Just some hours before taking a night-train to the cost of Karnataka, I am sharing some small things that have been making my day(s) these past few weeks in the subcontinent:

My morning cup of tea and the times I get out for a morning walk around the park.

My fruit platters for breakfast. I have never relished in so much (frozen) fruit…I must be consuming one small water melon a day.

My afternoon frozen non-dairy milkshakes. I am in love with the freezer.

coolerThe ceiling fan over the kitchen table where I have my home office and the hair pin that graciously keeps my tangled hair off my neck.

The breakfast escapades we plan with N. on weekdays and our morning and evening discussions at the dinner table. coffehallimaneGetting on  a bus, or taking a rickshaw somewhere and just  walking around, aimlessly or purposefully.

Exposing my taste buds to new flavours, or just good old ones.

Catching up with family and friends and having 3G internet on my phone. Turns out it’s a great thing.

DoglifeBeing a bit useful, as in having dinner ready for a working woman when she gets home.

ladyfingerricethali

Weekend discovery tours. Be it in Bangalore, Chennai, or like now, the Karnataka coast.

What are your coolers, breathers and mood-lifters right now? I would very much like to know

Wishing you a Happy and Joyful Easter, wherever and however you have decided to spend it.

 

 

Grandfather Dear,

It has been two months since you went away. Now and then you have been a visitor in our sleep. Just a few days ago, sister said that she had been talking to you in her dream. You told her that being dead was not that fun, but then you jokingly added that you could both sing and dance.

Maybe days are long and tedious up there in heaven. How can an active person like you deal with idleness? And it sounds exactly just like a problem you would have, because do you ever need to shovel snow in heaven? Do they have grocers that you can walk to for your daily provisions?

Does heaven come inclusive of garages and sheds with all sorts of tools for serious do-it-yourself projects for practical engineers?

Do they have grandchildren who amazingly enough grow older and children – the apple of your eyes? Do they have wives with violet eyes and pink lips shimmering like mother of pearl? Do they have ice-cold beers like in Alexandria?

No, I didn’t think so.

But grandfather, wherever you are we all want you to be well and happy. I don’t know what those things really mean on the other side, but somehow I am sure that you will find your way. You are not the kind of person to be deterred by challenges.

Do not worry about us. We are doing fine. Please take time to settle wherever you are.  But when you do and if it does not pain you, do come by once in a while and say hallo.

Like a soft whisper in a dream.

And then came  a downpour of off-seasonal rain. I had felt it in the morning air and had scoured the sky for signs – can there  really be rain in early April Karnataka?

And yes, apparently there can. When I went out for an evening walk, big drops of celestial water were leaving their imprints on the thin layer of dust covering the asphalted streets. Then, while I was paying for a new pair of shoes, the rain  got serious…

In April two years ago we were visiting the huge Sree Menakshi temple complex in Madurai when the skies decided to open up. The loudspeakers were playing “Om NamaShivaya” time and time again and the courtyard looked like a  water tank.

schoolboys

We were trying to find the East exit, but everyone we asked, including the temple Brahmins, seemed a bit unsure. Finally, we managed to find our way out, wading barefoot in the water. We crossed the small street and entered the souvenir cum jewellery shop where we had left our shoes. A clever move of the shopkeeper to give refuge to our footwear. We walked out with shopping.

Although Madurai itself is not a particularly interesting place, the thunderstorm at the majestic temple to the sound of chanting was a magic experience.

Two years later, I was caught up by the rain at a less breath-taking spot. A butterfly was fluttering over my head as I was standing on the porch of the shoe store. It looked totally confused and lost. Maybe it was desperately looking for the East exit.

centralmarketAt some point I decided I could start walking back home. The rain had receded. I was wrong in my judgment – I made it back under thunder, lightning and buckets of rain. But once you are wet, you cannot get any wetter, so you just end up accepting the situation and enjoying it.

And that is probably the zest of this past week. Accepting and enjoying. Accepting my body rhythm. Accepting the differences around me, enjoying everything I can enjoy.

Overall, I think that allowing oneself to get side-tracked is an important part of discovering. Usually, when I  set out to explore a new place, I make lists of things I want to do – wear comfortable shoes – and then just start ticking them off.

wallpaintingSpending a longer time in a place though, requires a different strategy with less focus on  racing and more on embracing.

