Post Covid experimental trip, much abbreviated compared with previous visits. I’ll probably settle for Bombay and Delhi with odd day trips.
No day trips, I’m far too lazy to sort them out, but Mumbai, flying then to Kolkata and overnight Rajdhani to Delhi. Sorted - maximum exposure to carbon monoxide and monsoon.
I’ve quite forgotten how to use this app. So all vaguely experimental.
This visit is now fixed for August 3rd - August 21st, a short visit, one to cheer me up and to, I hope, restore my battered confidence - stick a few chips on its plate.
I’ve never been so free-wheeling over a trip before with scant preparation and only a very rudimentary plan - a skeleton really:
Heathrow to Bombay
Bombay to Calcutta
Calcutta to Delhi
Delhi to Heathrow
Maxing out on carbon monoxide and monsoon.
I looks as though the Heathrow experience may well be the exciting centre point of the whole experience: strikes, queues, Covid jab proofs, plus a couple of curious forms I’ve filled out and hopefully uploaded.
Very pleased to see that I’ll be in a \240Boeing 787 (hopefully the -9 version).
The moment of departure - well out of the house at least. And a novelty: \240bus to the station which, travelling with Sue, has now become a (cheaper) part of the House - Train - London routine \240for me though I reserve the right to improvise (taxi) on my return.
Sitting on Cambridge station wishing I had my copy of I-Spy Tattoos wherein I’d scoop the pool after two arrivals, one from Norfolk, and two departures. Much as I’d like to take a snapshot I’m (literally) afraid \240I won’t. A tall bicycling, crop-haired woman passed by tattoos evenly placed all over her visible body parts, a few decorated her face - she resembled \240a \240pinkish toile de jouy covered column. Cycling.
The train is more or less empty so I start, pulled sharply into sentience by a man’s loud ‘phone business delivery \240about fabrics, curiously, and aimed at a person called Raphael.
I was about to write about my uncertainty, flying around god knows where but I looked up and saw precisely where we’ve got to on the sodding map. Rather too much precision if you ask me.
So, over the Danube, looking down on it through my two huge Boeing 787 windows. It’s a real pleasure after being stuck in Cambridge for so long even though at least a year of that time was wasted because of my fears and not inconsiderable laziness.
Before take-off we sat about for an age as something had gone wrong with the ‘plane next door so it was surrounded by fire engines blocking our exit.
The main purpose of this flight, apart from getting me back to India, is returning equal part Muslim/Hindu people to their homeland. And their babies!
I wish flights were more like bus rides as I’d love to get of to see the Middle Eastern Louvre and we are just flying over it so…parachute folks?
I’ve had a full day even if I discount the flight…
I was slightly concerned about all the Covid stuff, the up-loaded certifications, the VeriFLY and Aarogya Setu and Suvidha portal all so very official, all so beauracratically precise. In the end the men-in-the-street, aka the officials at the entry points (passport/anything to declare desks) couldn’t have been less interested, assuming that anxiety would have driven people to a righteous degree of efficiency.
The winking transporter
Mukesh Ambani’s house (we might call it a sky scraper?)
The hotel has an arrangement with a local technical college which trains blind students to be masseurs. One of these men sorted out my weary bones this afternoon, he was brilliant. I asked him his name and was told it was Deepak and that it meant ‘light’. Deepak, with a wry tone suggested there was a large dollop of irony to his naming.
I did wonder if these booksellers lived in their stacks, whatever they all appear to have a distinctive, bright yellow copy entitled Do Epic Shit. I’m left wondering if this is in either the self-help or heath section…I the author has, whichever section, been heavily remaindered.
This young man asked me for a selfie, I agreed of course whereupon he took me in a sort of headlock and gurned to the camera which, by now, was hovering High above us. I grinned awkwardly.
Sugarcane juice is v popular
Supper at Olympia Café which is decidedly down market but serves up great tasting food (if you avoid the lengthy section involving brains). I had channa with chapatis, a plate of sliced up red onion, halves of lime, a plate of a pale green, lime-ish flavoured sauce, fresh lime soda (‘no sugar, no salt’) and a bottle of chilled mineral water. Just perfect, exactly what I wanted/needed. I followed through with falooda, ice cream and passion fruit seeds. My bill was £1.80. It only slightly occurred to me that I could well have charged them as I was the close focus of all ten waiters throughout, and I mean close…
Then I walked around in the truly balmy evening not bothering terribly about the requests for money/food/uncle’s shop/drugs etc., it’s just part of the Mumbai show.
Taj Hotel on the ‘prom’
Enough. I have to try and figure out/remember just how this bloody Journo thing works…
My (short) morning walk was mainly over tiles such as these, colourful reminders of the English in India. Vikram told me that whatever one’s opinion re English in India that it had to be tempered by the Bombay model. A line across the city map running from East to West, separating South Bombay from North Mumbai, says it all - above the line, built by India is shit where nothing works and lots falls down whilst the rest has lasted and lasted and generally has brilliant infrastructure. I remained dumb.
