Thursday, August 30, 2007

Welcome to Bombay

After almost 8 months in Delhi, I finally managed to break free of the spell of the Djinns long enough to enjoy an extended weekend in Bombay. I know that the official name has been changed to Mumbai, but for me, Bombay just sounds so much more exotic, glamorous and full of adventure. And the adventure started at the airport. After circling our airport for what seemed like an eternity, we finally landed, crammed into the little bus and sped toward the terminal almost colliding with the bus from Kingfisher airways. Neither bus wanted to let the other one get in the lead. I do like the fact that if nothing else, Indian driving is consistent no matter the location. After swerves and honks and a few shouts from our bus driver we arrived at the terminal where we hung out while waiting for our bags to appear. I am still convinced they took a later flight than we did.

We left the terminal building and plopped ourselves into the first of four taxis we would require to get us to our hotel. Taxi number one: We were approached by a guy who promised a pre-paid taxi, which is always a good way to go when in India and you have no idea how far the actual destination is. He walked us to the taxi and after a bit of protesting that we wanted to pay at the booth first, he told us they would drive us to the booth. Alarm bells went off, but I ignored them for the time being. A few minutes later we stopped and indeed it was a prepaid taxi, but not of the normal type where you go to the prepaid booth and tell your destination, are shown documentation of how much the cost will be, pay it, get a receipt and then go to the taxi and turn the receipt over to the driver. This was one where we were asked to prepay in the taxi, no receipt. When I asked how much it was, I was told 1200 rupees, which was more than the flight cost. We cleared out of that taxi in less than 10 seconds, baggage and all.

Next up was the driver of taxi number 2, who offered to drive us for 350. Fair enough. We got into the taxi and we were on our way... Or so we thought. 150 meters from our starting point, the taxi slows to a stop and we are told to get out and into taxi number 3, that would take us to our destination. We had already paid the guy and he confirmed no monies would change hand later... We were uncertain but decided we had no other option than to trust the guy. Off we were again, this time speeding toward Bombay and our luxury accommodations just around 1:30 in the night. It was great. That is until the engine cut out and we slowed to a stop in about as close to the middle of nowhere as one can get in Bombay. Manuel and I looked at each other and thought exactly the same thing. We were going to be robbed, stripped of our clothes and cash, left on the side of the road to be yet another statistic involving gullible goras. After trying and trying to get the car started (it sounded like it was out of petrol) taxi number 4 pulled up along side and we shifted one last time and before long we were once again on our way to the Grand Hotel.

One piece of semi-critical data we did not know, was that there are actually two hotels that go by the name of Grand. One is indeed grand and the other is grandly scary. We pulled up to a run down gray concrete soviet looking construction and was told by the happy taxi driver that we had arrived. Manuel and I took one look and knew something was wrong. This was not the red brick tower we had ordered and one of our previous taxi drivers had conveniently forgotten to give us the slip of paper with the actual address of our hotel and so there we were, outside the grandless Grand, tired, in need of a cocktail and no idea where we need to go. Fortunately, when it comes to emails I am a bit of a pack-rat and within a few minutes I had dug up the email and showed it to the driver who then exclaimed "Oh, the Grand!" and 250 more rupees later, we were standing in the lobby of our hotel checking in as fast as we could so we could pop open the mini bar, medicate our frayed nerves and get a good rest for the full day of sight seeing that would begin first thing in the morning.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


It has been brewing and stewing for a long time, and maybe due to the fact that I just turned 40, I find myself more and more unable or perhaps unwilling even, to ignore that voice inside. I want more than anything else to be a writer. It's all I can think about. I only feel like myself when sitting down and letting the words flow. It is during those moments when I rediscover someone I feel I know very well yet who at the same time feels like a stranger. Sometimes I am aware of what is happening and I write a planned out story and sometimes I go into a bit of a trance and am surprised at what has appeared on the screen. Either way, it is in those moments that I am truly happy, when I feel aligned with my spirit and that I am doing what I should be doing.

