Tuesday 29 September 2009


India is a land of many languages. The SIL Ethnologue lists 438 languages currently in use in India. They come from four distinct language families. Out of a population of over 1.1 Billion;
  • 777M people, ie 76% of the population, speak an Indo-Aryan type language
  • 217M people, 21.6% of the population, speak a Dravidian language
  • 12M, 1.2% of the population, speak a Austro-Asiatic language
  • 10M, 1% of the population, speak Tibeto-Burman language
  • 2M <1% of the population, speak some other type of language
As I understand it, Hindi and English are the official languages and then each state has their own official ones. That means another 21 official languages exist, namely, Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Marathi, Meitei, Nepali, Oriya, Eastern Panjabi, Sanskrit, Santali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu. I admit some of these I had never heard of before.

In Orissa, where I shall be based, the state language is Oriya and it is spoken by over 35 million people.

Monday 28 September 2009


After 8 months of only occassionaly wearing shoes in 2008 on the boat I came home to face the fact that very few of my shoes now fitted me. So they went either to the skip or to the charity shop depending on their state of being. Someone somewhere got some really nice dress and evening shoes for a good price hopefully:) The soles of my feet had harded up quite well, with all that salt water. I still prefer to be in sandals than shoes, and only wear shoes now for special occassions, trainers for the gym etc but suspect I shall be back in socks and boots come the wet and cold UK winter.

Taking about the cold,

Thursday 24 September 2009


No not the cars! The in the arm type. Warning to the sqeamish - yes, it is time to start those inoculations.

Luckily, I'm fairly uptodate, although I will be due for a rabies booster when I am in India. Having never been to SE Asia except Singapore I've never had an injection against Japanese Encephalytis, another one of the multitude of mosquito borne diseases - have you ever notice just how many diseases are mosquito borne!  So I had the first injection yesterday and need to return for the second in one month's time.

Also, I needed a booster for my Typhoid as had that at the same time. And renewed my favorite, Dukoral, which is the oral vaccine against Cholera. Interestingly in these days we don't think too much about cholera and the vaccine is not usually given except to aid and health workers but there have been Cholera cases in Orissa this year. Originally I was advised to take it several years ago as it gives you two years general protection against infestations of the gastro intestinal tract and having had both food poisoning and dysentry that sounded a good option. I am pleased so far to report that either it has worked or I have been incredibly robust or lucky - I was one of the few or only folk who did not get sickness &/or diahorrea in Mali, Central Asia and Central America and during a norovirus outbreak on the boat. So I am keeping my fingers crossed to survive Delhi belly with only minor inconvenience :)

Jags have never bothered me but drinking that vile concoction that is Dukoral is a real challenge. They make it so that folks will like it - sweet and effervescent, a sort of raspberry Andrew's Liver Salts,  - except I hate fizzy waters with a passion. Drinking the  150ml of this is a real feat - I have never managed to do it in one go, although I try, I only get about 80% of it down and then have to psyche myself up again for the last few drops. I'm the person who was pleased when they stopped giving polio on sugar cubes! Give me an injection any day, even though this morning, after having one injection in each arm yesterday, I can only just raise my right one above my head! My gym session this afternoon will be interesting :) Anyway, nothing that won't pass and quite bearable compared to falling ill with any of these diseases. I hate taking medicines but prevention is the best route.

Thursday 17 September 2009

Tea - the best drink of the day!

Tea – that great drink – no coffee in this household where would I be without it! Black, white, green, sweet, spicy, fruity, herbal – real tea or tea infusions I don’t mind – all sorts – in fact the only ones I really don’t like are mint, which I can take if very weak, and roobois, which I give a wide breath always.

Yes I confess, I use both tea bags and loose teas in my house. The current range in my kitchen is Jasmine, green, Keeman, a China blend, English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Orange Pekoe, Camomile, Honey and Vanilla Infusion , Green tea with Orange and Lotus flower, Fruit Bliss infusion with Orange, Mango and Cinnamon, Darjeeling. My favorites are usually Chinese black teas like Keemun, rather than India teas.

I drink it all day. It is my drink of choice. It is warming on a winter’s day, and it is refreshing on a very hot day. There’s nothing like it to revitalise you when your energy is sapped away by either hot tropical humidity or by the drying desert sun. . In my opinion it is perfection. Nothing compares. The other great thing about tea is that you make it with boiling water, which is great for your health in far climes – In India I am going to have to filter and boil all my water.

I suppose the most often asked question in England is whether you take milk and/or sugar, and there are debates over whether you should put the milk in first or only after pouring the tea into the drinking cup. We have what is colloquially called “builder’s tea”, ie very, very strong tea with milk and sugar, usually made from end of the line quality tea, loose or in bags. No first picking of fresh tips of tea bushes here. I grew up with that until I first experienced jasmine tea in a Chinese restaurant - Michael Cheung, wherever you are, I thank you! From that there was no going back, I was addicted. The range of tastes that tea gives is phenomenal.

