Benjamuna's Blog

Stories…. with a touch of India….

Reading a Nobel Laureate February 18, 2018

Shame on me, I thought when I read that Kazuo Ishiguro had been awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in literature. I couldn’t name a single of his titles, which made it obvious that I hadn’t read any of his books. To my relief, I recognised a film title; ‘The Remains of the Day’, which I saw when it was released in 1993, but I had no idea it was based on Ishiguro’s novel by the same title.

One should, shouldn’t one, read a Nobel Prize winner. ‘Never let me go’ seemed like a passable start, it’s not a very voluminous book and much acclaimed. It takes quite a few pages before one understands the full extent of the story. The ‘what’s it all about’ is both unexpected and unpleasant. So I wouldn’t in any way reveal the plot, that is Ishiguro’s job – only that I found the book profoundly sad. Some people label ‘Never let me go’ science fiction, but I don’t. To me, it’s a novel about identity, fate and choice. Although it’s a very disturbing book, it left me with a serious book hangover and stayed with me for a very long time.

The movie was released in 2010. It’s a general opinion that ‘the book is always better than the film’. In this case, I disagree. The film is by no means better than the book, but I appreciated it much in the same way. The film is very true to the book, and the subdued colour scheme underlines the story. And yes, it’s just as heart-breaking as the book.

My next Ishiguro was ‘When we were Orphans’ (2000). It is elegant, entertaining, at times it almost reads like an old-fashioned crime novel. Set in the 1930s, in England and Shanghai, it tells the story about a renowned detective, Christopher Banks, who goes back to Shanghai to track down his parents who disappeared when he was a child. A vast part of the book is a flashback where Banks’ childhood is told in a very enjoyable way although the book has its sad and dark undercurrents.

‘The Unconsoled’ (1995) is told to be “advanced Ishiguro”. I read somewhere that the book is “either a masterpiece or an incomprehensible wreck”. The number of pages of the books I was reading were steadily increasing, and since I had enjoyed the latter two so much, I thought The Unconsoled’s 500 + pages would be share joy! After 50 pages, I thought I’d either leave it with that, or promise myself to finish it. The only reason the book didn’t put me off completely, was the writer’s language. More of that later.

‘The Unconsoled’ has neither head nor tale. The book jacket reveals that, “Ryder, a renowned pianist, arrives in a Central European city he cannot identify for a concert he cannot remember agreeing to give.” So, it might have a head (slightly unsettling though), but certainly no tale. As the story unfolds, confusion arises and steadily increases. People seem to float around in a world where all normal perceptions of time and place have ceased to exist. Mr. Ryder is surrounded by an absurd bunch of people, and as they move around there is nothing else to do than go with the flow. The book is simply bizarre. (And what’s more, I tried to read a review in The Guardian, and realised I would simply need a review to understand the review …).

Back to his language; I also read somewhere that you never need a dictionary while reading Ishiguro. True. Not that his language is simple (yet it is, in a way), but words and sentences are floating seamlessly from page to page. It’s like reading velvet. So, no matter how odd the book is, how long the monologues are, how irksome the story is – one cannot remain unaffected.

I went to the library in order to pick up the rest of his work, not quite put off by Mr. Ryder and his quirky crowd. The librarian admitted to have given up ‘The Unconsoled’ only after one chapter – which makes her one of the many drop-outs this novel seems to produce – and subsequently admired my stamina.

I’m not at all able to decide if it is a masterpiece or not. But it is without doubt the most original peace of writing I have ever read.


A streetcar named Desire (or A troubled tram) February 3, 2018

Filed under: Travels — benjamuna @ 3:33 pm
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They brighten up the postcard racks in the streets of Lisbon; the many cards of the egg yolk coloured Tram No. 28. Always captured in beautiful morning or evening light while meandering the narrow streets of Alfama. The yellow tram has become the very symbol of Lisbon, and blends perfectly with the charming cityscape of narrow cobblestoned streets, beautiful tiles and flapping laundry.
If you walk along the tram tracks from Alfama to Bairro Alto, you’ll meet ‘No. 28’ sooner more than later. Sadly, most of the Lisbon trams are almost covered with advertising and not as dazzling yellow as shown on the cards. For a long time, Jameson’s whiskey came to mind whenever I thought of Lisbon.

