Friday, 29 January 2010

ʱʘɱɕ ʂʬɛɛɨ ʱʘɱɕ

This is where I sleep whilst I am in India. I should have a mosquito net over my 'four poster' but there aren't too many mosquitos and having the fan on a gentle cycle seems to blow most of them off course. It feels like a horsehair mattress but is probably cotton stuffed. It's quite flat and hard and well, I get used to it. The simplicity of the whole arrangement is the appeal. I don't have to think too hard or keep up any kind of standards. My simple bed, with my little mat and a spare bed for a guest or sitting on. There is a window opposite my pillow that looks out onto my closed in balcony (see below) and a window to my left that looks out onto a coconut tree and overlooks a small aviary. I call it the birdsong view. Who wouldn't want to wake up to that?
I have a little washroom with a solar heated water tank and a western loo, a couple of buckets and a jug. And numerous pipes, taps and things that I don't know what are for.

This is the balcony from my room, it's my favourite place, could you guess that? My 'chaise longue' is an old spare bed I dragged out here and can you see my yoga mat rolled and ready? It's sunny and conducive to chats and facepacks and hair oiling and drinking chai and reading and meditation and listening and being a nosy neighbour (OMG the action is fascinating) and I can push the table back for extra yoga practise (this is rare). 
The sun streams in and I inhale yellow light and exhale lotus flowers.
And this is the heart of the house. The wondrous space that is Pushpa's kitchen. Everything is rustled up on two burners. No oven here. The sink and worktops are black marble. It's a standard Indian kitchen and I love them. They all seem to be black and white. I've not seen a variation on that theme. Some have grinding stones built in and washing clothes stones. Washing machines are rare. I sit on a little stool in here to eat my meals. Watching and learning and listening, I'm even starting to understand some of the singsong Kannada that chatters around over my head. There are always numerous women gathered here, peeling and chopping together. When they visit each other, they all start to do the chores. I love that. And you should see how glam they are for coconut grating. When they are not in their nighties, they are knockout these gals. If they weren't so shy I'd be snapping away for you.
Just a little peek at my Indian living arrangements. And these are totally luxurious of course. There are huts made of mud on the same street and huge families residing therein. I play at  living simply, there are many here who have no choice. And it's a cliche but they are so happy and friendly and relaxed. Warm & inviting & inclusive, all of them. I have a permanent sense of admiration. We have got everything and yet we are so closed. Is it the weather?
Namaste, my friends, namaste.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Ƨɦʘʠʠʎ ɦɒɸɸɣ

Shopping in India. 
I like it but I'm only allowed a skimpy 23 kilos of it so have to be decisive and measured in my approach to acquisitions. But even if I'm not buying, I just like to see what there is. 
And how it's made, packaged and marketed.
One thing is for sure, there is loads of it.
I wanted to take you shopping in India but it's a huge subject and whilst some of you salivate over food, for others it's fabrics and there's my personal favourite ~ stationery shops, then there's haberdashery and supermarkets and market stalls and pavement sellers and door to door anything and everything. 
So, I'm thinking I'll spread this out over a few posts.
Get your grubby rupees out, we are going shopping.

This is Rashinkar's emporium. Saris in cotton and silk and polyester! 
A three floored city crammed with skyscraper piles of colour.
And noone minds unfolding a tower's worth just to show you the full range.
The counter grows higher with rivers of unfolded cloth as I ooo and aaah over embroidery and colour and textures. 
Heaven is here, in a shop.

There is a tailor in-house and this is him measuring out my cloth for a long shirt dress and a wrap around skirt. I've sketched him out my desires and he's pretty good at understanding my needs...but the choosing is agonising and he's quite adept at showing Madame the perfect solution. He's been around the block that one.

My bespoke garments will be ready in 4 days but he'll do speed making if it's required.
Me? I've got all the time in the world...
The above is a sweet little haberdashers I discovered today. 
Full of wool and cotton and needles 
and stuff in boxes that I didn't know how to ask to look inside.
No English is spoken in this part of town, most tourists aren't looking for crochet hooks. I seemed to be a novelty customer, fondling the wool and taking snaps. I puzzle a lot of Indians but they are very friendly and understanding of my curious English ways. Why on earth would Madame take photographs of our thread selection? To put it in some kind of perspective the wall to the thread shop is next to the guy's head that you can't see. He had to jump over the counter to become proprietor of all things thread. I scored three boxes of embroidery thread with approx 80 different skeins in each box at 130 rupees a box. 
That's about £1.70. 

