Sunday, 28 February 2010

Seth the fruit-wallah

With coaching from the Kashmiri tat-wallahs on Princess Street he now checks the price on a calculator (the total bill is always 'ten') and stores his earnings in his shirt pocket, doesn't always have things in stock requiring the customer to ask for something else, and no long accepts a single purchase. Fruit-wallah to budding entrepeneur, he's our little White Tiger.

God's Own County in God's Own Country

Life in the tropics

Happy Birthday to BOTH our Grandads, love from Seth & little Bo

Both were born on 28 February, my Dad 60 years ago! A very happy birthday to Roj and Douglas from all of us in India. We miss you!


 Ollie keeping Sethie company after waking at 2am asking for his satchel, tiffin box and insisting on taking a tuk-tuk to school!

Lord of the Manor

Palace Road: pretty in pink and blues

Travel iron

Another day in paradise with Aunt Boney


Wednesday, 24 February 2010

From Gandhi to The Great Gatsby

I enjoyed 'Difficult Daughters' very much. Manju Kapur captures the desperateness of marriage, miscarriages, abortion, relationships with mother-in-laws, illicit love, domestic life that so many women, not only in India, not only in the 1940s wrestle with. Evocative, beautifully written, and with a plot and pace that kept me hooked.

I'm now reading Gandhi's autobiography, which is more readable and captivating than I'd expected. I know little about his life or his teachings beyond the soundbites. There's so much to take in and digest already. He recounts events such as being married off at age 13 in an arranged child marriage and an incident at school where he was mistakenly accused of lying. Through these anecdotes he explains how from an early age these started to form his principles and ideas. It's very natural and unpretentious, almost conversational.

This Friday and Saturday I'm going to Raheem Residency for a short break with Seth and Ollie's sister. Not sure it fits to sit in a wonderful old colonial house reading Gandhi, so I think I'll pack The Great Gatsby (which I'm half way through reading as part of a mini project of reading/re-reading a list of classics). Mmmmm..just as I'm getting over culture shock...


It's amusing to listening to travellers comparing stories and experiences. There's always a bit of competition from the basic 'oh, you've been here three months, I have been six....' or 'oh you flew from Goa...ok..', to the more subtle issues of how fluffy, bushy, or plain long your beard is, and the shock-factor when talking about the extremities of an ashram experience.

Of course I'm not above all this and get sucked in, fuelled by friends at home telling me how adventurous I am. I'm not. Really. I have seen a very cool single mum travelling with three small kids, retired couples travelling throughout India on trains and with just a rucksack, and people like Cristelle Hart of Dil Se who has lived here for twelve years, on a tiny income, supporting HIV+ widows who have been rejected by their families and giving homes to children from very disturbed backgrounds.

My willingness to rise to a challenge and deal with some discomfort and a wildly different place is quite selfish really. I have never liked being confined (I can't bear winter clothes or having my feet under the duvet, age 8 I was filled with dread that every day for the next ten years I would have to do the same thing, I don't like being stuck in a car, I'm a believer but I struggle with the institution of church, if someone says it's impossible I will try and find a way...), so I'll take the difficult route if it means doing something different and feeling free.


 Yesterday Kumar casually told me that a 10ft black King Cobra lives in the garden right next to ours. It has been known to lie out in the sun under the washing line, slither under the car in search of shade, or venture as far as our little garden, so I should especially watch out at night when I hang out the washing (yeah, not the best time to dry clothes but I only ever get round to handwashing at night). Watch out?? From now on I'll be kitted out with my high wedge heel green wellies, torch, a big stick and will scream the house down if I ever see that thing. He then asked me if I'm scared of snakes. How do Indians manage to be so calm about everything, even about a resident snake that is fully capable of killing a human in a single bite?

Monday, 22 February 2010

The Legend of Kochi

Anoop Skaria and Dorrie Younger are the talented and warmhearted couple behind Kashi Art Cafe, Kashi Art Gallery and Residency, and Shala restaurant which I rate as the best food in Fort Cochin ('prepared by Keralan housewives known in their neighbourhoods for making the best food!'). They also have a artists retreat in the backwaters.

At the weekend I bought a copy of their little book, 'The Queen of the Arabian Sea: the legend of Kochi' by Anoop Skaria and retold [in English] by Dorrie Younger. They write beautifully and the book is illustrated with paintings by Keralan artist Babu Xavier.

