Benjamuna's Blog

Stories…. with a touch of India….

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.

Taj fasade

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…

TAJ main lounge

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.

TAJ resepsjon

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.

TAJ lounge

The bar lounge with its beautiful interior.

TAJ meny sea lounge

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

TAJ tour

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.

TAJ frokost

TAJ breakfast

 

Some favourite book covers… April 26, 2013

I’m not a wine connoisseur…. I like wine, but I know nothing about it. I have tasted expensive red wines, but realised it wasn’t really worth it, at least if I would have to pay myself… So what I sometimes go for, is the label. Within a price range, of course… If I don’t know what to buy, I choose a really nice label.
But this is not about wine, it’s about books! Very often I go looking for a specific novel or a specific author. Sometimes I buy one by chance. And what initially attracts me is very often the book cover.  Then I turn around the book and read about it.

I can’t remember where I found Saraswati Park by Anjali Joseph, but I guess I fell for the bicycle, the flourish around the edges, the font and the green shades. The bicycle made me curious… although I didn’t expect the novel to tell a story about bicycles. What it does tell, is the story about Mohan; a letter writer in Bombay. A dying phenomenon. Never the less, when I visited Bombay last November a guide took me to the remaining letter writers outside the General Post Office in the south of Bombay. I felt lucky… I was able to see something that represents – soon – another time. In short; the letter writers have for decades written letters on behalf of those – migrants for example – who are not able to write themselves. Or, they fill in forms and help sending parcels. These days, even the underprivileged have access to a cell phone, and thus the letter writers are on decline.

BCover_3

A bitter-sweet story.

Calcutta Exile by Bunny Suraiya is definitely novel I bought because of the book cover, and also because I’d like to go to Calcutta – where I haven’t been yet. This might not be great literature and a book to remember, but it tells the story about Anglo-Indians and in that respect depicts a part of Indian history.

Calcutta’s Anglo-Indians, one of the most graceful and beautiful communities of India, became bewildered orphans, suddenly uncertain of their roots and equivocal about their future.

BC_3

A book cover that says… travel back in time.

Anosh Irani was new to me before I read about him in a magazine recently. Dahanu Road is his most recent novel. Literature never fails to enlighten me. I have now learnt that there are Parsis and there are Iranis… but that is another story. On the front cover you can see the chikoo fruit; not only does it look good but it plays an important role in the novel. Dahanu Road is one of these books permeated by domestic violence and whether the end is optimistic or pessimistic I really don’t know… It was, at times, a struggle to read.

The book is beautifully written – thus a quote from the book:

Shapur Irani always thought of dusk as a beggar. It had no light, it had no darkness; it lived on the scraps that were fed to it by day and night.

BCover_1

On the bike; Zairos and Kusum…

The Alchemy of Desire brought me to Uttaranchal in the north of India where I met Tarun Tejpal, his father and his wife. Which is yet another story…. I read the novel and knew I just had to go there.  The front cover shows a photo of a house which the story evolves around. This house is now turned into Two Chimneys, a bed and breakfast where we were the very first guests a few years back. I never really thought the house in the book was for real, and I took the cover photo to be nothing but an illustration. But it was all very much real… The house on the hill with the two chimneys… Literature can open doors!

BCover4

A book and a house….

 

Indian textiles May 2, 2012

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 5:18 pm
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Why is India a shopper’s paradise…. Among other things; the irrisistable beautiful, colourful textiles….

In the book I’m reading right now; Planet India by Mira Kamdar, she writes about retailing in India. And tells the story behind FabIndia. Every time I go to Mumbai, I visit FabIndia in Kala Ghoda: A symphony of colours spread over three floors and a quiet cafe – with exellent coffee – as well. They sell clothes, all kinds of textiles and other stuff for your home, organic food, organic personal care… FabIndia was in fact founded by John Bissell, an American who came to India in 1985. He fell in love…, with both a woman and Indian handicrafts.  Qute understandable! FabIndia is now run by his son William.

A big, beautiful woolen shawl from FabIndia.

