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Mezze is widely served in the Greek and Middle eastern world. An assortment of little dishes and tasters which accompany a nice ouzo or a glass of wine. So when you read mezze moments you will have tasty snippets of life as I live it, India for four years and now Brisbane Australia, all served up with some Greek fervour and passion.

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Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Victoria and Abdul

Just finished reading a fascinating book called "Victoria and Abdul" by Shrabani Basu. This is the story of Queen Victoria, Empress of India who was sent two Indian servants from Agra for her Golden Jubilee.  One was a man called Abdul Karim, a Muslim clerk who started out waiting at table in the palace but was very quickly promoted to Munshi or teacher. This young man of 24 taught Victoria, 68 Urdu. For 13 years Victoria took lessons from the Munshi and by the end was able to read and write in Urdu. Victoria's notebooks survive with phrases like " You may go home if you like", and "the egg is not boiled enough" but also other more personal phrases like " you will miss the Munshi" and "hold me tight". She enjoyed his company thoroughly and came to rely on him and through him learnt so much about India, which was so dear to her, but where sadly, she would never go. She conferred privileges and awards on him and made sure he and his family would be comfortable even after her death. She commissioned his portrait which hangs in Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, one of the Queen's homes. 

Abdul Karim as a young man by Rudolph Swoboda 1859-1914- Osborne House 

What makes this book remarkable is that the author took a lot of trouble to uncover documents and correspondence as evidence of this bond. While the book could have benefited from some editing it is a remarkable true story of a significant relationship which for obvious reasons was very much overlooked and ignored. Victoria comes over as an enlightened and very able woman, prone to some romanticism, but blind to any prejudice. The same cannot be said of the people around her who at some point became jealous of the Munshi and wanted to ascribe to him sins and misbehaviour of which he was completely and utterly exonerated. Not only that but after her death the family very viciously demanded all the letters she had written to him and publicly burnt them. 

In this age of mistrust and religious fanaticism as well as persecution it is so heartening to see that there were people on this earth all those years ago, indeed someone as famous as Queen Victoria, who knew the value of friendship irrespective of creed, colour, or social class and that she was able, despite considerable opposition, to stay true to her beliefs throughout her long and fruitful reign. The book is being made into a motion picture and I cant wait to see it adapted to the screen by Stephen Frears with the amazing Dame Judi Dench as Victoria and Ali Fazal as Abdul Karim.
Karim died in Agra at the age of 46, eight years after Viictoria’s death in 1901.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Courier mail - post haste Cyprus style

I sent my sister a document by courier - Aus post cost $50 to deliver it in 3-4 working days.
Perfect I thought, so off it went. The 3-4 days went by, then 4-5, and then over 7.
Finally yesterday she got a call and this is how it went:

Kyria Anna?
A: Yes
Kyria Anna kalimera I am Mr P from the post office.
A: Good morning Mr P.
Mr P: Are you the Kyria Anna who was a candidate for Mayor of Nicosia?
A: Yes Mr P, I was - what can I do for you ?
Mr P: I want you to know I voted for you.
Mr P: Kyria Anna I have an envelope for you. Do you want me to bring it to you ?I s it urgent ?
A: I have no idea. An envelope - where is it from, Income Tax, the Municipality, or from abroad?
Mr P: Let me look - it's from abroad - Austria.
A: Austria ?? Are you sure or could it be Australia ?
Mr P: Oo stravara mou - yes you are right it is Australia !
Its raining outside, do you want it now?
Why don't you come round tomorrow and I will treat you to a coffee and I can give it to you then?
A: Ok Mr P I will come for coffee ...
And so the Cypriot style has overtaken the urgency and the rain for another day, promising a coffee on delivery. Life cant get better than that ! I laughed my head off.

Friday, 3 February 2017

A hot summer

We celebrate four years in Australia as January turns to February. 

The summer started off hot and continues so, with no sign that the high temperatures are going away anytime soon. And he chooses to ignore the signs for climate change - we all know who I am talking about. My sense of anger and exasperation spill over, aided and abetted by the heat and a lingering chest infection, so how to find solace indoors for a while at least? 

