Benjamuna's Blog

Stories…. with a touch of India….

Mumbai people November 2, 2010

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 5:59 pm
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I take photos almost all the time when in India, but not of people I really pity. People with no dignity. There are lots of them in the streets of Mumbai.

The first time I came here, I was intrigued about the number of people sleeping on the streets, at all times. No shelter, just there, on the pavement, their only belonging a sack perhaps. Chappals have to make do as a pillow. In the city, the south part of Mumbai up to Mahim where the suburbs start, people mostly sleep on the pavements. I haven’t yet seen so many families who live their life on the pavement – but they might be there. The City is quite nice, especially in the morning. Colaba, Khala Goda, Fort, Nariman Point…. – lined with great buildings put up by the Britishers – and the green maidans. Still, the many poor people remind you constantly about the hard life of Mumbai.

People tend to walk not on the pavement itself but along the cars in the street. Now I do the same. The pavements are fully occupied with stalls, hawkers, vendors …. and sleeping people at all hours.

Aman sleeping on the streets of Mumbai.

In the suburbs you get to see all sorts of living conditions. Big areas of slums. Shacks lined along the pavements. But many are those who just live on the pavement itself. They sit around a small fire, eat some food, half naked childre crawling around or going to the toilet just there. Going by car through Mumbai on a late evening is an emotional rollercoaster.

I have never seen so many deformed people anywhere. Limbs are missing, or totally deformed – here you can see every disorder possible. Very often they move among and around the vehicles on the roads, begging for money. They search out tourists, come to our cars. It’s heartbreaking, but if you start giving money you’ve got yourself a full time job.

I couldn't resist giving this little girl some money, she was sleeping on the street. We even managed to get her to smile, after some time.

Children is another story. Many work for the mafia. They are brought from the outskirts of Mumbai into Dadar (I’ve been told) and spread around the city in order to beg all day. Strike up a conversation with a native about these issues and very often you will feel he/she doesn’t really pity. -They live a simple life compared with ours, a friend told me. – They have no rent, no maintenance, no work to worry about. They just beg and eat and sleep… Maybe you have to grow up in Mumbai to take such an attitude, for us it’s impossible.

This little girl was in a hurry, but stopped for a pose AND without asking money...


Mumbai local trains November 1, 2010

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 4:46 pm
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Most tourists don’t travel the local trains in Mumbai. Taxis and autorickshaws come cheap, and one doesn’t really bother to get to know the system of the trains. But if you really have to save money… or if you just want to have som fun… have a try.

There a re two railway lines running through Mumbai, Western Railways and Central Railways. The system carries more than 6.9 million commuters on a daily basis and constitutes more than half of the total daily passenger capacity of the Indian Railways itself. It has one of the highest passenger densities of any urban railway system in the world.

The women's compartment.

Together with my friend Joan’s son Tash we started out from Churchgate, the southernmost station, on a seemingly quite Sunday at noon. The trains have women’s compartments, but since we were a mixed couple we had to opt for the mixed compartment. Incidentially I saw a sign just as we we were boarding; some compartments are reserved for the handicapped and for cancer patients.

The train was filling up as we went along, every time I thought the compartment was absolutely packed, 50 more people boarded in a rush. I was lucky to sit, squeezed into a corner. Indian men tend to stare openly, so I had put on a cardigan which made me boil.

People wating at the station.

The train ride was no hassle really, but when Joan and I returned later in the afternoon, the fun began. We had boarded a wrong train and had to change only after one station. As the train came rolling into the station, everybody started to run along the train. And as we were going for the women’s compartment, a horde of women kept running…. and then jumped on the train before it had stopped. In open sandals and a long skirt I think I did nicely – for a beginner. At the same time people were getting out. The trains stop for only two minutes, so people are just frantic – to be in or out.

The compartment was really packed, – in my opinion, and most women were chatting away. According to Joan, the compartment was nowhere near packed…….
The good thing about India and its train culture, is that there is always space for more people. Nobody should be left out, the rule is – there is room for everybody. How good it is in terms of saftey, well…
The trains have no doors, that’s why you see people hanging almost on the outside of the trains. I was standing in the opening myself, allowing the warm air to embrace me. I never thought it wasn’t safe.
A lot of people live along the tracks in poor conditions. Defecating along the tracks is normal…. as well as walking along them – or on them. And children are playing. One has to see for oneself, really.

Women are shopping at local trains to kill time...

I can’t remember which station, but suddenly almost everybody went off – like a cowherd they were fighting their way out of the compartment. Indian women must be tough!

