Monday, 29 December 2008

Bangalore part 1

Being in Bangalore from Bombay is a breath of fresh air, literally. Meaning, there actually IS air, clean air, unadulterated by carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphuric fumes and dust particles that, in Bombay, seep down into your lungs one by one, until you feel like you are drowning in sand.

Jason and I spend the whole of the first day marvelling at how clean, fresh and liveable Bangalore is. Look at that shopping mall: it has Samsonite AND MAC shops! Look how perfectly intact that footpath is! Why I could walk for a whole hundred metres without having to stray onto the road, into the path of speeding traffic which will slow down to let a cow pass but not spare me. Sure there's not much in the way of sights, but who cares when all the rickshaw-wallahs speak English! And there are funky bars and clubs and an international, cosmopolitan population of highly skilled, well-paid professionals to cavort with. Neither of us mention it, but we're both thinking: hmmm, perhaps if this Bombay lark doesn't work out, there's always plan B, B-town. Isn't there a big Reuters office here?

Day two, and we spot a sign proclaiming "Bangalore: Welcome to Pensioners' Paradise!" and it hits us:

Bangalore is Melbourne.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

In NoBo, yearning for SoBo

So much happening, so little blogging. I wish I could blame a lack of Internet connectivity, but almost immediately after moving into this Bandra apartment 5 days ago we discovered an unlocked network in the vicinity. So a quick recap:

Days one and two: arrived in the middle of the night, and after some confusion arrived at our Bandra hotel. Said hotel, booked via the internet, turned out to be a shithole, albeit with friendly and accommodating staff. In two nights we moved to three different rooms; once after a hotel worker inadvertently slipped and told us the foul stench emanating from the bathroom was most likely caused by a dead rat in the ceiling.

Days three to seven: Decamped to a decidedly much nicer hotel in Colaba, which turned out to be about 100 metres south of the Taj. The hotel is now blocked off on all sides, and always surrounded by a crowd of gawkers, some posing in front of the damaged section, smiling and posing.

We spend our time in the south partially as sightseers, partially looking for longer-term accommodation. And on day six we strike gold: a friend of a friend offers up a family member’s vacant Bandra flat until we get jobs.

It’s a lucky break, really: the Bombay rental market is dire and complex. Thanks to arcane renting laws that favour the tenant, people prefer to leave empty properties vacant than risk taking on a tenant who may prove difficult to dislodge.

There’s little chance of that happening here, however. While the flat is lovely and in what’s considered to be a great neighbourhood, we’re both leaning towards eventually settling in South Bombay. Bandra has its charms but SoBo is a little nicer: meaning, footpaths you can walk on, and no dastardly rickshaws belching their toxic fumes in my face.

Attacks aftermath

Even the attacks failed to halt Bombay for more than a couple of days, but there’s undeniable shift, everywhere. People always want to talk about what happened, but in that Indian way of mentioning the incident with a half-laugh and sidewards shake of the head: “yes madam, business is down, but what can you do? You can’t stop working”.

Last week hundreds of thousands of people downed tools for 15 minutes and stepped outside to form a massive human chain that spanned the length of the island: a pretty poxy reaction, really. Get angry, people! March in the streets, bang saucepans all night, wave flaming torches outside the state government offices! Or better yet: threaten to clad all Bollywood starlets in burqas in all forthcoming films until some sort of action is taken. Insist that your policemen are armed with something more than big sticks and WW2 era guns to fight angry brainwashed young Pakistani men armed with AK-47s and grenades!

When you get people here talking they do get livid, but there is a true aura of helplessness: in a city that’s choking, in a country that’s run on corruption and politics only attracts those from low castes who are on the take and everyone is warned to stay away from the police, what can be done? When the mortgage on the one-bedroom flat on the city outskirts needs to be paid and its eight inhabitants need to be fed, who can afford the time to take a stand?

But surely amongst the 19 million people in this city at least, oh, one million, could switch off CNN-IBN, get off their sofas, get outside and actually BE the news. How about a human chain spanning the length of the city that refuses to break until the UN places sanctions against Pakistan, or India bombs the crap out of Punjab madrassas? Now that must be worth leaving the couch for.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Turning left, not right

As it turns out, we did indeed end up flying business class, but 12 hours later than scheduled, thanks to an airline screwup that saw us miss our boarding call. Business class can be summed up as thus:

Hello Miss Customer Service, I've been upgraded, does that mean I can use the business class lounge? Why shucks, thank you! I'm really not used to such grandeur.
Ooooh... free coffee.... free muffins .... champagne! I don't care that it is 9.30am.
Ooooh... free 15-minute massage? Dang, not enough time.
Now what shall I have for breakfast? What goes with champagne?
Oh hello Mr Chief Customer Service. Thank you for your humble apology. Sorry I cried "BA ruined my birthday!" in front of all those would-be customers last night. Yes I do like the yoghurt and berries.
Dang, I shouldn't have bought Vanity Fair, there it is among the free magazines.
Now what time do I need to board? Fk, within two minutes.
Flashback scenarios of previous evening's missed flight debacle. Drop muffin on ice bar and hightail for the gate lounge.

