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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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Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The heart of India

The lake and the jet d'eau in the distance

C lighting the flame to the Durga

Say the word Bhopal and one thing comes to mind.
The disaster of the Union Carbide factory in December of 1984 where due to an explosion of toxic chemicals thousands of people lost their lives. So when C offered to go to Bhopal for an extended weekend I was dubious at worst and undemanding at best.

I am re writing Bhopal’s place in current affairs as the Wannabe Geneva of India.
Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh is built on a lake and is surrounded by several others. What floored me though was that Bhopal can lay claim not to one Jet d’eau but to six dotted all along the length of the lake.

On our first morning there we went Bird watching in the Van Vihar park. It was teeming with birds and wildlife and C had a field day spotting the woolly storks and the kingfishers. Further along and while they are caged (and as A says it doesn’t count ) we stood in awe in front of the leopards and the tigers and in particular the spectacular white tiger they had there, one of the few remaining in India. The park goes alongside the lake and you can bike all along its length. Heavenly!
About Navratri
Navratri, the festival of nights, lasts for 9 days with three days each devoted to worship of Ma Durga, the Goddess of Valor, Ma Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Ma Saraswati, the Goddess of Knowledge. During the nine days of Navratari, feasting and fasting take precedence over all normal daily activities amongst the Hindus. Evenings give rise to the religious dances in order to worhip Goddess Durga Maa. The town is alight with fairy lights and every where there are images of the Goddess or variations of her fighting off evil. Being guest of honour that evening at a lighting ceremony for Durga we all headed off to this open ground where food stalls dotted the periphery, a vast stage dominated the front and on either side were two large rings with circles inside them with soft sand underfoot. The various dignitaries came up and sat in plush reclining seats by the stage. A holy man started the proceedings and C lit the flame which was then used to chant and bless the goddess Durga. We took it in turns to bless her, all of us in barefeet and then when the dignitaries had been blessed with the traditional red dot on their forehead the festivities were allowed to commence. In came young men and young women dressed in their finest outfits, bejeweled and jangling and started dancing in the circles to the beat from the drums. Every so often the rhythm would change; the dancers adopt the new steps and clapping rhythm and continue round the circle with such joy and careless abandon. As the evening wore on the beat became faster and more exacting. C and I bowed out gracefully after a couple of circles but the dancers went on into the early hours of the morning.

We stayed at the Jehan Numa Palace, beautifully colonial in style refurbished and boasting a good sized pool and a couple of excellent restaurants. There is a lot to see in Bhopal and we spent some time in the Museum of Man, a wonderful collection of Indian tribal housing and artefacts. The "adivasis" as they are called, from all over the country came here to build and recreate their homes and works of art. You can stroll through the huge open air area and enjoy the traditional habitats from all over India. Monkeys will happily accompany you.

At dusk we walked around the Jama Masjid at dusk and took in its expanse. It is the third biggest mosque in the world and it is home to many muslim worshippers here.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Breaking traffic rules "a fashion statement"

The preparations for the Commonwealth games are felt everywhere in the city and getting the traffic to run smoothly and well is one of the more challenging tasks facing Delhi. An article appeared in the Guardian newspaper a few days ago entitled “Minister urges Delhi motorists to get into gear before 2010 Commonwealth games” and I thought this was one of the interesting quotes from it
“But one of the big concerns facing Delhi is traffic, and the minister said: "We still find vehicles jumping red lights … police vehicles are not excluded – they, too, jump red lights. The Harvard-educated minister, seen as one of the government's biggest hitters, added: "We want to encourage people to change their mindsets. We must behave as citizens of a big, good international city."
Experts were quick to back the minister. Dipankar Gupta, a professor of sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said breaking the law was a "fashion statement" in Delhi.”
A Fashion Statement how, why, in what context – all very bizarre. Is it therefore fashionable to be above the law is that the implication? If that is the case it will take a lot longer than one year to sort this out as this population is mad about fashion.
When reality hits it is a very sad picture and not in the least bit fashionable.
I took my eldest to the airport at 6.30 am. Delhi is quiet and fresh at that time of morning. Along the road though we came across a familiar scene. A crowd had gathered. There were several cars and one Delhi police car. In the road was a bicycle and beside it covered in sack cloth that was frayed and brittle, lay a body. All you could see were his plastic sandals. A life gone for a cheap fashion statement and it is only the very beginning of the day.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

