Soft Spot

April 25, 2011

Everyone who has ever worked in India will tell you : never assume some things needn’t be explained. Say it. And say it again. And again.

If there is one place where I never forget this, it’s at the dry cleaner.

I’ve had a few bad experiences with dry cleaners in Jaipur. One burnt a motherfucking Prada very precious dress. The other one turned a white sari pink.

The one I use now, appropriately called Snowhite, is ok. But that’s because I’m not taking any chance.

I always, always tell Mr Snowhite how delicate and fragile my clothes are and can they please be extra careful. I always, always tell them not to use any starch and to never put any sort of red-hot iron in contact with the fabric. Steam – that’s what they are allowed to use on my clothes, and nothing else.

Oh, don’t worry, it’s all done in great spirit. They think I am nutcase but then, so do a whole lot of people.

Everytime I go to Snowhite Dry Cleaners, I dutifully repeat the same serenade, over and over again.  I am convinced that the day I don’t, something awful is going to happen. And so I go on, begging them to look after my clothes as if it was their grandmother’s heirloom petticoat.

As I said, they are ok dry cleaners, but it also helps that I never bring into Snowhite Dry Cleaners any really, really dirty clothes.

Indeed the only time I did – a silk chiffon blouse with a huge BBQ sauce stain courtesy a Castiburger   (= best burger in Paris), the blouse came back with a slightly faded but nonetheless visible version of the original stain.

I blamed it on the Castiglione’s delicious nasty orange sauce but then the other day, while handing over my clothes, I watched them check for stains. And I had an epiphany.

In Europe, the dry cleaner checks your clothes for stains so that he knows what stuff to use, and so that you both agree beforehand whether there is, or not, a stain on your blouse.

But as I watched them I realized :  these guys are not checking for stains to establish their existence with me, or to figure out which product to use. What they are thinking, and I can hear it loud and clear, is this :

…” Do we really need to clean that one ?”

Let’s start with Why is It That People Call it a Big Flu.

Like flu, dengue fever is a virus. And like flu, it comes with bouts of high fever.

That’s it.

Now if you don’t mind, let’s go over the differences.

1) Transmission : you don’t catch dengue from someone. You catch it from something. Namely, a mosquito.

2) Time : a solid flu lasts 4 to 5 days. Dengue can last up to 3 weeks.

3) Element of Cosiness : flu means winter in Europe, too much snowballing, central heating and mummy making hot soup for you. Dengue, on the other hand, is a dirty country disease spread by stagnant water mosquitoes.

4) Blood : Unlike flu, dengue requires that you monitor your platelet count on a daily basis – they do fall dramatically.

5) Organs : Unlike flu, dengue also requires that you undergo a full abdomen sonography to check that your vital organs have not been affected by the disease and the eventual internal bleeding a very low platelet count can cause.

6) Rash : Unlike flu, dengue fever comes with a delightful, itchy rash.

7) Bone-ache : Ok, the flu sometimes makes your bones ache. A little. Not constant splitting bone-ache for 4 days. Nope. That’s dengue.

8 ) Pukish fever : the fever that comes with dengue is so intense, it makes you feel nauseous.

9) Pukish fluids : because you have to ingest tons of fluids, dengue makes you feel like throwing up. 7+8 = you do end up throwing up at some point.

10) Retro-orbital pain : unlike flu, dengue gives you excruciating retro-orbital pain, ie: it hurts to move your eyes. So no books and no dvd for you. Not surprisingly then, dengue is tough on the troops morale.

11) Oh, and before I forget : dengue is a bi-phasic disease. Meaning that when you start feeling better and your platelet count rises again, the fever comes back.

Now, the next person who tells me I just have a big flu, I cry.

CWG Candy

October 14, 2010

Today is the last day of the Commonwealth Games. The fact that it’s a bank holiday (in Delhi) isn’t really surprising.

Why not. Adults deserve their CWG candy too. After all, weren’t all the schools in Delhi shut for two weeks ?

India put on a damn fabulous show for these Games. We all remember the horror pictures of the Athletes Village a couple of days before the opening ceremony. The collapsing bridge, etc. The whole world was laughing, Indians were mortified. But then the opening ceremony turned out to be lovely and everyone here clapped and gasped and blamed the mean, mean firang journalists badmouthing their country. All you need, in the country of the thousand lives, is is a few fireworks.

Nevermind that the stadiums were empty, that 50 swimmers got water-poisoning, and that the Athletes Village toilets overflowed ( due to thousands of condoms blocking the pipes, may I add ). Nevermind, nevermind.

Oh but I had this exact conversation a few days ago with an Indian. He blamed the foreign press for all the bad things.

“Well, the bridge did collapse” I ventured.

“It happens, you know, it happens” he commented.

“I guess you’re right, I’m sure a lot of bridges collapsed in the 1860’s”.

“But the thing is, ok, so we didn’t foresee the monsoon rains, the river was high, you know, it happens.”

What I wanted to say then was : yes, the monsoon has only been happening for the last 2,000 years, how could anyone foresee it?

