Saturday, 3 November 2012

Train to Mumbai and an almost marriage proposal

     "What is your favourite Indian sweet?"
     "Um. Gulab jamun."
     "What shape is the gulab jamun?"
     "Yes, very good!"
      The group of colleagues sharing my berth on the train to Mumbai have carried out their routine checks and established where I’m from, length of time spent in India and learnt that I speak some Hindi. Delighted but still suspicious and as we've got twenty hours to kill they proceed with their questions in a mixture of rapid Hindi and English. The gulab jamun response has satisfied them to a degree but this is just the start and we run through the whole list of popular themes; what is my favourite Indian dish and how is it prepared, why am I not married and when will I be getting married, will my parents select my husband for me and why do so many couples in the UK get divorced (they consider the answer to the second question to be linked to the first), would I consider an Indian husband? 
     "Sure, why not?" More high pitched shrieks and laughter follow along with a list of suggestions as to suitable potential matches including, curiously, one Aunty’s already married son. 
    "This way I can be spending six months with his wife in Mumbai and six months with you in London isn’t it?" I laughed but she looked back at me expectantly. 
     And then of course came the inevitable test of my willingness to fully submit myself to these situations.
     "Do you know any Hindi songs?" I already know where this is going because I’ve been here before and like every time I want to say no but I know that this would be pointless. Before I came to India the only time you would have found me singing solo in public is in a karaoke bar and that too with loud backing music. Since being in India I’ve become fairly accustomed to being asked to sing, say a few words, recite a poem and even dance on demand, solo, in public view. So I give in.
     "Um, yes?"
     "Which songs?" I list a few and mention a few favourites.
     "Sing one for us! Yes, sing!" Eight faces peer at me expectantly, phone cameras and videos at the ready. So I start singing the few lines I know off by heart from one of my favourite Hindi songs to my new friends and others pausing in the train corridor to listen as the whole thing is immortalised on video to be replayed for the entertainment of their friends and family members when they reach home and as evidence of the gori they met on the train that sings Hindi songs and has a weakness for gulab jamuns.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Dusty laptop

This isn’t my story but I wanted to share it as it made me laugh so much at the time and is a perfect example of the kind of small cultural differences between countries that make the experience of living in a foreign country simultaneously baffling and hilarious.

I was on the way back from a meeting with two colleagues today in an auto and we were talking in very general terms about certain cultural differences between India, the UK and the US. One colleague has an Indian friend currently studying in an American University and her friend had called her up yesterday and was telling my colleague how much she missed home. She said that one of the things that she found so frustrating about living in the US was the different rules and systems to those in India and she gave an example saying that she missed the fact that in Indian towns and cities you would see people’s clothes hanging on the line and laid out across the roofs and terraces of the houses and apartments. In the city in the US where she lives there are strict rules about where you are allowed to hang out your clothes to dry and even stricter rules about where you park your cars, leave your rubbish and the length to which your grass is allowed to grow (not more than 6 inches in case you were interested).

In India when any electrical item breaks or goes wrong it would be absolutely inconceivable to simply go to the shop and replace the broken item with a new one as there will always be a shop or a man, or a man with a shop (a table outside the front of his home with a sign saying ‘repairs’) within a 10 meter radius of wherever you are standing that can fix said item. When my colleague’s friend in the US’s laptop broke she took it to the nearest computer shop and asked if they could repair it. She thought that it had broken because some dust had gotten into the laptop and that all that needed to be done was for the laptop to be unscrewed and the dust to be cleaned out. The shop attendant confirmed that this was what needed to be done but said that unfortunately he would not be able to perform the required task as he did not have the authority or the right to unscrew the laptop. The laptop remained unfixed and my colleague’s friend was yet again confounded by what seemed to her to be a totally ridiculous rule and explained in frustration to my colleague, ‘It’s so ridiculous! They don’t even have the right to screw in America!’

