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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, 31 March 2010

Indian Postal Services

The first stamp of Independent India showing the Indian Flag

Take 1
Namaste, two stamps please for Europe.
No stamps Ma'am
For Europe please ? Yes, I need two.Fingers up in physical demo of numbers required.
Ma'am no stamps.
What do you mean no stamps ?
Ma'am no stamps in post office.
Please to come tomorrow, next days stamps coming !

Stamp of George V
Take 2
Yes good morning Ma'am can we help you ?
Namaste, two stamps for Cyprus please - another post office .
Ma'am and Cyprus country where be found ?
In Europe.
Ah thank you Ma'am
Kumar the lady wants two stamps ( Hindi version)
Kumar turns to other minion and says yes Adiraj get two stamps.
Adiraj goes to a big safe, opens it  and takes out big ledger and extracts two stamps (Aaah plenty in this one)
Adiraj hands stamps to Kumar.
Kumar hands them to Head Postie.
Head Postie receives stamps, writes them into his well thumbed records and looks around but no glue
Hunt for glue ensues as these Indian stamps do not appear to be lickable.
Glue is found and stamps fixed firmly onto envelope. A good sign.
Half an hour after entering post office envelopes go back through Kumar and Adiraj to a big sack which sadly does not seem to contain much.
My letters enter it and are on their way ...

Take 3
As above.
Posted a good luck card to France in early December to wish a young friend well for a University Interview.
Sadly card never arrived.
Mother conveyed warm wishes verbally.

Take 4
Always live in hope of Indian Postal Services
Card arrived after a journey of four and a half months in time for her finals !

Monday, 29 March 2010

Jaipur a modern city but not like Gurgaon

Just a small comparison. One city built by Mr One and Three Quarters as he was called " Sawai" to you and me and he called it Jaipur the "City of Victory".
Without doubt this is one of the first and lasting urban cities that Sawai can be proud of even to this day. It is built on the grid system with wide boulevards, covered shopping areas and beautiful architecture.

Compare that to Gurgaon - a mass of ugly high rises, insufficient infrastructure and dubious workmanship. Last week I visited a friend in Gurgaon on the 16th floor of a fancy building. I have never once been there without banging and drilling going on almost constantly. She complains of occasional water shortages and some power cuts but they have huge back up generators which kick in at a sizeable price to all who live there. Another friend was saying his communal charges are larger than his own charges for his apartment. As she was sleeping last week a kitchen cabinet fell off the wall - just like that, it was not overloaded - it just fell smashing the granite kitchen top and damaging the floor. Thank god her children were tucked up in bed.

Where will Gurgaon be in 400 years ? Admired like the City of Victory and visited or a place to be avoided and crumbling ?

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Bloomin' Bougie

This Bloomin' Entry is for N to brighten up her day.
The sun is always bright in India but sometimes we struggle to find that inner light.
Delhi offers the most hectic of lives, often confined to the inside of a car or a building and taking stock is so much more precious.There is so much beauty. The tendency, not surprisingly, is to stride past, so this entry is an enforced meander in the gardens that surround my house, thirty seconds worth of a page full of bloomin colour to create the backdrop to your day.
Bougainvillea is one plant that I am familiar with. It grows well in my country and it is widespread.Bougainvillea  is native to South America.Currently, there are over 300 varieties of bougainvillea around the world. Indian bougie is just magnificent.
Here it is ubiquitous but also unique. The profusion, the colour, the contrasts, the depth.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Elephant Safaris

The does and donts of Elephant safaris :
Do choose your partner carefully. An imbalance in body weight may cause severe listing.
Do practice elegant landing onto elephant if from a platform or ladder.
Do wear trousers. Skirts flap and can reveal all colours of underwear and cellulite as you lower yourself onto elephant.
Do find a comfy position.It may be long.
Do look out for low lying branches and while you are busy doing that watch your legs dont get scratched by tall growing nettles.
Do learn your elephant's name and age and wish you will live that long.

