Badla…or The Invisible Guest?

Just last week I watched Contratiempo or The Invisible Guest, a Spanish thriller on Netflix. I wish I hadn’t. For, Badla, the newly released Hindi film starring Amitabh Bachchan and Taapse Pannu, which is based on Contratiempo, would then have been a virgin experience for me. I watched Badla last night, and came away with an overwhelming sense of deja vu. Not because I wasn’t aware that this was a remake of the Spanish flick, but because it isn’t just a remake, Badla is a fame by frame, dialogue for dialogue copy of Contratiempo.

Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t disappointed by the story, the cast or the acting. Badla is a genuine thriller. From word Go, Amitabh Bachchan, who acts as the protagonist Taapsee Pannu’s defence lawyer, and Taapsee herself, engage your attention. Prima facie, the story is this: Married accused Naina Sethi (Pannu) is accused of the murder of her paramour Arjun (Tony Luke) in a hotel room, which was securely locked from the inside, suggesting there was no way a third person could have committed the crime and escaped undetected. Naina insists she was knocked off by a blow to her head, and when she came to, her lover was lying in a pool of blood, dead. Naina’s lawyer hires Badal Gupta (Bachchan), a defence lawyer with an ‘only-wins’ track record, to help deconstruct what happened in that hotel room.

In the intense interaction between Naina and Badal, layers are slowly peeled off, to reveal many possible ‘truths’, and one more murder, albeit with a missing body. Naina’s many faces are revealed, and this has to be among Taapsee’s best roles, almost equal to the role she essayed in Pink. She is by turns, innocent, crafty, desperate. Bachchan is perfect as Badal Gupta. The steel in him comes to the fore when he’s calling Naina’s bluff, while at other times he’s the most understanding lawyer an accused can ever have. Till the last second of the movie, the suspense is built, and it explodes in a quiet crescendo, across literally, an expanse of space, leaving you stunned at the reveal.

But only if you hadn’t, like me, watched The Invisible Guest already. I knew the story and who the likely accused was/were and the big reveal, before I went to watch Badla. I was seriously fine with that since I was genuinely curious about how Director Sujoy Ghosh had handled this movie. His Kahaani was a stunning film, and he has the deft touch when it comes to suspenseful thrillers.

Ghosh could have gone two ways – One, loosely base the film on Contratiempo, while completely localising the story, and maybe giving it his own creative touches. Or two, do a complete copy of the original film. Unfortunately, he chose the latter option. And excelled at it! Except for a couple of stray references to the epic Mahabharatha, there is nothing, absolutely nothing original in this movie. The movie is also set in the same European winter as Contratiempo. Badla is thus, a Hindi copy of the Spanish original. To be sure, the director has given credit to the Spanish film. But couldn’t he have taken the effort to localise the story a lot more?

My advice to you – do not watch Contratiempo before Badla. And if you do, be prepared to watch Contratiempo a second time. Just in Hindi, this time round!

MyGoodEarth rating: 4.5/5 (pre-Contratiempo), 3.5/5 (post-Contratiempo)

 

 

Dil maange mor…inga!

A few days ago, I was at a supermarket in Matunga, where I saw a tin of ‘Moringa powder’ on the shelves. It said this was a ‘nourishing and detoxifying nutrient-rich superfood’. The irony of it? About a hundred metres from that shop was the vegetable market, where fresh moringa or drumstick leaves are sold in bundles, along with an envious assortment of greens like dill leaves, fenugreek leaves, and all manner of spinach leaves. And here were the moringa leaves, dried and powdered to be used as what, a topping on a pizza, or cereal, or to be consumed mixed in water? What a shame, I thought.

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The ‘miracle’ moringa powder!

