We Need to Talk India

Mumbai Calling

Smog

India, well Mumbai really, is becoming my favourite place to see and spend time in. To those who have know me for a very long time, that is probably surprising. I would go to the ends of the Earth to watch the cricket team, but the actual country has always been more of a distant land than anything else. When I was 21, I had spent less than a month in India. Now, at nearly 26, I’ve spent nearly 4 months in the last four years. I’m even thinking of going for a weekend trip, prior to returning to the UK. Mainly for food, but it’s not as though Dubai has bad Indian food (including chaat). Mumbai in particular has got a magnet on me at the moment. It’s meant that I have not gone to my beloved home of Umhlanga, which is paradise on Earth.

The most pointless sign in Mumbai

When I arrived in Mumbai, it was late and against my own suggestion, my parents decided to get a cool cab (aka, a pre-booked with AC) instead of just getting an Uber on an Auto. We were staying in BKC which does have really nice high-end restaurants such as Yauatcha, however at 10:15pm I didn’t feel like going to top end restaurant and wanted something that was quick, light and frankly delicious. I wanted pani-puri which meant that we had to head over to Bandra and go to Elco Market as we know what we were getting and the service is fast. Cue being stuck in traffic, for what was meant to be a 45min round trip, and realising that we were not going to make it in time before Elco Market shuts (at 23:30)! So, pulled out my phone and trusted Google maps, what was open? Hakkasan! From Elco Market to Hakkasan and sitting next to a party of everyone wearing Gucci. It’s not something that would exist in most cities, but it does in India. Mum and I both got a cocktail, some dim sum and mock duck salad to welcome in the festive period. This story encompasses everything that I love about this city, nothing is impossible in India. It can be a pain to sort out, but it will happen. The sealink bridge is a testament to that idea.

What shocked me was the amount of smog that was in the city this time, compared to last time I visited. I blame my friend for not taking care of the city, but that is part of the downside to Mumbai. Development does have a cost and to negate the pollution takes regulation that no one is going to enforce. The city had changed quite a bit since I had arrived and I still felt at home. The hustle and bustle, with god only knows how much noise, is something that at this age I love. Don’t get me wrong an escape to the country side is nice and all but give me people with good vibes and I can stay up till my body truly gets to 0%. Versus relaxing all the time in the countryside.

This story encompasses everything that I love about this city, nothing is impossible in India.

The one thing I was unable to get good photos were the Christmas Lights of Bandra. That’s something I may write about more in the future, but the growing polarisation in Indian politics and how it felt as though religious minorities are becoming more active in showing themselves. The lights themselves are different form the ones in the UK. In the UK, they are large and over the top. In Bandra, it was more Bollywood. Trees had lights hanging off them over the roads, except all along the road. It was magical!

The only way to get around (apart from Uber)

Let’s just say that I ate a shit ton of street food while I was in Mumbai, which is slight understatement. There were only two possible outcomes of this idea of mine, putting on some weight over the trip by eating everything in sight or lose a ton of weight due to food poisoning. I did the only respectable thing and not care, ended not changing in weight and missing the great food as soon as I left. I’m just going to leave a montage here.

I do think of myself as Indian, just an NRI (Not Really Indian).

Goa

I was able to explore part of Goa next, which surprisingly was more expensive that Mumbai. Seriously 300 rupees for a 10-minute drive! Ended taking the bus instead for 10 rupees. You can take the man out of Gujarat, but you can’t take the Gujju out of the man! Now Panjim is not exactly what I would call a city, more a town. It would be like calling Chelmsford a city. I don’t care that both are, but there’s no way that either have a real city vibe to them. I say this as kid who grew up in a village surrounded by sugar cane, which has more hustle and bustle than these places.

What I did in Goa, apart from going to great restaurants (shout out to Black Sheep Bistro and Mum’s Kitchen), is learnt a surprising amount of history about the Portuguese rule in Goa. I spent a day with Dad going to the various forts nearby and apart from taking a ton of photos of Dad and posing for some myself. Though there was a great comedic moment that happened on this day. For some reason my father forgot that English is a lingua franca in India and after setting up a photo someone stood in front of the camera took out their phone and started to take a photo. My father turned to me and said: “What a dipshit! Is he blind?!?” Like a flash the guy turn around and I was crying with laughter thinking what dipshit my father can be!

