Thursday, December 29, 2005

Christmas Passed and Presents

Well, that's Christmas gone for another year - now we're into the birthday season. I had mine yesterday, today is my mother-in-law's and San's is on the second of January. It will be interesting to monitor the cake situation: previous years have seen the same cake recycled for all three of us. When I was younger it was not unheard of to see a half eaten Christmas cake with the 'Merry Christmas' plastic signage replaced by a 'Happy Birthday' version. This year things look hopeful: I have not one, but two cakes. One even has my name on it.

San and I went out for dinner for my birthday. Soup, chicken and mutton currys, rotis, poppadoms, salad and lassis all for a programmer pleasing 256 Rupees. Splendid. I had a salt lassi whilst San had sweet. They like their sugar over here, and that brings us to the subject of tea. It's sounds strange but I find it hard to find a good cup of tea in India. Good meaning one that I like - the locals seem to be quite happy with their chai. The desi brew always has plenty of milk and a couple of teaspoons of sugar. Sounds not too bad? After all, some misguided people in the UK are known to like a sweet cup. Make that two teaspoons in a demi-tasse cup - ew! Anyway, after making enough fuss I got a box of darjeeling leaves and a teapot for my birthday. Much better. Intriguingly the tea leaves came with a free bar of soap attached - a money saving combination that I believe even Tesco have yet to discover. I intend to travel to Darjeeling at some point in the future: it looks very scenic.

As for Christmas, it was Roshni who received all the presents. She made sure to open them in strictly descending order of size, the largest one eliciting a 'wow!'. The bulk of the presents made up a wooden jungle safari set comprising of: a base, jeep, four dolls and various wild beasts. It did not take long for the dolls eviction. The base was soon swarming with lions and giraffes, whilst elephants had taken over the jeep. Happily the dolls regained control in time for bed and Roshni tucked them all in, and despite the obvious problems of scale she wanted to join them there.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Merry Christmas

Last weekend we went to the city centre to buy our christmas tree. Obviously christmas isn't so much of a deal over here: I'm only getting the day off because it's on the weekend. Even so, quite a few shops had some decorations in the window. Buying was proving slightly harder, until we found a lane off the main MG Road (Mahatma Gandhi, but everyone calls it MG) that had speciality christmas shops. We left laden with a fake tree plastered in equally fake snow, tinsel, baubles, other gaudy trinkets and of course the multi-program blinkenlights. As you can see, it is all set up and flashing away.

These natty stars are a traditional thing over here. It looks pretty good when the ceiling fan is cranked up...

So we await the day. Presents still need to be wrapped, and hopefully they will prove popular. As always there is the danger that the boxes turn out to be the most popular item.

The neighbours are organising an appartment complex get together on christmas eve. It's a bring you're own food and drink event, so we'll get to sample some more Indian home cooking. We had a small meeting in one of the flats today to discuss preliminary planning: things are looking hopeful. We're having the soirée in the common entrance hall to one of the flats (entrance hall is gilding the lily - under the flat would be more honest). Concern was expressed as to the drinking of alcohol lest it upset the puritans. Immediately a senior lady retorted that they're our flats and we'll do as we please! There is a serious point here: some appartment complexes in India can suffer the tyranny of the majority. It is not unheard of for vegetarians to expel the carnivores. The wise woman advised that us hedonists lay down the ground rules before anyone else gets a chance. On hearing that lights were banned, as some people may object, she asked 'Who said that?'. On hearing it was the site manager she responded firmly 'Let me speak to him.' - I don't envy him.

On the subject of potential offence, an American woman (the same strident one from the earlier hot water posting - she's Texan which I suspect explains the stridency) asked if it would be alright to play some christmas music in the background during the dinner. All the Indians were perplexed as to how this could possibly be a problem. Some right-on councils in the UK could learn a thing or two - as could those who are quick to percieve a slight wherever they look.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Read With Daddy

First of all: apologies and congratulations to my mother in law who bought the fine books I am about to reveal to you. They really are appreciated and Roshni's going to love them. OK, Indian picture books to read with baby. Harmless enough titles.

Let's take a look at Indian domestic animals then. First of all we have the chicken:

Fair enough. When I go to the shop to buy my dinner one of these will be placed on the scales, live and clucking, for my approval. A few minutes later the still warm flesh is returned to me. I had heard that Jamie Oliver had outraged Daily Mail sensibilities a few weeks ago by slaughtering a sheep. Where do these people think their meat comes from? It's honest over here.