Some serious spring cleaning - sofa covers washed and cupboards emptied and re lined.Bottles and jars long since expired relegated to the dustbin. Tidying up of wardrobes and a quick appraisal of what stays and what goes. 

Reading a good book - The Birdman's Wife by Melissa Ashley, so appropriate for my life here as I familiarise myself with Australian birds. It is the story of Eliza Gould, a talented illustrator who accompanied her husband on a two year journey to Tasmania and to Australia to capture, classify and illustrate Australian Bird life of which so little was known in the 1800s. Seeing how difficult it was for women in the 1830s to have families, travel, work and enjoy life compared with what we have today gives me a renewed sense of comfort and gratitude. 

Polishing the silver - in fond memory of my all singing Nepali housekeeper Kumari and my mother who I remember would bring it out on the odd occasion when we had important guests. When my mother gave me this ornate and over the top set I banished it to the back of a cupboard until I went to India where it could be displayed and looked after as befits it. The question was, now in Australia, would I be equally happy to display it and look after it and the answer is an emphatic yes. I put on good music, make a cup of tea, lay out newspapers and set out to polish this thing till it shines back my very face. Kumari always did this job with a song on her lips and a smile on her face and so whenever the time comes, I think of it as my gift from her. Even the daily jobs can be turned the way you want. To find something good in them. And while I was busy doing that I found two faces.  I looked at them with some amusement. Why would the silver smith put them there ? What did they represent ? Will obviously need to find out more but in the meantime here they are ...I admit these look a little cross but could they be extra hot from the inside ...

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Post script on India

In the incredible everything that is India the detail is what goes first, so this is a post script of the trip. I am no longer young in years but surprisingly young in spirit and with friends like Philippa Kaye the temptation to return and explore more is strong. This trip must be remembered for what spoke to me on all the days I was there. 

The colours which remain undiminished and undimmed in spite of the dust and dirt.

The little tots travelling in a tuk- tuk driven by a very old man, barely even moving in the busy traffic. Aged four or five in their uniforms, sitting any which way on the tuk- tuk. No safety belts here, not even an adult chaperone. They were chatting ten to the dozen while he plugged away at moving forward and towards home. 

Going past the Amber Fort which is so majestic no one sees the hillside to its right which is graveyard of kites or if you like the  fancy -dressing up of trees. 

Just beyond, a girl in a red and orange sari rides side- saddle on the back of a motorbike texting - no hands holding anything other than her phone. 

Two young men on the back of a lorry lost in a bed of onion sacks dreaming ... of onion bhajis.

Three tolls on our way 60, 58 and 121 rupees. Please explain the rationale of those numbers. 

Watching mynahs skip and scurrry among the big lorries waiting in line at the tolls. The Stuntmen of 
the Bird world.

The picture could not be complete without cows - making their mangers in the central reservations among the rubbish and chewing studiously on a newspaper. Are they any wiser ?  

Finally and with enthusiastic applause, my thanks to Balwant Singh, patient driver and user of his indicator - a habit which is not a given on Indian roads. He negotiated me ably in and out of traffic jams, cows walking across our path, and cars driving the wrong way up the motorway. Smart and able he was a careful driver but also gave us insights into politics, history and the Indian world as he knows it.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

D is for Desi Dogs

Taking a leaf out of Philippa Kaye's latest blog,  I can add a small postscript to her D is for .....

India's innumerable strays - also known as Desi Dogs. Adopting two while I was in India was how it should be, making the family bigger and sharing the caring. On my recent trip I saw that while their numbers are just as large, the caring is undiminished. Often shops will adopt a desi and make sure it is fed and so many of them in central Delhi wore their winter coats. Bizarre eh but true. These are dogs whose lives are usually lived on pavements, but they are strangely well cared for. This is a posting for Monica Mitsides to thank her for all her hard work as she sets out with her dogs, all in their winter coats ! 

 Happy Republic Day to India 

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Waking up the senses

Since arriving in Jaipur I have been woken up every morning with the call to prayer at 5.30 am. The first voice booms as if from my balcony and in a manner of minutes more join in and the whole of the city is simultaneously nudged from sleep. Some of the chanting is more melodious and seems to float on the dusty clouds, others bellow out the words Allah is Great and woe betide you if you are not listening. 