From my childhood I have been accustomed to a wide diversity of greens in my diet. Though we are meat eaters, vegetarian food played a major role in our lives, as my mother, who hails from Palakkad in Kerala, is a strict vegetarian. We celebrated the greens with gusto. We sauteed the wide variety of leaves with mustard seeds and urad dal, incorporated the greens in a lentil based curry called erisseri, often made adai, a kind of dosa made with a blend of a variety of dals, horsegram, and the greens. You get the drift…the greens were everywhere. There was a special place in my mom’s heart for the drumstick or moringa leaves, as it’s considered especially beneficial for health.

But these greens were not glamorous. For instance, one would not make the moringa leaf dal or adai for guests. Guests would be served spicy sambhar, or a palate tingling fish curry, or a biriyani. My mom would unleash the entire sadya feast even, but the greens didn’t play much of a role on special occasions.

Over the years I lost touch with these leaves. I learnt to make paalak paneer, paalak erisseri. But I completely lost touch with many varieties of spinach and the moringa leaves. Most markets in Colaba and Lower Parel  stocked the whole drumstick, but not the leaves.

When ‘Moringa’ was getting touted about a year ago as the ultimate superfood, I was intrigued. I didn’t immediately recognise the moringa as the ‘muringa’ of my childhood. When I recognised it for it was, I was instantly flooded with a longing. I headed to the Matunga market and brought home bundles of it.

I made it in all forms – in adai, in dal, and as a bhaaji with potatoes. My son I discovered, loved the adais, when it was served to him hot, straight from the griddle, with dollops of homemade ghee! I am not an advocate of using excessive amounts of ghee, but I do believe that ghee must be part of one’s diet, especially a child’s.

Thus, did moringa and other greens make a comeback into my life. It was not just the return of these greens, but of some of the traditional recipes, which would otherwise have got lost in the mists of time. If I can spend time making intricate lasagna and spaghetti, and bake pineapple upside-down cakes, I can surely spend time making foods which are traditional and good for my family’s health, can’t I? At least once or twice a week? Now, a lasagna may triumph over a moringa dish in taste any day, but I think we owe it to our roots to establish some of the tastes that we grew up with, on the palates of our children. It is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, every day, we would be negating and ultimately forgetting, all that we grew up with.

I know that I have already let go of many traditions which were followed by my mother. Such can be the casualties of modern, urban living. I have made peace with it, as frankly, not all old rituals are necessary or desirable. But given the amount of junk and fast foods available today, it is nice to hark back to the past, and try and bridge the gap between eating only for pleasure, and eating for both health and pleasure. What do you think?

Recipe

Potato-moringa bhaaji

(I take about 3-4 medium potatoes for about 3 cups of moringa leaves, but this ratio can be altered as per one’s taste.)

Ingredients: Moringa leaves, potatoes, mustard seeds, jeera, whole red chilli, curry leaves, urad dal (gota), chana dal, green chillies, garlic, turmeric powder, salt, oil.

Method: Separate the leaves only, leaving the stalk. Wash the leaves well and drain in a colander. Boil potatoes (2-3 whistles), and cube. Don’t overcook the potatoes.

In about a tablespoon of oil, sputter 1 tsp mustard seeds and jeera. Add 1 whole red chilli cut into two, a few curry leaves, 2 tsp urad dal (gota), and 2 tsp chana dal, and fry till golden.

Then add chopped green chillies and chopped garlic.

Fry for a minute, then add the boiled and cubed potatoes. Add turmeric powder and salt. Toss it a bit and then add the moringa leaves. No need to cut it, just add the leaves as is. Fry it till the leaves shrivel. (Don’t over fry it as then the nutrition will be lost).

Have this with plain rice or rotis, and piping hot dal. Nutrition in every bite!

My top 15 most mushy movies ever!

