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 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.