How I perceive them

Kumari Sittaram Shiva

In my multiperson household this is how I perceive them:
Kumari is my Nepalese housegirl. Girl is a term widely used. If you see her, girl comes to mind. I am told she is in her late 30s, married to Tomasin and has five children and apparently is already a granny ! She is as bright as the dawning sun and happy as Buddha. She smiles all the time, is eager to learn, a good and hard worker and loves to teach me Hindi which she thinks is hugely amusing. She is just lovely to have around.

Sittaram is our “mali” the gardener and odd job man. He is barely 4ft something and wears poor sweat stained and worn clothes but he greets me with the cheeriest smile every morning and has such a lovely face. His hair is combed down and parted on the side in school boy fashion and he is forever planting and weeding this big garden. Humble and quiet he works whatever the weather.

Shiva is our savvy tall Keralan driver. He is a great dresser and thinks of his car as “His” and his first request was to buy polish and feather dusters to maintain it. He has been a driver for quite a few years now in Delhi and has recently become a dad. He speaks good English and has a sarcastic wit. He is thirsty for knowledge and I am encouraging him to get a diploma or do course but he says he is Ok with his local A/C, his telly and fridge in his quarters. He drives a Royal Enfield !

They all live with us on the compound.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

How I am perceived here

Everyone salutes me and I don’t look remotely like the Queen or Sonia Gandhi, not even like Manmohan Singh for that matter.

There is a constant display of reverence which I am sure I don’t deserve. Only Parmesan orders me around and shouts at me as if I am the kitchen washer upper.

There is a pecking order and I am pretty high up there. I am the boss’s wife but they secretly know I is the “real thing”.

My gentle accommodating nature – remember that – gone
I am the Greek goddess with a passionate and fiery temper. Shiva confessed to Anthony in the car. “She is very angry no?” You would be too if you were told that you cannot pick up your gas cylinder because your husband has to do that.

I am the funniest thing to have hit Triveni Gardens. Kumari thinks I am a riot and falls around giggling hysterically every time I utter a word in Hindi.

I am Greek and to most this is a conversation starter along the lines. “I love Greece, I have been to Santorini and love Greek food and Nana Mouskouri is the cat’s whiskers.”

My perception of myself is slowly metamorphosing in the heat.

Monday, 21 September 2009

The other side of life ...

The other side of life for most of the population here is the one which is not behind manicured gardens and high walls but the scenes that unfold on the way to school or on the way into Delhi. Now with the construction of the Delhi metro there are migrant workers living in makeshift corrugated iron huts and every morning I drive past I see them brushing their teeth with their neem sticks and meticulously washing themselves in preparation for a day of toil and grime. Then in the evening, unwinding, the cooking of a meal over an open fire, a game of cards with friends, or just sleeping out on their charpoys because they are physically exhausted. I can think of the intensity of the sun and the noise of the monsoon rain hitting the corrugated roofs, but I do not live it, I can glimpse at their meager possessions hanging from a nail on the iron wall and cannot imagine it, I can construct conversations in my head of all the things I would want to ask them about their lives and never dare it and can wonder at their expectation of life and be amazed by it.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Where is the Beef ...

well last weekend my good friend from South America must have rounded up all the beef there was to be had in the whole of Delhi. She was celebrating her birthday and like all good South Americans having a meat feast is all important.So she went out in search of it and my goodness did she hit the jackpot. She calculated how much she might need and reckoned on about 30 lbs but when she came to order it over the phone, perhaps in the excitement of the impending party she ordered 30 kilos. There was beef in every single compartment of her fridge freezer and various associated ones around the houses. We ate as if it was the last supper or definitely the last lunch and the more active ones like C and A cycled home while I sat in the back of a car and bemoaned the moment I said that I had missed the beef. This is the expatriate life ....