I have many Indian shawls… The word shawl is in fact the Persian word for “a piece of wollen clothing that you wrap around yourself. ” The first I bought, and also one of mye dearest, I picked up in Cochin, state of Kerala. Black wool with golden embroidery. It’s always diffiult to chose among “a million” beautiful samples; the patterns, colour combinations – it’s endless and overwhelming.After many visits to India, I have now chosen quality before quantity. Shopping from the street markets is cheap, the haggeling is fun and the exciting feeling of getting something really, really cheap is always there…. But once you step indoors, especially in Colaba, prices leap upwards and so should quality. For the most part I believe I’m paying the right price even when I feel it’s a bit over the top, but you never know….

“Madam, real pashmina madam….” How often don’t you hear these words when you’re around & about in India. I have give up “real pashmina”, I don’t think I have one – I always avoid pashminas because I think you need to be a “conoisseur” to be able to tell right form wrong. Better then to buy a real cheap one because you really liked the pattern. It’s the same as buying silk; in Vietnam and Thailand you are always offered “pure silk” – but then the trick is always to carry a lighter. If the treads melt, it’s synthetic. If they just disappear, like hair, it’s the real thing. Or is it….? Well I have been cheated, and I’m not the only one. So when I’m affered “real pashmina” I’m at a loss…

Some years ago I discovered Maspar just behind the Taj Mahal Palace in Colaba. Quite a big store for home furnishing: colours…. quality…. I wanted to revisit in 2010, but alas, the shop was gone. It wasn’t until last year, when I sat in the car from the airport to Colaba that I spotted Maspar under the bridge at Kemp’s Corner. So I went back a few days later, just to disover that the shop had shrinked considerably. The shop assistant told me that after the terror attack against Taj Mahal Palace had made safety precautions in the area extensive – and thus clients had vanished.My best shopping tip? go and have fun………..and buy something for your mother and sister as well!

 

Updates on my reading… April 29, 2012

I never thought there would be an Indian detective, in fiction. Every time I come to India, preferably Mumbai, I spend considerable time in bookstores – always with a ‘wish-list’. But I have never come across detective stories. Not that I have been looking, I stopped reading crime novels many years ago, having read my share. But then a friend from Finland told med about Vish Puri; an Indian Herule Poirot.  However, the author is British; Tarquin Hall – and so far he has published two books about “India’s most private investigator”, a third is on it’s way. Years in India, and also married to an Indian, he is very much familiar with the Indian lingo. Vish Puri lives and works in Dehli, the books are funny  page turners and yes, I have become a fan.

It’s no secret that i love novels set in Mumbai, that’s probably why I chose Thrity Umrigar’s novel Bombay Time. Also, she writes about the Parsi community – well known from the books by Rohinton Mistry. This is her debut and tells the story of a bunch of people in Wadi Baug. It may not be ‘Nobel Prize material’, but it gives you insight into the Parsi community. The novel has a hint of bitterness, but tells many interesting stories.

Anuradha Roy published An Atlas of Impossible Longing in 2004, and I have been waiting for her next book. The Folded Earth didn’t let me down, especially since it is set in a remote town in the Himalaya. When people ask me, – where should I go in India – I always say; the North. The Himalaya Foothills. The novel is set in Ranikhet in the state of Uttaranchal, and tells a rather sentimental story about Maya who has lost her boyfrind and takes refugee in the mountains. I have been to Uttaranchal and I could easily imagine Maya, Charu, Diwan Sahib and his mysterious nephew an this breathtaking landscape.

The most shocking reading experiene in 2012 has so far been Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarsan. Somehow it reminded me of V. S. Naipaul when he writes about dysfunctional families where men hit their wifes and mothers hit their children – at the same time being able to write in a witty way.  This novel is set in a village in Malaysia, however in an Indian community, the street aptly name Kingfisher Lane. Raju and Vasanthi have three children, all of them neglected – especially the youngest girl: I have never in my life read such a dismal portrait of a child. The novel is an impressive debut. She is able to portray a family where every one is a loser, still – the book has a good portion of humour.