But I didn’t say anything, I said the Games were damn good, and I thought : for all their candour, these guys do have tremendous pride in their country, who am I to question it ?

And if not working is their way to show their appreciation, so be it, so be it.

Mata Hari

October 13, 2010

When you walk into my building, two very Indian things welcome you.

First, the queen-of-the-night bush at the gate. With its tiny white flowers and heavenly smell, it is, indeed, just too lovely.
The second thing, right after you pass the flowers, is Nosy Nightie.

Nosy Nightie lives on the ground floor of my building. I have never seen her dressed other than in polyester nightgowns. She must have been beautiful in her younger days but now, in her late forties, she’s kind of lost her aura. However, she still moves and speaks with utter confidence, haughty as a doll.

Nosy Nightie doesn’t work. Luckily, she has found an activity that certainly fulfills her life like no regular work would. Spying. Nosy Nightie doesn’t simply sit out watching everyone’s move. That, my friend, would be amateur spying. No. Nosy Nightie asks, questions, interrogates.

Every single time I come home and she’s sitting out, she asks me : “Where did you go?”.  And everytime I go out she barks: “Where are you going?”.

The first time, I was taken aback. Mind your own fucking nightgown, I thought. But I still mumbled “To a friend’s”.

“Who ? Where ?” she fired, looking agitated.

Whacko lady, stay away from me.

Since then, she doesn’t get a word out of me beyond hello. I just shoot huge smiles and pretend I’m deaf.

One night I came back at two and I swear she was watching out of her kitchen window.

But she hasn’t given up, firing her questions at the top of her voice, as if I was a witness escaping from her custody.

Nosy Nightie has the soul of Mata Hari. Jaipur is probably too small for her and my life, to her adventurous mind, highly disappointing.

A Year in Rajasthan

November 4, 2009


Yes, it its true, I have been deserting my much-loved blog. I am so sorry!

The reason is, I simply don’t have time. I am overworked, and although being busy with work is an exhilarating feeling, I do miss my daily blogging break. 

But today is a special day: exactly a year ago I wrote my first post.

I remember it so well.

I had just been kicked out of my flat, lost my job and was going through a bitter and painful breakup. My ex-boss was refusing to pay my severance fee, I was broke, and sleeping on a mattress on the floor of my new flat, I went paler and paler wondering what I was going to do with my life, my heart and the 35 cardboard boxes scattered around the flat. I remember it so well.

That’s when I started this blog. 

It gave my days a structure – I would write first thing in the morning. And it made me happy. The amazing feedback I got was unexpected and wonderful.

Now it’s been a year and how things have changed. After months of fighting, I finally got my severance fee. I designed, sold, produced and exported my first line of jewellery. I have my own company in India, complete with hundreds of codes, numbers, certificates and bill books. I don’t date Indian men anymore. And my flat might not be spectacular, but it’s pretty, cosy and colorful. And it has beds.

Dear reader, my apologies for this display of self-satisfaction, believe me I am not fishing for compliments here. I am just truly, genuinely, completely amazed. It is incredible what can happen, in only a year, if you fight for it. 

Oh, and since November 4th 2008, this blog has registered 32,854 hits. That’s 1,314 times more than what I would have ever dreamt of.

Thank you!

Time Management

October 19, 2009


The Diwali madness is nearly over and I am coming out of hiding. Or rather, of my blogging exile.

Last week, I  enquired about the exact extent of the Diwali holidays. 

“Well – my workshop manager said. You see, on Friday is Choti Diwali.”

Choti Diwali, literally, “Little Diwali”, is the day before Diwali. It’s a holiday, and the craziest day of the year: people shop like mad. Clothes, sweets and firecrackers are being bought en masse. The traffic is total, loud, intense chaos.

“Then Saturday of course is Diwali. Sunday, it doesn’t matter because it’s a Sunday anyway, but it’s Govardhan Puja, very important puja.”

“Great. Does that mean we can work on Monday?” 

“Noooooooo! Monday is the brother-sister festival.”

“But that’s Rakhi, that’s in August!”

“No, not Rakhi. Rakhi is when sisters go to their brothers. On Monday, brothers go to their sisters. It’s called Bhai Duj.”

“And it’s a bank holiday.”

“But of course.”

“What about Tuesday?”

“Tuesday is a holiday too.”

“Oh, come on, I pleaded. what for?”

“Well, just to rest.”

Holiday Season

September 25, 2009



The reason, well one of the reasons why I was sulking is that Gossip Girl season 3 is out. And it sucks. 

The girls are wearing crap clothes, the intrigue is about as thrilling as a boiled potato and the overall urge to slap the characters has now taken over the outraged, confusing fascination seasons 1 & 2 managed to convey.

I want to cry.

To make up for it, I have bought books. Oh yes, lots of them. Because although I have a TV, you won’t be surprised to know that I don’t know how to use it. 

But why, will you ask, am I in desperate need of entertainment?