Monday, 9 July 2012

Singing in the rain

On Friday evening the rain finally arrived. One second the sun was beating down and the next it had disappeared behind a sheet of dark grey cloud and the wind swept in from nowhere whipping up great clouds of dust and dirt. And then the rain came. Great buckets of it falling in huge, fat, wet drops, washing away the dust and the dirt from the streets and replacing the hot dry air with clean fresh air. The temperature plummeted from 43 degrees to an incredible 28 degrees in the space of a few hours. It’s the strangest feeling to go from forgetting what it feels like not to be hot and sweaty to suddenly feeling a slight shiver go through you from the cold (28 degrees, my new benchmark for cold!).

Delhi is many things to me but it’s rare that I’d describe it as a beautiful city in its totality but after the first rain it really did seem as though I were seeing the city again for the first time. The day after the rain the sky was the deepest, brightest blue I think I’ve ever experienced here and with the dust washed away the city’s true colours are revealed underneath, the lines of buildings appear sharper and everything is pulled into focus again. The sweet, sticky smell of summer is replaced by the smell of rain water, wet leaves and damp earth and after weeks of breathing in hot, dusty air you feel light headed with excitement at being able to breath in lungfulls of clean, cool air. There’s a palpable sense of relief and excitement that ripples across the city.

I know that in the UK there were days when I just wished I lived somewhere else where it didn’t rain quite so much – much like everyone at home is probably feeling right now after the 191st day of rain this year – but I hope that when I am back home on one of those rainy days that I’ll at least remember on occasions how much I appreciated the rain out here and how lucky we are to have so much of it.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Neighbourhood watch

I live in a flat on my own in south Delhi. It’s a great little flat. Badly patched up concrete walls, a large crack in the ceiling that emerged after last year’s earthquake, huge open vents where the dust floods through leaving my belongings constantly covered in a thin film of brown dirt. It’s basic, and that’s being kind, but it’s mine. It sits at treetop level and is my escape from the chaos of cycle rickshaws, barking dogs, vegetable carts, autos and motorcycles circling around below. And one of the best things about it recently is my growing local lookout squad.

It’s a pretty unusual thing out here to live on your own and even more unusual for a girl to live on her own. It’s a topic that sparks no end of curiosity amongst my colleagues and Indian friends. ‘But what do you do?’ is a question I get asked fairly frequently accompanied by a look of utter concern. I think their firm belief is that I spend the hours outside of work quietly pacing up and down my terrace until it’s time to go back to the office. So, if these people who know me and know something about what I do outside of work hours when I’m not pacing the terrace are curious, then it’s not surprising that my neighbours and local shopkeepers are doubly interested and have my every movement under observation.

It’s fair to say that when I first moved here I was treated with the utmost suspicion. I could tell this not by what people would ask but what they wouldn’t ask. My milk would be handed to me over the counter with an accusing look that said, ‘what are you going to be doing with that milk?’ I would smile back pleasantly with a responding look that said, ‘I’m going to put it in my tea thank you very much.’ This continued for a while but after a bit of time people began to accept my presence in the neighbourhood and would ask me questions in Hindi or English about where I was from, what I was doing here, am I married and if not why not, how many children do I have, what do I cook at home and talking me through how to cook various Indian dishes. When I went home to the UK a month ago I was quite taken aback when I got to the supermarket checkout and was greeted by a smiling checkout assistant enthusiastically addressing me with, ‘Hi! How are you?’ No suspicion or monitoring of the items in my shopping basket. But the minute I responded and started to give a blow by blow account of my day and describe my excitement at the 2 for 1 offer on shampoos I realised she had already stopped listening and was greeting the next customer.  The question had been asked out of politeness, not genuine interest or nosiness, and it was not expected that I should respond.

Although sometimes I wish it was possible to be a little more anonymous, mostly I love that my neighbourhood watch team take such a keen interest in my daily activities. Slowly but surely they’ve gotten to know enough about me through their questions and through observing my purchases to feel like they can trust me and take me under their wing. Now when I go to buy my milk and another customer gives me a look of suspicion and asks the Aunty in the shop who I am and where I’m from I can hear her telling them about me in Hindi but in a way that says, ‘back off, she’s ours.’ My toilet paper guy keeps a mental record of any male friend he’s seen me with, ‘The man I am seeing you with the other day, tall, dark hair. He is your husband? Where he is from?’ And when the Indian grandmas try to pull rank in the queue for the vegetable cart (I’m all about respecting your elders but not when there’s ten of them physically elbowing you out of the way) my vegetable guy gives them a telling off.  It might sometimes be bordering on intrusive but these interventions are well meant and I for one am comforted to know that I have my own local protection squad, it makes the hours spent pacing up and down the terrace a lot less solitary.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Sleeping melon