Breakfast was a wonderful hybrid, Indlish/Englian if you will. I ate curds (yoghurt)with pineapple and two finger-sized bananas followed by poha and upma, both grain-based, typical breakfast savoury mixes eaten with a green coconut ‘chutney’(no heat, just fine ground coconut and herbs) delicious, alongside a mug of breakfast tea and half a pint of water Mellon juice. I’ve returned to bed.
Remembering that coconut milk is reckoned to be jolly good for the stomach/digestion/whatever I had one from the man at the top of the road. So very pleasing to find good for you married to utterly delicious and cheap. My coconut had semi-solid flesh in it so a man at the same stage offered me his malai (cream), the gelatinous lining that is justifiably prized. Very kind of him.
I was walking to the General Post Office, my morning’s task, passing by people, posters, oddities several of which I couldn’t photograph. Close by Flora’s Fountain was a girl, perhaps twenty, draping her washing on railings whilst her not quite still a baby slept on the pavement. I gave her a Rs 400 note, rubbing my stomach and indicating the child. I think she understood.
I’ve just found the snapshot and can see immediately why I gave her the money - the accusatory look in her eyes ain’t just me being over-sensitive for sure. The following picture is the one I took whilst pretending that it was the one I wanted anyway. She knew…
The P.O. is a vast piece of Victoriana inside which is a large room labelled Philately. The counters are manned by four women, \240though they’re clearly not to be trusted as there are also four men hang around looking slightly lost. The glass-topped counter displays celebratory stamps, first day issue envelopes etc., I started making my choices, forgetting that each section of the counter, each two foot section of identical products i.e. stamps, has its own saleswoman, who in turn has her own male ‘guardian’. Each thing I bought had to be entered, fully described, into a huge ledger with separate bills made out in triplicate by each of the women. The men shuffled around, peered over their shoulders, thrust sets of stamps at me, misjudging my tastes by light years - ‘sir, sir these are military stamps, very important man Deepak’, ‘ah, 2014 World Cup sir’ etc. A caramel-coloured overall came in at this point and dropped a spoonful of what resembled lumpy brown sugar into everyone’s right hand. I’m sorry to say that a sense of self-preservation triumphed over good manners.
Pawpaw and water melon must be v cheap at the moment as there are a ton of stalls shifting them in their various forms. I didn’t have any as I was off around the corner to the Yazdani Bakery for Brun Maska (heavily buttered sweetish, largish bread roll with a glass of strong tea in which one dips etc). Yazdani is one of the few remaining Persian cafés in Mumbai and it’s a delight, though rather run down. They use wood fired ovens for baking. It’s so v charming and so very likely not to be there next time I visit.
Off for a lengthy walk with Art Deco in mind but posting photographs of my favourite domestic building, the one I have lusted after for a couple of decades. An Indian friend told me that the whole crescent, which overlooks Horniman Circle Gardens, is owned by Parsi families. (If this is so then they ought to be ashamed of the state it’s fallen into.)
Words later maybe…
I bought a local SIM card from the booth/shop nextdoor to this wonderful installation. I did wonder what the flats, serviced by these pipes and rather narrow stairs, look like. I wanted a cold drink and was recommended to Cascara which is made from the husks of coffee beans which would usually be discarded. It was fine, tasted very like Coca-Cola I thought (but didn’t say). I’ve just looked it up and it’s also known as coffee cherry \240tea.
Preceding the concert, rather unusually I thought, we were handed goodie bags the contents of which were eccentric to say the least: two small fruit juices, a full size lemon scented air freshner, a small pot of honey and a very nice cotton book bag. The woman and daughter before me differed much the way Sue and I might have - the daughter took the bag (that’s me also) the mother said thanks, but no thanks. We talked about relinquishing ‘stuff’, I said I was still accumulating stuff. What a lovely couple, indeed one of many such including the couple sitting next to me. I don’t need reminding just how charming and open people can be. It helps of course that we were there for the love of music but I could apply this to others I’ve met on this trip.
What a glorious concert it was. Shubha Mudgal has been studying around these topics for a decade. This concert showcased carefully chosen aspects of her musical/literary research around Women,Sexuality and Song. I was surprised to find just how easy it was listening to her. I think that five years ago it might not have been so accessible to me. I was v fortunate to hear her given her fame and popularity. I loved that she asked two of her students to play sitar and double up vocally when needed.
The evening was sublimely warm, beautiful to look at and there was a lovely feeling of post concert abandon to me as I drifted up Marine Drive can of soda in hand. And thereby hangs a not entirely pleasing tail…I dumped my can in the recycling section of the bins feeling smugly virtuous, a feeling that was instantly rewarded as a rat leapt from the bin contacting my naked, hairy calf en route. I maybe swore, I certainly raced a few feet into the lightest part of the path with a massively increased heartbeat. This might go some way to explaining why there’s such a litter problem here: I’ll be taking my litter home now. Recovery was swift, after all it’s just so lovely here.
Very early morning walk past the onion shredder whose eyes were quite dry.
…though back in time for breakfast which was: vada, coconut, chutney and sambar/breakfast tea/pineapple juice/curds and water melon. The vada were the best, possibly because they were cooked seconds before I ate them. I now have only half an hour before my massage which is pushing it I realise but…
Deepak delivered the goods re my lower back rendering me human enough to take to the streets once more. We tried to ask and answer questions about U.K., Spas, stuff England’s famous for but struggled with our combined gibberish and verbal stabs in the dark - nothing really useful came out of it though it was fun trying.