The trams of Lisbon were imported from the United States in 1901 in order to replace the old carthorses. The route 28 was inaugurated in 1914. In 1959, there were altogether 27 tram lines in Lisbon, but the construction of the metro and the expansion of the bus lines eventually sent the trams into decline. Today, Lisbon has five remaining tramlines.

No. 28 is meant to be the jewel of Lisbon’s streets. It takes the passengers on a 40-minute ride through old neighbourhoods such as Graça, Alfama and Baixa, along many historical highlights, including the cathedral and the castle. At the same time, it’s part of the city’s public transport network, but may seem as transportation for the city’s many tourists only. Whenever you catch a glimpse of it, it seems to burst and the passengers do not look like ordinary residents. They have rucksacks on their backs and a camera on their fronts, they fan themselves with maps and keep travel books tightly under their arms. Nobody pretends to be anything but what they are; a tourist who does what the travel guides claims to be “an absolute must.” Passengers are hardly on their way from A to B, it is the journey itself that matters.

And yes, the journey has a certain charm. The tram is coughing and creeping slowly up the steep slopes. And when you thought it was full, it still halts at every stop where an expectant cluster of Japanese, French or Danes are more than ready to squeeze in. So when you stand there like a herring in a barrel, more passengers pour in. And nobody gets off …

Those who have been lucky enough to get a seat can make the most of it since they don’t have to worry about losing their balance. The large windows are mostly open, a virtue of necessity since the air is thick, but the open windows also give the passengers some photo opportunities. With cameras at arm’s lengths, they capture the view as the tram harks up and down the narrow streets. Surely, they must also be capturing other tourists doing exactly the same but in reverse; taking pictures of the brimming No. 28 from the sidewalk.

Lisbon has numerous beautiful tiled facades, often including flapping laundry …

It is a dark and quiet evening, the rainfall makes the air a little cool. Tired, we’re waiting for No. 28, a tram seemingly without a fixed timetable, but supposed to run every ten minutes. And then, after the longest wait, we can hear it in the distance. There, it slips around the bend just before the small hill and wearily creeps towards us. We triumph, now we’ll sit all the way up to Graca and enjoy a quiet ride home. At this hour, the tram is bound to be empty. It was not!

What could possibly Lisbon and Calcutta in far-away India have in common?
Lisbon is not the only city with an egg yolk colored vehicle running up and down the streets:

From my room with a view!


Notes on two book-towns January 23, 2018

Filed under: Literature — benjamuna @ 9:55 am
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HAY-ON-WYE | WALES | JUNE 2017 | For many years, I kept a scrap of paper with the words Hay-on-Wye. I must have read about the Welsh book town, mentally put it on my want-to-visit-list, but kept a note in case I should forget. Last summer, I thought it was high time to put that scrap of paper into action.
I flew to London and worked my way to Hay-on-Way by train and bus. Hay is a small town, I could tell from the way the bus driver smiled at me when I asked him if there was more than one bus stop. The place looked deserted and I remembered one of the guide books warning its readers about not to expect a heavy night life. The town would be dead in the evenings, all the tourists probably tucked up in their lodgings browsing through new books.
A couple of young girls came to our rescue, they knew nothing about taxis, but pointed us in the right direction. It took us less that ten minutes to locate our B&B.

One bookseller sorted the books by colour, this is the blue section.

Hay has loads of charm; the town is a little hilly – but you won’t exhaust yourself – and within an hour you have been just about everywhere. At present, there are some 30-ish booksellers scattered around the town, with over a million books for sale. There is a variety of shops selling new books, you’ll find second hand and antiquarian booksellers, as well as those specialising – like ‘Murder and Mayhem’ (the theme should be pretty obvious …) or ‘Rose’s Books’ selling rare and out of print children’s and Illustrated books.

But the jewel in the crown is undoubtedly ‘Richard Booth’s Bookshop’, a beautifully restored building, the shop front is hard to miss. Booth’s is the cultural hub of Hay; in addition to three floors of new and second-hand books, the shop also hosts a café and a cinema. The atmosphere is one of a kind, the interior and sign-posting beautiful.