  1. Dirty Dancing – What a lovely movie about innocent and beautiful love, shared by Patrick Swayze’s and Jennifer Grey’s characters. The couple’s dance to the number I’ve had the time of my life is an iconic one, and is a fitting celebration of this beautiful movie.
  2. Titanic – Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet winged their way into our hearts with this one about doomed love on a doomed ship. Yet, you are left with a beautiful feeling of love triumphing, above all.  Celine Dion has lost oodles of weight lately, and we will never stop losing our hearts to My heart will go on
  3. Pretty Woman – Richard Gere became an iconic romantic hero with this movie about a prostitute and a millionaire businessman finding love with each other, despite many social hurdles. Most of my generation can hum Pretty woman walking down the street…. all the way till the end:-)
  4. An Indecent Proposal – Here, I won’t talk about the love shared by Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson’s characters, which ultimately triumphs, but rather the near silent, but almost desperate love that the oh-so-dashing and handsome Robert Redford has for Moore’s character. It’s actually two parallel love stories. Most of us wished it was Redford who had triumphed, though!
  5. Gone With The Wind – What can one say except that this is possibly one of the few movies which almost outshone the book it’s based on. The clashes between the dashing Rhett Butler and the feisty and beautiful Scarlett O’Hara has made my heart skip many beats!  Set against the American Civil War, the movie became famous for its line, ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn’. Clark Gable who played Butler, was the stuff that a woman’s fantasies are made of!
  6. Ghost – Patrick Swayze in a movie? I will take him in any role, even as a ghost! This movie has one of the most romantic scenes of all times – Demi Moore and Swayze are electrifying!
  7. The Notebook – It’s a sad love story, which brings tears to your eyes and twists your heart up into many knots. A young couple, divided by class, fall in love and are torn apart, only to connect after many twists and turns. Ryan Gosling and the pretty Rachel McAdams share a lovely chemistry in this.
  8. Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen’s iconic book made legends of the main characters Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Our hearts longed for the principled yet brooding and taciturn Mr. Darcy – he with his pride and she with her prejudices. The Keira Knightley and Mathew Macfadyen version is a good one, but the best adaptation of this novel has to be the six-part BBC series which starred Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. The lake scene where Firth strips, set many hearts racing!
  9. The Godfather Part III – This movie was panned badly by the critics, and with reason. The plot is shallow, the execution very poor. But powerhouse actors like Al Pacino, Andy Garcia and Diane Keaton rescue this somewhat clumsy movie from utter failure. For me, the passionate love depicted between Andy Garcia and Sofia Coppola’s characters, shown as cousins in this movie, is very moving. The bleak longing in Garcia’s eyes at this forbidden love, especially after he decides to give her up, is the highlight of the movie. Their romance is utterly believable.
  10. Notting Hill – “I am just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her’, is a classic line as far as movie lines go. This movie with Julia Roberts as the acclaimed movie star, who is attracted to a book shop owner Hugh Grant (he with his boyish, handsome looks and the messy mop of hair falling on his forehead!), makes for a lovely, romantic comedy. Grant as always, is mildly ironic, self-deprecating, and good fun!
  11. Serendipity – A name and number written on a book, reunite two people – John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale – who met years earlier serendipitously, are crazily attracted to each other, but Kate decides to leave it to a book and a dollar note to reunite them! And they do reunite of course. It’s a heartwarming story.
  12. You’ve Got Mail – This was the time when emails were a big deal, Facebook and Insta didn’t exist, and technology had not yet taken over our lives. Meg Ryan, often termed America’s sweetheart, and Tom Hanks star in this lovely David v/s Goliath kind of romantic comedy where Ryan’s tiny bookstore has to shut down because of Hanks’s mega book store chain. Considering today book stores big and small are downing their shutters, this movie is bitter sweet indeed!
  13. The Wedding Singer – This is a sweet love story between Drew Barrymore and such a young Adam Sandler, a wedding singer. She’s engaged to a Casanova, while attracted to the wedding singer. Of course she dumps her Casanova and embraces Sandler. And we all love this happy ending.
  14. The Holiday – This one is completely for the dreamy Valentine’s Day indeed. On a whimsical home exchange plan, Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet find themselves in the other’s home on different continents, where they both meet the love of their lives. When one of the men is the dreamy Jude Law, your heart too does strange things!
  15. Shakespeare in Love – Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes star in this lovely movie about the bard desperately in need of a muse to kickstart his creativity and overcome his enormous writer’s block. Paltrow and Fiennes (he as Shakespeare), are the perfect cast for this romance, which also shows us a different side to the bard.