And, if you don't want to visit the shops the shops will come to you. There are plenty of travelling salesmen who hawk their wares (I'm sounding positively Dickensian, it IS like that here) The hawkers come around the streets shouting what they are selling, fruit, veg, newspapers, milk, curd etc. The mobile garden centre is a particular favourite of mine. See above. There are often girls with pails of fresh from the cow milk and yes, they carry them on their heads. And there are loads of potholes round here. The plastic man has some really useful things. He's quite popular when he rolls through once a day. The Indian housewives love the plastic stuff. Hell, I know I shouldn't but I love the plastic stuff.

And as this is India and entirely random things happen, I bring you a picture of a painted yellow goat.

Maybe they put something in my chai, maybe I am dreaming. 
Whatever it is, I wish you were here.

Monday, 25 January 2010

℺ή ṧḁḟḀℜⅈ

It feels ages since I've been here, on the page... I've missed my blog and all of the blogs I read regularly. The internet connection is tenuous and that's if we don't have a power cut which happens three times a day. My blog reader doesn't seem to load either so I feel quite cut off,  I don't know what any of you lovely lot are up to. I am going to have to wait until I get home to catch up with all your blogginess and leave you random  'after the horse has bolted' comments.

India has me firmly in her arms. 
I have settled in to a strange little routine and a very simple existence. I am loving my 6am yoga, it's really going nicely, I'm moving deeper with more stability than I have had for a long long time. 
In turn, my thoughts are more stable and my outlook more sunny. I wash my clothes in a bucket and my shower/bath is a bucket and a jug...sometimes the water is warm, 
I'm getting good at the shock of a cold drench.

Yoga is 6 days a week so after yoga on a Saturday morning, I don't have to report for school until Monday morning which gives me an opportunity to dash off on a mini break. 
Like I need it? I know I know.
I had a couple of days away and went to stay in a river lodge to see some wild animals.
I was hoping for a glimpse of tiger but instead I saw the fuzzy horned fellow below. I also saw elephants, bison, wild boar, peacocks, monkeys and lots of pretty birds. Kingfishers are everywhere, spotted as a flash of iridescent blue and the sweet 'bee eater' as seen below.
Trundling through the forest/jungle as the sun came up was magical.
Thank you, I keep saying it, 
Thank you.

I've got tons of things to tell you about India...zillions of images 
and I'm hoping to be back here sooner rather than later.
Next time, I'm going to take you into the zany world of shopping in India.
The retail experience of a lifetime.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

⊗ Read It and Eat ⊗

Waking up at 5.30 for yoga practise, it is still very dark but I can always hear someone chanting...getting dressed and tiptoeing into the cool morning air is soothing after a hot sweaty sleep with clear, clear dreams in which I can smell and taste and feel..
it's incredible, this only seems to happen here*, in India. 
(*Happy here, I just wrote by mistake which was a truth just waiting to exit!)

{{Once after an Indian head massage from Pushpa 
I slept so well and woke up with my hands in the prayer position 
and had been dreaming of standing under 
a glimmering, golden waterfall...
The memory of this still makes me feel 
the joy that I woke with that day, 
like a 1,000 kids on Christmas day}}

My yoga practise here is a hard deep series of postures; if anyone is interested I am practising Ashtanga, a flowing with the breath practise. Of course, yoga is many other things and I may cover this in a later post. During these postures or asanas (as they are known by), my dreams rise again, through my twists, as though my body is extracting every last drop of night from me. It is cleansing, it feels good and it hurts. I ask myself why I do this to myself quite often during the 90 minute practise but I remind myself it is my choice and I am lucky to be here and it's great for my health, mental and physical.

After yoga and a burst through the doors into morning, I could vault the coconut trees home to Pushpa's. My energy is bursting for breakfast, I'm high on life and as I flow past the corner house I can hear all the Tibetan monks that live there doing their chanting and I always stop to listen to the deep, deep drones, it is mesmerising. I want to go in there one day and listen to the full blast of it.

