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Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Storm Brewing

A storm brewing in Bangalore
This picture was taken in May 2010 (16th to be exact). I fished it out of the SD card in the digital SLR after I decided to use it more often, and instantly remembered how we came to take that very picture.
It was while we were still living in our old rooftop terrace apartment in Bangalore. DH had given his one month notice to his previous company, and we knew we were Navi Mumbai bound. We were making our peace with the fact we were leaving Bangalore, and the flat we loved to turn a new chapter in our life.
May in Bangalore sees more and more Summer storms, promising the arrival of the monsoon and much cooler days to come for the remaining of the year. These storms usually develop very quickly and hit with a lot of violence. That one in particular did show as a dark mass of clouds in the distance, that moved toward us at a sudden fast pace. Like in movies, you could see the swirls of clouds growing and moving like greedy hands toward you.
DH only had the time to run inside to grab the camera hoping to catch the creepy mass of cloud opening like a vortex of doom. Alas when he came back out seconds later the mass had exploded into an all dark sky already, and the wind started howling and threatening to flatten a few trees. Minutes later it was thundering, then pouring down. And as quick as the storm came, it left.
We loved watching these storms, the light show alone is usually worth it. And I remember we talked about how we would miss these in our new life in Mumbai. And I do still miss them...years later. How can you not just stop what you are doing to gaze at such a sky? This storm in the picture occurred around noon, our terrace was South facing, the sky turned from bright and sunny to almost night like in minutes. How can you not be humbled by such a fierce display by Mother Nature?
I am glad this picture survived all our computer crashes over the past few years and lived on the SD card instead. It was one good memory to stumble upon in an unexpected way.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Indian Raspberries

The great thing about living in India, is that even after 11 years, you still get amazed and surprised, and still make great little discoveries. Such as this one :
Raspberries from India
Raspberries! These are fruits I did without for over a decade, the only one I ever stumbled upon in markets and supermarkets over the year were the ridiculously overpriced imported ones. Heck in the first few years I didn't even know berries of any kind were grown in India. That was until strawberries started making an appearance about 6-7 years ago. This was the time I started wondering if there were other berries produced in the country we were not aware of.
Then, a few years ago, after moving to Navi Mumbai, I came to know that raspberries were grown in Mahabaleshwar, a few hours drive away. Yet, no store, no fruit and vegetable vendor seemed to have them in stock. Each time I finally came across a pack, it came from Europe, and did cost about 3-4 time the price I would pay for them in Switzerland ( which is one of the European country with the highest cost of life already).
It is only this year that I came to know that it was possible to get my hand on some at a decent price in Mumbai. They are probably sold in Crawford market and to fancy hotels and restaurants across town, but provided you know the right person, and are willing to place a bulk order, they are yours. Hanging out with expats is what brought me to them. Because you see, we all talked about the fact that imported food is out of price (that's right even for those expats living on an international package). One thing lead to another and one lady heard of a supplier shipping berries straight from Mahabaleshwar to Mumbai, and provided our order would be substantial enough to make a delivery worth it, there was no problem for us getting them. Now, since we are a substantial group of ladies in my area interested in getting some, meeting the quota was more than easy. Beside, raspberries while having a very low shelf life at room temperature or even in the fridge, do freeze extremely well.
The season for them in India is fairly short from what we understood, October being the peak months, by November end they become scarce again. The one in the picture above are probably the last few of the season. But they have made way to the much longer and now hugely popular strawberry season.
What still bugs me, is that despite local producer shipping them to the city, most supermarket chains willing to carry the fruit, including Godrej's Nature Basket will only stock up on the imported ones. Right now my local store sell about 100g of them straight from Portugal for a whooping 600 rupees.
Mine came in a 150 g box at the price of...hold your socks...150 rupees. That is right! I paid 4 times less for them, they were local, and it was already a retail price, meaning the farmer and supplier did make money out of it.
Granted that raspberries in general do not travel well over long distance without being properly handled, and clearly can't be available everywhere in the country. How come still that in a city like Mumbai were local suppliers do ship ( Mahabaleshwar is about 5 hours by road from Mumbai), mass retailers will still prefer selling less fresh, and far less tasty imports from Europe? WHY?
I could understand if it was bridging a gap in the demand, or if the fruit was clearly NOT available locally. Why oh why rob local farmers from earning more? Why marketing these to expats thinking they are all made of gold and will buy them at any cost? Why this racket?
Raspberries will always be a bit pricier than strawberries because they are more labour intensive to harvest and pack, but they grow well in any temperate regions of the globe, and do not require a massive amount of space, this is the kind of crop small farmers could keep on the side of other crops to supplement their income.
Beside, did you know that raspberries are considered a superfood? They are jam packed with nutrients in a very low calories, low sugar and low fat form. Many scientific studies have been done about them and other berries. They have a very high vitamin C content, eating a 100g of them nearly meets half the daily requirement for an adult. Vitamin C is what helps boost your immune system, and in India they come in season just when the weather starts changing and people get more prone to falling sick. But their health benefits do not stop there, there has been studies proving that they have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer properties. The are food of choice to keep your arteries young and plaque free, making them an ideal fruit to eat to keep cardiovascular diseases at bay. Having a low sugar and low glycemic index, they also are ideal to manage blood sugar issue, every diabetic in Europe will tell you that of all the fruits this is the one that gives you the most in one serving without running havoc on insulin and glucose levels. It even seem that they are now the object of obesity fighting related research.
Does that start sparking your attention? In a country were the city dwelling population is at increased risk of heart problem, diabetes educator and lifestyle diseases? India is the diabetes capital of the world already, doctors are pulling the alarm on the fact obesity is on the rise in cities, even more frightening, among children. What if, crazy idea I'll give you that, we do make the most of what nature has to give us where it is possible to do so?
All the while giving local farmers a boost and encouraging crop diversity...not such a crazy idea after all right?
This year I got my hand on them a bit late in the season, but next year I plan buying in bulk and freezing them. Like strawberries, they have become an instant hit with Ishita who loves them as much as I do.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Decorate with fruits

