heritage site. Built in 119, the tower was used to call
the faithful to prayer. It measures more than 72
meters and, with 379 steps, is hard work for even
 the fittest muezzin to climb. At 5pm, it was time to
 think about dinner. Friends from Delhi had given us
 a list of fabulous eateries in the Defense Colony but
 Mum was tired and wanted to go local and anyway
“she doesn’t like spicy food” so it was with heavy
heart, encouraged by the kids and , believe it or not,
 the oldies, that we stepped into The Hard Rock Café.
 I will say no more other than the kids loved it and
their grandparents, funnily enough, complained
about the racket. Plus Mum’s Marguerite was too
salty, oh, and the chips were cold.
Day Two, everyone up for breakfast bright and
breezy despite Mick and I  propping up the bar the
night before. Ali drove us up the Janpath, to
Connaught Place, past India Gate and up to Chandni
Chowk where we took bicycle rickshaws through the
 narrow, busy lanes. What with the new hip and
everything, I didn’t think Mum would go for it, but
blow me down, she did! And Dad, a retired electrical
 engineer, was in his element marveling at the
spaghetti-like wiring and telegraph poles. As we
stopped to take a family photo, an English gentleman
 whom we instantly recognized as Robert Plant out of
Led Zeppelin, walked past with his missus. Big
Highlight for me!
And so to the Raj Ghat where we had lunch in a park
 café for less than 80/- (Well, mum only had the
coffee) We were studied closely by the other clientele
 who then wanted to take photos with us (a recurring
 theme of this holiday)
The afternoon was spent at Humayun’s Tomb,
another spectacular site which warmed us up for the
Big One in Agra but by this time, culture fatigue had
set in and everybody wanted to go back to the hotel
and swim.
This night the dining experience was worse. There
are hundreds of places to eat out in Delhi and there
 is no need ever to go to TGI Fridays unless you are
 accompanied by children who like to eat while their
 ears bleed and/or old people who do not like spicy
Day Three. We head off to Agra, me in the back
between Tom and Jerry, listening to Led Zep on the
ipod and freezing cold as the air con bypasses a
certain old woman who insists on racking it right up
so that I can no longer feel my nose. We stopped
somewhere in Uttar Pradesh for lunch where we
couldn’t get out of the car for dancing monkeys on
leads. Dressed up in frilly dresses and, bizarrely,
wearing full make up, blue eye shadow and lipstick
smeared all over their little monkey mouths as if they
 were taunting me for having no makeup of my own.

“Dance little monkey, dance!” the handlers cried as I
tried to look as disdainful as possible. All the while
my Dad was whooping and laughing and generally
showing encouragement. Thankfully my little
daughter, Polly was as disgusted as me.
“Poor little monkey, she said “And it’s dress isn’t
even fashionable!” We entered the barn-like café
cum niknak emporium and ordered omlettes and
coffee in total darkness as the electricity cut out.
When, eventually the lights came back on again, our
12-year-old son, Hugh, had gone missing.
“We’ll probably come back in years to come and find
him dancing in an ugly dress for money” Polly
But he had just gone to watch a snake charmer out
by the toilets and came back looking for small
Now entering Agra, this is the India I had imagined
as a child, ambling camels, car stereos blasting
Kishore Kumar songs, colours and dust. We arrived
at the Taj View in Agra, had a quick wash, and
minutes later met the tour guide who would take us
to the Taj Mahal. Let the magic begin! Yes it is jaw-
dropping and does appear to float, this vision which
 adorns biscuit tins around the world, is something
you should see before you die, most definitely. We

were photographed ‘holding’ it in our fingertips and

Mum sat on the ‘Lady Di’ bench for the camera. A

wonderful day in all. That night we went to see ‘The
 Show’ which told the story of the great love Emperor

Shah Jehan had for his bride, Mumtaz. It wasn’t

exactly West End, but very colourful and entertaining

all the same.
And so for the final leg of the journey, Jaipur. Here is
where I left my heart.  (We did stop at Fatepur Sikri
on the way, fabulous, what more can I say, I’m
running out of space)
Our day in Jaipur began with a

ride on a painted elephant up

the ramparts of the Amber Fort

in blistering sun. We had driven

though the Pink City on the way

and I had to be physically

restrained from leaping out of the Innova and into

the handicraft shops. We walked around the City

Palace with our jaws hanging open at the beauty and

craftsmanship. I managed to get a picture of one or

other of my family in each of the four ornate

doorways. Frankly, I was blown away by the sheer

splendor of the place. As we drove away, elephants

and camels mingled with the traffic. Dad thought it

would be a good idea to get to the airport a few

hours early, no time for shopping. My business in

Jaipur is not finished. I’ll be back, alone if necessary.

 Happy 50th Anniversary Mum and Dad!