Coloursim

Apart from galivanting around forts, I was on the beach getting a nice town to become dark and beautiful. I have talked about colourism on the blog before, but briefly there’s a real issue with people wanting to appear lighter. I’ve never understood the obsession. Personally, I want to have a tan and prefer to hang out with people who looks as though they aren’t afraid of the sun, which may seem counter intuitive to an anti-colourism claim. However, it’s true and secondly there is so little out there being for darker skin. Just remember to wear sunscreen, none of us are stronger than the sun. Back to the beach, the water was lovely. It was quite funny to see the life guard calling people back towards shore and I was there thinking that the water was so safe compared to Umhlanga. It was so calm, that I even just walked into the water in my shorts and carried my camera. Might have soaked my shorts a couple of times, but what’s the point of being on holiday if you’re going to act up tight: especially when I could buy a new pair for a couple of hundred rupees.

New Year’s Eve was a quiet affair for the Kotecha as the rest of the family were going early in the morning to catch their flights, while I was on the last flight out. We ended going to the south and seeing our friends (and former neighbours) for an afternoon at the beach, glass of champagne and getting our feet (and my shorts) wet while we watched the sun set. Not a bad way to see out the year.

The final day in Goa, was New Year’s Day. As I was alone, I ended up going around Goa. I spent time looking for baked goods, hired a private tour guide to see a Christian Relic, went to a spice farm where I got see an elephant lounging around, went to the beach and hired a photographer to take some photographs of myself and then got completely bored in the airport while I waited for my flight. Going back to the elephant. When I first saw the elephant, I saw it lying on its side I thought it was dead. Let a loud “oh shit” in front of some kids. Luckily, they were more interested in seeing an elephant, even if they referred to it a Dumbo when everyone knows that Nelly & Bazar are the far superior names to call elephants. I blame the parents…

Someone has the right idea

I like Goa, I just don’t imagine that I’ll go back anytime soon. It’s not a terrible place, just there was no…magnet for me. My heart doesn’t yearn to return.

Back to Mumbai

A pretty nice view. Now that fog has lifted

I headed back to Mumbai to spend some time with the friends from South Africa and to see some family. Let’s not forget about the enormous amount of street food.  I spent the last few days running around Mumbai. I’m not going to give a play-by-play of everything I did. However, I will talk about paan. Now paan traditionally was thought to be a digestion aid. The paan that you get outside of India (well Asia), is shit. Luckily, I was able to get magai (not Maggi noodles) in Mumbai, which is made from young and tender leaves. Dipped in in coconut and rose syrup. As my Mom said: “They’re like tequila shots. You don’t have one. You have one after the other!” As you may tell, I can from a party family. We didn’t go to the side of the street for the paan, instead we went to the racecourse at 11pm. At Gallops we were presented with an array of paan platters, tins to prepare all the flavours. It was unusual, but something that doesn’t seem out of place in Mumbai.

On the last day in Mumbai, I do what I always try and do by the end of the trip. Go for a facial treatment, haircut and massage. I did and left with glowing skin and a new trim. Then I headed to Santa Cruz market, where we (Mum and I) met a woman called Nisha (same name as Mum) and her sister’s name who escape me. The sister called out: “Oi, Nisha! What do you think of this?” in a thick British action. Mum and turned around looking bemused thinking who is this person? Quite funny that there were two Nisha’s in the shop. After a bit of chatting, we found out the other Nisha was from Kenya and now living in Saudi. Talk about being eerily similar to my own Mother.

I got onto the plane heading back to Dubai with a feeling as though my time in India has only really just begun. The country has something special. I do need to visit Bengal and head further south, but time is unfortunately short. This trip has cemented the idea that I will get my OCI when I decide to return to the UK. I do think of myself as Indian, just as an NRI (Not Really Indian). Obviously, my identity is a bit complicated, but someone else’s problem, not mine.

Finally got the pose correct

I don’t escape the winter, I embrace the summer

Hanik P Kotecha

Ten Years

Ten whole years. Okay maybe not ten whole years, but on the 06/09/09 I moved to the United Kingdom, to head to boarding school. To live a dream inspired by Harry Potter, but more so Spud (a legendary book). Back from 15 years of living abroad in the Commonwealth. It’s the day I moved to New Hall and met my best friends (and had some wonderful memories, a lot of stupid moments too), I then went on to study in at three different universities where I made some more great friends, moved between the UK and the Dubai; before settling back in London.

I love the UK

No really

What’s bizarre is that I love the UK. It’s one of the best countries in the world to grow up in. Sure, there are loads of problems, it’s not perfect; however, it’s my home. I am British after all. It’s home for the time being at least. And that’s the bizarre part. I don’t want to die here. I don’t want to spend the rest of my days here. I can’t I imagine being truly happy if I never leave these shores. Why? I would say growing up abroad has a lot to do with it.

