Tuesday, March 31, 2009

India bit 9: The fabric of life

It’s my last full day in Delhi and on holiday. Tonight our house will come alive with the laughter and voices of our friends and family, as everyone comes together to celebrate my mother and the Nik’s birthdays (which are on the same day next week but Part 1 is being celebrated in advance, kindly, to accommodate our trip).

This morning we run errands for the evening and generally buzz around the house, tidying and setting things up. V arrives at mid-day, his week with his family complete. We all sit around chatting and eating stuffed parathas (mooli and aloo) for lunch, catching up with his news and the Tiwari samosas (or singhara's as the Kolkattans refer to them). Then the preparations for this evenings’ shindig begin in earnest. The table is set and flowers arranged. The ice arrives, alcohol is ensconsed and the glasses laid out. The cook arrives to begin kebab and kitchen duty. My mother collects the bulk of the food, an impressive array of snacks and 3 different cakes to sweeten the evening. Everyone has a bit of a rest and then gets ready to part-ey.

At about 6pm our first guests arrive - my college roommate and her daughter. She has to leave for a dinner engagement but we have an uninterrupted time to be able to chat and that is precious. Almost as soon as she leaves a trickle of guests begin to arrive. And then like a waterfall it never stops. 55 people traipse through our house this Saturday night, my parent’s friends, my friends, V’s friends, the Nik’s friends, uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews. Everyone snacks heartily; chargrilled mushrooms, feta stuffed olives, spinach and corn tartlets, bocconcini (mozzarella), pita chips & hummous, arrancini (stuffed rice balls), 4 types of kebabs with pudina chutney and a host of things I can no longer recall are downed with drinks. The giant blueberry cheesecake and platter of chocolate mousse squares vanish without trace, leaving us a with missing persons forlorn-ness and only one big chunk of deep chocolate cake to put away.

The house positively glows with the warmth that only friendship, laughter and tealights can induce. We talk without pause, smile till our jaws ache, eat till there is no more room in our weary stomachs. It’s late by the time everyone has said their last goodbyes and the house is efficiently tidied by many hands. We stay awake as long as our weary eyes and minds allow, unpacking gifts, re-packing suitcases and talking till tomorrow comes.

Early on Sunday morning V and I do one final round of packing, making sure we haven't left things behind. After a quick family breakfast at our local Sagar we set-off for the airport. Long goodbyes later we are on our way through New Delhi’s airport, headed home to cold London. I sleep contentedly on the flight, dreaming of my time in India and pleased as punch that I will see our families again this summer.

The End.

Friday, March 27, 2009

India bit 8: Talking, eating, shopping for the planet

My beloved aunt and uncle have arrived from Chennai early this morning, braving two nights on the train just to come and hang around with us and celebrate my mother and the Nik’s forthcoming birthdays. I am the recipient of many a goodie thanks to 40in2006, whom I saw in December. My mother is the recipient of goodies made by her delightful daughters, my beloved nieces (a knitted scarf and two handkerchiefs: one glitter painted, the second embroidered). Despite my haul of serious loot I am jealous – can I count on a scarf for my 40th D??

We spend the morning just relaxing and chatting at home, all of us talking nineteen to the dozen, the speciality of our race. Then we decide to check out one of the new Malls built in our vicinity and its food court. There are only a few shops open as yet – recession or delays nobody knows. Notably I go and have a stare at the windows of Tantra and admire the slogan-y T-shirts. I remember them from years ago when they retailed in limited designs and sizes at Shoppers Stop and their smart witty slogans seemed so much funnier to my less corrupt brain. Their much worn ‘over-educated, under employed’ T-shirt is still my gym/ sleep favourite.

For lunch we are sitting under fake palm trees and on outdoor furniture in the covered atrium. It is bright and light and for a weekday, very full. Clearly people have all the time and money to spend on food on a weekday. Everybody chose something different and the Nik (being the youngest and most pliant) ran around organising both food and drinks while we continued talking. I had a divine plate of chole bhature from the Haldirams stall – something that I have said I would have on every trip and not managed in at least the last four. North Indian chole bhature is so different from the equivalent in the south. This bhatura is oval shaped and its thick doughy walls hold in the air beautifully, much like an inflated rugby ball. The chole is dark and tangy, its thick gravy coating each chickpea. I’m not sure why I am describing the whole chole bhature incident, just that I was so delighted with this simple meal that I cannot help but want to write what it was that made me smile so broadly.