Ali Sethi was a completely new name to me, but I’m curious about literature from Pakistan and was happy to find this debut novel in a bookstore off The Strip in Las Vegas – of all places. The Wish Maker tells the story of “a fatherless boy growing up in a family of outspoken women in contemporary Pakistan” as the back cover of the book says. That made me decide to buy the book, and it definately gave me a taste for more…

At the moment I’m reading Planet India by Mira Kamdar. It’s an analysis of contemporary India, published in 2007 – thus the chapter about cell phones seems utterly outdated…. Kamdar writes interestingly and she has talked to a lot of people, Mukesh Ambani and his likes, for instance. Sometimes she interviews people who has great plans for the future of India, also short term plans – and this makes me rather curios to what has been ahieved in 2012 – if achieved at all. The book has chapters on retailing in India, villages, the cities, power – and more.

 

One elephant. And one more elephant… March 28, 2012

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 6:48 pm
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I grew up with an elephant.  I always thought it was mine, until my elder sister claimed her right. I must believe her, there are after all reliable witnesses. So I grew up with an elephant in the household, a soft toy named Gus Gus, no doubt named by my father who was a maker of names. Gus Gus had a red cloth on top, like a horse cloth, but I shouldn’t say had because he is still very much alive – although he looks like he has been through a lot and the cloth seems to have been shrinking over the years.

I was searching for another Gus Gus at Crawford Market in Mumbai last November. I had the idea that such elephants would be plentyful in India, and I magined an elephant with an upgraded red cloth of velvet with sequins and fine embroidery. But the elephant I had in mind never materialized, of course….

Elephants are supposed to bring luck, and many people collect them – in many varieties. I don’t collect in earnest, but realise I have quite a few…. Some smaller things, available everywhere in India – like key rings and book marks, are hard to avoid.

Gus Gus - old and worn, but still with that sly smile on his face....

Book marks with elephants are not hard to come by in India....

Neither are key rings, it remains to find the best ones....

One “elephant piece” that I really appreciate and value is a small miniature drawing bought in Udaipur (state of Rajasthan). Together with a friend I was staying at a small hotel, and the brother of the owner was an artist. Just by chance we ended up in his shop, and the very first thing I saw when I entred through the door was a small piece of art under the glass counter. It was an expensive piece, he had plenty of other elephant-ish items – but this was the one thet stood out and the only one I wanted. So be it….. The artist’s technique was just fantastic, what a gift to be able to draw such extremely fine lines. But like Jairaj told me; – The day my hands start to shiver – I’m out of business.

In Norway, it’s possible to create personal stamps, and even personal VISA cards. A chance not to be missed…. And then you can use the stamps together with some nice, elephant writing paper….

Elephant writing paper from Chimanlals in Mumbai.

Elephant illustrations can be very ornamental, in gold and red  with that typcal ‘touch of India’. But simplified patterns seems to be very modern these days. Like my ‘Apple pouch’ for my Apple remedies; which are the chargers for my Apple devices. When travelling these days one has to carry so many things one even didn’t have to think about ten years ago. Various chargers are not to be forgotten and better keep them in one place!

I try to keep my elephants small, but there are some medium sized… Like the small “silver” family which is guarding the wedding portrait of Ida and Erik. And then there is Prem and Ooty who is sharing our meals with us every day. Prem was bought in Dehli, a nice brown specimen from the shops by The Red Fort. It was my good friend Prem Singh who made the bargain… Ooty was bought in…. Ooty (state of Tamil Nadu) last November. A very nice specimen with beautiful ornaments!

A silver elephant bought at Indiska in Stavanger. The smaller one is a gift from my sister.

My 'Apple pouch'....

Ooty and Prem share our meals every day....

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A favourite among jewellery...

And then there is my elephant table, brought here by UPS, from Mumbai. It didn’t – unfortunately – come without damage, but that’s another story. And maybe I paid too much… that’s a story I don’t want to venture into…  And it came with some small animals who only a Norwegian winter was able to kill when my elephant table had to spend five days on the veranda – indeed with a blanket….

Search Amazon com or uk, search for elephant jewellery and you have work for the next hours for sure. My favourite piece of jewellery, one of them, has a small elephant and I always wear this bracelet when I’m travelling overseas. It’s bought in Norway, it’s a Norwegian brand (Arts & Crafts) although people seem to think that ‘this must be from India’.

Nothing said so far about the elephant in general, but let me then refer to another source….:

 

Morning walks…. March 20, 2012

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 7:17 pm
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When I came to Mumbai last November, it was hot. Unusually hot, the locals said. And yes, the thermometer was constantly pushing 40 and the humidity made it almost unbearable to stay outside for a long time. My partner hates shopping, but suddenly he saw shops as an opportunity to cool down…. My good luck! But he also likes to walk, and how would we be able to take brisk walks in the south of Mumbai, when the heat made you feel dizzy just after one block.