Hay books (4 of 6) Hay books (2 of 6)

Hay has a number of other small and interesting speciality shops and should you need a rest, food and drinks are within easy reach. Find yourself a nice café corner, preferably out of doors, and over a coffee you realise that you keep seeing the same people again and again. As I said, Hay is small.

Hay books (3 of 6)
Hay hosts a famous literary festival every summer, but accommodation is hard to find. According to our hostess at the B&B, festival visitors keep booking ahead year after year (in surrounding villages and towns far afield as well), unless you have a tent or a camper van you might just forget about the festival.

Hay books (6 of 6)
I spent three days in Hay and never tired. In between books and coffees, there are some beautiful river walks, and paths up on the moors are signposted although a little overgrown. Before you know it, you are touring among sheep, and more sheep!

Hay books (1 of 6)

FJÆRLAND | NORWAY | JUNE 2017 | To be honest, Fjærland is nothing more than a stretch of road in the Norwegian fjord land. It must be said though that Fjærland hosts The Norwegian Glacier Museum which I should think attracts a fair share of tourists. But some of us visit only for the books!

Another Honesty Bookshop!

Contrary to Hay, Fjærland offers only second-hand books. The many characteristic shops are mostly abandoned buildings and some of a creative kind; a bus stop shelter has become a self-service shop based on honesty, we visited old barns and quaint houses brimming with books, we spotted a book shelf in the midst of Willow Herbs. The blue shelf facing the fjord has aptly been equipped with a bench should you need more time to decide, or just admire the view.

The perfect place for a coffee – and new books. Mundal hotel.

Would you rather prefer the indoors, you can sink down in old chairs and sofas with a pile of books and let time pass. Some of the booksellers are quite big with an impressive selection. Everything is neatly sorted, order prevails!
The atmosphere in Fjærland is muted. There isn’t a rumbling cappuccino machine in sight. Or maybe just about one, in Fjærland’s one and only stately building; The Mundal Hotel. The café shouldn’t be missed and for two reasons; the beautiful interior and the yummy cakes!
Hay-on-Wye and Fjærland is two of a kind, although both with a distinctive stamp. Hay is obviously more commercial than Fjærland, and bigger. Fjærland is quaint and the surroundings are very rustic. I wouldn’t miss any of them!


… with a view!

Mundal hotel has a look and a feel. Not among the less expensive though!



A golden day in Amritsar January 14, 2018

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 7:16 pm
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We weren’t exactly Thelma and Louse, but three women on a day trip to Amritsar. It was Elisa, Peggy and me; wheels up for The Golden Temple after an early start in Delhi. With no time to lose, we almost rushed out of Sri Guru Ram Das Jee airport, after paying the pre-paid taxi boot a visit. The landscape outside the taxi windows was flat and nondescript, I had no idea about what to expect from the city itself only that it hosted a famous temple.

We entered the town and the taxi stopped without warning. “Jam,” the driver grunted and almost shooed us out to fight the usual Indian buzz; cars, two-wheelers, three-wheelers, honking horns, stray dogs, stray children, beggars, hawkers. We made sure we were walking in the right direction and cast long glances after the many shops selling juttis, the colourful Punjabi footwear. This is what we’re buying later today, we all agreed. Souvenir and shoe shops replaced each other in a steady stream, the city landscape gradually changed – no doubt were we on the way to an attraction.

The temple area was, at first glance, like a revelation. The big plaza was clean and pure and after parting with our shoes and covering our heads, we joined the surprisingly modest queue. It didn’t take us long to enter the inner temple area. I simply couldn’t elude a gasp when I spotted The Golden Temple. The square, golden building seems to be floating in a vast pool, all surrounded by white marble. It hurt in all its splendour, I had as always forgotten my sunglasses!

Every Sikh temple has a langar, a community kitchen, where food is served for free.

We admired the temple for a while before we obeyed our rumbling stomachs and headed for the langar. Every Sikh temple runs a community kitchen that serves free food. I’m not sure if we belonged to the target group, but the langar, in principle, welcomes everybody and it was our only option. All kinds of clatter filled the building as we entered, people were in a steady move, or sitting down at work; chopping or peeling. Everybody is welcome to give a helping hand with the food, but we were on a budget as far as time was concerned, accepted a plate each and followed the crowd up to the first floor were people sat eating on the floor in long rows. The room was huge.
My general fear of food hit me hard and dal from a grimy bucket didn’t tempt me. Instead, I polished off a number of chapattis. Not only had I forgotten my sunglasses, my rucksack contained (surprisingly) no ‘iron rations’. Peggy and Elisa said yes to second helpings, I couldn’t believe it, they seemed to have the meal of their life.