Pushpa is usually sweeping the steps and has chai waiting for me and we sit in companionable silence listening to the birds and the sweep of other brooms. Breakfast is so good that I go to sleep  at night thinking about it... here is what I had for breakfast today and hopefully you'll be able to follow the recipe (I fear that I am already speaking in Indglish so forgive me for my weird sentence construction, I've hardly spoken to a Brit)

This is a recipe for a breakfast dish but I would eat this anytime of the day. All measurements are approx. 
As Pushpa says "however much you want then you use"

Aloo Methi Paratha with Tomato Chutney
[Potato and 'green' chapati with Tomato Chutney]

  • Tomato Chutney

1 small onion
large pinch of mustard seed
3 or 4 tomatoes
handful of coriander
quarter teaspoon of turmeric
quarter teaspoon sugar
chilli powder to taste
salt to taste
sunflower oil 

  • Paratha

chapati flour or wholewheat flour
1 or 2 leftover potatoes (mashed)
coriander leaf
1 bunch of methi (which are greens, you may be able to get in an Indian supermarket or substitute spinach)

First of all, make your paratha. Put the flour into a bowl and mix in chopped methi (or spinach) with the mashed potato and good pinch of salt, then adding water and mixing until you have a firm dough. Leave this to rest whilst you make the chutney.

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a pan and add a good pinch of mustard seed, heat until the mustard seed begins to pop then add finely chopped onion & cook until golden...add the chopped tomatoes (and I wouldn't write off using a tin of tomatoes as tomatoes in the UK are quite horrid and tasteless in the winter) & chopped coriander leaf. Mix well and add the turmeric powder, chilli powder (as you like it!) and salt to taste. Then add a quarter teaspoon of sugar and cook well. Whilst it is simmering away and smelling like heaven then you can make your parathas/chapatis.

As you can see from the top image, gather your dough into balls that would fit in your palm and roll out using a dusting of flour. It's the layers that make the parathas wonderfully chewy and crunchy. So, roll and then fold and roll again as though you are making puff pastry. Then place in a hot heavy based frying pan that has been preheated with a good spoonful of oil. Whilst the first side is cooking, Pushpa swirls a spoonful of ghee on top (naughty Pushpa) as she says it is good for health. I go with it. Then when the first side is nicely browned, flip it over and cook until nicely browned.

Then serve...with love... and repeat until everyone is full. Pushpa always makes me eat two 
but one is filling enough.
Eat with your fingers, breaking off the paratha and scooping up the tomato chutney. If you've been brave with the chilli powder you'll be warm and tingly and as I've heard it's a snowy landscape then you'll feel good. But not as good as standing under a golden waterfall. You'll just have to visit India for that.

Please let me know how it works out as this was conducted under a lot of imprecise discussion. And if you have any questions I'll ask Pushpa and translate for you! 
Bon appetite bloggers.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

∽ On housewifery ∽

I could write reams about India...there is such a marked difference between their morning rituals and ours; the cultural variations here are like some brave new world to me. And I'm guessing you are interested in these things too?
One of the noises that is high on the musical score of the orchestra of India, is the sweeping of paths and steps with a rough bunch of branches and a bucket of water. This is the first thing that Indian ladies do in the morning light as the sun rises. I can't be all PC about this because it is always the women. I don't think shared household duties exist here, although you do sometimes see the men taking the children to school but you notice it, so it must be rare. But that's another blog post entirely. As much as I love to digress, I will stick to the cleansing rituals for now.
So, the paths get washed and brushed which makes a fabulous shwooshing sound as the water gets sloshed around and brushed away. The ladies are all wearing their nighties which incidentally they seem to keep on all day. Then they stoop in their bare feet to draw the daily rangoli on the entrance to the property. 

Rangoli is one of my obsessions in Southern India. It is a drawing like a prayer which keeps out bad spirits and brings luck to the household. The drawing is made with rice flour (or sometimes chalk) and this doubles up as a food for ants and therefore keeps them out of the house. Sigh...I adore this concept and the designs they draw are so beautiful and so swiftly executed with a flick of the wrist and pouring of flour. These women are natural artists and I am envious of this daily task. I want to do this on my front path everyday too but a)the neighbours will raise their eyebrows at me drawing in my nightie b)the local kids already think I'm a witch because of my high hedges c)the rain will wash it away every day d)my first task is to put the kettle on and stare into space whilst trying to keep warm for 8 months of the year.