 

My cup of coffee

 

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Photo credit: Pexels.com

I have been searching for that perfect cup of coffee since aeons. Now, I really shouldn’t be, as I grew up in a South Indian household, with the tantalising smell of filer kaapi (coffee) wafting through the house every morning. We had started out with the traditional, double compartment steel filter, graduating to the electric filter. The electric filter speeded up the process. If earlier we used to drink warm to hot coffee, now it was piping hot.

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South Indian filter coffee is brewed in this

Once I was deemed old enough to drink coffee, I drank it every day. Somehow, my world righted itself when I held that cup of coffee in my hands. It was not just a beverage, but it was the comforting embrace of roots, traditions and habit. That strong, milky, sugary, coffee was just so home!

After marriage I discovered to my utter dismay that my new hubby drank tea in the morning. But I who mocked him, was soon drinking tea myself. Somehow, tea was the easier beverage to make, and I just didn’t have the patience and time to make that cup of filter coffee, just for me. Like so many other small and familiar rituals, this too fell by the wayside. It seemed easier to let go of the old, in the eagerness to embrace the new. Once in a way I cheated by making Bru Instant, which kind of satisfied my coffee soul. (To Nescafe aficionados, I say this – try Bru Instant just once!)

When we moved to Mumbai fifteen years ago, though we lived in Colaba, I made Matunga my own haunt. And I soon acquired a steel filter from Soham store, and the filter coffee powder from Mysore Concerns, both in Matunga. Yet, I rarely brewed it. I was experimenting with varieties of tea by then. My buying the coffee filter was more a cursory salute to the past. Waiting for the decoction to trickle down and then have lukewarm coffee was not my cup of..er, coffee at all. Or so I thought.

This is when Sachin got hit with the Nespresso craze. He acquired the machine and the coffee capsules, which came in their own sleek box, with the different flavours marked out, almost like a jewellery catalogue. Every day, while he fiddled with the Nespresso machine, a half cup of very hot milk, a spoon, and a sachet of Stevia were set on a tray next to the machine. Sachin would pop the coffee capsule into the machine, after much deliberation over which flavour to have that particular morning. It was a grand performance, which Sachin insisted was just about worthy of Nespresso. He achieved coffee nirvana after each such ritual. I think it was more the ritual, and less the beverage, which put him there.

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The Nespresso machine 

I just couldn’t bring myself to like Nespresso. None of the flavours appealed to me. But what it did do was kickstart my coffee yearnings. I started having the filter coffee when I could, and Bru when I was rushed. Since I like my coffee with milk and loads of sugar, I had it infrequently…hitting the 40s does have its downside. I can’t abide the taste of sweeteners like Stevia, Splenda, and I would much rather have coffee with sugar on weekends, rather than with these artificial sweeteners daily.

The advent of Starbucks into Mumbai was a milestone as much for our household, as it was for that august Organisation! Sachin discovered that he could also order a cup of Starbucks coffee through Swiggy, which I found amazingly wasteful. I offered to make him as much coffee as he needed, especially for the late nights up working or watching football on the telly. But of course, he wouldn’t be satisfied with Bru or filter coffee. He soon raided Foodhall and got decaf coffee, which frankly flummoxed me. It wouldn’t load him with caffeine and yet would give him the caffeine kick, he explained to me seriously. A coffee, which really isn’t coffee…hmmm.