So I chose my small missions. Visiting Malleshwaram by bus. Getting off, strolling around in the look out for a pastry shop I had read about in the newspaper. The Higher Taste, as it was called became an excuse to wonder around, discover the covered market of fresh flowers, fruit and vegetables and catch the pulse of the neighbourhood.

I like how seemingly random elements have the power of becoming pertinent.

I have also been on 20 km taxi drives to areas such as CV Ramanagar and HSR Layout to interview companies as part of my marketing thesis.  I took the opportunity to make a pitch-stop in Indiranagar and had a delicious Punjabi dinner at a place I discovered by asking some friendly bypassers.

So this is it, between intention and gamble, interviews, newly establishing routines, home-cooking and eating out, tours on BMTC buses and shopping for comfortable summer gear, another week has gone by, saved in the log of time passed.

This is an, already vintage, interview with Nithya, young architect from Chennai. At the time, in the first week of April 2012, she was living in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, where she was working on a large-scale urban design project, unique in its kind in India.

I served Nithya breakfast on a working day, before going to the office.

How does your day start?

My alarm clock goes off at 07.30 and I snooze for another 30 minutes before I get up.

I would like to be an early riser – wake up and do some exercise and cook lunch before leaving to work. But I am a night-bird. If I could, I would wake up between 9 and 10 o’clock.

What is currently your main source of happiness?

Planning holidays and occasions to meet my family and boyfriend. I am always looking forward to what is planned for next month.

BreakfastwithNithya

I also enjoy cooking a lot. It has a de-stressing effect on me.

When did you first start cooking?

I started when I was doing my Masters in Glasgow. That is when I started making my own full meals. Before I might give a hand in the kitchen, or bake…

Why did you choose to study in Glasgow?

Well, I was looking for an international experience and I did not want to go to the US.

I think that Europe has a greater experience of urban design. So I short-listed three English-speaking schools. Two in London and one in Glasgow.

Glasgow was cheaper both in terms of tuition fees and subsistence costs. On the other hand, the city of Glasgow was working closely together with the University. The whole city was like an urban lab.

What did you find most challenging academically speaking?

We had to perform an urban design analysis choosing a subject from our hometown, an area in Glasgow and Europe and present our results.

How did you actually choose to specialise in urban design?

It was when I was an undergraduate student. I had never thought of urban planning and design before.

While I was studying I was very interested in eco-friendly architecture and creating housing for poor people.

Nowadays, I am less idealistic.

What would your dream work project look like?

I would like to live in a smaller place, and create a sustainable village model.

Where does your interest in sustainability come from?

Sustainability was a horizontal element at the school I went to, until 10th standard: KFI, Jay Krishna Murti school.

We could run around barefoot in the school yard and climb on trees.

After 10th grade I decided to shift to a state board secondary school, as I belong to a forward caste and would need grades of 98% to get into university.

I found the new system unchallenging.

Generally speaking, I must say that today’s children are not really allowed to be children.

Parents put their children to accent training and other meaningless courses. India is very competitive.

Was there something that shocked you when you arrived in Glasgow?

Actually, being around so many Indians. I had so much looked forward to the international experience.

I also liked how I could walk everywhere, how safe it was for pedestrians.

Did you miss anything in particular?

Well, sometimes the sunshine, but not too much. The food once in a while.

I was vegan back then and it was really easy to find food. There would be special sections in the supermarket.

What did you find shocking when coming back to India?

The noise and the dust. I had to get used to tuning out the noise.

What do you like about Ahmedabad?

I like  the small scale. That I can get around easily on foot. The variety of Gujarati vegetarian food and the fact that people here celebrate even the small things in life. In the South people are more stoic.

I like the street-food in Ahmedabad. In the South you do not see much of it. It is considered to be food for poor people.

And on the negative side?

The dry summer heat, the fact that people stare and the new unknown language.

Well, I guess the difference between Ahmedabad and Chennai are a bit like London and Athens.

Ahmedabad is a safe city. I would not want to work in N. Delhi where women cannot walk around alone at night.

What do you like the most about your job?

The project itself….

It is a first time initiative in India. Looking out of the window I can see the river-front.

The project started ten years ago. It took time to clean the sewage, drain it and clean it. Sabarmati is not a flowing river.

The project is of a total of 11 km on both ends.

I cannot get any satisfaction out of designing somebody’s house when I can work on a public project.

What would you change in Chennai if you could?

Chennai has a good coastline.