It’s really hot in Delhi at the moment. 46 degrees kind of hot. That same self-combusting sort of heat I talked about last year plus a few degrees as last year it only hit 42. When it gets this hot your single minded mission becomes to find ways to cool down. Showering in your clothes before you go to bed, sprinkling water over the room with the ceiling fans on, I’d already tried a number of remedies to minimal effect. Last week a friend told me that she’d been told that holding or more specifically hugging a watermelon to your body was supposed to help cool you down. She told me this as an amusing anecdote; I laughed but at the same time thought to myself, ‘I wonder?’ Earlier in the week, desperate and sleep deprived I decided to buy a watermelon on my way home. I got home, put it in the fridge and forgot about it for a few hours whilst I went to meet a friend. Later that night as I got into bed hugging my watermelon I felt and no doubt looked truly ridiculous. For the first five minutes I couldn’t sleep because I was laughing out loud at the image of myself in bed hugging a watermelon. But it worked. I slept more soundly than I have done in days. And what was at first a ridiculous act in a desperate moment has now become part of my daily routine. Every morning I replace the watermelon in the fridge and in the evenings carry it to bed with me. Yes I feel ridiculous but I sleep so much more soundly at night. 

Now that I’ve started in this vain I should mention that I also solved the mystery of the onion in the pocket the other day. It turns out that keeping an onion on your person does not in fact on its own keep you cool (no, I hadn’t been trying this method as well). The reason is that apparently laying crushed onion on the skin is a remedy for heat stroke. So, carrying an onion with you at all times during the hot weather ensures that if you are struck down by heat stroke and somewhere where there are no onions (admittedly an unlikely scenario in India) then you will have one on your person that you can use as a remedy.

A six month absence from this blog and on my return I choose to write about hugging watermelons. I don’t suppose you really expected anything less though. I apologise readers of three for the longer than usual absence from this blog but I intend to get back to blogging once again. 

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

In transit

One of the best and strangest things about travelling and living abroad is going home. I returned home to England for Christmas and New Year and it was the first time I’d been back in a year. Within twenty four hours of arriving home I was in a London pub with friends, surrounded by other British people drinking their pints and generally being British. At first I felt a bit as though I’d strayed into a theme park of Britain as it was such a stereotypical scene and so familiar yet unfamiliar at the same time. Another twenty four hours later I left the pub…just kidding, another twenty four hours later of being at home and India seemed like it had almost never happened, as though it had been some crazy dream.

My reason for writing this slightly abstract post is I wanted to try and put down how it feels to me leading this slightly strange double-life. How quickly you can revert from one situation to another and for both to seem completely normal, with perhaps just a few minor details out of place. For instance, I was at first a little spooked out by just how quiet the roads are in England, in fact how quiet it is in general compared to Delhi. I also quite enjoyed the freedom my foreigner status gave me at times, such as daring to look around me in the London Tube (metro) carriage and look people in the eye. It might sound ridiculous but this is something that Londoners simply don’t do and there is something quite freeing about not observing certain rituals which have always seemed absurd to me anyway.

I found I got a bit stuck when people at home asked me, “So, how’s India?” A year living of living in Delhi and travelling and the best I could mostly come up with was, “Great thanks!” As though I’d just popped to the shops to get some milk. The thing is I find it a bit difficult to strike a middle balance between saying the bare minimum for fear of being a bore and being a bore and going through a blow by blow account of my daily life in India. After all, that’s what this blog is for! So apologies friends and family if I was a bore at any point, at least I didn’t subject you to any slide shows. This time.