Meanwhile, I was having my own palate evolution. Last November, while holidaying in Perast, Montenegro, I discovered by accident, Nescafe’s 1+2 instant coffee, which just needed sugar to be added. I discovered that adding a spoon of milk made it even more delicious. In the wintry cold of those November mornings, it gave me the greatest joy to sit with a cup of that coffee, gazing out to the beautiful Kotor Bay enveloped in pleasing stillness. But I couldn’t source enough of it before we left Montenegro. A search in Mumbai stores didn’t yield that particular combination. It was left to a dear friend to get it for me from Hong Kong, and I enjoy that coffee occasionally.

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The pleasing colour of the filter coffee!

That said, I have realised that my love for filter kaapi will never fade. A trip to Matunga even today means snacking at Mysore Cafe or Madras Cafe, rounding off the meal with piping hot filter coffee served in the steel tumbler and davra. You cool the coffee by pouring it back and forth between the tumbler and the davra from a height, which also generates a pleasing froth. Just look at the rich colour of this wonderful filter kaapi!

Today, one can even find herbal coffee to beat all herbal teas! And as many varieties of coffee as there are probably coffee drinkers, I guess. So the next time I want to drink coffee or Sachin does, I have an array in my house – Bru Instant, Nescafe 1+2, filter coffee, Decaf, Nescafe Gold, Nespresso, even Turkish coffee. If all these fail, I will head to Matunga, while Sachin can fall back on Starbucks, of course.

The dog we sent away

We had a dog called Maui. He was a pure stray, the kind you find roaming the Indian streets. Maui was highly intelligent, highly energetic, also, very aggressive. Yet, or maybe because of these qualities, we had to send him away. A flat in Mumbai is barely enough to hold humans, and if one stretches it, maybe the more domesticated breeds like the Beagle, the Labrador, the Pomeranian, or the Daschhund. These breeds I believe, have over generations got entirely accustomed to living with humans in confined spaces,  acclimatised to being ‘taken’ for walks down. They are conversant with elevator etiquette and wait patiently for it. A free-spirited stray stood no chance against the reputation of such ‘finishing school’ dogs.

The decision to adopt Maui had been an emotional one. Our mixed breed Daschhund, Joey, also an abandoned dog, had died in the summer of 2016. We had adopted him six years earlier. He was found cowering under a bench in a park in Santa Cruz, and an NGO for strays had rescued him. A friend of ours connected to this NGO, convinced us to have a look at Joey. And we who had gone to ‘just look’, returned with Joey in the back seat!

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Joey, Sachin and Ishaan – the happy trio

Thus came Joey into our home. The vet estimated his age at about a year and a half. We took some time to adjust to this new member, though he took to us without any reservations. He formed the closest emotional attachment to Sachin, while I was the primary care giver – of food and walks. He came with some emotional baggage, a result of having been abandoned, perhaps. It manifested in utter hatred for other dogs, and a dislike of kids. Ishaan was the exception. Joey was fiercely loyal to us, and when he passed away, it was like we lost a guardian angel. Sachin and Ishaan took his death very badly, and the house was shrouded in a pall of gloom for many days. I suffered too, even though I had been always more detached.

I knew their campaign for a new pet would start soon, and sure enough, Sachin and Ishaan started to work on me. Much against my wishes, we adopted Maui, six months later. Maui was a stray pup found on the road. He was a very clever, intelligent pup, from the beginning. He was incredibly cute, and had an alertness about him which was astonishing.

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Maui was an incredibly alert pup

We hired a dog trainer, as this time we wanted to tick all the right boxes. He was the trainer’s brightest student, and received many accolades from her. But, we soon realised that his loud bark and charging at people he was suspicious of, didn’t augur well for domestic peace. The staff would tie him up every time the door bell rang, which just made Maui more angry and aggressive. We too couldn’t invest the kind of time needed to train him, as I believe, that persistent training could have overcome genetics. Maui had a special affinity for the garbage bin, and he guarded it jealously, even charging and biting, if necessary, to defend it. When we stepped out, he would shred books on the book shelf. I felt the staff was on the verge of a revolt, and I was not far behind. It was finally enough.

