Monthly Archives: April 2012

Not so much tweets as cheeps

If you look across at my Twitter updates, you’ll see that we’ve been making valiant efforts this evening to save the lives of several baby chicks.  I’m not at all sure that we will have been successful.  The shells are really hard so they wear out their egg tooth (one each, can’t possibly say teeth) trying to crack through, and the mother, though several years old, is inexperienced in motherhood so is not very good at keeping them warm.  We do have two live chicks though, at any rate.

A few more pictures.  I should explain that I don’t really like intruding on people by snapping away at them (photographically speaking) at a party.  And most of the places we went, such as museums and temples, one was not allowed to take photos.  Wink and I hired a car and went off to look at the cathedral in Chennai, which looks like this…

and then went to a museum on the same site where, extraordinarily, the late Pope and Father Christmas were in close juxtaposition.

Then we went to see the Law Courts.  A very nice man showed us round, he showed us all the interesting bits that a guide book might not mention, such as this –
He took a lot of time and trouble for us, but in the end I had to ask him to take us back to our car (we were quite lost) because Wink’s leg was so painful and she was limping along behind us.  It was very interesting to see the portraits of the judges: for a long time they were all white and British, then the first Indian judge’s picture came up and from then on they were all Indian.  Unfortunately, I didn’t note the date of the changeover and it was too dark inside to take a photo.  You’ll have to go and see for yourselves.  A few photos of the outside of the buildings…

I’m not sure who the conductor chappie was in the third photo – Chris, is it a statue of you?  I find that I have got a photo of the Advocate General of 1897 and that he is Indian, so the changeover had occurred by then.  Here he is.
We didn’t stop at the beach this time, which is impressively huge and sandy.  Marina and Maja went there another day, so they might have a better photo if they would like to send it across.  
I know, darlings, no one will ever love me for my photographic skills, nor for my writing ability.  It’s sheer Zedness that will carry me through.  Ahem.  

Z is a rubbish photographer

It’s so late, I’ve been out for dinner and then caught up with emails once I arrived home, that I don’t think I’ll write much now.  Instead a few pictures.

First, Kamala’s house on the Friday evening when there was the first of the parties.  It looked spectacular lit up with blue lights.

The next day, the next party, which was when all the women had their hands hennaed.  Mine are fading now, this soon happens once you arrive home and wash in chlorinated water.  This is taken from the verandah.  Most people had had lunch by then so there weren’t many in the picture.

This is Laddu, the basset hound.  His father Skipper only died a month or so ago at the age of 15.  Both belonged to Arte, Nandini’s sister.  I’m afraid he moved his head so it’s out of focus.  I told you the photos weren’t up to much.

And this one explains why I didn’t take pictures of the wedding ceremony.  One could see round the photographic paraphenalia, but it really got in the way of taking pictures.  Both bride and groom are professional photographers, so one can see why the official photos were a priority.

And that’s it for today.  

Z and the elephant packed her trunk…

I’ll see what I can do about a few photos – they’re mostly a bit random, you can see my heart wasn’t in it.  Far more fun to take part in what was going on than to take pictures.  But here I am getting up close to the temple elephant (which I just typed as ‘elephone’).

And, for the time being, here’s a picture of the bride and groom and immediate families after the Christian ceremony (on the steps of the church), and one of the wedding cake, which was made at the Madras Club.

Westernisation and prosperity

I mentioned in my first post (I think) from India that there were various changes that I noticed.  Funnily enough, towards the end of the holiday Geeta asked me (and Wink, separately) about our impressions from just that point of view.  Another friend, Jill, who is English and lives in London, hadn’t noticed these differences, but then she visits India frequently – the last time was in December – so they’d have crept up on her.

I suspect it’s all connected with India’s increased prosperity and success as a nation.  I should start by saying that I’m sure that in many areas, particularly rural villages and slums in the larger and more crowded cities, that deep poverty is as grinding as ever, but what I saw in Chennai in particular was a generally higher standard of living.