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

.........and hot in the kitchen

Here is Parmesan and his side kick Cool Kumari

The two of them and I have a riot in the kitchen between 5-7 pm.

We use extensive and often hilarious sign language, Parmesan shouts at me in Hindi to make me understand and uses a strange and probably totally unique mixture of what I would call kitchen Hindglish where I manage to catch one word in ten, hence the perfect comprehension. When not shouting at me he sings what sound like hymns in a soft melodic voice.It reminds me of Greek orthodox chanting.Kumari giggles her way through the whole thing while pointing to things and telling me the word in Hindi and then saying with total earnestness "OH MY GOD " when something clatters in the kitchen or Parmesan has dropped too much chili in the dish. She plays with her eyes in such a wonderful flirty way it is a language in itself. The end result, fiery hot meals on a regular basis with a touch of this and that, loads of vegetables and basmati rice, fun and laughter throughout.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Indian Men are Hot on the catwalk

On Friday night I had my first experience of this "happening"city.
I had a VIP invitation to one of the fashion shows for the Van Heusen India Men’s Fashion week. I went with my wonderful friend Aruna, who is such a special person. We were ushered into the pre-show cocktails and we rubbed shoulders with hip young things who were also at the event, talked to some of the gorgeous models and saw and admired famous names like Rohit Bal who was wandering around in black pants and a black velvet jacket. The event was taking place at the Grand in Vasant Khunj and all camera crews and photographers were there to record the interviews, the sound bites and all the gossip.
So I waited for the show with a sense of excitement but perhaps not much expectation. Was this not going to be another example of over the top fashion items that no one wears with materials that are outrageous and where the men are frankly a little floppy and flouncy – yes I will admit some preconceptions were there already.
The creator of this show was Manoviraj Khosla. He works mainly out of Bangalore but was up in Delhi for this week. He is perhaps unlike what you expect a designer to look like. Somewhat short with receding wirygray hair he just didn’t quite seem to fit the bill. The show started, as with all things in Delhi, a little late. The first model walked out in white trousers and a white waistcoat. He had the most perfect body and his face was stunning. He was followed by many, many more, each one more impressive than the last, all sporting white or off white suits made of the most beautiful linens, silks and cottons with additions and detail to belts or chappals which complimented the clothes perfectly.
After this initial catwalk more designs were presented in brighter colours, some muted greens and greys an occasional orange and some beautiful almost tie-die effects on silk. The models were drop-dead gorgeous. I could not take my eyes off them. The outfits were stylish and modern, stuff that I could to see my boys thinking would be cool.The finale came with even bigger surprises when ex Indian cricket captain Anil Kumble walked out to the delight of the audience sporting a beautiful while suit and Dino Morea, a Bollywood star, equally stunning in a Manoviraj creation. Manoviraj himself joined the two stars to rousing applause in their final parade down the catwalk.
After-show cocktails ensued and feeling on a high I finally made my way to the exit only to be accosted by a eager young photographer, TV journalist who walked up to me and said
"Ma’am are you one of the Buyers ?"
Well I was delighted to be taken for one but had to regrettably inform him that actually I was a mere guest. Unperturbed he said he would love to hear what I thought about it all and so Camera, Action, I was being filmed telling him that I had been very impressed with the creations I had seen, and no, I was not concerned that there were no women participants there, this was after all Men’s fashion week and the men were just gorgeous !

