Pomegranates

My Trip to Baku

Straight to work

When I first started writing this piece, I was on my way back to Dubai, after a whirlwind trip to Baku and all I can think about is when shall I go back.

Coming into Dubai

The city is full of amazing restaurants, great bars and has a rich history. That’s before you even meet anyone. There’s that saying that it’s not what you say,but how you make them feel, well the Azeri people make you feel like home royalty.

Personally,the best thing was catching up with one of my best friends and seeing his family. I cannot express in words how amazing it was to see Adil!

Adil having a candid photo

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. When I first landed in Baku, I had issues at the border control when the immigration officer looked at my passport and then me. She asked where I was born, and I responded with London. This was not a great idea, as it actual says [the actual place, I’m not dumb enough to put my passport info online] and how that is in London. Breezed through everything else and was standing in arrivals looking for my ride (Adil had organised me a cab). Well this guy didn’t think I’ll be out then, and I had to go looking for him. After eventually finding him (and his terrible MR HANIK sign) got into the car and headed into the city! Now things didn’t look great when I looked at the wing mirror and saw a cracked wing mirror, which said that things were distorted due to the mirror. Bur on the drive in, let me say that new Bravo supermarket looks great! Bravo is where Adil works, in case you were wondering why I gave the shout out.

Well this guy didn’t think I’ll be out then, and I had to go looking for him. After eventually finding him (and his terrible MR HANIK sign) got into the car and headed into the city! Now things didn’t look great when I looked at the wing mirror and saw a cracked wing mirror, which said that things were distorted due to the mirror. But on the drive in, let me say that new Bravo supermarket looks great! Bravo is where Adil works, in case you were wondering why I gave the shout out.

…the first thing I had to do was give my friend a hug!

Seeing one’s friend

Got to Port Baku Mall, which I can only describe as a high-end mall, which is definitely out of reach of most people, let alone those in Baku. However, this was where I first saw Adil (after heading into the Mall to grab some cash to pay the cabdriver). He looked at me, with those “what an idiot” eyes, saying that cabbie told me to wait (in Azeri); though in my defence he kept saying money in English! However, the first thing I had to do was give my friend a hug! Now Adil and I haven’t seen each other since my master’s at UCL and boy that was a long time ago! We have been in touch via the group’s [only for those in the know] WhatsApp chat and a call here and there. So, we are aware of the general status’s one’s life. However,there’s something special when I meet an old friend, especially those from the boarding house, it’s as though nothing has changed; we could have been mucking about in the grounds and the conversation just flowed as though we had been chatting every day for the last few weeks.

Everything was fresh…

After Adil finished work, we headed into the country side to go to Adil’s family home and to have dinner with his Dad and uncles in a restaurant. Now this was the first real challenge, food. As a vegetarian, Adil was concerned with I could eat, as almost everything local had meat in it. I had already tried a green qutab at Baku Café (it’s amazing, got to learn how to make it). Adil’s Dad produces meat, so obviously we had a bit of banter with me just stopping being a vegetarian for a few days. What he ordered me was something else. Let me just start by saying that there is something special in only eating seasonal food. Everything is fresh! None of this rubbish of all year-round fruit and vegetables. The cucumbers, tarragon, aubergines… everything was amazing! The pilaf I had was essentially a pilau with fresh aubergines with a different spice mixture! It was great! The cheeses, the breads, salad were all great! We washed it down with a local fruit juice concoction, which honestly tasted like Vimto, and a few…okay several shots of vodka! Headed to the family home for tea and a freshly baked cake from Adil’s grandmother! A top-class lemon meringue. It’s true no matter where you are, grandmothers are always make the best food. After a night tour of the home, headed in for the night.

The Family Yard

Adil and I both overslept, but it was good night’s rest which we would need given on what we had planned for the day. What followed was breakfast of pancakes, fresh bread, cheeses, jam, honey, more qutabs and copious amounts of black tea. Sidenote here, but apparently it’s the national drink of Azerbaijan.

The Temple Site

After saying my thanks to the family, we headed off to a temple. Now, I know what you are thinking; temples in Azerbaijan? But yes and even more shockingly it was used by Hindu’s on the silk route, due to the continuous gas fires there! The site is about 2000 years old, which was originally a Farsi site. Definitely worth checking out! Unfortunately, but obviously, the French had ruined the temple when it was buried several centuries later when looking for oil. Putains! So,lots of the materials are now lost, but thankfully the government is slowly restoring the site and trying to uncover the past.

