Monday, 16 May 2011

Say hello, wave goodbye

I’ve lost count of all the people who have come and gone in our lives over the past two years. And with another monsoon, comes another mass exodus of newly acquired friends shipping out to new assignments all over the world. You couldn’t move for Champagne-quaffing ex-pats enjoying a last brunch at the Renaissance last week. The atmosphere was heady and excitable as talk turned to warm beer in English country pubs and supplement-heavy Sunday Newspapers.

But is the grass always greener? When we are drinking warm beer in a cold climate sometime in the future, will we be reminiscing about drinking chilled Champagne in a hot climate? For all the complaining that we do, I actually think we might be having a good time, occasionally.

So the booze flowed, the laughter grew louder and the kids ran riot in the marbled halls, fighting with balloon swords and being rather ineffectually marshalled by a large, red-faced woman dressed as a fairy. I don’t remember anyone looking after my kids while I enjoyed myself in a five-star hotel with friends back home. In fact, I don’t think I even went into a five-star hotel back home. And now, here we are calling over the hotel minstrels, asking if they know ‘Homeward bound’ and singing along like drunken idiots.

Being part of a minority and sharing a common experience such as living in India, does bring people together more quickly. I often find that when I meet someone new in Mumbai we can’t stop gassing for the first couple of hours. It’s so nice to meet someone who has the same expectations and similar experiences to me and who just ‘gets what I’m on about’. I had no idea how important humour and nuance in everyday conversation was to me before I came to live in Mumbai and it’s also great to talk to someone other than your husband who is on the phone several times a day (that's my husband I mean, not yours)

My dear friend Rebecca texts me all day long about nothing much and I love it. Backwards and forwards go the sms’s describing the day’s frustrations which, when sent, magically turn from annoying things that happen into funny stories. We go on expeditions around town together, visiting places we’d never visit alone – we even ran the Mumbai marathon together. But now she is leaving… and I am bereft. Mind you, I was also bereft when our Kiwi friends Amanda and Henry went back to NZ this time last year. We have met people from all around the world; they have come into our lives for a while and given the whole experience extra dimension and colour.

So farewell then Sally, Paul, Rebecca, Mischa, Susie, Simon, Emilie and Stephane. I hope you all have nice lives and remember me on Facebook from time to time. Our Saturday nights were getting a bit out of hand anyway and I am sure my liver will be glad of the rest.

But don’t worry about me guys, sitting here in the rain; I’ve just heard we’ve got some new mates shipping in! Out of the blue, an email pinged into my inbox from someone I met once at a party three years ago.

“Hi, I don’t know whether you remember me but I met you at Sarah and Chris’s fancy dress party in Maidstone in 2008. I was Cyndi Lauper, you were Debbie Harry, we got on like a house on fire, remember?”

“Ah, yes, Cyndi Lauper, what a great night that was, I remember.”

“Well, I got your email from Sarah because we’re moving to Mumbai in the summer and were hoping we could meet up with you for a few drinks.”

And, as it turns out, dear reader, Cyndi Lauper also known as Bonnie and her husband Daniel have taken an apartment in our building and, by further fortunate co-incidence, have daughters around the same age as mine. Instant new friends on tap. Result!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Cougar Town


The plan was to go to Jodhpur sans husbands and kids and concentrate solely on shopping and drinking. It was a simple plan and I liked it. We (two girlfriends and I) came up with it one night when I was telling the tale of how my husband and dad had dragged me, kicking and screaming, from the handicraft market the last time we had been in Rajasthan. I just wanted to be able to shop at leisure without being followed by the little black cloud, the shuffling morose unit, that is my family when they are forced to spend more than one minute in a shop which doesn’t sell video games, sweets or car parts.

Flights and accommodation were booked before you could say “Jodhpur, here we come!” and husbands were instructed on what to do with the kids at the weekend. And so, on the Friday morning, I found myself going to meet my fellow shoppers/drinkers at the domestic airport. I should perhaps tell you a little about my travel companions at this stage.

Rebecca, 31, from Scotland, looks like Snow White and swears like a trooper. She was chuffin’ away on a cigarette when I met her outside the terminal.

“Ahm checkin an impty bag coz ahm ginnie fill et wi all kinds of handicrafts shite,” she announced, “an if they’ll nae tek it back in the plane I’m ginnie hire a feckin’ camel!”

Rebecca, I should add, is a man-magnet, attracting stares wherever we go. She doesn’t seem to notice the mesmerizing effect she has on men with her blue eyes, pale skin and jet hair.

