Friday, July 29, 2005

in a few hours...

...with any luck we will be airborne, on our way to India for 10 days of well deserved rest. Our flight is at 7.55am, postponed from 9.20pm Friday.

I can't wait for the copious amounts of filter kapi and masala dosa's that await me in Chennai.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

rain rain go away

Every year Mumbai welcomes the monsoon and revels in the idea of a few days of minor disruptions and rainey day holidays. Not this year.

Tuesday evening, back from a day out in drizzly London, and the phone was ringing as I walked in the door. My father in-law calling from Calcutta to update us on what was happening in Mumbai. Many calls and web news alerts later we ascertained that both my brother in-laws were at the homes of friends, my mom in-law, niece and one sister in-law all safely home but my other sis in-law was stuck in her car with colleagues enroute home and amidst a sea of water and cars. A long night later she reached home at 7am. Safe and dry now thankfully!

Two days later - right now - V and I are packed and ready to get onto a flight to take us to Mumabi and then on to Chennai for 3 days of celebrations. My cousin's wedding reception and my aunts birthday celebrations beckon. Further to that we'll have a few days each in Chennai and then in Mumbai will complete our holiday.

Our flight from Heathrow tonight has been cancelled and is now due to take off tomorrow. Instead of a day in Mumbai before we head off to Chennai, we will arrive near midnight, and leave really early on Saturday to get to Chennai. A day of work and holiday lost due to the vagaries of weather. Extreme heat in the US, lowest rains ever in the UK and highest rains ever in India - weather changes we seem to have brought upon ourselves. However, the delight of being able to see my whole family in two days will not be made less by the difficulties in getting there. Whats life without obstacles eh? India here we come.....

In the meanwhile, electricity and bands of normalcy are brining Mumbai back to it's feet. It's a city with an indomitable spirit and the numerous tales of people helping each other during the weather crisis are not surprising only comforting. My thoughts are with you Mumbai....

sit down, sit down and stand up

A lively weekend, to match my buoyant mood and the spirit of the 30's.

A wonderful couple we have come to know in London, are heading back for India this week, after a two and half year stint in London. So we spent Friday evening with them. In an effort to enjoy the spirit of 'summer' london we watched the London Chamber Orchestra play at Canada Square Park, Canary Wharf. Sitting on the grass, chips, pimms and friends. Aaaahhh!!! Followed it up with scrumptious dinner by the river @ Chimichanga, a lovely Mexican joint that is fast becoming my favorite in the Canary Wharf area.

Saturday, we spent the morning/ afternoon at Greenwich with a friend who came to stay. The idea was to show her around, but we ended up buying loads of junk for ourselves. In the evening we went for dinner to a friends home. It was a dinner which brought together 4 couples (beside the hosts) who did'nt know each other. It was lovely to meet new desi's in London. And there can't really be 1 billion Indians because it turned out that I met a friend from school, someone I have not seen or been in touch with since I was about 12 years old. How cool is that!?? Anyway, the evening was lovely and this school friends wife and the host kept us well enetertained by singing - what beautiful voices! All well worth recording - who knows they could be famous one day and I'd have pipped the queue and heard them live first!!!!!

Sunday, I spent at home nursing a light fever while V entertained our houseguest. In the evening I was introduced to an activity which is no doubt going to become addictive - Stand-up comedy. In all the time we've been in London we've been intrigued by Comedy clubs and the idea of stand-up comedy. V had the chance to go to the Comedy Cafe as part of his office's Christmas celebrations. He hated the dinner that went with the act and as a result the whole evening seemed average instead of magical. Our guest is a stand-up addict and the act she persuaded us to go for was by a comic she saw in Melbourne a year ago.

