Wednesday, June 30, 2010


It is clean in Canada.
The air is clean. The ground is clean. The water is clean. It is pretty nice.
I can drink water out of the tap.
I can walk down the street with little chance of stepping on garbage.
There is some polution in the air but I can see the mountains from miles away.
I can swim in the lakes.

India is dirty, I can't deny it.
Expats comment on the garbage all the time - piles of it on the side of the road and littered everywhere.
No garbage cans.

The water is dirty and unsafe to drink or wash food with.

Some cities and towns have a lot of pollution. Waste of many kinds run into lakes and vehicles of all kinds spew black stuff into the air.

Lack of education? Corruption? Lack of leadership?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Inspired by Julia

Inspired by Julia Child, I sit in my sister-in-laws kitchen wearing a flowered dress and pearls.I can't quite get Julia's accent right but I'm trying. Julia's famous Boeuf Bourguignon simmers in the oven and the aroma is heavenly. A freshly made tarte tatin rests on the counter.

I've been in Canada for three weeks, with about three weeks to go before returning to Bangalore. Summer vacation. Rain. Clouds. For three weeks we have been staying with family and thankfully thoroughly enjoying it. We jokingly say that this is our communal experience. But I can't help but think that the Indian people - and many eastern cultures - have got it right.

As we all know in many cultures extended families live together. In the west we often shake our heads not understanding this strange custom. I'm sure it can be difficult for some but for me the past three weeks has been fabulous. Sharing the cooking and cleaning, keeping each other company and always having someone to talk to; having someone to remind you to take out the washing and put it in the dryer; watching movies, playing bocci; taking turns baking cookies and so on.

True, here in the west, we probably wouldn't choose to live with our extended family, other than perhaps aging parents. It would be considered odd for brothers and sisters and their families to live together. In India it is expected and completely normal.

Last night "the girls" watched Julie and Julia, pouring wine and having a toast each time they made a toast in the movie. It certainly inspired me to cook and bake - something I have not been inspired to do for quite some time. And today - we are Julia. Together we have prepared a wonderful meal, Julia style...and maybe Indian style too - as a family, with three of us helping out in the kitchen and making it enjoyable, certainly not a chore.

I imagine families in India cooking together, taking turns or sharing the load of cleaning, shopping and taking care of the children. Helping out when there is a problem or something in the house needs to be fixed. It wouldn't always be a bed of roses but I can see the benefits in all stages of life: more people to play with the children or help with homework, help for parents with jobs,  and more people to take care of the sick or elderly.

Living in India and vacationing in Canada is an experience in itself. It makes me appreciate both worlds for what they are and I realize that our experience in India is going to be life changing. I always say travel is the best education. Three weeks to go here in Canada and then the countdown will begin: one last year in Bangalore.

By the way, the  Boeuf Bourguignon and the tarte tatin was delicious, as were the three bottles of fine wine. Thanks to Julia for inspiring and above all here's to Les Trois Gourmandes!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Imaginary Homeland

Here is an interesting article from the DNA (Daily News Analysis) regarding foreignors living in Bangalore. I'm not sure that I agree that it is a "small city that is easy to get around..."  However the warm weather and the fact that much of the local population speaks English does make Bangalore a favorable place to live. Everything in the article is familiar to me; from the global community to Russel Market to our french baker Marrianick. Here's the article:

Imaginary Homeland

Arun Katiyar

Even until just 10 years ago, Bangalore was a serene, quiet city. The only foreigners you saw were the ones on Brigade Road and MG Road. Most would be on their way to Mysore to take in the palace or swing by the Cauvery for some classic mahaseer (trout) fishing. Mahaseer fishing was a major draw and Jungle Lodges and Resorts was even featured in Sports Illustrated as the place to offer some of the world’s best game fish.

It was just about the time when acronyms like TI, IBM and HP were overshadowing ones like HMT, ITI and HAL. The morning cry of the vegetable vendor on our streets of ‘sopppppooo!’ would slowly vanish to be replaced by posters screaming computer classes. Today, there are people from diverse nationalities — Ethiopians, Germans, Irish, Hungarians, Brits, Nigerians, Americans, Danes, Malaysians, Canadians, Belgians, Israelis, Russians, French — who live here and have become part of the Bangalore culture. To them, Bangalore is one of the best Indian cities to live in.

Back in the 1980s and well into the 1990s, diplomats in Delhi gave the capital an exalted aura. But diplomats lead sheltered lives. Their tuna paste and cheese would arrive through the embassy. But for most other foreigners, Bangalore has quickly become one of the best places to live: the weather is great, it’s a small city that is easy to get around and has a delightfully relaxed atmosphere.

The Mercer Worldwide Quality of Living Survey for 2010 confirms this. It says that Bangalore is the top choice of foreigners in India when it comes to quality of life. What exactly is quality of life and what is the effect it has on people?

