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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, 26 February 2011

The road to revolution and home

There has been some rain in Delhi. Thunder cracks on the horizon, the sky darkens and down it comes. It was welcome, the leaves are shiny green, the grass has perked up and the atmosphere has a crispness to it. This is the result of the rain on the infamous Mandi Road- the road that leads to my home and to many others in the area. Blocked drains - year after year this happens- overflowing sewage and a smell that poisons the atmosphere with its stench. Nothing new I hear you say, well those of you who live here. This time though I witnessed this scene and I tried very hard to explain to my driver why something like this is so totally unacceptable and shocking. It is easy here to just accept it - this is how India is - but for goodness sake this is the future of the country walking through raw sewage to be educated.Time for a timely revolution arab style ...
And down the road and not so far from this when I finally reach my destination, poppies and the smell of sweet orange blossom so reminsicent of my country.A contrast that does not sit well with me.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Salaam Baalak Trust and Lego

For those of you who have found the blog more recently I became involved with Salaam Baalak Trust about a year or so ago when I went along to a Street Walk organised by the British Contact Group. I was so moved by the children I met in the holding centre that I resolved to do something to try and engage them. To me, though well looked after and safe, they seemed "switched off" for want of a better word and being the mother of three boys I battled with them being in two rooms in the centre where they ate, slept and lived with occasional interventions by well meaning groups and volunteers but who all had a transient effect on their already transient lives. These boys have agreed to come off the railway line and be looked after by SBT because they are lost, abused, addicted or not wanted. So I came up with what I considered to be a bit of a hair brained idea and for almost a year I have been collecting LEGO - a building block game very well known in Europe which engages millions of children around the Globe. Well  after nearly a year of collecting and hours spent sorting out the Lego and finding the boxes to store it all, the day finally arrived when we went off to give it all to them.

To be honest I was not at all sure how they would react - Lego is simply unknown here and these children have nothing, let alone toys like this.

My son and I took two large boxes of Lego, one of Duplo, for the younger children, one full of little cars and playmobile figures, colouring pencils and colouring books, exercise books and reading books as well as clothes, toothbrushes and flip flops.

We were warmly welcome and within minutes of opening the boxes and showing the boys some of the models that my son had made for them they were busy making their own creations and we were stunned by how quickly they knew what they needed to do and the lovely creations they made. They were thoroughly absorbed in making the most imaginative creations but also collaborating with one another which was lovely to watch and they were amazingly proud of their models and wanted to be photographed with them.

Here are some of the pictures of the afternoon.

All the Lego boxes are now permanently at the holding centre and we promised to go back and play with them again and other groups can use them too. I am, in the meantime, preparing boxes for some of the other homes as I collected more than enough Lego to go around several homes.

My thanks go to Jo who took me on that first walk and then through the British Contact Group was the first to contribute funds, to all my Seven Cities group who took up the cause, to friends as far as Cyprus, Geneva, France and Moscow who organised collections and who got pieces or funds to me. I am indebted to you all but more importantly perhaps you have all made a small but noticeable difference to these boys' lives.  

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Rashtrapati Bhavan - the Prez Rez

It give me goosebumps walking through the halls of power and knowing that kings and queens, viceroys and vicerines have treaded the same paths steeped in history but also now so contemporary.

The elephants on the outer wall were designed by Charles Sargeant Jagger.

The magnificent gates in wrought Iron.

So it was with a real sense of excitiment that I spent my morning going around the splendid Rashtrapati Bhavan in Delhi - house and garden built by Lutyens to be the focal point of New Delhi on Raisina Hill.

It is not often that you can be in a setting like this with no one else in the backdrop.

Security is tight but the groups plentiful and we were lead by our tour guide to a splendid hall where as you walk in you see marble statues of George V and Queen Mary. Flanking them Lord Chelmsford Viceroy 1916-1921 and Lord Beresford. A room filled with large almost oversized portraits of Edwina and Mountbatten, Louis XV and other royals.

On the wall a wonderful quote from General Amherst, though I dont know the date :

"The emperor of China and I govern at least half the human race and yet we find time for breakfast"

Perhaps it was appropriate that the next stop was the Kitchen Museum to admire tables laid out for the Viceroys and the sets of Fluted Turquoise ( my favourite colour for china ) and the Star of India. Exquisite fine bone china with the necessary silverware and even elaborate picnic hampers on display.