So at 7.30 pm we arrived at the Hampstead Comedy Club which is a rather fancy name for a tiny stuffy basement below the Washington pub. We had to pre-book our £6.50 tickets by phone. 7.30 was still too late to arrive. With more than an hour to go before the show began the basement was stuffed to the gills and we got seats on tiny uncomfortable stools and seperate from our friend. Luckily the show was brilliant and the uncomfortable seats well made up for. The two acts we saw were Lucy Porter and Daniel Kitson. Both were previewing (polite-speak for 'trying out on paying suckers') abridged versions of their pieces for the upcoming Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Tiny Lucy Porter had us chortling to her seemingly unpracticed lines and self-depreciation for the first 50 mins with her show called 'Happiness'. A 20 minute break (to help the stomach pain from laughing hysterically!) later we were attacked by the utterly hilarious Daniel Kitson. He's the guy our friend had seen Down Under and came highly recommended. He has a strong stutter but overcame it beautifully and by making light of what must be so frustrating, endeared himself to his audience. His brand of humour is entertaining and as a comic he is first class. An hour and a half later we were all laughed out. A brilliant end to a marvellous weekend.

Stand-up comedy here's your new fan!
Chimichanga: 37 Westferry Circus, Canary Riverside, London E14 8RR. Tel: 020 7519 1234

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Sirens of a different kind

After the blasts on the 7th of July, bringing the Tube system in London to a virtual halt, life settled back to some normality although the sirens of emergency services rung in our ears for days. After a few days that sound became comforting, knowing that they were in control of things, helping people get back to normality. Slowly this city has lifted its spirits and got back to business. We are all back to working and travelling and living our lives as best we can.

Today this has happened and the sirens are back, ringing in our ears, pointing out that this is not normality, that this city is under attack. What kind of horrible world is this?

Adventures with the in-laws # 3

Most desi's rave about Southall, the food, the ambiance, the indian-ess. So have you eaten gulab jamun's in....or aloo parathas at.....or watched so-and-so film at....

Quality Food (where all the desi's get their groceries from when in/ near Southall yaaar!!), where you can by any size pressure cooker, gazillions of agarbati's, 300 types of pickles and 20kg bags of basmati rice, all under one roof, is the busy hub of it all. And consequently it's perpetually 'jam' packed with Indian's from all over London stocking up on groceries of amounts big enough to feed whole armies. I personally prefer the Spice shop on Drummond street, which is for me more central and although on a far far smaller scale is suitable enough for my much smaller cooking operation.

Beside the grocery shops there's Himalaya Palace Cinema which claims to be 'the most luxurious 3 screen cinema in West London'. Talk about niche marketing! The sidewalks are filled with people jostling around stalls selling anything from jalebi's to glitzy sandals, all amidst blaring hindi/ punjabi music, fluttering jangly clothes, movie posters and wafts of warm spices. All in all its a pretty good replica of Delhi's Karol Bagh.

Unfortunately I'm not impressed at all. We've given Southall many many chances to be endearing, to make us feel homesick for India, to be a slice of home. In our efforts, over 3 years, we've been to atleast 15 different eateries and not one of them proved up to scratch. Parathas floating in oil, one too many red-dyed paneer tikka's and a host of other non-indian tasting dishes has completely put us off it.

Three Saturday's ago we took my in-laws to Southall; they were keen to see it as apparently many Indians back home enquire whether while in London they will went to Southall. So Southall it was. Same ol same ol, smells, sounds and crowds (I have to say though that occasional interaction with great crowds are enjoyable, the 'un-afraid-ness' of milling people, the only part that make me miss India). Lunch at an awful place called Roshni. Looked deceptively bright and cheerful. Our first clue should have been a woman yelling at the waiting staff. But we were already seated by the time we noticed her, tired from walking around, and resigned to our fate. How much I regret that meal! Aloo tikki's with a thin layer of mashed potato deep fried in a pakora batter. Bilious red paneer tikka. Food absolutely floating in oil. No words can describe the lurches in my stomach with every bite and so I will not try.

Roshni: 7-9 South Rd, Southall, Middlesex UB1 1SU. Don't try it!!!

By the by nowadays I'm Sudoku-ing in under 17mins. V is way ahead of me at well under 10 hoo

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Back on the day

8 texts, 5 cards, 12 emails/ e-cards, numerous phone calls and one yummy Sacher Torte later, I’m here, on the other side of 30. And what can I say, the view looks great!

