Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Some rather nice sunsets

Bombay sunsets are spectacular. I mean, they're ridiculous. They would make even the most jaded, faded, busy and harried urbanite stop and sharply draw in their breath. They would even make the friggin crows shut their beaks for a blessed five minutes and stare in awe - that is, if crows cared more about sunsets and less about pissing me off.

If you've seen the movie-that-I-am-heartily-sick-of-and-don't-want-to-discuss-for-at-least-a-week, you'll have seen what I'm talking about. For about an hour a day, right before sunset, the entire city is bathed in this incredible golden-orange light. It's bright, like an orange gel stuck over a klieg light. It's best seen in that scene where J is talking to his brother perched dangling on that ledge of the half-finished building in Juhu.

It looks something like this:

It's ridiculously beautiful. It even makes slums look appealing. For that one hour, you don't see the piles of rubbish, the goats, the ragged tarpaulins and the campfires. You just see the way the light glints off the corrugated tin. Dusty cotton saris look like silk. Goathair looks like... well, pashmina. It's like the varnish Vermeer used on his paintings, on acid. As though the urine of thousands of mango-munching cows has been piped straight into the atmosphere.

Really, there's a very simple scientific explanation. Jason explained it to me after looking at me dubiously and saying, "you want to know about... science?" He then even drew a little diagram with stick figures and arrows, so I definitely couldn't miss the point.

It goes something like this: When sunlight travels through the atmosphere, particles scatter the blue light from the rays. The more particles there are present in the air, the less blue light is seen. There are a lot of particles in Bombay's air - especially at the end of another chemical-spewing, cigarette-smoking, campfire-cooking day. Consequently, most of the blue and violet light gets scattered, leaving just spectacular red light. That's why sunsets look like this:

(taken from the top of the Intercontinental, on Marine Drive)

(taken from Bandra Bandstand)

In the last one you can actually SEE the sun sinking through layers of particle-laden air, like it's sinking into a pillow.

If you want to see more sunsets, check me out on Flickr. There, roughly 93% of my photos are sunsets.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

From Pinto to just plain pants

Slumdog Millionaire has made Freida Pinto a star; now Freida Pinto is quickly making one George Kotsiopoulos a star. He's the stylist responsible for the outfits that have rapidly propelled her to the top of best-dressed lists everywhere; from UK Grazia! to the Fug Girls.

I have been quietly following Freida since the Globes when she made this marvellous and ballsy choice:

When I first saw this dress, I thought, wonderful colour, bold choice for a major awards debut... but what it really needs is a touch of olive green.

And then I saw this:


Slumdog might really have an ensemble cast, but it's Freida that's being trotted out at every awards night and promotional opportunity as the token eye candy, and quite rightly too.

This is my favourite look: from the colour to the clean lined yet edgy silouhette, it suits her perfectly:

And more hits:

She's not really jumping through any major cutting edge fashion hoops - but I love how she wears bright, unusual block colours, stays away from prints (red carpet death) and accessorises appropriately. This latter point in particular is something that tends to be a difficult concept to grasp if you're Indian, such is our maximumism aesthetic.

Also, Freida is a fellow Bandra girl, and despite my deep mistrust of Bandra Babes after one particular hottie tried to CHAT UP MY HUSBAND IN FRONT OF ME at Spencer's supermarket, I am developing quite a Freida bug. She's so cute! Her posture is great! She's so well spoken!

I just hope that in real life she's not an obnoxious twit.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

The Expat Wives’ Club

Although my blog is ostensibly about living in Bombay, I’ve found it difficult to post regularly about Bombay: simply because I haven’t spent enough time in the city. Instead I’ve been travelling. I’ve been here:

And here:

And then to northern Karnataka’s Dharwad, home to little else of note other than the famous Dharwadi pedha, a sweet made by boiling a heap of milk with a heap of sugar until it’s a solidified brown lump:

It’s actually surprisingly light-tasting, and while more than a mouthful can be cloying, it’s not as teeth-achingly sweet as most Indian delights.

Dharwad’s twin town is Hubli, famous for having possibly the highest concentration of medical, dental and nursing students of any town in India. Not surprisingly there also are many hospitals. That would have been great if I was in need of urgent medical attention. Unfortunately what I was most in need of was a drink, thanks to an acute case of familial claustrophobicitus, and given Hubli’s status as home to the Sri Ram Sena, that was particularly hard to come by.

It was then on to Kolhapur, in southern Maharashtra, for another family reunion. Four generations of my mother’s side, one tiny apartment, three and a half days. And just five bottles of wine.

So now that I’m back home, I’ve decided it’s time to buckle down and really become properly acquainted with the community. A few weeks ago a friend told me about an expat coffee morning. Despite the qualifier that “it’s really for women who don’t work”, this morning I went.

