Benjamuna's Blog

Stories…. with a touch of India….

At Mullick Ghat March 28, 2019

Jumping off the bus that took us to Howrah Bridge, I didn’t know that Calcutta was about to attack my senses. The Mullick Ghat wholesale flower market swallowed us into its odorous frantic belly, and held us in a firm grip until it was time to leave.

We first entered via a narrow footbridge where people – mostly men – were brushing past in both directions; fast and furious, shouting unknown words. There was no gallantry, only a determined rush! So big was the shock that when a faceless man grabbed me – not by the pussy to quote ‘the boss’ of America – but somewhere else one doesn’t like to be grabbed by a stranger, I didn’t raise even a mental brow. The act seemed to belong to the show. I sped forward and grabbed Soham, my guide, by his shirt telling him not to let me out of sight.

Go with the flow, I reassured myself. I was pushed and squeezed from side to side, back and forth, as I made an effort to cross the bridge unharmed. Then we hit the ground and ducked into a maze of alleyways. There was a continuous movement of men speeding through the market, some with flowers on their heads, or on their shoulders, it was like a rough sea. I embraced my bag; what if somebody stole my money, my cell phone – or grabbed my camera. But they wouldn’t have time for that, would they? f

The vendors sat mostly on the ground, some on a dais. It struck me that they looked like birds in nests of flowers. I pointed my camera this way and that, but I felt in the way, I was disturbing somebody’s working day. My photos got blurry because of all the locomotion and every second time I pressed the shutter somebody walked into my picture; they became cluttered with odd limbs and half faces. My strategy is all wrong, I thought.

The early morning had felt so cool and fresh when Soham and I had crossed the Maidan from where we jumped on the bus, now it was hot and humid. “Mind the mud,” he warned and stepped aside in front of me. I hadn’t noticed, but now felt my sandals slip continuously as we meandered past the many-coloured flowers of species I couldn’t always name.

We entered another vantage point to watch the spectacle from above. The millions of orange and yellow marigolds shone towards us, from enormous sacks on the ground or from vendors’ heads. The garlands were slung over their backs like a bunch of snakes, those on the path looked like sparkling coils. In between, shreds of newspaper littered what was left of open space.

Suddenly, a big truck rumbled into the area. In slow motion, the crowd parted and gave way to the intruder who claimed its right and no one seemed to blame him. The truck looked like an enormous animal from a bygone time amongst the people and the flowers which now looked small from above.
“You might think it is all chaos,” said Soham, “but it’s not. Every one knows their place, what to do and where to go.”
        I did believe him.


We left the market and walked into open space, to the beach below the iconic Howrah Bridge where we watched more work in progress, although in a slower motion. Men, and now also women, stuffed big sacks with leaves. Up on the bridge, I could see people walking on the footpath, millions a day, I had read somewhere. My eyes eventually rested on Hooghly river, its traffic had just about come to life.

It was the most amazing start of the day!

#calcuttacapsule

https://bestwalksofkolkata.wixsite.com/calcuttacapsule

 

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!
NOVEMBER 2016

More photos On https://www.flickr.com/gp/benjamuna/52rhR2

 

My buddy

 

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 http://www.zamorinofbombay.com

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!

 

Matching colours March 16, 2017

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 8:07 am
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Very often, when I walk the streets of Indian markets with my camera, I see matching colours. The street vendors are dressed according to the goods they’re selling. Or… is it just a coincidence? It might be, but sometimes not… I spotted a few matching colours at Dadar market, Mumbai.

Above; a woman is selling yellow coloured fruits, dressed in a yellow sari. If her sari had been red, I might not have payed her any attention her… Now, she stood out in the crowd.

Below: She is selling grapes, and she has draped herself in a mauve sari which matches the tissue paper…

Below: Whatever she is selling, it matches her sari and umbrella. It was the reds that caught my attention.

Below: Even her bangles goes with her goods!

Below: A man… at last. Selling garlic and the shades are all blue…

Thanks to http://www.zamorinofbombay.com/ who took me to Dadar!

 

Mumbai morning. marine drive. May 3, 2015

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 2:31 pm
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Marine Drive_2

It’s 7 am. The air feels cool. Mumbai’s pride; Marine Drive, is awake and alive. The broad promenade stretches along the Arabian Sea. In the evening, the shining lamp posts form a necklace, the Queen’s Necklace as they call it. Beautifully rounded, accompanied by the waves that steadily hit the rocks. But it’s early morning now, the sun is about to rise and break through the morning mist. A faint breeze strokes my chin as I listen to the ever present Mumbai crows. To the north, the skyline stretches towards the sky, mostly made by the high-rise buildings of fancy Malabar Hills. They seem quite a distance away behind a haze of mist, or smog as it might well be.

I turn around and my gaze falls on the Air India building, who has become my landmark. Tall hotels together with ordinary corporate buildings form the Northern skyline. People come to work here, but right now, people come to walk. They walk alone, or in pairs. In long strides, and short strides. The men, retired perhaps – in their white, big jogging shoes. Loose trousers, shirts with rolled up sleeves. Some stroll along leisurely, some walk briskly. They walk the talk. Old colleagues, neighbours, brothers, friends. Twos and threes, sometimes in fours. Then there is the retired couples; the women in their salwar kameez and a woollen cardigan on top of it. It’s still cool for a Mumbaikar. The wide trousers flutter around old legs above big shoes. Good shoes. They don’t talk, there is no need. They walk. Before the sun emerges and makes walking unbearable.