At midnight, I got 2 wonderful cards, 'Love' by Toni Morrison and fuzzy Alex (see below) from V, with some sort of art work promised as remainder of my gift (I want a framed photograph as I think it will mark the day, be meaningful yada yada yada – have not decided on what/ from where etc.).

Next, I woke in panic on the 15th, at 8.30am with the phone ringing and happy birthday being sung to me by a buddy, while I tried desperately to rub the sleep out of my eyes. The panic was that V who is normally in office by 7am was still fast asleep. Tried waking him up only to find out that he’d taken the day off to celebrate with me. YAY!!!!! Cunning fox had surreptitiously cancelled all the alarms.

Spent the morning on the phone/ net answering calls/ e-mails, getting more comfortable in the skin of the 30 year persona. Mid day and we set off for lunch at Nando’s and followed it up with watching ‘Madagascar’ which opened all over London to coincide with my birthday (not because of, just coincidental, new movies open every Friday…).

OK, quick review of Madagascar. But before that, just something I noticed. Millions of tiny children between the ages 2 and 7 were around with mums in tow to watch the movie. Most are just finding their legs and voices, constructing basic sentences and mis-pronouncing words. But all, and I do mean ALL, can correctly pronounce ‘Madagascar’. Go figure. Anyway, 4 Central Park zoo animals: star attraction, Alex (voiced by Ben Stiller), a happily captive lion, a zebra named Marty (voiced by Chris Rock), a hippo named Gloria (voiced by Jada Pinkett Smith), and Melman (voiced by David Schwimmer) a severely hypochondriac Giraffe. Alex loves captivity and has no curiosity about life on the outside. Marty, facing his 10th birthday and middle age, inspired by the penguins attempting their escape to Antarctica, starts thinking about life in the wild. Determined to find out what it would be like, Marty escapes the zoo to head for the widest open space he can think of: Connecticut. Shocked, his friends take off after him, planning an intervention to bring him to his senses and get him back in his pen. The good citizens of New York react poorly to hippos, monkeys, and penguins on the subway & at Grand Central station and things snowball until the whole lot of them end up in crates on a ship bound for the wild in Kenya. The wily Penguins hijack the ship and in the 4 friends land up in wild Madagascar. The second half is all about how tame animals deal with life in the wild.

It’s a great film, not in the league of Finding Nemo, but well worth the watch. The film’s supporting characters get the biggest laughs: commando penguins, literature loving monkeys and techno-dancing lemurs. Thankfully there are no obligatory moral lessons so often unnaturally forced into family films. The only lesson to be learned is that even the best natured lion gets hungry (not something we’d worry about in every day life). A good laugh.

Evening 30 lap swim, steam and sauna before heading off for dinner. Since we landed up early we went and had a drink in a local pub. Dinner was fantastic. We booked a table at Abeno, which claims to be London’s only Okonomi-yaki restaurant. Had never heard of this kind of cooking before and got the address out of a magazine article giving the top 5 places to eat pancakes in London. I’ve wanted to give this a whirl for some time now and this seemed a good enough occasion. Abeno is tiny, tucked away on Museum street, near the British museum – a real gem.

We preceded the main meal with ika itame, lovely fresh squid sautéed with garlic and topped with seaweed. Then the Okonomi-yaki: it’s a pancake made of a flour and egg batter, with a base of cabbage, ginger and spring onion. This base is then topped up with other ingredients (‘okonomi’ means ‘your choice’) and it’s all cooked on the hotplate which is inset into the table. We had an okonomi-yaki with corn, cheese and pork. Then we had a salmon teppenyaki, also cooked by our smiling server at the table. Fresh organic salmon and vegetables (lotus root, mushroom, bean sprouts, spring onions) cooked with an unknown but very tasty sauce. The staff was friendly, polite and helpful and we had a brilliant, relaxed evening.

Saturday evening we had a whole bunch of friends to help us demolish the Sacher Torte and indulge in lovely Caipirinha and snacks. Sunday was just sack-out and enjoy-the-wonderful-weather day! All in all, 3 wonderful birthday celebratory days. What more can I ask for!!