Next is the cow. Not to be eaten in India! Indeed, our milk is from buffalos and not Bovis domesticus. The BJP party are busy pushing through anti-cow-slaughter legislation in their fiefdoms: surely a top priority for Shining India.

But what is this? It looks awfully similar...

And another bovine substitute:

My wife justified its inclusion on the basis that they are used for milk up in the northern mountains. Fair enough I suppose; although the creature does wear a very disturbing expression. I've not seen a yak in the flesh, perhaps they all look like that. Turning the page allowed me to use San's previous domestic justification to allow the following as a reasonable domestic companion.

I always knew they made sense. It gets better though. How about a 'Cynx'? No, I'd never heard of one either; I guess they meant Lynx. Even so, I checked on Google Images to make sure I didn't expose myself as a complete fool: the number one hit was some German Goth girl, so I reckon I'm safe.

I hope real Lynxes are prettier than that chimera (the image above, not the German Goth). Whatever they look like, I don't want one in my house (chimera or German Goth). What other examples of domestic husbandry does India have to offer? Well, how about a pet Giraffe?

Nah! Once the height novelty wears off they're no fun. Good job that the Lion is considered domestic by my reliable guide.

But, if the king of the jungle does not provide enough of a thrill then fear not, for no Indian home is complete without an Apatosaurus:

Now, I didn't know what an Apatosaurus was. Fortunately Wikipedia, the reliable online encyclopedia of fabricated Kennedy assassination libel, knew the facts: 'Apatosaurus, often mistakenly refered to as Brontosaurus'. What? When did borontosaurus change its name? When did we realise that it didn't like it's original moniker? At least the book has taught me something. Still, don't have room for a bronto^W apato in the house.

After such magnificent domestic animals will the wild fauna be eclipsed? It appears so, none of the initial beasts can match a lion, let alone a renamed brontosaurus. An elephant comes pretty close though.

Normally a tiger would beat a lion in top trumps - stripe count would be the best category to play. However, this one loses points - surely they could find a realistic tiger image in India!

The wild beasts could provide a last minute challenge. For they had sauropods of their own, Behold the stegosaurus - still roaming the plains of India to this day.

Scarier yet the mosasaurus

The image appears to be a Mozilla fluffy marketing toy made flesh by overactive Indian imaginations. Wikipedia to the rescue once more: it's a real crocodile like dinosaur, but with even more powerful jaws. Who knew what lurked in Indian rivers.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


My previous post makes mention of conversations. Of course it was San doing the talking, whilst I held the baby and picked out words: 'Hyderabad....busy......Pune......retired'. The good news on the language front is that the freight we shipped from the UK had finally made its way out of the port at Mumbai and to our house. Amongst the many toys (very happy baby), and equally numerous pairs of shoes (happy wife), was my neglected Hindi Linguaphone course.

The hope is that a combination of: an incentive to learn; the aforementioned OS X vocabulary tester and a currently nebulous thought of shifting the Linguaphone tapes onto iTunes and iPod will result in somewhat better communications skills. The last two options are important since involving gizmos will enhance the learning experience. Or maybe just give me a chance to play with the gadgets rather than learn. Either way it's a win-win scenario.


Still no ADSL, or for that matter calls outside of the local area and abroad: a trip to the telephone exchange was in order. BSNL is the state owned telecom company in these parts, and the exchange which serves our line is conveniently nearby. My father-in-law had done some prior research on ADSL by phoning up his exchange in Hyderabad. Apparently they can sort you out in a day over there. Not so Pune! A few weeks is the suggested time frame, and we're heading into months territory...

The public face of the exchange was challenged on this temporal disparity. The answer provided was a peculiar one to my non-native understanding of matters telephonic. Here's the gist:
You see Hyderabad is a busy place so things happen quickly there. Pune on the other hand is a retired, relaxed place. Therefore, you must expect things to take some time.
Right. Into the next room (they all have KEEP OUT signs but no one seems to mind visitors), and a chat with an engineer. He expressed surprise at our problems and said it should all be quite straightforward. Indeed after the weekend we received a phone call informing us that the line was checked and ADSL will be available shortly. I won't believe it until the bytes start flowing but things are looking more positive.

The international dialing issue was simpler. We had filled out a form to get our current service, but international dialing requires a separate form to be filled after you have the basic service. It requires a list of countries you're going to be calling, how often you'll be calling, signed photos and a further proof of identity. Quite a bit to get '00' working.

Edit: update - we have the internet at home - yay!