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05/02/2014

The chicken festival!

I am always surprised by the propensity of Indians to spend their little money in extravagant parties (I speak here of the Indians who live in the slums at the foot of my building). And since they are poor, they do their party in the street (at the foot of my building) or in the courtyard of the temple (adjacent to my building). This happens at least three times a week, a circus in those lines:

You never know what they are celebrating! A wedding, elections, a God – watching the Sai Baba procession (a giant picture being carried on a truck) with a huge crowd of Indian women shaking their asses to the sound of a vaguely lewd Bollywood song is priceless. Everything is an excuse to make noise! You’ll tell me, if they are happy and you are not, you can always move out! Yes but welllll... 

 

At times I get to see funny stuff, like the chicken festival! One evening, you go home and find a chicken head at the grid. You wonder how the thing has possibly landed there and why none of the three watchmen who have nothing to do have left it there. But you don’t overthink it; it is, after all, a chicken head. It happens!  

And then you look down from your window and you see a truck stuffed to bursting with chickens parking (at the foot of your building), and hundreds of people jostling to buy a chicken. Even your maid is late that day because she had to go to the chicken festival... 

In the meantime, if there is one chicken I would have gladly slaughtered, it is definitely the one screaming in the video!

 

Chicken day, Mumbai - April 2014

04/28/2014

The Indian Wedding for Dummies - 8.All that to say that...

India,wedding

03/24/2014

Interview "Must do things in Mumbai"

The Indian (great) magazine Culturama, "Your cultural gateway to India", featured me in their “Who is in Town” and asked me to answer some questions about “Unique/Must do things in Mumbai”! So here is what I prepared... Here in PDF.

1)     A brief background of how long have you stayed in Mumbai, first impressions of the city and what the city means to you today?

When I lived in Pune, I used to take visitors to Mumbai and I hated the city: too big, too hot, too humid, too congested! Being in Mumbai was all about being glued to the plastic-covered seat of a tumbledown taxi, gasping for air and dozing off helplessly.

So I was quite apprehensive when my new job took me there in January 2009… Luckily the “winter” weather was merciful and I quickly grew to appreciate the liveliness of my neighborhood.

2)     Could you tell us a little bit about the unique things you get to do in your home country? And how has that changed in India?

 Whenever I plan a visit back to Paris, my parents offer to book a play, an exhibition, a museum, a concert etc. These activities are still pretty rare in India so you need to be creative to keep yourself busy on week-ends!

In France sport facilities are also easily available whereas in India, unless you are a member of a club, this British legacy, or willing to sweat your butt out running on the busy roads, being sportive is a challenge.

 3)     What are the three must-do unique things for an expat in Mumbai?

 1.     After visiting the 10 spots every guidebook recommends, just forget your map (which is not of much use anyways in Mumbai), hop in a local train and get lost!! Walking is not easy – the pavement is uneven (when there is pavement), the traffic insane – but you may just stumble upon a heritage ‘village’: quiet lanes with exquisite old bungalows*.

2.     Once your face is red, your shirt wet, your feet killing, your ears buzzing, take a deep breath and remember you are an expat! Rise above by visiting a rooftop bar (FourSeasons). Sipping a Mojito watching the sun set over the slums below is not as easy as it seems; it takes time to overcome the guilt feeling of spending in one drink what most people earn in one week… But spending time (and money) in relaxing experiences like brunches at a Five-Star pool by the beach, afternoons at the spa, diners at the Peshawri may actually prove very useful to make the working days easier!

3.     Mumbai is famous in India for her street food so don’t be shy! Try bhel-puri, pani-puri, vadapao, dosa, goat brain (Bademiya). You may experience some digestive turbulences but the risk is less than in the capital where getting a ‘Delhi-belly’ from street food is almost unavoidable! As you turn into a Mumbaikar, eating is likely to become your favorite past-time and will make you a restaurant-hunter**.

 4)     What are the three tips an expat needs to keep in mind while exploring these must do options in Mumbai?

 1.     Mumbai is quite safe, so don’t be paranoid over your bag…

2.     Drink a lot of water as the city can drain your energy very fast!

3.     Ask locals for help rather than your phone. If possible learn some Hindi, people will really appreciate…

 5)     Is there a funny, memorable or endearing anecdote that you encountered while exploring Mumbai?

 I once took my parents to see Victoria Gardens. I didn’t know what to expect so after seeing the elephant statue from Elephanta caves, I thought we were done. But then I spotted a very big queue and assumed there was something to see so we just joined in… Twenty minutes later we found out we were at the zoo and us, three white nitwits, immediately felt like zoo animals! We were out in fifteen minutes, suffocated by the heat and the attention of the crowds (to top it all, it was a Sunday and a day-off for Eid and it seemed that all the Muslims of Mumbai (and there are quite a few) had decided to celebrate it at the zoo!).

 6)     What are the three things an Indian needs to keep in mind while exploring your home country? And the three best unique things to do you would recommend to an Indian?

 1.     The French are shy and may react rudely when accosted in the street. If you learn a few words to break the ice, they may actually be helpful!

2.     French food is amazing. If there are not many veg dishes on the menu, ask the waiter and he will know what you should order! Do carry Tabasco if you really fear the blandness!

3.     Discovering France requires a lot of walking so bring good shoes and energy!

 * Try Chor Bazaar, Banganga tank (Malabar hill), Ranwar village (Bandra), Khotachiwadi (Girgaon).

** You will then hunt the best Italian pizza (Metro Pizza), French crêpe (Suzette), Belgian bread (LePainQuotidien), Japanese sushis (Aoi), Mexican fajitas (Sancho’s), American hamburgers (HardRockCafé) to forget, the time of a diner, that you live in India! (and sometimes (only sometimes)) you need that!)

 

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