So now I’m 30, stronger and better for having come through my 20’s with love and joy. Thank you to the many people who read this blog and have wished me well for my birthday. It was a momentous occasion in my life and I am glad to have had the opportunity to record it (will it make an interesting read when I’m 50???!!!). This blog will go on. 30 in 2005 is just the point in time to mark what’s momentous in my life. It will continue to be where the views and news of this gal will evolve. Will you still be here???

Abeno: 47 Museum Street, London WC1A 1LY. Tel: 020 7405 3211

Friday, July 15, 2005

Today I'm 30!

Yes, it's here. Today is the first day of the third decade of my life.
Happy birthday to me!

The secret of staying young
is to live honestly,
eat slowly,
and lie about your age.
- Lucille Ball

I'm off for a day of celebration. Will report on the festivities tomorrow. Till then, ciao.

Welcome to my thirties!!!!

Of life and lilies

At noon today London came to a standstill to remember those who lost their lives in the terrible blast of last Thursday. To honour a two minute silence is the least we could do. We did it as a mark of respect and as moment of reflection. I, with many others, stood at the roadside, bowed my head and prayed. This evening thousands of people will gather in Trafalgar Square for a vigil and to thank the emergency services.

Life must go on. Inspite of all the sorrow in the world I like to think that each persons happiness is a drop making up a wondeful, clear, beautiful ocean. Beautiful things, flowers. We received a wonderful bouquet of lily buds from friends who came to dinner a few weeks ago. Bunged them in some water and didn't have very high hopes of what they would turn out to be. Well, foolish me!

One pink lily in full bloom, at its glorious best. Posted by Picasa

Tulips are my favourite flower. Lilies are catching up. A bit of research found this titbit: In many parts of South-East Asia, pink lilies are used to bring harmony and joy to the home. The sweet, gentle fragrance of this flower creates a feeling of tranquility.

I can vouch for that!

Tomorrow I'm 30.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

And in 2....

I've finished two very interesting books simultaneously. I was reading a bit of each and then moving on to the other before coming back to the original one.

The first book (Book 9) was 'Beneath the Diamond Sky' by Christopher Wakling. I read the jacket cover while doing a balancing act in an overcrowded bargain bookshop. It seemed intriguing, quite a dark novel, with struggles and difficult tales to tell. I bought it. And how right I was. The story is set in Kashmir in the shadows of the mighty Himalayas and begins inconspicuously enough with a tourist couple, Kate and Ethan, arriving in New Delhi with the idea of an adventure holiday. After a few days of being brow beaten by both the Delhi heat and the numerous touts selling them tours, they settle on a holiday on a Kashmiri housebout. At first Kashmir is all as they imagined it, beautiful, cool and hospitable. Then they join a group of five other westerners on a trekking expedition. They are sold out by their guide to a militant group and taken hostage. The book stears clear of the issues of the separatist militants, only giving small hints as to their origins and mainly selling the idea that foreigners are valuable pawns in the bartering game. All seven hostages deal with their confinement differently; one tries to escape and is killed, another dies of ill health, another is maimed as punishment, Kate tries to keep a journal as a survival tactic, Ethan shifts allegiances inspite of the limited understanding of the ideology that holds them hostage.

The book moves back and forth between the hostages and those at home in Britain. Kate's sister Rachel is tormented by the memory of her cold and dishonest relationship with her sister Kate and Ethan's father remains unwilling to confront cruel family truths he has perpetrated. It ends with the collision of difficulty and loss, truth and redemption. It's a beautifully written absorbing psychological thriller exploring the effects of pressure on different characters. A terrifying but essential read.

My second, far sunnier book, was 'A Good Year' by Paul Mayle (Book 10). I have never read anything by him before but he's apparently written a load of bestsellers and I'm not surprised. 'A Good Year' is a cheerful book (just the antidote to the often dark chapters of the previous book) about Max Skinner, a failed London banker who moves to Provence after inheriting a vineyard from his Uncle Henry. The beautiful countryside is home to 'Le Griffon', a wonderful quirky country house with its own vineyards and a cellar full of terrible tasting wine. Vineyard caretaker Claude Roussel and prim housekeeper Madame Passepartout help Max settle into his new life easily. Local interest includes the attentions of local notary Nathalie Auzet and curvy cafe owner Fanny.

