Tag Archives: India

A stroll to the post office…

My first few days in India, I told Kate and Tom that one of the top things on my list of things to do was to buy picture postcards to mail back home to my old-fashioned friends. Wait — it’s not just the old-fashioned who like that, but even people who themselves never resort to paper correspondence or postage stamps are normally more than glad to discover a postcard from a faraway place in their mailboxes.

Neither of them had noticed postcards for sale anywhere during the many months they’ve been in India, but we read online that the huge General Post Office has them; you might have read in a previous post about my failure to find any there. But Tom did buy stamps that day.

Last week a visitor to our new baby suggested The Bombay Store closer to home, so a few days ago Kate and I took the baby in the car and spent a long while shopping there, but they didn’t sell postcards, either. They told us to go to the local post office, which we actually tried to do immediately after, but couldn’t locate it where the driver remembered it had been….

So Friday Kate suggested we go and check out the post office on foot; Tom had the car and driver on business. She had found a different such office on her phone and it looked like a short walk. Since it would be such a brief outing we left fed-and-sleeping Raj with Kareena. It was the hottest time of day, and temperate winter weather for these parts, i.e. about 90 degrees. We felt it.

We maneuvered in traffic and squeezed between parked motorcycles. We picked our way over broken sidewalks and walked alongside the moving rickshaws and buses in places where the sidewalk was missing. Early afternoon, the sidewalks were crowded with people, including schoolchildren like these in pink uniforms who were about to enter the gate of the convent school down the block.

The post office was pretty easy to find. We walked up to the window that said Stamps and Stationary [sic]. The woman behind the grille said, No, they did not have postcards. She asked another patron nearby whose English was better to help us, and he gave us vague directions, waving with his arm, to a bookstore down the street “on this side,” where he assured us we would find what we were searching for.

I decided to buy stamps while we were there, on faith that I would eventually have something to stick them on. I laid rupees enough for ten stamps on the green marble counter, and was handed three bills in change. Then we waited. The postal lady was eating her lunch.

When she had eaten the last bite, she cleaned up her desk and had one more swig from her pink water bottle. After another few minutes she passed my stamps through, with instructions to put “one of these, and four of these, on each postcard.”

 

On we went to look for the bookshop. Kate was also on the lookout for a chemist to see if they had diapers. We did find a chemist on the way, where the packages contained too few diapers, but I bought four shrink-wrapped pills for 12 rupees. A rupee is worth about one and a half American cents.

Oh, and the ATM: we stopped by the little room off the main bank building, staffed by two attendants/guards, and used our U.S. debit cards to pull out rupees, a limit of 5,000 rupees per transaction. Along every sidewalk I saw sights that made me glad I had my camera ready.

Now, where was that bookshop? Crossing back and forth through busy intersections — there were some helpful traffic lights on this street! — and with Kate following her Google map, we finally found it, and entered. Why of course, the bookseller had postcards; a new supply had just arrived in the shop the morning before. His business is to make his customers happy, he emphasized, as he took a few packets from a small stack behind the counter.

Kate deliberated with me over which collections to choose, based on the subjects listed on the back of the package, and not able to see any of the actual cards. I wanted pictures of everyday scenes such as I have actually experienced, and not the big tourist spots, most of which I won’t see.

It seemed clear from the brief text and the covers that these were the sort of postcards I was looking for, and I bought two packs of 20 each, Wallahs (merchants) and Mumbai Buzz, just to be sure that I would find a few that I actually wanted to send, once I saw them.  I noticed then that the name of the shop printed on the bag was The Happy Book Stall.

When at home we all examined all the cards, we were amazed at the “vintage” quality. The photos appear to have been taken about 25 years ago, and the print quality is worse than that. The word art would not be associated with most of the pictures in any way, except of the sort of interesting framing that can randomly happen when you give a camera to a five-year-old.

But I’m very pleased! I’d still like to see if any others exist in town, so I will keep my eyes open, but now I’m ready to start my picture postcard correspondence. And I saw so many sights on this short outing; if I had my printer and my card stock paper, etc. I would make my own postcards. But then I would be missing something I can’t put my finger or my words on — because there’s no doubt this collection I have acquired is accidentally telling a story about India.

 

 

Food for the mind, feasts for the eyes.

If I have trouble putting together a Real blog post, it’s not because I haven’t been soaking up the sights and thinking about so many things. Now that I am actually here, I have been reading about and discussing with Kate and Tom Indian history, language, politics, slums, and religion.

The night before Baby Raj was born, Tom projected maps of India on the big screen and gave a little talk on various of these topics — it was the best sort of lesson for me, the map presentation helping me to tie bits of knowledge together in my mind. Perhaps there’s a chance I will retain more than a smidgen.

My “studies” are interspersed with or carried on in the midst of Baby Immersion. Just being in a home where a newborn baby lives and breathes and will stare back at you with no feeling of awkwardness — it’s too sweet.

This baby will have Indian nannies as long as he lives here, so some of the first words impressed on his pliable mind will be from Indian languages. But which ones? Hindi is not the primary language spoken in these parts, and India has designated 30 languages as “official” languages of the nation. According to Census of India of 2001, India has 122 major languages and 1599 other languages.

20% of Indians speak Dravidian languages, which are not even related to Indo-Aryan languages such as Hindi. These and other non-Hindi speakers have fought against proposals to impose the Hindi language in southern India. The Indian constitution does not give any language the status of national language, but the authorized version of laws is required to be in English, and the business of the Supreme Court is conducted in English.

I’ve learned very few Indian words, mostly names of food. But I didn’t learn the name of the Diwali festival treat above before eating the last one in the house. Almost everyone I encounter seems to speak at least a little English, but sometimes I can’t understand one word in a whole sentence by the most fluent speakers, because of their accent.