Don't fidget.Go with the flow.
Don't stand up unexpectedly.
Don't go to sleep, even if you could, as swaying movement while sleep- inducing causes unexpected accidents.
Don't expect to see the Big Five.
Don't be impatient if your elephant stops for frequent snacks. I would too with such a load.
Don't be surprised when you stop for a G and T - just part of the elephant service.
Don't spill it ! I dare you to sip and ride.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Hawa Mahal Jaipur - The palace of the Winds

This place is so alive with history that you often find yourself drifting off and thinking what it would have been like to have been living in these forts, palaces and gardens.
The recurring thought I have is that for a privileged woman, life had one and only one advantage and that was the communality of other women. This is reflected in the gardens made for them and the hammam baths and all the beautiful food and clothes that they shared.
That is all. I look at the Taj and I look at the Hawa Mahal and so many other places and again and again I am thankful for my origins and my timing on this planet.The Palace of the Winds brought this sharply into focus. This was a place of perforated screens through which the women could watch what was going on in the town.
I have tried and tried to look through the lattice work and all I get are fragmented visions of the world, maddeningly insufficient- that is if I can look through at all. There were so many places that women were just not allowed to go.

It is beautiful and it is worth visiting but it is always a stark reminder to me of constraints and contrasts which simply do not sit well with my own vision of what a woman's life should be.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Jantar Mantar Jaipur

I am awestruck on a daily basis. This is another jaw dropping visit.
Going to the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur.
We are in 1728.
On the throne is Sawai Jai Singh II.
He became ruler of Amber in 1699 at the age of 11 when his father Maharaja Bishan Singh died. The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb bestowed upon him the title of "Sawai" which meant one and a quarter times better.
Just that little bit better than everyone else.He truly was.
In 1719, he was witness to a heated debate regarding astronomical calculations to determine an auspicious date when the emperor could start a journey. This discussion led Jai Singh to think that the nation needed to be educated on the subject of astronomy.He was a brilliant astronomer, mathematician and town planner.
He built the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur and many others and they are wonderful collections of astronomical instruments.The word Jantar Mantar roughly translated from the Sansktrit means  ‘The Formula of Instruments’

The Jaipur Jantar Mantar is near the city palace and is particularly impressive.
The ‘Samrat Yantra’ is a gigantic 90 feet high and 148 feet wide sun-dial, north-south coordinated and angled at 27 degrees, the latitude of Jaipur, and outfitted with finely calibrated quadrants on which the movement of the sun’s shadow (falling on the western ramp before noon and on the eastern ramp in the afternoon) can be carefully charted to not only measure the local time to an accuracy of half a minute, but also precisely note zenith distances, meridian pass time and the celestial latitudes.
Here at a sundial we are exploring the local time -incredibly precise.

They all have names like the ‘Ram Yantra’, the Langhu Samrat Yantra and the Chakra Yantra.
The most fascinating of all is the ‘Jai Prakash Yantra’, which consists of two large, bowl-shaped, complementary, marble hemispheres that have planetary latitude and longitude markings and are deep-set in the ground with channels for allowing the instrument reader access to other parts of the hemispheres. A small pointer on a wire is hung over the centre of each hemisphere, and by the position of the sun’s shadow on the marked hemisphere sections it is possible to read the coordinates of the sun.If you look carefully at the picture you can see the pointer and its shadow.

One of the guides says that the instruments are still used to forecast how hot the summer will be and the expected date of the Monsoon and its duration with the possibility of floods and famines being considered as well.
Who needs the weather forecaster when we have such superior instruments at our doorstep !
Just remember the year 1728

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Moustaches Music and Mirrors

Rajputana - not easy to summarise but if I try my title will give you some direction.

They are a proud and passionate people and I come from one such like so I travelled to its Capital full of expectation and I was not disappointed.
The first thing you notice is the colours of the changing countryside. From trees and fields you finally end up in a much more arid land, shrubby and dusty. It is not coincidental that the colours of the clothes are fires before your eyes.