Some wear track suits, swinging their arms energetically from side to side. More men in groups, friends on a daily morning round. Glasses blinking, hands agitatedly waving the air. They could be discussing politics. Shouting friendly at each other. Or just keeping quiet. An old woman walks towards me, she is wearing a burka. She sits down next to me, breathes heavily. She seems distressed, restless. After a while she heaves her heavy body and leaves, perhaps she needed a rest. A suffering body or a suffering mind. Marine Drive_3

A young man is chasing a football, all by himself. The ball goes this way and that, always captured by the man who puts it back on track. He’s moving along with the ball, in between people. Nobody interferes. I follow him with my gaze, soon the restless figure is lost among the people.

The stream of people thickens. The sun is about to break. Four women is sitting side by side, chanting. Om, they chant. Ooomm… They are unmoved by the stream of people, by the looks of any odd tourist. Closed eyes, deep in concentration. The concrete wall along the promenade doubles as a bench. People also walk on top of it, or they sit down cross legged with their faces turned towards the sea. Contemplating; about the day that lies ahead or even life itself… Even at this hour, some young couples sit close together, captured in secrecy perhaps, a more than common sight in the evening. Some do yoga, stretching their bodies towards the soft sky. Some is lost to the world in deep meditation. Or, we simply let our gaze wander. Up and down the promenade. Thinking how lucky this overcrowded, polluted, dirty megalopolis is to have such freedom and space for everybody to share.

The joggers emerge among the walkers. Long trousers, short trousers. A woman in a sari even. Chubby young girls adamant on losing a few kilos, their feet heavily touching ground; bump bump. Sweat foreheads. Alone, but also in pairs. Mutual struggle. Mutual pain. Being two is always a small comfort. Athletic men in shorts glide along, fancy sun glasses, even more fancy shoes. Expats trying to keep fit, trying to beat the forever-glaring sun, trying to keep up a lifestyle from colder countries. Foreign business men from nearby hotels follow suit. But people mostly walk. Arms swinging from side to side. Stretching limbs as they walk. Serious looks on their faces. Trying to fight old age. Middle aged women in western clothes and big sunglasses. Walking fast and furious. Fighting yesterday’s too many laddoos. Young girls in threes and fours. Serious sometimes. Or giggling, discussing that very special boy in school. Avoiding the many stray dogs that scuttle about. And there he is; the little boy with the monkey in a chain. Frowned upon by the regulars, but always attracting interest from tourists before they realise he’s not there to entertain, but to earn a living.

I’m leaving, still not at risk while crossing the street. Walking towards the Air India building, and then straight ahead on uneven sidewalks towards Colaba. The odd stalls are coming to life along the way, people are queueing for their buses, the Oval Maidan is quiet, but the traffic is picking up as I reach the other side of the city where the sun has hit the Indian Sea with full force. Mumbai kråke

 

A neighbourhood market March 20, 2015

Delhi has many markets. I’m always tempted by Khan Market and Haus Khaz Village, because of the variety of so many decent shops. The lovely book stores of Khan Market, the tiny paper shop, the curio shop filled to the brim with garlands in the weeks before Diwali, the crowded Good Earth with outrageously overpriced clothes…. The elegant clothes shops of Haus Khaz, the basement boutiques with beautiful shawls and interior design items. The many lovely eateries and coffee shops. But it is you and a steady stream of tourists and expats. Those who go shopping with pockets full of rupees. And you tire of it… Then there’s a completely different kind…. the neighbourhood market that caters for people’s immediate needs. A stone’s throw away from my lodging at Friend’s Colony in the south of Delhi I came across Sabzi market. Nothing fancy, just the Indian hullabaloo of people, small vehicles of every kind, stray dogs, giggling children, street food, stalls, shops… Sabzi market Delhi banana                   Sabzi market  Delhi (8)

The banana seller needs a break and thus takes a break…

I met these smiling women and commented on their clothes, their light blue punjabi dresses. – It’s a uniform, they told me, we are sales women. – We’re just catching up. They were selling washing powder and showed me samples from their bags.

Sabzi market  Delhi (14)

Food…. there’s food everywhere and people are lining up…

Sabzi market  Delhi (18) Sabzi market  Delhi (2)

Kachori  – a spicy snack. These were selling fast…

Sabzi market  Delhi (3)

Boondi…sweet balls. I don’t know what they taste like, but to see the process is just intriguing. It gets its cute name from the Hindi word for drops or droplets – Boond. Another name for it is Motichor Laddoo (Moti means bead or pearl in Hindi).

Sabzi market  Delhi (15)

He was busy with his tandoor, the guy at Chip Chop Food. The rotis looked delicious…

Sabzi market  Delhi (12) Sabzi market  Delhi (11)

Another guy at Chip Chop Food, he fits so well with the colours in the background.

Sabzi market  Delhi (13)

They wanted me to take their picture, they might be brothers taking care of their father’s shop. The second I pointed my camera at them, they started to pose…

Sabzi market  Delhi (17)

Colours and fabrics….. It’s India!

Sabzi market  Delhi (4)

Every market has a tailor. This one cateres solely for the men.

Sabzi market  Delhi (6)

So many things are taking place in open air in India. This looked so amiable, sociable… the vegetable vendor, the card players and the three men at the back papering “GUJIYA” which is a special sweet for the festival holi that was rapidly approaching.

Sabzi market  Delhi (16)

Suddenly the streets were filled with children, the school must be over. Or rather,
the first shift. Schools in India mostly work in two shifts.

Sabzi market  Delhi (10)

Sabzi market  Delhi (9)

Women were sitting leisurely around everywhere, they must be in the middle of their daily shopping, but finding time for a nice chat!

Sabzi market  Delhi (7)

Sabzi market  Delhi (1)