Benjamuna's Blog

Stories…. with a touch of India….

Airport yearning … September 9, 2020

Filed under: INDIA,Travels — benjamuna @ 3:58 pm
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I never, never thought I’d miss the long and exhausting immigration queue at Mumbai, or Delhi airport. And before that, the long strides; trying to overtake other passengers when KLM and Lufthansa are emptying their big bellies at midnight. But miserably enough, the line seems endless once I reach. The straps of the rucksack with my photo gear start gnawing into my shoulders the minute I find my place, the over-sized handbag seems even heavier than when I left home although the apples are eaten – and a book doesn’t feel lighter only because it’s almost finished.
The air is thick and moist. The cardigan and wind jacket, once useful when I was waiting for the airport shuttle back home at 4 am in 8 degrees C, are now superfluous and nowhere to be stowed away. And how come the shoes seem to have shrunk so badly. I’m telling myself I’m not tired, and text a message to the homefront: Grounded.

People are moving slowly towards the immigration counters, and everybody is at one point asking the same question: Why are only x out of y counters manned? The most important question of our times, when stranded in this Godforsaken queue. And we stretch our necks and realise that the grave men behind the counters, their faces cut in stone, are still struggling with that little remedy we all have to put our finger(s) on and apparently this remedy still doesn’t go well with clammy index fingers, so in turn we all try and several times again until luck (certainly not technology) strikes. But contrary to US immigration, we are not cross-examined about our whereabouts in India, just nodded tiredly away from the counter. Thank God for small mercy’s!

Released, everybody rush through the sparkling tax free, but why would we rush to pick up the luggage when we know it’s probably still roaming the underbelly labyrinth of the airport. I grab a trolley, check the monitor and meander through the throngs of people, trolleys, luggage, loitering airport staff, and silently place myself in the middle of chaos surrounding belt 40, scanning it in the hope that my suitcase has won the lottery: already spitted out and hit the belt. Alas no. Instead the fear, no horror, of not getting the suitcase at all is what occupies my mind.

I wait politely and patiently among the unruly mass of people, text another message just to kill time: Waiting for the luggage, while I in wonder and amazement watch the amount of luggage the native Indians lift off the belt and how they make towers of king size suitcases while they’re waiting for more. And I keep thinking that Mumbai might not be their final destination and how they, past midnight, maybe after several flights from the US or Canada via Amsterdam must check in their towers again and take that dreary shuttle bus to the domestic airport. It makes me feel a little less miserable.
I cling to my trolley while waves of fatigue races through my body, and just as I give up hope my suitcase pops up – and down, and I grab it before it goes for another swing.

Nearly there, I tell myself, relieved (should I text a message?) – before another worry takes hold of my stomach as I rush towards the green channel. Why if the driver is not outside to pick me up? (I mean, it has happened once or twice, so why not a third time?)

This is what I miss right now. And I miss it badly!

 

Asalpha: Chal Rang De! February 22, 2020

Filed under: INDIA,Travels — benjamuna @ 4:37 pm
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We catch a local train at Churchgate station in Mumbai. I brace myself for a long journey because going places in a megalopolis often includes a tiresome pre-journey. Right now, we’re heading towards the airport to visit the Asalpha settlement. Viren, my guide, has a nose for the unexpected and from what I have googled, I’m in for a different experience!

When in Rome, we do as the … in this case Mumbaikars do. Sitting down is not an option, Viren persuades, claiming standing in the doorway is part of the ultimate Mumbai experience. Rolling northwards with my hair in a flutter of panic, the movement of the train, accompanied by Viren’s steady voice-over, eventually eases my mind.

We get off at Andheri (the ultimate Mumbai experience tells me to jump off the train while moving) and head for the metro station. It is surprisingly empty, no hustle and bustle as we walk undisturbed through the barriers, and hit the stairs. When the train glides onto the platform, we put one foot in front of the other and board in a civilised manner.
“Welcome to Europe,” Viren chimes. And yes, the metro coach is clean and cool, and we realise that a seat-row meant for four will not be occupied by six.

After this short and blissful journey, we reach the Ghatkopar suburb and Asalpha is close by now; placed on a hillock, we get a good view of it from the metro station. It’s a colourful sight, but either the paint has faded, or the photos and footage on You Tube have been heavily Photoshopped; a lot many photographers must have hit the hue and saturation buttons hard. Still, the rainbow-coloured settlement stands out from the monotonous browns and greys marking any other settlement or basti I have seen.