Into the mix arrives a young Californian, Christie Roberts, Uncle Henry's long-lost daughter and Max's best friend Charlie (something of a wine buff). Beside a wonderful new lifestyle, they soon uncover a vineyard scandal (under their noses, in their glasses) involving a delicious, high-priced, discreetly produced boutique wine called Le Coin Perdu, being traded as an investment. And it's coming from a small patch of their own vineyard. It was a quick paced story with some interesting twists and some nice tension - needed no great thought. I liked the happy ending feeling of this book. Would have read even better on a beach!!

So that's 2 new books and in 2 days I will be 30.....

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Adventures with the in-laws # 2

They've gone after a month of filling our home with laughter and love. During this month we had a few brilliant outings. Adventure # 1 was in Bath.

During the working week we decided to make a day-trip to Windsor and Eton. Got my pal Abhi to tag along with us. Quick 55 minute train journey from Waterloo past some lovely greenery and we were in Windsor & Riverside, home of the 1600 room Windsor Castle. Facts: Windsor Castle is the largest inhabited castle in the world, and the oldest in continuous occupation (over 900 years). It is one of the Queen's three official residences, and is often said to be her favourite. The Royal Standard flies over the Round Tower of Windsor Castle when the Queen is in residence - at other times, the Union Jack flag flies in its place. We took a 35 minute boat trip along the Thames to Boveney after lunch and the queen was not in residence!

Posted by Picasa Back on dry land and this is the large population of very hungry and grossly overfed swans begging the tourists for nibbles. Now, here's a cool story: the ownership of swans has always been a privilege granted by the Crown. Today there are 3 owners of the Swans: the Wonderful Company of Vintners, the Monarch and the Worshipful Company of Dyers. During Swan-upping, which takes place in July the swans are marked to show ownership. Irrespective of ownership they were all greedy guts!!!

Windsor is a beautiful little town, with hanging baskets of flowers adorning the streetlamps. It was a lovely clear day. After looking at the castle we decided to cross the river and have a look at the very famous Eton. As we strolled along the the very attractive High Street towards Eton College, we saw pairs of young lads in uniform (for me reminiscent of the Mallory tower stories where the girls were only allowed into town in pairs). Eton is very impressive. It was founded in 1440 by Henry VI and counts 18 former British Prime Ministers amongst its students.

It was a long day and all the walking was capped off by cool drinks by the river at the elegant oh-so-traditional Sir Christopher Wren House hotel.

This is wonderful and leisurely day trip from London. Well worth the time and effort!

In other matters, I'll be 30 in 4 days (and I'm still not ready!) and my sudoku timing is improving steadily...

Sunday, July 10, 2005

No Fear

Londoners, like New Yorkers and Madridians before them , have given the term 'No Fear' a whole new meaning.

London is a wonderful, strong, vibrant city - and my home. It is a city and mix of people I have grown to love. No amount of hardship and terror will make it's people bow. By Friday morning everyone was back, living life, working, proving that Londoners are a resilient and defiant people.

When will the human race find an alternate to violence? What will become of this world? What can one person do: Keep your head high, make your influence in the world a positive and peace loving one. Have no fear!

P.S. I have added a link to this post today (Mon 11th July 2005 @ 21:22) - link from the words 'resilient and defiant' - I think it's brilliant and speaks volumes for the spirit of Londoners.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

London at a standstill

Jubilation to tragedy - all in under 24 hours. Yesterday the only news that mattered to anyone here was how London had pipped Paris to the post and won the Olympic bid for 2012. The party had begun and was expected to go on for weeks. No more.

This morning the city's smile is gone, replaced by a grimace as emergency services spread across the city, sorting out the terror that has shut down our transport system. Scotland Yard has at this time confirmed explosions at Edgware Road, King's Cross, Liverpool Street, Russell Square, Aldgate East and Moorgate. London's much practiced major incident plan is in place. Multiple bombs, fatalaties, walking wounded, casualties, filled hospitals - nothing prepares us for it mentally.