Friday, 11 September 2009

The monsoon

For two days now the rains have come and beat down on the parched earth. The clouds circle and swirl and the wind in the trees talk of the storm arriving.The raindrops ping like ping-pong balls off the tiles outside my window. All night the rain falls strong, relentless and rough. The dogs' bowls are full to the brim as are the flower pots. The pool is overflowing and I have to actually tell our mali that there is no point in running water into it. The earth in the fields where I occasionally walk with Tara is softer underfoot, my flipflops sink into the mud.The mosquitos buzz around my legs. I swim with the rain falling in the pool and for once it is cool and almost cold.The roads are flooded and fluid everywhere. Pot holes grow deeper and motorcyclists raise their legs as they go through them only to be soaked by a less than caring driver who speeds past. Electricity lines droop as if tired by the beating and hang dangerously low over roads.The rain continues to fall throughout the day, more slowly now, tarpaulins are out and bits of plastic to cover precious goods and to offer cover. The ground is sodden and roads, those not built according to specifications, cave in to nothingness underneath. Yet the drains are blocked, full of refuse and waste, the water runs off in gullets and streams and is lost to this earth.Within days the sun will return with punishing ferocity.The earth will recover its redbrick colour and harden fast, still parched and once more thirsty as hell.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Parmesan's punch

He came, he cooked and he conquered. Chili chicken was perfect, succulent and tangy with a touch of chili but not too much, in a nice tomato sauce of red and yellow peppers with a sweet and sour taste to it, lots of onions and accompanied by a rich fried rice with chillies and carrots. Boys loved it - no leftovers
Tonight he returns for an indian version.Tomorrow perhaps continental and then once probation is over he will be hired to take the sting out of cooking in Delhi. Why it should be so I am not entirely sure. Perhaps we have had too many years of sanitized supermarket service and it is good but a little trying to get the earth out of leeks and the grit out of salad, to find the sources of good meat and the cheese that has not already turned green in the heat. He will shop en route on his bike, which makes me happy because he will chose fresh produce in season, and arrive in time to throw it all together. Our communication is based on four vegetable words at the moment, gobi, aloo,palak and bindi. I am sure there will be a wealth of wonderful dishes that will start from just these four Hindi words.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The day's surprise

Every day in Delhi has little surprises, some welcome, some bizzare some quite unexpected. Incredible India has a lot in store and today my surprise was a cook who came knocking on my door and who has offered to cook for the family. He arrived on his bike.He has an unpronouncable name beginning with P so for the sake of this blog he will henceforth be known as Parmesan. He is a slim jim, I hope not because of his cooking but more the distances he travels to the various families he cooks for and he sports a slick little moustache, one protruding tooth and what must have been a harelip scar under his moustache. He is off cooking chili chicken which means I can stop setting the kitchen on fire and dedicate more time to this blog. He called me up to ask for something and jabbered away in perfect hindi.With some guess work I handed him vinegar, flour, cornflour and chillies and I am hoping for the best. Dinner will be reviewed in next blog.

This past week

We hosted our first dinner party
We spotted our first snake in the garden
We travelled into old Delhi looking for a restaurant. The guide book said "half the fun is getting there". We entered one of the streets around the big mosque in the car looking for the restaurant. The congestion was overwhelming, at times frightening and stifling. We could not move forward or back and we felt trapped in the narrow streets there. Not a pleasant feeling. We resolved to go back and walk the streets.
We unwittingly set the oven on fire, as a manual left in the lower drawer caught fire
We tried the local meat, not to be repeated
We finally have the swimming pool chemicals under control

Monday, 7 September 2009

A different kind of writing

I know that its a cheap laugh looking at texts written in the English language when it is not the language of the land and India is full of that as the refrigerator manual shows, errors on bill boards and menus and some of the language used in newspapers. "Private Eye" the english satirical magazine would find abundant material here. Today however I want to tell you about another form of writing, one that I have learnt is sadly dying out. India is full of people who are always striving to better themselves and help their families, families that are often far away, left behind in the more rural areas with grandparents while the parents struggle to earn a decent salary in the cities. Post offices, but also other venues in India were where these people could find letter writers, men mostly, who had learnt to read and write and who were able to offer their services to others less fortunate. For a few rupees these men would compose letters to loved ones, fill in official applications or send postal orders for the hard-earned rupees.
They were often the only form of contact for these families and they were entrusted with facts and money as a matter of course. These men were granted a licence to operate and for the first time the Postal Services have decided that at the end of this year these licences will no longer be renewed. The grounds - technology has fast replaced them with mobile phones and internet connections and they have become a victim of India's rapid progress.So letter writers who have been found day in and day out for decades in specific locations, who developed friendships and loyalties with their many customers will no longer have a licence to operate.
The passing of another age old tradition and service. The saving grace of this one is that undoubtedly more children these days attend school and learn to read and write aspiring to a better life than that of their parents before them.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Refrigeration in India