All sorts of bric a brac are sold on the trains; simple jewellerey for example. One easily gets bored on a train ride through Mumbai that takes more than an hour depending on if it’s a fast train or not. One might as well by some earrings for 20 rupies.


Colaba local market (South Mumbai) October 31, 2010

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 3:17 pm
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This morning I decided to go for a walk, just a Sunday morning walk. I ended up at the local market, and what a relief – I was not bothered by anybody. The Colaba street market, along Colaba Causeway, is different. It swarms with tourists, and you can’t take a single step without being offered something; Madam, look Madam, scarfs, pashminas, shawls Madam.. On top of it the beggars of course. You have to fight for your purse….

I represented no potensial byer in the local market, obviously. What would a tourist need grocieries for, or bric a brac for upcoming Diwali? I was left to myself with my camera, and people willingly answered all my questions; what is that for, how do you use this – and so on. It’s amazing these markets, and shops – the variety of goods is without limits.

I couldn't get my eyes off the powder... colours are amazing...

What was not amazing was the selling of chicken…. Half dead, they seemed to me, stuck in horrible cages, awaiting their destiny. People would pick one, the stall keeper would drag it out, put it on the scale and showel it over his shoulder for the next guy – who slit its throat. Hygiene seemed to be nowhere around… I just had to stand there for a while and watch. Surely I would be nowhere close to a chicken for the rest of the journey!

Made a big impact on me.....


My very special colour combination… July 9, 2010

Is it possible to fall in love with a colour combination? Well yes…. But I am in fact a bit shameful to say that it was the Norwegian princess Märtha Louise who brought my attention to the combination of brown and turquoise. She was wearing a dress some years back, can’t remember the details any longer – only the colours! I thought it was an unusual combination, but I got hooked. And – the hunt was on! But I realised I needed a bit of luck. Shops do not swell with brown and turquoise!

I always find what I look for, in India…. In 2009  I visited designer  Geetha Hardasani’s shop in Bandra, Mumbai. When Ida and I visited Mumbai in 2008, we visited her shop, at that time in Colaba. I kept in touch with Jharna, the designer’s daughter, and thus made sure to pay their new shop in Bandra a visit in 2009. I saw the kurta only seconds after I entered the shop. Wow – something brown and turquoise. Before the others had managed to manouvre themselves inside, I was dressed in…. brown and turquoise… And – sold!

I almost spotted this one from outside the Hardasani shop....

I wanted to buy a designer made outfit; a kurta, churidar and dupatta – and went searching through Geeta’s rows of fabric. I chose the best one, the most expensive one (!) with a fantastic dupatta made of a variety of fabric. But the embroidery on the kurta had the colours of…. brown and turquoise…

My designer made wedding outfit!

Close up of the kurta.


In 2009 Asbjørn and I went to Delhi and one day, strolling through the arcades of Connaught Place I saw it from a distance, a tunic of – yes – brown and turquoise. It was only one left, my size, which proves it was meant for me!

Bought at Connaught Place in Delhi, photograph taken somewhere around the Fort in old Delhi. A young girl wanted her photo together with a farangi...

It’s not so hard to find jewelry in the colours of brown and turquoise. Maybe because of the stone itself, the turquoise…. Moreover, I can’t be the only one in the world thinking that this is a great combination!
My favourite bracelet is bought at Arts and Crafts (Norwegian brand), and people often comment on it. But a while back I was thinking; it must be possible to make jewelry by oneself?!!? So I took a course at a bead shop and learnt some tricks… I’m not going to make a home industry out of it, but it’s nice to be able to make something when inspiration hits you…. Beads do not come very cheap in Norway, what I’m now looking forward to is my travel to India later this year. Shopping for beads in Mumbai….. Must be some treat!

Three strands of beads made by myself, beads and colours carefully picked....

These - my favourite bracelets - have everything that I like; the beads, the colours, the antique look...


Last summer our grandhild Claus, now aged 10, known for his high level of justice, realised that everybody had gotten a summer’s gift  except from granddad… He had seen something suitable though, in a shop in Stavanger…. So Asbjørn and I were left to wait in a cafe, whereas he dragged his mother to Ting and bought a case for toothpicks – and what’s more; the colours were brown and turquoise. The young man was very proud of himself; not only was it the perfect present for Asbjørn who can’t live without toothpicks, but the colour combination was such that Anne-Trine could enjoy as well! He proudly stated. A 10-year old to be proud of!

A perfect hiding place for tooth picks!


From pizza to paneer… June 28, 2010

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 11:11 am
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I should think most people know that I don’t go to India for the food… I suppose I don’t go anywhere in the world to enjoy food, – well Italy might be a possible exception. In India I mostly survive on butter naan, rice, the odd soup and Western food chains.

