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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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Saturday, 31 October 2009

Indira Ghandi

Today is the 25th Anniversary of the day she was assassinated and the papers are full of tributes to her.Two thoughts come to mind: I remember her assassination, like JFK’s and Diana’s death but am I really that old? Where were you ?

Her words which are such a chilling reminder of what it is to be a politician and to have foresight into your destiny:

"If I die a violent death as some fear and a few are plotting I know the violence will be in the thought and action of the assassin, not in my dying – for no hate is dark enough to overshadow the extent of my love for my people and my country; no force is strong enough to divert me from my purpose and may endeavour to take this country forward."

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Adopt a Monument

I came across this interesting news item the other day. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has launched a project which allows a school or college to adopt a monument in their neighbourhood. The kids are given an orientation day and then they can participate in cleaning up monuments that have been defaced or have graffiti all over them.
It was the students who originally came up with the idea and the ASI started its implementation on its first monument round the corner from where I live on the famous Qutub Minar.
What a brilliant idea to instill civic responsibility and pride in one’s heritage. It should be adopted by other countries all over the world.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Sunday morning bird walk on the outskirts of Gurgaon

Picture this, mist in the fields, a slight chill in the air, in the distance the skyline of Gurgaon’s high rises, the new satellite town that has grown exponentially in the last ten years. We are standing next to a sewage water channel. Promise at this point you will read on.The sewage we are told, leaves the city and heads,(treated or untreated it was not clear,) out and from there to the Yamuna river. The channel and the pipes occasionally overflow into the flat and fertile fields causing  wetlands to form.The stench is unmistakable and the thought a little disturbing, but this has become a paradise for birds and wildlife.Paddy fields abound and women toil.

This is where we were at 700 am on the Sunday morning to join an eager group of Twitchers. For those unfamiliar with the word it means avid Birdwatchers!

In the space of a couple of hours we spotted an impressive array of bird life, from pond herons, to green parakeets,  black headed ibises, to iridescent kingfishers and painted storks, sandpipers and stints and lots of wire-tailed swallows. We exchanged bird trivia with others, and heard even more wild and wonderful facts from our guides. By 10 am we were fast asleep in the back of the car and looking forward to our first cup of coffee.

Thought for the day:  Water lilies and birds unlikely outflows from sewage but so uplifting.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

UN Day 2009 in India From Grass to Gold

The UN was celebrating the International Year of Natural Fibres and we went along to the reception. Their brochure was entitled from Grass to Gold which I thought was a winning title. Last night the gardens were set up with looms and basket weavers to show us the special relationship that India and its people share with natural fibres so many of which are intrinsic to the Indian way of life.

Think about how many you know coming from plants: Abaca, coir, cotton, flax, hemp, jute, ramie and sisal.
And then do you recognize all the animal ones? Alpaca, angora, cashmere, camel hair, mohair, silk and wool.

India is the world’s second largest producer of cotton and silk but sales are declining so do what you can to sustain people’s livelihoods here by buying its products.

The evening’s titbit: Meeting a small, chubby man with a winning smile and needing orthodontic work who was at school with Cliff Richard in Lucknow all those years ago!!

Now who doesn’t swing to the tune of: “We’re all going on a summer holiday"

Thursday, 22 October 2009

A haven off the MG Road

Yes, it sounds like a contradiction in terms for those of you who know the MG road, busy 24/7 with metro works, deviations and sheer load of traffic but there it was at Metro pillar 165 coming from Delhi turn right and follow the road till the end into the Anandagaram Sanskriti Kendra. A secret haven.

“The leaflet says it was established in 1993 as a space where creative minds devoted to diverse disciplines can stay, study and interact.”

It is set in a beautiful garden, with lotus flower ponds and wonderful terracotta horses looking down on you. You can wander in and out of its three museums; the terracotta museum, the museum of everyday art of India and the museum of Indian textiles. It is beautifully kept, one of the few museums where the actual buildings are made of local materials, earth, dung and husk,where the items are well displayed and helpful boards tell you where they are from and what they represent.

What I liked about it - the founder's love of his country and his rich collection of all that is beautiful for us to admire.
The sheer intricacy and skill of objects used in daily indian life, whether it is the most amazing ornate baby walker, chillum pipes or lamps. Exquisite.

Looking forward to taking my vivacious mother-in- law there when she visits next month which will give me a chance to savour the exhibits once more.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Following on from friends and what they say

My friend Richa was telling me about her sons disappointment at not getting his first choice and she said to him :

Life comes with lemons, so make lemonade !