The weather is playing a strange game of yo yo over here. We had some less humid days that pointed at a gentle fall into "Fall" and the promise of cooler days, then for some odd reason it started to get humid again, and a few thunderstorms and drizzles later were are back into Summer. This is draining, and everybody around here have dreams of long sleeved tops, socks, and sleeping in sweat pants (aren't we a crazy bunch over here?)
One of the joy of Winter to come, is that it means oranges season. Ishita and I can't get enough of them. The Indian one that is not yet available taste far more like the tangerines I was getting in Switzerland. Which is not to disappoint me as I have never been a super huge fan of the ones that are impossible to peel and taste bitter (the one called Navel oranges). The good new is that since last year, or local fruit vendors and the supermarket took on stocking baby mandarins to make us patient until the big ones arrive.
Baby mandarins in a bowl
We first saw them last year when we were spending our vacation in Thailand and the day after we came back they were for sale at my local supermarket, at a decent price. They usually disappear quickly in our home, Ishita will eat them between meals, and ask to have them in her tiffin daily. And I do the same ( well not the tiffin bit obviously, since I work from home).
What oranges, any type of them are also great for, is decorate your home. Forget the flowers, the expensive candles, and cute figurines. Just put a big bowl of oranges on your table or on top of a shelf, or chest of drawer and you have an instant eye catcher. One that you get to enjoy with more than just your eyes. And by the time you get bored of them, chances are they will be in your stomach already.
You can of course use any fruit you like, I did similar things with cherries, lychees and apples. But in India, be mindful of the climate, a lot of fruits that would be fruit bowl material in more temperate climate hardly survive more than a few days outside the fridge in the hot and humid climate of Mumbai. Fall and Winter are the ideal season in this city to take advantage of them as a piece of temporary home decor.
Oranges and candles for a holiday feel
Beside, what fruit spells Christmas better than oranges? In our home this is often the first piece of holiday decor we have up, or rather out. Add some candles around and you have an instant festive glow, not to mention there are ways to put these peels to good use once you ate the fruit and infuse your home with its warm smell...but I degress.
Growing up, my parents had a big fruit bowl sitting in the living room, between meals, this was the only thing my sister and I had the right to dig in freely, and placing it where the TV was meant we always ended up munching on healthy stuff while in front of the idiot box. My mom made sure to keep it loaded with seasonal stuff. I obviously repeated that pattern with Ishita, with one fruit bowl in the kitchen, the decorative fruits in the living room, and all the ones that really can't survive at room temperature in the her eye level. Fruits are often the only snack option you will find in my home.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Urban Ladder and a decor upgrade

