Wednesday, September 29, 2010

the Nizamuddin East Market

I took a little walk with my camera today while the kids were in school. Thought I'd show you some of my daily sights... I stopped by one of the many ironing shops on my way to the market. This fellow is only about a block from where we live. Most of these these are open-air stalls. They are covered by a tarp "roof" if it's raining. These professionals iron the same way people pressed clothing 200 years ago. Hot wood-coals are placed inside a heavy-cast clothes iron. Of course there are no temperature settings so you need to be careful giving these folks your delicates or any many-made fabrics. In the past, Lesa and I both have had parts of clothing melted from the heat these irons put out!
You can get almost all of your daily shopping needs met in Nizamuddin. The only exceptions to this are probably music, electronics and good paper products. But there are other great markets nearby for these sorts of items. One of the shops I frequent is run by Rajesh. He supplies me with bottled water, dry food goods, and even fresh chapattis to order. Sort of the 7-Eleven of Nizamuddin, Rajesh's store is open long hours each day.
Just down the street is my vegetable-fruit man. He's always there on his corner. He sets up around 8am every morning and is still selling until 8 or 9 pm most evenings. Everything is fresh and most of what he sells is grown in India. Alas, the mango season has ended, but nice apples and pears from Kashmir are starting to be available.
Another stop I make about every other day is to the "Mother Dairy" store. My Dood Walla is almost always in good spirits, even though his days are long ones. He's open from about 5am until around 8pm (although he always takes a lunch break from 2-4pm). His shop sells everything from milk and Dahi (yogurt), to ice cream and butter. It's all fresh and very inexpensive.
The marketplace includes a Chemist (Pharmacy), Hair Salons, a cafe-bakery that also sells new books, a nice clothing store and even a small toy shop. All of this is only within two blocks of our flat. These shops deliver to your home, or you can purchase items like fruits, vegetables and even brushes and brooms from cart vendors that travel the quaint streets and alleys of Nizamuddin East each day!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Damp in Delhi

I guess I'm writing about the weather.... but I'm not just killing time... Really.
Last year was our only experience of the supposed "Monsoon Season" in New Delhi. It was dry. Very dry. Lesa and I recall only two days last year when we had an honest downpour of rain. Both days were in August, and that was about it aside from a few scattered showers.
The Monsoon season for the Northern part of India is typically July and August. Most of the year's supply of rain is supposed to happen during these months. Well things seem to have tipped in the other direction this year. We had a little rain in July, but since the second half of August it has rained almost every day.Long downpours. Sometimes what I would call torrential rains... And it is still raining as I write this. In fact it is the wettest year on record in India since 1978! The season is not expected to swing to dry weather until the end of September.
I wanted to write about this because there just aren't many places in the US where it rains quite this much for such an extended period of weeks (except for maybe the Pacific NW).
Commuters clothing gets soaked. Streets and underpasses are routinely flooded. Traffic lights fail. Motor Bikers and rickshaws hide under bridges. There are issues with power and drinking water, and mosquitoes. Dengue Fever. Commuter traffic is a muddy, soggy mess.
Lesa the kids and I have been dowsed with walls of fetid water from passing cars... and drying clothing after you wash it includes the acceptance wearing clean, but slightly damp underwear.
There is a brighter side of the Monsoon, though. Everything is beautifully green and alive. People seem more cheerful. The streets are washed clean of soot and trash, and the temperature becomes a relief. Although humid, the temperature has been about 10-15 degrees cooler (Fahrenheit) than normal. Typically 75-90 instead of 95+ degrees.
And with the noticeable drop in temperatures everyone's thoughts begin to drift towards the start of the long festival season in India... Eid, Durga Puja, Diwali, the wedding season and of course, Christmas.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Celebrating Eid

We had a wonderful experience on Sunday evening. Our neighbors, Rizwan and Irfan - (brothers and flat owners) invited us to join their family in Eid Celebrations. We weren't too familiar with the Muslim festival called Eid. I thought I'd better do a little research before we went to the family gathering!
Eid ul-Fitr is a three day holiday marking the end of the 30 day period of Ramadan. The word Eid means "festival," and Fitr, "conclusion of the fast." In my mind, Eid is most similar to Christmas. It is considered one of the 2 most important Muslim holy celebrations. As with Christmas, many wonderful foods, prayers & well-wishes, gifts and thanks are shared with family and friends during this joyous period.
We all got dressed up - typically you should wear a new outfit on this occasion to mark a new beginning. Eid ul-Fitr follows the reserved, reflective time of Ramadan, which is not unlike the Christian period of Lent).
After removing our shoes we were warmly welcomed by the family into their home. We sat on large cushions and pillows surrounding the edges of the large, open living room/dining space.
Beautiful tablecloths were spread out in the center of the floor - and the "table" was set. A feast of spiced chicken, mutton, rice, yogurt and bread was spread before us - all traditional foods. The meats were roasted or simmered until delicate. Not too spicy, but the dishes were full of flavor from complex mixtures of herbs and masala. There is no alcohol in a proper Muslim house, so we were refreshed with cold water and icy Coca-Cola.
The family of five brothers and three sisters, their mother, and all of the children (and the 4 of us) gathered around the "table" and shared this large, wonderful meal. Audrey especially liked the chicken, and Evan the mutton and rice! The meal ended with Indian sweets (similar Gulab Jamun).
After the meal there was conversation - the children all speak English quite well, as do most of the eight siblings (our hosts). But after the meal had ended and the table was cleared, I noticed there was a subtle excitement in the air - and it was growing by the minute.
The children were keeping a close eye on their uncles. Waiting for a cue. The kids were anticipating what is known as "Eidi." This is the blessing of good tidings and often the exchange of gifts between family and friends.
In Rizwan and Irfan's family the tradition of Eidi includes the passing out of rupees... in small bundles of ten rupee and 100 rupee notes. Each uncle and then each aunt, and finally the family matriarch (grandmother to all the younger children) each handed out little bundles. There was much laughter, teasing, children jostling for position (the kids had to line up before receiving their Eidi from each relative) and a little wrestling - all in fun.
We really had a blast! Evan and Audrey were included in the Eidi gifts (which was very, very generous!). Lesa and I loved watching all the antics, sharing conversations, joking, and getting to know our neighbors, their families and their culture a little better.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Big 4-6 in Bollywood

Yet again, my family has shared an unusual birthday with me in India... this one is actually my third one here (hard to believe). I have no complaints - they all seem to be celebrated in nice locations...
This year was no different. We all flew down to Mumbai for the weekend. We found a great deal at the Taj Palace hotel. When we arrived (and were still not sure why) the hotel proceeded to give us a raft of upgrades... A sea-view room, a butler service, welcome drinks, breakfast, High Tea (which is basically a late-lunch buffet) and even Happy Hour. None of this seemed to be related to the fact that it was my birthday.
The staff at Souk, the Mediterranean Restaurant on the hotel's top floor, made a special dessert for me, and then our evening "Butlers" brought us chocolate cake and Champagne. Who knew 46 would be so extravagant, (and paid for by the Tata family)? Lesa and I went out for dinner while the kids got a baby sitter and had the run of the room for the evening... everyone had a great time in the rather cosmopolitan city of Mumbai...
Meanwhile, back in the USA... we weren't able to be at my Dad's birthday celebration this year (5 Sept). My sister Melanie recorded the event for us in far away Georgia! Mel, her beautiful daughter, Sarina and Dad's lovely wife Carol all enjoyed a nice meal (and of course some BIG Margarita's - see photo below!).
As you can see, at 76, Dad and Margarita are doing just fine... Love you, Dad!