According to a website, the Asalpha hillock came alive with colours over a weekend in 2018. A group of 750 volunteers came together to paint walls and create murals. All thanks to a woman who – on her way to work – watched the area from the train every day, and the idea hit her: Chal Rang De (Let’s paint it).
       

We are about to start our ascent when I spot a meticulously painted wrought iron gate. Before I’ve had a chance to get my camera ready, a woman comes into sight, as if she’s behind bars – but some bars!  She probably greets more than one tourist in a day; soon she and Viren are engaged in animated talk which I’m not able to follow.

This is promising, I’m thinking, and soon trot along accompanied by Viren’s voice-over. Due to heavy morning rain our excursion has become a mid-day tour, but the ground is still slippery and this is definitely a watch-your-step-experience. At the same time I’m manoeuvring two cameras, a water bottle and a camera rucksack which most probably will end up on Viren’s back.

I have always been intrigued by the colours of India, be it the colourful and bright female clothing or pastel-coloured houses. The winding roads, or paths, rather, going uphill are lined with pink, turquoise, yellow, light blue and green little dwellings. Some house small trades, like the one we peep into where a man is busy ironing. And who knows what else is hidden behind all the doors? We spot at least one beauty salon. Money has always been made just about everywhere in India.

Viren must have researched the area well, because a maze of alleyways lead to the top. We’re taking right and left turns in a steady attack of the liveliest part of the colour range. It’s not only people’s homes that liven up the area; water barrels, buckets, water hoses, and of course – the unavoidable blue tarpaulins. There are splashes of colours everywhere and – it goes without saying – the people of Asalpha (and their washing on omnipresent clotheslines), are no less colourful. Asalpha is also known for its murals, or street art, and it makes the climb all the more fun.

Children are running around the lanes, but space is restricted. There are no open or green areas, the lanes a steady uphill (or downhill). In a doorway, a mother picks lice from her daughter’s hair, ten-year-old brazen boys flash smiles with impeccable white teeth, little girls hide behind their mother’s saris; everyday life in a basti.

“Asalpha isn’t really a slum,” Viren claims. And poverty is not what springs to mind as we’re nearing the summit slightly out of breath in the humid environment. But India’s general wear and tear is visible everywhere.

Having reached the very top, we sit down at a wall that doubles as a bench. Facing the opposite direction, I realise how colourful Asalpha is. The settlement on the other side of the metro line is an amalgamation of brown and grey save for the blue tarpaulins doing their best to add some colour to the gloomy landscape. With the airport so close, we’re lost in the fascination of the steady flow of descending jets. They seem to plunge right into the Andheri slums that almost border the runway of Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.

We meander downhill and Viren choses another route. New murals come into sight, they range from graphic to childlike, psychedelic even, generous women with children allow us to take their pictures and if colours could smell I’d be completely intoxicated after such an adventure.

I was at Asalpha in September 2019 with the Zamorin of Bombay.

 

A Mumbai morning toilet January 28, 2020

Filed under: INDIA,Travels — benjamuna @ 5:41 am
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The stalls along Colaba Causeway had not yet opened, I could walk undisturbed and in long strides. It would take me around fifteen minutes from my hotel to Cafe Mondegar, where I was going to meet a friend. A couple of hours later, and I would have to force myself through throngs of tourists and the whispers of «Shawls, Madam, Pashmina, silk …»

        When I reached the café, I was early, but I didn’t want to walk any further just to kill time. It was already hot and clammy and I decided to hang around in the shade in case Sanjay was early. Of course, that would never happen. Sanjay would have to take a three-wheeler to his local train station in Dadar, get off the train at Churchgate, and then come by taxi to Colaba, the southern tip of Mumbai. All sorts of delays could happen and I didn’t expect him even to be on time.

        My eyes fell on the old woman on a chair only a few metres away from me. I had seen her from the corner of my eye when I passed her, now I noticed to my astonishment that she was naked. She sat with her back towards the street, but the pavement was lined with stalls. Nobody could see her from the street, but she was visible for everybody walking up and down the pavement.
       

The woman might be in her 70s. In India, old people often look much older than their age because of the wear and tear of the country itself – at least those of the lower classes. Her head was bent and her back crooked, as if she was sheltering herself with her body. I caught a glimpse of one of her breasts; long and skinny and no longer bearing any resemblance to a female breast. I felt a lump in my throat and turned away.
        When I looked at her again, a man had appeared with a small bucket and was pouring water over her body. I was simply witnessing her morning toilet. But why outside and so unprotected?
      