I’ve already mentioned that there are much fewer bicycles and more motorbikes.  Also that cars are modern ones rather than the old Ambassadors.  It’s noticeable that cars are in beautiful condition and look new.  They’re nearly all imported – and that’s notable too, because there was a time only a few years ago when Indians took pride in making what they used and now it’s more fashionable to buy imported goods. The roads are incredibly crowded and busy, even more than they used to be.  It all looks chaotic, but actually people drive very well.  They need to be very alert.  As a general rule, the larger vehicle is held to be responsible for an accent* – so if a motorbike hit a pedestrian it’d be the biker’s fault and if a car hit a bike it’d be the driver’s.  There was an incident where a bus hit a lorry it was overtaking – witnesses said that the lorry swerved into the path of the bus, but it was the bus driver who was arrested.  He was overtaking, therefore the anus of responsibility (sorry, family expression started by Weeza some 20 years ago) was on him, although checks were being done on the lorry’s steering.

Wink and I also felt that there were far fewer people living on the street.  We weren’t approached by a single beggar or street seller in Chennai.  There aren’t many of the woven huts left where, remarkably, a whole family would emerge dressed in immaculate, freshly laundered and ironed clothes, the man in crisp white shirt, the children in school uniforms and the woman in a sari.  I suppose that a lot of new flats have been built for those people to live in.  Regarding clothes, the sari is still traditional in South India, but less so now.  Young people are far more likely to wear casual Western clothes – my younger friends used to at home but not go out in them, but this is gradually changing.  If they do wear Indian clothes it’s likely to be a shalwar kameez or trousers and tunic rather than a sari.  The dhoti has all but disappeared (I didn’t see a single one) although a few men still wear a lungi – the difference between them is that a dhoti is wrapped around the waist and passed between the legs, whereas the lungi is worn more as a sarong; that is, it goes around the waist but not between the legs.  It’s convenient in that it can be flipped up to waist length to walk in the street and the lower half released to make a long skirt to wear indoors.  A dhoti is nearly always white but a lungi is usually coloured or checked.

Another difference on the streets is that now there are overhead signs giving directions!  This is a real innovation within the past 18 months or so, apparently.  Just of major roads, but it’s certainly a start.  One thing about motorcyclists, by the way – the rider often wears a crash helmet, but I’ve never seen a single passenger wearing one.  Most car drivers and front seat passengers wear a seat belt, a rarity in the past.

I didn’t see a single person being given instructions doing a head waggle.  This is a real change – it’s sort of the equivalent of a nod of comprehension, although there was often a fair degree of subservience in it.  The few times I saw it were ‘equal to equal’ – that is, it was simply comprehension – and it seems remarkable that there has been such a change so quickly.  Tips are as readily and gladly received as ever, but there’s no indication that anyone feels demeaned by a tip and it’s graciously received and quite often a handshake is exchanged afterwards which would never have happened a few years ago.

The water is much more likely to be safe to drink.  Previously, I’d never have drunk water unless it was from a previously sealed mineral water bottle, but now many more places buy in sufficiently pure water that Westerners and non-acclimatised people can drink it safely.  I’m always careful – in four visits I’ve never had a stomach upset (rather the opposite, if you see what I mean) but I was able to feel a lot more relaxed this time.  Oh, and you can order black tea without fearing that the roof of your mouth will be removed by tannin.  And I’d never previously had anything but disgusting coffee, but now it’s far better, usually filtered although modern coffee shops have espresso machines.

*As Sir Bruin wittily put it when correcting my typo – “grave or acute?”  So good that I’m leaving the mistake as it stands.

A passage from India

I’m home, darlings, and so is Wink.  The most notable thing about the journey was the unexpected upgrade – woo hoo! – Wink went through first because she’s damaged a tendon in her leg and asked to board early because standing for a long time is very painful, and was surprised and pleased that she was also upgraded.  She spent the next ten minutes wondering how to break the news.  I, meantime, queued as one should, arrived to have my boarding pass checked and was asked to wait as my seat had been changed.  And then “you’ve been upgraded!” – and I thought woo hoo – oh bugger, I’ll have to do the decent thing and give my seat to Wink.  So when we discovered we were both in the same boat as it were, we were jolly pleased, especially when a woman was making a fuss about her teenage daughters having to sit apart “I paid £975* each for those tickets, you know,” – mind you, that was return – and we jolly well hadn’t.

I’m tired tonight, too tired to write much.  I’ll see what pictures I have tomorrow, not huge lots actually and I hope I’ll be able to pinch some of the wedding photos.  It really has been brilliant.  Wink and I have got on really well, never a cross word (The Hindu’s crosswords are easier than The Times, btw) and it was lovely to see our friends again and meet new people too.  I even gave our new Croatian friends the address of this blog.  I hardly give anyone that, they may not have realised how unusual it is (Wink told them about the Razorblade).