Up through an internal courtyard where on the far side is a bronze statue of Lutyens, the great British architect who was responsible for building the Palace and North and South block a project that took 17 years to complete. He left such a legacy for us all to enjoy to this very day.

From there up to the grand Ashoka Hall.We entered through a 20ft high wooden door framed in gleeming bronze where the handle was a lion with a crown on its head, through the curtain of blood red with a delicate pattern of elephants and palm trees, so appropriate for the place.

It is massive, quite square, apparently with floorboards under the now existing carpet and was once used as the ballroom.Nowadays this is where we meet the politicians and the dignitaries whenever we are invited officially to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. A painted ceiling which takes your breath away and side paintings of equally fine scenes made in canvas depicting the King of Iran and various hunting scenes, with trains of elephants and camels with riders dressed in their finery.

I remember from my last visit noticing the fine but voluptuous contours of a Persian lady whose painting lies over the fireplace and thinking how unique she was to be there.

Adjoining the Ahoka hall are corridors which are built in the Mandir style of a Hindu temple. Lutyens was so aware of the country he was building for and the significance of the work he was creating.
One of these, leads to the Banqueting Hall which is a massive hall seating no less than 104 guests. Definitely larger than mine at home !

All along I was looking down at the fine marble but also up at the Art Nouveau polished bronze light fittings.Out of the windows the Moghul Gardens coming into their full glory.

The Durbar Hall was the old audience hall but now is where a large statue of Lord Buddha can be seen.This is the central dome that one can admire from the outside and it is complete with an oversized chandelier in Belgian Chrystal. The Dome was said to be inspired by the Pantheon and the Great Stupa at Sanchi.The Hall is built with coloured marble from all over India.We were lucky enough to have the doors of the palace open towards the front coutryard from where you can see the Ashoka bull dating back from the 3rd Century and in the distance the Star of India which never fails to impress. It is said that no steel was used to construct the Palace which was completed in 1929.
You can just see the splendid chandelier in the background.
The Star of India.
From there to the Museum full of the presents that visiting dignitaries bring the the current President and there is a great collection of old pictures from the Raj, (Lord and Lady Irwin (the first occupants of the Palace with Indian dignitaries being especially lovely) and some really notable presents. The Atmos Clock from Switzerland. Now there is a surprise ! The Sunflower that adorned the mortal remains of Ghandi the day he was shot, a model boat made from cloves, a present from the President of Indonesia which is fragrant to this day. The King's Chair from the Delhi Durbar of 1911-1912.
Finally to the South Block to see where the visiting dignitaries stay when they visit which overlooks the courtyard of fountains with cobra heads.Our tour took us to only a handful of the 340 rooms of this splendid Palace.

The Palace and the North and South Block all lit up after the Beating of the Retreat.
A grandeur that transcends time.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

6.00 am 16th February 2011

Ear cracking thunder, jet airplanes screaming down at me on their changed flight path, the generator's tractor like sound starting up as the power has gone and Tara's tummy rumbling loudly from something funny she ate. Most ominously of all and definitely the loudest was the familiar ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ sound very near my left ear. The mozzies are back after the winter.
A long hot summer
A pleasant warm period
Sweaty suffocation
Stay tuned.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

The National Gallery of Modern Art - The Sculpture Garden

I am a frequent visitor. Usually I go with a particular exhibition in mind and walk straight to the ticketing office. Recently as a friend was caught up in Delhi traffic I had the opportunity to warm up in the sun and enjoy the beautiful sculpture garden at the entrance of the Museum which most of us walk past without a second glance. These are some of my favourite pieces:

The Mahatma By Ram Sutar

One that I found truly moving called Choti Chader by SM Shahid Jawed
 An abundance of Lingams - Uplifting ?

The triumph of Labour By Dr Roy Chowdury - interestingly the sinewy figures of the men simply made me think of the women labourers who slave away in India who are probably just as sinewy but theirs are hidden under the flowing contours of their beautiful saris.
 A fish in Marble - by Pradeep Kumar - it truly was
 Ghoga Marble by Gahlot V.P.
 A family By Rawat MS - notice the way the sculptor has created the family in the various corners of this sculpture all from one piece ( I took pictures of  both sides with the family sculpted carefully on the corners.
 Untitled in Black Marble by Pramod Sharma capturing some of the contours and beauty of the stone.