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Like Joey, Maui’s attachment to Sachin was very strong

We knew we would never put him back on the streets. He couldn’t, in all honesty, be given to another household. We had by now realised that he needed a lot of space to vent his excessive energy. That’s when a member of our staff came up with a brilliant solution – send Maui to his village in Ratnagiri, where there was enough space for Maui to frolic. We were initially skeptical, but were soon convinced seeing his enthusiasm. He said his family, which kept cows and buffaloes and hens, didn’t have a dog.

We got Maui neutered. Finally, one find day, a fully outfitted Maui in a new collar and leash, and with his food and water bowl, set out in a car from Mumbai for Malgund village in Ratnagiri. Sachin and Ishaan were very upset, till we started receiving tidings from Malgund. We came to know that the entire village turned up to see this dog brought in such style from the distant metropolis! The name ‘Maui’ (from the movie Moana)  was a bit too much of a tongue-twister for his new masters, and very rapidly he was re-christened ‘Maavi’. Maui took to the village and his new family like ‘to the manor born’. Soon we were sent videos and photos of him chasing cattle, thankfully the family’s cattle, and generally having a most carefree existence possible. He became that family’s watchdog in every sense. All this news pleased me especially, as I had headlined the ‘send Maui away’ effort. That was autumn of 2017.

Though I knew Maui had taken well to his new environs, the guilt stayed with me, and I promised Sachin and Ishaan that we would one day visit him. That opportunity finally presented itself this winter. We decided to go by road to Goa, and took the Chiplun route to Malgund village, where resided Maui. This was also a good opportunity to visit this kind family which had come to our aid.

It’s well-known that dogs never forget a smell. Yet, I was sure Maui wouldn’t remember me, and even if he did, it would be with some rancour. Such was my guilt. I was mentally ready for the ultimate rebuff – that he would turn away from me in disdain while he enthusiastically greeted Sachin and Ishaan. We reached the village in the afternoon, after travelling on the most crater-ridden road I have ever seen. The new highway being built has destroyed all vestige of the previous one. Travel worn and weary, we stepped out of the car to the sound of the most welcome, enthusiastic barking from Maui!

He was tied up in anticipation of our arrival. We went near him, and he went berserk. After leaping on Sachin, he turned to me and lavished me with all his affection. He was ecstatic at meeting us again. I was close to crying. Dear friend, I said to him, forgive me for sending you away. Maui looked at me with only love in his eyes.

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Maui and Sachin renew their bond

He ran about and looked at us to follow him, as if to show us his new family and home. When we did a tour of the homestead, he disappeared for a while, ‘on his usual jaunt’ said a family member, and returned at peace, and happy to see us again. He was so secure in his new home, that while he went crazy at meeting us, he didn’t cling to us or follow us everywhere. Maui, I realised, was truly home. I slept particularly well that night…

Chuck Dior, try Dharavi!

I don’t possess very many handbags. And ironically, the one I use the most is also the least expensive one. It is a small, black, sling bag, which I wear across my body, when I go for my evening walks, or to the nearby ATM, or to fetch my son from the bus. I carry in it the essentials – keys, phone, some cash, sometimes, my credit card.

But the truth is, the bag is never confined only to these items. Over several days, it ends up accumulating much, much, more. At any point, I can put my hand in and find things which I don’t really recall putting in. So today I found some Vicks ki goli, a small piece of smooth, glittering, white stone gifted by my son, and Rs.500 in cash (which is a large amount for this unpretentious bag). On previous occasions I have found a tube of my favourite lipstick for which I had been hunting high and low, a tiny notepad in which I had scribbled some ideas as they occurred and then forgotten promptly about, and of all things, a lemon! For the life of me I can’t remember why I would have a lemon in my bag. And almost always, a pack of tissues.