I would opt for better public spaces and promote a walking culture.

India is a developing country. What does that mean to you?

There is the financial aspect. We are developing headlessly. I think we need to take a breath and think about where we are heading to. If we aspire to be where the West is now.

Green hot chilli peppers. Could be the name of an Indian rock band.

I just recently spent five days in Chennai, aka  Madras, at the Indian east cost, where I was well taken care of by a hospitable South Indian family.

I watched their routines: waking up around seven to some South Indian coffee; then some oats with milk or curd. Ceiling fans in full gear. The French windows wide open. The sound of the bustling street invades the interior. The maids sweep the floors and wash dishes. The dining table is transformed into a working surface where Ms P and Mr R prep the meals of the day.

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“We are rice eaters”, underlines Mr R while chopping the fresh vegetable yield of the day.

Indeed, rice is omnipresent in the  South Indian cuisine. From the grain as we know it to rice-bran oil or flour. Puffed or transformed into tender noodles.

It is funny to think that just as Mr R will not consider a meal complete without rice, my father will almost always accompany meals with bread, in true south European fashion.

The activity around the dining table, laden with vegetables waiting to be finely chopped in perfect dices and then cooked in some oil and a blend of masalas, is fascinating.

It goes without saying that I am curious about both this and that. My hosts patiently explain and share their recipes…

“Heat up the oil, add mustard seeds and asafoetida, then when the mustard seeds pop, add the vegetables, some turmeric and salt”. “Do you add chilli?”, I ask. Silly question. “Yes, of course, chilly for the taste”.

From the North to the South, chilli is the common denominator of Indian cuisine. The degree of spiciness may vary, but spicy it will be.

South Indian lunch and dinner are quite ceremonial. A first serving of rice is eaten with sambar, a daal-based stew, and vegetable side-dishes. After the sambar, comes rasam, a soup-like sauce, made of tomatoes, green chillies, tamarind water, daal and different kinds of spices. A portion of curd-rice completes the meal.

Food is eaten with the hands, on metal plates. The table is full of containers with various delicacies, including an array of scrumptious  pickles – raw mango, lemon, bitter gourd. Salty, spicy, slightly bitter, pungent  – I love them all.

Being around this active family, I am thinking how, in a far away land, my parents will start their day very early in the morning to some cups of black coffee, cereals and a toast slice of home-made bread. My mother will go off to work and my father will do the grocery shopping and cooking, putting all his love and care into the process.

One week in India has passed. I thought it had been a quite uneventful week, until my friend Nithya listed this week’s achievements. I thought that they deserved a blog post. So, this week I:

Traveled from Europe to the subcontinent. From late continental winter to summer.

Broke a sink while washing a pair of knickers. This during my first hours in Nithya’s flat. The sink  fell off and onto the floor where it  broke into pieces.

breezeGot just enough sick to realise that I needed to take it a bit easy, which meant spending some time on a comfortable couch of suburban Bangalore. It is a fact that I tend to cope badly with idleness.

Took a bus into Bangalore centre and watched a movie in Hindi, Queen. A fun story of female emancipation.

Tried to get technology on my side by a) purchasing a simcard, b) getting 3G internet on my phone and c) by locating the nearest cafe with wifi. The latter I believe will become a  good destination for my morning walks and a frequent hangout.

Had my share of dosas, vadas, idlis with the usual suspects – coconut chutneys, sambar and rasam.

southindianbreakfastIndulged in breakfast fruit platters with watermelon and banana, sprinkled with mint leaves and pomegranate seeds and cooled in the freezer. Morning chats and cool fruit.

breakfastThis week has made me realise that arriving to another continent is not a piece of cake. Adjustment  cannot be rushed.  So, I have taken my time, letting all the  impressions “sink” in.

If only there were occasion for repose,
If only this long road had an end,
And in the track of a hundred thousand years, out of the heart of dust
Hope sprang again, like greenness

Omar Khayyám (1048-1131),  The Ruba’iyat

I came across this strophe from the Ruba’ iyat by Omar Khayyám  in a novel some years ago. It is so beautifully simple that it becomes simply beautiful. Words volatile like ether, almost hard to grasp.

I am thinking… If two souls connect deeply in this life, this reality, this dimension, will they not have to meet somewhere again?

In the heart of an atom, or the tail of a comet, will not an infinitesimal space of the immense universe contain them again?

Be it in a hundred thousand years…

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