Their palaces display the grandeur and the sophistication of their lives. The hall of Mirrors at the Amber Fort and the intricacy of the work is truly dazzling.Fiercely brave, daring and dashing their royal family is full of stories of intrigue and passion, conquests and love.
I will mention two, perhaps the most famous is Gayatri Devi who died recently and who at 19 fell in love with Man Singh II the heir to the Jaipur Throne. Their marriage was initially opposed but they were eventually married in 1939 and lived a life of filmstar splendour and aristocratic comfort.
She survived her husband who died of a polo accident and became a very well respected figure across the whole of India and her book "A Princess Remembers" is well worth reading as an account of her life.
There was another woman too whose tale captivated me for different reasons and it concerned a young Greek girl from northern Greece, Maria  who like my mother was born into a well respected and wealthy family. She met an Indian soldier who was stationed in Thessaloniki after the second world war  who stopped on the road to help her family change a flat tyre. To show their gratitide, the family invited the young and dashing soldier back to their house where a romance flourished between the young daughter, barely 16 and the young Major. He returned to India but wrote warm and enchanting love letters to her and she decided that she wanted to follow him. So with her mother's permisssion and completely unchaperoned she made the difficult journey to India where he met her and they married. He was related to the Jaipur Royal family and she lived a life in the lenana the women's quarters and learned all she needed  to learn to become a good Rajput wife.Major Singh excelled as an army man and won the battle of Rajouri.He became a General and they lived a fascinating life in Paris and Washington but also in many places in India where he was stationed. She wrote "Love and War" about her life with her beloved Zorawar and now named Anar she continues to live in Jaipur.
Everywhere we were we listened to the most wonderful music played on a traditional instrument which looked a little like a fiddle. One night as we ate out the musician played on and on , his cords echoing out onto the arid and volatile landscape. It was eerily haunting and evocative of lovers and passions.
This is my Rajput Princess.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Learning Hindi against all odds

The good intentions are still there and my vocabulary is inching slowly forward but this amongst some staggering statistics from this country which are worth noting.

English speakers in India outnumber those in Europe. More Indians speak English than any other language with the exception of Hindi and most Indians are bilingual if not trilingual.That is quite an impressive statistic.
Last night on the train back from Jaipur I listened to a lovely young man speaking to his group in fluent German while over the weekend we found groups of Koreans and Dutch all being briefed about the beauties of Jaipur, the Pink City in the language of their choice. More about that in the next few days.

Multilingual, multitalented and multifaceted.A winning combination.

Friday, 12 March 2010

How was your day in the office dear ?

Husband arrives home looking a little weary so in a wifely smiley way you inquire:

How was your day at the office today dear ?

It is not often you get the reply:

"Exhausting- had to brief a Bollywood star about her role as our good will ambassador and then have a press conference with her.It all went swimmingly well but it was quite tiring."

Preity Zinta and her Mohali IPL team is now a goodwill ambassador for UNAIDS.
The team will have a person living with AIDS conducting the toss on March 13th against the Delhi IPL team.
By taking this on Preity wants to show that others should not discriminate against people living with AIDS. She is hoping to increase awareness and show how people can live full lives wih the disease, where their human rights are respected and enforced.

Puts a whole new context to the expression all in a good day's work.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Queen Lizzie's Birthday Bash

Last night we attended Queen Elizabeth's Birthday reception. Happy Birthday to her - You have to give it to her she is quite an institution. I should know I have one just like her living in my household. In Private eye they would put their pictures up side by side.

Poor love she must get so confused with her birthday. It is a moving feast depending on the weather, the customs and the size of the gardens of the High Commissions.

Splendid party it was too.The High Commission's gardens are large and beautiful as is the residence.This was a big party and it catered for everyone's tastes.The great and the good were all gathered there in their finery as were several sports teams and a full British band which played the two national anthems. Never been to one before where the sponsors are smack in your face. So Teachers had their stall as did Bournville and even Costa Coffee. Good lord corporate sponsorship for Queenie what next. Perhaps it was to impress Prince Andrew who was working the crowd who knows. Yawn Yawn.

One thing was clear. Dicky and Arabella are the commensurate diplomats, they put on fabulous parties all the time, god how exhausting, and the hors d'ouevres last night were to die for.
Not quite her subject but ever so reverently humble and a little fatter

