Victoria & Abdul

Oh dear.

What a let down.

The story, that of the unlikely friendship between an ageing Queen Victoria and her Indian servant, is not only a delectable one, but the additional fact that Abdul Karim’s diaries were only recently discovered is also thrilling.

Add the incomparable Judi Dench to the mix, and we should have had the blockbuster to beat all costume-historical-sweeping-blockbuster-epic-y thingies.

Except we don’t.

Judi Dench is her usual incomparable self.  Not one word of criticism about her performance.

She is absolutely perfect as Queen Victoria.Perfect.

But for the rest of the cast…yet again, at the risk of repeating myself, what a let-down.

Stellar names delivering flat performances, with Eddie Izzard a notable exception.

I haven’t read the original book, nor do I know enough about that period of British & Indian history to speak with any authority, but I’m pretty sure that an Indian servant like Mohammed would not have slightly cheeked off the British, used words like “bloody” and been so, well, so 21st century in his open disdain for the British and their way of life.

Also, and I may be over-estimating Queen Victoria, but would she really not have known the background to the Koh-i-Noor?  One of her prized pieces of jewelllery?

And now let’s move onto young Ali Faizal, who plays the charming, handsome and likeable Abdul Karim.

Great eye-candy, totally, but what a sadly one-dimensional portrayal.

The actor is utterly charming, and you like Abdul unwaveringly, but other than smiling sweetly and affectionately at HM, what else does he do?

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Judi Dench (left) as Queen Victoria and Ali Fazal (right) as Abdul Karim

Lovely visuals, as one would expect, but that was it.

Didn’t care about any of the other characters, they were all so 2 dimensional.

Liked Ali Faizal.

Loved Judi Dench.

But left the cinema feeling slightly cheated.

This movie could’ve been fabulous.

Could’ve been epic.

Instead, it was formulaic, and even a little silly at times.

But, having said that, it is still worth seeing for the wonderful Judi Dench.

How good is the new “Juggernaut” mobile app?

Very good, is the answer.

This recently launched app for mobiles here in India, is set to change the way we read, make no mistake.

Without being remotely qualified to write an in-depth technical review of the Juggernaut app, let me just say that it was easy to download, is super easy to use, and the one query I had was replied to promptly by the support team.

Basically, with Juggernaut you can download and read books on your mobile –  & access the same books on a device like an iPad.  (This was actually my query to the support team).

Books are very reasonably priced, and what is refreshing is that the initial titles are focusing on and promoting Indian writers.

But how does reading on Juggernaut differ from reading in, say, a Kindle?

Well, for starters, you don’t have to invest in a separate piece of hardware.  Your smart phone is enough.

Plus, there is an interactive aspect to the app, whereby you can ask the author a question, straight from the app itself, which is pretty cool.

In the interests of full disclosure, I was contacted by Juggernaut towards the end of June, asking as a blogger and, especially, a book blogger, whether I’d like to review books using their app.  The first book that I read using the app, “How to kill a billionaire”, is reviewed in my other blog, and was sent to me, free, by the good folk at Juggernaut.

I was initially a bit of a techno-loser, forgetting to report back to Juggernaut that I had indeed downloaded the app, but once this hiccough (entirely my fault) was cleared up, they have been in regular contact.

So, step 1.

Download the free app.  I now have it on my iPhone & iPad.

You can quickly personalise the app, by going to one of the 23 categories they list & seeing what’s on offer.

Step 2.

Download a book – and here I must be honest, I don’t yet know how smooth the payment mechanism is, but I suspect it will be seamless.  The app as a whole seems to be that way.  Certainly the book is downloaded in a trice, with an instantaneous follow-up email.

This was the first book I read, and I deliberately read it on both my devices, and the transition between the 2 was flawless.  It picked up on one where I had left off on the other.

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You can increase the font size, as well as the background colour:

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When you’ve finished, you can chat to the author – haven’t tried, but fully intend so doing – and leave a review.

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There are many books, all very reasonably priced, and then there are some free books, so (naturally!) I downloaded a couple of these, starting with “Tale of a Tub” which, to my shame as an Eng Lit grad, I haven’t read.

This is how the book is presented:

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And the acknowledgment that the download is complete:

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All blissfully straightforward.