The Eternal Fire
Me and Adil!

We then headed into old town and to go see the Palace of the Shirvanshahs and the Meydan Tower. Loads to see and what’s wonderful is the juxtaposition of being in this ancient part of the city and seeing the modern architecture all around you in the distance. Even though the tower’s purpose is still in debate, it lies in the heart of this amazing city. If you are looking for your next profile picture, with a bit of planning, I’m sure that you’ll have a new hit here!

After, we walked along the promenade and just caught up. Seeing the outside of all the museums that I’ll have to come back and visit on my next trip. Before nightfell, we went to the war memorial to pay our dues and take in the view over the city.

The Flame Towers lit up in the national flag

Later on,after going home and dropping our stuff off, into the city for the French Bistro to meet Adil’s mate and grab a quick bite before going out. Food was good, but not that many options for a vegetarian. But what I did eat was good! We then headed to The Room for a night of drinking and chilling. The Azeri wine I started with was a lovely red, but as the night when on we moved onto shots and beers! That’s all you are going to get out of me, but I must say that people Adil spends time with are great. All kind hearted and definitely know how to have a good time!

[Adil’s friends are] All kind hearted and definitely know how to have a good time!


An Azeri Breakfast before a mad dash to the airport

The next was just breakfast and a rush to the airport (via the shops for a gift from Adil’s family). It was unreal how quickly time has passed by, from the time I left Dubai and arrived back was a blink of an eye! The land of fire definitely left a fire in my heart to return!

Entry 46

Finally it is over.

Well, I know this is a bit odd. I’ve returned to my blog, not forgetting about it the in between time. No, the last couple of months I have been living like a monk; but instead of having a monastery to go to, I’ve been in the law library. When I first thought about going on to the GDL, the friends I enquired look at me as though I was an absolute lunatic (even though they had done so themselves), as the course redefines what you believe are your limits. Honestly, I had not felt such academic and mental pressure for ages. And I enjoyed it…mostly… There have been times where I have called a friend and all we have done is swear. Not at each other, but the utter shit that is expected of us. At times, it felt that we were not meant to know anything, but be able to regurgitate what a textbook had said (or even a judge) no matter how stupid or illogical the statement was. As long as it was the correct law, that’s all that mattered. While years of training to argue and create logical constructs from school and life (which was why I some people pointed to me this path) meant that repeating out certain rules got you the marks. In the context of a conversion course, it does make sense, but in terms of the actual law; there definitely room for improvements that courts should sort out. Well at least in my opinion.

At the moment, it is weird not having any pressure. What on Earth should I being doing in the morning’s if I’m not running to the library? Well, at least I’ll be able to enjoy the World Cup and enjoy the blissful thinking of it’s coming home! That’s right, you can’t escape the football on this blog, have you not read any of I before?

So, what is going to happen next? Well for the blog, over the couple of weeks I will look at writing some mini-review/thoughts on the modules that I studied. Maybe a bit of advice for those who are also crazy enough to take on the course. Afterwards, I’ll probably set about a redesign and think of setting it out as a more personal website; but got plenty of time to work on that. I’ll probably use the site for some poetry as it has been a while since I just wrote anything.

Personally, I’m plan on being in London working part-time while sorting out my future. Got some plans to move overseas again. Time to wave goodbye from blightly for a bit. As they say the heart grows fonder with distance. In terms for the next summer, I’m currently enquiring about the feasibility of going coast to coast; from Dar es Salaam to Walvis Bay (and then to Durban via Cape Town, because why not?). While traveling, it is high on the agenda to deliver malaria nets or transfer some goods for a local NGO while traveling from one city to the next.

Finally, a shout out to my friends and not really being in touch. You can call me again, it’s been too long since we caught up properly!

Entry 45

Alright I haven’t written anything for a while and that is entirely my fault, but I have no issue in doing so. Though the plan to leave a post for summary of the year so far did not happen, I am quite glad about it. Taking a break from it all and having some proper time to myself have given me a clearer idea of how I think the last term went and my thoughts about law in general.