I must admit I had many pre-conceived notions about this particular group of women, compounded by a few visits to Basilico.

Basilico is Ground Zero for Expat Wives: here, you’ll find gaggles of 30- and 40-something, blonde-tipped, Miu Miu bag-carrying women at the outdoor tables on any given weekday. Basilico long lunches give the impression that Expat Wife Life is one of wallowing in shallow, pampered languor, where one needs an army of helpers to maintain the barest semblance of home. And when things get too tiresome to bear, when one exhausts of the same faces at the same parties, one knows it’s time to move on to the next exotic and hot locale.

So en route in the rickshaw I wondered, will I have to pretend to have more than one maid who only comes for an hour a day? Will I need to talk knowingly about the standard of service at the Taj Wildflower? Will it really be like White Mischief?

The event was hosted by the wife of a foreign diplomat who’s been here for six months, after being stationed in a particularly beleaguered Eastern European country for five years. Both she and her husband began as overseas volunteers many years ago and worked their way up the ladder. A pleasant surprise, she was extremely likeable. A Person Like Us.

Others filtered in. One Dutch woman was in native dress, a designer salwar kameez. Another woman with a transatlantic accent, a taut belly and a suspiciously pert chest appeared with wet hair and in a tracksuit. Others discussed the best places to stay in Bali. Then they moved on to the merits of one exclusive private members’ club over another. Later they discussed the best places to buy hummus in Bombay. And there was much, much talk of school and children.

They certainly weren’t bad people. In fact, they came across as relatively unaffected and grounded. Nothing at all like that famous French and Saunders sketch (sadly, all trace of which has disappeared from YouTube). But there was the uncomfortable aura of glee in their circumstances, in that they could live a lifestyle unaffordable at home, and without having to work. And even for someone who six months ago was very excited by the prospect of some time out, the whole “not working” thing can seem a little... cloying. Like the feeling of overindulging in Indian sweets.

Maybe I should give away my pedha stash.

Monday, 9 February 2009

When push comes to shove

Every morning the Times of India is pushed between the bars on my front door and with it, like an uninvited party guest, the tabloidesque Mumbai Mirror. Usually the Mirror dabbles in news of showbiz couples, crime and civic outrage. Last week it delved into the story of how thousands of angry commuters stormed train tracks at a suburban station after a morning peak hour train was cancelled and another was moved from platform 2 to 8.

Now these are big deals. Bombay's trains are famous for being like cattle trucks - with many many times more people than is safe packed onto carriages. Peak hour is madness, with hordes of commuters stampeding down the platform in the hope of not getting a seat, but just getting on the train. Even non-peak hour is pretty horrendous.

Bombay's Central Railway Dept's solution for dealing with overcrowded trains? Not to add more trains, or more carriages, or update trains to have more space. No, according to the Mirror, they will be employing policemen to act as "pushers": literally, to push people onto the trains, during peak hours.

It's not a uniquely Indian phenomenon, however: pushers and pullers are also employed in Japan to help people get on and off trains in Tokyo's famously overcrowded subway.

Naturally, the Shiv Sena has weighed in and is planning "Sena" style protest. No details on just what form this protest might be in. If my RSS-apologist grandmother is to be believed, it could be something fairly benign. The Shiv Sena, she insists, do nothing more harmful than write letters of objection.


The death toll is now tipped to reach 230. Some say its a portent of what is to come in a climactically-altered world.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Black day

I should eat my words. Things do happen in Australia after all.

Like most people I know, I'm actually rather devastated. Firstly, that ridiculous little mullet-haired ratbags with their waistbands around their knees thought it would be a laugh to play with matches in a region where there have been scorching days and nights for the past week or two. Then, because I spent many a happy summer at the holiday house of friends' in Marysville, a little town a couple of hours' drive from Melbourne. Marysville is no longer. And without a doubt, my friend's holiday house will have most likely been reduced to ashes in the inferno.

Sadder still, though, is the loss of life. At the last count there were about 96 casualties.

For anyone living in the country in Australia, or even on the outskirts of big cities, the threat of bushfires is an annual scourge. Most people pack up their photos and other prized possessions and either leave them in the car, ready for a quick getaway, or with friends, fully anticipating a bushfire to strike sometime during the season. And as a journalist, every year you brace yourself for the inevitable onslaught of "the state is a tinderbox" type stories. After a while you begin to get a bit mercenary about it: "Five hectares burnt? Pah! Not worth a story!"

This, however, is a whole new league. The last time there was something on this scale was Ash Wednesday, in 1983. I remember being in school and having to hold a minutes' silence.

It's all just horribly sad. Clearly, no matter how well-prepared you might be, it's no match for the combination of high winds, searing dry heat and little pyromaniacal shitbags.