Then we split up into groups – the boys went wandering in the adjacent mall while the girls drove off to Fab India. I bought a few pieces from their new jewelry line and some household accessories (yet more stuff I DO NOT NEED) to carry back with me. A short trip home to deposit the bags of shopping, leave my aunt to entertain a guest and to collect the Nik. Now it’s the turn of some serious shopping – my childhood haunt Fact and Fiction and the basement Om Bookshop in Vasant Vihar are my temples. I buy 23 books to add to the 5 I bought from Khan Market’s Bahri. It’s a good thing I have an empty suitcase and have not done very much by way of actual bulky shopping.

We spend the evening at home, ordering in kebabs, butter chicken, roomali’s and naans’s and some delightful malai kofta’s (for me and only me!) and talking our way through them. And then we play rounds of cards at the dining table, which I am thankful had no money attached as I lost very very badly.

I try and do some cursory packing before bedtime. All my books fit beautifully. I cannot believe that my week is almost at its end. I haven’t had such a peaceful, relaxed, good time in too long. I must have done something right for it all to have gone so right.

Food Courts: Every Mall in the NCR it would seem
Chole: chickpeas cooked in a tangy tamarind based sauce
Bhature: Companion deep fried bread to mop up the chole. Deep fried refined flower (the tastiest heart attack on a plate)
Malai kofta: soft paneer and vegetable balls, deep fried and immersed in a smooth silky tomato cream gravy flavoured with cashew nuts

Thursday, March 26, 2009

India bit 7: How to spend money

My cousin Mandy is on time this morning for our day together. We will be joined by cousin Ro later. Enroute to Saket Ro calls to cancel due to emergency shaadi shopping for someone. I will miss her but I know that Mandy and I will have a fabulous time – we always do. We are at Select City Mall (again!), but a different set of shops beckon. I buy armloads of stuff I don’t need but definitely want (I know, it’s a curse), all vetted and devil’s advocated by Mandy who has good taste, a clear sense of value for money and an eye for a bargain to boot.

We are soon laden with (my) bags by lunchtime and we decide that our marathon spending deserves to be crowned with food. We dither between the food court and the range of restaurants available and decide on an Italian place to eat. The interior is huge and roomy and full of gold foil, mirrors, crystal baroque. Besides us the only other people are a table to 20 Japanese women (on their version of a kitty party no doubt). M and I share a spaghetti bolognaise, a mushroom & pepperoni pizza and yet more gossip. The service is a tad over-attentive with a different waiter interupting to ask if we need anything else, is everything fine, about 30 times in the short hour. But the food is fresh and tasty and these two hungry shoppers devour it in no time. We have talked without pause all morning, catching up on stories and gossip.

It is late afternoon by the time I am home for a food induced siesta. I really miss living in Delhi when I go back on vacation and meet Mandy. We used to hang out a lot (and by that I mean A LOT) when I lived at home and she lived close by. Her daughter T is just the most delightful of nieces one can have and I miss that she isn’t in Delhi anymore for me to spoil.

Tonight 5 of us are at Ai in the adjacent Mall in Saket (I should have just stayed there!) for a Japanese inspired dinner – the parents, the Nik, P and I. We are seated on the terrace enjoying the cool of a Delhi Spring evening/ night. The indoor and outdoor bits of the restaurant are full and buzzing and we do a bit of celebrity spotting. Among other things, we order sesame tenderloin, spring rolls, pork belly, chicken teriyaki, prawn tempura, a vegetable stir-fry and an egg & seaweed fried rice. Despite asking for 3 of these dishes to be served at the same time as my dad and I are sharing our main course they all come separately. So we sit around while each dish cools and then freezes, waiting for the next piece of the puzzle to appear. The server forgot to order the rice and both our main dishes are ice cold by the time we re-remind her and the steaming hot rice finally appears.

It was a shame really, the shoddy service, because the food is fresh and delicately flavoured (each ingredient really does bursts forth on the palate separately – this shocked me as I have become used to things melding as Indian food does into one giant burst of flavour) and without any pretension (as most highly priced restaurants are want to be). I’m a huge fan of Japanese food anyway (a taste acquired at Delhi's Tamura many years ago and honed by my experiences with this cuisine in London's many wonderful Japanese places) and this rice is divine to say the least. I also like the idea of a not too exhaustive overbearing intimidating menu, and in this case the fusion and traditional sit together well, tempting and pushing the Indian taste buds well into territories not often explored. In short I would say the food in Ai is spectacular but its service, on this night, did it the biggest disservice possible. I wonder if I will be tempted back?