I wondered if he was her husband or perhaps her son. It was difficult to judge the man’s age as well. He kept pouring water over her haggard, wrinkled body. Her hair was grey, and sprouted in every direction. I wondered how this could take place in the middle of Colaba; one of the finer parts of Mumbai and more than anywhere else a melting pot of all kinds of tourists, with a mixture of street markets, elegant government shops, famous street food and up-scale restaurants.
       Of course, I knew that in a megalopolis like Mumbai, people are – all over the city – born on the street, and they die there. In between, life takes many miserable shapes.
        It must be her son, I thought, watching them openly. I fidgeted with my camera, fighting the urge to take a picture. I wanted to show friends at home how pitiful life can be. But I held back.
      
       The man had put a grey towel around the woman’s shoulders. He was talking to her in a loud and coarse voice, and I tensed and wished I knew Marathi. Maybe he wasn’t shouting at her, maybe her hearing was bad and he needed to raise his voice. I looked at the way he was drying her; did he go gentle on her? How I hoped his hands felt caring on her body.
        I thought about my own mother at 89. Her bathroom seemed like an operating theatre in comparison. Oh, that lump in the throat again, I had to turn away and walk, but just a few steps. With shame, I hoped Sanjay would appear with his enthusiastic grin, we would hug and walk up the stairs at Café Mondegar and escape into the world of Art Deco furniture and Americano coffees.
       

The man left the towel around the woman’s shoulders. I wondered if he was the owner of one of the stalls. They wouldn’t open until around eleven, so there was more than an hour left. He was sweeping the pavement, he might be getting ready to open.
        The woman sat still as the man busied himself with this and that. Suddenly, the pavement was completely empty, and the man had his back to me, so I lifted the camera and snatched a photo. Instinct, I thought shamefacedly, and hoped the photo would be blurred and useless.
        The man reappeared with a pink dress. He removed the towel and for a few seconds the woman was again naked. Then she raised her hands and he started to help her on with the dress. It looked like a nightgown, but it was a long, loose dress. It must feel comfortable, I thought, as if to justify the pitiful sight. When her arms were through, she collected her hair in a bun on the top of her head. It took a while to get the dress on, her body seeming frail and stiff.
        The man looked around, and there came another man hurrying towards them with whom he exchanged a few words. The two men helped the woman to her feet, and led her across the pavement, only a few steps towards another chair. She is not able to walk, I thought. I wish he had asked me for help, I would have liked to give her a hand. But he would never do that, I wasn’t part of their story. Hours later, I found myself at the same corner. I had come back to buy some bangles, and had no choice but to force my way down the now jammed pavement. The woman was still sitting on the chair, her back still crooked, her head slanting upwards and for a second I thought I met her gaze. I wondered if she was still naked under her dress, if she sat there all day without panties. The thought was unbearable.
       

I didn’t believe she was homeless, not even poor, but many moons away from an existence I would call decent. Maybe a chair on a busy pavement was more of a life than a tiny room with a whirring fan as the only companion.
        I decided to look for her the next time I set foot in Mumbai. She had already become a part of my Mumbai DNA. She had rightfully claimed a place in that pocket of my brain where I kept the stories that broke my heart.

 

 

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

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 8:23 am
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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.

 

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!

 

Bangles. BANGLES! September 2, 2015

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 4:37 pm
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Bangles_2

The air is clammy. The heat clings to you. There are people everywhere. The narrow streets feel suffocating, Indian markets has its price. The colorful display makes you stop, the open door welcomes you. It’s as if you step into Aladdin’s cave; it sparkles and shines in red, orange, blue, turquoise, green, gold … all the colors of the rainbow, and even more. There are bangles made of glass and plastic, and bangles with the most beautiful “gemstones” attached. You stop, reach out a hand and you lose yourself…

Bangles_3

Indian women love their bangles. One hardly sees an Indian woman without. Poor as rich, children and adults. Bangles play a major role for Indian women. They are not just for ornamentation, bangles are part of a tradition and a part of women’s identity. Bangles are round and rigid in form. The word is derived from Hindi; bungri (glass). They are made of various materials, such as gold, silver, platinum, glass, wood, other metals or plastics. Bangles are traditionally a part of the solah shringar of Indian brides. It is mandatory for newlywed brides to wear bangles made of glass, gold or other metals as they signify the long life of the husband as well as good fortune and prosperity. Traditionally, breaking of the bridal glass bangles is considered inauspicious.
Bangles_6

The vendor is looking at your wrist, quickly, and lifts a simple bangle off the display on the wall. “Try,” he says. You feel pale and sweaty, but cajole the bracelet over your wrist. An experienced vendor makes no mistake, the size is perfect. “Careful,” he says, and slips the bracelet off your hand. The young woman who works together with him shows you how to take on and off bangles, several together, without breaking any. The thin glass rings are vulnerable.

