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A Door

November 2, 2013 Comments off

Antique door

Seen at an antique dealer here in Pune.

It seemed old, but now it is set immovable in its frame – an un-openable door.

Categories: Expat life, Pictures

Nandu’s Parathas

October 27, 2013 1 comment

Nandu's Parathas

Where Indian food is concerned, the one thing that seems a universal constant here is comfort.  I don’t find a lot of fine dining hereabouts, but all around is food that is filling, satisfying, simple and, well, yummy.  A top example is Nandu’s, where they serve pretty much just parathas, a griddle-fried pancake made from wheat flour  and stuffed with different things.  Just like the swedish meatball, every culture has its own version of the pancake.  India, abundantly blessed in so many ways, has many versions, from dosa to roti to paratha to uppam to madak saan to cheelas and more.

But Nandu’s is pure paratha.  Here’s what you get:

A paratha

This one was stuffed with potato and chopped fresh green chili.  It comes with coriander chutney, some raita, and some pickle – mango, lime or other vegetable in salt, vinegar and more chili.  On the spoon is a dollop of ghee – clarified butter.  It all comes to you hot off the griddle.  You drizzle the ghee all over, tear off bite-size chunks of pancake, dunk in raita or chutney, and then eat.  Then you eat more, and along with thinking how just plain good it is – the butter, the pancake, the filling, all fresh and hot – you’re also cursing every hour you ever wasted eating American fast-food.

The price … wait for it … a big, big Rs. 90, or about $1.50.

I’ve been in India over a year, with less than a year remaining and people are already asking, “What will you miss when you go?”  I have a lot of work to do on that list, but the #1 entry is easy: Nandu’s.

Categories: Expat life, Food, Pictures Tags:

Dogs

September 22, 2013 4 comments

Dogs in Pune Dogs at Pune Airport Sleeping dog

 

There are dogs, there are dogs, and there are dogs.  Three different kinds, and in this port drive all from your presence.

Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light

India abounds with dogs. White dogs.  Brown dogs.  Black dogs.  When I first came in Feb 2012 I asked one of my friends, “Who do these dogs belong to?”  He patiently explained the dogs belonged to no one, they are wild and live on whatever they can find, or get.

Here you will encounter dogs everywhere you go.  Several well-known canines sleep on the sidewalk in front of my IBM office and at lunchtime each day great crowds of IBMers considerately step around them.  I saw the dogs pictured below just yesterday, taking their ease in the middle of a fairway at the Poona Golf Club:

Resting dog pack

Puppy

The little puppy I think was part of the family, but was more interested in nosing about than in napping.  More than once playing at this club a pack of dogs has followed us circumspectly as we went from shot to shot.

These dogs are – when not mixed with some modern European breeds – among the oldest known breed of dog.  Called the pariah dog, or sometime INDogs, I don’t know how old as a breed they really are – 1000s of years, certainly – but they seem incredibly well suited to their environment and to living alongside humans in the cities and farm regions of India.  All the dogs I have encountered seem alert, inquisitive, and friendly.  Many live by eating trash, though clearly some hunt small animals, like the vast numbers of rats that infest India.  And people feed them, glad to trade a few scraps for a dog that will be friendly and challenge unfamiliar people coming to your place.

Alas, many show signs of hard life.  You will often see  limping dogs, painfully thin dogs, dogs with mange, and dogs showing various wounds.  Sometimes we hear dogs howling at night, and then the howling is transformed into the sharp and threatening growls of fighting.  The many dogs you see with tattered or missing ears give witness to these nighttime battles.

This dog is a family favorite:

Bouncy on a wall

Bouncy investigatesBouncy on the trail

The wall in the left-hand pic is near to where Morgan waits for her school bus every morning.  This white dog seems to like bounding atop the wall and surveying the surrounding area.  Because of this ability to move up and down with ease, and also because of its friendly energy, Morgan calls it Bouncy.  Rupesh likes it too … during the middle of the day Bouncy often sleeps underneath our car.

Kim and I sometimes call Bouncy another name: the White Mouser, because Kim has seen it catching small creatures … hopefully, rats.

Categories: Expat life, Pictures

Navigating Diplomatic Waters

September 17, 2013 1 comment

Mumbai street flood

Made a day trip to Mumbai today … Destination: US Consulate.  Mission: Get visa pages added to my passport – out of the standard allotment of 20 I had only 4 remaining, and many countries will not even admit you if you have a such a small number.  Our considerate and efficient consulate added 48 pages while I waited, even sewing the new booklets securely into my passport.

But first I had to get there.  The monsoon is continuing uncommon long this year, at least in Maharashtra.  We encountered heavy rain on the highway part of the journey, but in the city had to slog through many places like the above, where water was at least 10” deep and not apparently going anywhere.  The door to door trip from Pune to Mumbai of about 150 kms took about 4 1/2 hr, some 45 mins more than it usually would – said time being spent slowly inching around these new lakes and keeping to the safe coastlines … because when a Mumbai road is involved, you never know what lurks beneath the surface.

