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?


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.

Autorickshaw Metaphysics

August 27, 2009


My rickshaw driver, Shashir, is trying to convert me to hinduism. Almost every day, he tries to take me to some temple or the other.

Years ago, he managed to drag Victoria and Bertie to his village temple to meet his guru. I shall never forget the story of the 2-hour drive on the highway, in the rickshaw shared with the whole family; how they waited another 2 hours in the village, being forcefed tons of food and liters of chai, and how they made a U-turn, one hour into the journey back, because they had just passed the Gurumobile, complete with megaphones and sirens. I will never forget Victoria’s face when she got back – that’s when I swore never to fall into the temple trap.

At first, I used to decline apologetically. I felt bad.

But to be honest, I am not remotely attracted to hinduism. There are too many gods, too many animals, too many stories, too many colors, smells, representations and contradictions to appeal to me. I can’t deal with the wars and betrayals and transformations. I can’t pray to idols. I need minimalism. I am, I have realized, monotheist to the core.

Now, I do feel bad. I probably sound awful and arrogant and snooty – after all, who am I to judge a religion?

I was thinking exactly this the other day when Shashir decided to take me, of all days: on Ganesh Chaturthi, of all places: to the Ganesh Temple. There would be a rough 100,000 devotees there.

I thought I’d elaborate my 8-billionth refusal:

“Sorry Shashir but no. I am a Catholic, I go to church.”

He turned to me he and, dead-serious, declared in hindi:

“But Madam, God is one.”

Grab the Deal

August 26, 2009



When you have an Indian prepaid mobile phone card you receive thousands of daily promotional text messages and calls. Drove me mad.

Now that I have a postpaid deal, I don’t get such a constant flow of beeps. But I get the odd one. Some, I don’t mind. Restaurants, nightlclubs, boutiques in Delhi and Bombay: they remind me that I used to live it up.

Some, on the other hand, depress me. Domino’s, for example. What it tells me, as if I wasn’t aware of it already, is that my diet now consists of peperoni pizza and beer.

I also receive daily invitations to “pool parties”, something I personally would consider when I was, say, 14, but nonetheless Jaipur’s hot new brazen concept which, in its ideal unfolding, consists in bikini clad foreign girls chatting with much married but wifeless local men gulping blended whisky. But I might be wrong as, to be honest, I never went.

We keep receiving such text messages and we keep deleting them. Luckily, last week Victoria read one before she deleted it. And I am glad she did, because here is what it said:

New Extravag. Formula @ Sheesh Mahal MI Rd – Get Bonanza Meal Order 1 Get 2 (Non Veg. 50% discount) on Food + New Offer Buy 3 Get 7 (Beer & Wine) – Enjoy Summer Discount Menu!!!!

Buy 3 get 7.

Buy 3 get freaking 7.

Now that’s a deal.

Prozac on Wheels

August 4, 2009



I often complain about using autorickshaws. It is backbreaking. Beggars can touch you. It is hot and dusty and all in all a frankly unpleasant experience – especially if, like me, autorickshaws have been your modus transportanti for the last four years. 

Autorickshaw drivers don’t help. I have written about them at length, and most of them are total douches, although there are a few glorious exceptions. One in particular, as you may remember, beat up my aggressors and earned my eternal adoration. 

My regular autorickshaw driver, Shashir, doesn’t behave with such panache. He is not very bright and certainly not remotely good-looking.

However, I do like him. He is devoted, patient, protecting and very very sweet. Every evening when he drops me home after yet another day of madness, dust and sweat, when I feel so worn off and dirty I would probably scare street dogs, my hair totally dishevelled, wearing some shapeless all-covering outfit, just when, numb from exhaustion, I just want to crawl in bed and forget everything, every day at this very moment, Shashir when I get out of his autorickshaw looks at me, his eyes wet with emotion, and tells me, in Hindi:

“You are beautiful.”


A lake in Sariska

A lake in Sariska

The monsoon is a very strange season.

When everyone in Europe is sunbathing, we don’t get any sun. The sky is an ode to Christian Dior: thousands of shades of grey glide over us.

It is hot, though not as hot as June: after flirting with the fourties, we have now gone back to a civilized 30ºC. Swimming, however, doesn’t really happen. The pools are dirty, courtesy the rains. Frogs have taken over, and although they are sweet, I don’t really enjoy their touch.

It is humid and hot and grey and the mango season is over, but there is one wonderful thing about the monsoon.

The green. 

Everywhere in the city and beyond, the color green has exploded. Jaipur, the Pink City, capital of a desert state, is fluorescent green. In the magical Ram Niwas gardens, gazing at Albert Hall, along the Old City’s arcades, or  creeping out of old ochre pink enclosures: trees, in full bloom, bright and lush.

In this balmy weather, the desert turned green, there is one place I long to visit.

Sariska Valley, the hidden gem of Rajasthan, with its eerie hills, millenary temples and breathtaking landscapes. 

Still untouched by tourism, Sariska is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. 

Chalo, before the rains go.

Missing Mass

July 27, 2009

One perfectly fine evening of last week as I was reaching for the lift carrying hundreds of grocery shopping bags and my dry cleaning of two weeks, Papa-ji cornered me. Non-plussed by my obvious hostility to perform small talk, he blocked the lift and despite my loud cries dragged me to meet my new neighbours who, he said, wanted to invite me to their housewarming party.

In typical local fashion, he introduced the couple by ways of heavy economic hypertext: “They are living in Dubai”, Papa-ji said. “They are having a petroleum business”.

Beaming and overweight, my new neighbours requested my presence at their house the coming Sunday. I had no choice but to accept.