Passed by a wood working company busy with something that looks like a canopy for a god/goddess. The man in the foreground is using a typical crossing-the-road hand signal - it has all the power of nothing yet sees him still alive. I won’t try it rather trusting in muttered swearing to see me across roads.
Withdrew money from ATM this morning. ATMs are ubiquitously housed in separate little well-chilled spaces fastened onto the side of all banks, guarded by an understandably sullen ‘officer’. It’s pleases me no end that the Rs are, despite being very recently redesigned, still printed on paper and therefore sit well in wallets, feeling authentic unlike the shiny plasticised fish skin notes we had to put up with before using cards became de rigueur.
Well, if you have to have a specialism then I guess hammocks and garden umbrellas might put you in pole position with any competition.
Deepak has just done my exercises for me so I’m feeling v healthy and rather oily. I’m instructed to rest for an hour before showering. I’ll sign up for that one.
I’ve stayed in Colaba today, relaxed and read for half of it. The (fab Art Deco) Regal is the address I give taxi drivers, knowing I’ll almost certainly get to where I want to be. Called by the Jehangir Art Gallery which has tons of room/s but sadly the art in it has a timid sameness about it, ‘painters’ of patterns, not much better than those peculiar colouring books for grown ups, though in a defensively larger scale. There seems to be a confusion between art and patience, the latter being praised and thus accorded a higher value than it merits…’oh, it must have taken you ages, I don’t know how you do it’ etc. Anything that steps beyond the decorative imperils itself, confuses its viewers and leaves the painter anxious. I saw several people touching pictures, firmly checking out their textures. Golly…
Went to Delhi Darbar for delicious supper (see below) plus reading: has a better combination been discovered? I asked for coffee, mainly to off-set an on-set of A/C shivering. It arrived shortly after the finger bowl and was composed of a large cup of hot buffalo milk, a small bowl of sugar cubes and an even smaller bowl of finely powdered coffee, the like of which is seldom seen beyond the walls of cash and carries. Damn it it tasted good, though rather more pudding than I had expected.
Writing postcards, bagging up laundry and a pre-breakfast walk, long-standing routine which also includes tidying my room aka cramming everything that isn’t litter into my case, thus giving my rooms a spurious respectability.
Amusement arcade…we do far too much Health & Safety in U.K., I say sack anyone in HS admin and let people take charge of their own life (and death). Seeing this reminded that I have no idea how stuff works/is built and by whom. I realise that UK’s climate wouldn’t be ideal for outside work, this firework thingy would be extinguished for a start, but surely more could be done.
I’m have a museum day today so have stoked my furnace with Missa Pav for breakfast (sambal with more kick than usual, broken up bits of lentil-based hardish shapes, finely chopped red onion, lime halves and toasted bread rolls for eating it with - these tasted more brioche than bread). This church is at the end of my street and last evening the windows and doors were wide open with people - men - singing away, at thi point I realised that it is a church/chapel of some sort (the sort that discourages women I guess).
Sallied fourth into a lot of revving motorbikes which was noticeably loud even for Mumbai. A man told me that this was an unusually large gathering because of Independence Day (why, it’s only the 7th?) though it happens every Sunday whatever. The man (?) I photographed wanted to take me for a ride with them but I refused, it all looked a trifle wilder than I could cope with spontaneously. The boys I videoed had just selfied me and reacted exactly as I should have expected when I turned my camera on them.
Art Deco peeps through grimy accretions though still, despite the lack of care, not safe from my lust. Please, an apartment in…
The reason for this posting business is so that I am able to revisit India whilst in an increasingly uncomfortable U.K. (I’m reading the news and winter sounds like it will be grim.)
I’m heading for CSMVS aka The Museum (even locals find the rechristenings a bit of a mouthful) or, as I knew it, The Prince of Wales Museum, a short walk from where I’m staying. It’s impossible to walk for even a short distance without seeing something ghastly, charming or both. The bamboo scaffolding, awaiting delivery, charms and horrifies me.
I’m fond of extremes and Mumbai displays innumerable examples of unbridgeable polarities. And yet…again I see young people, predominantly young people, moving around the museum pointing, gathering around, most impressively discussing what they are looking at and not infrequently touching. Locals? Tourists? For sure there aren’t many gap year travellers around and this museum charges so you have to want to come here.
The Buddhas Within: copper sculpture by Satish Gupta, 2016
That’s collected vast amounts of stuff in amongst which was a fine collection of Buddhist artifacts. My aide-memoire needs only a few so before I move on to the jewellery section:
Padmapani Avalokiteshvara, Nepal 942 CE
Buddha Shakyamuni, Nepal 915 CE
Bodhisativa Maitreya, Nepal 13th Century
Ekadasha Mahakarunika Avalokiteshvara, Tibetan 18th Century
Tara, Tibet 18th Century
White Tara, Nepal 17th Century
Buddha, Gandhara 5th Century
18th Century Avalokiteshvara hand
The famed Olympia Café which I default to daily. The waiters now know me and grin in a manner closer to friendly than carnivorous. Now. I’ve stuck to the same order not wishing to destabilise our relationship just yet. Today I sat at a table with a Muslim and a Hindu both of whom ate their food with gusto and delicacy leaving barely any on their fingers, whilst I had sauce stains up to my elbow and a pile of paper napkins sodden with my moppings up. Suspect this to be a skill passed on at an early age.