Morning haze, as seen from Marine Drive.

The solution was not hard to find. Our hotel, Suba Palace, is only a 15 minute walk away from Marine Drive. It would have to be morning walks. We set out just after a light breakfast. The big roundabout that makes the start of Colaba Causeway, S. P. Mukherjee Chowk, was still rather empty, we could cross the street in a civilised way…. And then we headed for Flora Fountain, along MG Road, through the charming Fort area, where we took a left turn and ended up on Veer Nariman Road that cuts through the Oval Maidan to the left and the Cross Maidan to the right!
Or we chose the more quiet Madame Cama Road that would take us directly to Marine drive, through a pretty quiet neighbourhood. Many of the streets in the south of Mumbai are lined with beautiful trees that also cast very pleasant shadows. But we didn’t really need the shadows in the early morning. The air felt cool and fresh and we could walk pretty fast.

Going north!

It’s always interesting to see a big city come to life. And especially a megacity, like Mumbai. I guess this part of the south of Mumbai will never get really crowded and these streets will not be lined with hawkers during the day – still – they won’t remain empty. The rush hour had not really started, some cars were there – but you couldn’t really call it traffic. Mumbai traffic….The Air India building rose in front of us, and Marine Drive was “just around the corner”. We passed a fantastic banyan tree, where we crossed the road and then: The Arabian Sea.
Marine Drive is a promenade, 3 kilometre long, and there is space for everybody on a Monday morning! People come here for a brisk walk (or just a walk), there are joggers, people do yoga and meditation, and contemplation. In a city of close to 18 million inhabitants, Marine Drive is a breathing space for many people – including an over heated tourist!

The Samudra, natural perfume….

We walked to the very start (south) of Marine Drive and turned around – going north. Every morning I had to comment on the Samudra, its lovely fragrance and the funny flowers. But then suddenly: The sun strikes back…. When you walk in the early morning, or in the pleasant shadow, it’s hard to imagine how the sun burns. So we crossed the Netaji S Bose Road (Marine Drive), now heavy with traffic, and walked towards Churcgate station. We wanted a coffee really badly, every morning, but it was just about too early for the coffe bars we passed on our way. We knew the Barista, or the Cafe CoffeDay, both next to Regal Cinema in Colaba would be open any minute. Both serve excellent coffee!
The morning walk became a ritual. A ritual I will keep up as long as I visit Mumbai!

 

Looking for quick rupies….

A corner shop comes to life in the morning….

And the bus queues springs to life as well….

A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do…. as seen from our window at Barista!

 

Colours – colours…. March 19, 2012

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 8:38 pm
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I was going through the photos from my last trip to India and came across four women I met in Cochin (state of Kerala) last November. Well women…., they were dolls on dispaly outside a shop; dressed in mauve, and they were absolutely gorgous. It was impossible to pass, and I felt the urge to go inside – in search of more treasures. I wanted to explain the young shop assistant that I came in because of the dolls – but it was a dead end…. her English was poor and as much as I wanted to buy something to make her happy – I was going through “a million kurtas” – nothing could match the mauve creations outside. I could never wear colurs like these, and if I came home – wearing one of these outfits – well somebody would most definately have a fit. When buying clothes in India, one must always put on the homely specs and be sensible…. What looks awesome in India, most probably looks horribly out of place at home. But it’s not forbidden to watch and admire….

Colours have always been a reason, when people ask what it is about India that I like so much. Colours are everywhere in India, in many senses and many ways. I remember a wedding that was taking place on a street in Mumbai, near the Mumba Devi temple. The couple was very poor, that was all too clear. But the bride was dressed in her red wedding dress and she stood out on the dusty, grey pavement. She looked like a queen. The red saree did it for her!

Going through more photos, I found some from Crawford market in Mumbai. I like taking pictures of fruit and vegetables. It’s the colours, the shape , the way they are put on display… Like a piece of art! Or maybe is it music?  I think of the seller as a conductor, with his symphony of colours! And here are some of the orange-green movement….