Handing out plates to the visitors.

Afterwards, we sat down under the archway. Leaning towards the wall, we did some serious people watching. In between, we all – I believe – closed our eyes and let the chanting music lull us into a light after lunch nap. The temple, separated by the sparkling water, shone in all its glory. People were floating by in a steady, endless stream: stately and well-dressed Sikhs in a variety of coloured turbans, equally colourful women in their best Punjabi dresses, people in various headscarves, a few children here and there. A small crowd of young men were dipping their bodies in the water. I remember the old woman with her husband bent double in a wheelchair, maybe his first, or last, visit to the Golden Temple. I was enchanted by all the bright colours towards the white, marbled landscape and drifted in and out of silent appreciation.
We spent a while, strolling back and forth but never entered the temple itself. The long queue combined with the baking sun made the thought uncomfortable. Reluctantly, we eventually left the temple grounds.

Striking contrasts!

What surprised me, was the lack of Western tourists. We hardly saw any, which made us an easy target for Indians hunting for good ‘snaps’, especially inside the historical site and garden, Jallianwala Bagh. We dutifully posed once, twice, thrice … Peggy was under the impression I was the star attraction in Amritsar on that very day. It might be. For Indians unfamiliar with people from the West, my indefinable hair colour might rise some interest. And while Peggy and Elisa was dressed in Punjabi dresses, I was as always dressed in jeans. Because every time I put on a pair of kameez, those wide Indian trousers, I feel my height shrink from 162 to 152 cm.
I remember the parents who eagerly pushed their little son, aged about three, towards me again and again, cell phones ready in their hands. Their hard voices eventually made him obey, and then he turned, pointed a finger towards me and let out a big cry. I almost cried out myself, and later wondered how that picture came out. A small, frightened Indian boy and a frightful Norwegian troll.

They, among many others, wanted us in their photo. How could we say no?

Amritsar seemed to have many faces. In stark contrast to the area where the taxi let us off, was a pedestrian area close to the temple. Wide, clean streets, uniform shop fronts and nicely dressed people strolling leisurely about. They all seemed to have paid a visit to the temple and was now savouring ice cream or “Amritsari Special Matka Kulfi”. We explored some shoe stores, but eventually agreed that the Punjabi juttis probably wouldn’t feel – in any way – comfortable in Norway, neither in Boston nor New York.

Buying juttis can be an ardous task!

I suggested we go back to the airport a little early and eat our dinner to avoid any late minute rush to the airport. (I’m neurotic about losing a flight.) So we set about to find a taxi – which turned out to be an arduous task. Taxis were nowhere to be seen or found, nobody was able to help and no 800-pages travel guide had been allowed in our light luggage. Auto rickshaws, on the other hand, were plentiful. But Peggy sat down her foot and wouldn’t even speak of a ride all the way to the airport in such an airy vehicle. We managed to cajole her into it, who wanted to spend the night in Amritsar without even a toothbrush? We squeezed together in the back seat after the usual debate over the fare. I had in the course of the day managed to dig up my sunglasses from the depths of my rucksack, now I would need ‘dust glasses’.
After a few turns and bends, we came to a halt, the driver left his seat and from what we could understand he didn’t want to take us after all. Then Elisa raised her voice in such a way that even I straightened my back, and off we went again after a slight turmoil. Half way, he made another stop, now at a gas station, he seemed to want extra money for the petrol, to what the three ladies in the back answered an unanimous, smiling no no no – and we eventually arrived at the airport. And yes; by then the driver had become the cutest Indian driver ever and we gave him twice as much as he had asked. (I’m sure this does sound familiar to other India travellers …).

The airport seemed to have shrunk in one day. After security, we optimistically went in search for a restaurant, which we scaled down to a café after looking around a bit. We were pointed to the first floor where we found a modest snack bar and a million free seats, air condition on full blast. I had my most meagre dinner ever; one tiny cup of bitter, black coffee and two chocolate bars. Our sole entertainment was a small souvenir shop with absolutely no customers and I seriously had to restrain myself from buying something elephant-ish just to make the shopkeeper’s day. He seemed bored to the bone!
We didn’t make it to the Wagah border. Maybe we missed out more. It had probably been Amritsar on speed, but the hours inside the temple grounds were spent in deliberate slow-motion!