Supper was monster cheap from Bademiya. This place is, as they say, literally across the road, I can see it from my bath, an amusing skirmish of cars and people getting quantities of food cooked over coals. The vegetarian and meat are barbecued in separate areas. I muttered vegetarian at a waiter fingers firmly crossed and this is what I got and boy did I enjoy it. I’m literally replete. Outside it’s raining monsoonal quantities. The noise it makes is soothing.
I have a routine damn it. Much as I would like to think of myself as being a free-wheeling creature, free from the shackles that restrict creative deployment of opportunities I am a person who has for seventy years been conditioned by school bells, school mealtimes and change of lesson routines. Damn. Upside? I visit the coconut juice seller every morning so my guts are in perfect condition, assuming that people’s belief in the efficacy of coconut milk is true. Here he is loosening the malai with a ‘spoon’ cut from the nut. Its texture is similar to that of an (v v large) oyster though with a gentle flavour of coconut (what else?). Breakfast this morning included Sewiya Pulao/green coconut chutney/samosa, Sabudona Kheer plus the usual bits. Coconut chutney, indeed chutney in general, needs some definition as it is nothing like any chutney we might eat in England. Coconuts are first grated finely then mixed with…I’ve just looked it up realising that I had no idea - what a huge number of ingredients - whatever it’s delicious. The sabudona is essentially small balls of sago, which I wouldn’t even consider eating in England, simmered in buffalo milk/cardamom and bits of dried fruit/nuts and most enjoyable.
Deepak gave me another massage, he really is the best masseur I’ve ever experienced. At the end of today’s session, my last one, he asked me to take a selfie of us both which floored me as I’ve hardly ever taken any let alone one of two people. Further to this was his ‘phone was a speaking ‘phone with instructions in Marathi with scant acknowledgment of graphic arts. I managed though it took me an age before I was able to frame us both. (If we were intended to take such photographs we would have been given at least one longer arm.)
I postponed thinking about packing, weight, what I’ve bought until this morning when I realised that posting was the only option unless I wanted a very heavy bag. I tried shifting the responsibility onto the hotel but they were only offering Wells Fargo or some such option so of to the main GPO with slightly sinking heart.
The best part is, or was, the sewing up in calico of the parcel, dabbings of sealing wax etc. most of that has been replaced by cling film and parcel tape. The queue in the post office however hasn’t suffered modernisation, it’s still there, still slow, still takes three men and a woman. Still, it’s done…
Lunch at Mahesh Lunch Home which was the first place I lunched during my first visit to Bombay. It’s a well-thought of restaurant that specialises in fish, has an impenetrably gnomic name and fierce air-con. The picture suggests a frugal meal, though it was anything but. I’ve no idea what sort of fish it was as I’d asked for it to be taken off the bone so I could read more comfortably. The butter garlic naan was exemplary. Unable to move I asked for coffee only to be told that there was neither coffee nor tea. Extraordinary eh?
I wondered who named this building? An Indian architect suggested that it must have been an Englishman, I wasn’t so sure…so I looked it up: Our Readymoney Mansion at Flora Fountain was constructed in the 1920s by my great grandfather, the Late Shri Cowasji Jehangir. Not only are the tiles still existing and in excellent condition but are much admired by ourselves, by many of our tenants and by visitors to the building”.
The blue eyes in the photograph are lights not a photographic glitch.
My evening wander through gentle drizzle past buildings, some of which are already lit up in celebration of India’s 75th birthday. The pavements in Colaba are probably ten feet wide with shops on one side and market stalls in unbroken sequence on the other. People drift along stopping to look, buy, obstruct. Some of these people are built on substantial lines so it’s easy to get stuck behind a lengthy blockage, at which point someone less patient invariably starts yelling though to no great effect. I’ve noticed that horn blasting, once an urban nightmare, has markedly decreased and traffic flow is, at least in South Mumbai, fairly continuous. These two observations can’t be related surely?
My supper this evening, a reserve stock, is an ‘egg & mayo’ sandwich from Theobroma and a small packet of Lays crisps.
It’s my last day in Bombay (name used along with Mumbai about equally e.g. I am currently living in SoBo!) so must, monsoon permitting, make the most of it. Breakfasting with the Mumbai section of a Lonely Planet; it amuses and befuddles me to see young travellers carting around the whole mahoosive doorstep of LP when amputating the irrelevant parts would make so much more sense.
This is ‘my’ pharmacy chosen because of their sweet compliance with the customer, i.e. me.
Leopold Café a place where eventually every traveller visits/passes through. I just had breakfast, rather late in the day. Leo’s features large in Shantaram as well as in other novels/traveller’s memoirs/diaries. It is popular with all nations and, unlike some places, welcomes home- grown in both senses of the word.