 

Summer reading June 14, 2011

This summer has a set goal… I have to get rid of two piles of books in my living room. For a start I’d like to read these books. Secondly, I have to read them in order to justify new purchases on my next travel to Mumbai.

The Indian joint family closely observed by two female writers.

I had a whole week to myself recently, my agenda was full – but that was before I started Manju Kapur’s Home. I had just finished John Irving’s latest novel; Last night in Twisted River – 600 pages full of  John Irving’s peculiar characters – but you tend to get wary of Irving’s many words en route. Maybe that’s way I picked a small pocket book with the modest title Home. Kapur was unknown to me and the story itself might not be “prize material”… Set in Delhi, it tells the story of three generations of an Indian joint family. And the Indian joint family facinates me with it’s tangle of mothers, fathers, in’laws, children, aunts, nieces, nephews…. where everybody has his/hers place in a distinct hierarchy. The novel centres about the female members of the family; like Rupa who is unable to conceive and Nisha who is a mangli (bad horoscope) and her struggle to get married after a love-marriage was denied her. Instead of doing all the things I had planned, I found myself constantly curled up in the sofa – hours after hours – together with Rupa, Nisha, Rekha, Raju.. a cup of tea, a glass of pepsi or an espresso…..

India is on my reading list this summer...

Even before I had finished the book, I had decided on the next one: Desirable daughters by Bharati Mukherjee. From the title I could tell that this was another novel about Indian family life. And from the author’s name I knew she was a Bengali writer. The book is mostly set in California, but tells the story about three sisters from upper class Kolkata (Calcutta) – and the many flash backs paint an interesting picture of a Calcutta nowhere near the misery of Mother Teresa’s Calcutta. And constantly reminds me that Kolkata is number one on my “travel-to-another-city-than-Mumbai” list…. From a literary pont of view, this novel is more substantial than Kapur’s Home. The three sisters have a complicated relationship, and the fact that the eldest has an illegitimate child that appears on the scene after being a family secret for 25 years, gives the book a certain tension and moves the story forward. Being just half way through the book, I know that this is an author I will explore further.

So what should I read next… Normally I read two books at a time. One fiction and one non-fiction. Fiction is on my bedside table, the non-fiction by my side in the living room. – So what do you read in the kitchen, a friend asked… Certainly not cookery books…

I have several non-fiction books ready to read; the legendary City of Gold – The biography of Bombay by Gillian Tindall. A bit outdated perhaps, nevertheless a much quoted book. Secondly; Calcutta by Simon Winchester – because I’d like to go there during the literary festival in February every year. And then After the Raj by Hugh Purcell – because The British Raj has intrigued me ever since I saw the TV serial The Jewel in the Crown a lot many years ago. The adaption of Paul Scott’s novel is brilliant, and reminds me that I should read the book – not only watch it which I did again a year ago. I can’t help it but I could have died to step back into history to be a part of The British Raj – no matter how horribly wrong it seems…. This is a feeling I have been fighting against for many years, still, it remains after many trips to India. This particular book tells story about the Britishers that didn’t escape India, after The Raj ceased to exist.

When I have left the Indian joint family (at least for now) I will go on with Herman Koch’s Middagen (The Dinner) and then In the Kitchen by Monica Ali. I had never heard about Herman Koch, but my most valuable source of book reviews; Norwegian financial paper Dagens Nærlingsliv praised it highly some months ago. Most of the time, there is only one book review pr week, on Saturdays, but their taste for books is great and I have bought many a book on their recommendadtion and thought; where else would I have read about this book….

Hopefully Monica Ali won't let med down!

Monica Ali is famous for her novel Brick Lane, and her latest novel In the kitchen is supposed to be a follow-up to Brick Lane. A multi cultural hotel kitchen seems like the right place to be on a cool summer day in Stavanger because right now I can’t envsion myself lightly dressed with a book on my veranda! More so under a rug with a hot cup of tea….

 

Books in Mumbai April 13, 2011

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 6:32 pm
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Reading in the shadow...

There are several ways to buy books in Mumbai. There are street hawkers everywhere, they sell their books vertically or horizontally off the street. I always find it difficult to go past, always thinking one of them might have something exiting I didn’t know existed…. But most of the time they sell the same books. Booker prize winners are plenty among them.

