Welcome to India! [en]

[fr] Arrivée en Inde!

“Welcome to India!” is a phrase I often use somewhat ironically. Like, when the Indian Consulate General sends back your visa application paperwork with a note saying “please apply in person” because you didn’t see that applications by post had been discontinued (despite the instructions for applying by post still being on the website), and so you end up on the train to Geneva with those very papers they had in their hands the week before, yes, because they stuffed them in your return envelope to send them back to you so you could bring them back to them in person… Yeah, welcome to India, indeed.

So anyway. All this to say that I’ve arrived. After a little airport adventure (a flight that didn’t exist, flying through Zurich instead of Munich, arriving nearly two hours before we were supposed to!) we made it to Pune. I managed to have a decent number of hours of sleep and still wake up before lunch (methi, Nisha knows I love it).

Sandy, house guest 1 Bruno, house guest 2

I got to meet the two canine house guests, take note of the advancement of the building works in Akashganga since last year, and this afternoon, was faced with the evisceration of the road leading up to the house. I hope nobody needs to take their car out these next days.

Construction works in IUCAA

My plans for the week? Not many:

  • make sure our waitlisted train tickets to Goa get confirmed
  • a couple of trips to the jeweler’s (one to drop off orders and stuff to repair, one to pick up)
  • pick up a SIM card *fingers crossed*
  • meet up with a few people, old and new
  • maybe go to the cinema for the latest Amir Khan movie
  • eat nice food
  • see if I can buy a pair of jeans (a challenge given my size and shape)
  • leave enough space for reading, writing, photography, chatting with my hosts, learning to cook nice food, and general unpredictability of Indian life!

Two hours later: the power is back, I can publish my post! (We’ve been without pretty much all afternoon and Nisha has been cooking by candlelight.)

How to Order Pizza in India: a Rant [en]

[fr] 45 minutes au téléphone (et 5 appels différents) pour commander une pizza. Mais j'ai réussi!

This is a little rant while I wait for said pizza to arrive. Yes, I actually did manage to order pizza. Here’s how I did it.

Called Domino’s Pizza main customer service line, told them where I was (IUCAA, near Khadki-Aundh Road), and was transferred to Aundh branch, where I was promptly told delivery was not possible and that DP Road branch would deliver to me.

I took down DP Road’s branch number, called them, and was told that Aundh branch was the correct branch to call for my address (this required me to be transferred to somebody who spoke English I could more or less understand — I hate doing stuff by phone in India). I told them the Aundh branch had sent me to them, but was told to call them and that they would deliver to me.

I took down the Aundh branch number and called them again. The service rep’s English was minimal (he quickly told me delivery was not possible, but I insisted, and told them I had already had pizzas delivered here — true, ate a lot when I lived here with Aleika) so I ended putting Nisha’s niece on the line to improve communication (Hindi/Marathi). After a long conversation, the conclusion was that they would not deliver because the pizza would be cold.

Enter Twitter: should I expect to be able to get delivery? Well, yes, here’s the closest branch: SB Road.

So, I gather my courage and call the general customer service number (which I’m starting to know by heart) again. (Side-note to readers: the pizza has arrived and I have eaten it since starting to write this post — I’m feeling less ranty and more proud of myself. A full stomach will do that.)

I am told that SB Road branch does not exist or is not in the system. Will DP Road do? No, DP road will not do. I explain what I’ve already been through, and that I would like to know which branch to call to get a delivery, and that I suspect it might be SB Road. No, no, it doesn’t exist. Again, as I’m having a lot of trouble understanding the CSR on the line (not just their fault — my Indian English is not 100% and I’m particularly bad with accents on the phone), I put Nisha’s niece on the line.

It doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere really interesting, and looking at the website again I see the direct number for the branch is provided. We hang up, I take a deep breath, and I call again. This time, I am not told that delivery is impossible. My order goes smoothly — understand: it takes me about 10 minutes to give my address. The street name is Akashganga. OK, Akashganga. What is the street name? Er… Akashganga. In IUCAA. So, IUCAA ### (flat number). No, Akashganga. In IUCAA. IUCAA is the housing complex. So, Akashganga, IUCAA, near what landmark? Er… IUCAA, the astrophysics department. Near the University Campus back gate. So, Akashganga, IUCAA, near physics department. No, near the back gate. (10 good minutes of that. I’m patient. I explain everything in detail. I double-check they have my number right. I explain there are security guards who can direct the delivery boy. I say again it’s right at the back of the University campus.)

