26 February 2015

Cricket fever

It’s hard not to notice that the Cricket World Cup is on. When the cricket is on, everything revolves around it. Then when India plays Pakistan, the world stops for a few hours. That’s what it was like on February 15th. It was a Saturday unlike any other because there was almost no traffic on the roads. And it was quiet: no honking or traffic sounds, and not even the calls of the fruit and vegetable vendors were heard. Everyone was watching cricket. I enjoyed the peace and quiet and since matches take such a long time, most of the day stayed peaceful and quiet.

Yes, India won.

Friends were telling me how some cricket fans have rituals they follow religiously: they do silly things like not getting up from the chair they’re sitting on during the whole match – this means they spend a good part of the day rooted to the same chair in fear that they may jinx things if they got up.

There was an article in thepaper today about this exact topic and it gave a few examples of the weird rituals cricket fans have:

Alok, an accountant, sits in a certain chair and does not dare shut his laptop:

“I try and sit in a particular seat whenever India is playing an important game. I keep my laptop on the floor and try not to close it. I started following this after the quarterfinal win in the last edition of the World Cup. I noticed that Indian wickets fell every time I shut my laptop. I did not close my laptop during the chase in the World Cup final and the Champions Trophy final as well, both tournaments India won.”

Prakash, an IT professional wears shoes that are too big for him and drinks ice water:

“On all India match days, I wear a shoe that is one size larger. Every time I have worn the shoe, India has performed well in that tournament… I also make it a point to drink a glass of ice water, every time the Indian team claims an opposition wicket…”

Shevtank follows a routine which involves pizza and not getting up from his seat except to do a jinx-breaking dance:

 “I order food from the same pizza outlet, sit in the same seat and occasionally break into a dance of sorts to break the jinx in the case of a strong partnership by the opposition players. During the World cup final, my father got up to take a bottle of water from the fridge. At that moment, Gautam Gambhir got out. We did not allow him to return to his seat. He saw the rest of the chase leaning from the kitchen.”

Akash does not cut his hair or shave:

 “In the league stages of the last World Cup, I had not followed this ritual. After the league stages, I did not cut my hair or shave. It was only after India won the World Cup that I shaved.”

Judging by all these displays of religious-like devotion, India is sure to win the World Cup?

21 February 2015

A place I love: Vegan Bites in Mumbai

Photo courtesy of Vegan Bites
While I was in Mumbai I had the chance to spend time with my friends Samir and Hemali and have some amazingly good food. They run their own business called Vegan Bites, a catering service that prepares healthy, 100% vegan meals which are delivered to Mumbai’s busy office workers six days a week.
Aloo tikki made with love

The meals prepared here are vegan which means they don’t contain any kind of animal products like eggs, milk, butter, ghee, etc. but they are also completely oil-free. They have an amazing roster of yummy healthy recipes and the dishes they prepare are rotated so that each day the lunch provided is completely different.

I spent a morning in their busy kitchen and watched their employees chop, slice, grate, cook and pack the lunches before the dabbawallahs arrived on their bicycles to make their deliveries. 

I was impressed by how clean and efficient everything is, and how organised Samir and Hemali are, planning the menu for the week in advance and ordering all the ingredients they need, sourcing only the freshest produce and as many organic ingredients as possible. It’s nice to see that there is an option for people who want to eat healthy, plant-based food. 

Samir and Hemali also welcome vegan travellers passing through Mumbai to stop by their kitchen for a healthy vegan lunch. They just have to call ahead and a meal will be reserved for them.
Vegan Bites won an award from PETA! Photo courtesy of Vegan Bites.

Contact Vegan Bites via their Facebook page.

16 February 2015

On the bus in Bangalore

On the 201R going from Indiranagar to Jayanagar... Just after Ejipura signal, an auto-rickshaw driver knocks on the bus door and starts yelling at the driver. Apparently the bus had scratched his auto-rickshaw. A shouting match follows. The door closes and we continue on our way. The bus stops a little further away and the auto-driver is there again. More animated shouting. Door closes, we move on, stop again (heavy traffic). This time a different auto-driver is at the door shouting at the bus driver… looks like the first auto-driver has already mobilized his auto-driving buddies. Auto-driver #1 then shows up and now there are three people in the shouting match, with the bus conductor also joining in to make four. Another auto-rickshaw shows up and blocks the bus so we can’t move forward. The auto-drivers want the bus driver to get off the bus and come look at the damage on the auto-rickshaw. The commotion is now blocking traffic at Sony World signal so we move on.