Spaghetti Kitchen: Select City Mall, Saket, New Delhi – 110017. Tel: 42658430
Ai: MGF metropolitan Mall, 2nd Floor, Saket, New Delhi – 110017. Tel: 40654567

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

India bit 6: Getting my teeth into things

The ‘accessing services’ part of my holiday begins in earnest today. I’ve given things for dry cleaning and things to be altered to the tailor, almost as soon as I arrived. But today it’s the turn my teeth to feel the love.

I come from a family of people with teeth problems and being paranoid about that being me someday (and of course an intense fear of pain that a dentist can cause) I have taken dental hygiene to a whole new level of careful. I’ve had the same dentist since I was 17, introduced by my cousin Mandy. He (desntist) and his wife ran their practice from a few rooms in a ground floor apartment in our south of the south boondocks. Of course with all the expensive dental care that people need they progressed quite quickly to a swanky purpose fitted clinic in Vasant Vihar. My annual check-up and teeth cleaning now pays in part for the Mercedes Benz parked at the entrance. But at under £10 each time (and this I do convert because the exact same things would cost me £40 at the hands of an inept student here) I am comforted because he has been examining my teeth, knows the history of the gap between two teeth on the left and has my dental records since the beginning of time immemorial.

From a dude with a few families as patients he has become so busy and important now that he now has an assistant. He still came in, looked at my records, exchanged pleasantries, examined my teeth and gums, pronounced them healthy and in need of nothing more than a clean and handed me over to the assistant. She is new but when I closed my eyes and she began to clean them I knew he had chosen wisely – she has the same light touch that he did. I firmly believe you need magic hands to be a good dentist. My teeth have a few decades of care left in them, thank goodness. Teeth cleaned and polished to sparkling it was time to get on with the having fun (read getting on with culinary examination a.k.a hogging) part of the day.

I’m in Khan Market, haunt of my school days. In those days Chona’s was the only provider of any sort of fast food in KM – soggy over priced pizza’s that surmounted to eating in a five star for cash strapped teens. Today Best Friend in Whole Wide World (One) has joined me for a wander. We visit SilverLine and I don’t buy anything – I miss going to the Bengali market one and sitting on the carpeted first floor of somebody’s house and looking at silver. This is too sterile and twangy women packed and I don’t think I can bear another ‘Gauri’ conversation. Then we traverse the market and climb up to Anokhi where a white and blue kurta (self-fulfilling purchase/ prophecy for a much wanted summer) is duly bought. Then a childhood haunt of my parents and place of mighty pilgrimage in visited – Bahri Sons Bookstore, an institution in itself. Five books are duly purchased. A visit to Good Earth turns out to be futile as the matching spoons for my previously purchased kansa dishes actually cost as much as the dishes. This I cannot abide.

We buy cookies and brownies from Mrs. Kaur’s, discuss how all these new eating places have opened up and head for the terrace of Big Chill. A delicious light and cold tomato-garlic bruschetta and milkshake/ iced tea are shared amidst our unending conversation. We head off in different directions – her to run errands and me for lunch with my mum. Lunch is delicious as usual and the conversation is very mum and daughter. I’m off for an afternoon nap.

By early evening the Nik is home and rested and raring to go. First the two of us sneak off for a plate of aloo tikki’s at our local thela wala. He is delighted to see the Nik (his most regular customer) and puts his chaat together without even asking. I ask for a plate of aloo tikki with everything on top. And cannot describe how delicious it was – served on a small disposable leaf place with a wooden spoon stuck into two stuffed aloo tikki’s with the works (chutneys and dahi) piled on top. This is my Delhi and what all my senses longed for before I got here.

As if all this endless eating is not enough we are now headed to Nanking for dinner. It started out as our local for Chinese food when it opened years ago but has progressed with time and the burgeoning economy (and money to spend) to being a very popular multi-leveled joint that attracts the expat Chinese population and the well heeled of Delhi. It’s food is divine and even though I think I have no place I eat a bit of everything – shredded lamb, hunan potatoes, chilli chicken, sweet and sour vegetables, hakka noodles and vegetable fried rice. And yes, I know none of this is really Chinese, but it is Indian Chinese at it’s very best and is by far the winner in a toss–up of cuisines if I were doing the choosing.

