Two New Yorkers spend six months 18 months!?! in Bangalore and other places in India.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sri Lanka, Here We Come

So we're headed off to Sri Lanka for a week. Pictures and stuff to come. We haven't planned the last half of the trip, so I'm not exactly sure what we'll see. But we are going to Colombo, Galle, Unawatuna Beach, and then probably the ancient cities.

In the meantime, here's a big hit from this spring, It's Rocking, from the movie Kay Love Story Hai (What a Love Story). I think the singer, Alisha, sounds amazing. That's Kareena Kapoor in the video, making a guest appearance for the movie.

The Craziness of Z Studio

I love and hate Zee Studio, a English-langauge movie channel here. Their programming seems to have little rhyme or reason -- at least none that I can find. Why else would they follow a completely depressing Serbian movie involving Down syndrome, murder, and suicide by one of the Santa Clause movies, as they did today? A while back I think it was Zee Studio that treated us to Bluebird, another depressing European movie involving learning disabilities. There was bullying in that movie as well as the Dutch language, but no death.

Friday, September 28, 2007

"Hands down . . . his most obnoxious movie yet."

---Slate on Wes Anderson's Darjeeling Limited.

Sounds as if most critics are a little kinder, but not by much. IMDB doesn't have a release date for India. It's not the sort of English-language movie that would get much play here, but I thought perhaps the Indian train thing might make it an exception.

Hobson Jobson

This is fun. Hobson-Jobson, the early 20th century dictionary of Indian-English, is available online. Of course it is.

And here's godown (warehouse). Don and I were just wondering yesterday if it's from "going down", if it's literally taken from an Indian language, or what. Seems as if its actually just the anglicized version of a longstanding Telugu/Tamil/South Indian word for a "place where goods are."

And what's a Hobson-Jobson anyway? Click here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Times (of India) Responds to Iran Prez Attack

A Times of India article today gets very hopped-up over the unwarm welcome given to the Iranian "prez" at Colombia University a couple days ago (Can't find it online, sorry. Click here to go to the whole thing.)

I'm not sure if it was picking on Ahmadinejad per se that was the problem, or whether it was just the fact that the U. was so stuck on inviting him and then they picked on him, but for the Times, this was a case of a head of state being "publicly humiliated" with an "ad hominem attack" by a "partisan academic who was to have welcomed him." Anyway, the article made me laugh -- the line about Bollinger "winding up with a gratuitous flourish, as Ahmadinejad looked on" is great. If only Bollinger had had a mustache to twirl at that point! Those academics, man, they'll getcha with their fancy talk.

And where were the good insults? "You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated" is pretty thin gruel, in the grand scheme of things.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Goats Have Better Things to Eat Than Sugar

Goat Turning Up Nose at Sugar, originally uploaded by jrambow.

Goats evidently try to eat healthy. When we were in Cochin, Don tried over and over to get a goat -- any goat! -- to eat a lump of sugar. He tried four or five of them. In the end, he put the sugar down on the sidewalk near one of the balky goats. In about 15 seconds a crow had flown down and was getting ready to fly away with the refined goodness.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

It's Still Raining

Yesterday I headed to Ulsoor Lake to hopefully see some Ganesh idols being immersed. The idols used in the Ganesha festival are considered inauspicious if they hang around too long after. It's best to do this an odd number of days after the festival, which was last Saturday.) Although I did see a handful of trucks carrying Ganeshes and chanting worshippers, and even an especially large one strapped to a bus, they kept speeding by, probably to the other side of the lake.

And by then it was time for the mild sprinkle to become a downpour. The monsoon is always funny that way. Anyway, it was also time to head west to catch a string quartet concert at the Goethe-Institut. It was really fun to hear some live music; haven't done that in quite a while. The concert started with some High Modern stuff (12 tones, icy notes, dissonance, not sure when it's going to end). That was OK, but it did have the effect of making the Schumann in the second half seem like getting ice cream after a scary macrobiotic meal.

The hall was over-filled (maybe 200 people or more?), which seems usual for "cultural" things in Bangalore. I think there's a big thirst for concerts, theatre, etc. here, but often the spaces are too small for the crowds. Another aspect of the way that the infrastructure here doesn't at all match the city's size.

