27 February 2008

Chicken Tandoori

As Indians really, really love their food, this is an easy topic to start conversation over. So mentioning that I haven't had Chicken Tandoori, they started planning. Today, during lunch we would go out on motorbikes to a good restaurant. So that's what happened. We took off in a taxiriksja, to my disappointment to Naaz. Quite a ride, again a trafficjam, lot's of honking, squeezing, manouvering. At Naaz my collegue with the biggest appetite and a nack for organizing all the food (hi Chirag!) makes sure we have everything and then we wait. The Chicken Tandoori arrives and is just as I remember it. Tasty, spicy, tender. Next dish, naan with two gravy's (forgot the names). The butter paratta is amazing. Never again will I eat it in the canteen. The dishes are empty and I feel like a stuffed turkey. This is, however, not the end. Dessert is ordered. It looks great. My colleagues invite me to 'jump in' but I cannot. Too much delicious food. Doesn't the icecream look like a gift from heaven?

We leave the restaurant and I get a ride back to the office on a 125cc motorbike. I turn down the offer to drive myself. Not being used to the Mumbai traffic I fear mayhem is lurking around the corner. We drive through the enchanting neighbourhood of Ghatkopar. It seemed like a french city with the colours faded. But cosy and lively. So Mumbai is not only slums and posh hotels but has it's nice pockets of 'normality'. Cruising over the highway at 60 km/h (I was given a helmet, which is an exception ;) ), wind blowing, we overtake cars and taxiriksjas left and right. At the highway end, we take a left turn and are stopped by the police. Seems we neglected a stop. After slipping the policeman Rs 100,- we are free to go. The policeman threatened to take him to court and take his drivers license from him. Now that's what I call crimefighting! Having returned at the office, my colleagues insist I take a short ride on the bike. Actually craving for a ride I jump on and take off. Driving around the building I surprise them. Seemingly, not everybody knew that it was possible to go all the way around.

The lunch was so heavy I couldn't eat dinner at the regular hour. I now understand why Indians have a hard time after lunch, the food is quite heavy on the stomach. Yet another memorable day.

Hotel integration

As my stay lasts longer, the hotel personal has become more and more personal. At first everybody was polite and friendly in a professional matter. But since I take the time to return the question: "How are you?" it seems that I have become a person to them as they have to me. Somehow, me asking the return question comes as a surprise to them. Maybe this is the key explanation to the shift in attitude? Or is it only duration?

I end up having conversations with the chef over the recipe of Brussels sprouts. The chef prepared some last week and I mentioned to him that they were not really tasty (they were really hard). So this week I ended talking to Harschvardan (not the chef but what a name!) who questioned me on the proper way of cooking Brussels sprouts. Writing the recipe down, he thanked me for the recipe stating that next time they serve BS (he he), he'll have the recipe out on display. My 5 minutes of fame! After that the chef personally prepared some small Indian snacks on the counter (different snacks every day, yum). As I have now effectively tasted almost everything from the buffet, I'm getting curious what the Indian cuisine in Holland tastes like.

24 February 2008

Tourist Saturday Indian Style

An ambitious Saturday schedule gets me out of bed early. First pit stop is at Inorbit where I pickup my custom made shirt. Outside the shopping mall I catch a glimpse of a Bollywood film shoot. The driver informs me that this is the very famous 'Shahid Kapoor'! Really…. As all of this driving consumes a lot of time I go through the newspaper and spot the following advertisement.

Marriage is a very serious business in India. Earlier this week a couple was found dead because the woman could no longer bear being cut off from the family (the family did not approve the marriage!) and asked her husband to kill her, which he did after which he hung himself. Sad story.

Reaching Linking road in Bandra after a 40 minute drive I ask the driver to park the car. He queries as to what I want to purchase. I really don't need anything but would like to walk around so I inform him of such. He looks like he doesn't understand so I toss in 'Shoes'. Frantically he starts looking for a shoe store. We stop at the side of the road. Parking here is not a mundane task. The driver gets out and turns into a very directive and angry man who instructs a cab driver to move his car so that he can squeeze onto the pavement. Quite a contrast with the servile friendly man that I know as my driver. Is it the caste system at work?

We move on and find a mall with an underground parking. While he waits I take a stroll over Linking road.