On the other hand, there is the fear. The insecurity. The little voices of doubt and they keep me from jumping into the pool of that dream and swimming around for a bit. That is the war that has raging inside me for some time, pulling me in different directions. It's one thing to write out bits and blurbs for my blog and another thing entirely to throw myself into my hobby, my passion and let fate unfold. I am miserable when I can't focus on my writing. I am at my most miserable when I have the time to write and there seems to be nothing there. The times when I actively look for any piece of inspiration however serious or stupid, hence the appearance of Paris Hilton and Britney on a number of occasions. I try to follow the advice of Paul Smith who has a book titled Find Inspiration in Everything*: (*and if you can't, look again!). It is that point of view that has let me hold onto my sanity at times. It has certainly helped me in India.

When I see things, I think about how I will describe them. When I experience things, I keep little notes so as not to forget. When I write I feel both exhilarated and intimidated, free and imprisoned and the feeling is delicious. An epicurean feast that I enjoy with complete abandon. I started this blog at the suggestion of a friend and spent almost a year intimidated by it. Putting one's thoughts and feelings out there for public consumption is scary. Terrifying, in fact, and yet the more I do it, the more I need to do it. It's like a drug that keeps me going. When I am not writing at the keyboard, I am writing in my mind. I started my blog to try out different styles, different ways of writing and found that I prefer making people laugh, or at least smile. My friends and family have been great sports by allowing me to write about them, even if it is not entirely flattering.

Where is this all leading up to? Well, I feel a bit like Alice at the looking glass. I know there is an adventure if I just go through it. I know in a way I can't really describe that it will be amazing and difficult and frustrating and fascinating and tiring and completely fabulous and so I have decided to step through and see where the journey will take me.

I am not sure exactly how that will happen, but I know I can't live someone else's life anymore. I can't do what everyone thinks I should do, I need to follow that dream. I can't wake up one day and wonder what would have happened if I had only taken a chance. I would rather crash and burn and fail miserably in this than to not have the courage to do it. I am ready to leave my job, leave my salary and all that is comfortable to me in order to pursue this dream. Something I didn't really realize until very recently.

So if anyone has any ideas for me on how I can do this, please let me know. I don't care how it happens, I just care that it happens. In the meantime, if I write something you like, let me know. If I write something you hate, let me know that as well... I am not looking for praise or criticism, I am looking for feedback. I love to write. No, I can say I live to write and I want to improve. I want to write and write and write.

Thanks for reading my words. It means more to me than you will ever know.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Happy Birthday to Me!

It has been ages since I last sat down to write, and I do mean ages. I was a mere thirty-something typing out my last blog and before I knew it, I had entered into a new decade. Not that it was by any means a surprise, I mean I have been heading towards forty for at least the last forty years. I guess something inside me was hoping that when I hit that wall I would ricochet back into my mid thirties, complete with that mid thirties elasticity that I seem to have misplaced. Suddenly I find myself in a new decade, a decade in which facial expressions must be kept to a minimum to minimize the ageing process which is already swinging from my cheekbones. To pour salt in the wrinkles, I actually received L'Oreal moisturizer for men as a gift. And not just one version, two. Sent from Holland. Am I that far gone? A shadow of the man I once hoped to be?

As if that wasn't enough, CNN had an article about thirty-nine being middle-aged. Thirty-Nine. I had to pull a Cher Horowitz and scream out "as if!" I spent all last year being middle-aged and didn't even know it. I wasted it. I didn't have so much a a single nervous breakdown or torrid almost love affair with someone half my age, buy a sports car or get hair plugs (not that I need them, I still have all my original strands, thank you very much). Nope, middle-age passed me by while I was looking the other way, perhaps even in the mirror scrutinizing my face for laugh lines and other signs that I have basically turned twenty for the second time. It pains me to say this as it sounds like the cliché-est of clichés, but I still feel, no, envision myself as a twenty something. I don't feel any different. Perhaps the forties are the new twenties. That would actually make sense as the fifties are the new thirties according to Oprah.

I had resigned myself to have a quiet birthday, slipping quietly on the prune into my twilight years, avoiding the fanfare and fuss when I received a message from Danielle asking what I would be doing. When I told her I had absolutely no plans, she took matters into her own expertly manicured hands and before I knew it, we had reservations at Seville and a guest list.