More photos On


My buddy


A passage to India (by Jet Airways …) January 5, 2018

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 8:23 am
Tags: ,

Every time I am about to leave India, especially Mumbai, I tell myself never to come back. This time was no exception; the “India fatigue” seemed to hit me hard as the car crawled towards the airport. The darkness scared me, if only unconsciously. I always seemed to choose airlines that left in the early morning; 2 am. 3 am. Horrid points in time, for travelling. I wish it had been noon, the traffic would have been less although still heavy. We would be in between rush hours. If anything should happen – I’m not exactly sure what – it would be easily solved in broad daylight.

It was dark, the air was damp from recent rain. No, wait, the street lamps revealed a drizzle and I could see people taking shelter under their umbrellas. “Waiting for a taxi,” Babu said. My driver had, to my relief, kept quiet for a while. He had been talking non-stop since we left the hotel in Colaba. His staccato, grunting voice was taking a toll on me, maybe because I felt distress coming and going.
All day, my suitcase had been packed and stored with a few loose items on top. Arriving was easier; I could just peel off the layers of clothes. Long haul journeys sometimes felt like travelling in a freezer and I wouldn’t like to arrive in India with a cold. Better save that for the return. Upon landing, my jacket went around my waist, the cardigan would have to stay on until the luggage had been picked up, and the big woollen scarf trailed behind me as I overtook everybody in long strides. First come, first served, I always thought, with immigration in mind.


Now the jacket was once again around my waist, the cardigan kept the air-conditioning at bay, my jogging shoes felt tight and heavy, and the woollen scarf seemed superfluous but better be prepared for the Ice Box, which had become my nickname for Jet Airways.
Once off Marine Drive, the city’s famous sea promenade, the traffic was congested. “Two festivals are ending tonight,” Babu informed me. “One Hindu festival and one Muslim. It will be crowded on the streets. I think I will chance upon another route. Hopefully we will be lucky.”
I didn’t want us to take a chance and hope luck stood by, but I knew Babu was doing his best. One could trust Mumbai drivers. Well, maybe not about money, there always seemed to be a second price tag attached to their services. But Babu wanted, as much as I did, to avoid any jam. “We have enough time,” he said. “We will arrive at the airport before 11. Probably earlier, let’s see.” The car had made a full stop, but I could see the red traffic light at a distance. Traffic lights equal civilised, I reassured myself, pleased with the rhyme. When the traffic came to a standstill for no apparent reason, it was time to worry. My eyes fell on a group of women with children on their hips, and the shacks along the pavement. Children never seem to go to bed, I thought fleetingly, knowing that beds as we know them were non-existent.

When I first came to Mumbai, I never stopped wondering how people lived their lives on the streets. My face was always glued to the car window, I saw children defecate (so where did the grown-ups do it?) next to what could be their mother or aunt who was preparing dinner over a small fire. Did they remove it, or let it be? I could never get myself to ask anybody. There were rows upon rows of shacks, but not every citizen had a roof – whatever that might be – over their head. I had never seen pavements, anywhere else, so frequently doubling as beds.
Some pictures always stuck in my mind. The small family around a bonfire on a traffic island – as if every pavement was fully booked. Mumbai is always hot and sticky, they must have been cooking a late meal in the midst of the traffic, rather than warming themselves. And I would never forget the body, totally enveloped in a blanket, like a mummy, right there on the floor of Borivali railway station in the far north of Mumbai. He, or she, had simply gone to bed amongst busy passers-by. Everybody took care not to step upon what could have been a corpse. I have never seen such loneliness.

Now I saw, for the first time, Mumbai during the monsoon rain and I wondered what life was like behind the flimsy tarpaulins. I imagined the huddled creatures as the rain came gushing down. Even though the sun came out during the day, I asked myself if it was sufficient to dry the damp clothes. I thought about how easily I escaped the hot and humid air by stepping into a cool car, or an air-conditioned shop. How I could trawl back to my hotel, walk right into the bathroom, remove my clothes in a flash and step into the shower; as good as new in seconds. Yet out of the car window, I regretfully observed children, women and men struggle with lives made even more uncomfortable by the rain. Seeing everything through a been-here-so-many-times filter, I didn’t get shocked anymore. I believed what I saw, although I was still not able to retell it the way I wanted, when I came home.