Right now I’m sat in Riyadh Airport on a ten hour stopover (the economy way to fly) and yet again it almost feels like home was just some lovely dream. I was so confused a few hours ago that I forgot I was going back to Delhi and was thinking about what I’d do when I got back to the UK tomorrow where I’ve just left.  I blame the fact that I’ve already been travelling for 12 hours on very little sleep (Em/Nikki - it could have ended like my train journey to Stevenage only on international proportions). It’s a strange airport as in addition to being in the middle of the desert with no apparent activity outside of it - you don’t see the runway until you’ve touched down on it - there are large numbers of transit passengers also here on long stopovers so there’s a mini international airport community doing laps of the very small airport looking at the food they can’t buy (if you happen to be here in transit see if you can get your hands on some Saudi riyals) and looking increasingly bleary eyed as the transit hours tick by.

A couple of days ago the memories of my life in India started to come back and I began to mentally prepare myself for my return. It feels very different from when I left England for India this time last year as this time round I know what I’m letting myself in for. This is both a good and bad thing. As before I hate leaving my friends and family behind and constantly think I must be mad to do so but there’s always that other part of me that’s excited to be going back and misses India. It was the strangest feeling when I was leaving Delhi before Christmas as although I was stupidly excited about going home I also felt a little unsettled about leaving my bizarre Delhi world. It seems that at some point during the year it has become my new ‘normal.’ Despite my heart sinking slightly at the thought of my body being put through another year of extreme heat, humidity and potential hair loss (it’s only just grown back to its former lustre which wasn’t particularly lustrous in the first place), India and Delhi in particular seems to have well and truly gotten under my skin in a way I don’t really fully understand but am learning to embrace. 

Saturday, 10 December 2011


‘Head, shoulders, knees and tooooes, knees and toooes, and eyes and ears and mouth and nooose!’
Me, my best Indian-English accent and twenty children enthusiastically singing along to ‘Head, shoulders, knees and toes.’ Another day at Pagdandi.

Pagdandi is a project initiated by Swechha in 2009. It is run by volunteers and provides informal education and mentoring support to the children of Jagdamba Camp, a slum community in New Delhi. Twice weekly sessions are held on weekends and an interactive library has been set up within the community that the children can access. The aim is to provide the children with a safe and stimulating environment that allows them to become more focused, self-confident and ambitious. I might be biased because I volunteer with them but I can honestly say it is one the best, most effective and most needed initiatives I’ve come across since being in India.

Pagdandi helps every child to explore their individual potential and also teaches them life skills such as team work and leadership. Many of the older children take on the role of mentoring or tutoring the younger children and all of the children act as mentors for one another, constructing role plays, dances, songs and games around the session’s theme for that day. Activities are built around a particular theme each week that focuses on teaching the children about the wider environment outside of their community and what their roles and responsibilities are within that community. The children are also given the opportunity to learn new activities such as karate, bharatnatayam dance, painting, play writing and acting, all of which are led by volunteers, and there is an annual Pagdandi Festival where they get the opportunity to put on a show for the community and showcase these activities. Because of my limited Hindi I am often treated more like the new kid in the playground rather than one of the adults so that at times I am also not quite sure who is mentoring who. More than once I have been given an impromptu Hindi lesson by an exasperated child who is appalled at my bad pronunciation. At the start of one particular Sunday session I very confidently asked them all in Hindi what they had been doing that week. Their faces lit up and I was met with a stream of enthusiastic responses,
                ‘Gulab jamun!’
 I’d mistakenly asked them what they had been eating that week.

Part of the reason for my writing this particular blog post now is that the Pagdandi project needs funding in order to be able to continue into the next year. Swecha is therefore raising funds through participating in Global Giving’s Open Challenge:

Through this challenge Swechha hopes to raise enough funds to ensure the continuation and growth of Pagdandi in the coming year. If you are reading this post then I really would urge you to go the link above and make a donation. Having seen first-hand what this project means to a large number of children I know how important it is that it continues. All the money raised goes directly towards Pagdandi project for the materials needed to run the Pagdandi sessions and the community library. 

If you would like to find out more about Pagdandi please feel free to write a comment on this post or you can go to the Swecha or Global Giving page directly.