I came to India for the first time in 2002, we flew to Panaji (state of Goa) and we were staying at the Hotel Majestic – in the middle of nowhere really. The hotel was new, it was not a very interesting place to be (booked by Asbjørn’s project I believe), but very modern and pleasant with its kidney shaped pool! There was a big dining room on the first floor, and every meal was included in the price. Of course I didn’t dear to try any of the many dishes lined up on the buffet. But I made one very important discovery; the naan bread. And the butter naan bread in particular! And of course, there is always the rice when the going gets tough….

It didn’t take many days before people around me tired of the same food every day. Also, the food was exceptionally spicy.  I stuck to my choice….
After almost a week, we suddenly found there was some kind of a restaurant downstairs, I guess we had written it off as a bar, simply. But since there were some entertainment going on one evening, we sat down by a table and discovered a menu. A MENU. We hadn’t seen one for a whole week, and what’s more: Here we had pasta, and nothing less than Spaghetti Napolitana; spaghetti with plain tomatoe sauce. I don’t know if it was the absence of Western food or the chef or what, but it tasted delicious!

Simply HAPPY, eating Spaghetti Napolitana at the Hotel Majestic!

Naan bread is in fact very simple food; yeast, water, egg, yoghurt,  flour… I often wonder what makes it so good and tasty, the ingredients don’t count for gourmet food. But I guess it is the Tandoor oven that does the trick. Soft and crisp at the same time, butter spread all over. There’s only one word; Yummy!
The most unhealthy, the butter naan, is definately the best one. Garlic nan, uhhmm, for those who like garlic a lot. In my opinion, not a must. I have tried naan bread in Norway, but I don’t anymore. The naan bread always tastes fantastic in India – so why go for a lesser experience at home!

It proved difficult to find a perfect and ultimate photo of a naan bread on the internet, so I have made a mental note about to take one myself later this year!

I can’t remember where and when I first tasted the Butter Paneer Masala, but when I explained the dish for Indian friends they immediately understood what I had eaten. It’s chunks of cottage cheese (paneer) in a red masala. Of course I wasn’t able to enjoy it fully in the start. I simply left out the paneer…. I sort of didn’t like the texture… it felt swampy. But the masala is heavenly. It’s very rich (feels very fattening), and one portion + some rice is plenty for me – as a dinner. The dish is made of things I love; tomatoes, onions, tomatoe pure, chilli – and other spices (butter and cream -sigh -).
At last I can enter a restaurant in India og order food with some dignity! And I know where to go first when I arrive in Mumbai in November; The Delhi Darbar in Colaba. They serve fantastic Butter Paneer Masala! Along with some rice and naan bread it should keep me going for 24 hours.
Even this dish tastes very good at Indian Tandoori restaurant in Stavanger!

This was the best Google could provide me with....

Although I’m now fully able to enjoy at least one Indian dish, I won’t let Pizza Hut down…. because if you’re in need of quick food, and if you might be a little home sick when it comes to food – pizza from Pizza Hut is a very good choice in India. But be sure to order the ones with chilli….!


Too many books. Only one life. June 19, 2010

Filed under: Indian literature,Literature — benjamuna @ 2:06 pm
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Some years back I told my friend Dagne that I always finished a book once started on it, no matter how bad I found it.  Did I feel I owed it to the author, in some peculiar way? Dagne found it outragous, and I eventually admitted that life is too short to bother about bad books. Since then I have been terribly choosy, every book I read has a purpose behind. I only rarely read a book on impulse.

First of all I quit reading crime novels. I have read a lot of them, – and enjoyed, but it strikes me that there is nothing much to learn from a crime novel. When people ask me how I have come to know so much about India; about culture, politics, geography, demography – whatever, I always answer; from novels. My number one source whatsoever.

My Indian books have a bookshelf of their own! This is but a few....

So how do I chose my books and where do I find them? Some authors I follow closely, year after year – American Alice Hoffman being one of them. I guess I have every single novel she has published, most of them in the original language. There are two reasons I buy the American edition. For a start I can’t possibly wait for a translation. Moreover, Hoffman’s language is worth reading as she wrote it. Nobody can descibe the elements of nature as Hoffman describes it; a soaring heatwave in small town America, or a bitterly cold night, the overwhelming smell of a flower or the intense buzz of a bee… Nobody is able to paint those pictures with words like Hoffman does, and no translation can ever justify it. Her novels are a garden of delight! A few years back she came down with cancer. Then followed a  couple of novels where she obviously was writing her way out of this trauma. Half way through her last novel; The Story Sisters, I told a friend that Hoffman was out with another novel. Any cancer, she asked. Not yet, was my immediate answer, although we have one drug addict. The day after, hell broke lose in The Story Sisters. Leukemia. Heroin. Death. A fatal accident. It was overwhelming, I decided to finish the book in one go and felt totally drenched afterwards. But the book also paints a picture of two beautiful old, eccentric and forgiving women, who made up for all the grief.