Bangles_bry2

In the Indian culture, the color of the bracelets has different meanings. Red means energy and prosperity, while green means good luck and fertility. Gold bracelets are supposed to give you happiness, whereas white means a new beginning and orange stands for success. Silver bracelets signify strength, and gold is the ultimate symbol of wealth and prosperity.

The various states in India have their own traditions and rituals for bangles and weddings. Bangles are called by various names. In the southern states, gold is considered very auspicious. Sometimes, green and gold are mixed since green means fertility and prosperity. Upcoming brides use the smallest bangle possible, put on with the help of oil. That means her marriage will be full of love and affection.
In Maharashtra, the bride bangles are significantly different from other states. Brides uses green glass bracelet in odd numbers. Green means creativity, new life and fertility. The green glass bracelets are mixed with real gold – usually a gift from her in-laws.

Over the years, bangles are adapted to modern trends, but they still play an equally important role as a thousand years ago. New forms and patterns have turned up, but for traditional ceremonies round glass bracelets or bangles made of metal still apply.

Colors, materials and textures – the vendor creates the most beautiful combinations … Fast gestures move the thin glass rings back and forth, some are taken away – others added. You nod your head in approval, or not… It’s like magic.. “Okay,” he says questioningly. And suddenly you have paid for a box of bangles. One more time again…

Bangles_1

Mix and match…. the ever well dressed Indian woman…

 

Mumbai morning. marine drive. May 3, 2015

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 2:31 pm
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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

 

My favourite portraits… March 31, 2014

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 7:21 pm
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Among the many photos I have taken in India, some stand out in my remembrance. Some of these portraits are taken almost ten years ago which makes me wonder how the girl’s lives look right now. The photos are taken in poor areas in Maharashatra, for the most part. Some of the girls could be married by now. Some might have been forced to quit school, if they were lucky enough to go to school at all. A helping hand is often needed at home. More money is always needed at home and sadly many girls have to sacrifice schooling, and further education.

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She was the youngest of three sisters, she was light as a feather…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How could you not miss the red bows!

 

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The girls had brown school uniforms. They sat on the floor, the room was semi-dark. Her scarf was pink and she looked so wise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m thinking of her as a juggler. She was very much alive on one of the Mumbai beaches, she was a acting in front of my camera, but I knew all the time she was looking for some easy money. And I didn’t blame her. In the botanical world a juggler is a monkey flower. She was a beautiful flower on the beach!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Suddenly we were surrounded by pink girls. They came swarming out of a school in Chor Bazaar, the Bhori muslim area. Happy to see the end of another School day, free to do something entirely different.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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They just sat there, talking to each other. I happened to come by, and said hello…

 

 

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Teenage friends. I asked them to pose for me. One chubby and childish. The other swanlike and fragile. Both growing up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We had been driving for ages on roads full of potholes, dust, heat, sweat – and the reward was a school full of children in bright, red uniforms!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A young girl in a window sill, a live portrait, she didn’t move when I lifted my camera.

 

The colours of…..food March 21, 2014

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 8:47 am
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I’m not a “foodie“. I never explore food. But wherever I travel, I take pictures of food. Especially at markets. Street vendors are unbeatable… some with their food laboriously displayed with an artistic flaw. The bazaars of India; Chor Bazaar or Crawford market in Mumbai, or  Old Delhi for example… there is food on display everywhere. I don’t taste it (for many reasons), I don’t care about the smell be it good or bad. I care for the colours.

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I like carrots though… The carrots in India are not orange, like ours. They’re red, and thus seem even more tempting. These carrots are cut by many helping hands in The Gurudwara Sis Ganj (Sikh temple), Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi.

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Chilli… Irresistible – unpredictable. It can ruin a meal, but most of the time it adds colour and taste! (maybe that was an understatement).

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I must admit…, it looks delicious! It’s a curry. Allo curry. Potato curry With loads of other greens and reds…Strong perhaps, the chillies are floating freely. This is from a street vendor in Old Delhi. I always question the hygiene… – No, says Anju my guide. – The turnover is so fast,she says, it sells so fast that nothing gets bad.

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Lime… When I go to my local shop, there are 20-something lime on display. What I like in the markets is the abundance, it underlines the colours….

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Papaya:

Deliciously sweet with musky undertones and a soft, butter-like consistency, it is no wonder the papaya was reputably called the “fruit of the angels” by Christopher Columbus.