Outdoor book market at Flora Fountain.

There is an outdoor book market at Flora Fountain, in the Fort area, South Mumbai. Insiders tell me the book market has lost its glory, and that may well be. Something tells me the market has been much bigger, and more of an attraction. The market has been there “always” and it’s not legal, of course. But it’s a nice spot anyway, and Fort is a great area. The books are stacked in piles and piles, it’s not easy to search through them without help. One could of course easily find the same books in a book store, save something really old perhaps – or a real gem… – but the heaps of books have a certain attraction. I’m not able to pass no matter how faded it is!

Of course....

On the last day of my visit I decided to pay the book market a visit, I was looking for books about Mumbai in particular. And everybody was eager to help, and I did in fact find the one book a book store told me was sold out from the publisher; Mumbai; City of Gold by Gillian Tindall. And I found many more books, but my suitcase was already 21 kg. But I was given a little stool so that I could leaf through a great book about The Maharajas, too heavy – but now on my shopping list for the next visit.

Arches at M. G. Road, these pavements are very welcome on a hot day!

On my way back to Colaba, I strolled down the pavements of M. G Road, under the arches that give you a bit of much-needed shade. And suddenly I became aware of a book store. I went inside, and was very pleased by what I saw. A spacious room with an open first floor. Beautiful interior and shelves, all dark brown. Books laid out on tables. The whole room was screaming, but in a soft voice: buy books……….  A man was constantly dusting the shelves with a big, soft light blue duster. I said to the nice, middle-aged man behind the desk that I couldn’t remember having seen the shop before, even though I can spot a books store miles away and I have walked M. G. Road many times. – We opened just recently, he said proudly, – three months ago. Kitab Khana it was called.

Another favourite in Mumbai: Kitab Khana.

And what’s more… at the back was a nice little cafe. The owner seemed to be everywhere, making sure the guests were well taken care of. Service was impeccable anyway. I had lunch there two days in a row; penne pasta, Pepsi and strong coffe. All tasted great except the Pepsi that tasted…Pepsi. Kitab Khana is on my “must visit again-list”. Definately!
 

Marine Drive April 10, 2011

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 4:37 pm
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Marine Drive in all its splendour....

Mumbai feels, most of the time, terribly congested, polluted, noisy, suffocating – words are many to describe the sad parts of this – in my opinion – fantastic city. But there is at least one place one can breathe freely. And that is Marine Drive. It’s a 3 km long boulevard in the south of the city, stretching from Mumbai’s Manhattan; Nariman Point to Malabar Hill, a posh residential area. It is a ‘C’-shaped six-lane concrete road along the coast, which is a natural bay. Real estate prices are among the highest in the world in this area

Family life at Chowpatty beach!

Since I prefer to stay at Suba Palace in the south of Mumbai, Marine Drive always comes as a relief after a long taxi ride from the northern suburbs. Yes, the traffic very often comes to a standstill here as well, but at least one can watch the Arabian sea on the right hand side. But at one point the taxi has to turn left and hit into the ‘jungle’ once more.

The highlight of Marine Drive is the beautiful promenade along the road where many  Mumbaikars take in a breath of fresh air and view the setting sun. The promenade is lined with palm trees. At the northern end of Marine Drive is Chowpatty Beach. A friend of mine had heard of Chowpatty and wondered if she should bring her bathing suit. Well, rather not. I wouldn’t dare lower my body into the polluted water, neither would I think it suitable to appear in a bathing suit. But Chowpatty is good for observing Indian family life on a Sunday afternoon.

Young lovers enjoying the solitude...

The stretch from Colaba to Marine Drive is walkable, just head for Churchgate train station. I have found a good pizzeria on a corner, so that I can eat well and at the same time watch Marine Drive. Outside the pizzeria a young woman with a child resides, I don’t really think it’s her child, beside – I have seen her with different ones. She begs from the pavement, sometimes she walks out in the street to beg among the cars. I think she is given left overs from the pizzeria. At least I hope so.

Living off the streets...

Marine Drive is lovely during night, when all the street lamps resemble a string of pearls and forms “The Queen’s Necklace”.  The boulevard is full of young couples, maybe their one and only escape from congested living conditions and extended families.

The Queen's necklace.