Alice Hoffman - a long time favourite!

I went from Hoffman to Chowringhee by Sankar, for me a totally unknown Indian author. The book was published in 1962. Indian literature is a passion, no doubt. I search for new titles and new authors everywhere. In January I picked up the 2009 volume of India Today at the library, given to me for 50 kroner. Some of those issues I already read last year, but the reason I asked for them was to look more closely at the book reviews. I go through every issue and add books of interest to my list.

India Today is an important source when I'm looking for Indian novels out of the main stream.

Last year, in Delhi, I found a small bookstore crammed with books, in Connaught Place. The sales personnel was obviously impressed with my list and criss-crossed the floors in order to fulfill my wishes. (Lurking in the back of my mind was of course weight…. books are heavy and KLM make no concessions for book addicts).
Indian bookstores are great, whether small or big. I could spend hours. But books are also sold on the street as well, sometimes laid out on the pavement. Dusty books wrapped in plastic, impossible to pass by…… Impossible not to listen to the vendors advice.

My favourite book seller in Colaba, Mumbai, last year.

Sometimes people tell me – oh you should read this or that book…. I hardly listen. I panic. First of all, I have my own constant mental list. Of authors I follow closely. Of books I’m thinking of buying. Of books I should read (Knausgård for example – I have only finished volume 1). But I mostly panic because of the various piles of books at home. Everywhere. My own favourites and my own research is keeping me more than busy, other people’s advice must have me excused.

One of many piles of books I should read before buying more….

The web store Amazon is an important source of information, annoying though it might be. The system is “intelligent” in the way that it remembers your buys and feeds you with more of the same. In my case; mostly Indian literature. The danger is that when all these offers pop up  – one tends to buy on impulse…. Anyway, at the moment I’m jotting down any interesting suggestions and await my visit to Mumbai in November. I dont know what is worst though, paying postage through Amazon or overweight on the plane…..

Today's offer from Amazon.....

Although I’m very serious about books, I have one flaw…. and he is called Douglas Kennedy. I sometimes wonder how I got to know about him in the first place, and when. It’s tempting to call his novels trash. Undoubtedly we can use the word page turner. Once started, you’re completely hooked. ‘That’s why I’m saving his latest novel Leaving the World for either USA in August or India later this year. It’s perfect for a lang haul air ride. He has titles like The Big Picture, The Job, Temptation. Tells you everything, really…. But to make up for all those negative wibes, after finishing the one called State of the Union, I was not able to start a new book in several weeks. I was thinking of the main character night and day. I was seriously worried about her future, thinking of her as a real person, wanting to know more…… Which must mean that the author has managed create a character of flesh and bood…

Good or bad... Douglas Kennedy shortens a long journey for sure!


When Anne-Trine met Shantaram….. December 5, 2009

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 4:58 pm
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Our last night in Mumbai. A long day. Our plane was going to leave 03 45 in the morning… What to do. Never had I thought the day would end in such a fantastic way. In order to kill some hours, we went to Chowpatty Beach/Marine Drive by foot. And back again, to Colaba, after some Kingfishers. We had planned to eat our last meal at Cafe Leopold. No matter how many tourists who swarm the place, and no matter how many bullets on 26/11 last year, we love the place. It has a great atmosphere!

Leopold is made famous by Shantaram, the famous novel written by the Australian Gregory David Roberts. The book is set in Mumbai, and Leopold is the cafe where all the people in the book meet. We arrived at Leopold at around 8 pm, and suddenly I saw him; Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram himself, on his big motorbike outside Leo. I went straight to him and said (not: Dr Livingstone I presume) – Shantaram, is it really you? And we had this nice chat. He was extremely nice. He is famous, an icon. He told me that when he was in Oslo earlier this year, he had met Morten Harket and his bother, the publisher. Also, he hadn’t been in Mumbai in 9 months.

Asbjørn, Bjørg, Marit and Robert stood around understanding absolutely nothing. Who was this man with the long ponytail, on an enormous bike – talking to me like old friends…. Because that was how it all seemed.

Well, let the photo speak for itself. It was the best end of an holiday I could ever get!

Anne-Trine meets “Shantaram” outside Leopold in Colaba, Mumbai.