Almost as wonderful as a Romantic string quartet was the fact that the exterminator came today. He sprayed lots of chemicals all over and applied mysterious "gel" to cracks and walls. He told me that we had many, many cockroaches in the kitchen. I could have told him that. He also asked if we had any servants -- probably because the house seems extra-messy today.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Wine Time 6: Madera 2006 Red Wine

Nashik Valley Red Wine
Sula Vineyards
Rs. 270 ($6.70)
12.5% alcohol

I was momentarily confused when looking over my notes on this wine. "Ghee, vinegar, onion, curry leaves" were all scrawled down. God, just what (and how much) were we drinking that night? But then I realized that this was just an old shopping list, and our actual, highly authoritative wine notes were on the back. (Note to wineries: "flavours of ghee" would look nice on a wine label. Just a thought.)

Speaking of labels, it's clear that the Madera label is designed to tell you that there's nothing fussy inside. The only wine talk on the back says "an easy-drinking wine from the Nashik Valley, India's premium wine-growing region." Nothing about the grapes themselves, which implies it's a blend from many varieties. And the art on the label is especially nice: it's inspired by the artwork that tribal groups do in the Warli region, in Maharastra, the same state the winery is in.

And the wine? Not bad. Fruity, pleasant. It's the kind of wine that would be good for sangria or sipping on a hot day. OK, it's one-dimensional, and the taste disappears quickly, but it's still fun and good. We give this a final score of 7, which includes a half-point bonus for its non-ridiculous price of 270 rupees.

I see that an anonymous commenter said in an earlier post that we should run away from Madera: "Yecch!" Maybe we lucked out, because I thought the bottle we had was very drinkable. But Anon. is in good company: The Indian Wine Guide says that the 2004 version of this wine tasted "watery, acidic, flabby, sulphuric, and unpleasant." Ouch! I think it's gotten better than that.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Indo-Portuguese Museum

Here are a few things I loved at Cochin's Indo-Portuguese museum, which is on the grounds of the Bishop's House. Its exhibits are mainly drawn from things in churches in the area.

Old-fashioned door lock. I believe that the left part is supposed to be styled after Shiva's trident.

Jar with the all-seeing eye, which also appears on dollar bills. I guess it's called the Eye of Providence. I wish I saw more of it.

A ceiling-sweeper made of straw (I think) and bamboo. Not an exhibit, but interesting.

A 19th-century hymn book.

Angels, I think made for an altar.

A chapel, I believe. Part of the Bishop's house.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Whole Murthis of Rameswaram

Here's the second print we bought in Cochin. A murthi refers to an idol which is used to worship and communicate with a God. Rameswaram is way in the south of Tamil Nadu, almost touching Sri Lanka.

You can click on the print and go to a much bigger version, but here are a few close-ups:

Ganesh the elephant god riding his vehicle, a rat:

Vishnu reclining beneath the serpent. The mustacioed man-eagle is his vehicle, Garuda:

A scene from the Ramayana. Rama is building a bridge to Sri Lanka here -- he's going to rescue his wife Sita, who had been captured by the demon-king Ravanna. (The structure that some believe to be that bridge has been much in the news recently.)

Shiva's dance of destruction and creation. The dwarvish demon he's squishing is named Apasmara -- he symbolizes ignorance.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Getting Links on this Blog

So I finally got around to fixing the way that links work on this website. So now you can just click on a post and see an actual link, not just "" That's all.

Wine Time 5: Vinsura Cabernet-Syrah Red Wine

This is another wine made in the Nashik Valley, about 230 km (150 miles) northeast of Mumbai. The label calls it a "complex deeply colored wine with good body, tannins, and aromas. The taste and flavours may be reminiscent of dried fruit, juicy black-current, savoury spice and gamy meat [!]. The wine can be best enjoyed with roasted pork, turkey, lamb, venison, and Indian Chinese cuisine."

I love how Indian Chinese just gets thrown in at the end as an afterthought. Instead the list starts with an animal that very few people in Indians eat, even if they are non-vegetarian, and then a bird that's also pretty rare (except for expat holidays), lamb (not unknown, but not that common either), and then Bambi. Don thinks that whoever wrote the copy just tried to come up with unlikely and fancy-sounding meats for the list. But why not caviar? Or the finest ham from Spain? Or that party gimmick dish the turducken?

But back to the wine. The good news is that we did NOT taste any gamy meat. But the bad news is that this wine is just OK. It was fairly oaky and somewhat astringent. Don thought it had a bitter aftertaste. Overall, just kind of boring and one-dimensional. It's a 5. The The Complete Indian Wine Guide doesn't say anything about this particular wine (it probably wasn't out yet), but the author is pretty bullish on the winery's future. This one still needs a little work, we think.