One thing’s for sure, I’m never again going to arse about taking the train to a London airport.  It’s the coach for me.  The cost is about the same, it’s bus station to door, no exhausting trek across London and no broken down East Anglian trains and no information about substitutes.

The Sage tells me he has cooked my dinner.  The rest of the evening will be devoted to him.  It’s only fair.  Mind you, an early night is planned.  Nothing on for tomorrow morning (not clothes, silly, no appointments until the afternoon) so I’ll probably talk to the plants in the greenhouse and have a cup of tea with Dilly.

*about that, darlings, can’t remember the exact sum

Last day

Just had my final Indian breakfast for a while. Idli, sambar and the rest. Wink had an egg. I also had toast, butter and honey and some pineapple and guava. I know darlings, it’ll all stop once I’m home and I shall stop eating so much. However, the sensible practice of this hotel in providing every bedroom with a set of bathroom scales means that I could weigh myself at the start and finish of this holiday and that I’ve put on half a kilo is a considerable relief as I’d prepared myself for three or four.

In his email last night the Sage came out with a real Norfolk expression. Describing his evening activities, he said “and it was 10.30 time I got home.” He doesn’t talk with a trace of a Norfolk accent but doesn’t realise he uses the odd expression.

Receiving daily letters from my husband has been a new experience for me. I’ve emailed him in the past when away, but this is the first time I’ve been out of Europe since he learned to email. His letters are very entertaining, badly spelled and a bit randomly typed – there’s nothing wrong with his spelling normally but it goes haywire when he types – and very chatty. We have a single black chick, hatched a few days ago. There was a second but it didn’t survive, in spite of the Sage’s best efforts at revival.

I’ve finally relaxed enough to sleep well. It took quite long enough, it’s just been the last couple of nights. Our flight is 5.30 tomorrow morning so we’ll have a sleepless night at the airport which will put me back to normal I expect. Still, no matter.

It’s been a wonderful fortnight, we’ve had such fun. It’ll be lovely to be home of course, but I’ll miss India and my friends. Jill, who lives in London, left in the early hours today and Maja and Marina leave a few hours before us. The rest of the family has dispersed and we will see Kamala in an hour or so. We spent last evening with J, M, M, the bride and groom Nandini and Joe and friends Sanjeev and Jack, at the cricket club. After an hour or two eating delicious hot and cold snacks which I thought constituted dinner, we were served dinner. We ate dinner anyway.

Hope you’re all well, I’ve looked at a few blogs while I’ve been away but commenting hasn’t been easy so I’ll catch up when I get home. Love to you all and if you have been, thanks for listening.

Zoë xx

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Coffee, lentils and oranges

It was a charming and moving service in the small church. Many of the choir are Joe’s relations, they sang really well and perhaps with extra feeling on this family occasion. Then there was the reception, which included a three-tier iced cake – sponge cake with butter icing, it was very good. Mel told our Croatian friends that they should make a wish as they ate. She and I did too. It occurs to me now that I should have wished not to have gained whole lots I’d weight while I’ve been here, but I fear it’s too late.

There was yet another get-together at Joe’s parents’ house last night, but I’m afraid the four of us Europeans didn’t stand the pace and we stayed in our hotel. I was going to buy Wink a birthday drink but it turned out that the hotel was dry! No alcohol licence. So we trailed back to our rooms, feeling we’d shown ourselves up rather by asking.

And so we toasted Wink’s birthday with instant black coffee and ate fried lentil snacks – I don’t know what they’re called, yellow like grains of rice, not at all spicy, very tasty – and oranges that we had brought from Chennai.

This morning we had breakfast with Joe’s relations (I ate a ridiculous amount again), said goodbye and now are on our way back to Chennai. I’ll post this from the hotel.

Later – here we are again, back in sunny Chennai, about to order a chicken sandwich and a glass of beer. Chin chin, dear hearts.


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A nod and a Wink

It was a lovely relaxed friendly party last night hosted by Joe’s parents. We met his relations, some of whom we’d been introduced to at the wedding in Chennai. This morning we were taken (they are so hospitable) to the Gold Temple which was remarkable. A huge place with lovely gardens and the entire temple really is covered in gold leaf – a tonne and a half of pure gold went into its construction. Getting in was something of a ritual in itself. A wealthy cult whose leader started it 20 years ago when he was only 16.