I give my order. This is about 45 minutes after my first call to Domino’s Pizza. What’s wrong with this picture?

But everything seems fine. I put down the phone, take a deep breath, and go and take a quick bath to wash of a full day’s roaming in the polluted city (a lot of it on foot, including beggar kids grabbing me and wiping their hands all over my clothes — worse begging in the space of 5 minutes near the top of Jangli Maharaj Road than I had in months when I was living here).

Totally surprisingly (I have to say), the pizza arrives reasonably quickly, still warm, and without the delivery guy having to call us. If only ordering had been so simple.

(OK, next time I’m ordering online. I was put off by the fact they required an Indian number, but thinking of it now, I could have provided the landline to where I’m staying — which I did on the phone anyway. Oh well. One learns.)

Basically, once I was on the line with the right branch, I was pretty much OK. But the service provided before that was disastrous: pillar to post, and nobody able to send me to the right place or provide me more useful information than “not possible”. Twitter provided better customer service than Domino’s, in this case. Thanks again, Sahil.

Time-Melt in Pune [en]

[fr] Encore des nouvelles de Pune, où tout se passe bien. Mes photos sont en ligne (en vrac).

I’m losing track of time. When did I get here? A week ago already? It has flown by so fast, but it feels like I’ve been living here (almost) all my life.

We just got home from a wonderful meal at Shabree, a restaurant that does Maharashtrian thalis. We ate till we (almost) burst!

Finding a rickshaw home tonight was easier than last night, when I watched a bunch of guys my jeweler had asked stop at least a dozen rickshaws before finding one who would take us back from MG Road.

Pune 191 Laxmi Road Shopping.jpg

I think I definitely like Laxmi Road way better than MG Road. It’s more alive, more “real”, less “trying to be upmarket”. There are nice shops in and around MG Road though, but if it’s just for pleasure, I’ll take Laxmi Road. Our trip today was successful: goda masala (I still need to write up some Nisha recipes for you, I can’t keep up!) and a few other spices, Nisha’s brand of tea, an oil-lamp for my dad, lots of cheap fresh coriander, nail polish, and a few other things I forget. Oh yes, we found a shop which probably has the cable or card reader we’re looking for.

In other news, I dump-uploaded my photos, so they’re now visible online in my Pune 2010-2011 set. Clearly some of them need a little work (whether I’ll ever get around to doing it is another story) and I need to break them up into smaller, more manageable sets. Feel free to add tags to the photos and to point out which ones you think are particularly good — it really helps me after when I try to turn them into something presentable.

I’m exhausted again (because the day was long and nice!) so I’m going to leave things here — aren’t holidays supposed to be restful? 😉

Can't Keep Up With My Pune Photos! [en]

[fr] Des nouvelles de Pune. Les photos viendront, mais j'ai de la peine à suivre!

Help, I can’t keep up! I’ve settled down nicely now and been taking lots of photographs — in the University campus while walking the dogs with the Shindes, and in Laxmi Road yesterday with Mithun and family (got to meet his lovely wife, and his mother is an absolutely fabulous shopping partner).

Pune 218 Laxmi Road Shopping.jpg

So, I’ve been busier, with less time to sort photos and write, and I’m falling behind. And now my dad has arrived, so it’s going to get even worse!

After a couple of days here, I started to feel an urge (a) to come here more often and (b) to come and live here again. Of course, it goes back and forth, and I’m regularly very happy to be living in tame Switzerland — like when a rickshawallah agrees to take me to IUCAA, leaves the meter running at the petrol station, refuses to stop it when I tell him, and then dumps me at the university gate because he won’t go into the campus. Or when I’m trying on something that is clearly too small for me and I’m told repeatedly that it fits me perfectly (no it doesn’t: if I reach forward I’ll rip the fabric, and I’ll have to get into really uncomfortable positions to get out of it). Or when I ask for size 9 sandals, am told the size 6 I have in hand is a hand 9 (upside down, see?), and that my own size 9 sandals are bigger in size than their “size 9” because they’re Kohlapuri chappals. Gah.