Because, my friends, Diwali is looming on the horizon. Diwali, the Hindu New Year, with its firecrackers, endless parties, extravagant gambling sessions, shopping frenzy, Las Vegas street lights, constant ringing bells and echoeing prayers, Diwali with its madness, its overwhelming spirituality and sickening materialism, Diwali, the one and only, is coming up.

On the 17th of October.

To my mild amusement, the workers have already disappeared. The Bengalis have gone en masse to celebrate Durga Puja. The Muslims have not come back from Eid. And the Hindus have switched the pre-holiday gear. For the next month, it will be very, very difficult to get any work done. 

Just about as difficult as getting me to watch TV.

Hence, I am stocking up on books.

Anyone for a mountain trip?

Smiling in the Rain

September 9, 2009


This morning when I opened the windows of my office, it was raining outside. It was not really a monsoon rain. It wasn’t hot, it wasn’t mad, it wasn’t diluvian. It wasn’t opaque. It was a bitter, cold, patient rain. The sort of rain I grew up with in Lorraine, grey and nasty. I used to hate it. I couldn’t bear the cold, I couldn’t bear the sadness of the sky. 

Indians love it – they think the weather of Lorraine is idyllic. I had never understood that. How could one delight in shivering? How could one enjoy being blue, frozen alive by a five-minute walk?

I used to loathe the rajasthani winter, its ruthless nights and painful mornings. 

But today when I opened the window and felt the oh so familiar chill of a bitter rain, I thought:


I think I have been in India for too long.


We have had a little door issue lately. Slowly but surely, for the last months, my front door was disintegrating.The painters, when they painted it, forgot to grate the side so it kept getting stuck and we’d have to force it open.

One day the clench gave way. We still got by, relying on luck and the lock. Then we couldn’t open it at all. 

Shashir, bless his caring soul, fixed the door. 

But the next day my sister and I got locked out. The damn lock was jammed and after calling Papa-ji to ascertain the situation, it quickly became clear that we’d have to break the door open.

Papa-ji called the “building manager”, a snooty Bengali who just had twins with Papaji’s maid and thinks the double baby thing is a testimony to his virility. The lock was somehow coming forward and we thought that might be the problem. Superman tried to hammer it back in but to no avail: we were going to have to break it open.

“This is no problem, Papa-ji said, you will come to my home and stay with me.”

“Oh but Sir no, we wouldn’t…..”

Papa-ji insisted: we were like family to him.

He sent Superman away to fetch some door-breaker and called the lift.

My sister and I looked at each other in plain, utter panic. We looked at the lock. I asked Papa-ji:

“Sir, would you let me try with the hammer?”

“Ha ha, Papa-ji laughed, but it is impossible, you saw it, he tried very hard!”. 


I took the hammer and gave the lock a piece of my mind. Bloody hard I hit.

And pop the lock went, back in place. 

“OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! OH! MY! GOD!” Papa-ji screamed.

“Well done!!!!!” shouted my sister, hysterical with relief. She opened the door.

Superman reappeared, his big Bengali eyes wide opened.

“You see, Morgane told him, my sister is stronger than you!.”

Papa-ji laughed, Morgane laughed, the maid laughed – hiding beneath her pallu.

Superman did not.


The other day as we were having lunch at the Anokhi Cafe, Victoria and I were accosted by a woman at the next table. Although clearly Indian, she spoke with an exaggerated American accent that instanltly gripped my good mood.

“Hey girls” she ventured.

Victoria dived into her tomato-mozza pizza, completely oblivious.

The woman wanted to invite us to her healing workshops (from the corner of my eye, I saw Victoria rolling her eyes at her fork). She gave me a leaflet and said she “would love to have [us] guys”. Whatever that meant.

I very very  very politely got rid of her and when she left the restaurant, I started examining the leaflet.

It showed a person of indistinct sex sitting in lotus position, looking up, its body possessed by a succession of colored waves. The waves originate from its (protruding) belly and climax on top of its head,  from where a tube light or a laser sword, I can’t decide, is coming out.

At the back of the leaflet was a list of “Transformative Workshop Modules” to choose from. Just like at university or in a salad bar, you could put together your own little formula. For example, if you were someone rather classic, you could pick, say, “Energy Healing” and “Self Hypnosis“: smooth, established stuff that you could practice in most upmarket gyms in NY anyway.

However, adventure-lovers, high-altitude jumpers and New Labour activists could also find their happiness. Some “modules”, indeed, sounded fabulously intriguing.

Rescripting your success” was one of them. I asked Victoria, a native of England, what the verb “rescript” meant but even she couldn’t enlighten me.

Radiant relationships“, yes, is the name of another module, and yes, I personnally find it wonderful.

Art of allowing to attract success and happiness” rubs me the wrong grammatical way, but maybe that’s precisely the point: keep an open mind.

But then, in a dizzying literary U-turn, after tens of long names full of “karmas”, “catharsis” and “hypnosis” the list ends with two unexpectedly simple but nonetheless fascinating “modules”.

One of them,  “Healing through angels“, simply cramps my soul with curiosity.