Soon after, the familiar whirring of the tuk- tuks making their way into the backstreets delivering or picking up passengers with the more than occasional honk and the pigeons starting to coo in the tree outside my room. 

The swish- wish of the sweeper and the clearing of many throats follow- and I note with some amazement how they can clear them at all. In a week of being here I can feel my lungs trying to expel the dust and dirt and failing. Towels show marks of the dusty day and skin is dry as parchment. 

The breads are being made and the smell of garlic and ghee and sizzling spices add to the mix of heady smells and people are bundled up and waiting for the sun to start working its magic. 

All night long the music blares whether from the front lawns of the hotel where a Rajasthani band is brought to amuse the tourists or from megaphones placed strategically by your ears as you walk down the street. The trombone player was part of a wedding band that we encountered in the hotel which hosts the wonderful music concerts of the Festival at night.  I was swept in to the procession by one of the hosts and gaily danced down the street with them. Late that night their party was coming to an end as ours too was winding down. We saw them sitting on their peacock throne, a little subdued it seemed to us all. Perhaps the excitement was proving a little much even for them and their bed beckoned for that much needed salve before the Iman sang again. 

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

JLF 23rd Jan 2017

Last day of the Festival and the crowds are beginning to thin. The first Session is one which I am drawn to if only because of the title it bears "Manelists, Misogyny and Mansplaining". The Panel a group of women and a white haired man. That in itself was odd - but I listened carefully to Antara Ganguli telling us that feminism was about equality and I found that explanation perfectly good. We heard Anuradha Beniwal telling us how difficult it was to be a chess champion in a man's world but also talking about her humble and rural origins where women's roles are very defined. Don't go out, don't dress provocatively, move to your husbands home when you marry, be subsumed in other words. We all know the mansplaining problem and as a panelist put it being talked over as a woman is as common to someone as Hillary Clinton as it is to a girl from Bihar. 

We all recognise the difficulties women have faced over the years and Ruchira Gupta was an excellent and advocate for women's rights and the importance of fighting for them and how important education is in this. 

What however I found unsatisfactory was that the middle aged man was constantly been put on the defensive and Bee Rowlatt turned to him and asked him how it felt to be a token man on this panel. He was questioned on his position on many issues and each answer was effectively rubbished. Perhaps because they were rubbish but for me this was not the point. First he was a bad choice - the male candidate should have been a contemporary of the other women and spoken about how he was brought up and how he perceived women, instead of this man who resorted to the word "gentleman" to explain his position to women which instantly got him into trouble. Some of the women on the panel were verbally aggressive and dismissive of the man on this panel and maybe there was good cause but it did not come over well. I have always felt that unless men are brought on board in a manner which is respectful and open they will not play the role  they must have in the change which is so much needed. We are talking about equality and this must go both ways. What was on display yesterday on this panel missed this important point. 

Between the Silences 

Naleema Dalmia Adhar took centre stage to talk to us about her new book "The Secret Dairy of Kasturba". Kasturba was Gandhi's wife and she is a largely forgotten person in the history books. The focus of course was on Gandhi. He married her at a very young age and while her early life was very much by his side, a fact largely ignored in his later life and in the history books, he took a vow of celibacy and embarked on some strange sexual experimentation with young girls, some as young as 18 and from the  extended family, which must have had deep psychological effects on the women and on Kasturba herself. Naleema who is a psychologist said that it took her 12 years to write this book but she feels it is the right time for it to come out. A time when people would be ready to accept it for what it says. This is a fictional account, based on some of the records and writings from what she thought Kasturba would be feeling. She also talks about Gandhi as Mohandas the husband and the father - a man who behaved cruelly to both his children and his wife and the difference from the Mahatma, the father of the Nation who at the time took on the whole of the British establishment and was able to galvanise a nation to rise against them. She said that of course his importance at the time is undisputed but that he is largely irrelevant to India today - A few years ago a view so publicly proclaimed might have met with some criticism. It is perhaps indicative of how far India has some that this kind of discussion takes place in a public forum. 

The day ended for me listening to the magical readings of some distinguished travel writers - of course travel writing together with poetry is one of the oldest forms of writing known and it has endured in spite of the bloggers, the go pros and the open wide opportunities of the World Wide Web.