Now as you may have noticed already this isn’t a normal blog post and I am going to tell you not bother to get your hopes up. While I do tend to write about law exclusively (and a bit about Tottenham), however it is my blog so I can start writing about anything I want to and I think you also need (need is a strong word, but I’m going to double down on this. Taking a leaf out of politics from the last decade: apologising doesn’t win votes) to see a more personal part me.

Now I went on a family trip to India, with it being my first trip to the sub-continent in over 12 years. 12 years is a bloody long time and when going back I some sort of idea what to suspect. My family (nuclear) have been traveling at least once a year or more for the same period, so I was not out of touch. I still watch Bollywood films (sometimes other parts of India cinema) and that gives you a view into cultural values or questions. I have followed the Indian cricket team for years and of course I watch the IPL, so cricket coverage provides me with some entertainment. I watch Gujarati news when at my grandparents (all I can say that it quite sad that FOX news style of interviews has taken hold). And there is the little thing called the internet, where you can follow all the latest news and see what is trending.  However, been the third culture kid that I am of course not Indian enough for the Indians (and I don’t really blame them).

On this trip, I ended up going to Gujarat for the first time ever and apart from learning that I have no kite flying ability what so ever, I was able to meet some of members of my family that I had only heard about. I spent my couple of says there going to various holy sites and saying my prayers. What was most striking for me was seeing the Kotecha Mandir and seeing a mapped-out version of the family tree which is has nearly a thousand years of history of the family. Then by hearing the story of the family which historically was based in Afghanistan and then after fleeing the region to Gujarat, there were 16 Kotecha families which can now be found almost anywhere in the world. It put me in my place from the chance of my family nearly being wiped of the face of the earth and never existing, to now me typing this up in the UK. I also got see the old village that my great-grandfather had left, before going to East Africa. Honestly, I don’t think I could blame him. The state of the village in the 21st century was in terms of services no better than I expected, but I was given the chance of leaving with work in another part of the world, I would have jumped at it. That being said, I do think that I’ll be heading back there in the near future, I still have family there and I would like to see them again. Finally, I was unable to the mandir in Virpur, though I we did spend 15 minutes in the town. It was either going to mandir or catching our flight, we choose the flight.

Following a rush to the airport, we went to Mumbai. Now I hadn’t return to the city in 12 years, there is one thing that had not changed during my absence. The smell. Mumbai still has that smell that I had not forgotten and no image can prepare you for. Since, I have already seen Mumbai’s tourist hotspots before, this trip was about a couple of things for me; visiting family, shopping, food and even more food. Seeing family was fantastic, as always, however my bearded face is not the one they were suspecting when I came through the door.

Now the one thing when shopping in Mumbai there is something anyone can pick within seconds, which is the extreme wealth gap. One can grab a full meal for 100INR which is roughly £1.10 or you can grab a coffee for 1500INR which is roughly £17.50. It’s insane that in the city which doesn’t sleep that you can go get paan at three in the morning and there will be a private traffic warden moving the cars along, because this one shop is packed. I would love to see this sort of thing in London, alas I do not think the city will become a true 24hr city (while you can get anything you need at whatever the time, it’s not the same experience nor the same volume of people).