I found this write-up in The Hindu:

Trailing the legend of Kochi

HIS EVERY visit to the city with his mother was a rewarding experience; the lavish monsoons that lashed Kochi never failed to mesmerize him; the city's narrow by lanes where an assortment of communities went about doing their daily chores, co-existing with remarkable bonhomie. Anoop Skaria is older now but still carries childhood memories that are fresh and crisp. There's an instinctive reverence to Kochi and the land of his forefathers. And so the other day when he weaved a tale around an event from the city's life history, wife Dorrie Younger was enthused by the power of his imagination. The husband-wife team, who run Kashi Art Gallery, paired up to create a colourful legend where Dorrie retells the story in English.

The tale revolves around the South-West monsoon, known as `Kalavarsham' as it enticed the Periyar River to carry her fertile silt down the Mamala Mountains to the Arabian Sea. Over thousands of years these rich deposits of silt created a chain of peninsulas and islands at the Periyar's mouth. In A.D. 1344, the North-East monsoon or the `Thulavarsham' showed its fury and the port city of Cranganoor was no longer accessible. It separated the landmass (now known as Kochi Island) from Vypeen and created a new natural harbour.

Before long, Kochi escalated into prominence and earned the famed title of Queen of the Arabian Sea by the many travellers and visitors who were charmed by her natural beauty. Today, however, the scene is dismal. According to world meteorologists the city's future hangs in balance. Apparently the global warming conditions are causing low-lying areas to be engulfed by the sea.

Kochi is one amongst them. Having scripted and made a couple of documentaries, Anoop is a natural storyteller. In his fable, the reader encounters delightful nuggets of love and romance between the Monsoon King and the daughters of the Periyar.

To substantiate the text are a series of enchanting picture-paintings done by well-known artist, Babu Xavier. Xavier's strong sense of colouration wedded to simple yet strong drawings goes well with the theme of the book.


Signing out. I have just two chapters left of 'Difficult Daughters'. Brilliant book that I have wanted to put down. Final note, Ollie is a flogger! Not quite, but he does have a new photo blog which is worth checking out.

All calm in Cochin

I was chatting with my Colombian friend Ana yesterday and said todo en orden when she asked how I was. She laughed that anything or anyone could be in order in India. She's right of course, this place is chaos. Yet in our short history as a little family I don't think we have ever been quite as orderly or calm as we are now.

We have less stuff and fewer friends, and therefore less to do and fewer commitments. Life is not so complicated. It's slower. The days are shorter than in Argentina. We have more sleep, and no wine. I'm not a big one for routines and schedules, but both boys have settled into a daily rhythm that suits us all. We have time to think, and time to talk. Time to sit and have another cup of chai, or read another chapter of our book.

Ollie's sister, who we travelled around Rajasthan with in 2008 and visited us here last week found Fort Cochin an oasis of calm compared to the hectic streets of Jaipur, Jodphur, Udaipur. It is. Fort Cochin is a peninsula cut off from the main city of Kochi (Ernakulam). It's a low-key village within a city. Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Jews seem to live happily side by side. Of course it's India, so the streets are busy with no break fromhouseorshacktodraintopavementsellertogoatandcowandcartsellingsnacksorwatermelonto tuktuksandcarsandpeopleeverywhere. But there's a serenity somehow in it all.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Garlanding with jasmines and marigolds

I'll have the usual please

Fish & cheese melt sandwich & ginger lime soda at Kashi. Three Argentines in the background!

I have no idea where Seth could have got this from but he's become quite bossy! He has the staff at Kashi and Sui House running around after him, mainly food related, and with lots of hand gestures to accompany his requests for more watermelon or another 'ommeletlet'. But most of his commands are reserved for the auto rickshaw drivers. He stands confidently on the side of the road, hailing a 'tuk tuk', and peers in when one stops and instructs the driver, nodding his head as he babbles away, then hops in, tells the driver he's putting his bag on the back shelf, holds on and hurries the driver on his way.

Familiar faces on Palace Road

The world through Bo's eyes


Off the shelf

Next up, Difficult Daughters by Manju Kapur. I'm interested to read it as it's set around the time of the Partition of India. My mother-in-law, Vanessa, was born in a part of British India that is now in Pakistan, which is where the allure of India began for Ollie.

Hitting the antiques shops with Boney

Ollie's sister, Boney (known in more professional circles as Fiona Balch) arrived yesterday. Our first visitor!
She heads off to luxurious Keralan spas and colonial mansions next week, but before that she's here in Cochin with us for three days. The Queen of Shopping she was soon trying on jewels and buying antique door knobs at Leens Exports (owned by Kumar, our host at Sui House). The glass lamps are beautiful. We're dreaming of a summer house where we can hang them on the verandah...

Cochin: fuelling my obsession with turquoise

My little twins, in Chile and India

Seth & Bo: growing up fast