I hope you all had a great weekend. Mine was awesome. I went swimming, then got my first seasonal coffee from Starbucks, and then I got a piece of furniture I ordered last week delivered, way before I was expecting it might I add.
Lhasa chest of drawer, urban ladder
This charming chest of drawer is from Urban Ladder. I have been eying it for a while, and it now replace that old, rickety, cheap laminate dresser that disintegrated further with every move we made. You know the one that got infested by termites recently, and as a result became even more rickety and unsafe than ever before. You know, the one that started as a cheap solution to our kitchen storage woes in our old flat in Bangalore, ended up in the damp servants room turned storage room in Navi Mumbai, only to migrate back in the living room 7 months later in Bangalore again, and then stayed there in the next two flats we occupied in Mumbai. The one I ended up painting in a last effort to make it look pretty...yeah that one :
Old rickety MDF dresser
Pretty isn't it? This picture was taken just before we left for Lucknow while I was playing around with the SLR camera. It was already falling apart, had its in are gutted by the termites and Ishita thought it was amusing to peel off some of the 3D paint decor on it. Notice how none of the drawer really close well and how it's only surviving door is coming unhinged. When we bought it in 2008 it had two clear glass doors, functional key holes, and the cheap laminate was staying put. It looked decent enough in our kitchen and acted as a cute little pantry cabinet. Fast forward to 2014, none of the drawer could hold more than a few sheet of paper without collapsing, and the sides have tear mark from where we taped something only to remove it later (yep the laminate came off that easy). To be fair it was never meant to be standing in the middle of a living room...ever. And considering we bought it for 5k from a road side furniture shop, I' actually surprised it even lasted that long. The termites infestation was the last nail in its coffin and simply accelerated our plan to replace it.
Lhasa chest of drawer from urban ladder
This is where Urban Ladder stepped in (and no this is not a sponsored post). I had been browsing their website for over a year now. Drooling ohhhing and ahhhing at their hardwood furnitures that are oh so totally my style, planning my fantasy home around them, talking about purchases with DH (loves them as much as I do)...I knew all along that the day we would replace that old glass door cabinet, I wanted to do it with something from that site.
And after spending hours debating things, I ended up narrowing it down to the Lhasa chest of drawer, in teak colour finish. The chest of drawer is made of Sheesham wood, so teak is I repeat just the colour of the varnish. When I ordered it last week, they announced that the piece would be delivered by November 24th. Two weeks seemed a perfectly fine and reasonable price considering it is solid wood, and that they probably don't have all of these stuff in stock right away. The order slip also stated that they would get in touch with me to schedule the delivery once ready...fair enough.
What I was really not expecting was for them to call me this past Saturday announcing they could deliver by Sunday between 2-3pm, asking me if it was fine with me or not. Needless to say I was home on Sunday afternoon, and that it was more than fine for them to bring it then. When Sunday came, they called me again at 1.30pm to announce that they were on the way and would reach my place in the next half hour and asked me to confirm my address with them. 25 minutes later they were in my living room unpacking it, gave me a rundown on care and maintenance and left taking all their packaging along with them.
Now THIS is an outstanding service. They were punctual, polite, and considerate enough to take all the bits of plastics and cardboard with them. It is th first time it happens in India without me having to ask, or rather beg the delivery team to pack up their rubbish.
This is one online store I can recommend to you with closed eyes. They really make shopping for furniture easy from the start u til delivery. Hats off!
Lhasa chest of drawer makes my room bigger
That simple chest of drawer completely changes the room, bringing in far more light in due to its lower height. And because it is wider and deeper than the old dresser it has far more storage space. My entire collection of DVD fits more than confortably in two of its drawers. All of my craft supplies, even the ones that were not in the old dresser before fits with room to spare for more in the remaining four drawers. I have plans to decorate the space above the dresser with pictures, but before that will go for a seasonal decor once December arrives.
All this made me half forget about the India in Pitcure series this Sunday, the picture I planned to use is watermarked and ready, I just didn't find the energy and time to sit down on Sunday to write anything. My mind was too full with new creative ideas for my living room to be able to focus on anything else, bear with me.