Pushpa does an amazing doorstep cleanse which involves fresh jasmine and marigolds placed just so and a rice flour rangoli and various squishes of turmeric and saffron and tamarind powder. This daily cleanse is called Puja which translates to something like cleansing prayers. Pushpa then takes her little tray of powders and burning incense to her garden of pots and certain plants get squished with spices and a smaller rangoli drawn in front of them, I'm guessing this is to help the weaker plants grow stronger. Then Pushpa goes to her little alter in the house and does her meditation and chanting and makes offerings to her Hindu Gods.

It's so beautiful to watch and it's such a gorgeous ritual to go through. It smells and looks divine. Then when I've returned from yoga she makes my breakfast. 
I am in some kind of heaven. 
And far be it from me to make you jealous but just look at my lunch! 

For those of you wondering about the yoga? The less said about that the better, 
I am battered, completely wrecked from it...
It will get better, I have booked an Ayurvedic massage this afternoon 
for my poor muscles.
Yeah I know...sympathy lies somewhere in the dictionary between shit and syphilis... 

Sunday, 3 January 2010

ↂ my heart stops and starts in Terminal 5 ↂ

Gold toes by WAH
Washing by Pushpa
Light shaft by India
Breakfast pancake by Pushpa
Chai by Pushpa

The noise here is neverending, it always amazes me just how ear assaulting India is. From arriving at the airport to the mad crazy frightening taxi ride to my destination. Easing into sleep and waking up is all conducted under the huge canopy of noise that is barking cicadas, street sellers screeching, dogs banging, doors howling, scooters crying, shouting radios, kids pecking, chickens crying, televisions chanting, cars clicking, trains squealing...

it’s only annoying if I let it be  
I have to get straight into my India shrug it off mode 
and wobble my head in resignation.

Earplugs were invented for this. 

Tomorrow I begin my yoga boot camp, it’s been at least 3 weeks since I did a full practise and at 6am tomrrow I shall be starting a regime that will last every day for 8 weeks and in theory should continue when I get home but ....{we could all fill in all kinds of excuses here} It will be 2 hours of hard practise and I know the sweat will run off my nose after my first forward bend. It hurts and it works. Mentally and physically.

And that’s why I come to India. 
To be able to breathe, to practise my neglected yoga, to reflect on a year past and to be able to move forward with more courage and more spirit. 
We are all bombarded with life and here I can press a pause button 
and watch life 
instead of being swept up in the mad fairground of it all. 
And for this I give thanks and realise that I am blessed enough to be this independent or this adventurous 
(and I have to tell you that sometimes I am terrified) 
to be able to leave it behind and just be here. 
I’m so lucky. This place is special.

Incase you are wondering I am staying in an Indian home filled with love and the best home cooking imaginable. My host and friend is Pushpa. If you want to know how I met her you need to read this...we are friends for life now and she looks after me as though I am her child and believe me that is just what I need right now. Anyone who has performed motherly or caring duties for years on end, needs, nay, deserves a helping of Pushpa. 
If you want to come here, I’ll share her. 

Mistake of the day~ wearing a t-shirt with Lakshmi on it (God of Wealth) and having metallic golden toenails. 
I can only call it mobbing by four year olds. 

Friday, 1 January 2010

·········✈ passport/ticket/visa/suitcase

!Good Morning 2010!
it's 6am on 01/01/10
the house is quiet, the streets are quiet
I might be the only person awake for miles 
(excluding those that haven't gone to bed yet)
There has been a deep frost outside and I'm sitting next to my suitcase
I'm about to get dressed and head to the airport to travel to India.
Right now, I cannot imagine the heat, it's freezing here, but I will be wearing my sandals as 
I have every reason to believe it is hot where I am going.

I always feel mixed up before a big journey
but I really love airports which stops me getting too stirred up

Happy beautiful 2010 
Let's move it along now.
2009 was so 2009