A new visitor, not quite Bollywood, but blessed on the legs front

Yesterday morning we had a new visitor in the house. We have no idea how and where she/ he may have come from but this is her/ his picture. Only grateful that Tara did not get to her before we did !

Monday, 19 October 2009

Exchanges with Friends that stay through the day.

I was trying to explain to a friend what it is like living here.

“It is a differently wired me that wakes up every morning here”….I said

“Let’s talk about the wiring and the need for new circuitry”. she said

Another friend called in a French handyman for a repair job. He admired her tiles.

She asked him why they were of interest to him.

“Oh" he said it is my dada”, my passion

I loved her idea that “Everyone needs a dada”.

A friend was comparing what she thought it was going to be like living in India compared to what it is like. The two were far apart. I said :

Reality here seems to unravel in a wholly unexpected form and what you gaily assumed you could do standing on your head is no longer the case. We have resolved not to stop doing headstands .

A friend sent me pictures of her walks in the White face Mountain in the Adirondacks,NY.
I am envious of the colours and change of seasons so I asked her if I could share them with you.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Happy Diwali to Indians all over the planet

This is our first Diwali in India and with apologies to my esteemed Indian readers I want to give you a potted version and would happily hear your comments and corrections.
This is a festival which is determined by the Indian lunar calendar and heralds the New Year so it is a moving feast, probably the biggest festival in the Indian calendar. It is celebrated over five days with the central celebration being the Day of the Festival of Lights.

It seems that the festival, like Christmas, is now over commercialized and the papers are full of Diwali offers and bargains and there is a rush to buy and exchange gifts with friends and family.
As my friend explained though this is really a festival that dates back to when most Indians were farmers and were just reaping the first harvests after the monsoon when there was money in the house and food on the table.
It is a time when the goddess Lakshmi is given thanks and a pooja (prayer) is offered for the bounty and the harvest. This is also a celebration of Lord Rama's victory as the King of Ayodhya on his return to the kingdom from 14 years of exile, over the evil Ravana. His wife lit lamps to show him the way home and this custom is continued today. My friend emphasized that essentially it is a time for the family being together and being thankful for prosperity and well being with children given new clothes and shoes.I am off to light my lamps and lights. Happy Diwali everyone.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Shahpur Jat

We visited an area of Delhi called Shahpur Jat, an old neighbourhood which is becoming quite fashionable now. It is a little like Portobello Road in London or Laiki Geitonia in Cyprus.We walked through small streets, quite narrow, with rows of indistinguishable buildings housing little factories and artisan's workshops. Up the stairs, in crammed little rooms embroidery, cutting and designing takes place. Embroidery is done by machine but also by hand and I was personally shocked to hear that both may be eclipsed by computer embroidery. Clearly this is the future but for those with these complicated and often demanding skills it is difficult to ensure their continued livelihood. Some Europeans try to do so working with Fairtrade and exporting goods to Europe. Some young Indian designers are choosing this area for their factories and small retail outlets. All shops were carrying extra offers, discounted bargains and delicacies as Diwali, the festival of lights is tomorrow.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Bollywood comes to the Ginksies

Yes we are well and truly arrivee as they say

First Bollywood star to grace us with her gorgeous presence at home for dinner. Ant loved it.

My Big Fat Greek Salad

I went along to my cooking group today and celebrated a vegetarian diwali lunch so I took along a big fat greek salad replete with tomatoes, cucumbers and olives, onion rings and crunchy lettuce, green peppers and generous bits of greek feta cheese sprinkled with oregano.
It was much admired from the lovely wooden salad bowl it was in, gently caressed by admiring hands, to the way I had arranged it visually, to the secrets of my delicious salad dressing which I had to eventually confess was nothing more than olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper. Every one tucked in with considerable delight. So something that to me was so ordinary and so simple was to most of my group, refreshingly different and quite exotic. How lovely to see that it works both ways and while I delight in their double fried pakoras and their dhal they can smile at may salata.
The best bit was that we ate it with a tea spoon.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