But aside from these little frustrations, I’m thoroughly enjoying my time here. My Hindi (er Hinglish… my Hindi teachers would be appalled) is slowly coming back, I’m remembering the roads and generally how to deal with the world around me.

I tested the Pune Twitter connexion, with great success! Thanks in particular to MrShri, SahilK, and ZoebAsif for helping me out with my laptop repair (not my laptop, don’t worry!) — and all the others I’ve been in contact with upto now.

Right, I’ll try and make a little progress with these photos, before heading out to MG Road again in a bit!

A Few Days in Pune, and Dress Material [en]

[fr] Quelques premiers jours à Pune!

I’ve been in Pune for a few days now. So, what have I been up to? Well, mainly, hanging out at the Shindes.

I remember that during my last visit here I spent days on end just reading and chilling, and feeling a little guilty that I wasn’t “making the most” of my stay. But I realized that India for me is also simply about slowing down my pace of life, which includes reading (and writing) and chilling — and watching Nisha cook so I can steal her recipes.

I’ve been out a few times now: twice to MG Road, once to Ambedkar Chowk, to Pimpri and to Parvati to pay a visit to Pradnya, who was Bagha and Cali‘s vet when we lived here, and is now the Shindes.

Pune has changed a lot, but it also hasn’t. There are flyovers and big glass buildings and malls and huge petrol stations that weren’t there last time I came, but other things seem almost just like I left them: my choli-maker is still in service, as is my jeweler, the Pune Coffee House in Camp still exists as do many of the shops I went to, and most of the people I knew are still around.

The trip to Pimpri was epic: three different rickshaws to get there, none of them by the meter, of course. Good thing there were “six-seaters” somewhere along the way (I use brackets because they’re not really six-seaters, they’re just normal rickshaws in which people pile up).

Dress material in Pimpri, my favourites from shop #1 Dress material in Pimpri, my favourites from shop #2 Dress material in Pimpri, my favourites from shop #3

My ambition was to find a pink and silver salwaar kameez in today’s fashion. My dresses are clearly a little out of fashion, and I spotted a few cute pink ones on the street with silver embroidery. Ready-made would have been ideal given I’m not going to be in Pune for long, but after trying on one or two I quickly gave up: even the biggest of their biggest XL was too small for me. I moved on to dress material, but without finding something what I was looking for. Some nice things, of course, but not what I had in my head. If only I could draw clothes! I did see something approaching what I wanted, but… in green. Oh well.

What I'm actually looking for, but in pink

Maybe I’ll just end up buying fabric and having a shot at drawing (gasp!) something.

Pune de tous les jours en photos [fr]

Cet article a été initialement publié sur le blog de voyage ebookers.ch (voir l’original).

Quand je suis arrivée en Inde pour la première fois, j’ai été frappée par le fait que l’Inde quotidienne en ville n’avait pas grand chose à voir avec les photos que l’on peut voir dans le National Geographic. Alors bien sûr, les photographes du National Geographic sont excellents, et leurs photos aussi, et une belle photo, c’est aussi un peu par définition une photo qui fait rêver.


Ce choc initial m’a donné envie de photographier les choses qu’on ne photographie pas. Les choses banales, les rues banales, les choses auxquelles on s’habitue parce qu’elles font partie de la normalité. Les prises électriques et interrupteurs, par exemple.

La plupart des photos de mes trois premiers voyages en Inde ne sont pas en ligne. Mille dias et quelques films pour mon année passée ici, et une bonne dizaine de films pour les visites subséquentes. J’ai trié un bon bout, j’ai fait un album ou deux, mais scanner, c’est cher ou ça prend du temps. Ça viendra. Lors de mon dernier voyage, j’avais un appareil vidéo numérique avec moi. Beaucoup de séquences vidéo dont je n’ai encore rien fait, et une bonne pile de photos quand même (de qualité douteuse selon les critères d’aujourd’hui).