Monday, 8 March 2010

March 8th is about all women throughout the world

Today is the anniversary of my mother's death. She chose to go on the 8th of March in 2003 and I could not think of a better day for her to leave this life as it is International Women's Day and she is the one person who gave me my grounding to face life as a woman on this planet.
She worked hard and it wasn't always easy yet she found time to be innovative and artistic, down to earth and fun and was the best cook bringing in recipes from northern Greece where she hailed from, to the island of Cyprus where she settled when she married my father. Last year all three daughters visited her home town of Kozani and held a memorial service with the remaining members of her family to honour her life and her achievements.
So this day is inextricably linked with emotion but always hope. Being in India for the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day is particularly poignant as inspite of what is said and promised I do feel that a woman's lot here is a hard one to bear.
There is hope and it comes from accepting women babies as an equal blessing to male babies- a lot more needs to be done here. It comes from the spread of education - a woman is able to earn her living and become an active citizen in the country in addition to her role as a mother and a homemaker.It is significant that in the Kindergarten that UNIA run and support out of the 100 children who attend barely a handful are girls.
It comes from all the various initiatives of the government, where women are prominent but now will be even more so as they pass the Women's Reservation Bill into law which will reserve 33% of seats in parliament to women.
There is promise and there is hope but there is also still a lot of prejudice and sexism - rape numbers are still frighteningly high, women who are single cannot travel safely at night, cannot find accomodation easily and have no place in society after divorce.

Often these days are significant to those who know them but how much does the life of a woman bearing bricks to feed her family change because of it ? Sadly little but we shall see the changes and report on them as India powers ahead.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

1411 and hopefully more to come

I cant over emphasize the sheer beauty and emotion of seeing a tiger in the wild. For those of you who have not done it I urge you to go- you will also understand the huge importance of the campaign SAVE OUR TIGERS which is going on at the moment in India. Just think, your grandchildren may never experience this because 1411 is not a big number and people still poach them. How can they ? Why do they ?
I know the hows and the whys but it still shocks me. What is lovely though is to see so many Indian tourists really keen on seeing them and the foreigners who pay thousands to catch a glimpse of them.

We have been so lucky - on this trip to Pench we saw 4 cubs sunning themselves in an open glade and the mother nearby. They slept and rolled over, yawned and stretched, played with each other and with twigs and shook the flies off them. We watched mesmerised and respectful of their grandeur.

The next day on elephants we sighted them again.The elephants carried the ladders we used to climb up !

 They had indulged us by moving out of the lantana undergrowth to an open expanse and this is what we saw. There is an overwhelming but irrational desire to rush and play with them. 

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The deciduous forest

This is the time when the trees turn and the leaves fall - there is a Hindi expression "patachara" for this season which means the time for falling leaves.  The seasons here are defined more as dry and wet. So the wet season is followed by the dry season and this is when the leaves fall, to be quickly followed by new shoots, flowers and fruit.
The forest we were in, in Madhya Pradesh was a deciduous forest and "autumn" for want of a better word was in its glory.We travelled through teams of teak trees where the green chlorophyll and fleshiness of the leaf falls away or dies leaving this incredible intact decoupage of the leaf's outline. As the light falls to the forest floor you thought you were looking through silver silk spun webs. My camera does not do justice to the fineness of it all.Nor to the aerial roots of the banyan or the creamy sleek barks of the luminous ghost trees in the last picture.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

A Morning of Monkeys

It is not often in a lifetime that a teenager is woken by monkeys and not a nagging mother.

This is what happened to Anthony on our weekend away in Pench. This is Rudyard Kipling country and splendid it is.Nestling in the deciduous forests at the corner of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra states this is a little gem.

The game lodge where we stayed had beautiful gazebos, built higher than the bungalows and it was there that Anthony chose to sleep one night. A bed was made, a mosquito net put in place and a romantic lamp and candle were lit to show him the way.

The curtains were firmly drawn around the gazebo the next morning when I woke up. I was reading my book in the light breeze of the morning enjoying being lost in the story, the verdant green and the bird call.

Suddenly a rustle of leaves and a family of langur monkeys appear. They are black faced, gregarious and you can watch them for hours.

On this occasion they decided that jumping all over the roof tiles was great fun and then they started sitting on the gazebo sides as in the picture. Next thing you know they are jumping in to the curtains and waking up a very surprised teenager as getting in was easy but getting out was more complicated. They had races over the tiles and managed to throw a few to the ground with a resounding crash. They darted in and out of the gazebo and foraged in our shower area.

 A mum lovingly held her baby to her as they perched on the side of our bungalow roof. It was a show stopping performance and when they tired of what was on offer they moved off leaving us smiling widely at the nature of this awakening.