Bandra Pano (click to enlarge)

After going through the shops I ask him how long it will take us to get to Crawford market. He asks: "Why you want to go to Crawford market? Is vegetable market!". It's hard for him to realize that this five star hotel resident wants to see what the market looks like, too mingle with the 'plebs'. But it will take up to one and a half hours of driving to get there. This car is not helping me anymore; I need to get rid of it. The train will take me downtown in thirty minutes. Now that's interesting. I ask him to drive me to the train station. Again a quizzical look: "But I fast driver, sir! Only one hour." I convince him that he is the fast driver he says he is but that the others are slowing him (and me) down. It's beginning to thaw on him that this means that he now has the rest of the day off. We part our ways and I find myself amidst Mumbaikers. My last string to the posh world (not my world to begin with) has been severed. I am on my own and very happy.

I remember from my Indian colleagues that I can get a first class tourist train ticket. I queue up and after a short while I'm provided with a ticket. India is no different from Amsterdam so I had to block out a guy who tried to creep ahead of me. I find the train to Churchgate and notice that there is vacant spot at the door. This is it! Travelling Indian style. Partially hanging out of the door, the wind going through my hair, somewhat strange looks from passengers, lovely train ride!

From the train station I start walking to the Gateway of India. This is where I come across the most India/British scene: cricket against a background of historical buildings.

Gateway Pano(click to enlarge)

At a sidewalk near the Gateway of India a young woman ties some flowers around my wrist. Typical behaviour "begging camouflage". After talking for a few minutes she understands and respects that I will not accept the flowers and that I will not give her money. I offer her one of my bottles of water which she accepts. I say goodbye to her and walk towards the Gateway. While taking pictures another girl addresses me. "Won't you buy food for me? I don't need money." Suddenly afraid that I had created an avalanche of beggars I look around but nonetheless the former girl joins us. They seem to know each other well. A little scheme to trick the tourists? As I had already made up my mind as to helping someone I suggest that we go to the supermarket. They gladly lead the way. Upon arrival the guard at the door stops them. I step in and say that for this visit they are with me. He gives me a strange look. The ladies however seem to be floating. They need flour, oil and rice. I turn around looking for stuff they already have their hands full of stuff. But this is no more than the 'give the hand, take the arm' reaction. My altruism has a limited budget so they will have to comply with that. "Why don't you get more money, then come back" I laugh and say: "this is the deal, take it or leave it". It's obvious that my kindness has its limits. They settle for goods that will provide them with a meal for one month. As I calculate this through, I have worked less than one hour for this… Unsettling observation. The ladies seem pretty happy. Outside I take their picture and we part our ways. For some friends I purchase numerous tin cans of toothpowder. The cashier looks at me and I say to him that I have an extremely bad breath. He laughs. I pay and leave. Again I stumble into the ladies and one of them holds two packs of tomato condensate and smiles from ear to ear. We never bought that. Little thieves. They are now joined by an adult. I peace sign them farewell. At the supermarket I rearrange my bag and see the adult woman walking by with the rice I just both for them. I'll never know how this 'gang' works and who will profit from the food. I sincerely hope that it will end up in children's stomachs.

With a taxiriksja I travel to Crawford market. This big market has all the fruits and vegetables one could ask for. It seems as if all of them are coming straight from paradise, unbelievably appealing! I walk through the different alleys, smells ranging from spices to nuts over hefty slaughtered chicken (baskets full). It's getting late. Outside on the side of the 'pavement' I rearrange my bag again with the purchased goods. Suddenly a rat shoots in my direction and passes between me and the wall.

Since no taxiriksjas are allowed in Colaba (the most Southern part of Mumbai) I stop a taxi (type Ambassador 'the sturdy') in midst traffic. Honking!! At the station I locate my train through asking and end up at the wrong platform, the sign doesn't list my station. Seems they didn't know either. A friendly man helps me out and points at the right platform. That would mean walking all the way back since I have to cross multiple tracks. He advises me to wait and cross through the train. A few minutes later the train arrives and I speed towards my train. When I'm in the second train my train starts moving. This is not happening. I'm not missing this one. So I do the one possible thing: do it the Indian way. I sprint and jump on the train, firmly grasping the middle bar. He he, made it! All happy I turn and realize I have boarded the 'Ladies only' compartment. I apologize: 'Maaf kerna' and switch compartments at the first station. The one table listing all the stations is in Hindi and the English one has been painted over. Great. I remember more or less which stations we passed from my previous train ride with my Indian colleagues so I sit down and read the newspaper. People are getting on the train at every station. It is getting ever more crowded. In Vikhroli I get off, take a taxiriksja to the hotel and call it a day.

Glorious day this was! Memorable.