I have no memory of how we got home, only of sleeping a contented sleep, filled to the brim, yet again, on food and people I love. This is what trips to my home turf are made of.

Big Chill: Two spots in Khan Market, New Delhi - I was at the A 68 (not that the numbers mean much)
Mrs. Kaur’s Cookies: Khan Market, New Delhi
Chaat: Street snack food. Everywhere in Delhi
Nanking: Vasant Kunj, New Delhi - 110070

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

India bit 5: Girls - friends and family

It’s Tuesday and I am relaxing at home this morning. My Best Friend in the Whole Wide World (One) is coming for lunch and an afternoon with me. We’ve been friends since we were teenagers and although we only see each other about once a year we are on the phone and email a lot. And even when our busy lives do not allow for us to be in touch due to time differences or schedules it makes no difference whatsoever. We always start every conversation right from where we left off and in minutes it’s as if we had always been in just the same place/ space. We’ve holiday-ed together numerous times, had countless sleepovers at each other’s homes and read all the Judy Blume’s and Erma Bombeck’s ever written (and laughed at the exact same bits) sitting in the sun. Our families know each other. Heck, our extended families know each other. We are each other’s history.

She has a new haircut. So do I. My father still thinks she looks like a school kid. She does. I wish I did. The three of us settle down to a lunch of baingan bharta, aloo, simlamirch pyaaz tamatar and parathas. Then dad sits in the doorway, soaking in the afternoon sun and dozing. We sit at the table and get all caught up in reminiscing, planning, gossiping. At 4pm we leave for Select City Walk in Saket where another of my Best Friends in the Whole Wide World (Two) is escaping work early to meet us. The 3 of us went to school together and even though our lives could not be more different today we have a bond that dates back and when we meet it’s as if we are once again school girls in divided skirts and rust pullovers. (One is in filmmaking, Two is in publishing & printing and I am in the Not for Profit sector).

Saket is in many ways coming home. It’s where I spent my formative school years right until at 17 we moved even further South into the wilderness. I know its markets, different blocks and secret roads and galli's, intimately. I have random memories of it, much like film flashback. There were no malls. The ground where 3 of these gigantic malls have now been built was once a barren stretch of land, the road by its side leading towards Chiragh Dilli. So much has changed in Saket. The colonies have high walls around them and spiky gates to hold out intruders as if under siege. There is a giant hospital, the Metro is being built and even the Malaviya Nagar potters look swankier and better lit than before. I still miss it.

Select City Mall is gigantic by any standards and even on a Tuesday afternoon teeming with people. We sit on a Barista sofa where we share cold coffees, cheesecake and news. We also wonder and sdiscuss who all these other coffee-ing people are - bored housewives? flush college students?or just random friends escaping work? Then we wander around and attack the Pratap Sale with a vengeance. While two of us sit on its austere bench the third tries on a pile of (not austerely priced) clothes and we provide the running commentary/ approval/ disapproval. All shopped out (or at least One is) we head for Press Enclave, a stalwart Saket development, where Two has lived since childhood, a place I have visited more times than I can count. Her delightful 4 year old is home and proceeds to beat all 3 of us at a Thomas the Tank Engine memory game that involves remembering whats on each downturned squares and picking out pairs. Age is not kind to us, although we have more accepting humour on our side. After hours of talking I am off to a family dinner, a warm fuzzy feeling cloaking me.

My mama is hosting dinner for a huge bunch of his cousins and their children i.e. my cousins. My mum is one of seemingly hundreds of cousins and as they are all close so am I with many of mine. Everyone arrives at Indian Stretchable Time and soon the room is resounding with chatter and reminiscing as 20 people talk at the same time. Dinner is delicious and we are sated on words and the joy of bonding with family. The girls make a plan for a day of wandering over the next few days. I have laughed till my too full stomach hurts.

Too many dahi bhallas later I am rolling home to sleep. Tuesday was fabulous.

baingan bharta: Smoked/ roasted and mashed aubergine, cooked in the most delightful way.
aloo: In this case, dry roasted and with some hari ka masala
simlamirch pyaaz tamatar: Capsicum/Peppers, onions and tomato's combined and cooked like a stir fry
parathas: Whole wheat flat bread pan-fried in oil
Mama: mother's brother (in this case first cousin)
Dahi bhallas: round urad dal dumplings covered with thick yogurt and drizzled with mint and tamarind chutney's, corriander, cumin powder and chilli powder

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

India bit 4: Caanaat Place chalen?