The reason I had a late breakfast: I bent down to plug in my Kindle and my back ‘went’. I froze in place, in agony and whimpering, undecided about what to do next. Every move elicited more distinctly unmanly noises. Eventually I got to my bed and lay flat out. Reception couldn’t have been nicer and, way more importantly, useful. A doctor was called and a diclofenac (?) spray materialised in minutes: Nilesh administered it. The doctor and his assistant tested my blood pressure, blood sugar and oxygen thingy that clips onto a finger - I was ok, so he went ahead and jabbed me with a muscular relaxant, gave me two packets of pills for both severe and mild pain and a little bottle of medicinally scented oil. The label on the oil had his name on it - Dr. Vishnu S. Mulchandani, his bill was approx £30 though I would have paid anything for the pain relief, it was the worst lower back pain I’ve ever experienced.
So my day has been castrated, though it’s not been uninteresting.
I won’t forget my room but would like Sue to visit India at some point so feel the need to show her more practical aspects of the place. There is a separate bathroom with shower, lavatory and a door!
There’s a frock shop with a sale on across the road - these are some e.g.s from its windows - I think they are rather good.
This evening I was v fortunate to coincide with a concert of two of my favourite pieces, Shostakovich’s String Quartet No.8 in C minor and Mozart’s String Quintet No.4 in G minor. The performance space was wonderfully well-lit, accoustically faultless and very well played. I ate mini Batatawada washed down (what other way?) with chai - 30 pence to put a smile on one’s face before a concert. Bargain. Both pieces were given succinct introductions by, I think, Jehangir Batiwala whom I spoke with during the interval. I hadn’t realised that Shostakovich had seen the devastation we visited upon Dresden during the war and as a result, in 1960, composed this extraordinary piece.
Walking back in the warmth of both climate and music, the D(imitri) SCH(ostakovich) theme banging around in my head: an ear worm worth putting up with.
Trees, lights, a biscuit/soft drinks stall and an unusually fragrant public lavatory drew my attention. I read the notice, because by then I’d also noticed quantities of mainly mid twenties men and women, their heads down, working hard. I thought, with justifiable cynicism, that it wouldn’t/couldn’t exist in England. How spoilt we are. Incidentally it was well after 21:00. The place is open 24/7 and there’s no grafitti and no noise. By much the same token I remembered how animated and young were the many visitors in the museums and art galleries I’ve visited thus far. I’ll make a guess here that education is more respected here than it is in England. Further to this I \240only have to be talking to Indians, ones I know, ones I’ve just met, for Shakespeare/Dickens/ poetry/painting etc to enter the conversation. It’s most refreshing and exceedingly depressing.
There wasn’t any warning. I was wandering still, thinking of how focussed and self-motivated those young people were when it tipped down. Brolly up, smile in place and a 9 pence packet of ten Nice biscuits. I felt good. Back to pack.
The usual slow pack that being the only way I avoid leaving stuff in my rooms. Check out easy as I’d already paid for the bulk of my bill. Sad to leave such a smooth running place. Taxied to the domestic airport, T1, and filled in drifting, looking for differences which it transpired would be needle in a haystack task as it was all Hamley’s, Mont Blanc, Cadbury’s, Body Shop etc. Haderam’s is totally Indian, I’ll be eating there when I’m in Delhi, but it also has branches in U.K. so hardly worth buying.
The sea was rough, waves that a surfer would relish, not a boat in sight, barely a building across the bay in sight, beggars abound especially women with young children. The taxi driver, distracted by his ‘phone missed the turning adding half an hour extra to the journey, seeing that I was indifferent he too tuned his emotions towards calm. Any errors, blame the ‘plane…
Kolkata at last - the ‘plane was late and in Kolkata airport there were no taxis. I, and the growing queue, were amazed and only partially amused to be told that it was because of the rain. Sounded daft enough to be English.
Arrived at Fairlawns, the hotel that the wandering Kendall family used whilst in Kolkata, though probably didn’t always pay for. I’m in Shashi Kapoor’s room, presumably Jennifer Kendall’s as well. I hope it has a new matress. I’m in the café with a huge plate of noodles, many colours of vegetables though principally garlic, chilli and ginger. I intended leaving some but it was so delicious I finished the whole bowl off. The café is out front, doesn’t have any walls and there’s a gap between reception and it, currently being filled by some serious rain.
…from the walls of my room
The sodden gap - not its official name but will pass muster for the moment. I’m off to Sashi’s bed with Kindle and lime soda, stomach full of noodles and mishti doi (look it up).
When I was here last the whole of the ground floor and café’s furniture was painted a bright green, both highly eccentric and wonderful. I regret the colour’s passing though am pleasantly surprised by how little has been mucked up. The curious bridge leading to the first floor drawing room, the sit-outs are still there, as is Violet’s personal space over the front entrance. It was always understood that anyone was welcome to sit in this space, though people seldom did and I certainly didn’t. The photographs haven’t changed one bit, the magnificently large Venetian glass mirror is still there. The bathrooms are fortunately different, though their old double doors remain. No cards here, it’s still keys which means that I’m able to leave machinery charging whilst I’m out. Big bonus. I thought that by collaging my photographs I’d be able to hide the worst bits but as you see…nope.