Finally, here's a sexy photo. It's from Vinsura's site, next to the statement that "We ensure Competitive Pricing, Reliable service and deliveries." Has this lady just finished dropping off a case, perhaps via water? Or has just perhaps just finished drinking a glass? Our wine label said the wine was best served around 18 C (64 F), and it does look as if it might be kind of chilly wherever this picture was taken.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Vishnu print

While in Cochin we bought two old prints from some of the many antique shops there. I'd wanted one for a long time, and it seemed like the right place. If you find yourself in Cochin some day looking for prints of your own, don't pay too much, thinking that they may be rare. The shops' godowns (warehouses) are filled with dusty, ripped, bug-eaten pictures just waiting to go to a good home. We know because one of the shop keepers took us out back to look at more. After a few minutes they all began to run together.

Here's our first print, which is all about Vishnu. The many ways you can tell this is Vishnu include the many-headed snake looking over him, his conch, his discus, and the kind of V mark on his forehead. From a little googling it appears that the consorts on either side of Vishnu are Bhu (goddess of the earth) and Shri (goddess of prosperity). The British Library has a nice Chola bronze depicting this threesome.

Monday, September 10, 2007

St. Francis Church, Cochin

This weekend we flew to Cochin (aka Kochi), on India's west coast. This old spice port is now a popular tourist spot, but in the monsoon it's not so full. So our hotel was empty or nearly empty while we were there, and restaurants and tourist sites were sparsely inhabited. We were mainly in Fort Cochin, the section with the most preserved old buildings---and westerners.

What was most surprising was just how Christian Kochi was. There wasn't a Hindu temple to be found in the immediate area around Ft. Cochin. This may just be because it's been preserved more or less the way it was when it really was a colony, in the 1500s/1600s, but when we went to Vypin, the island directly north of Ft. Cochin, we didn't see any temples either. There were lots of little shrines to saints.

These pix are from St. Francis church in Fort Cochin. Many of the girls pictured were on a field trip from Chennai -- that's quite a long way. The church is rather a celebrated place in that it once held the remains of Vasco de Gama, who died in Cochin in 1524. The Portuguese took his remains back to Portugal about 15 years later, but the much-worn gravestone has been mounted on the church floor. And presumably the church, being Catholic then, was a lot more shiny and colorful. The Dutch lay siege to Cochin in 1663 and took it over then. They left this church, but they did strip it down to its present Low Church appearance.

Below are the church's punkahs (old-fashioned fans), still operational. The vertical ropes just keep the fans in place, but the horizontals ones extend outside the building, where presumably during services there are punkah-wallahs ("fan-guys") pulling the ropes. I suppose it wouldn't be too bad a job, as long as you were in the shade and had a chair. I forgot to investigate or ask about the punkahs, so for all I know the ropes are attached to a motor these days. Somehow I doubt it.

The church is now part of the Church of South India, which takes its doctrine from several different Protestant denominations.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Indra Likes Goat in Nepal

The story about Nepal Airlines sacrificing two goats to help remove troubles from its Boeing 757s sounds really funny at first, but I doubt it seemed that weird to anyone in Nepal.

For one thing, the caption but not the text of the article explains that a festival called Dasain is underway. And that during that festival, lots of people are evidently sacrificing goats and chickens to the local version of the Hindu sky god Indra. So it doesn't seems as if the airline just decided that a couple goats was the ticket to smooth sailing -- it also happens to be the time of year that everyone is thinking along the lines of sacrifices and harvest and such.

And what happened to the goats after they were killed? They were probably eaten as prasad, as blessed food.

So you have a festival time, some worship, and then something to eat! That's not so wacky, is it? I also hope (and assume) the airline checked out the Boeing carefully, either before of after the Indra help.

Complete Indian Wine Guide

We'll have another of our very casual (some might say half-ass) Wine Times coming up soon, but in the meantime here's a book that treats Indian wine seriously and covers it in a systematic matter -- Dr. Aakash Singh Rathore's Complete Indian Guide, which came out last year. I just got it today, so I've just flipped through it, but it will be very useful. The author checks out all the major wineries in India -- about 20 when the book went to press.

Being so thorough has its dangers, at least for the writer and his tasting apparatus. Here's what Rathore says about the smell of the 2002 Riesling put out by Bosca Wines: "foul, green, and alcoholised." Taste? "Repulsive." As for the winery itself, it's "possibly India's worst" and a "tragedy." And he doesn't even get through all their offerings. How's their 2002 red? "There is really no point in going through the tasting process with this. It will be just as bad as the others, and I am afraid to try it just from the look of it."