The art of Nandalal Bose

1882- 1966)
Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi which is housing a wonderful exhibition on Nandalal Bose. He is considered to be the father of Indian Modern Art. It also shows his close association with Mahatma Ghandi and his support for Ghandi’s non violent struggle.
Nandalal Bose was born in Bihar, India, in 1882. At the beginning of his career in 1905, he was one of many artists and visionaries who sought to revive the spirituality and cultural authenticity of Indian art after 50 years of colonial rule and westernization. In 1919, Bose became the first director of the art school at the new university founded by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore in rural Bengal.
He spent much of his life experimenting with a variety of styles and art forms so when you see his paintings you see Chinese, Indian and Japanese styles but he is most famous for the way he captured the fishermen and the tribal people going about their daily lives and it was this portrayal of village India without dependence on Western materials or styles that captured the attention of Gandhi and catapulted Bose to the status of national icon and the only artist Gandhi patronized. He was inspired by Ghandi’s walk to Dandi to protest at the British salt tax and he supported all his non violent struggles and ideals.
Bose painted a black and white lithograph of the Revered Father in his simple Dhoti and this became one of the best known of his works.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Mehrauli Flower Market

It doesn’t matter how poor this country is and how so many struggle. Beauty is all over and life is precious. So the flower markets abound, not only as a way of making ends meet but also for providing the offerings to loved ones and to the deities. They provide the beautiful garlands and the fragrant flowers which are laid with reverence in front of the shrines and the temples. This is our flower market up the road from us.

Sunday, 11 October 2009


Having been here for several months now, I can confidently say that there are some startling similarities between Indians and Greeks/Cypriots.

We both love our families above all else.

We want all our children to be lawyers, doctors or engineers.

Going to the right schools and universities is all important.

Marrying into the right family is still sadly important.

We love our good food.

We eat way too much of it.

We are not known for our sporting capabilities.

We struggle to put teams together for the Olympic Games and that is unbelievable considering the population differences.

We are both yuppie, fashion, society conscious junkies. Read gross over generalization but for those in the know cringingly true.

The rich of both build oversize show-off houses that need retinues of servants to clean and dust them.

Money matters. Whether it is via the fish and chips shop route, the corner shop, or shark-like practices for property development.

We are proud nations who do not like criticism.

We both have disturbingly dysfunctional relations with the UK which can at the same time but for different reasons be heaven or hell.

Culture and history abound but it is only in the latter years of independence that their true value and significance have been realized.

Generous and hospitable in every respect.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Capturing the moment

These are two poems which came with the school newsletter and for me they capture, in part, some of those special moments that happen almost daily here when you know what you have just seen, heard, or smelt is just so different and remarkable yet hard to put into words or contain in a picture.

In the dusty dawn, it drips
From the slant-topped tent roof
of the South Delhi taxi stand,
Where a dozen drivers sleep,
Cheek-to-foot and sweating,
Months and miles from their families,
And feather-skied farms.
As it falls, it gives off a faint odor:
part diesel fuel,
part corn roasting on coals,
as smelled by men who have fallen asleep,
recalling the taste of food,
prepared by loving hands.
~ Michael Creighton

I have thought so much about the girl
who gathered cow‐dung in a wide, round basket
along the main road passing by our house
and the Radhavallabh temple in Maninagar,
I have thought so much about the way she
moved her hands and her waist
and the smell of cow‐dung and road‐dust and wet canna lilies,
the smell of monkey breath and freshly washed clothes
and the dust from crows’ wings which smells different –
and again the smell of cow‐dung as the girl scoops
it up, all these smells surrounding me separately
and simultaneously – I have thought so much
but have been unwilling to use her for a metaphor,
for a nice image – but most of all unwilling
to forget her or to explain to anyone the greatness
and the power glistening through her cheekbones
each time she found a particularly promising
mound of dung.
‐ ‐ Sujata Bhatt

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Karva Chauth- a new one for me

The month of October in India is full of festivals and celebrations.
This one which is being celebrated on the 7th of October really took my fancy.
It is called Karva Chauth and it is when married women, young and old, fast to ensure the long life of their husbands! Yes I know a novel concept for us all in the western world but I leave it up to you all to decide whether you too will be fasting to ensure your husband’s long life this year or even next… I would love to hear what you decide.

They henna their feet and hands and wear special outfits. They wake before dawn and have water and sargi, various gift foods often sent by mothers the previous day. They fast all day. The fast is broken after sunset with the sighting of the rising moon. Some husbands show solidarity to the cause and fast with their wives. They will of course go to Indian heaven after their long life on this planet.

Bhimbetka A wonderful site of prehistoric rock art

I don’t really know why I found this site so impressive but it is hugely so-Perhaps it was the size of the rocks, perhaps it was the sheer enormity of time; from the time these rock drawings were made to when they were discovered in 1957. Perhaps it was the way they had been sculpted into shelters and sanctuaries by the elements over thousands of years.