Both mum and the Nik have gone to work so essentially dad and I are left to our own devices. It’s a lovely sunny winter’s day and there is no way we can ignore the rays. So we decide a trip to Connaught Place (or Caanaat Place as our dear driver refers to it) to eat some divine chicken patties from Wengers is the order of the day. Also a bit of Bank work for my grandmother, a dip into Bhagwandas for some leather products and possibly a trip on the Metro. All washed down with cold coffee from Keventer’s.

CP holds so many of my growing up memories that if I did tears I would get all teary eyed just at the thought of being there. I don’t get teary eyed, except in my head, where I am recording all these sights and changes to remember when I on the other side of the planet. And Wengers, well that is like a family tradition my father had from his childhood that has been passed along like a precious legend of prowess.

We drive through Shanti Path, the gardens on either side a blooming testament to spring and hardwork of mali’s. And past the various metro construction diversions that will make Delhi more accessible for those without personal transport. We are at Wengers but as it is still so early we do not yet have the stomach to eat very much. We pack chicken patties, shammi kebabs and paneer rolls (my personal favourite, much to the disappointment of my carnivorous father who thinks paneer is nothing but flavoured cardboard). And then stroll over the road to the Bank, where they excelled at being inefficient and rude all at once.

Then a stroll through the inner circle, past the pillars and hawkers selling bric-a-brac (everything from mirror-worked cushions to sunglasses), enjoying the sunshine till we reached Bhagwandas - another of his childhood haunts that my father passed on to us. It’s a shop that sells all things leather and on a summer day its cool interiors and high ceilings with their shady tube lights used to be the most inviting thing. Somehow even on this winter’s day it did the reverse trick, being warm and inviting. I bought a passport holder (finally, after a lifetime of envelopes) and dad bought a replacement spectacle case. We walked a bit more, enjoying the shafts of sunlight that heated up the corridors and abandoned the idea of a trip on the Metro in favour of the sun. Next time?

Then we drove back towards South Delhi for an impromptu early lunch and coffee with my mum at Olive Beach. We sat in the white gravel courtyard, on cane chairs and shared a perfectly baked thin-crust pizza before devouring a hot centered chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream. Washed down with a decaf cold coffee (an item as rare as finding gold nuggets in your garden, in India – a story that needs a post of its own), bathed in sunlight and the company of my parents, this was a perfect Delhi day

All our Wengers goodies were duly eaten at tea time once everyone was home. And they tasted as gorgeous as they looked. Paneer roll included.

Went and hung out with the Nik and his friends at our local branch of CafĂ© Cofee Day. Then we rejoined our parents and the Nik’s P and headed to Vasant Vihar with very intention of going to Punjabi by Nature. The plan was waylaid by Nik who insisted we try Paatra in the Vasant Continental and as he eats out a lot (and was the designated driver) we gave in. Valet parking and two security checks later we are seated in the very neutral environs of Paatra listening to some live ghazal-type music – neither is anything to write home about. The food however was excellent – kebabs and butter chicken and kali daal (these are a few of my favourite things) but there is no roomali roti (the pinnacle of all roti’s in my experience). I am full and happy by the time we leave. And yet I threaten the Nik with a lawsuit unless a PbN standard roomali roti is produced in the next few days.

As the night is still young and everyone is still full of beans (and decidely young) we decide that dessert should be had at Olive, whose fine chocolate Fondant is beckoning. After two in the same day and the endless, relentless eating I have no place in my stomach or heart by the time the evening is finally night. I could not be much happier. Or more content.

Wenger’s (open 10.30am to 7.30pm daily): A-16 Connaught Place, New Delhi – 110001. Tel: 23324594
Olive Beach: 9 Sardar Patel Marg, Diplomatic Enclave, Chanakya Puri, New Delhi – 110021. Tel: 46040404
Paatra: Jaypee Vasant Continental Hotel, Vasant Vihar, New Delhi - 110057. Tel: 2614 8800

Friday, March 13, 2009

India bit 3.5: Now, why I love flying less

Two hours and the world’s worst pav bhaji passed by really quickly. We should have been landing but all I could see were the white fluffy stuff called clouds. I had run out of things to read having finished the last chapter of my book and thumbed through Kingfisher’s in-flight magazine and safety card.

They announce that we have flown over Delhi because we haven’t yet been given landing permission (a 10 minute delay in taking-off just throws it all out of whack apparently. I feel cheated. My husband is not an engineer – how can I possibly find out if this is the truth?). The physical map on my screen shows that we are heading towards Karnal. Great.

