I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!










Entries in India (19)


For my textile-y friends


The best bit about buying goods in Fabindia, is that their provenance is explained.  Though the fabrics and some of the techniques are familiar, the details are so clearly explained that I thought I’d share.




First of all, the (in)famous indigo Kurta.  The main body of the garment has a resist pattern of dots, the neckline has stripes with handstitched accents in red cotton.




It’s really well constructed with french seams and all neatened edges, but has no shaping whatsoever.  The fact that it fits very comfortably suggests the same might be true for moi!




The two dupatta are specific techniques, though, and are labelled as such.  The white one is an example of Chikankari “a fine and intricate embroidery traditionally done using white untwisted yarn on white muslin fabric.  The word chikan comes from the Persian word chakeen meaning the renderings of delicate pattern on fabric. These patterns and motifs are generally floral or geometric with exquisite delicacy of detail, lending it a light gossamer-like quality.  The stitches are unique and of three categories: Flat stitches which are delicate, subtle and lie close to the surface of the fabric; Embossed stitches highlighted from the fabric surface, lending it a characteristically grainy texture and Jali work, which creates a delicate net effect.”




My piece is sprinkled with small twinkly silver beads – applied regularly throughout the whole dupatta, including through the embroidery.




On closer inspection, these aren’t beads at all, but small metal pieces, bent into place almost like paperclips through the fabric.




I’m hoping that, once home and able to wash it properly, it will soften up a little more.  But it is really beautiful and looks great with the indigo blue.




The other dupatta is altogether different in character and, for me, sums up the colours of Mumbai.




It’s a piece of Chanderi fabric, printed in hot pinks, oranges and corals with a hint of gold woven into it.

“Chanderi is a small town situated on the flats of the Vindhyachal and has been a well known centre for beautiful woven saris.  Chanderi fabric is renowned for its gossamer quality, placement of motifs and design intricacy and has been the chosen fabric for saris produced for royalty.  The fabric’s unique qualities result from the traditional method of sizing and handweaving developed over centuries”




Finally, a close up of the shawl I bought in Cochin.  It’s a fine wool covered completely with this tight pattern of chain stitching.  Beautiful.


We’re at sea today enjoying a chance to catch up with things,to try to repeat our Trivia triumph from yesterday and generally enjoy the warm journey through the Arabian Sea.


The Wedding


Ever since it was announced, we knew that we would be in Mumbai on the big day.  We hoped that something special would be arranged and had confidence that we’d not be disappointed.  Yesterday morning, before we set off on our adventure, we learned that the whole event would be screened live on the cinema screen in the theatre and we agreed that yes, we wanted to be there to watch.




We rushed in, showered and smartened ourselves up for the occasion.  I wore my new indigo blue kurta and white churidar, with matching twinkly blue sandals, wishing I’d bought a red dupatta too.  The white twinkly embroidered one was still stiff and too unyielding to wear, so that was that.




We reached the theatre in time to see the bride setting off to the Abbey and were pleased to find everywhere decorated with red, white and blue balloons, too.  Being the middle of the afternoon, this was perfect timing for us.




No BBC here, so we had to make do with commentary from Piers Morgan for CNN, but the thing was well done and we sat back, feeling proud to be British.  We stood for the National Anthem, sang Jerusalem and really felt part of the occasion.  We all oohed and aaahed at the beautiful bride, the handsome groom and shed a tear or two from time to time as you do on occasions like this.




The picture quality was slightly off, but this added to the experience for us.  At times, the scene resembled a wonderful piece of art, the subtle colours and greenery appearing to be parts of an oil painting.  We loved the trees in the abbey, the music was perfectly chosen and as the ceremony ended, glasses of champagne were brought to us, with “British canapes”: sausage rolls and brown sauce!




We waited for “the kiss” of course, and the second, surprise, bonus kiss too and as the family left the balcony, we set sail for Fujairah.  Leaving Mumbai behind, two British members of the ship’s company flew the Union Jack from the prow of the ship.


We were meeting friends for drinks and dinner, so freshened up and headed for one of the bars.  I noticed how dirty my hands were as I washed them, but thought nothing much of it.  Whilst in an Indian port, the ship becomes very sooty and in spite of extensive and thorough cleaning, the handrails outside were probably grimy.




Halfway through dinner, however, I noticed the tablecloth under my elbow.  I looked again at my hands.

Blue.  Indigo blue!  My beautiful indigo dye kurta was not exactly colourfast.

By the time we’d finished our meal, there was a considerable blue area around me.  My hands were blue and I allowed our amused dining companions to speculate where else was blue!

I showered before bedtime and managed to wash most of it off, but this morning still had blue underarms.  Another go with the shower scrubby and I thought I’d done, but apologies were needed for the normally spotless white towels which now are looking rather blue too.