I am now the proud owner of a new fridge freezer. In a country where the sweltering heat sucks up your mental strength and your physical energy it is no surprise that perishables are the biggest losers. Bananas melt, yes melt inside, and that is the end of them, carrots grow furry and potatoes sprout eyes galore. So we were delighted when the new fridge came as it means less shopping and more refrigeration space for everything from butter to flour to jams assuming there are no major power cuts.
The best bit about this one was reading the manual that came with it. I have taken a picture of one of my favourite pages but I am going to reproduce the best bits for all those of you who are a little short sighted verbatim.

“Danger You will be killed or seriously injured if you do not follow instructions!”

When using the refrigerator
Do not place the heavy object or the dangerous object (container with liquid) on the refrigerator. It may be dropped to cause injury, fire or electric shock when opening or closing the door.

When using the refrigerator
Do not install the refrigerator in the wet place or the place which water or rain splashes.

Do not place the lit candle within the refrigerator to deodorize.

Do not store the medicine or the academic materials at the refrigerator.
When the material with the strict temperature control is stored, it may be deteriorated or it may make an unexpected reaction to cause any risk.

Do not touch food or containers in the freezer with wet hands.
It may cause frostbite.

And lastly …..

Use the Submerged refrigerator after checking it
It may cause electric shock or fire !!!!

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Amritsar the Golden Temple

George and the girls visited Amritsar a few days ago and they came back with stories of beauty, simplicity, and humanity. This is a place of both stupendous beauty and sublime peacefulness. Originally a small lake in the midst of a quiet forest, the site has been a meditation retreat for wandering mendicants and sages since deep antiquity. The Buddha is known to have spent time at this place in contemplation.Two thousand years after Buddha's time, another philosopher-saint came to live and meditate there. This was Guru Nanak (1469-1539), the founder of the Sikh religion. After he passed away, his disciples continued to frequent the site; over the centuries it became the primary sacred shrine of the Sikhs.

Amritsar means "the pool of ambrosial nectar." You can see why it was so named.

They enjoyed walking around the temple at dusk and then partaking in the communal dinner offered to thousands of pilgrims every day. I watched a video of the feeding and washing operation and it all ran like clockwork. It was almost musical as the bowls clanked their way through a human chain to bins and sinks to be properly washed in time for the next sitting of thousands more who will enter the temple and have dahl and rice. Shame they can't roll out this slick operation to some other aspects of Indian life. They slept on the cool marble surrounding the temple and were protected by a tall and handsome Sikh guard with a weapon to fit his stature. The temple never sleeps, never stops, and they were woken by gentle chanting at dawn.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Another ending

This is the end of another year for me. Twenty one again, somewhat older and perhaps wiser but not always wanting to behave wisely and responsibly !The year has sped by and somehow my birthday is often celebrated in strange and wonderful places and this year was no exception. Eight years ago we celebrated with the wonderful men of the John Mason moving Company who moved us from Liverpool to Geneva. We popped open a bottle of champagne and celebrated on an upturned packing crate. Last year we were out swimming with whale sharks in Mexico and this year we celebrated with all the family and the girls from Cambridge in the new house in India and this is how my birthday present arrived.It received Tara's sniffed approval shortly after.

Stories endings or new beginnings

Just for those keen followers of this blog you might be interested to hear the ending of some of the stories. The new mattress arrived by bike and joy of joy it fitted perfectly. Firm and nicely trimmed it seemed to do the job, till today when I discovered that the colour, dark blue, is not colour fast and comes out onto the sheets !

However good news on the fan - it is now firmly up against the ceiling and the aluminium foil has been removed - and replaced with sellotape !