One of my favourite songs to listen to is La Mer, though my favourite version is the Bobby Darrin version which is known as: Beyond the Sea. Apart from helping me along the path of becoming a hopeless romantic, it has always made think of the future and the yearning of what is beyond the horizon. I have never been one for dreaming of small little achievable goals. I dream big, because of my darling football club. Tottenham Hotspur. There’s a quote attributed to Bill Nic that I tend to base a lot of thoughts on: “It is better to fail aiming high than to succeed aiming low. And we of Spurs have set our sights very high… so high, in fact, that even failure will have in it an echo of glory.”

I dream big, because of my darling football club

Though being a Spurs fan has meant that most of our recent success have been stuck on my FM saves…

That’s the crux of it this, aim for the Moon, Mars, Jupiter and everything beyond; because if you don’t have the drive to go big, then you won’t even achieve the medium. That’s become of my own life mantra that, this is only life we have and I’ve got to try and achieve all the dreams I have; if I don’t try there’s no going back. It also results me over stretching myself and that I don’t always achieve what I capable of showing to others.

I have a good breadth, but not the greatest depth. It’s not as though I cannot focus, it’s just once I know I can do something, then I look for the next challenge. Doing something well and knowing that I can do it, means that I no longer care to prove that I can. That knowledge for myself, is good enough; unfortunately this system won’t be paying the bills. However, I believe that I’ve come into the world with my own riches. Chasing money won’t get me where I need to be, it will get me to the point of eternal poverty, to really butcher one thing Seneca was trying to say; poverty is not being happy with your current situation. That’s it for me, enjoy my circumstances. Know my privileges and make the world a better place. The aim is to just do live it. No hope. No try. Dream? Yes, but live those dreams.

Apart from helping me along the path of becoming a hopeless romantic

Talking about Beyond the Sea

Back to the UK. I love my pubs, the terrible nights out in Essex, a Geordie accent on a lass, arguing on how to say grass, making a fuss on how my tea is made, what is a proper queue, being able to shout ORDAH like Bercow, being able to chat to a bobby without fear of losing my life or paying a bribe, throwing abuse for 90mins at the footie, cheering on the home nations, having the Royal events to attend, able to speak freely and living on the greatest city on earth: London.

Yet, I am willing to give this all up, because I know that there are places out there that make you feel alive in other ways. London may be number one place to be, it’s the not the place I need to be right now. The dream is still to be PM, don’t worry about that. However, I do think that my destiny is abroad waiting for me.

Am I living the dream, in England? To an extent, it’s a dream. Jerusalem is being built among these Satanic Mills, but at the same time do I want to be living in this kingdom of heaven? I’m not sure. My eyes are always beyond the sea, where another kingdom of heaven lies.

India Part 1

Back to Mumbai

So, on my flight, the thought that I was about to travel to India without my family for the first time was just exciting. I honestly didn’t have a day by day plan. All I knew, that I wanted to see my Masi’s in Mumbai, that I was staying with my Kusum Masi while in Mumbai and that I would sort everything out in the first couple of days. After going through arrivals, I met Kusum and Bella Masi, which was amazing! I was expecting to grab my own cab at the airport, but via the miracle of onboard WIFI, I got a message that Bella Masi was coming to pick me up. It was great to see both of my Masis straight away!

…via the miracle of onboard WIFI

The next day was simple, the first thing I did was run to Pali Hill and drop off the clothes to the tailor/designer that I had brought over for my Mother and Sister (which also took up more than 50% of bag). I also tried to get a sim card was turned away for not having my passport on me (I had a copy). So, I had to come up with an alternative way of getting one.

[Jai] Shree Krishna Silk Mills

The next day was going to the market with Masi and sorting out a sim and picking up some groceries. Now this Adhaar card, which the Supreme Court [of India] has pointed out not being necessary to prove address, is required in India. The amount of time saved with having this card, from the limited experience I had, is that Adhaar is a necessary part of living in India. For now. Returning to my life, got a sim card and I have to say we are all getting ripped off in the rest of the world! I paid $3 for 1.5Gb of data per day. That’s right per day! What we pay elsewhere is just a scam. Once the network is set-up then it’s all about bandwidth. We really need a Jio like company in Europe for example. I don’t buy the argument about costs to current firms. Telefonica, Orange and Vodaphone are multi-billion-dollar firms. We are just getting rinsed. I think that is my rant over for now.

So later that day I was back at Masi’s (I should say that if I say Masi without saying who it is, it’s Kusum Masi) and looking up flights and trains to Gujrat and back. I was shocked how hard it was to get a ticket from Ahmedabad back to Mumbai on the train. So, I ended up booking a flight to Porbandar and flight from Ahmedabad back to Bombay. How I was to get from one side of the state. That’s 340km (ish), let alone the actual road distance, quality or you know, actual transport. Either way, I called my Piyush Kaka and just told him that I was coming the next week and to tell my family in Ahmedabad, who I never met or spoken to, to expect me afterwards! I mean, what’s the point of having family, if you can’t randomly meet them and live in their homes for a couple of days?