Office times


Greeting of the sun / Morning Rituals (panoramic picture: click to enlarge)

Office drive

Arrival at Godrej Industries Complex

Deserted Office (08:45)

Powai lake skyline (click to enlarge)

18 February 2008

Granite Caves

Mumbai with its dusty roads also has a very large national park laying in its heart. Apart from the personal longing to see the woods and animals the traffic drives me towards nature. Literally also: it's a 40 minute drive.

Once there I compensate for not having helped anyone financially the other day by taking a guide. Not official of course. The Kanheri caves lay in the western part of the Sanjay Ghandi National Park (104 sq km). The caves were hewn out of granite rocks by 300 men for 150 years. Now that is persistent! Four types of excavations can be recognized: big rooms 'for worship of the Buddhist community', smaller 'monasteries with single and multi celled rooms where monks reside', water basins and trenches and benches. It is estimated that around 600 people used to live here. One cave with a stupa inside has amazing acoustique. The guide sings an enchanting song and fortunately no other visitors enter to disrupt this wonderful experience. The cave springs to life. A small revivement of times past. Part of the excavations served not only as shelter but to aid in cooking or doing the laundry. In the walls statues have been cut out depicting the Buddha sitting on a naga supported lotus. Incredible craftsmanship to cut this from the tough rock. Having arrived at the end of my trip I feel a little unsatisfied. It was too short, I want more. So I urge the guide to walk me to the lake. He is hesitant: "now is ok, but in evening tigers and leopard". Wandering of the patch of archeology drives us out into the jungle. He really wants to go back. Admittingly he adds: "first time I go this far". I laugh and he turns and starts walking back.

On the way back we drive past a Jain temple. There seems to be a festival. Pulling over seems strange to the Indians as I am the only white guy around. The Jain are celebrating in a huge tent. At the front children in beautiful garments dance and sing. A peaceful place. The adjacent Jain temple beckons. Three huge marble(?) statues arise at the end of a huge square. Children are playing and beneath my feet the broken rice of worship tingles. As I ask my guide what the different symbols mean he delegates the question to a curious boy. Suddenly, 50 children have gathered around me. A frank young girl named Pinki (like the one on your hand? Everybody giggles. Nooo!) speaks up in nearly perfect English and explains that the Jain hand and symbol inside means 'non-violence'. Logically I have to share what country I am from. Always good for people to know that you come from a country with fewer inhabitants than Mumbai itself. Satisfied they go about there merry way.

17 February 2008

Extreme Mumbai

Yesterday, I indulged in the commercial part of Mumbai. In the North Western part of Mumbai lays a giant shopping centre called Inorbit. Since Mumbai is a trade city I had to see it. It is huge. Tree floors tightly packed with shops, neatly arranged by type. It's busy but not the same kind of busy as outside. There are a lot of shoppers but it's not too crowded. Prices can be an effective repellant! As I skim through all the different parts, it seems that electronics are more expensive here than in Holland, about 10% surplus. Man's clothing comes very affordable considering you're getting the best shirts they have. Books in India are very cheap because the government does NOT impose taxes on books as a measure to fight analphabetism. Should be a global rule! On my way back to the hotel, a few beggars knock on the door of the car. My personal rule is not to give to any one because this way you stimulate the begging behaviour. But is inhuman not to give, right? Again, I wonder as to how a person can contribute to others people's life by donating. If I hand over the money to some organisation, part of the money will stick, so to speak, to the organisation itself. Somehow that feels wrong. You have the need to give and it feels best to give it in person. You want to help a person without stimulating begging behaviour. Perhaps I should just accept the fact that in order to do greater projects to affect people's lives through charity, some money will be lost to the people organizing these projects. And this started out as a luxurious hotel ride…

14 February 2008

Mumbai Riots

The last few days the streets of Mumbai have been stirred by unrest. A political leader was arrested for spreading enmity between people. His followers burnt down taxis and attacked public property in several places. An unfortunate bystander was stabbed by a mob. By now all rioting has stopped and the political leader has been released on bail. It sure explains why we got to the office so quickly in the morning. People had fled the streets staying home to be safe. Shops lowered the blinds. Although all of this took place quite close we saw nothing disturbing. The only thing we noticed was that traffic had changed in our favour. Read more in the Times of India (search for MNS and Mumbai).

Office times bring about a special rhythm of the day. My Dutch colleagues and I have breakfast around 8:15 and drive to the office at 9:00, arriving at 9:45. At this point only a minority of the Indian people have arrived. They will arrive within the next hour or so. You already know what time lunch . We work until 18:45. The Indians take an extra break at around 17:00. Depending on traffic we arrive at the hotel at 19:30 – 19:45. Since eating together is more fun than sitting with a goldfish for company a rather elaborate meal follows. Most of the time we break up at 22:00.