Thursday, 27 October 2011


A cycle rickshaw narrowly misses a collision with a
Roman candle

Diwali. Definitely my favourite Indian festival yet. The biggest festival in the Indian calendar, there is the same kind of hype and excitement over Diwali as there is over Christmas at home. Long strips of coloured lights are hung from rooftops and balconies, the shops are piled to the rafters with Indian sweets and temporary markets are erected selling candles of every colour, shape and size, decorations, nuts and dried fruits and…kitchen equipment. I never quite worked out the reason for the kitchen equipment, perhaps it’s just the most popular gift du jour or maybe families want to impress visiting relatives with their new set of matching plates, kettle and toaster.

Diwali is the festival of light, which in India means fireworks, which in India also means earth shatteringly loud, hold onto your newly bought kitchen equipment, teeth rattling explosions. They started about a week ago and steadily built to a crescendo last night, Diwali night. It reminded me of bonfire night at home only a thousand times more chaotic, the whole sky erupting with showers of pink, green, blue, white and purple interspersed with atom bomb style explosions and what sounds like rounds of artillery fire going off but is actually lines of firecrackers being lit in the street, usually casually thrown into the path of an unsuspecting motorcyclist or passer-by. I love fireworks but at points even I got a bit nervous, particularly when my neighbours on the rooftop behind me seemed to have eschewed the idea that fireworks should point upwards and lit them so that showers of blue sparks were arching over and onto the top of my terrace. My favourite moment was watching the family next door using the busy road as their firework launch pad. The father of the family methodically and with great ceremony went back and forth with a lit torch, from the house into the middle of road, to light what seemed to be an interminable supply of fireworks. Roman candles and rockets went shooting up into the air as mopeds, cycle rickshaws and pedestrians swerved just in time to avoid them and the family looked on from the side-lines.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Mum in India. Rajasthan, a waterfall and a lot of hand sanitiser

“Go and have a look at your sink!”
Mum has been in Delhi less than 12 hours and she emerges from the kitchen brandishing a wire brillo pad and triumphantly declaring that she has cleaned the “uncleanable,” I had told her, sink. (I’m very grateful by the way mum and still marvelling at its metallic shine!)

Feeling guilty and slightly peeved after my previous day’s cleaning spree that mum had still managed to identify the grimiest item in my flat, at least I’d planned us out a travelling schedule for the next couple of weeks to ensure she’d be seeing more of India than just the inside of my kitchen sink. Our plan was to spend the first week travelling round part of Rajasthan stopping in Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Jaipur and finishing up in Udaipur. The second week we’d planned to go up to Shimla for a few days to do some mountain view gazing and walking.

Before I go any further family as I know a few of you had your concerns about what condition I would return mum in, don’t be alarmed as you read this as, apart from a few hairy moments with aggressive monkeys, a power cut whilst walking down a busy highway and a brief night’s stay at the world’s worst hotel, the story ends well. I’ve checked and mum has since reached home safely (she arrived in India with a large supply of mint imperials, enough hand sanitiser to sanitise an army and her own supply of plastic straws so we were always safe in the knowledge that we’d never have bad breath or dirty hands throughout the two weeks).

Everyone has their own opinion of the Taj, my Keralan friend resolutely declares that she’s seen “much more beautiful buildings in Kerala” (not that she’s bias), but this was my second visit and I still found it just as beautiful. Even if giant marble mausoleums encrusted with millions of jewels and carvings aren’t really your thing, it’s difficult not to be impressed by this huge white beacon of a building and admire the craftsmanship that went into its making. That said, when mum and I visited the Fatehpur Sikri palace complex the following day I think we were actually more taken by it in comparison. The palaces are perched high up on a hill so that as you walk through, the courtyards and windows face out onto the Agra countryside. The architecture is also a curious but beautiful, I thought, mish-mash of Hindu, Muslim and Christian designs and strange Labyrinth style buildings with staircases leading into nowhere. I’m not sure what brought on our morbid fascination but, instructed by the guidebooks that one of the palaces looks onto a public courtyard where they carried out public elephant tramplings (the way to dispense with your thieves and murderers in India before the days of prisons), we spent the end of our visit fixated on finding this courtyard and triumphantly announcing, “there it is!” when we found the ring where they tied up the elephants. It’s the small things.