One load of washing later, I realise that I now have a matching set of blue undies.  I rinsed the only slightly tinted churidar out by hand, fearing that if I put it in the machine with the whites there could be shrinkage.  Hanging it (them?) out to dry on the verandah just now, I wondered about contacting the captain.  If I hung them on the top deck, they’d make a wonderful sail…




What fun!


Another memorable day


We’d agreed to spend the day out in the city with another like-minded couple, starting the day with a list of places we’d like to visit, things we’d like to buy and other ideas which could come in handy.  Having worked out a route of sorts, we left our negotiator-extraordinaire to do the deal with a taxi driver for a few hours.  As is usually the case, as soon as we stepped off the ship we were besieged by offers and after a few false starts we found ourselves being taken to a vehicle.




Had we seen it first, the deal might not have been done, for this little black and yellow taxi had seen better days.  Many of them.  It was now held together with – who knows?  Willpower?  But three of us squeezed in the back, leaving our ace negotiator the front seat so he could keep his eye on where we were being taken.

It was tight.  Very tight!




Setting off in altogether a different direction than we had previously, we tried hard to keep tabs on where we were being taken.  We drove through small streets of unimaginable conditions – not the slum shanties shown on TV but nevertheless crowded communities where life was being lived in public, on the pavement and under makeshift shelters.  No elegant buildings here to identify and use as place markers; we simply had to hold trust and believe that we would end up where we wanted to end up.




Which we did.  Our driver took us to the Zaveri Bazaar, supposedly the centre for jewellery but our magpie eyes went straight for the colour!




The pavement sellers on this street were peddling all kinds of bright things and though we didn’t want to buy any of it, we loved “just looking”.




Hard to resist such goodies but once you’ve had one pink wrist from a cheap bangle, it’s a little easier.




A small 5rp sticker and a trinket of Ganesh was the major purchase here, then a daily paper and the new edition of Vogue India – 5rp and 100rp respectively, from the newspaper seller around the corner.




As always, I find myself asking “what might I do with that?”, before giving myself a strict talking to and reminding myself that however cheap these things are, I have no need for them!




Moving right along then, finding our driver sitting exactly where we’d left him, springing into action the minute he saw us return.  Only he could open the doors of the car – the handle didn’t work for me!




We squeezed in and made our way through the busy traffic to the VT – the main station formerly known as the Victoria Terminus, where we wanted to spend a few minutes watching the comings and goings.




Passing another news stand en route, we smiled at the headlines of the local tabloid press.  The same the world over, eh?




Ten minutes of observation, of sharing our love of such places with our friends and we were ready to go again.  Our driver had parked his car under a shady tree and was ready to go again – next stop a “proper shop”, Fabindia.




Our guide yesterday had told us that we’d find wearable clothes here, of the kind she wore herself.  Realising that these wouldn’t be priced like street clothes, we knew from experience that paying that bit extra was worthwhile, that “bargains” are often throwaway things once we’re home.  We dived in to a sea of colour, pattern and a treasure trove of exactly the kinds of things we’d been looking for.  Soon, we had taken over the changing room, trying on all kinds of churidar, salwars, kurtas…we were hot and sticky and it wasn’t always easy to change quickly.  Our heroes became our runners “please, look for this in XXL”, “another pair of these in black”, “see if you can find something to go with this”.  Soon, we’d amassed a little heap of clothes each – deciding to go for it, even if these things were pricey. 

My heap of treasure included two churidar, one salwar, one long kurta and two long dupatta.  When I reached the till, the total was about £70.  Amazing.  If I’d known (or taken the time to work out the prices) I’d have been less restrained!!

(I included the link to the Fabindia online store, because I just know it’s somewhere I will return!)


Hearing the equivalent of “are we nearly there yet” from our hero bag carriers/fashion advisers/negotiators, we agreed to just one more stop on Colaba Causeway for shoes.  We left our driver under a tree and once again, he waited whilst we went looking.




But what a stop it was…quite a party too.  The other recommendation from our guide yesterday was for a brand of comfortable shoe to be found in this area.  We took a look in “Citywalk” and immediately found ourselves in shoe heaven.  The attentive service from the half dozen or so young men was such fun, the entertainment value even better.



Our chosen shoes were delivered for us to try on by means of a rather less technological advanced method than the earpiece and microphone connection to the storeroom.  Here, the stocks were in the loft and having worked out what size/style we were after, the assistant called up through a hole in the ceiling to the stockroom assistant up there in the blackness somewhere.  Ten seconds later, a box of shoes would be dropped through the hole, to be ably caught by the cricket fan below, much to our amusement.