We change our minds just before Karnal (thank goodness – I don’t know anyone there – do they have an airport or was the captain contemplating a daring descent onto mustard fields?) and head back to Delhi. We land somewhat smoothly, now 45 minutes late. As if the torture of delay in the air is not enough, we are now taxiing for about 20 minutes. It would seem we did after all land in Karnal and are driving to Delhi! (damn the new runway, eons away from all civilization).

Five minute bus to terminal building and then a fifteen minute wait till our luggage appears on the conveyor belt. A group of dudes are crowding around the conveyor belt, sort of evenly spread out along the belt yelling at each other, ‘Yeh Sudhirji ka hai?' (Is this Sudhir ji’s luggage?); Nahi yaar, yeh Sudhirji ka hai' (no my friend, this is Sudhirji’s). No sign of said Sudhir-ji who is clearly too lazy to come and point out his own baggage. Once his two trolleys (and here I was worried about my measly two pieces!) of mismatched baggage are trundled away and the evil henchmen disappear behind it, us mere mortals can finally gain access to our own mismatched luggage.

At last, hours later (Ok, an hour later), I am out in the warm shining Delhi sunshine, in the embrace of my family and headed to a meal of kofta curry and rice cooked by my mother’s hand.

I’m loving flying less. But I’m definitely loving Delhi more.

India bit 3: Why I love flying in that big steel bird

Its 48 hours since we arrived in India. And time for V and I to part ways for the rest of our social outing (see this is why I cannot in good conscience call this a vacation – a vacation is something I drink through a straw while gazing at the blue sea holding said V’s hand). I’m on the Kingfisher flight to Delhi and the women at the check-in counter does not even blink when my two suitcases register 32 kilograms on the weighing scale. I exhale as I collect my boarding pass, luggage stubs and composure and head to the gate.

I board the very red interiors of the plane along with a plane-full of folk who don’t look too happy to be travelling. The general air is of great boredom as if this is a chore that they have to undertake, not just a ride in a giant physics defying metal bird. I, on the other hand, am smiling like an idiot. I like air travel and in two short hours I will be home, under the watchful eye and joyous care of parents and the Nik who make me (even at this ripe old age) feel like a child who needs everything provided for them from food and shopping trips that my heart desires to advice, chatter and gossip that are good for the soul.

My seat is by the window and with no passenger in the middle I have only to contend with the pretty young thing seated in the aisle. The first sign of trouble I know is when she sits down and shows no indication of removing her OTT large sunglasses, even in the darkness of the flight. Then iPod extracted by many ringed fingers, her Gucci handbag is plonked in the seat between us. The IPod is switched on, headphones plugged into her ears and some jarring beat threatening my eardrums even at this distance is causing some sort of swaying/ convulsing movement to her neck. I wonder if I should be alarmed or amused. An airhostess walks by and stops at our row. PYT, removes one earphone thingie and while her music escapes towards me unbidden, one arched eyebrow rises questioningly above her sunglasses in the direction of the airhostess.

Airhostess: Madam, please could you put your bad under the seat in front of you. Or would you like me to place it in the overhead locker for you, just while we take off?
PYT: I’ll put it in front of me thanks. (and proceeds to shove Gucci under the seat in front of her)
Airhostess: Madam, you will have to switch the IPod off till we take off and the Captain announces that it is safe to use electronic items.
PYT (in her most nasal and high-pitched tone coming right out): But why? My husband told me it is OK, and he is an engineer you know!!!!
Airhostess: Be that as it may Madam, the rules are the rules.
PYT: But reeeeaaaaally, he is an engineer, he knows about these things. Nothing will happen to your plane.
Airhostess: Madam, I am afraid I don’t make the rules. Please switch it off immediately or I shall have to confiscate it and ask security to come on board.

And that was the end of whine-y’s IPod listening till we took off. Finally we take off. PYT/ Whine-y puts her Ipod back on, decided to dispense with her sunglasses saying ‘Ouch’ for dramatic effect as she whipped them off her head with the ring laden fingers. Just watching her antic made the two hours go by in a flash.