Babu had taken me around the south of Mumbai earlier that day. Everybody who has left a big, hot, rainy city at 2 in the morning knows that time prior to departure hardly flies. The idea of an air-conditioned car with a driver who could take me exactly where I wanted, and maybe add some new places to my list, seemed like a good one. I had been far-sighted enough to leave some space in the suitcase for last minute shopping, which would, including traffic jams, fill a few hours. In fact, I would welcome a traffic jam or two. I would lean back and close my eyes in the cool environment, or letting life outside the car play as a movie, so time would pass.
I told Babu I wanted to go to Kemps Corner, to buy some books at Crossword and then visit the BIBA store.
“Madam,” he said, “don’t you find BIBA expensive?”
“Naaaa …” I didn’t like to tell him that a few BIBA tunics would hardly show on my budget. I found their clothes ridiculously inexpensive, or maybe exceptionally affordable. Maybe I could just leave out the adverbs and then tell him.
“But, madam, there is another shop next to BIBA.” Babu wasn’t ready to leave the topic. As a driver cum guide, Babu obviously knew a few facts about the fashion world. “The Anita Dongre shop, people say her outfits start at 40 000 or 50 000 rupees.”
“Ahhh, way beyond my budget,” I was happy to admit. “Yes, I know the shop, the entrance looks very modest and smells big money from a long way.

Babu was the elder brother of another Mr. Singh, the younger one a tall and sturdy man in his fifties. Bearded and turbaned as most Sikhs, he seemed to reign the front desk of Hotel Godwin. I never quite understood his role in the reception hierarchy, but treated him as the ultimate boss. Even though I had stayed at the hotel several times, he never failed to tell me, on my last day, how he was about to lose one of his hotel stars. The first time I was genuinely surprised, until I understood that I was his third star. I had laughed at his silly joke and later came to realise that this was probably how he sent off most of his western, female guests.


When we arrived at the toll station, Babu leaned out of the window and suddenly the two men in the booth and Babu started an argument. The young men’s eyes, lit up by the light in the booth, glistened in the dark and wet weather. The discussion got agitated and I felt uneasy. We might have to make a turn, I thought. Something might be wrong with Babu’s license, maybe he is not allowed to drive a tourist car after all. Those things happened in India; I once thought I was stuck in Agra for ever. But why should they care about these things, their job was to collect the charge. Then Babu got his change and drove on, stopped a few metres after the booth, opened the door and was about to leave the car as I shouted, “What now?”
“I didn’t get the slip, how can I return without the slip?” Babu muttered and left me. In a flash, I imagined the Ice Box leaving Mumbai without me as I was stranded on one of the main arteries out of Mumbai, while Babu and the toll authorities were trying to settle a minor discrepancy. It never came to that of course. Seconds later, Babu was back in the car with his slip, although still grunting. What a neurotic fool I am, I thought.


I had returned to the hotel around 4 pm. The younger Mr. Singh had offered me a room for a few hundred rupees until I had to leave for the airport. I thought it was reasonable. What would I otherwise do? I might while away the hours in the reception, another icebox. Every time I stepped out of the lift, the cold air slapped me in the face. As did the hot air as I stepped out of the hotel. I wasn’t really up to any extreme temperature.
I decided to lie down on the bed for a while, just to breathe in and breathe out. So preoccupied was I by the idea of a rest I must have missed the sound of the drill next door, once I came out of the lift. The hotel was under renovation, the room next to mine seemed to be the subject of a range of hard-hitting tools. I reckoned the workers would leave at 6 pm and went down to the reception to order a pizza. I never felt ashamed to eat pizza from neither Pizza Hut nor Domino’s while in India, although people back home rolled their eyes. I asked the reception to call for a Spicy Veggie, which I savoured in the empty breakfast room together with a Coke of strange, metallic flavour.