Next day I just spent with Masi, sorting out the rest of my time in Mumbai, as I was originally planning to meet up with another Masi, but she was fasting and told me to come another day. Not too bad, got to spend more time in Santa Cruz.

…what’s the point of having family if you can’t randomly meet them and live in their homes for a couple of days?

Now the following day I will have to mark as one the most important days of my trip! Masi had organised a chaperone to get me to South Bombay, which was one of my Mamas who I had never met before. So off we went. I was going to spend some time with Babul Mama and family, which included my cousin Sonia and G, plus their two children Raaisha and Vivan . Now I met Vivan a few years ago when I last went to the States, but Raaisha was not there. I had spoken to on Facetime before and she basically just laughed at my name. Well, let me just say that girl is a cheeky monkey! An example was her taking a piece of cardboard paper and tearing it, only after saying it was Vivan’s old ticket to a theme park! I miss her and her brother quite a bit! The other thing I miss is the street food around them! The Sev Puri is to die for! And the Wada Pav! I’m drooling! Now, normally I avoided street food in India, but as I had a long trip Sonia said this; “Hanik, if you get ill, what’s the worst that’s going to happen? You will spend three days in bed. That’s the same as relaxing on holiday! Live a little!” So, I did and thank goodness that I listened, as this just opened a whole new world to me!

The following day, I was back in South Bombay. This time visiting couple of my Mamis, with Masi (yeah, it’s slightly confusing). I wanted to catch up with my Gita Mami and Kishore Mama and see when they were coming to visit me, either in London or South Africa. Being elderly, they responded with the only acceptable answer; whenever I was going to get married, wherever it may be, they will be coming. I mean, what do you respond with? No, I have no intention of getting married so come along? Why not the engagement? Whatever I answered, the question would then turn to my love life. And just like in real life, this blog is not the space to talk about (well at least for now). I was told that my Nana, used to go to Haj Ali for juice in the evenings, which meant that I had to dragged Masi to Haj Ali. I got some scrumptious pomegranate juice and Masi decided to go for an orange & clementine juice mix. It was more expensive than our Uber home, but it was worth it!

Candid shot of Masi drinking her juice

The next day Masi took me to the Elco Market. Now I went to the Elco Market in 2004 when I was 10 years old. I have not forgotten the taste of the first pani-puri I had there, I can happily report back that taste is just as magical! That first pani-puri was time machine. I was transported 14 years into the past! If you are going to Mumbai for a day, this where I would send you! Alright, time to move on. Next on the agenda was watching a Hindi film, unfortunately we (Masi and I) went to see Zero. Out of ten? Giving zero stars would be too kind. Don’t see it, even for the effects. It only makes SRK even more punchable. A feat that I did not even think would be possible but trust me it is!

The next day I was planning on catching up with Sanchi. Now I do not know what this girl was thinking, but she thought we should meet at 4pm for coffee and then head for dinner after around 8pm. So, I ha booked to go to Yautcha. Yautcha for those out of the loop is a fine dining restaurant which is known for its dumplings. Sanchi and I meet at a café just off Linking Road and grabbed some coffee (well I grabbed a breakfast smoothie) and had a catch up on what was going on in the last few months in our lives. During the conversation I heard the words that should never be uttered by an Indian. She had never been to a wedding! Nor does she have an outfit for the wedding she’s going to in the next couple of weeks! Thank goodness we were on Linking Road. I grabbed her and dragged her to a fabric shop! Sanchi, since you are reading this, don’t talk about the price when you are looking! There’s no need, but trust me, it was a good fun trip! As we headed to Yautcha for dinner, we past Anita Dongri; so, guess where we headed… Now I must say that men’s section was disappointing. Nothing in fashion! I try my luck and call our mutual friend Roshika and she picked up! It was a nice little reunion, but I had to say Roshika was a bit savage when saying certain clothes were ugly, on loud speaker for the whole shop to hear! She wasn’t wrong, but still. Moving on to Yautcha. What a meal! Just plate after plate of great food but being in Mumbai fabulous vegetarian options! I don’t want to complain about the vegan/vegetarian tax again, but it’s so refreshing not having to pay a premium for good vegetarian food at a high-end restaurant. The dumplings were on point and I’m glad that we didn’t focus on the “mains”. Dessert was great, and we even got a cocktail. The meal was expensive for India, but in comparison to the London version, it was a pittance.

What happens next? I head off to Gujrat, which I’ll recall next blog. Hope the pictures are interesting enough, do send some feedback!