The monsoonal rains of last night have stopped leaving Kolkata steamily warm. The difference between the heat in England and here might be that here it is exceedingly moist, damp, sweaty and utterly wonderful, all the more since it banishes any arthritic pain from my hands. (But surely this is counter intuitive, it cannot be so?)
Breakfast room and reception - geographically unchanged.
A friend just reminded me that her uncle (vicar of Delhi) was part of the Shakespeare Wallah troupe along with Felicity Kendall.
Saris are lovely to look at whatever the shape is beneath, however hardly anyone carries a handbag that looks anything other than crap. Money needs to be spent, designers need to consider the sari and what bag design might look good whilst wearing one.
And whilst I’m moaning what’s it with cutlery - why is it so very small, and blunt? It’s an absolute bugger trying to cut toast, even butter toast, so imagine more complicated meals. I’ve been eating with my hand more regularly during this visit but it isn’t appropriate in all places and carrying a set of my own around with me might be construed as a piece of colonial arrogance - which it would be of course. Damn.
Off to New Market where all was fine until I got stuck in the meat section. The smell was the least of my troubles, although horrid, it was the live (just) birds that got to me. I hurried through. Then an extremely talented salesman tried to sell me cashmere (and shartoosh despite its illegality) however I didn’t lose my advantage over him though he pressed all the buttons that ought to have worked - I could feel the mechanics of it all as he fathomed his approaches. I might return as his stuff was good and the prices fair, anything cheaper and I would have doubts.
I don’t think that the roof garden is intentional.
Passed by a couple of decrepit Art Deco cinemas - palatial, complete, apparently doomed.
This evenings supper might lack sophistication but it certainly doesn’t lack calories, it’s from a place called Hot Kati Rolls. Mine was egg and vegetables (and loads of hot sauce and chopped chilli). I ate it whilst walking home, to do otherwise would be to give lie to its name.
Coffee, fruit and curds (yoghurt?) for breakfast to counter the grease of last evening. This usually arrives in a bowl, it being far easier to manage than this decorative presentation. Slow start with domestic bits occupying me for a couple of hours, that is if you include scanning through the Times of India.
Serious heat today, heat to rival even England perhaps so lightening my load and packing a fan.
Still life with truncated corpse…
I decided upon a visit to the pottery men of Kumartuli who make statues of god and goddesses out of clay from the bottom of the river, plus cow dung and dust/soil from outside a brothel (men, of course) leave all their purity outside the brothel. Whatever the mix the statues are astounding, a sort of hyper-real creation, smoothed glassily to ease the eventual application of colour/paint. The potters were all concentrating intently, with only a very few playing music. I was pleased however that it didn’t rain - what on earth persuaded me that wearing white shoes when visiting potteries with little space and huge statues was a good idea, I can’t imagine.
I forgot to put this in, this rough, on top of the straw, first layer head. I like it like this but smooth they must become. It is probably a meditative process whereby thoughts and prayers are added with the clay imbuing the statue with additional virtue.
I rather liked this one but suspect that she’ll be trimmed down to a more conventional goddess shape - waists are being worn the year.
This is a by no means untypical alley. Miles can be cut from walking from A to Z if you are lucky enough to know where these occasionally noisome routes are heading. Today I was successful \240by happenchance though, ‘swings and roundabouts’, my experiment with the Metro was an unmitigated disaster caused entirely by my misreading the signs. Experience not tragedy, so okay, but at the time…
It happens also in Addis Ababa, this wall-painting movie advertisement, it can’t possibly make any economic sense.
I got lost several times and was eventually challenged by a middle aged man wearing an old mask. He was kind and showed me they way to the nearest metro station. I was initially impressed, after I’d chunted under my breath about the queues for tokens. Travelling a handful of stations costs about 5 pence. Of course I went the wrong bloody way and finished up, somewhat appropriately, on Dumdum station. It’s not a perfect system, I had to exit, queue for ages to buy another and then go through the tedium of security yet again. This time way worse than last since the crowd was dense, packing the train over full. A man very kindly offered me his seat which, despite my inclination to cavil, was v welcome.
Lunch at The Bhopal Company, a Bengali specialist café that has survived the Covid years. Bit of a miracle really. I had Bhetki with five vegetables and steamed rice. My eyes were weeping, both with joy at the flavours and more pertinently, the power of the mustard. I’m working hard not to return there for an identical supper. The mishti doi was indescribably perfect in its creamy sweetness and hint of fermentation.
I wasn’t tempted to try this eccentric shampoo though toyed with the notion of mini bottles of it for Christmas stockings. What a surprise they would deliver…
Sudder Street is the main centre for travellers with several cafés with menus specifically pitched at the various nationalities attracted to India. I’m starting to think I might be the only white a man in town. Several people have mentioned this lack of tourists, though locals flood the streets/shops so it took me a while before I noticed. The people who are suffering, who have always suffered, are the destitute, the homeless who are quietly present, appearing not to have enough energy even to beg. The touts, the men who try and persuade you to go into shops, they are still around but are somewhat neutered since the advent of earphones. I always stop, remove one earpiece and tell them that I won’t go into a shop, that I’m walking but they are v welcome to join me though I will be listening to music continuously. It generally works…
It shocks me to see men pulling rickshaws, especially when they are full of fleshy customers (note the plural). I’m told that the rickshaws are on an elaborate hire purchase scheme and are seldom owned by the men for hire.