I use Moorgate station regularly. Not today. Thank god.

V is in office, safe. I am thankful that we decided to live close enough to his office to enable him to walk back and forth, rather than brave the tube.

My friend, Shoefiend was in the thick of it all. This is her story. She sounds shaken on the phone and I hope she feels stronger as the day goes on.

I am in shock. This is my city and it's hurt.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Olympic - London.....

.....has won! Surprise surprise, London will host the 2012 Olympics. Where will I be, I wonder?

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Is this really 'THE MOMENT'?

Yes, this is moment when I am at home in front of my computer and millions of people around the world are enjoying some fantastic live music puportedly in support of Africa. But it it indeed THE MOMENT in history where according to Sir Geldof "The G8 leaders have it within their power to alter history. They will only have the will to do so if tens of thousands of people show them that enough is enough.". Beleive me when I say that for most people its just a fantastic free concert - a once in a lifetime opportunity to see all the greatest names in music come together and sing their hearts out.

Ok, so I sound miffed (I'm not) that I'm not there, even though I live in London. Well, to be honest, I never texted in because much as I would like to believe in the good intentions of this concert, I can't imagine how it will truly change anything. I'd be lying if I said that if I had a ticket I would not go. I would. There is a small part of me that sincerely wants to believe in the altruism of individuals such as Bono and Sir Bob. They have dedicated a good portion of their lives on trying to bring to our notice the woes of Africa. But I'm afraid I completely disagree that this is the way to do it.

In 1985 Live Aid had the best motives. However, to pretend this emotional, ad hoc response to the complex problems in Africa made a positive difference was naive, deep set in some deluded idea that music changes the world. Money from Live Aid did save lives but there was no significant change in attitudes. With rampant corruption and the frittering away of all the money the West lent them, today Africa is hardly better off. Once again, the poor pay for the greed of the rich.

At least with Live Aid it was about the common man donating time/ money to the cause. Today it is about debt cancellation - how will holding concerts around the world influence the G8 leaders is something I cannot figure out. Of course people will want to attend. Who wouldn't with the impressive line-up Geldof has put together - contacts par excellance. What's in it for the artists beside the 'warm' feeling in their hearts - visibility on the biggest possible scale, free promos for their music albums and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to promote a charitable image. But saying that superstars of music playing and millions of people attending concerts will in anyway influence the status of debt is foolish and only the naivest people will really believe it. Do you think Blair or Chirac are watching Live 8 and thinking "Oooh, look at that, so many people supporting Africa, I think we should cancel debt because it's the will of our people". Please. If the will of people at a concert could change the mind of politician that would be more than a bit miraculous. And we'd have a lot more concerts!

My biggest problem with these grand free concerts to 'support' the African cause is how Bono and Geldof have completely disregarded 'black acts' - surprising for people who are so passionate about Africa. The argument that the dominance of white faces among the Live 8 line-up reflects the need for big names to bring change is insulting to the intelligence of audiences and completely contradicts the symbolism this is meant to exude.

And just so you know, the money raised from the text messages (to win tickets here in the UK @ £1.50 each) is going to the Prince's Trust (as compensation for Live 8 replacing their traditional fundraising concert, Party in the Park), and the rest will cover Live 8 administration costs.

I'm a believer in the power of each person making the world a better place. I work in the charitable sector and believe in the contributions of people to particular projects making a difference to African lives - water, food, shelter, education that charities bring to the man on the ground. I don't believe that cancelling this debt will make a difference to the everyday poverty that Africa faces. If the musicians were as concerned about debt as they claim to be why not give a couple of millions pounds each to a cause rather than blather on about the responsibility of givernments? Charity begins from your own pocket, your own time.

I admit that right now I'm flipping between Venus Williams winning Wimbledon on BBC2 and Travis singing on BBC1 - never say no to some great free music. I wear the 'Make poverty history' wristband because I believe that my £1 is my contribution to the cause of Africa, not a contribution to the cancellation of debt.

I insist: I'm not a sceptic, just a realist.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

V sudoku'd.....

...for the first time ever and he did it in 13 minutes. What does that say about me?