Of course, things gathered pace and not just one box came flying through the hole but two, three at a time.  We were soon surrounded by so many shoes it looked like “Nieman Marcus on a Saturday afternoon” (and if you haven’t experienced that, you’ll have to use your imagination.  It won’t be far from the truth!)




By this stage, the party was really going.  The men were sharing banter with the assistants, there was much laughter and the shoe box tricks were getting more elaborate.  Finally, one decided to show us his party trick..how many boxes could he catch in one go…first one, then another and another dropped through the ceiling, till he was balancing six boxes on top of one another.  We applauded, he went for the finale, throwing all six boxes back to the stockroom in one go.

Except he didn’t quite make it and all six pairs of shoes, boxes, packing and all came down upon our heads!  The whole shop fell about in fits of laughter.  How can shopping get more fun than this?!

With bags of shoes (yes, of course, we bought!) my offer of drinks and nibbles at the Taj was appealing to everyone and our driver completed the deal we’d agreed with him when we set off.  Good man. 

But oh, what a relief it was to fall out of that tight, hot space and into the cool, elegance of the hotel where we stayed on our last visit here.  Since then, of course, there have been events…the siege of just over two years ago has resulted in the need for huge security measures and a great deal of restoration.  But it looks as beautiful as ever, the attentive staff and gorgeous decor makes this such a special place and, well, hang the expense.  Those G&Ts and nibbles were the perfect end to one marvellous day.




We still had a wedding to go to, as well.


Was the word fun mentioned?


Oh my.

A group of twenty of us met a charming guide whose name I’m sad to say I didn’t record, because he was quite the master.  At first, we marvelled at this man, with his three young assistants, for he was quite a character and we set off at quite a pace.




When we made our first stop at the Pydhonie market, we understood about the assistants…




Following his instructions to leave everything but our cameras on the bus, to follow him closely and ignore all approaches, we set off for a brisk fifteen minute walk through the most amazing, mind-blowing explosion of colour, noise, heat, dust, smells…..

We really have never experienced anything quite like it!

At times, we came to a halt, learned that we were about to cross the road and then literally ran to the other side dodging cars, cows, goats, motorbikes…now we see why three assistants were needed!




Once, I looked up in alarm to find I’d lost the others – I found myself standing beside a chap who I’d never seen before.  But before I could panic, I heard “this way, Ma’am, hurry!” and one of those young men was at my elbow, ensuring that all of those distractions didn’t steer me away from the group.


Because I didn’t mention that this was a cloth market, did I?




We’ve shopped the night markets of Bangkok and Chiang Mai,  the markets of Mong Kok in Hong Kong and wandered through the souks in various places.  But never, ever have I seen/heard/smelled anything quite like this.  For this isn’t a tourist place at all and not somewhere we’d have found ourselves had we not been brought, led and guided safely through the melee. 




Because of course, along the way, we gathered one or two extras.  Small hands would appear, our group of twenty became twenty five for a while until our young chaperones quickly steered us around a corner into a street of shoes, or bakery or food stands.




I walked with my Flip video camera running and heard “Here, Ma’am…I’m here…take my photo!”…everywhere someone was calling for our attention and we would have gladly stopped, snapped, shopped…  Not for nothing had we been told to leave everything but our cameras on the bus.  Because stopping would have been our downfall, it was clear.




After a breathless fifteen minutes, we poured onto the bus again and couldn’t quite believe what we had experienced.  Our guide, bless him, stood at the front, counted and said “I sometimes get a little tense when I lead a group like that”   

Applause all round – not least for the three young men who had ensured our safety, been so watchful and taken quiet but effective care of us.  It was only 8pm and already we were buzzing!

And where did we go next?  After a speedy tour of the seafront and a few other notable areas of Mumbai, we landed up in a cinema – the Excelsior – where a Bollywood movie was showing!




Not for us the ordinary seats, neither were we headed for the “de luxe” section.  Oh no…we got to climb an extra few flights of steps to the “Executive” section (no matter that the cinema was empty at this point!) and we settled ourselves in the red vinyl covered reclining seats (well, they had a hinge at the base of the back) and waited for the extravaganza to begin.  Gradually, people began to arrive in much the same way as we do ourselves, choosing to time our arrival as to miss the advertisements – in this case, not so much adverts but instructions to behave: no smoking, no spitting and to “turn cellphone off”.  These instructions were scanned and projected onto the screen, including the parts deleted using a ball point pen and ruler.




We sat, enthralled as the movie began – “Thank You” was a typical Bollywood story of love, betrayal and mischief, something which in our circle would be definitely in the “rom-com”, though the group of young men who came to sit in the row in front of us were not really what I’d have thought as the romcom kind.  Still, the settings were ultra-modern, luxurious and those of film stars, the characters good-looking, well-dressed and rather cardboard cutouts.  There was the obligatory fight scene with post-production magic applied, dances, singing…all the key elements we love to watch, performed in Hindi, of course.  No subtitles.