Valentine's day is the talk of the day. I'll keep it short by posting the following picture.

A colleague of mine knows of a tailor that comes to the hotel to make you a suit. Since driving cost a lot of time this seems like an interesting choice. My colleague and I inform at the reception desk for the tailor but it seems that there is no tailor at the office. As my colleague has been here before last year and befriended the operational manager (from Holland) he has him called. Of course this can be arranged. He'll inform and call him back on his mobile. At the office he gets the call that the tailor will be at the hotel in the evening. He's about 1m60 and has an amazing shirt on, fat black and purple stripes. To top it off he sports a broomy moustache. He lays out the fabrics and starts going through them one at a time mentioning prices. Somehow I swallow when a 75000 Inr fabric passes. Most of the prices are way out of the budget I set for myself. So it takes quite some convincing that I "do not want two suits". In a final attempt he tries to sell me a shirt to match but the fabrics are a bit uninspiring. Tomorrow he'll return for the first fitting. I wonder what it will look like.

12 February 2008

Actual Work

From the exiting times of the weekend to the office. The driver takes me through the Mumbai traffic to the Godrej Industries complex. Traffic is amazing, again. Seems there are only a few rules in traffic: honk and find the hole. So if you want to pass or you want to signal imminent danger, you honk. If there is only a hinge of an opening, just force yourself in there. Combine this with road constructions and you have a good recipe for chaos, a melange of tightly packed honking vehicles and dust. If in Western Europe people generally respect the stripes on the road and stay within the lines (seems kinda cute now), drivers in India have forgotten all about them. Space is there to drive upon. Keep your vehicle moving. Over the rocky grounds on the side of the road if necessary. Light motorcycles drive on the opposite side of the road because of the complete jam on their own side. Occasionally a policeman can be discerned waving his white gloves. Not that it really matters since everybody basically does what he wants.

Arriving at the office. Or what it seems. Laptop serial number has to be registered along with my regular id. After a while it seems I've been dropped at the wrong building. I suggest walking but before I get the directions a car is given orders to take me to Mumbai-2. After another round of filling registrations I get to the cubicle city. Pretty amazing if you've never experienced it before. People working in 2.5m by 2.5m squares each in one corner. I get my own sweet spot and plug in. Finally I and the team can get going. At 13u30 we go out to lunch and I'm suggested to try the Indian regular lunch. I go along and enjoy the wonders of the Indian kitchen. Meanwhile Indians are eating from the people around them, hand poking in plates, dishes are exchanged, Dieter gets a Kass (buttermilk with sellery). Summary: it's one large eating orgy. Although this does injustice to the civilized and trivial way with which this all happens. As I had been before, I look in amazement at the skilled one hand chapatti tearing (right hand only!). I must master that one day.

Me and the team plough through the documentation, everyone's favorite, and call it a day at 18u00. Meanwhile I'm not feeling very well and extremely tired. The lack of sleep has caught up on me. Exhausted I embrace my coma. In the middle of the night I wake up feeling very sick. [details deleted]. In the morning I'm like a wet towel. No energy, empty, nauseous. My colleague provides me with some pills just in case. Somehow I manage to make it to lunch and go for the diet lunch which consists of tomato soup and bread. The other parts I skip. In the afternoon the developers finally can get there anxious hands on some code, think enthusiasm. By the time we get back to the hotel (19u00) I feel better safe for something stinging in my belly. After having devoured a plate of 'safe' food, the stinging disappears. Hunger, it's you (Sorry Murphy). Again quite tired I hit the six pillow bed.

10 February 2008

Downtown Mumbai

Lazy Sunday afternoon. Boy, o, boy. Could the Beatles have been more wrong? Got up real early, enjoyed a rather modest breakfast, went back to the room to have a look at the different brochures of the city. I had just picked my first one as my Indian colleague calls me. It seems he and another colleague have been doing some planning. I'll be picked up at 2 AM. That leaves time for some exercising, one extravagant lunch (next time I'm bringing the camera) and some more reading. At around 14:00 we leave the hotel and make our way to Kanjurmarg station. Lesson learnt: trains haven't got doors. You know it and yet it's odd. People get in and out, even the old ones, without much ado. Of course there's a lot of running and yelling but that seems to be normal. As we are in first class, my colleague has arranged an all train day ticket (bless him), there is actual breathing space. Who wouldn't want to spend the 170 Inr? We ride, take other trains, a taxiriksja, some footing going on as well, subways to be taken (funny how kids around the globe all test acoustique) and arrive at Haji Ali's mosque. Many worshippers walk around with offerings for the tomb. They are not allowed (?) to put it on the tomb themselves, they just hand over the merchandize and it is then respectfully laid on the tomb.