En 2011 (bonne année!), munie d’un appareil numérique et d’un iPhone 4 avec instagram, j’avoue que la tâche m’est grandement facilitée. Je sors rapidement et discrètement mon téléphone, je prends la photo, j’envoie, et hop, c’est sur Flickr, Tumblr, Facebook et tout le reste. Je ne me limite pas à mon iPhone, bien sûr, mais c’est un outil précieux.

Allez, je vous fais visiter un peu.

Un immeuble en construction:


Stand de fleurs à Laxmi Road (si seulement je pouvais vous faire sentir!):

Pune Laxmi Road at Night (India 2004) 2

Des amis étudiants qui jouent au tennis:


Stand de légumes et de rickshaws:


La lessive des voisins du dessous:

Pune 47 Rickshaw Ride Back to IUCAA.jpg

La maison où je loge en ce moment, mon ami Shinde et un de ses chiens:

Pune 45 Rickshaw Ride Back to IUCAA.jpg

Vue typique lorsque l’on voyage en rickshaw, ici dans le campus de l’université (magnifiquement vert et calme):

Pune 44 Rickshaw Ride Back to IUCAA.jpg

Loto de nouvel-an:

Pune 14 IUCAA New Year.jpg

Nisha qui rajuste une de mes kameez (en sept ans, disons pudiquement que j’ai pris un peu d’épaisseur ;-)):

Pune at the Shindes 8.jpg

En train d’attendre un rickshaw (avec effet de filtre instagram):

Waiting for a rickshaw

Et pour terminer, vous sauterez bien dans le rickshaw durant deux minutes? Petite séquence vidéo 🙂 — on entend d’abord le conducteur demander si on va jusqu’à l’intérieur du campus (c’est le cas), et Shinde dire au chien de rester tranquille derrière nous (on rentrait de chez le vétérinaire). L’Inde, c’est aussi ça!

Love the Chaos [en]

Shinde and I took a rickshaw across town today, and as soon as I was in the streets of Pune, I was gripped by this now-familiar feeling of elation I get when being on the road in India. I get it on the ride from Mumbai to Pune — despite the stink of the slums we drive through, I can’t stop smiling and want to jump up and down in my seat.

What I love here is the chaos, and nowhere is it more present than in the streets and traffic. Vehicles, roadside shops, painted signs all over the place. It’s ugly, but it has some kind of rickety beauty in my eyes.

Hard to say if it’s just because it represents a lot of what India is to me, and I have a bond to this place because I lived here, or if there is also a more personal dimension in play: being a pretty controlled (controlling, ouch!) and organized person, maybe I find some fundamental excitement in this seemingly disorderly sprawling mass of life.

Pune at the Shindes 1.jpgPart of this chaos: Flickr is acting up, so I can’t upload the photos and video sequence I took for you from the rickshaw. They’ll be online later, when I manage.

In the meantime, keep an eye on my “India snapshots” album (photos I’m taking on the road with my iPhone and instagram) and on the growing collection of Pune photos taken with my proper camera (which I’m still learning to use, so forgive some technical clumsiness).

On Grief and Losing Bagha [en]

I’m in India. I’m in Pune. I’m in IUCAA. I’m where Bagha was born, where I started to love him. It’s also the place where I spent a short year with Aleika, Somak and Akirno, and the Shindes, and all the other people and beasts who were part of my Indian world. That world is gone forever.

So as I grieve for my cat, I also grieve for these other pieces of my life which are lost and gone, never to return. Being here makes it all the more raw — also because I’m so happy to be here.

Pause à l'eclau 7

I’m still terribly sad about losing Bagha. I’ve been crying every day since he died. I didn’t have much time to myself between packing and traveling and arriving here, and it’s all been piling up, because I’ve been forgetting. Completely forgetting, because there has been so much positive excitement these last two days.

But now I’ve been remembering. Remembering that I miss Bagha not because I left him at home to go on a trip, but because he is gone, gone, gone. And it hurts like hell.

I don’t believe in any afterlife. I don’t believe in any spirit hanging around. There is no more Bagha, except in our photographs, our memories, and the changes he might have brought around in our lives. In mine, in any case.

I hinted that I would be telling you more about what I’m going through and learning these days. I actually started writing about what I was discovering about grief the other day, but got lost somewhere in the middle.