Seville is a most unique restaurant at the Claridges hotel. Walking into Seville is to be transported to another place. The restaurant is basically outdoors and a lighted creek snakes through the grounds, winding its way under small bridges and white-draped, glass bottom bungalows. There is one room upstairs that overlooks the grounds and that was the room Danielle had reserved for the ten or so of us. Normally I would not consider the view of a restaurant note-worthy, but this was amazing. Not like being in a restaurant at all. It is more how I imagine an evening at the end of the five-star safari day or a rigorous day of diving in the Maldives.

Before long everyone had arrived and cocktails were in full swing. I have a new favorite one which is a Karfini (Lemon grass infused vodka, coriander, lime and sugar) and managed to keep a constant flow of them heading my direction. I was almost tempted away by the blackberry Mojitos but stuck to my guns. Sacrifices had to be made and so I decided to save them for another visit.

As the evening got to within a few minutes of midnight and forty started banging on the door, the bubbles and birthday cake arrived. I can't remember the last time I had an actual birthday cake. If my hazy memory serves me correctly, I was a teenager. Young. Innocent. Virginal. But there it was, my very own incredibly moist and decadent chocolate birthday cake with two candles. I love the discretion Anjali and Danielle showed when it came to the candles. And a good thing as well. I had a hard enough time blowing out two candles in one breath, can't imagine what would have happened had there been forty. And the cake wasn't really big enough to support that size population of candles.

It was really an amazing evening and it makes me smile every time I think about it. I have thanked them already, but I would like to thank Danielle and Anjali for such an unforgettable night. It was the best 40th birthday I have ever had.

Monday, August 06, 2007


Living in India sometimes has major advantages to living in the west. For example, season 3 of Desperate Housewives is set to be released on DVD in September and yet I already have it, the whole thing. I don't mean to keep stepping over to the dark side, but Manuel made me go to Palika Bazaar which has become his mother ship and it is only due to my very loud protests that we do not set up house in the underground market... But anyway, there they were, my 5 favorite ladies staring at me, begging me to hold them, to take them home with me and make them my very own. Who am I to say no?

I am in the final stretch, taxiing like a private jet down the runway to 40 and just when I thought it was going to be lots of festivities on Sunday, I realized that almost everyone is deserting me for points beyond. Stephen and Pierre are off to the UK and Suzy is so desperate to avoid my birthday, she is actually flying economy. I'm not sure she realizes it will be a diamond-less, bubble-less flight all the way to Paris and not only will she not have her choice of entree, but she will eat what they have left over by the time they get to her row and it is sure to include some wrinkled peas.

Last night Stephen, Pierre, David, Oliver, Manuel and I were all out to dinner at my favorite seafood restaurant located just on the edge of the Rajhastani desert, hundreds if not thousands of miles from the nearest natural source of water dwellers. Normally that would be cause for alarm, but at Ploof, everything is always fantastic and fresh and it was a great setting for the first dinner of my birthday season. I got a great bottle of Laurent Perrier champagne which is chilling in the fridge at this very moment, waiting for just the right time to pop the cork.

Not sure what I will be doing to celebrate my birthday this year... Agra for a sunrise visit to the Taj Mahal? The pink city of Jaipur with their camels and decorated elephants? Or perhaps a train up to the bottom of the Himalayas to cool down and chill out. As long as I am out of Delhi, I don't really care. I need to see something different, something new (or very old) that I don't see on a daily or weekly basis. I guess the big dilemma is what backdrop and lighting I want as I step over to the other side.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Yet Another Saturday in Old Delhi

Yesterday one of life's burning questions got answered. How many goras fit in an auto rickshaw? The answer, it may surprise you to learn, is 3. I know that at least twice that many Indians can squeeze in, but we goras have a limit of 3. And there we were, 3 of us crammed into the rickshaw on our way to India Gate and points beyond.