There are a cluster of ‘wine’ shops around here alongside a few bars. They are inconspicuous and are aimed at the few, both locals and, more likely, travellers. There is always one called The English Wine Shop. Whether this is a nod to the Commonwealth or a sad reflection of the Englishman’s reputed addiction to alcohol I don’t know.
I wasn’t quick enough to get much of the action here, they were travelling at a fair speed.
This is such a large room. I used it yesterday when Anup called by - it’s the only time I’ve seen it used. Massive Venetian glass chandeliers and mirrors which would dominate most rooms get lost here. Apart from these glittering additions there’s nothing very distinguished here, although the room feels wonderful in a slightly suburban way.
I can’t manage to show the tree, one of the trees which the café’s rudimentary roof was built around, it defeats my ‘phone’s camera being too light above and too dark below. Yesterday, after a flash flood, the waitress, whose job spec must have included post-flood moppings, was pushing gallons of monsoon around. It appeared reluctant to leave.
I would ideally like this room when I next visit. My bed could be fully curtained so that life could go on around me without compromising my privacy (I don’t value that much in any case).
I’m ‘cleaning’ up from yesterday’s random snaps. Wandering around I found myself on the banks of the river and was quite unable to take any photographs as men were abluting and it would have been inecusably rude of me. So I turned the other way and this is it - railway-cum-roadway-cum-launderette.
This wobbly clip(wait for the loading) is of Tipu Sultan Mosque as I drove by bouncing and braking over a heavily pock-marked road. I stopped shooting it because I suspected it to be worse than it was. There’s sufficient here to remind me of the building (and noise).
I didn’t initially realise that this was an illusion. The tuck tuck moved, the load stayed. Well, when I say stayed I really mean grew as men continued to bring along bags of stuff well larger than themselves, all in due time to be transported along with the others.
There must be several Big Bens around Kolkata, my taxi driver from the airport pointed out the first one and here we go again.
Well, what are the chances? I saw one on the way here mid rain, through window but still unarguably Big Ben (I know, I know…), and today another cropped up.
There’s a roof top garden that Fairlawns keeps going. I might at some point ask them why.
The ultimate in urban cricket I guess, right in the centre of Sudder Street, hardly the quietest of streets.
My afternoon was spent in the Indian Museum, mainly with things Buddhist. I’m fairly sure I’m now able to ascribe with accuracy the century of their making. There’s been a change over the last couple of years. The curator of March to Freedom has put together a wonderful mix of images with accompanying suggestions for discussion. It occupies several quite large rooms which have been given a/c so if the subject doesn’t pull people in at least the air chill factor might. These stairs, half of a matching pair, are exhausting to climb and are here to indicate the scale of the rooms around the central grassed courtyard.
If one has to eat European breakfasts then this is the one the soi-disant ‘special muesli with fruit’. Three a day wouldn’t be a v well-balanced diet but it would be very nice…
Preparations for India’s 75th birthday have been well under way over the past week. The police put their new flag up - interesting just how many senior men it took, in fairness I suspect that I wouldn’t have been able to resist a ride in the cherry-picker.
Yesterday was unusually sociable. I’m accustomed to the odd, v odd, request for a selfie and the occasional brief chat but yesterday moved into a different league. It started quite ordinarily with bunches of school children in the exhibition and moved via their teacher,’are they disturbing you’, to the curator. Two hours. Back at Fairlawns I had decided upon a walk, whilst negotiating the gates a fully uniformed chauffeur also negotiated the gates, his job being the more difficult because of the size of the car. Later on I was introduced to its occupant - Diamond Oberoi - the man who bought the hotel and added it to his Heritage collection. We talked for an age, joined by his wife. Charming and thoughtful and, judging as I do, by what I’ve seen, a person who can be trusted with appropriate adjustments to this unique hotel. Nothing he’s done jars, indeed in many respects it’s vastly improved. Of course I loved the amiable eccentricity of the pre-Oberoi place, particularly the green paint which dominated the ground floor. I left them to their supper so that I had time to read. Diamond sent a ginger/honey/clove tea up to my room to ease my sore throat. Kind thought.
Slow start to the day after an unusually long sleep. The elephant skeleton (Elephas maximus) holds the record of the largest elephant every and led the Delhi Durbar parade of 1902 (owned by the Maharaja of Banares) - it stood/stands 11.2 ft at the shoulder. Standing near it I truly felt its size, it was a towering beast of surreal proportions.
The Museum of India is on the corner of Sudder Street and so accessible between bursts of monsoonal rain - a cultural rush.
KOLKATA: If hankering after cab d ..
…so it’s a government initiative which has puzzled me for a few days - No Refusal - printed boldly on the side of some taxis.