If that's not news you can use, then I don't know what is. I'm looking forward to seeing how this guide's ratings compare with our own amateurish ones.

Another Indian-wine book probably worth checking out (I haven't yet) is Wine Wisdom, by the wine columnist and sommelier, Magandeep Singh.

Everybody's Gonna Love Bangalore Today!

Over at Gridskipper, I have a post up about The Love Bangalore travel guide, a thin book to all that's schmancy in town. The book is all a bit much, and so far I've avoided the temptation of getting one, but who knows? I might weaken at any moment.

[Post title inspired by Star World, which plays the above Mika song as its station ID approximately every 3 minutes. It was fun the first 5 lakh times, but now it's somewhat less so. If you click on the link, you can pretend you're us, anxiously getting ready to see another episode of Ugly Betty.]

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Speaking of Krishna's birthday, here's a picture of some little kids dressed up as Krishna and his main lover, Radha.

Image from today's Deccan Herald.

Time for the Colonel

We celebrated Labor Day a day late this year. For complicated reasons having to do with the prescribed number of holidays per year, Don got today off. It is a holiday, Krishna's birthday, known as Krishna Janmashtami, but this isn't one that allows most people to skip work.

Anyway, Don and I have a tradition of getting fried chicken on Labor Day, so we headed off to Commercial Street a day late to get our bucket from KFC. There is Original Recipe in India, but we got the Hot & Crispy, which it definitely is on both counts -- spicier than Popeye's back in the US, that's for sure. KFC is definitely expensive here -- a bucket of 12 pieces cost 375 rupees ($9), and that didn't come with any sides but it did come with a couple Pepsis. Keep in mind that you can get a cheap but good lunch here for less than 40 rupees.

Commercial Street, as you might expect from the no-nonsense name, dates from when the area was under the direct control of the British Raj. This was where many merchants set up shops to sell to the soldiers and their families, and it remains an area with one shop after the other. While we were there, we also made a purchase we'd been thinking about for a long time -- a mixer grinder. With this, we'll be able to make so many more Indian recipes, e.g. chutneys, dosas, and idlys.

We should have bought one a year ago, when we first arrived, but the problem was that it took a while to get our mind around even basic Indian cooking. Also, the mixer grinders are not super-cheap, so it didn't seem like a good investment when we were just going to be here for a few months at a time. But by now we didn't care, we plunked down our 1600 rupees ($40) and got our mid-market model.

Combine this with our coconut scraper, which bought a few days ago to get at the inside of a coconut, and we're ready for just about anything a recipe book can throw at us. Pictures and recipes will be forthcoming, as soon as I think of something good to make. Suggestions, anyone?

Here's what a mixer grinder looks like:

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Song of India Multi-Purpose Aroma Oil

Here's some oil I saw for sale at a University of Pennsylvania museum gift shop a couple months ago.

It "smells just like temples in India." Huh? What is that smell? You've got your incense. You've got your flowers, especially jasmine. And maybe some other less pleasant smells. But that all doesn't really all add up to one particular combination you could bottle. The later claim that "you will find yourself in a fragrant garden chasing the flowers" is more promising, but even more unlikely.

The gift shop wanted $10.50 (430 rupees) for the not-so-big bottles of oil, so I'll never know if using this oil is truly like H E A V E N !!!

The Hard-Drinking Cannibal Goat

I love this story about the goat that smokes, drinks booze, and eats meat in the dhaba (roadside restaurant) where he lives. It'll also do tricks: "If you ask it to perform a death scene, it will lie on the ground as if dead. You ask it to show a fight scene, it will demonstrate like a warrior,” says the goat's owner.

Above is a goat I saw eating posters in Trichy earlier this year -- his diet is a little more traditionally goaty.

Wine Time 4: Seagram Nine Hills Shiraz

This wine cost 465 rupees and was a 2006 vintage. It couldn't be any earlier, because Seagram only started making Indian wine since last year. They do already have a big Indian presence with liquor brands here. Seagram's also owns Jacob's Creek in Australia.

The shiraz tasted very jammy, with a slight aftertaste that wasn't good but also wasn't that strong. The label calls it medium-bodied, but I would say it was pretty big and bold. Would be good with tomato dishes and meat. 8 out of 10.

(Here's a rough map showing where exactly in India the Nashik valley is.)