I have a colleague/friend, Oliver, who has just arrived in India and Manuel and I decided to play tour guides and show him around my city. Yes, I do think of Delhi as my city. I know what you are all thinking. Why would 3 goras pile into the little oven on wheels when I have such an entertaining driver. Well, my Hindi-hop loving driver Ajay, threw in the steering wheel while I was in Amsterdam and moved his whole family back to Punjab. He was a fun guy and I got miles and miles of stories out of him. I can honestly say that driving is just not as fun nor as near death as they were with my original driver. These days his brother-in-law, Goudou is my driver. No Hindi-hop. No Bollywood sing-a-long style show tunes. No impromtu viewings of his modelling pictures. He is a driver that seems content to just drive without all the on-board entertainment I had come to expect on the bumpy roads.

Yesterday found the three of us on the tour from Connaught Place from where we took the metro to Chawri Bazaar, walked to Jama Masjid and then to Chandni Chowk. As soon as we got to Chandi Chowk, Manuel spotted McDonald's and I was scared it was going to be Maharaja Macs for 3, but I instead convinced them to go to Karim's instead, which threw a monkey wrench into my plans as I had Karim's pencilled in for dinner. Oh well, when in Delhi, one must go with the traffic and off we went to Meena Bazaar for one of my favorite restaurants in the whole world. Not only is the food good, but it does seem to attract the cuter tourists. I have always believed that a good view makes for better dining.

From Karim's, it was back to Chandni Chowk where we took Oliver to our favorite temple and it was off to Khari Bawali or as the non Delhi-wallahs call it, the spice market. We followed our noses and before long our senses were bombarded as the smell of all the spices filled the air. Suddely there were monkeys overhead and so I played the tourist and started snapping pictures. A guy in a horse cart told me to get out of the way because I was standing in the middle of the road, but then I pointed out that 10 thousand other people were standing in the same road and told gim to give the gora a break. He smiled, I smiled and all was well in Old Delhi.

After a hot and sweaty time in Old Delhi, there was just one thing to do... Head to Aqua for poolside drinks and some cooling off under the misting fans. One pitcher of Long Island iced teas later and we were feeling well enough to make our way to Q'BA for dinner on the rooftop terrace.

Before long it was time to pile back into the rickshaw and head back to New Friend's Colony where, within 15 minutes of arriving I was fast asleep, to tired to even undress. Today will find me working and then at 16:30, it will be off to Aqua with swim suits in hand for late afternoon cocktails by and in the pool with Stephen, Pierre and David.

Friday, August 03, 2007


At last a break from work an a little bit of time to write about the life I might be having in in fact I were having a life. I have, however had a few breaks here and there. Last Friday night found Manuel and I out to dinner with, surprise, Pierre and Stephen and their friend David at Smokehouse Grill. That spice martini was like coming home and after a stressful day at the office, I found myself melting into the chair and settling in for a nice dinner seasoned with the occasional call from the office. I scoured the menu looking and notice something missing. The smoked ash sole. Maybe it's just me, but I can't imagine it was that popular. I love a bit of sole, but ash sole is another thing entirely and in my opinion has no place on the menu in an establishment with a reputable reputation.

After we had wolfed down out filet mignons, espressos and after dinner drinks, we were off to the Ivy for music, martinis and suddenly I felt the smile of Ganesh as I spotted the bottle of Veuve Cliquot and ordered one up for us all.

Sunday Manual and I went to the Delhi Zoo completely unaware that we would be the most popular attraction. We would be looking at the lion or the elephant and the crowds would be looking at us. It was definately a case of "Goras on Parade". I am completely used to it now when out in public, but I was surprised that people paid money to look at the animals and it was all eyes on the foreigners. The Delhi Zoo is the only zoo I have ever visited that does not have the normal monkey cage, but instead signs all over warning people to beware of the stray monkeys. I guess it would be like having a pigeon in a New York zoo... Why bother?

Whenever we are out in public, Manuel and I find ourselves in one of the following conversations:

"Hello, sir, what country you from?
"Holland. Very nice country!"
"Have you been there?"
"No. Very nice country"

Manuel has taken to saying he is from China which seems to confuse people in a rather funny way as they are not sure how to respond.

I have doe a bit of exploring since living here in New Friends Colony and have discovered that I live around the corner from the Apollo Chest Pain Center where one can not only go for the treatment of chest pain, but can also get one's teeth whitened. At first I thought it silly but then I realized that if the big one is coming, it would be nice to be confident in one's dental brilliance.