Sally, 42, is an IT whizz and usually leaves the domestics to her house husband, Paul. She was more interested in the English magazines I had bought than concentrating on which gate we were supposed to be at, she couldn’t wait to get her nose stuck into ‘Hello.’

All three of us were looking forward to a break from being mummy, so with bulging purses and empty bags, off we went!

It was a hairy flight on a little airplane but Sally didn’t notice. Every now and again you’d hear: “I want those shoes” or “How thin is she?” I was quite relieved, when we finally landed at Jodhpur at two in the afternoon. The driver organized by our hotel arrived promptly and took us to Rattan Villas, a ten minute ride from the airport.

It was a great choice of hotel (thank you, Sally!) not too expensive, heritage in style with large, clean airy rooms and lovely deep baths. After a quick wardrobe change we headed out to ‘On the Rocks’ a bar and restaurant highly recommended by a Jodhpur aficionado friend. Unfortunately they stopped serving food at three and it was ten past so we managed to drink through our hunger, a few handfuls of complimentary peanuts took the edge off. And then it was time to hit the handicrafts.

The driver knew exactly what we wanted and took us to warehouse after dusty warehouse of all kinds of paraphernalia and junk. We sat on thrones and sipped on tiny thimbles of chai while we were shown bedspreads and throws and pashminas, one after the other, until we were nearly blinded. We were taken to jewellers where they flashed us diamonds and rubies and sapphires and didn’t stop even when we said we had no intention of buying. I liked the furniture shops the best and fell in love with a beautiful old Rajasthani console table which I was in the process of buying and arranging to ship when the boss came in and said he had already sold it. It was like a knife in my heart.

And so, as consolation, we returned dusty and exhausted to ‘On the Rocks’ where, happily, they were doing food. There also seemed to be an all male disco in full swing. I have never seen a dance floor totally occupied by men before. And it wasn’t even what you are thinking because when we got up to leave, one of them approached me, saying he had felt a ‘special connection’ when I had earlier asked him directions to the loo. Such was this connection that he jumped on his motorbike and chased us all the way home. Sally and Rebecca thought this was hilarious and it was only when the hotel management threatened him with the police that he left. Frankly I was flattered. I was rather hoping he would still be there in the morning. Hey, I’ve still got it!

This unexpected element to the holiday continued when Sally and I clocked a couple of handsome young American backpackers at breakfast and then kept bumping into them all day at the various forts and palaces we visited. Sally and I intended to use Rebecca as bait to get them to have a drink with us that evening.

“What’s wrang with youz two auld cougars”, she announced, “Stop prowling and leave them wee boyz alaine!”

Jodhpur is a beautiful city painted corn flour blue. As we ascended the mountain toward the Meherangarth Fort we snapped away at the sea of blue houses painted in the colour of Lord Krishna. (Most of the homes traditionally belonged to Brahmins) The enormous fort, built in 1459, looks straight down a perpendicular cliff, making it famously impregnable. The tour guide was full of fascinating facts and worth every bit of his modest fee. He showed us the rooms specifically dedicated to opium smoking in the days of old. The ceiling was hung with coloured glass balls and mirrors - all the better for staring at when stoned up to the eyeballs I should imagine. No wonder those maharajas had such creative vision when it came to decorating their palaces and forts. “I know, let’s get a thousand mirror balls in all the colours of the rainbow and just stick them on them on the ceiling! Yes, your highness, that’s a great idea!”

We visited the museum too and what our guide didn’t know about howdahs and palanquins wasn’t worth knowing.

After the guide left us at the cafĂ© we wondered down into the city and got totally lost. At one stage we were being chased by some cows down a narrow street and had to leap into a rickshaw for a quick getaway. The afternoon was spent visiting more handicraft stores, palaces and museums, occasionally bumping into our American friends here and there. We sipped tea in a specialist tea shop in the Bazaar and were somehow persuaded to buy some even though we didn’t like it. The guy asked me to lose my friends and come back later to drink opium tea with him. Wow, I wasn’t wearing Lynx or anything, second time I pulled in two days! Shame the guy had an extremely unfortunate looking face. At the end of the day we had purchased the following items: Red, green and blue mirror balls, a mask, slippers x3, a quilt, a pashmina and some horrible tea. I wish I could have added an antique console table to that list.

That night we dined at the hotel, cracking open the bottle of Champagne that Rebecca had packed and then some more that she hadn’t. I am pleased to tell you, readers, that the lovely American boys (actually aged 24) joined us to drink into the night and swap stories of our weekend in Jodhpur. Just Sally and I mind, Rebecca, disgusted with us, went to bed!