The bus stops after the signal (traffic light for non-Indians) and a whole bunch of auto-rickshaws pull up too. The bus driver and conductor get off the bus to examine the auto-rickshaw. More shouting, more people. The auto-drivers’ beige uniforms now outnumber the bus driver and the conductor. Passers-by stop to see what all the shouting is about and a small crowd has formed. The back-and-forth shouting goes on for 10 minutes. The bus driver starts walking back to the bus at one point and things seem to suddenly heat up, with the shouting getting louder and body language becoming more aggressive, but he goes back to the auto-rickshaw. Meanwhile people on the bus are making impatient noises and some have got off to take another.

The small crowd then moves towards the rear of the bus to examine the body for evidence of the collision. More animated discussion. Finally the driver hands over a wad of cash to the auto-driver. He takes it, counts it, puts it in his pocket and all the angry faces suddenly dissolve. No more shouting. Everyone walks back very casually to their respective vehicles and we’re on our way again.

11 February 2015

Inside a heritage home in Basavanagudi

Recently I had the chance to step back into another time when I took part in a heritage walk exploring the old homes of Basavanagudi a neighbourhood in south Bangalore. We were a small group made up of long-time Bangaloreans and other more recent residents (and me, a former resident!), who were all eager to learn more about the cultural heritage of this neighbourhood and explore its wide tree-lined avenues, and especially its heritage homes.

Our guide for the tour was Mansoor Ali, an architect who grew up in the neighbourhood and who leads this walk for Unhurried, which organises several themed walking tours across the city. He told me that they usually visit about six homes on this walk, but despite his efforts we only had the chance to see a few because many of the homeowners were out.

The highlight of the walk was a 107-year-old house which had belonged to Nanjundiah Krishna Rau, a former Diwan (prime minister) of the Mysore Kingdom. 

Today his great grandson, Mr M. R. Narendra, an author, lives on the ground floor of the house, while the upper floor is the home of Mr Narendra’s nephew.

We admired the pillared porch which was where ‘informal guests’ used to be received, explained Mansoor, and the large garden and its many trees, including one which was surrounded by a porched enclosure. 

Stepping through Mr M. R. Narendra’s doorway was like taking a step back into another time.  He welcomed us warmly into his home and showed us around. Inside we saw many period features like a Madras terrace ceiling, a red oxide floor, colonial-style furniture, and a traditional swing. We even got a peek of a 1935 Standard automobile in the garage (sorry no photo!).

In my previous post, I wrote about Bangalore’s disappearing heritage homes. This trend to demolish old houses and replace them with apartment buildings has not spared any of the city’s neighbourhoods, including Basavanagudi.

Old and new in Basavanagudi

Gardens make way for parking lots 
A large garden is becoming a rarity in Bangalore, where people prefer to have as large a living space as possible, building huge buildings which leave little space between properties. “At 25,000 Rupees a square foot, gardens are considered a waste of space,” explained Mansoor.

I'm glad that Mr Narendra has preserved his old house and not fallen prey to the developers who are changing the face of the city. There are still a few glimpses of the old Bangalore and thanks to this unique walking tour, I had the chance to experience a little bit of it.  

04 February 2015

Bangalore’s disappearing heritage homes

I’m back in Bangalore after being away for a year and a half. I’m staying in the same neighbourhood and in the same house, but not in the first floor apartment where we used to live, but downstairs with my former landlords who very kindly and warmly invited me to stay with them.

I’ve only been away for 17 months but I’m amazed at all the new constructions in the neighbourhood. Once empty plots are now occupied by four-storey apartment blocks. Houses have been torn down and replaced by more apartment blocks. A whole row of three- and four-storey buildings now stand where there used to be a row of small shops on a corner of Thippasandra Main Road, a bustling bazaar-like commercial street. Over on the other side of 80 Feet Road in Defence Colony, more bungalows have disappeared and have been substituted with, yes, even more apartment blocks.

I mourn these lost treasures: not only the charming houses of another era but also the city’s beautiful majestic trees as they’re chopped down or their branches hacked off to make way for apartments which cover as much space as possible, leaving only a few centimetres between neighbouring houses and no garden space at all.

I understand the commercial logic of this trend: with the boom in property prices, every square foot is a valuable commodity. Why have a bungalow with a large garden when you can have a multi-storey apartment which multiplies living space with each floor built? Multiply the number of apartments with an average rent and you’ll hear the sound of money being minted. Few can resist cashing in.

But what about the city’s cultural heritage? Is that not valued? Unfortunately there are no heritage laws in Bangalore protecting its old, historical buildings. People see an old house as a burden which is difficult and expensive to maintain, and even a waste of valuable real estate space. Houses seem disposable: use for a while and then demolish. Build a new one. Repeat. “My house is very, very old… 25 years!” my landlady likes to tell me... If this house is 25 years old, then it’s the youngest house I’ve ever lived in.