In Jaipur we visited a lot of palaces. The City Palace – several palaces that had been merged into one big palace, Palace of the Winds and The Amber Fort – several palaces contained within a giant fort. The Amber Fort was my favourite. Parts of it were still being used as a home until the 70’s and still contained the same furnishings, including one dubious room which had mirrored walls, floors and ceilings – Jen & Em, imagine Infernos nightclub minus the sticky floors, rugby teams and terrible music. Overcome by so much sightseeing it wasn’t long before we reverted to stereotype and sought out the nearest place to our hotel serving alcohol, not as easy as we’d hoped and involved crossing many dimly lit traffic intersections, being directed into a hotel that despite being told it was ‘open’ was still under construction, until we finally found a rooftop bar drenched in slightly seedy red lighting but with an amazing view of the city lights.

Udaipur. I loved everything about this city; waking up in the morning to the sound of wet clothes being slapped and pounded on the ghat, watching the old man going for his daily morning bath and lying on his back in the water in the lotus position, walking through the windy streets next to our hotel past houses with cows sat in the front room, watching the sun rise and set over the lake, and the Udaipur sense of humour. I’m not used to sarcasm out here in the same way that it’s an everyday occurrence at home so I was taken aback when I told the hotel manager the electricity in our room wasn’t working and he responded in a deadpan voice, “Yes, you did not pay me yesterday!” waiting just long enough for me to look panic stricken before chuckling to himself and I realised he was joking and we both laughed. That same day we went into a small shop selling silver pendants and necklaces. The woman running the store obligingly got out various different pendants from the glass case for us to look at including some that had moving parts, an owl that flapped its wings, a walking dinosaur and so on. She then passed me one which I couldn’t at first identify and then shrieked with laughter when she saw my face as I realised what it was, a kama sutra pendant complete with moving parts!

Sad about leaving Udaipur behind but excited about the prospect of heading up to the mountains, the start to the next chapter of our trip was like being prodded with a sharp Indian stick and told, “You didn’t really think you could have it that good for two whole weeks did you?” Arriving in Shimla in the darkness because our taxi driver got repeatedly lost on the way (I knew it was bad news when we’d stop for directions and he'd drive off before the person giving instructions had finished what they were saying), we finally pulled up at our hotel, the ironically named, ‘Hotel Dreamland.’ The less said about this place the better as I’ve wreaked my revenge on but unless your idea of a Dreamland is pillows coated in someone else’s human hair, a hotel manager that looks at you as though he’d like to murder you in your sleep when you ask for toilet roll and a drunk porter, then stay away. Still, no trip would be complete without such small blips and thankfully that’s all it was. The next day we arose at 6am, paid, sprinted out of the door and trekked the other side of town to a new hotel and awoke to a bright new day.

Shimla town, as people had warned me, isn’t much to speak of but it’s in a beautiful location which looks out over the Himalayan mountain ranges and pine forests. On our last day we decided to do the 5km walk to Chadwick Falls. I have a strong suspicion that we are the first two people to have actually visited the falls since they were first discovered in the early 1900’s and whoever wrote the ‘5km’ sign at the start of the walk has a cruel sense of humour. One hour of walking later we had walked at least 5km but didn’t seem to be nearing a waterfall. Two hours of walking later down steep mountain roads, still no waterfall. Each time we stopped to ask someone if we were going in the right direction for the falls they would nod and point downwards, so we went, down and down until three hours later nearly at the valley floor we finally came across a sign post pointing into the forest. We walked for another hour through the pine forest, two lone trekkers, mum screaming every time she walked into a cobweb, me tripping over pine cones and still no sign of a waterfall. We kept coming across spots where there looked as though there should have been a waterfall but was just dry rocks. The only thing that had driven us forward for four hours was the thought of this tumbling 67m high, so says the Lonely Planet, waterfall and me exclaiming with utter conviction, “Let’s keep going, I can definitely hear water now!,” but never a drop of water was to be found. Crestfallen and thinking about the four hour walk back up the mountainside we decided to turn back when an amazing thing happened, nearly as amazing as finding the waterfall that we’d trekked all that way to see except better. We emerged from the forest onto the main road and heard the rumble of an engine around the corner. During the entirety of our four hour (did I mention yet it was four hours?) walk down the mountainside only a couple of motorbikes and cars had passed us the whole way. To keep each other’s spirits up we had taken it in turns to say “Perhaps there will be a bus that passes us on the way back?” but we knew our chances were slim to none. So when, at the same split second that we emerged onto the road, this bus suddenly emerged through the dust, we both started laughing hysterically, crazy from exhaustion and heat. I waved and flapped my arms frantically to get the bus to stop and was too tired to consider how ridiculous I must have looked. The people on the bus observed us with looks of amazement, I don’t suppose they get many tourists on that part of the mountain trekking to the invisible waterfall, and amusement at these two westerners covered from head to toe in dust and grinning maniacally.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Quite a week