My sister was less than amused by the prospect. I tried to cheer her up, describing the mountains of food, the cultural interest, or the fact that if she didn’t come with me I’d lock her in a room with 27 street dogs.

She surrendered. The invitation was for 11am, so at 1pm we made our way downstairs, hoping to have missed most of the festivities. We hadn’t.

Bereft of furniture, the flat was packed with people sitting on the floor or on plastic chairs. A religious ceremony, or puja, was going on. The priest, chanting very loudly, was sitting by a small fire in which he threw things. Although he looked on the verge of a trance, he kept taking calls on his Blackberry Storm. Next to the fire were offerings of fruits and sweets. In the crammed room, with no air conditioning, a fire and dozens of incense sticks, it was hard not to faint.

I suddenly craved the cool, restrained, imposing ritual of Mass.

The fire, the smoke, the fruits and the sweets, the throwing stuff in the flames and putting stuff on banana leaves, people coming and going, the priest shouting, children running around, the whole thing made me feel slightly sick.

That’s when Papa-ji spotted my sister and I. He rushed forward.

“Are you liking this kind of ceremony?” He asked, beaming.

“I am enjoying it a lot Sir, I said. But you see, my sister here – I grabbed Morgane’s shoulder – she has… asthma. So for her it is very difficult, with the smoke and the incense. Isn’t it darling? Are you alright?”

Morgane nodded, producing an inhaler from her bag.

“Oh don’t worry it’s almost over, Papa-ji retorted. When I had my housewarming, the puja lasted all night.”

I gasped.

“Sadly, you hadn’t moved in yet.”

No sound came out of my mouth.

“But I will show you the pictures if you like, next week!”

I feebly smiled.

Do You Speak Hinglish?

July 24, 2009

old man

There is a hybrid language called Hinglish.

Its roots are English – the sharp, pucca English spoken by the boys of the Raj. But over the years, Hindi has added some spice and color to it. Cable TV and shopping trips do Dubai have enriched it with new, fancy, shiny English words.

The result is wonderful. Hinglish is now a language in its own right. Its formidable mix of cultures, vocabularies and grammars makes it a unique, dazzling, exhilarating subject of study. My own English having taken a solid Indian punch, I feel entitled to share with you a few Hinglish gems.

Yesterday a shopkeeper wanting to know whether I lived in Jaipur asked me:

“So, you are remaining here only?” . Then: “And you are basically from which nationality?”

As it turns out, the juiciest Hinglish is to be heard from elderly people. Once again, I have to mention Papa-ji. Not only does he use “aforementioned” and “unbeknownst” on a regular oral basis, he also comes up with the most delightful understatements.

Once, waiting for him to sign some lease papers, I sat with his granddaughter watching a TV show. It was a village scene, the local judges gathered under a tree to bestow life or death over a poor girl set up by her mother-in-law. The villagers were getting incensed trying to guess the trial’s outcome. Stones were thrown, moustaches flared, sticks brandished.

I asked Papa-ji:

“Why are they getting so agitated? What are they saying?”

Papa-ji looked up from the papers and at the TV. He smiled:

They are hazarding guesses.”

I now know that this is a favorite of Papa-ji’s, he uses it all the time. But every time I hear it, it sounds just as perfect.

a busy officer - not mine sadly

a busy officer - not mine sadly

Had we not been given proper directions, it would have, anyway, been hard to miss the Driving License Theory Test office. A good 900,000 people were standing outside its single door. In this heat, with no fan and no water, I estimated my survival at 20 minutes. Driven by despair, like Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments, I made the Red Sea part open. I charged. And somehow reached. Inside the office.

I handed over my file to the officer in charge. To tell you that I took an instant dislike to him would be a wild understatement.

He had the satisfied, obnoxious look of the wanker. With every single move, every single glance, he meant: Check me out, female. I am the second assistant under-officer in charge of the driving license theory test in the city of Jaipur. Whatever power I have, I make the most of it. I will make sure you suffer. I will make sure you fear me. I want you to beg me.

A massive jerk. I bet he was a wife-basher.

My silent utter raging disgust was hard to conceal.

He went through my file, very very very slowly, examining each paper at length, underlining words, double-checking everything. Finally, after what felt like 4 hours, he pointed at a photocopy of my lease agreement and said something in hindi. I shook my head.

“No hindi” I lied.

Surely, with such cockiness oozing out of his pores, the wanker’s English was as crisp as his uniform.

He looked at me.

“This paper. No notarize.”

He was right. There was no stamp on it. The bastard. I would have to go back to the little huts, spend another hour in agony, and do the Moses miracle again. I was exhausted.

I called  Mr F, who braved the Red Sea and joined us in the crowded office. Now in the presence of a well-dressed male, as opposed to a female, who as we all know does not qualify for rudimentary courtesy, the guy turned obsequious. After a few niceties with Mr F, who name-dropped a few heavyweights, he brushed away the absence of stamp as a silly detail and agreed to let me sit for my test. Now. From being told off without a second glance, I went to being ushered in, jumping the line and finally sitting for my godforsaken test.

Although I had read the fabulous booklet, I didn’t believe it would help. I was terrified.

“You help me”, I told the peon. He laughed.

“No no no no no help!”. But he waved to Jerky the Clerk, who moved his imperial body and walked over. Another peon joined in.

The test started. Believe it or not, I knew all the answers for the questions were, my dear, exactly the same than in the booklet. I even had, to my utter delight, the “cattles driving carefully” one. I scored 15 on 15. But I need not have performed so well, since 9 out of 15, I was fazed to learn, is sufficient to pass.

Sadly, nobody will ever give me credit for this spectacular performance because to the outside world, and the remaining 900,000 people waiting to sit for their test, I had three people, including the officer in charge, giving me the answers.