It is a world Heritage Site. Well worth the trip. The earliest rock drawings date back 10,000 years ago. More drawings were made during the Stone Age, some 8000 to 5000 BC. The light was fading and the earthy colours were not easy to see but there was real sense of excitement as we spotted herds of deer and bison, but also elephants and tigers.Finding the figures, some almost like stick people, others fleshed out. They used ochre, the pigment from the earth, and a green pigment maybe from plants, to denote their lives, their hunting parties and all that mattered to them so long ago.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Pachmarhi A hill resort in Central Province

One of the bathing pools

At a stunning view point

One of the flowers in Golf View

Yes, it took a while to get there with the combine harvesters all out on a field day or should I say road day but we reached this hilltop resort found by Captain James Forsyth and his Bengali Lancers in the 1850 s. It became the summer camp of all the central provinces complete with colonial housing, churches, graveyards sanatoriums and polo pitches.
We stayed at Golf View which was a pretty colonial style hotel set in some lovely gardens. There are lots of viewing points, caves, treks and other activities but a lot of the signs are in Hindi and less English is spoken here. We were the only westerners and the local tourists, sensibly perhaps, hire local guides in little jeeps who whizz them around the places of interest. Having spent several hours in a car on a horribly congested road we were keen to walk so we set off …
We got caught in a tropical downpour and saw the rain lashing down from under a leafy tree. A and I got a lift back with some very nice Indian tourists from Mumbai who took us to some caves which were quite spectacular. C walked back in the wet.
Dinner was different. The rain had brought over the power lines, so the generators were on for a while and then it was candlelight. We were brought breadsticks to eat and I said they had cumin in them but in fact it was an intense smell of mothballs which were everywhere- in the big Jacuzzi style bathtub in our bathroom, in the shower, in the cupboards and in any drain. So a romantic dinner and early to bed seemed fine.
Waking up the next morning I was looking forward to my shower but alas no hot water as the lines were still down and anything powered by electricity on the first floor, read toilet flush, water supply, a/c and fans simply did not work. The flashy Jacuzzi and the multi jet shower compartment were like a lot of things here, installed without much thought as to their usage and practicality.
However my day only got better because dirty and dusty I could enjoy scrambling down the path several kilometers to a spectacular view point Rajat Prapat,and see the falls and then watching the men bathing in pools further up called Apsara Vihar. Not done for women to undress publicly.
Then having enjoyed some of the landmarks of the resort we headed down to the plain and as it was Dushehra the whole road was taken up with gods and goddeses heading for water where they would be immersed until the next year. Truckloads of youths, processions with drums and even paint throwing parties greeted us along the way back to Bhopal.
The best came last – more of that in my next blog

Saturday, 3 October 2009

The day of the Combine Harvester

How can I put it – there must be something more behind an invasion of combine harvesters but regrettably I did not discover what it was. On the road to a lovely hill resort called Pachmarhi in Madya Pradesh the road was completely taken over with these enormous bright green, orange and red combine harvesters. There was always a considerable contingent of young men sitting atop them and they always had one motorcycle strapped to their front.
Off on a collective combine harvester puja? Enjoying a day out on the roads rather than the fields? Who knows! It made driving in between them a bit like a bit like an ant trying to overtake an elephant but we got there in the end. More on the Hill resort next.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Madhya Pradesh

We took the opportunity of being in this state to explore further than the capital and it was a wonderful experience.

We visited three places of note:

Sanchi Sitting on a hill –top the great Stupa is one of the earliest religious structures in India and a World Heritage site. The stupa is surrounded by some of the richest sculptures you will see; a place of serenity and calm dating back to the 3rd Century BC.
It became a place of pilgrimage during the reign of the Emperor Ashoka. It was surrounded by monasteries but later was deserted until Sir Alexander Cunningham unearthed two soap stone relic boxes containing bone fragments of two of Buddhas closest disciples. The discovery made Sanchi a place of worship once more and the caskets are displayed in the new Buddhist temple that was built on the site in November each year.

The stupa is central to Buddhist worship. It was Buddha’s way – he took his begging bowl, staff and cloth and arranged them using the cloth as a base and the upturned begging bowl and the stick as a spire. Originally they were simple burial mounds but then they took on immense symbolic significance.

The great Stupa is surrounded by four gateways called “toranas” which were added around 450 AD. They are amazing sculpted gateways where the depictions are exquisitely presented and all different. We could recognize animal processions, warriors, Greeks who had curly hair, mythical animals, again possibly Greek and beautiful women with diaphanous saris and intricate hairstyles.

Bhopal Part II

The Darul Uloom Tajul Masajid Mosque
The dancing circles

A beaming C

A fine four legged friend

Bhel Puri delicious