I had intended having lunch in a particular café but a combination of mapping inaccuracies and my arrogant certainty found me well astray so I dumped lunch in favour of The South Park Street Cemetery. It had been rainy earlier on and the sky was lowering as I entered. The guardians warned me to be careful as it was v slippery and never a truer word etc. The place suited the weather with its mossy domes, massive stone needles and gloomy reminders of just how young many of the dead were - 26 years seemed to be a fair average. Rose Ayler’s (1780-1800) tomb looked like a massive unicorn’s horn…the truly impressive scale of some of these monuments needs to be seen to be believed - humans are dwarfed by them. I put my ‘phone away after a few shots realising that what I would like to achieve wasn’t going to happen. There were quite a few young people sitting inside the monuments and/or wandering around, it’s a place for lovers, smokers - the young in fact.
Rose Aylmer, Walter Savage Landor:
Ah, what avails the sceptred race! \240 \240
Ah, what the form divine! \240 What every virtue, every grace! \240 \240Rose Aylmer, all were thine. \240 \240Rose Aylmer, whom these wakeful eyes \240
May weep, but never see, \240
A night of memories and sighs \240 \240I consecrate to thee.
I (lazily) copied the following from Wikiwhatnot:
Though Stuart often spoke of his conversion to Hinduism he had not entirely rejected Christian doctrines as he held the Hindu deity Krishna to be the Spirit of God who descends upon earth for the benefit of mankind which he believed was "not very inconsistent with Christianity" and "he was content to be buried in an Anglican cemetery, albeit along with his favourite idols".
Stuart died on 31 March 1828 and was buried with his deities at the South Park Street Cemetery in Calcutta in a tomb which took the form of a Hindu temple. This is a surprisingly modest tomb, though its quasi Hindu appearance is frequently referenced in histories and novels as is his anti-missionary stance. Indeed Anup praised him and, by the same token, Englishmen for not requiring any religious conversion, as distinct from other dominant races that have settled in India.
His remarkable collection of antiquities forms the basis of the British Museum's ancient Hindu and Buddhist sculpture collection from the Indian subcontinent, now known as the Bridge Collection.
In his book Vindication of the Hindoos (1808), Stuart criticised the work of European missionaries in India, claiming that:
"Hinduism little needs the meliorating hand of Christianity to render its votaries a sufficiently correct and moral people for all the useful purposes of a civilised society." In this book. Stuart defends Hinduism from assaults by missionaries explaining:"Wherever I look around me, in the vast ocean of Hindu mythology, I discover Piety....Morality...and as far as I can rely on my judgement, it appears the most complete and ample system of Moral Allegory that the world has ever produced."
Throughout this book Stuart, warns of the dangers of the "obnoxious" missionaries and of attempts to convert Indians to Christianity, a process he describes as "impolitic, inexpedient, dangerous, unwise and insane". He asks "if their religion is insulted what confidence can we repose in the fidelity of our Hindu soldiers?" presaging, it is said, some of the causes of the Mutiny of 1857.
It started to drizzle, rather pleasantly in fact. Walking down a very quiet Park Steet on a Sunday listening to Chopin, and all’s good with the world. I might even have hummed. Talk about turning on a rupee - the sky opened and down came a deluge or two. I sheltered under my ridiculously inadequate umbrella and a tree until the deluge squared had reduced by five eighths. The choice seemed to be between moaning or accepting. I went for the latter and got back to Fairlawn soaked but happy. Chilli cheese and lime soda were to be my reward for tolerance, in the event they were also my late lunch whilst my clothes dried out.
A wonderful tree somewhere in Park Street (I guess the equivalent of Knightsbridge in London), where the tree is essential for the survival of the building.
I met Diamond and his wife again and, at 10:15, supper was suggested. Ha! Kindle and bed more like.
…on the way downstairs - such an appealing noise when accompanied by heat.
Moving day - I’m on the 16:50 Rajdhani to Delhi, arriving at 10:10 tomorrow so I expect there’ll be pictures of railway food.
Preparations for India’s 75th birthday have been well under way over the past week. The police put their new flag up - interesting just how many senior men it took, in fairness I suspect that I wouldn’t have been able to resist a ride in the cherry-picker.
These makeshift stages appeared overnight in every other street - imagine the noise, all linked up to cone-shaped loudspeakers fastened to lampposts. It’s inescapable…though that is exactly what I’ll be doing at 3.00, grabbing a cab for Howrah. I see that Delhi is currently 40’ so no respite there. Serious rain here this morning, heard it whilst having lower back and left shoulder seen to. The photograph was meant to be a video with sound. Since it’s immediately outside the gates I’ll redo it…soon.
I was yelled at for taking this(below) as ‘no photography’ was written in a language unfamiliar to me, its English translation on A4, smallish font, on a back wall. Why? I wondered. Whatever they are a wonderful sight, giving a clear picture of how they might have appeared in ? Known as the Bharhut Gallery, railings and gateway excavated in 1873 but belonging to the 1st Century, decorated with scenes from the Buddha’s life, Jataka tales, plants, animals, folk deities etc
Some of the railings, from the same period, enclosed the Bodi tree in Bodhgaya, under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment.
I had to screenshot these from their website - they don’t look all that old.p