Sunday, July 29, 2012

Brunch at the Leela

This is my 4th day in Mumbai, and they have been 4 very full days indeed.  We have had the minimum of meetings and the maximum of shopping trips and time to get ourselves sorted out.  We have been able to sort out our gym membership, find housekeepers for our apartments, go shopping (several times), open bank accounts, visit the foreign registration office and so on.  We have had breakfasts in the local hotel, evening meals in restaurants or at the homes of administrators and today we had brunch at Leela's.  This hotel is right near the airport and has one of the most famous brunches in Mumbai.  It was also featured in the book Behind the Beautiful Forevers which is about life in a Mumbai undercity, as one of the people in the book manages to secure a job at Leela's.  For me, this brunch certainly lived up to expectations.

The great difference between rich and poor is so obvious here.  Just an hour ago I was surrounded by 5 star luxury, now as I look outside my window I can see a construction site where the people working there would never have the opportunity to have brunch at Leela's.  I'm currently reading In Spite of the Gods by Edward Luce, a writer for the Financial Times.  He interviewed a Frenchman called Andre who had lived in India for a number of years and asked him about why he lived in India.  Here is his reply:
India has thousands and thousands of years of practice at harmonising differences and penetrating to the unity beyond.  There is an essence to India that other countries do not have, which tells you that behind the diversity of life there is a spiritual reality called unity.

Diverse it certainly is:  while India is acquiring the trappings of a superpower, the majority of the people lack basic amenities. Yesterday we drove past the world's first million dollar home in South Mumbai, called Antilia, after a mythical island.  This home has 27 storeys and more floor space than the Palace of Versailles.  On the roof are 3 helicopter pads and the ground floor has space to park 160 cars.  A staff of 600 work here, taking care of the 5 members of the Ambani family!  At the same time India is home to a third of the world's chronically malnourisehd children, and over two thirds of Indians live in villages, half of which lack roads, healthcare and schools.  Almost half of India's women don't know how to read and write.

Slowly Rachel and I are adapting - from living in a country that has one of the highest standards of living in the world.  We are trying to embrace India - the sights and smells, the food, the noise.  Last night we went out for a meal with no plans for how to get home, and only one person in our party who had any idea of the name of the road we live on.  We bargained, tried 2 different taxis and had an entertaining (and sometimes scary) drive home.  We made it!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Embracing India

We were shown this video on the first day at our new school and told that the thing that will make us a success or failure here is our ability to embrace India.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

An aerogram from India

Over the past few weeks we've been busy helping my mother to downsize and move house. One of the things we discovered is that she has kept every postcard and letter that she ever received from me. It was because of this that I stumbled across this old aerogram that I wrote to her the last time I lived in India, thirty years ago. I was curious to see what I'd written about way back then when I was working in Jammu and Kashmir. Here are a few extracts.

From Sonamarg in Kashmir
We walked up to a glacier.  Once there it started to blizzard - lumps of ice were hitting me, so I hurried to the bottom of the valley and sheltered under a lorry or horse manure.  After it stopped raining I got in lift in the back of the same lorry to a Dak Bungalow where I stayed the night.  It was so cold I was wearing every stitch of clothing that I'd brought and was still shivering. 
Each of the towns and villages here has a different craft.  We went through one village that only sold cricket bats!  In Kashmir there is a lot of wood carving and papier mache - each box brightly pained with a scene from mythology.

In contrast this is what I wrote from Agra where I travelled for a visit
In Agra it's 48 degrees C in the shade.  At night it's still in the upper 30s.  The journey to Agra was exceptionally long and tiring and took about 38 hours by bus and train, including about a 2 hour queue for a train ticket at Jammu.  The train journey itself was hot and sticky - not much air gets into the carriages and the air that does is burning hot.  At Agra station I got a lift to the hotel in a horse drawn cart.  The two boys who drove it decided to race everything else in sight.  I can tell you Ben Hur had nothing on us!  The hotel was full but they let me sleep on the roof which was nice - relatively cool and with a view over to the Taj, but the best thing about the hotel is the food.  Most of the time I've been relatively careful about eating - no fruit etc - now I'm relaxing a bit.  I drink the water and today even had a mango.  I've been healthy up to now too, though somewhat dirty and sweaty.  In Agra there is an electricity and water strike!  The water is turned off from about 1 - 6 pm and the electricity from ab out 3-5pm and for an hour in the evenings  The afternoons are like being in a sauna with no fans to circulate the air and not even the luxury of a shower to cool off by.  And to think that in England people actually pay to sit in little rooms and sweat!
At the time I wrote: "So much news but I can't write half of it down because it's sights and smells".   I'm planning on doing a better job of recording our adventure to India this time around.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


Karma means both action and the result of the action, because the two cannot be separated.  It is the law of cause and effect.  Our thoughts, words and deeds have repercussions, the effects of which follow us throughout our lives.  Actions in a part life secured fortune in this one; actions in this life will affect future reincarnations.  What seems to be injustice when bad things happen to good people is only so because of the limitations of our knowledge:  we cannot remember our past lives.  (text from Culture Shock India)