I love taking flights. Mainly because people are idiots, captured to amuse me.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

India bit 2: Mumbai Malls and endless eating

Why do I ever bother making plans when I’m visiting India? The thing about plans on our bharat darshan is that they rarely fit all the other humans that have been factored in and since Indian stretchable time is Oh So fluid, any and all plans can and are changed till unrecognizable from the originals. You would think I’d have absorbed this lesson from seven years worth of visits but no, you would be wrong. Very wrong.

Saturday dawned bright and early but thanks to jetlag and a late Friday night of chatting I was away with the fairies till a nephew and his father came to stand at the end of my bed and stare in the half darkness till I awoke. That is the power of intense stares – a power that knows no bounds. Next thing it was back to circus-ville with a house of 10 adults and 2 children trying to make and intersect their plans, amidst breakfast and baths. As everyone and their brother had something important to do (ie, sleep, visit other people, etc) I decided to tag onto the most commercial plan of all - lunch and a wander through the mega Oberoi Mall in Goregaon. So 4 of us (mil, eldest sil, R and I) packed ourselves into one of the cars and demanded the driver brave Bombay’s much improved traffic to the Mall. Once in the shining swanky monolith we deposited R in the play area and then wandered in and out of stores, every single one of them packed to the rafters with things and on some sort of change of season (read recession) sale. I didn’t do an iota of shopping as I just felt uninspired (too early in my trip to take in all the bling and make a coherent decision) and couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of buying something and then carting it to my next destination before heading back to London. I browsed around Crossword with longing but held myself back (for now). Thankfully window shopping can be just as soul fulfilling (I find) and giving advice as my mil and sil bought stuff was rewarding in itself.

We then adjourned to the wonderful ‘in malls only’ vegetarian chain restaurant ‘Rajdhani’ and devoured a Gujarati/ Marwari thali. I cannot describe how tasty and fresh it was: two types of dal, karhi, aloo suji, aubergine, green beans, two types of rice, tiny football phulka’s, puran poli, some sort of vadas, dahi bhallas, pickles, chutneys and papad, all washed down with chaas and followed by 3 choices of sweets. The restaurant was next to but not part of the large and loud foodcourt and the decor was simple and business like with a manager coming around and directing servers to serve out whatever dish they were carrying as you finished/ needed it. Managed to roll back to Bandra and yet find place for some delicious cold coffee and chat in the Barsita on Linking Road. Wandered in and out of Mango and Zara and Nike and then headed for a much-needed haircut. Home by dusk and another evening of houseful-ness, hockey/ cricket/ ball throwing and then book reading with the niece and nephew, obligatory family photograph to mark the milestones of the years since we have all been together (3, I think) and a dinner of delicious kebabs and roti's to wash down all that talk, till the wee hours of the morning and sleep beckoned.

Sometimes you don’t need the best laid plans, just the ability to go with the flow of spontaneously made-up ones.

Khandani Rajdhani: In Malls everywhere. Goregaon Mall, 2nd floor, next to the food court.

Monday, March 09, 2009

India bit 1: A new mumbai

Just back from our annual 9 day vacation/ marathon trip to India. I don't check/ respond to the internet at all when I am on holiday - call it laziness or just the need to switch off from this virtual life. Therefore this and the next 8 or 9 posts are all written in retrospect, bits (best and not) of this trip.

Landed in Mumbai on schedule in the middle of the day but our plane taxi-ed for about 20 minutes and stopped itself at about the last possible gate it could. A 20 minute trudge through the airport to immigration and luggage, which was chaotic to say the least with people cutting in the line regularly, asking for, 'adjust karne do ji'. I couldn't stop smiling.

The road between the airport and Bandra is 4 clean lanes now and the surface as smooth as can be. We whizzed through in no time, me enjoying the sun streaming through the closed windows as V enjoyed the blast of car airconditioning. Past the teetering media circus balanced on the wall of Lilavati hospital hoping for a glance of Thakrey. And finally the large airy home of V's eldest brother and his wife.

I picked up our niece R from school that afternoon, driving there with my m-i-l. While we chatted all the way there catching up on our news and plans, it was not possible to get a word in sideways once 6 year old R got in the car for the journey home. Endless monologue on her friends, a poem about a cobbler and rhetoric questions from the babe, amongst other chatter and opinions about her fascinating life. Oh to be 6 again!

At home, more people, a deliciously simple lunch of karhi, aloo and rice, an afternoon nap and the arrival of our Singapore nephew from his jaunt through Mumbai. An evening of the 3 brothers and their 3 wives, the boys parents and the niece and nephew - endless cacophony and loads of kebabs to see us through. This is the good life.