In its portability – eliminating the need for even a Kindle – I think the good folk at Juggernaut are definitely on to a winner here.  We all of us carry our smart phones everywhere, and as I have discovered, it’s no different than reading a book than, say, reading an email which we all do all the time on our phones.

What is super exciting about the team at Juggernaut is that they are not only promoting reading, but they are simultaneously promoting writing.

See.  Read this message:

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Now HOW exciting is this?

So, in summary –  a free app that delivers books quickly and inexpensively to your smart phone.

Clear, nice look.

Simple to use.

10/10.

Would I recommend it?  Hey!  That is exactly what I am doing here 🙂

PARTITION Stories of separation by Sonam Kalra

Currently this is, perforce, a Delhi-NCR-centric review, but one hopes that this latest show by Sonam Kalra will travel the country and beyond…

“Partition Stories of Separation” was performed for the first time at Delhi’s India Habitat Centre in front of a sold-out audience this weekend.

A show devoted to the trauma and sorrow of Partition was never going to be easy viewing and there were moments of great sadness.  Great, heart-wrenching sadness.  When the elderly Sikh spoke about the death of his sister, I could hardly breathe, it was so raw and painful.

But this pain, which Sonam Kalra talks about in the programme, cannot –  and must not – be avoided or ignored:

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This trauma is part of the DNA of the subcontinent and it has to be commemorated and shared, especially with the gradual passing of the brave generations who lived through the horrors of Partition.

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Through song, and poetry, and interviews with amazing people who lived through Partition, this traumatic period of history is brought to life by Sonam Kalra, Salima Raza and Sonam’s team of amazing musicians.

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But for me, what moved me the most, was not so much the looking backwards at history, but the positive looking forward towards peace and reconciliation.

And here the energy and thrust of a younger generation with a different mindset was in evidence.

I loved the inter-active feeling of the show –  from old fashioned postcards on which we were asked to write our message of peace starting with the positive words “When we meet…”, to the hashtags to be used on social media to build a dialogue with “The Other Side.”

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There were cute, quirky touches, such as a “postbox” for the postcards for Pakistan.

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We were even given pens, ensuring that there we all had no excuse not to write.

A pile of old luggage in the entrance to the auditorium spoke volumes.

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I hope that this show travels the length and breadth of India, and more than anything else that it travels to “The Other Side.”

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Shabash to Sonam Kalra for giving voice to painful memories, but than anything for presenting the pain with so much love and, most importantly, hope.

Travels with my coffee mug

If you are a coffee-holic & a bit of a coffee snob to boot, then this review is tailor made for you.  Especially if you travel/hike/climb/trek.  And even more so if you can’t stand instant coffee.

Wearied by frankly revolting coffee in so many (otherwise amazing) places, uncaffeineated at the start of days in (otherwise amazing) remote parts of the globe, this gift, below, from a fellow coffee-holic & trekking friend was beyond perfect.

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It’s a thermal portable coffee plunger mug from Kathmandu – the company, not the city.

So all you need to do is pack a bag of ground coffee, get boiling water from your hotel/camp cook/boil it yourself (hey, you can figure this bit out, right?) and Bob’s your uncle.

The only teensy flaw in this jug is that when your pour out the coffee, it leaks a little from the top, but that is such a small price to pay for having one’s morning caffeine fix that it hardly counts.  I checked the website just now, when sharing the link with you and, guess what I found?

  • Lid is not completely spill proof

There you are, then.

In the 3 years I have had this mug, it has travelled all over the place with me, since it weighs virtually nothing and saves my life every morning.  It’s tough, and in 3 years in backpacks it has precisely one scratch, and I’m still trying to puzzle out where it came from.

Together, we have been up to the Himalayas (I live in India), we have been climbing in Ladakh, to Africa (where we used to live) to Myanmar, Sri Lanka.

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Have Kathmandu coffee mug, will travel is now my new mantra.

Indian Summers Season 2

I have no excuse.  No excuse whatsoever.

A little under a year ago, in this very same blog, I shared with you my thoughts on Indian Summers, a TV drama that…well, let’s just say underwhelmed me totally.

Hey, why mince words?

I thought “Indian Summers” was absolutely terrible.  Truly terrible, despite all that money thrown at it.