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India Grasshopper Big Nosebiter

September 7, 2013 1 comment

Nosebiter grasshopper

My little Canon Powershot A4000 is a great all-around tourist camera, but isn’t that good for low-light close-ups – this was the best I could do capturing this visitor to our flat vestibule.  About 4.5” in length – a veritable Hummer of a bug – I was taken by how leaf-like the wings were.

I’m a live and let live kind of guy, and so long as these hefty emerald Tettigoniidae don’t swarm excessively, destroying Pharaoh’s crops and the like, I’m good.  But I did want to find out some details on this specimen, like what species it was.

One thing I had to go on came from driver Rupesh and his copious store of local knowledge: these bugs hereabouts are called “nose biters”.  So, fire up Google and look for “india nose biter” … well, different variations of that tell me nothing about grasshoppers, but in the first few results of most of my searches was this article, about Sri Lankan politics:

UNP Has Gone To The Dogs, Nose-Biter MP Is A Racist Too

Dunesh Gankanda, a United National Party Member of Parliament from the Ratnapura District walked in to The Museum Club at the Galle Face Hotel around 1.30 am on Sunday with a friend, Capt. Senaka De Silva, a close aide of General Fonseka. Present at the night club was a Tamil businessman, Diwakaran, entertaining a group of foreign clients. Senaka knew Diwakaran and walked up to his table to say ‘hello’ and then introduced Dunesh. Diwakaran invited both to join his table. Dunesh initially made small talk and then broached  the topic of Raju Radha, ex-husband of Dunesh’s  wife Kushani Nannayakara.  She is the daughter of Capt. Nanayakkara and Mrs. Norma Nannayakara of Green Lanka Shipping Ltd. and has two children from her marriage to Raju.

Raju Radha, the son of the famous Indian actor M R Radha, is the owner of HRC Shipping and other businesses. His sister Radhika is also a popular Indian actress. Their mother is Sri Lankan.

When Diwakaran said he knew Raju well and Raju was a relative – out of the blue Dunesh lunged forward, bit Diwakaran’s nose and then disappeared into the crowd in the night club. Diwakaran was shocked and did not react at all.  Bleeding profusely and in pain Diwarakan was rushed to the General Hospital, Colombo where doctors performed surgery on his nose.

Ok, so the Sri Lankan parliament has its fringe cases, just as the Indian parliament – which incidentally has 125 of its 545 lower-house members indicted for crimes ranging from rioting to rape to murder, graphically shown here:

mp-crimes

Some of these crimes are amusing, like “GOVINDA (INC), Age: 41, From: Mumbai North, MAHARASHTRA; Defamation, obscene acts and songs”.  Sounds like Govinda needs a nightclub booking, not a court date.

Back to my bug … nose-biter was not helping, so now I just try “india big grasshopper”.  What do I get?  See for yourself:

The Grasshopper Experiment

Of course.  “big” == “Big Bang Theory”, “india” == “Raj Koothrappali” (the show’s Indian astrophysicist), and “grasshopper” == Raj’s favorite drink.

Ok Google, you win.  Don’t know what species my bug-visitor actually is, but far as I’m concerned it is Tettigonia magnus viridis bharati – big green Indian grasshopper.

An Indian Wedding

August 18, 2013 1 comment

Wedding ceremony

If you don’t know it, family life is incredibly important in India.  When I talk to colleagues and acquaintances here, the conversation always comes round to this topic, with questions like: How many siblings do you have?  How are your parents? How did you meet your wife? And so on.  My own parents and siblings are scattered from New York to Massachusetts to New Jersey to Georgia to Florida to Texas and to Colorado, and I sometimes think my Indian friends conclude Americans are all solitary cowboys, riding their lonely trails into a variety of sunsets with no connection to hearth and home.

From what I have been able to discern of the Indian perspective, by and large family comes first: the wishes of parents are extremely important to sons and daughters, and, being married is close to an absolute necessity for adults here.  The pressure is so intense that many blogs offer suggestions on excuses to give one’s parents, such as “I am waiting for cousin so-and-so to get married first”, or (a popular one) “I have to complete my advanced degree before I marry” – an Indian parent will never say no to education.

Back to the matter at hand, one of my work colleagues, Rahul, invited me to his wedding.   I wanted to go not only to celebrate with him, but also out of curiosity.  So, on the morning of 15 August, Independence Day here in India, Kim and I put on our best go-to-meeting togs and headed for the wedding hall.

First thing to note: the time on the invitation said “9:36 am”.  9:36?  Why not 9:30, or 9:35?  The reason is because of astrology and numerology – many Indians will not do anything important without a consultation and, if numbers are involved, the luckiest ones must be used.