The Spicy Veggie must have made me drowsy and I fell asleep in spite of the ongoing terror next door. Sometime later, I woke up with a jolt, only to notice the hammers and sledges replaced by another sound. Was it rain? The curtains were drawn because the room was facing a grim backyard, I peeped out and was horrified to see the nature of the rain. I found no word to describe it, but it must have been the thunder that woke me. I spent the next hours alternatively dozing, repacking and thinking about a shower, while listening to the ongoing, rambunctious weather. Anxiety crept upon me. Would the airport shut down? Was my 02.40 am Jet Airways plane parked on the airport, or was it in the air somewhere, being redirected to drier destinations? Would roads towards the airport be flooded? The Wi-Fi seemed to be out, there was no way I could check the forecast or the departures and arrivals at Mumbai Airport.

I had ample reason to worry. Ten days earlier, as my flight was about to start its descent towards Mumbai, the captain with his jolly “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls” – a phrase he would stick to through thick and thin, presaged trouble. A plane had skidded off the runway, the rain and poor visibility made it difficult to land. No, it made it impossible to land. At present. His little speech gave way to both hope and despair in the course of a few seconds.
We were circling above Mumbai for one hour, and so were planes from many other directions. It must have been crowded up there, but I chose not to think about it in too much detail.

“So we’re diverting to Hyderabad.” The pilot continued his story, not failing to inform us that he and his crew would have to leave the plane in six hours, he would however stick with us until we were safely grounded and disembarked. As if it was a generous offer.
The air above Hyderabad was congested, it took some time to find a loophole and get down – hopefully air traffic control saw it differently. “And I have decided,” the pilot, our trusted shepherd, was faithfully making another statement, “that we will remain in the plane all night because Hyderabad airport is in a state of total chaos and besides, certain rules apply to international flights.” People said ‘Oh my God’ in a variety of ways, grabbed their cell phones, but remained surprisingly composed.

We were stuck in the plane for six hours, we were stuck for 20 heated and agitated minutes in the bus that took us to the terminal building. We felt stuck in the immigration queue, waited patiently for the luggage and wondered what would be the next move now that the pilot had left his flock to “commercial” aka Jet Airways who had barricaded themselves, it turned out, behind glass windows. The queue had the shape of an unruly crowd that sometimes sprang to life through shouting people, some hammering on the glass windows.
The silence from Jet Airways persisted. Based on rumours, the flock of several hundred stranded passengers from various flights had been, without any specific guidance herded into the departure hall, later through security – all the time clutching our crumpled boarding passes stating AMS-BOM although we were in HYD. We were told to leave our luggage in a heap close to the check-in counters and choose one of the five flights that somehow had materialised, to Mumbai. I know one rule of the aviation world, the one that unconditionally states that the luggage should always go with the passenger. But the airport had for a moment turned into a petty bus station.


Now, heading back to that same airport, I read the familiar signs; Bandra, Santa Cruz, Andheri. The one with Airport would appear soon enough, and I could feel how relief gradually replaced the feeling of unrest. We were off the highway now, Babu manoeuvred his car through busy and sometimes congested lanes and assured me, although with some hesitation, it would take only 20 minutes to reach. He didn’t seem ready to call off a possible traffic jam, yet.
I hadn’t once looked at my watch during the drive, but when the newly refurbished and spectacular Mumbai Airport appeared in front of us, I instantly knew I would have plenty of time for the slow-moving, meandering queues. I turned towards Babu and gave him those extra rupees he both expected and deserved. “Next time I come to Mumbai I want you as my driver,” I said. The promise I had made to myself more than an hour earlier, had vanished into moist air.


Mumbai – Bombay. Always coming back.


Don’t miss out the Irani Cafes in Mumbai September 3, 2017

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 5:56 pm
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Yazdani is a bakery, and from what I’ve read; women have no access to the bakery itself. I certainly wasn’t allowed in to take photographs.

I cannot recall when I became aware of the Irani Cafés in Mumbai. But I do remember my first taste of brun maska, one of their signature dishes, if one can call a bun a dish. The Irani cafes, those who are left, are scattered around south Mumbai. Originally owned and run by the Iranians who migrated to India, the cafes were initially set up as chai cafes. By the beginning of the 20th century, Irani cafes had sprung up on almost every prominent street corner of Bombay. They are now, sadly, in decline, as the Parsis (Zoroastrians from Iran) themselves. But that is another story. One should make sure to visit one or two of these quirky cafes cum small restaurants, before it is too late.