Every few weeks, when I find I can no longer absent-mindedly slide my phone into the bag, I empty it. And these little ‘treasures’ roll out. And I am bemused at what I find.

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This sling is almost my identity now!

This bag is no Gucci or Kors. Oh, far from it. Can you even begin to guess where it was sourced from? It proudly dons the moniker of ‘Dharavi’. When my niece was visiting from Singapore, the enterprising girl, who loves India with a passion I sometimes can’t fathom, insisted on doing the ‘Slum Tour’ of Dharavi. She wanted to write about it for the magazine she was interning with. So we booked the tour conducted by the ‘Slum Gods’, which turned out to be three hours of pure, unadulterated, education.

Dharavi, if you look at it purely as an outsider, is a hellhole. There is no other word to describe it. There are open, stinking, stagnant, sewers, highest density of population in so small a space, and an absence of civic amenities which doesn’t point to a derelict municipality, but an absentee municipality. When you enter Dharavi and take the tour, your opinion does change. Not about the government, and not about the living conditions, but about its inhabitants. Dharavi teaches the abject lesson of survival at any cost. We were stunned by the enterprise of the small entrepreneurs there, (from leather processing units, to housewives rolling out papads in a central courtyard), and the will to live and survive amid dire poverty and squalor. Our ‘Slum Gods’ tour guide was a homegrown boy, who not only held his own in speaking English (he conducts these tours for firangs too), but was so very proud of the enterprise of his neighbours, and spoke with justifiable pride about the hip-hop band his friends and he had formed. I checked it to out on Youtube later, and it was quite creditable.

As part of the tour, he took us to a leather outlet, where on display were bags of various hues and sizes. Among them, the ‘Dharavi’ brand too. This particular bag called out to me as the perfect go-to bag for the many errands I have to run every day. It’s just big enough for me to carry the essentials, and small enough to ensure I don’t fill it up with rubbish. Notwithstanding the odd lemon and lipstick, of course! The very ease of wearing it, has endeared this bag to me. Now, you may scoff at the look of my bag. It perhaps lacks the design sensibilities that the Europeans so easily impart to bags. But there can’t be an iota of doubt that the quality of leather is among the best. Dharavi is known for its outlets selling quality leather products, if you are adventurous enough to venture there. So I was most happy to buy my  sling on this tour. I loved the fact that the manufacturer had decided to launch brand ‘Dharavi’. It spoke of a certain amount of pride, and self-assurance, which I found oddly touching, and very impressive.

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When the black sling was new and shiny!

I am glad my little sling isn’t a high-value one. I would then be most reluctant to haul it everywhere. The Dharavi sling has been carried to all places and put to much rough use, and it’s weathered all the ill-usage with smooth equanimity. The leather has just got more soft with time, and I have no doubt it will last me for many, many, more moons to come.

Yet, I have to confess, I am getting a bit tired of its colour. I crave a change. Is it time to go back and find a twin of this bag, maybe in tan, or green, or blue, perhaps? I will keep you posted…Meanwhile, if you find the brand Dharavi anywhere, do patronise it:-)

A dash into Bosnia…

We were in Montenegro, when we decided to visit neighbouring Croatia. Dubrovnik in Croatia has achieved cult status in recent years because of the hit series Game of Thrones (GoT), many parts of which were shot in that city. We are ardent fans of GoT, and Dubrovnik was just an hour and a half by car from Perast in Montenegro, where we were so blissfully ensconced.

Only the desire to see the locations of GoT could have torn us away from Perast, to which we had lost our hearts. In Perast, each one of us had discovered that we could indeed be far from the madding crowd, and be happy. The ethereally beautiful Kotor Bay which was just outside our apartment window, had cast a spell on us so powerful that I had the mad urge to overstay our visa! If souls can talk to a place, mine did, to the tranquility, beauty, and the sheer peace of Perast. I remember a particular morning, when we had ventured out early, and were almost the only ones out in the cold, damp, clear morning. I remember looking out at the tranquil bay, taking a deep breath, and shutting my eyes, capturing the feeling at that particular moment. After returning, I have often wondered, why. Is human nature naturally attuned to the beauty and simplicity of peace and silence? Do we rediscover an innate, but an absconding part of our very being when we inadvertently discover places like this?