We arrived a tad early at 9:30, hoping not to disturb any in-progress ceremony.  The ceremony was in fact already underway, but not to worry, it would have been extremely difficult to disturb the ceremony of this wedding, as the 200 or-so assembled guests were all happily chatting and socializing. Much, much different from a typical Western wedding, where we all silently focus our attention on the wedding couple as they undertake their vows.  This was learning #1: while the ceremony is important, the wedding is as much about maintaining the bonds of the community as it is about the two principals.

Through the proceedings women went among the guests offering dabs of jasmine perfume and red sandalwood paste and Kim availed herself of both:

Helpers at the weddingKim

Another practice, there was a large supply of colored rice:

Wedding rice

At certain times the other guests would fling pinches of rice in the direction of the bride and groom, so Kim and I supplied ourselves and tossed rice with everyone else.

Marriage ceremonies for Hindu people are complex and have regional differences all over India.  Some forms take days to complete, with multiple feasts each day.  One thing all forms of the ritual have in common is the vivaah homa, or “sacred fire”:

Sacred fire

Many offerings are placed in the fire, but the most important part is the saptha padhi or “seven steps” – the bride and groom take seven steps together around the fire, each step representing a different vow.

I said these ceremonies can take days?  This one did not, but still went around 3 hours which I felt was a goodly time. Quite a lot more went on, including an exchange of a coconut, some blessings from parents, and still other things Kim and I could not follow.  However one thing we did follow, along with all the other guests, was when lunch was declared.

And that was learning #2 about Indian weddings: food matters.  Food-wise, Indian hospitality in general is overwhelming, and at a wedding, doubly so.  The fare was simple – salad, tomato soup (an Indian favorite), butter paneer, dum alloo (potato curry), several types of pakoras (veg fritters), chapati (flat bread) and bhature (fried bread), plain rice and pulao (veg rice), plus many sweets – but it all was very good and there was a lot of it.  Other guests kept pressing us to take more helpings, but after my third helping I had to admit defeat.  Then as we were leaving, we saw many more guests just arriving – apparently the lunch is the main thing for many folks here.

So, all in all a memorable day for myself and Kim, as I am sure it will be for Rahul and his bride, Ashwini.  All the best to them in their life together, and all our thanks for their great hospitality. Śādī kī badhā’ī hō!

Rahul and Ashwini

Categories: Expat life, Pictures

A Day at the Races

August 10, 2013 Comments off

Horse racing in Pune

Week before I received an invitation from an expat group I belong to, Everything Expats.  Everything Expats provides relocation services for expatriates and as part of that they also maintain a mailing list, host a forum where expats can trade info, and from time to time host get-togethers where foreigners can meet both other foreigners and local folks as well.  The invite was for the running of the Theur Hamlet Cup at Pune Racecourse on Sunday 4 August.  Seemed intriguing, so off we went.

The day was overcast – the monsoon is not quite done – and we had light mists of rain all through the afternoon.  Here’s a view of part of the Member’s Area and the public grandstand beyond:

Race course grandstand

Like many things here, the racecourse has an old-timey feel – one could easily picture Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Harry the Horse, or any other of Damon Runyon’s characters placing a bet at the tote window.  Horse racing has been happening in Pune since at least 1815.  In 1870 a Major General Burnett donated the current race course lands to the West India Turf Club; the race course is in the middle of the Pune Cantonment, a military district established by the British in 1817 and today maintained by the Indian Army.

Nowadays the race course is part of both the Pune social and commercial scene.  The “Theur Hamlet Cup” was sponsored by a local real-estate developer, Theur, who was promoting a new development, “The Hamlet”.  Far from Elsinore in both distance and conception, The Hamlet features horseback riding and also high-end bungalows with solar panels and other eco-minded features.  But the real-estate angle hardly impinged on us, mostly we wandered about, mingled and generally had a nice afternoon:

Pune race course party

Morgan and Kim at Pune race course

Pune race course party

This is a turf club with real turf.  After each race a crew would slowly pace the grass of the track, fixing up the divots made by the race horses:

Race course crew

We all noticed that it was the women who did all the fixing; the men just trudged after dragging their rakes and talking.

What was the financial upshot of all this?  Well, despite losing Rs. 100 on the first race I bet – on a long-shot named Salsa – we had a winner and a placer on the two next races, greys picked by Morgan and Kim named Four-Star General and Hachiko respectively.  In the actual Theur Cup race, Mars was the favorite and Fortune Favors the #2.  Hoping boldness would be rewarded, I put another Rs. 100 on Fortune Favors to win, but it was not to be.  If not for that last bet I would have been up a big, big Rs. 30 (about $0.50).

I should have used a more scientific method, like these guys:

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