Impossible not to have a bite. It looks good, – meaning it tastes good. And it looks good in terms of colour and texture.

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I thought for an instance it was pizza…absolutely not. It’s Pao Bhaji, mixed vegetables. And it’s not solid 
A quote – for your information since I myself can’t shed a light…:

Pao bhaji is a Maharashtrian fast food dish that originated in Mumbai cuisine. The pav-bhaji is a spicy preparation with a mixture of vegetables, either whole or mashed, a generous dose of fresh tomatoes, a dollop of butter, optional toppings of cheese and dry-fruits and fresh fruits, consumed with warm bread gently or crispy fried in butter – an all-time, anytime favourite with Mumbaikars.

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I just have to include the – my – bananas…

I have travelled by car in India. I have stopped at dhabas, at hotel restaurants, at small cafes – I have eaten – but never felt really satisfied. The banana comes to my rescue, always. You’ll find them along the road, in many variations. Most of the time much more tasty than the ones at home. And the best thing, encapsulated in the skin, the fruit can be eaten with no further worries….

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Kachori is an Indian snack… spelled in many ways, made in many ways…. This is Delhi-style….

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Dal on display…. a mellow colour symphony! Dal, also spelled dahl, dhal or daal, is a Hindi word meaning pappu (lentils). It’s impossible to avoid dal when in India. I would call it a gravy, or  stew, eaten with rotis (flat bread), for example. Dal is known as the staple food in India. If you have nothing else to put on the table, dal is most of the time there – as  source of proteins and very often as an only source of food for the poor.
The photo shows various lentils.

 

 

A glimpse of the taj February 14, 2014

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 7:48 am
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“Why do you feel you have to excuse yourself for staying at the Taj…” A Mumbai guide said. She was showing us the south of Mumbai and I told her with some hesitance that we were staying at the one and only, the legendary Taj Mahal hotel. If it hadn’t been for a friend, who insisted we stay there, I would have ended up at Suba Palace, only a few blocks away but more than a few rupis cheaper.

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A part of the beautiful facade.

The Taj… as people say, yes it can set you back quite a few rupies – at the same time it’s manageable. And once you’re there, although in the cheapest wing and the cheapest room – which you’re sharing with your friend of course, your’re treated with a rare subdued respect and pleasantness. The whole hotel buzz with activity, but every sound seems muted.

The interior is grand; and creates a fantastic atmosphere. The huge lobby with its many object des arts and the front desk that instinctively draws your attention because of the huge painting by M. F. Hussain, is what welcomes you once you’re “cleared”. The Taj with its recent history, the terror attacks a few years ago, has its own “airline security check” and reminds us what has become of the world.
The flower arrangements are grand and exquisite, one may wonder if the budget has any limitations. The shopping arcades are tempting although you know very well that shopping should be done miles away from the Taj…

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The reception area, with the grand painting of Hussain; sometimes known as the Picasso of India.

Most of the time, a hotel is a place where you sleep and eat breakfast. When staying at the Taj, one should take time to linger. Walk about, look more closely at everything around you, and try out some of the restaurants, – if only for the atmosphere and the service. It’s even possible to take a guided tour of the hotel, which left us infatuated with the guide as well as the surroundings.

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Breakfast is undoubtedly an experience. We made sure to allow plenty of time every day. The outdoor breakfast area is a pleasant distance from the pool. The wrought iron chairs have lovely pillows, once you’re there you want to stay a while.  And once seated, you’re taken care of by two, sometimes three waiters. They handle the tactless crows and ask if you’d like to top the breakfast with pancakes and chocolate – with the same discretion… And this is also how they place a jasmine flower by our plates, every day. When the stomach is full and the pancakes have created an uneasy atmosphere of bad conscience, we just lean back, say yes to another cup of coffee, put on the sunglasses and enjoy the – in every way – cool atmosphere. The beauty of Asia is very often the early morning hours with the heat and the humidity still lurking in the wings.

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The bar lounge with its beautiful interior.

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A menu is not just a menu at The Taj….. this is The Sea Lounge Restaurant with its beautiful sea view. Unbeatable….

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A guided tour of the hotel should not be missed.

At the same time it is difficult not to think of life outside the Taj walls. The noise is there, more audible by the hour. The honking horns, the various wallahs shouting for attention. You know about the begging children, the newborn babies in their mother’s laps, people with handicaps you wouldn’t believe existed. That is why I feel uneasy about staying at The Taj, because it doesn’t feel right to spend money like that and enjoy the luxury.

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TAJ breakfast