Here are a couple of relevant stats (courtesy of the thinking man’s paper, the Daily Mail)

  • Indian Summers is Channel 4’s equivalent to ITV’s Downton Abbey
  • It’s the most expensive drama commissioned in the channel’s history

Anyway, obviously when Season 2 came out, yes, of course, we HAD to watch it, just to see if it was as bad as season 1.

Actually, I approached Season 2 with the hope that perhaps the good folk over at Channel 4 had put a bit more thought & attention to detail into Season 2, and corrected some of the more glaring mistakes/errors/inconsistencies.

Whatever.

No such luck.

Season 2 was every bit as bad as Season 1.

So compulsively bad in fact, that, hooked like addicts on the sheer awfulness of it all, we simply has to watch it right to the weird, rushed, inconclusive end.

But that was the end, I gather.

Channel 4 has mercifully pulled the plug on what should have been a fantastic series and which was, on the contrary, a total disappointment.

I won’t bore you all with repeating the litany of inappropriateness from Series 1 – the locale, the people – because the series is now over.

When the end finally came, I realised that there was not one single major character about whom I cared.

Not one.

Ralph Wheelan?  Nah.  He got his come-uppance.

His wife? Nope.

His sister?  No. Despite her horrid, spivvy husband and her inter-racial love affair, Alice remained boringly one dimensional throughout.

Cynthia? Shudder.  What a truly appalling character.  I cannot for a minute imagine that in colonial Shimla, in the 30s, a woman as common as Cynthia would have called the social shots.

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Tell you what, though  – what I’d love more than anything else is to be proved wrong here, with someone promptly telling me that Julie Walter’s character was based on a real-live person, and then I can re-evaluate the whole thing.

The only nice Brit is that young Scot, Ian McLeod.  And he turns “native”, so there you are.

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On the Indian side…well…they are all portrayed more sympathetically then the Brits, but they are by and large so totally stereotyped.

Roshan Seth is great, and one of the few truly good actors in the series.

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Ayshsa Kala’s character is appealing, and she has the most winning smile and sparkly eyes.

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Way more pizzazz than her brother.images (1)

Don’t get me started on Art Malik as a Maharajah wearing costume jewellery.

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Anyway, it’s all over, a series that was addictive because of its awfulness.

PS: And clearly Channel 4’s answer to “Downton Abbey” it was not.

How good is the Anker Solar Charger?

It’s very good, to answer my own question.

I have nothing but praise for the Anker portable solar charger.

I bought it before I went climbing in the Himalayas 2 summers ago, and it worked brilliantly, charging mobile phones mainly, both mine and my fellow team member’s.  Even though there was no connectivity for most of the climb in Ladakh, it meant I could use my phone to record video clips.

Some days, I attached the charger to my daypack (as in the photo below, which is not mine.  It’s from the internet) & I even charged my phone on the go.  Initially I did worry about the charger getting scratched on boulders (it didn’t, of course).

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Once we arrived in camp in the afternoons, out would come my charger and it would sit quietly there, as we all unpacked and set up camp.

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Super impressed and it is now a regular on all outdoors-y type trips, where power could be a problem.

Here are the charger’s vital stats:

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It has 2 USB charging points.

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It weighs in at 14.7oz / 417g so isn’t a liability in your day pack.

Totally recommended.

No one at Anker knows that I blog.

I paid for the charger myself, and bought it online.  As you can do now:

All the photos are from the internet.

AND…as I was looking for photos online to illustrate this review, I found this one, and learned a useful tip, which will be put to good use later this summer, when I’m back in Himalayas – hurray!

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Putting the Adidas Climachill Cosmic Boost Shoes through their paces

Having seemingly only “just” bought a new pair of Adidas Energy Boost running shoes, it hardly seemed possible that I was running through them so quickly. (Pun intended).

But the facts were there for all to see.

I bought my “old” shoes at the end of April, and by dint of running every day, I was indeed using them up.

The demands of a #100daysofrunning challenge I signed up for on 1 May, made me realise something: you really do need a second pair of running shoes, especially when you are training through the Indian monsoon season.

And so, since I am rapidly becoming something of a one-woman Adidas fan club, I went for another Adidas shoe, the Climachill Cosmic Boost.

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What attracted me to these shoes was the new climachill technology, which is supposed to keep you cool and is quick drying –  both ideal features in our hot muggy summers.  Between the heat and the monsoon downpours, this new technology seems to fit the bill.