Everywhere we go I feast on colors, and feel myself to be somewhat ghostly in appearance in contrast to the Indian women in their rich attire. I’m sure I will come home with a few new and bright, concrete items to go with the images on my computer and the imprints on my mind. New dishes are constantly being set out on this banquet table.

Indian cooking – Egg Bhurji

On my first morning in India I ate a spicy scrambled egg dish that I loved very much. It had been cooked the day before by the housekeeper Kareena. Eggs that are delicious and cooked 24 hours ahead? That’s a recipe I need. I asked if she would show me how to make those “breakfast eggs” sometime, and she said she’d be happy to. Yesterday was my lucky day.

When I noticed how her kurta was the same color as the onions,
I knew I must take pictures.

And I took notes on the process, and the approximate amount of ingredients. It’s essentially a spicy Indian version of a vegetable scramble, with variations as many as there are cooks, as you can see for yourself if you want to browse recipes online.

My teacher went to the refrigerator to get one of the slender green Indian chilis, and was disappointed to find them all gone. She said she could make the dish with dried chili powder for us, but if she were making it at home she’d just wait until she went to the market again; because fresh is best.

 

This is the powder she substituted>>

I read that if you want to approximate this dried chili powder you can blend 3 parts paprika to one part cayenne.

 

 

This morning Tom went shopping and resupplied us with chilis, which are here drying after being soaked in a disinfecting bath.

It is amazing how many vegetables are in this dish. Kareena’s style is to make sure all the vegetables are in very small pieces by the time you mix the eggs in. The bright red color comes from the chili powder; what I ate that first morning had been made with a fresh green chili and it wasn’t red at all.

Kareena’s EGG BHURJI

3 small onions, diced small
1 tablespoon fresh curry leaves
2-3 tablespoons oil
1-2 teaspoons turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 small tomatoes, diced small
1 long thin hot chili, minced (or 1-2 teaspoons Kashmiri chili powder)
½-1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, minced
6 eggs

In a large broad skillet heat the oil, then throw in the whole curry leaves and stir them a few seconds to sizzle before adding the onions. Cook the onions over medium heat until golden brown. You may add the fresh chili pepper at this point, or wait.

Add the tomatoes, turmeric, (chili powder if you didn’t have fresh chili, fresh chili if you waited), and salt. Stir and cook together for a few minutes, then put a lid on and cook for another 10 minutes or so to break down the tomatoes. Mash them some more with the back of the wooden spoon.

Break the eggs into the pan and scramble with all the vegetables until partially cooked; add most of the cilantro, saving some for garnish. Scramble until all cooked and crumbly. Taste and adjust salt if necessary. Serve, sprinkling with remaining cilantro.

The best way to eat these eggs is with one of Kareena’s chapatis fresh off the griddle, but a pile of Bhurji is great all by itself, too.

When I return home, I’d like to have a tablecloth after the fashion of Kareena’s kurta for my dining table, so that when I sit down to eat my Anda Bhurji it would all add up to the perfect and colorful Indian breakfast.

Shopping with pani puri.

Tom took me along on his shopping trip yesterday, to a few stores and shops including a multi-story big box that had features of a Super Wal-Mart, Costco, and a department store. The escalators were ramps that accommodated shopping carts, and we visited all the floors and departments, but never found a C-battery or anyone who knew what that was. Tom wasn’t very sure himself, but some new baby equipment wants them. Oh well.

I was fascinated by the many varieties of basmati rice, both packaged and in large bins where women in pretty clothes were scooping up their favorite type. I love basmati rice and used to buy it in 25# bags myself; I came home with a jar of the Brown Basmati.

The packaged rice is one of many products and ads that feature a photo of a famous movie star, often a Khan, or the “Big B,” Amitabh Bachchan. I don’t have a hope of keeping all these celebrities straight, but a couple of them have leading roles in an unusually good Bollywood movie we are currently watching here (over the course of three nights, because it’s close to four hours long): “Lagaan.” Oh, and on the route between the different shops, whose car did our driver point out but that of the very Aamir Khan himself. Mumbai is the center of Bollywood, did you know?

Women were also filling bags with large-crystal sugar from a great bulk bin.

 

 

We ate several pani puri snacks and another type of snack at a stand in the food department of the store. For us to take our fill of those savory treats cost less than 100 rupees which Tom said was about $1.10.

 

From this store we drove to that quiet neighborhood Tom introduced me to on my first day here, where is found their favorite market.

The shopkeepers know at least the names of vegetables and how to count in English so I was able to complete the purchase of some carrots, zucchini, peppers and broccoli while Tom went to the next stand where we found leeks and potatoes from which he is going to make soup.

Are those red carrots really carrots? I’ll cook them today and find out.

We brought all our loot home and then Tom cooked up a big delicious dinner featuring mutton chops, pesto green beans, tomato salad and more. It was the first meal of not particularly Indian food that I’ve had in ten days.

Baby “Raj” had stayed home with his mama. They are eating well and building strength and we are all enjoying the early Getting to Know You period. Well, not quite all: Huckleberry Cat has led a very sheltered life until this point and he doesn’t feel entirely positive about the strange creature who suddenly showed up.

As I write, it is a lazy Sunday afternoon. I’ve been holding a sleeping baby for an hour while chatting with Kate and Tom about so many things India, seeds that could germinate into future blog posts. Now I’m back here typing with two fingers to finish this one. My mind will immediately and irresistibly start gathering threads of images and impressions to weave into the next scrap of cloth I hope to share with you, of this colorful tapestry that is Bombay.