Friday, 11 February 2011


I am not alone in noticing the appalling frequency with which rape incidents are reported in the city and the country. Today in the Times of India I read an editorial, a part of which I am reproducing here, because it needs to be said:

The spate of rape cases reported over the last few days highlights a serious deficit in security for women all over India. ....According to the National Crime Records Bureau statistics more than 53 cases are recorded EVERY DAY.( my emphasis).  In 2009 a total of 21,397 rape cases were reported countrywide. Given the number recorded constitutes a fraction of the actual number of rape cases that take place, the numbers are a serious indictment of efforts to provide security for women. "

The editorial then talks about the need to change the attitude of police to rape cases, and instituting changes that will give victims and their families the confidence to seek justice- which includes having policewomen to deal with the cases and fast track courts. Awareness campaigns need to be implemeted country wide and this must include fighting social stigma that often plagues the victims of this crime.

There is so much that can be done. For Indian women I just hope that it is prioritized immediately before another woman falls victim to this horrible crime.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Flower girl

In today's India Times
"16 year old raped by neighbour and two others"
"Guard arrested for raping three year old in school"
"Rape victim dies after self immolation"
And that is just one day's news  
I came across her in the road yesterday and I was very taken by her hazel, doe-like eyes, the beautiful earrings, the red sari, the nose ring, the colour of her skin and her smile.It  is times like these when I feel that there is something profoundly worrying in this society because while she is out there selling her flowers to maintain her dignity she is out on the street and vulnerable, like so many other children and young people, to the evils that surround her.  

Saturday, 5 February 2011

The vulnerability of Children in India

I belong to a Campaign against Child Trafficking and a friend sent through this report the first paragraph of which I am reproducing here.

"The State of Human Rights in India in 2010
NDIA: Democratic pretentions and administrative follies


"It is true that too many children die from malnutrition each year in this country. Some of their parents also die from starvation and hunger. But the children are more vulnerable … one of the reasons is the widespread 'irregularity' in the state and central government services … the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh state is a very kind person … the Nutrition Rehabilitation Centres is not a solution for the millions of malnourished children. These centres are not cost effective. But now that the centres are there we must effectively use them. My suggestion is to appoint a Brahmin priest in each of these centres and require the priest to verify the horoscope of every child brought to the centre. After studying a child's horoscope if the priest is of the opinion that the child will grow into a good citizen of this country, it must be provided treatment at the centre. For the rest, I would say, let us just leave them to their fate … if not where do we stop? … We cannot spend government money like this…"
I doubt that it would have been reported had it not been said but the person has disputed she said this even though there were witnesses there.What is an issue here is not whether the statement is off the record or public. Given the levels of malnutrition in Madhya Pradesh are horoscopes really an acceptable way to go about protecting children and their rights?? Enough said.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The Pashmina

We all love them and want them wrapped around us. Janet Rizvi and Monisha Ahmed have gone further and investigated their origins, their history and their production in a fascinating book called quite simply "Pashmina".

The wool comes from changthangi or pashmina goat, which is a special breed of goat found in the Himalayas in Pakistan and northern India. Pashmina shawls are hand spun, woven and embroidered in Kashmir, and made from pashm which is the raw fibre.Pashm comes from the underbelly of the goat and is combed out. It is soft wool and together with the wool of the vicuna in South America it forms one of the finest wools in the world.

Pure pashmina is a looser open weave, as the fibre cannot tolerate high tension. The most popular pashmina fabric is a 70% pashmina/30% silk blend, but 50/50 is also common. The 70/30 is tightly woven,  but is still quite soft and light-weight.

Janet suggested that Kashmir had export quality pashminas as early as the 14th century. They became all the rage in Europe in the 18th century.Of course as with all good things in life some clever businessmen decided to reproduce pashminas cheaply and this was done in a small scottish village called Paisley- they produced them with a very characterisitic flower pattern which became known as the Paisley and which we recognize to this day.

The pashmina suffered a decline in the 19th century but as Indians are growing wealthy a form of patronage is developing  which has enabled the craft to flourish once more and to be more commercially succesful. One of the women's cooperatives is known as Panchachuli and it now employs some 750 women.

I copied this picture from an article written about Panchachuli.

Now for the million rupee question -How do you tell a real pashmina - pull it through a ring ? Pour water onto it and see how it dances around the surface instead of being absorbed, burn it ? touch it ?
We put the million dollar question to Janet and she said with a smile on her face:
"Go to a reliable Pashmina merchant !"