Here, let Adidas tell you all the technical specs in their own words:

Climachill Cosmic Boost Shoes

Log more miles, log cooler miles with these men’s running shoes. Made with boost™ in the midsole, the shoes return energy to your step. Featuring a breathable mesh upper and climachill™ that cools your feet.
  • Weight: 7.6 ounces (size 9)
  • boost™’s energy-returning properties keep every step charged with an endless supply of light, fast energy
  • climachill™ helps keep you cool with active 360-degree ventilation and quick-drying, micro-perforated Aerocool fabric
  • Engineered mesh upper with various types of mesh in different areas of the foot
  • Bootee construction for comfortable fit
  • Grippy outsole
  • Imported

 

The first thing I loved about these gorgeous shoes (other than the colour…ooh, the colour) was the ease of putting them on.

Don’t laugh.

The only thing I don’t like about my lovely Energy Boost shoes (and I mentioned this in my review) was the fact that the tongue doesn’t open very wide, meaning it’s a bit of a struggle to get the shoes on without damaging the back.  I have resorted to using a shoe horn to get them on.

No such problem with the Climachill Cosmic Boost.

They are oh-so-light and slip on easily, from the first wear.

The design of the tongue is different, the backs of the shoes are flexible, and they feel comfy from the start.

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I was intrigued by the soles, which really do have holes going all the way through.

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Foolishly, for their very first outing I wore thick double-layered running socks, and the inevitable happened.

The shoes felt too tight and not particularly light and airy as they should have done.

It was silly of me, agreed, because the whole USP of these lovely shoes is their airiness, their quick-drying and their ventilation –  and so wearing thick socks was clearly counter-productive.

Entirely my own fault.

So, on the second day I wore thin socks and boy, did the shoes feel lovely and light.

I have wide feet, and so on the first day, when I was wearing those wretched thick socks, I panicked that the shoes were the wrong size.  But as from day 2, no such issues.  Thinner socks means they feel comfortable and (I realise this isn’t a technical term) I hardly notice I am wearing them.

 

Is it shallow of me to love their looks?

Nah, not a bit of it.

I love the colour, love the fabric, love the laces, love the eyelets…in a word, love the look of these shoes.

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One of the main things that struck me about these shoes was their lightness.  They cushion your feet, but don’t feel at all weighty.

The souls felt nice and flexible from the start, but I do have one unresolved question.

To wit: I am a new runner, and so possibly not as savvy as I should be, but with shoes like these –  designed with vents in the soles – I clearly can’t wear my special orthotic insoles, as they would be as counter-productive as my thick socks.

So…where does that leave me?  Should I alternate these shoes with my others (in which I have orthotic soles)?

 

I have run several times in the rain in these shoes, and they really did seem to dry quickly.  There was no sensation of splashing along, weighed down by damp fabric or damp socks.

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I wore these shoes for the first time on 15 July 2015 which means that today (5 August) I have had my Climachill Cosmic Boost shoes for precisely 22 days.

I have so far run  a little over 200km in them, and so imagine my horror when I got a chatty message from the running app on my phone, telling me I am already over 1/4 of the way through the suggested life of these beauties.

Conclusion?

Delighted with my Climachill Cosmic Boost.

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Would I choose them again when  –  sadly – they wear out?

Most definitely.

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EP : Extended Play by Karam K. Puri at Gallery Espace, New Delhi

I always knew that my friend Karam Puri was a talented and, most importantly, a very technically gifted photographer.  That was clear from the way he kindly and patiently taught me how to take photos in Ladakh’s challenging evening light, but it was not until seeing his beautiful photographs in Gallery Espace in New Delhi, that the full force of his talent became clear.

The just opened exhibition entitled EP : Extended Play is a tender and affectionate look at the fading lifestyle of the former rulers of India’s princely states.

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In a series of evocative, superbly composed images, we get a glimpse into what was once a life of luxury and privilege, but that is now, sadly, a little frayed around the edges.  Never falling into clichés, Karam shows us the dustiness and shabbiness that now overlay the grandeur and style of the past.

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Here, listen to the artist in his own words:

“The air is thick with melancholy. These walls speak a language of loss, lost time and stillness.