Later we walk to the Chowpatty beach. My colleagues agree that it is a good thing that now more beaches get the treatment that has been given to Chowpatty: it gets cleaned. Twice a day! Indeed. The beach is pristine. After having had an apple I feel the urge to toss it properly in a broken bin (the irony). Maybe the extra tanning will get my 'Whitest person in Mumbai' status removed. Let's hope so. Down the Marine Line we continue into the right leg of Mumbai and end up near Church Point. Turns out to be the last day of the Kala Ghoda Art festival. Strolling past all sorts of funny constructions and we continue into the Jehangir art gallery.

The last parts of our evening are rolled out: a tour in an open bus and dinner. The bus is easily found. You get a ride for free you get a ride and a guide adds the extras, thanks to the festival. Perfect! Enough time for a quick coffee. Now there's a subject for discussion. I lose or rather willingly submit myself to trying a typical Indian coffee. Yeah. Ok. If you like creamy and extra sweet, forget the coffee: it's nowhere to be tasted, then an Indian coffee is what you need. If, however, you only have 10 Inr and need the caffeine… The upper deck of the bus is sold out! Not that that's possible, it was free but no more space above. Too bad. I'm stuck below. Taking pictures is not an option. The windows only open from the lower site up efficiently taking away the only part that was any useful when taking pictures as I'm sitting quite high. But suddenly, an older farangi comes down to take pictures from the front of the bus. Some antisocial behaviour (it's not as bad as it sounds) and a lot of prehaggeling by my colleague (now there's a pit-bull) gets me on top of the bus. Our guide informs us about the various structures clearly marking the many Art Deco buildings. And they are many, and they are beautiful, but worn in different degrees. As the ride continuous it becomes obvious that our guide missed her vocation. She starts asking questions. Testing us if we've been keeping track. When too little heads are going left and right she asks if we've fallen asleep! The last bit of the rant is that you cannot use the following phrase in every sentence if you're a guide:"you know?" Well lady, we don't! Sorry. That's why we're on the bus!? We all have a good laugh over this one and head for a beer. That would turn into an exercise in patience. We wait outside the bar, and wait. To cut this short, we get in losing at least half an hour what was promised to be five minutes. Indian time? Gladly, we fix ourselves to the table ordering water and Kingfisher, a light and refreshing ale. The food arrives on time, "it's good but not special" (from the Noodle menu: "Leopold special dish"). It's late, we're tired, we're moving. At Victoria station, no, not Victoria station, it's Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus nowadays. Learn the name by heart! Almost everything gets renamed after the old ruler and founder of the Maharatha empire. Just ask for the Chhatrapati Shivaji euhm museum and I'm sure that's you'll be pointed in the right direction. Wait, isn't that the formerly Prince of Wales museum? The trains are now deserted (23:00). A tuktuk rides us bumpy past the construction works back to my hotel. A delightful day.

Mumbai arrival

So, here I am. Mumbai. Arriving at the airport brought a few fond memories back to life. It must be the spicy oily smell that was in the air. It reminded me of Burma: the dented cars, the small taxis, the dust, broken stuff everywhere, cars overtaking each other from all sides but no accidents, lots of honking. Meanwhile, the taxi driver explains the layout of the city to me. North of Mumbai, in the forest, they shoot Bollywood films. But no one stays there at night, he says, because of wild animals. "Yes, there are many leopards there". After fifteen minutes wild animals are mentioned. I must be in another continent. Gone the green fields with the black and white cows of Holland. The driver further enlightens me on the different lakes around here. "You can walk around there, maybe you see some crocodiles." Great! I've never seen them at close range.

The hotel is the most luxurious I ever had the pleasure to stay in. Everything you can expect is there. Name it, it's there. Yeah, that too! It's 2 AM. I don't feel sleepy, time to check the Velvet Lounge. Although I've just checked in and therefore am not on the hotel discotheque registration list, they let me in. Now, that was a shock. The peace and quiet, the serenity stands in hard contrast to the beat and dancing people. Everybody is dancing, everybody! The songs are unrecognizable to me, but the cheers when songs change! Quite a happy crowd this is. After a few drinks sleep catches up on me and I'm off to bed.

07 February 2008

Blog creation

My first act of God, actual creation. However uncreative as following a blog creation script but nonetheless... Now lets see how I follow up on this