Then to business class itself. Ever wondered what's up those dinky little staircases at the front of the aircraft? Why it's a whole little cabin dedicated to those who need to pay bucketloads to have others make them feel good about themselves. (Air hostess trivia: apparently first and business class are dubbed "ICU": because those passengers can't scratch their bottoms without help.) Of course Jason and I ran on screeching "Suckas!" or words to that effect. Or maybe it was "champagne? don't mind if I do". I can't really remember.

But here's the dirty secret about biz class: for all that extra leg room, you STILL get people kicking the back of your seat. You STILL get liquids splashed on your lap. And you STILL can smell other people's unpleasant after-lunch digestations, even though they might be feet away from you. And air hostesses are STILL inattentive, borderline rude.

But the chair-beds are pretty great, as are the cosy little shell cubicles. I quite enjoyed the privacy. Jason quite enjoyed only his second airborne sleep ever - the first being the other time he was bumped up to business.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008


Happy birthday to me! I'm having a big party tonight on a plane... just me and 300 of my closest friends shoehorned into cattle class for nine hours. Hopefully BA will come to the party with a free upgrade, or, failing that, at least a glass of champers.

Now that the day is upon us, I do have some minor mixed feelings about leaving... mainly this:

My mini nephew, anagramically nicknamed The Moje, has only just warmed to me after a playdate yesterday, so now instead of pulling my hair he hugs my knees. 

That photo is a rarity; he's hyper-hyper, so usually he looks like this:

Friday, 5 December 2008

Two go mad in London

Dateline: London, still.

Weather: 1º celsius. Frosty breath, ice forming on car windows.
Feeling: Bored, impatient. Just want to get there and get moving.
Emoticons: :-(

But on the bright side, it's lovely tax return season, and after a three-month delay, Accountant has finally given me figures. And while not Mittal-huge, they're susbstantial enough for me to grin and skip through the muddy sludges fouling London sidewalks, remnants of the last autumn leaves.

 We head off on Tuesday, my birthday.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Commando drop

Two days in and the terrorist standoff in Mumbai continues, although it appears Indian troops are getting ready for one, final clearing out of the Taj Hotel.

The above photo shows a chopper dropping two of about 20 commandos on the roof of Nariman House, where two gunmen were holed up with five hostages. While they killed the militants, sadly they found the bodies of the hostages, including a rabbi and his wife. 

The situation has already been dubbed 'India's 9/11'. It's an apt moniker given that both were surprise attacks on a number of landmark locations, in areas that are highly photographed, visible and within easy reach of news cameras. Chatham House, a London think tank, issued a press release earlier today asking whether this latest event is another chapter in the age of celebrity terrorism.

And much like the Twin Towers became the most memorable target of the September 11 bombers, I predict the Taj Mahal hotel will in the same way become the central focus of this tragedy. It was, and no doubt will remain, a beautiful building, despite the battle scars it will sustain. 

It's grimly amusing to see that even in the midst of battle, officers blanched at the damage being done to the icon:
"The officer who ran out of the Taj, carrying a pistol, said, "Now everything is burned. The stairs are burned. The woodwork is all spoiled." (Time) 
Husband and I are still determined to go to Mumbai; we'll likely postpone our travel for a week and then head to another city for a bit to wait it out. 

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Mumbai attacks

Well I certainly wasn't expecting this to happen.

At this stage, 101 people are confirmed killed, most of them Indians, although Westerners have been targeted.

Husband and myself are glued to the teev, trying to work out what to do.

I shall keep you posted.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Dateline: London, W9

Fantastically, for the past two months my life has consisted of: croissant or pain au chocolat for breakast? Sightseeing, shopping or wi-finding? Spanish Vogue or Paris Tales? Pretty much, the hardest decision I've had to face is whether to check into a serviced apartment or a pensione. Yup, travel's a tough life.

But it's all set to change, in about a week. Husband-like creature and myself are due to touch down in Bombay/Mumbai, home to two generations of parental ancestry, and try to build a life. We're starting from scratch: no jobs, no home, and a fairly scant address book.

It's been six years since I last visited the city; and HLC's maiden voyage. He points out he'll likely have a better time of it than me, coming with no pre-conceived notions. In contrast, he says, I'm the one more likely to be pointing and shrieking things like "look, paved roads!" etc.

At this stage we have no idea what to expect. But that's kinda cool, rapidly diminishing bank accounts notwithstanding. A global recession might not be the best time to quit one's job and move countries. Luckily, we both can, and will, work. HLC, despite being Australian of birth and pink of skin, is now officially deemed a Person of Indian Origin, and consequently can work and buy property. We're very much looking forward to seeing the looks on the faces of customs officials when we arrive in the Non-Aliens queue at Mumbai airport.