The plaster peels off lime washed walls while crackling melodies play to an empty room. The needle glides gently along the surface of vinyl at the deliberate pace of 33 revolutions per minute. In this world, in these rooms that long to be filled as they once were, time is suspended, moving only in slow circles. Repetition gives the illusion of forward momentum where only stillness is left.

Tea is served the way it has been for centuries. Faces of the past adorn the walls.

These spaces, homes of the Nawabs and Rajas, now find themselves victims of their own lust for an opulence that once was. They are now time capsules, suspended in a world that changes rapidly around them.

Much like a movie set waits for actors to give life and breath to the illusion, these house’s wait, to be satisfied once again, by the stories that they long to be home to. The rooms yearn for people to come back; for the music to play; for the scandals to unfold; for courtesans to dance and for the finest wines to be uncorked again.

E.P.: Extended Play aims to capture, explore and expose the sense of lost grandeur not through the stories of the people but essentially through the stories of the rooms usually unfolding a narrative. Shot over a period of six years across the Indian subcontinent, these majestic homes of Rajas and Nawabs have lost many of their privileges and their power. They are still given the utmost respect by their subjects, but can no longer afford the lives they once did. This suite of 24 images shot both on film and digitally tell stories of a lifestyle lost to time, suspended in the belief that one day the music will once again play at 33 revolutions per minute.”

As Karam says, these rooms are indeed like a movie set, for there are no people in them.  Just objects, elegantly displayed, the way they have been for decades.

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Do visit this exhibition, which is on until 8 August.

Here is the link to the website of Gallery Espace with their address – it’s in New Friend’s Colony.EP 04

MYKONOS: a good Greek restaurant in New Delhi

Battling the summer heat and a long powercut in Shahpurjat, 3 of us had lunch the other day at Mykonos, a cute, refreshingly simple and natural Greek restaurant.  Sonam had eaten there once before, but Asha and I were first timers.

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The restaurant is run by a Greek lady called Anastasia, who hails from Thessalonika, and is the probably the happiest person you will meet on any given day.  She is chatty, friendly, explains the menu, cheerfully apologises for her English (the day I can speak Greek, Anastasia, then we can revisit the question) and greeted us all like long lost friends, with kisses and bearhugs.

The A/C wasn’t working for most of lunch, due to the massive powercut, so the door was propped open, and we gazed at the trees outside, and we all made a promise that we’ll be back in the winter, to eat out on the tiny balcony with a tree top vista.

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The decor is white and blue and has a refreshing seaside feel to it, which was oh-so-welcome on a hot Delhi day.

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On Anastasia’s advice, we opted for a mezze platter, and several small dishes, so we could see what we liked, and it was the correct decision.  Cool mezze were just what we needed :

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The tzakiki and humous were too delicious, and as for the pita bread…fabulous.

I enjoyed the vine leaves (below) but was less keen on the sauce which I felt overpowered them.  Next time, I’ll have just dolmades:

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The Greek salad was lovely:

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The feta has a completely delicious, different taste from locally sourced feta as do the tomatoes, which had a rich taste.

As a vegetarian, this kind of food is perfect and what I crave.

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I didn’t have the coffee, but Asha assured me it was good and strong.  Nor did I have the dessert, which my companions told me was excellent.

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We paid own bill and I did not mention that I write reviews.

Personally recommended.

And a return visit is planned.

Emerging from the by now deliciously cool European feel A/C restaurant to this view was a bit of a culture shock…but what a view.

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Which sports bra?

Although I am going to review a sports bra here –  the one I use for running –  I really would appreciate feedback and input from women readers, please, not only for this bra but other makes, too.  It would help to make this post more inclusive.

Please?

So, ever since I started running in September 2013, I have experimented with different sports bras, and the one that suits me best is the Nike Dri Fit.  It is firm without being too constricting, and it seems to last and last.  I bought 2 last February –  so 11 months ago, give or take –  and they have been washed constantly, yet show no signs of wear and tear.  I then bought 2 more in October, and other than the thick wedge of labels which I had to cut out of all the bras (are so many labels really necessary, Nike?) I have no complaints whatsoever.

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See what I mean about the labels?

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I couldn’t actually find these bras in Delhi so bought them overseas, but I would love to hear from you if this style is indeed available locally in India.  Hope so.

And as I said at the outset, I welcome your recommendations of other bras.