Talking about shopping, there was a shocking revelation me (or at least I found it shocking). While looking for material for clothes, I was browsing different patterns and colours and asked for a navy blue. The assistant also brought red, saying that it was similar. Now, I don’t like to wear too much red (reminds me of Arsenal. Yeah, it’s stupid for most people, but remember what Cantona apparently said: “You can change your wife, your politics, your religion, but never, never can you change your favourite football team”. In this regard, you can also never change the club you hate). I digress. When I said no to the red, the shop keeper said that I was fair and therefore all colours would suit me. I find this odd, firstly because I am the darkest in my family. I am not fair by the standards of the UK where I live, nor am I fair considering most of the media I do consume is Western. Secondly, was that meant as compliment? So, let’s say that I am fair. So, what? Some people have different skin tones, c’est la vie. The issue is colourism is a more acceptable (or seemly) form of discrimination in India, even though it remarks nothing on the person on their intellect or personality. I say this because when you are going around the city from place to other, you see the bright signs of adverts which all suggest that being fairer is more beautiful and buying this product will help achieve this. No before saying anything else, these products will harm your skin and possible cause irreversible damage. The main point is why do we care? Or more accurately, why do we still care? The answer cannot be that because people made the product and market it, is why we care. That might be able to explain a fad. Take the Kony2012 campaign, well marketed but in the end full of lies. People caught on (for various reasons). So why is colourism still a thing? Now I am not claiming to be an expert on this topic, but from what I observe it’s the continual perpetuated myth of white is better. It’s the hallmark of entrenched racism in society. I recently watch this Vox Video which showed a young black toddler describing brown skin colour as “nasty”. Apart from being heart-breaking (to me at least), I cannot think that this is from just advertising. Now I am not sure what more I can do an individual level to combat this just to make people aware and make conscious decisions, such as telling the shop assistant that I don’t consider myself fair, however fairness has nothing to do with what colour of clothes you wear. As a few of you may know, I have a bright orange coat. Let me tell you something, you do need something to wear it and it fair/dark skin. It’s confidence!

Well, I wasn’t expecting to write about colourism, but as I said: it’s about making people aware of the issue and opening a space to have a conversation (that’s a hint to use the comment section).

I am going back to food now. Mainly as I am quite hungry as I type this, but also as I feel slightly shafted as a vegetarian in the United Kingdom. While the UK is better than most places I have been in Europe for vegetarians (though that could be part of my traveling limitations), it’s still terrible. When I was India, getting good tasting vegetarian food was a breeze. Didn’t have to think twice about it. However, the other thing was how cheap it was. Not as UK to India, but it was cheaper on the menu to order vegetarian than meet/fish. When I am here in the UK I get something that is no doubt vegetarian, but then find myself paying similar prices to my friends for the meal. Even though the cost of ingredients is far less and honestly looks and tastes like bollocks. I could go to these vegan places and then pay this imaginary vegan tax where plain peanuts cost £10 for a starter. I might have taken the piss in the last sentence, but honestly most of the time it is just really simple dishes being over charged. It’s not hard to make a decent vegetarian dish. I do it home daily and I am not a professional chef. I am just an idiot with some spices. So now every time I go out to a non-Indian restaurant in London, actually all restaurants, I am going to have remind myself that these people do not know what good food tastes like. Buying something a simple a cheese sandwich will even bring in disappointment, as in Mumbai on the street I had one of the best sandwiches in my life and all it was cheese, chilli and sprinkle of spices; not even toasted. At least my grandmothers both live in London, all hope is not lost.

Talking about losing hope, I now realise that I have been living in a lie. I don’t care what anyone tells me but I have never lived in a capitalist country (a hyperbole). When I read economic theory and they talk about perfect competition, with sellers selling the exact same goods no matter where you went. I saw this in Mumbai. I was looking out the car and saw street after street with shops all selling the same goods, take faucets for example. All I could think, is how on earth are they all still in business? How are they all full, how is no one under cutting them? Why are the prices the same (it was all cheap, so no collusive oligopoly style going and far too many stores)? I’ll tell you what, it must be perfect competition. You could break into that market without differentiated your goods and charging more (which would get you some business) or price matching the same. Even when it came to grocery shopping. Didn’t like the price from one vendor. Take three steps to the next vendor and take your business elsewhere. Repeat until satisfied. That does not happen in the UK, UAE or South Africa (cannot recall Zambia) nor any other place I have visited and spent a significant amount of time. Now I understand that this also has to do with Mumbai’s massive population being so densely populated, but it was surprising not see a single supermarket in my trip. As far as I am aware, local chains can still exist, but none where apparent in my trip. I am not overly sad about this…

Looking back at it all, if someone said: “Hanik, I’ve got a job for you. One catch. It’s in India.” You’ll find me at the airport buying a ticket, because I will not turn it down. If you asked me before I went; I probably would have to spend some time to think about it, work out how long it would I would be away and what opportunities I would miss out here. I’ve got that travel bug that’s infected my entire family.

I could write some more, but this is no longer than some essays that I wrote to be marked, let alone the formative work that I handed in. As it’s a long post, there are probably going to be more mistakes than usual and I would also love to have some feedback!

Oh yeah, Happy New Year!