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The ethereal Bay of Kotor as seen from Perast

But as far as Dubrovnik was concerned, all of our plans came to a naught when we realised that we didn’t have the Schengen visa to enter Croatia. Our US visa had been enough to gain us entry into Turkey and Montenegro, our two ports of call on this trip. Sadly, we gave up the idea of visiting Croatia. But the urge to drive out was now upon us, and I think we looked forward to leaving Perast for the day, just so that we could ‘return home to Perast’!

That is how we found ourselves strapped into the car, setting the Google Map to Trebinje, Bosnia-Herzegovina. We heard there was a lovely monastery to see. The idea of seeing the monastery and eating lunch in another country, before returning to Perast, was so very attractive. So we set out. Once we left the Bay of Kotor behind, the road to Bosnia wound around vast fields and distant hills. At the border into Bosnia, we faced both immigration and customs, while seated in the car. How cool is that!

We were welcomed into the Republic of Srpska, which is one of the two entities of Bosnia-Herzegovina. And soon we were in Trebinje.

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Goodbye Montenegro, Hello Srpska!

Trebinje is a small city, with much history. The Tvrdos Monastery actually dates back to the 4th century AD, though over centuries it has been destroyed and reconstructed, the last one being about a century ago. It’s a peaceful monastery, surrounded by green vineyards, with a river flowing past it.

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The serene Tvrdos Monastery

The monastery chapel, as with most such chapels, is small and serene. There were tourists who were conducting some rituals, and we prayed briefly too. The monastery is known for its wine production, and is quite a tourist attraction, though we didn’t pause to taste any. We then left for the city of Trebinje, a mere 5 km away.

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Ishaan had a great time photographing the river, while a local fished!

Trebinje was for me a surreal experience. I have rarely been in any place in Europe, especially in recent years, where I have seen people stare at us as much as they did in Trebinje. Indians have reached most corners of the earth, and one would think Bosnia is definitely one of those corners. It wasn’t a rude stare, just a shocked one, jaws agape, at seeing a sight one isn’t accustomed to. It was a bit unnerving, but we tried to be nonchalant, three Indians, walking down a street in Bosnia, trying to look as if we belonged! In retrospect, what a hilarious sight we must have presented!

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In the centre of the town, a farmer’s market was just winding up, while we went inside a cafeteria looking for some lunch. Lunch was rather coarse, though tasty fare. A kind of ham sandwich, for which we paid with Euros since we very clearly didn’t have the local currency of Convertible Mark. They happily took the Euros and gave back change in Marks which we discovered later. So we now have a bunch of Bosnian Marks to add to our currency collection. People at the cafeteria thankfully didn’t stare, which went a long way in redeeming the city for me.

For dessert Sachin insisted on going to a rather busy and stylish cafe we had seen. We went with hope and got some lovely dessert, but also enough smoke to coat our lungs for a while. People here have the rather awful habit of smoking indoors. Sachin said it’s a sure sign of a still evolving society.

Trebinje overall, doesn’t give one the impression of being a vital place, which I hope isn’t symbolic of the rest of Bosnia-Herzegovina. There is almost a miasma of tiredness, and of being poorer cousins to their more alive, more prosperous neighbours. The town of Trebinje has loads of history. Yet, there is a sheen of dullness about the place. Despite the autumnal trees and the cool weather.

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We started back from Trebinje soon after and reached Perast by 5 pm, when the tourists had vacated the town, and what a relief that was! It was dark and quiet, and we were  just in time to see a humongous cruise ship glide silently across the bay in front of our apartment, its windows ablaze with lights. What a mesmerising sight indeed, to come home to…:-)