As I write, we’re on our way back to the hotel after lunch, will get changed and then off for the marriage blessing in a church housed in the fort. There is also a temple and a mosque in this fort, there’s complete religious tolerance.

By the way, in case you’re surprised at a Christian ceremony, Christianity came to India long before the days of the British Raj, in the 2nd century AD. There are around 30 million Christians in the country, a sizeable minority religion. Mixed religion marriages are relatively uncommon however, I was told.

And today is Wink’s birthday


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Happy New Year

It’s New Year’s Day in Tamil Nadu. Wink and l are, as I write, on our way to Vellore. It’s a modern dual carriageway with a central reservation planted with flowering shrubs. Where we are now, there is plenty of greenery though we went through quite an arid stretch soon after turning inland from Pondy where there were trees but little other vegetation.

We saw a near-accident in Kanchi. I’m not sure how it happened because I was sitting behind our driver and didn’t have a good view, but a motor cyclist had to stop or swerve suddenly and his wife lost her balance and fell off. Luckily, she was able to keep her balance as she landed on the road and didn’t quite lose her footing and he stopped quickly enough not to drag her along as she held on. She must have scraped her feet on the road at the very least though and been wrenched as she twisted. They both looked shaken. We were far enough behind to stop easily, luckily.

There don’t seem to be as many accidents on the road as you might think. Over four visits, this is my ninth week in India and I’ve travelled fairly extensively by road, both in town and long-distance. In that time, I’ve seen the accident I just described, one overturned auto rickshaw where the annoyed but unhurt passenger stood as the driver tried to right his vehicle and one dead dog.

Dogs seem to be treated quite kindly, by the way. You know it’s a poor area if the dogs look thin, usually they’re quite well nourished.

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of stroking an elephant. I was sorry for it mind you, standing in its place outside a temple in Pondicherry. It was calm and friendly enough, reaching out its trunk to passers by. I wondered how large its living accommodation was. The last temple elephants I touched were in Kerala and Weeza and I were able to ride them and feed them bananas. That was out in the countryside, they looked as if they had a good life.

We have arrived at our very luxurious hotel. I have wifi!

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Fwd: If a lady merely glows, Z is no lady

> The massage and pedicure were very good indeed. Parts of the pedicure were almost unbearably ticklish, true, but I managed, just, not to snatch my foot away. I have to admit, I kept my pants on for the massage (in an underwear sense, darlings, knickers, I wasn’t wearing trousers) because when I’ve had a massage before I’ve always been provided with a towel for modesty, however scant but wasn’t this time.
> We were just arriving when we received a text from Nandini, anxiously warning is not to go to the seafront because of the tsunami warning. Concern abated later of course, but apparently people in Chennai did feel tremors so it’s not surprising they were worried.
> Today we went on an organised tour. I’ve done that a few times before and they were always very good, but this has been a touch disappointing. There’s the usual round of temples and so on, but not much more. Pondicherry museum has some nice bronzes, some French furniture left by a past governor and, most interestingly, some pieces of china and so on that were brought over a couple of thousand years ago by the Romans, who traded at a town (which no longer exists) not too far from Pondicherry. Such artefacts haven’t been found anywhere else in India.
> The afternoon part of the tour involves a walk of a kilometre to something or other. Probably a temple. Wink and I opted out. With her damaged tendon and this heat, walking two kms is not something that appealed to her and nor did it to me. I’m sweltering on the bus instead. I nearly fell asleep, but a trickle of sweat down by back and into my knickers (a different pair, of course) woke me up.
> I had meant to write again last night, but I wasn’t able to log on. Marina had the same problem though Maja was okay. Quite odd. I had a couple of replies to emails written and couldn’t send them off until this morning after breakfast.
> This is our last night in Pondy. Tomorrow morning, we have a car booked and will drop off the girls at their next overnight stop and then continue on to Vellore. I’m afraid, for those of you hoping I’ll come back with fabulous textiles, that I won’t. It’s too hot to want to shop and I haven’t enough knowledge of handicrafts to know what to buy anyway. I’ve a funny feeling that souvenirs for the children will be bought at the airport. We’ll have plenty of time to wait for our 5.30 am flight.
> And now we are back at the hotel, having been kindly dropped off, rather than been taken back to the bus stop. And we are having a long cold drink. Lemonade, dear friends, lemonade.
> Zoë
> Sent from my iPhone