Friday, November 14, 2014

What's in a kiss?

The medias are buzzing with stories of kisses. A buzz I blissfully missed when it apparently started in Kochi, Kerala. I probably had the excuse of being all caught up in the festive season madness and my then much deserved period of lethargy in Lucknow. Or perhaps I am simply too grown up for it, who knows.
I would have still been blissfully in the dark if it weren't for a few (emphasis on FEW) friends who bothered to share links related to this whole "Kiss of Love Campaign" affair on Facebook.
Then, a few of my readers brought it up in comments, and asked me to write about it too. I ended up mulling the topic over most of yesterday's afternoon, and it even crept into my mind while on my walk this morning.

So what the hell is this Kiss of Love Campaign?

It apparently started as a protest in Kerala, against yet another bout of moral policing. Sadly, this hardly news. Moral policing has been around for years. Right wing extremist political outfits have a nasty habit of stirring turmoil in an effort to get free publicity. If you live in India, chances you can name at least one, if not several of such parties by name. And, no, I will not give any names here, that would be already giving them exactly what they want, and they do not deserve that kind of spotlight.
They often resort to violence to enforce their rather backward and primitive views on people, because no sane people would even pay heed to them otherwise. Who can forget the Mangalore incident that took place in the early days of 2009 when a group of radical stormed a pub and molested women in the name of Ram and for the sake of Indian culture preservation? Back then people protested by sending pink underwears to the party's leader.

In my opinion, these fanatics are crazy, wrong, and nothing but terrorists. A term that very few dare to call them by. They scare the masses into bending their way, and are not below using the crassest, most repulsive and uncivilised tactics to do so.
Indeed, something should be done, and yes the need to protest has come, there is no doubt about it. But when you are dealing with a group of conservative fanatics, you need to do it intelligently. Sending pink undies didn't work. Kissing in public frankly is the equivalent of trying to put out a fire with kerosene.

These guys are against Western culture, and they claim to act in the name of Indian culture preservation. The kiss of love campaign does nothing but bring fuel to their fire.

Because, here is a breaking new for you: we don't kiss that liberally in the "evil West". Take it from me, I am a foreigner in India. I even come from that country where some of these West-hater Yahoos stash their black money away. Most self respected adult in the so called Evil West do not lock lips passionately in public. This is the stuff only movies and TV shows want you to believe we do.
I hope it didn't come as too much of a shocker, but the only people you are likely to see kissing in public in my homeland are infatuated teenagers that already made it their life's mission to rebell against everything in the universe. You won't find many 20+ something engage in anything more than a quick hug and an even quicker peck on the lips if at all. Passionate lip locking and embraces is something that belongs to the big screen and the bedroom...period.

Needless to say that if I, as a progressive Westerner, see it as a bit tacky and definitely stupid, you can imagine that in a country that is still traditional and conservative like India it will not go down well at all.
And let's just set these crazy right wingers aside for one moment shall we? There are many moderate conservative that have nothing against progress in India, as long as their sensitivities aren't hurt. Moderates that really feel just like the liberals that moral policing is seriously wrong. Moderate concervatives that will be a bit offended by this blind aping of Western culture, and I can't blame them.
In the 11 years I have lived in India, I found and still find myself dealing with stereotypes about my own culture, very few of them nice. In many cases I find myself trying to dispel these myth only to be told that I am wrong, simply because the TV shows something else. And many will not want to have their skewed perception corrected.

To me, it seems these moral policing outfits not only have a very poor understanding of what Western culture is. And I should really use a plural, because there is far more than just one culture in the occidental world. These groups also seem to have a narrow understanding of what the Indian culture they claim to defend is.
I say protest, protest with all your might. You have the duty to protest against those who impale your hard earned freedom and right to democracy. But if you want to affect a change, and rid yourself of this insane vigilante policing, do it the right way.
Take them at their own game, show them what Indian culture is truly like instead of feeling their evil West agenda. Expose them for their blatant hypocrisy, feed them to the masses they want to indoctrinate.

And last but not least, learn about Western cultureS before aping just about anything that seem progressive. You can only defeat idiocy with intelligence.

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