The real cruelty was leaving the cinema, full of these images of the high-life in some amalgam of a city – let’s call it Sydcouver or New Kong – populated by welldressed, beautiful people with all the trappings but then stepping over a family sleeping on the street right outside.  This is certainly a city of huge contrasts.




One last stop to finish our evening.  A short drive took us to the Arcade complex by the World Trade Centre and to “nightcap and nibbles”.  We were more than ready for our bed, but still buzzing with excitement and keen to go with the flow, a couple of beers and a few Indian-flavoured tapas went down well.

We turned in at almost midnight, wishing the sweet young Indian immigration officer “sweet dreams” as he checked our papers on our return to the ship.

“You too, Madam” he said.  “See you in the morning”.

Bless him.


Today, Mumbai




Opening the curtains this morning, we were delighted to see one of our favourite places just across the water.  We’d been due to arrive in Mumbai, India, at 8am, but it appeared that we were slightly ahead of schedule.  We dressed and went for breakfast so we’d be prepared for another face-to-face immigration party.




From our breakfast table out on the deck, we watched as things were quickly prepared for our arrival.




A few potplants were brought out to prettify the harbourside and a roll of coir matting put out.




In no time at all, we’d collected our passports, been issued yellow landing cards, handed back our passports and were out there, meeting our group for a trip to Elephanta Island.




First stop, the Gateway to India, Apollo Bunder and the pier for the small boats which serve the island.  Actually getting onto our boat wasn’t that easy, requiring the transit across several others, but with the firm hand of the charming crew, we all made it across!





Our guide, Meheruk, was elegantly dressed in the brightest of cotton churidar kameez with a matching dupata which she managed beautifully.  First question was “where can we buy them?” (Shopping trip planned for tomorrow!)




Anyway, back on focus, we had a grand view of the Gateway and the Taj hotel as we left all the hubbub behind.  Much of the area was fenced off in preparation for a festival next week, so we felt quite privileged to get any kind of view at all.




“Oh, it’s ok, as long as you don’t go taking photos of those navy ships and stuff”




We didn’t – we put our cameras away as soon as we were out of the melee that is an Indian pier and made our way through a flotilla of all kinds of craft – oil tankers, container ships, small pleasure steamers, the lot.




Eventually, we made it to Elephanta.




The challenge here was to negotiate 132 steps to the caves in what was incredibly oppressive heat and humidity.  Sure, we could have paid to be carried up, but all but the very infirm were too proud to do that!  The whole stretch of the staircase was lined both sides with stalls selling more knick knacks but on the way up, we were way too preoccupied.




For some reason, we were not expecting a cave like this, but something way more freeform.  In fact, what greeted us at the top was  a manmade cavern, somewhat similar to – but more extensive than – Petra.  In this cave, carved from a single rockface, were nine temples to Shiva.




Each beautifully carved, each with a story to tell.  We listened whilst wilting in the heat, making the best use of fans, cologne, wet towels and bottled water that we could.




Popular with local tourists too, we admired their ability to stay cool and elegant whilst we all dripped!




But hot or not, we wanted to see what there was to see, so we took things slowly, thought cool thoughts and meandered about in the gloom of the cave, each trying to take pictures without anyone else in them.




Though sometimes, a pop of colour was exactly what was needed.




The workmanship and sheer magnitude of the cave was remarkable and we were so pleased we’d made the trip.  Both sets of parents had visited here and spoken highly of the place, so we felt that we’d been advised well.




Even so, both of us imagined some cave painting here for some reason – when in fact, the only colour remaining is this small border in one of the caves.




Having seen that small feature, we tried to ignore the attention of the local inhabitants and began to make our way slowly down the steps again.




The “dollies” were waiting, but once again, we chose to go under our own steam.  Actually, going down was almost as much of a challenge as going up, since the steps were fairly steep and a little uneven in places.




Recognising that this was their last chance, too, the trinket sellers were a little more active in their pursuit of us on the way down as well.




A mercifully cool hour’s ride back across the bay, including a wave from the Coastguard whose helicopter buzzed our small boat, and we were back on the mainland, gathering amidst the balloon sellers and the photographers who have traditionally worked this particular place.  No longer able to offer Polaroid portraits for people, they now carry small portable printers, taking digital photographs of people and printing them out within seconds!


After a brief lunch of a sandwich and cold beer back on the ship, showered and changed, we made it to the TeaTime Trivia….winning for the second day in a row!  Woot!


Tonight, we’re going out on the town.  What fun will there be, I wonder?