Even by Delhi’s standards this has been quite a week. A bomb blast on Wednesday and an earthquake the evening of that same day, then today I left my apartment to discover that my colony looked like a scene out of Waterworld. It seems the monsoon rains had been holding back in order to dump several days’ worth of rain in the space of two hours.

I’m sure people will have read about the bomb blast so I won’t go into details here but thankfully none of my friends or colleagues in Delhi were caught up in it at the time. The earthquake was a strange experience. It was my first earthquake, at least the first I was awake for as I managed to sleep through the last one when it happened a few months back(!), and quite a strong one. It was 11.30pm and I was sat out on my rooftop reading when suddenly the whole building started to shake and continued to do so for about 6 seconds. I was confused for the first 2 seconds, then so shocked when I realised what it was and heard other people running out from their houses onto the street that I just remained rooted to the spot. By the time I thought perhaps I ought to try and leave the building the rumbling had stopped. I’m probably not the ‘quick thinker’ you want to be stood near in a natural disaster situation.

This morning’s monsoon rains provided more light hearted entertainment than serious cause for concern. I started off my walk to work with water swilling around my legs at ankle height then by the time I reached half way it had reached calf height and I stopped to take cover by a shop and roll my leggings up a little further. I had a chat in broken Hindi with the man in the shop who I think thought I was slightly crazy to even be attempting to walk any further. As I walked on I lurched between patches of high ground and occasionally one of my legs would disappear down into a pot hole. I was too focused on ploughing forwards to pay much attention but I must have been a pretty ridiculous sight. By the time I reached the Sikh temple, about five minutes from my office, the cycle rickshaws and cars were almost floating through the water. At this point I’d abandoned all hope of any part of me staying dry and was more concerned about the unidentifiable slimy objects I could feel sliding past my legs. I passed one poor lady whose cycle rickshaw driver had abandoned her in the middle of a river of rushing water, deciding that he’d rather risk her wrath (she was screaming across at him whilst he stood under a shelter and looked sheepish) than push his rickshaw through the water. Another eventful morning.

The high of this week has been the number of offers I’ve received from Indian acquaintances to come and eat with their families, join in their religious festivals, accompany them in visits to their home States or join their Buddhist chanting group. It’s unusual for a week to go by without getting these kind of offers but I suppose this week it particularly highlighted to me one of the things I love about Delhi and India in general, that is the way people are so quick to accept you as part of their extended family. Sometimes it’s out of concern (none of my Indian friends really understand how I manage to survive living on my own. I think they think I spend 16 hours rocking quietly in a corner until it’s time to go back to work) but mostly it’s because they genuinely see you as just another part of their own extended family network. The offer to join the Buddhist chanting group (at least that’s what I call them, the name given was much more interesting but I can’t remember it) came from my landlord.  I went to pay my rent and electricity to him the other evening and he passed me a pamphlet about their group which generally promotes world peace and is affiliated with the general Buddhist label? (spot the atheist!) I had to laugh as when I went up to my flat and opened the pamphlet the first page was about working towards, ‘A world free of nuclear weapons.’ Not in itself at all funny, and a principle I wholeheartedly agree with, but what made me laugh was how I’ve gone from having a landlady who I’m quite sure, were she given the chance, would rent out her basement for the purpose of nuclear armament and probably offer to light the fuse, to a landlord that is campaigning for nuclear disarmament and world peace. Perhaps my ending up here is what’s meant by karma.