Quality of life is pegged on simple factors such as low crime rates, the standards for health, transport infrastructure, availability of consumer goods, rentals, schooling and recreation opportunities.

Quality of life is enhanced by the political stability and socio-economic conditions of the geography. And finally, it’s a question of the weather, the distance between you and natural disasters and the lines drawn by state and society that define personal freedom.

It’s become so that the expat population is now a critical component of Bangalore’s workforce. You can’t imagine Bangalore without them — and you can spot the freshly arrived as they clutch a copy of Fiona Caulfield’s Love Bangalore under their arms and locate stores like Good Earth to satiate their appetite for all things Indian.

The slightly better settled ones haunt meetings of the Overseas Women’s Club at the Leela or the ITC Windsor and are a part of the Bangalore Expatriate Club. Both the organisations — along with some commercial ones like Global Adjustments — help expats find their feet on the street: where to locate good doctors, which are the better schools, how to participate in charity work and how to attend ‘Sex and the City’ parties (okay, clean up your dirty mind, they are not what you imagine).

The ones who are completely at home can be found tucking into puliyogare rice, attending classical Carnatic music recitals and shopping at Russell Market to whip up salads with brinjal and broad beans. To them, this is the imaginary homeland they have been dreaming of.

But the one thing we constantly overlook about Bangalore and why expats find it comforting is the fact that the local population is literate and speaks English.

An Italian journalist, Ilaria Linetti, made a telling observation recently about Bangalore. Having been to various parts of the country she was astonished by the number of books being sold on the streets — many of them to do with computers and computer science. It’s a reflection of what Bangalore wants to be.

Today, expats are not just sharing their knowledge of the world outside. They find Bangalore fertile enough to set up their own businesses and bring their cultures and training with them. Mariannick Halai has started a delightfully rustic creperie and boulangerie in Whitefield. She has a wood fired oven built by her husband — who is of Indian origin — and bakes delicious baguettes and croissants. On weekends her French restaurant opens for dinner, serving simple salad and crepes.

Ione Binford, who is the CEO and co-founder of Read Ink, has settled in Bangalore’s Indira Nagar with her husband Thomas Binford — a globally acknowledged researcher of image analysis and computer vision from Stanford — to create path breaking handwriting recognition software. The Binfords have brought with them a style of research and development that is native to Silicon Valley.

While people like Mariannick Halai and Ione Binford actualise their dreams, they are restructuring and rearranging the very character of Bangalore. Can this be the start of a Bangalore that is genuinely global?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

An Indian Encounter

The kids and I flew back to Vancouver, Canada this week for vacation. We flew via Hong Kong and on the Hong Kong - Vancouver leg the kids sat together and I sat behind them. I was surprised when an young Indian woman travelling alone came to sit next to me. She wore a beautiful blue and red sari with copious amounts of Indian jewellery: elaborate earrings that wound up over her ear to the back of the her earlobe and dangled almost to her shoulder; gold rings; and red, blue and gold bangles on both arms from wrist to elbow.

Great, I thought, we have something in common - we both live in India. We'll actually have something to talk about. So I asked her right away, "Where are you from?"

And she said..."Canada."

"Oh." darn, that's boring, I thought.

We didn't say much after that and I couldn't quite figure her out. She ordered a special meal - veg Hindu and  when the rest of our meals came (mine was chicken) she put a scarf over her face and looked like she was going to throw up.

After that I filled out my immigration card and then she asked if I would help her. I realized her English was limited. But this is a good way to find out about someone. It turned out she was from India but going to live in Canada with her husband who was already there. An arranged marriage? - not sure. Had she even met him? - I never found out. But we went through the questions which I felt a little weird asking.

"Do you have any weapons or firearms?"
She gave me a quizzical look.
"Guns, do you have a gun with you?"
Another strange look and she said, "No."

"Have you been on a farm or going to visit a farm?"
This produced a blank stare and I thought that must seem like a strange question if you don't know the basis for it. Then I thought of a line one of my friends in Bangalore said once, "India is like one big uncontained farm - look at all the cows and animals running around loose!"

So we left a few questions blank, I figured an interpretor would be best.

By the time the second meal came I had a stomach ache and couldn't eat anything. She nibbled at her veg Hindu meal and the smell made me feel worse. But when the mass of sausage and bacon was served to everyone else the both of us held our scarves to our faces and tried not to throw up.

Just before landing she got out her compact and rebraided her long hair. She looked like an Indian bride except for the color of her sari (blue instead of red). I couldn't imagine what her situation would be like, to travel to Canada alone and make a new life with a new family.

"Welcome to Vancouver," the pilot announced when we landed. She and I looked at each other and she took a deep breath and gave me full smile.