I first visited the Yazdani Bakery in the Fort area a few years back. The café has simple wooden benches and tables, the interior is worn and dilapidated. Upon entering, my travel companion grinned his nose, unwilling to sit down. Whereas I was immediately charmed by the retro atmosphere and preferred to oversee the grimy sink in the corner. We ordered brun maska, a hot toasted white bun slathered in melted butter (now is the time to forget all about diets) with a crunchy crust. My friend, a die-hard consumer of healthy brown bread grinned his nose even more, but dug into the bun. Breakfast was hours away. He almost immediately asked for one more … It is simply is delicious! The owner of these Irani, or Parsi cafes, used to sit at a typical cash counter by the entrance. And Rashid Zend still do at Yazdani.  He was keen to talk and pose for a photograph as we paid a humble price for the filling meal.

You don’t eat comfortably, but you eat well …


The famous brun maska, looks simple – tastes yummie!!

Authentic, no doubt …

Apart from the food, the interior by far defines the Irani cafes. Marble-top tables, red-checked table clothes, bent wood chairs of German/Polish design, entertaining signboards and biscuits in glass jars. You really believe these eateries to be frozen in time! The food is more than a “simple” bun or the tasty Mawa cake. You may want to try the famous Bombay Duck or the yummy Berry Pulao at Café Britannia & Co. Quietly in a corner sat the owner himself, the rather famous Boman Kohinoor. In his 90’s, he still takes orders and is more than happy to talk and pose for pictures when we approach him. He speaks of his good health and longevity and is happy to go through some of his prized photos and letters displayed on a table, among them a signed letter from the Queen of England. Boman is a self-declared Number One fan of the British royalty.

Britannia & Co. Boman Kohinoor may look retired when spotted in his corner, but once you make contact he is a very vital man, in his 90’s … (below).

Another iconic restaurant not to be missed, is Kyani & Co, definitely worth a visit for the interior and the small shop inside the restaurant. It’s all here; the counter at the door, the significant table and chairs, the signs, the bakery at the back and the numerous jars of biscuits. It was time to taste the Mawa cakes, we could have eaten ten in one go!

The biscuits set you back only a few Rupis!


On your way back to the hotel, make sure to stop at the Parsi Dairy Farm in Kalbadevi. No matter how many brun maskas or Mawa cakes, there has to be room for Kulfi, a popular frozen dairy dessert. The Paris Dairy Farm has been under threat for several years now, another reason to step inside and treat yourself to “traditional Indian ice cream”, before it’s too late. The distinctive interior comes as a bonus!

PS – you might want somebody to take you on a Parsi Tour – My choice is

Kulfi at The Parsi Dairy Farm.


The Colour of Calcutta aka The King of the Road March 19, 2017

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 4:42 pm
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The first thing I noticed in Calcutta, was the omnipresent yellow taxis. It shant be denied, Calcutta is – at least at first sight, a chaotic, dirty, dreary, noisy, congested megalopolis (rumour says 17 million people…). At second glance, after spotting the taxis, the picture changes. At least it did for me. The taxis, like a swarm of bees, were lighting up every street.

The yellow Ambassadors are everywhere!!

FACT | The Hindustan Ambassador was an automobile manufactured by Hindustan Motors of India. It was in production from 1958 to 2014 with few improvements and changes over its production lifetime.

All the taxis have ‘No refusal’ on their doors. The story goes that the taxis are notorious for declining passengers, a fact that tells me that the drivers earn pretty good money. At least enough to say no to a ride in jammed areas – or too far away or maybe the driver has just planned his lunch break! So the authorities made the drivers put ‘No refusal’ on the car and act accordingly. Does it help? Hardly!

QUOTE | “It is as if the car is made for the city, its classic design going so well with the Colonial architecture.”



FACT | Taxi services started in Calcutta in 1907, the Ambassador became the standard taxi model in 1962. In 2014, Hindustan Motors brought the production of this regal brand to a close, sadly the Ambassador was not in sufficient demand.

If you didn’t know, you would think that there was still a steady production of these cars as they swarm and honk their way through the streets.  May the remaining cars live long and colour the streets of Calutta!