Locals don’t understand why I’m upset when yet another house bites the dust. My first world mind must be clouded by my romanticism. Who am I to lament the loss of a few houses in a city which is not my own? After all, I’ve encountered the same attitude in my new home, a tiny village where old houses are not valued by many locals either. They’re not torn down (heritage laws forbid it) but they’re left to decay instead.

Recently I happened to stumble on these delightful old houses in Park Road, a residential street just steps away from Indian Express Circle, a busy traffic junction.  When I come across these beautiful old homes with wide verandas, typical Bangalore-style ‘monkey tops’, ornate wrought iron gates and big gardens full of trees, I can imagine what this city used to be like – the city everyone reminisces about and sorely misses but few try to preserve. I wonder for how much longer they’ll be around.

This past weekend I had the chance to explore an old heritage home in the neighbourhood of Basavanagudi… I’ll take you there in my next post!

29 January 2015

India travel tip: How to stay healthy in India

Many of the questions I get about travelling to India are about health issues. Should I only drink bottled water? Should I take anti-malarials? What if I get sick?

While travelling in India, you’ll need to take a few more health precautions that you would at home, but there’s no need to be paranoid. Do expect to get a stomach upset at least once and consider yourself lucky if you don’t!

You can stay healthy by following these tips:

Get your shots: Before leaving for India, make sure you're up to date with your vaccinations for diphtheria and tetanus (recommended every 10 years for adults). Shots for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid are also advisable. Some vaccines take time to ‘kick in’ so make sure you plan ahead before your trip.

Drink only bottled or filtered water: Tap water is not safe to drink in India so make sure you drink only bottled or filtered water. Most households in India (as well as hotels and restaurants) have a water filter system installed in the kitchen which purifies tap water. This is perfectly safe to drink, as long as the filter system is maintained properly. In a hot climate like India’s, you’ll have to drink a lot more water than you’re used to, to avoid dehydration. Aim for at least 2 litres a day. You’ll notice tender coconuts for sale on almost every street corner, especially in South India. Coconut water is an ideal drink to keep hydrated: it contains sugars, fibre and protein and provides vitamins, antioxidants and minerals.

Use mosquito repellent: Illnesses like malaria, dengue fever and chikungunya are prevalent in India, especially during the monsoon season (June to September in most parts of India). There are no vaccines for these illnesses which are all transmitted by mosquitoes. Anti-malarial drugs can be taken as a precaution against malaria, but long-term use of these drugs is not recommended. The best approach is to try to prevent mosquito bites as much as possible. While sleeping, use a mosquito net or a plug-in anti-mosquito device. Mosquitoes are also around during the day, so use a lotion repellent.  Local brands of repellents like Odomos are readily available, very cheap and often smell better than foreign brands. Mosquito nets and repellent devices are also easy to find locally. I would recommend buying all of these products in India instead of bringing them with you from home. If you develop a sudden high fever, seek medical attention immediately.

How to recover from Delhi Belly: Stomach upsets accompanied by diarrhea (or ‘loose motions’ in local parlance) and/or vomiting are very common among travellers to India and you’re bound to be hit by this sooner or later! It’s vitally important to replace any lost fluids by drinking a lot of liquids to avoid dehydration. Oral rehydration salts (Electral) are available in any pharmacy and when mixed with water, help the body rehydrate and recover quickly. (Coconut water is good too – see above.) Symptoms usually subside after 2 or 3 days – if this takes longer, seek medical help.

Watch what you eat: To avoid stomach bugs, you need to be careful about what and where you eat. Only eat in popular restaurants with a high turnover where you can be sure the food is made fresh. Avoid roadside stalls or food that has been sitting out for a long time. The other usual advice is to avoid ice, peel fruit and pass up salads. However, don’t stop eating fresh fruit and vegetables altogether, or you’ll be missing out on vitamins and anti-oxidants which strengthen your immune system.

Wash your hands: Good hygiene is also key to not getting sick. Though ‘hand wash’ sinks are found in every restaurant and eatery, soap is not always available. Carry your own, or a small bottle of hand sanitizer.

Get insured. Some long-term travellers do not take out expensive travel insurance for a trip to India because the cost of healthcare here is cheap and the care given in private hospitals and clinics is of a high quality. But I have heard of heart-breaking cases of accidents (an Australian on a motorcycle had a night time collision with a cow and suffered serious head injuries; an American trekking in Ladakh fell down a cliff and needed facial reconstruction surgery) which involved long-term care and rehabilitation. You never know what can go wrong and for that reason, it’s best to get a good quality health and travel insurance which includes medical evacuation.

Do you have other tips? Do share them!

Safe travels!