Travelling with my Tuareg friends in North Africa means drinking sweet, triple brewed, very sweet green tea, in a small glass, just a bit bigger than a whisky tot size. Tea here it is brewed on the coals of the fire with the sugar in the pot, poured high to aireate, and drank in three servings, each with their own distinctive strength and level of sweetness. The Tuareg says that the first round is “bitter, like life” – this comes from the green tea being made quite strong. The second brew is sweet, like love. This is because more sugar has been added and the tea is weaker as more water has been added. The third serving is light, like the "breath of death." This is much weaker and much sweeter. The way it is made, when it is served etc is a very precise procedure, it has so many social implications – it is a focus for chat, for exchange of news, for the telling of stories, it indicates it is time for an afternoon nap, the end of the day etc. It is a lovely habit to get into. I have gradually developed a taste for this, and its sweetness is a welcome addition to the local diet.

In India, of course, tea, or chai, is drunk differently again. There it is milky, sweet and spicy. So my daily brew will be changing dramatically again. There are so many variations on what spices are used to make chai - cardoman, cinnamon, cloves and ginger being the common ones, but fennel seeds, bay leaves, black peppercorns, vanilla pods, nutmeg, and probably other Indian spices unobtainable here, can all be used. It is of course, only made with black tea.

So I have decided to start experimenting with my own mix. Here’s where I am at the moment
1 1/2 cups of water
1 1/2 inch piece of cinnamon
8 cardomon pods
1 cloves
1/2 inch piece of ginger finaly sliced
2/3 cup of milk
3 teaspoons of sugar
3 teaspoons of tea

Place water, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and ginger in a pot and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on a lower heat for 10 minutes. Add the milk and the sugar and bring to simmer. Then, add the tea leaves and remove from pot from the heat and cover. Let the tea brew for about 3 minutes. Strain and serve. This makes about two cups.

Taste-talk: This is still a bit milky for me although I think the milky, sweet and spicy tastes is quite well balanced and subtle. So I shall need to experiment further.

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Preparations in ernest start getting busy!

With less than 2 months to go, I suspect this is the start of things getting busy!

This past week, I have finally chosen the company who will be storing my good and shackles when I am in India. This is a really expensive business! To give you an idea, the average contents of a 3 bed semi requires storage of about 1000 cu ft at a cost of £35-40 per week for long term storage. And all this over and above the normal removals fees for them packing up my goods and taking them away and delivering them back to me.

I decided to go and see the companies quoting me and to have a look at the conditions under which my worldly possessions will be kept. Of course, you want them to be secure, but you also want them to be dry, clean and vermin free. I was actually reasonably pleased with both companies, but have made a decision on the basis of an intuitive feel that one was better organised in their office on the day I visited and had a slight edge in tidiness within their purpose built storage facility.

Also, I have organised an agency to manage the letting of my house. Their fee for this means that I should have no worries about finding and vetting tenants, how the house is being looked after, whether they pay their rent on time etc. Fingers crossed. In addition, I have had to arrange a gardener to take care of the garden when I am away. Luckily the letting agent’s management fee covers them managing his work. It also covers me authorising them to arrange minor repair work to the house up to pre-agreed value, and a friend of mine has agreed to come and look over any work of a higher value that needs to be done, as I won’t be able to just pop back to check these sort of things out! I have rented out a previous house when I lived and worked in the US some years back and I am hopefully for a similar hassle free experience.

To get this all happening means I have to have various things done by law. For example, I have to get an Energy Performance evaluation for the house – so that man came this morning to draw up a floor plan, ascertain the volume of the house, what the walls are made or, how much double glazing and other insulation there is etc – this goes through some calculation to give a standard description of the energy efficiency of the house.

In addition, there is a fair size list of tasks to work through. The worse part is getting in contact with contractors and getting them to come and do the work. My oil fired boiler and Rayburn need to be serviced, luckily my chimneys have just been swept recently and my wood burner checked out. All the electrics and electrical goods need to be PAT Tested. This means finding an electrician who is authorised to do this type of work. I've got my boiler service booked in for later this month but I’ve never been that lucky at finding a good electrician locally. My in person book club buddies have recommended one they have used and I have been in contact with him to see if he can do this, but so far have only got voice messages – typical. I keep telling myself to be more patient as I suspect things in India will move even more slowly!