Grief is a weird state: it goes back and forth, up and down.

The first days after Bagha’s death, I would find myself going from a kind of numbness in which I’d “forgotten” he was dead to the horrible realization it was true even though I “couldn’t believe it”, and then devastating sadness in which my world seemed to have come to an end, and from which I had the feeling I would never emerge. And back out and back in again.

I would wake up crying in the morning and go to sleep crying at night. I had no trouble sleeping, however, to my surprise: I discovered that it is not sadness but anxiety which keeps one awake all night, mind spinning, too wired to slow down one’s thoughts enough to fade into sleep. For me, at least, grief seems to tire me out.

I put most of his things away over the first few days. Not in an attempt to make all traces of his presence disappear — more as a way to try and accept that these bowls, pieces of string and old expired meds would not be needed anymore. It took me a long time (until my imminent departure, actually) to touch his spot on my desk, though: I could still see the shape of his body on the pillow, and feel myself hanging on to this very physical trace of him.

Cleaning the flat was very hard. Tidying up. Removing the subtle remains of his presence in my life. The first time I hoovered without him trying to run out of the flat. The first time I changed the sheets without him trying to get under them. The first time I washed things in the bathtub without having to worry about him drinking the soapy water.

That cat was everywhere, all along my days. Watching TV: a break comes up, where’s the cat? I get up from what I’m doing, “to find the cat”. All these reflexes which are now meaningless.

My one consolation right now is that my grief is simple. I did everything right with this cat. He was a wonderful pet. I have no regrets. He lived a long life (14 years is not exceptional, but as Aleika put it, he probably outlived all of his litter-mates by at least 8 years) and even died pretty well (if one can die “well”). I don’t feel guilty, there’s nobody to be mad at, I knew he was going to die someday, and I treasured the time I had with him, specially these last few years.

It doesn’t make things easy, but it makes them simple. Even when it hurts as much as it does right now, I know that what I’m going through is normal, and that it will get better in time and tears, and that I will probably be ready at some point for new feline companionship.

So here it is: the one pain I’ve spent my whole life being so afraid of. I’m in it, it’s dreadful, but I’m still alive and happy to be. I have plans, I want to do things, I laugh and I smile. Life goes on, it really does, I know it for good now.

It hurts, but it goes on.

I'm in Pune, India [en]

[fr] Ça y est, je suis à Pune! Plus de nouvelles plus tard, quand j'aurai dormi ma première vraie nuit ici (la nuit entre l'avion et la voiture roulant comme folle de Mumbai à Pune, ça compte pas). En attendant, lisez L'Inde, dix ans après...

I made it. After all these years of not managing to come back to India, here I am. The blood of a dozen mosquitoes on my hands, a bottle of Bisleri by my side, stomach full of delicious home-cooked food by my friend Nisha.

Travel went smoothly, aside the hour of waiting for our luggage at Mumbai (but these things happen). Mumbai airport is unrecognizable and so, so much nicer. A lot has changed in 7 (or 10) years.

I have a few photos already, and things to say (India is has always been about taking the time to do things, for me — and I will). But’s 11pm local time and I’m really tired. This is a good thing, because it means I’ll sleep and get over the jetlag quickly.

Keep an eye on Twitter, and Flickr.

Travel Plans [en]

[fr] Prochains voyages: Lisbonne puis Vienne à la fin du mois de septembre, et peut-être l'Inde cet hiver si j'ai les sous.

  • (25)26-30th September: Shift in Lisbon, Portugal
  • 1st-3rd October: BlogTalk in Vienna, Austria

I’ve more or less got the trip to Lisbon and the return from Vienna sorted out. I’m in trouble for getting from Lisbon to Vienna during the week-end without emptying my bank account. Anybody else doing this? Got ideas where I should look? (Trains, planes, coaches?)

I’m also tempted to go to India for two months over December-January (get back here in time for Lift early February). The problem there is finances: I don’t know yet if I’ll be able to afford it. One idea would be to try and get some consulting work over there (Delhi, Pune, Bangalore…) — if the rates in the industry are worth it. Anybody know what opportunities a videshi bloggy consultant might find there?

Do speak up if we’re going to be in the same place at the same time!