Thursday 10 September 2009

An intermittent rambling about food - Number 2

Food wise I adore fish, I do eat a reasonable mount of meats, usually chicken or pork. I’m not a big beef fan and actually prefer the gamier end of the meat world – rabbit, hare, pheasant etc. But although I should be able to get something in the way of meat in India many Indians are of course vegetarian. Now I have cooked vegetarian food before for veggy friends but this has mainly been pasta dishes. In addition, I have been effectively vegetarian for periods when travelling, but have never lived in a substantially vegetarian culture. So bearing all this in mind, I have started to experiment with a diet change and with learning to cook Indian food. Hopefully what this means is that over the next couple of months I shall be increasing my repertoire of vegetarian dishes.

I started this week with infernal aubergine, or as the American call it the eggplant  - although what it has to do with eggs is beyond me! Whatever, it is not a vegetable I have ever really taken to in the past. I learnt to cook ratatouille when a student – didn’t we all? It was one of those dishes fashionable in the 1970s and a easy way to have good cheap meal. But I have never really acquired the taste for aubergine. I can’t really describe what it tastes like to me, but it has often been bitter or cooked with far too oil for my stomach. So that was this weeks challenge, along with my first attempt ever to bake naan bread.

Well it has been a partial success. The two aubergine dishes I tried both worked out fine, whilst the naan bread needs (no pun intended) more practice. It turned out a bit more like pita bread. It tasted Ok, it just didn’t puff up like those I get in my local Indian restaurants. I suspect the problem was I was running out of yogurt and probably didn’t have enough. I shall try again and report back when more successful.

The two aubergine dishes were Smoked aubergine, which I had for lunch as dip with the naan, and an Balinese Aubergine dish called Terung Belado which I ate with plain boiled white rice for dinner. I am now sitting enjoying a refreshing grape spritzer by way of a congratulatory prize!

Here’s the recipes for you fellow food fans. If you try these out, you’ll have to use common sense with respect to quantities – at heart I am a bit of this and a bit of that, then taste it kind of cook. I reckon 1 aubergine amounts to about 2 servings.

Terung belado.


1 aubergine
2 shallots
2-4 cloves garlic depending on taste and size, sliced
1 inch root ginger, chopped
1 red chilli, finely sliced
2 tomatoes, skinned and chopped
2 kaffir lime leaves
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon palm sugar
Juice of ½ lime

Cut an aubergine into slices about 1cm think, toss in some salt and leave for about 10 minutes.
Heat oil in a wok, add aubergines and stir fry until lightly golden (about 5-6 mins). Life them out and leave to one side.
Fry the shallots and garlic until golden
Add ginger, chillies, tomatoes. Cook until tomatoes are soft
Add back in the aubergine, Kaffir lime leaves and about 3 tablespoons of water. Simmer until aubergines are tender and the sauce starts to reduce down.
Add soy sauce, palm sugar and lime juice. Salt to taste.

Taste-talk: if you like ginger and a subtle hint of chilli this is for you

Smoked aubergine


1 aubergine
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 inches of root ginger, grated
2 -3 tomatoes depending on size, peeled and chopped
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Handful of chopped coriander leaves

First roast the aubergine. The peel and chop it up.
Fry the onion until starting to brown. Add ginger and cook for about a minute more
Add tomatoes. Stir and fry until the mix started to reduce ( about 3minutes)
Add cumin, cayenee, and salt to taste.
Add aubergine. Lower the heat a bit to a medium heat and cook for 10-15 mins
Add coriander and mix well
Serve hot or cold

Taste-talk: I actually really like this. I imagine if you blended it into a smooth paste it would look more shop bought, but I kinda like the texture thing.

Grape spritzer

I saw this recently on a TV program as a way to use up left over grapes which you have left lying around the house which are still Ok but a little bit old.

Grapes, Glass of white wine, ice cubes, mint leaves, sparkling water or tonic
I worked on the basis of one mint leave per glass of wine

Now just fling everything in the blender and blend. Serve in long glass.

Taste-talk: It is unbelievably simple and delicious.

Tuesday 8 September 2009

Every girl needs a good bag!

Yeah, you know what I mean, one with lots of pockets for all your bits and bobs - remember that scene from the movie One Fine Day - just how much stuff did Michelle Pfeiffer's character have in her bag!! Something for every occassion - contingency planning to an extreme!

Well I've never really been a very girly girl, usually content with a slightly smaller bag, enough for purse and keys. But when it comes to today's electronic gadgets, I succumb. What with camera, card reader, charger, ipod, ebook reader, solar charger etc I needed a bigger bag. Everyone who was into cameras came up with the same recomendation - Crumpler. So I tracked them down and picked out an appropriate one. Imagine my surprise to find its name is the New Delhi! Clearly fate. So here it is, my new pride and joy has arrived. Now I just need to make sure I can actually get everything in it. So many pockets, what will I fill them with......