My favourite moment of “Diana” was…

…when it finished.

Oh dear, is that too harsh ?

Yes?

Oh well, too bad.

I am a (self-styled) reviewer, so I must not lack moral courage when it is called for.

“Diana” is actually so bad that you almost have to see it.  Well, that was our logic, daughter dearest and I.  We had read several highly critical reviews that painted the movie in such a poor light that it became a “must see how bad bad can be” challenge.

And “Diana ” did not disappoint.

It is pedestrian, the acting is wooden, and Naomi Watts doesn’t look a bit like the late Diana, despite the film’s poster.  Ms Watts has got the voice and the simpering-peeping-up-from-fluttery-eyelash-look off to perfection, but that’s about it.

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I am not at all sure what the point of the film is.

If it is to present the late Princess of Wales in a favourable light it is beyond a flop.

Diana comes across as needy, selfish, immature, irrational, stupid, beyond self-centred, manipulative.  You cannot for one moment like this woman, who tips off the press to her jaunts and then flees in shock-horror-tears when it all gets a bit too much.

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She shops, she jogs, she plays the piano, she spends a lot of time complaining and calling people in the middle of the night to cry on their shoulder.

She practices in advance That Comment About Charles and Camilla that she makes in her infamous TV interview.  She practises in front of one of those mirrors with light bulbs –  the sort actresses have in their theatre dressing room.

And she falls in love with a nice Pakistani heart surgeon, Hasnat Khan.  Though why she does is a bit of a mystery.   He is nice enough but hardly jaw-droppingly good-looking, is presumably not rich, given the size (and state) of his flat.  He drinks beer, smokes, loves junk food and watches footy on the telly and has the messiest flat you could hope never to see.  A regular bloke, in other words.

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But love does funny things to you, apparently, so Diana does the dishes and Hoovers and other such nonsense, so that’s all right.

She also goes to Pakistan, so there’s a nice feel-good ethnic-y bit, where she sips tea with her (alas not)-to-be in-laws.  Our Delhi audience gave a knowing laugh when we meet the stern-faced, steely-eyed, unsmiling Mrs. Khan, as in Hasnat’s mother, who is dead-set against the relationship, we are told, and lectures Diana about the horrors of Partition.  (That was about the only moment I felt sorry for her)

Oh, hang on, just remembered one moment that made me smile.

Diana goes to all kinds of lengths to try and hide her relationship with Mr. Khan, such as wearing a wig and smuggling him into Kensington Palace hidden under a rug in the back of her car.

As she speeds past the cops on security duty at the Palace, one of them comments that the line of the car implies it is carrying more weight than normal.
“About 80 kg”, one guesses, “One Pakistani heart surgeon” and they laugh, not at all unpleasantly.

And that is about as genuinely funny/smile-worthy as it gets.  For the rest, it’s a cringe-fest.

Diana wearing yellow rubber gloves to do the dishes.

Diana criticising Hasnat’s English.

Diana meeting Hasnat in a Chicken Cottage fast food outlet.

Diana…

Oh you know what?  Just go watch this dreadful movie for yourself.

Beats me why a nice footy loving bloke like Mr. Khan would put up with her antics for more than 10 minutes.

Poor chap.

Recommended for all the wrong reasons.

THROUGH A LENS, BY A MIRROR THE PARSIS 1977 – 2013

In tandem with the exhibition of black and white images of the African descendants living in India, known as Sidi, Delhi’s National Gallery of Modern Art has a second photographic exhibition, also of a minority community, but the gulf between the poor, rural Sidis of Ms Sheth’s exhibition and the westernised, philanthropic, city based Parsis couldn’t be greater.

It is this contrast that makes these 2 collections doubly fascinating.

Sooni Taraporevala’s early photos of family and friends gradually morphed over the years into a detailed and loving chronicling of this educated, outward looking but sadly in decline community.

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Many of the photographs were shot in Bombay, which is home to a large percentage of the Parsi community.  Having lived in that wonderful city about 20 years ago, there was a delightful nostalgia about some of the images. Ah, those wonderful double-decker buses…those flared trousers…those cool tiled corridors in the turn of the century buildings…

 

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This is a collection of images that, like the Sidi exhibition, has been photographed with love and affection and ne’er a moment of voyeurism.

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There is a gentleness and almost retro feel to many of the portraits, as Ms Taraporevala captures both a community and the city that is so much part of the Parsi social fabric.

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A lovely exhibition, which made me want to head straight back to Bombay, so nostalgic did it make me feel.

 

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This last image (above) is sublime.  Almost like a painting.  Absolutely love it.

 

Highly recommended.

 

Gallery Timings:
Opens daily from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Closed on Mondays and National Holidays.

Entry Charges:
Indian: Rs: 10/-
Foreign National: Rs: 150/-
Student / Child: Rs: 1/-

(Comments re the Rs 150 vs  Rs 10 rupee price differential in ticket price holds.)

The Sidi: Indians of African Descent

Calling all Delhi-walas/visitors to Delhi.

There are 2 photographic exhibitions at the National Gallery of Modern Art that you absolutely don’t want to miss. Both exhibitions cover minority communities in India, but communities that are poles apart, socially and educationally. The juxtaposing of these exhibitions makes a visit even more thought provoking.

Ketaki Sheth’s stunning black and white photos of the Sidi community is fascinating.

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One knew, of course, that there were the descendants of African slaves and sailors and travellers living along the Konkan Coast. I remember once, on a day trip out of Bombay (as it then was) to visit an old fort, seeing a man in a village who looked completely African.  I wondered, researched it a little in those far-off computer-less days, and then forgot all about him.

But until I visited this fabulous photographic exhibition, I had no idea that the Sidi community numbers some 70,000 (more than the Parsis…more anon), and that they have been in India for centuries.

Ketaki Sheth’s images are hauntingly beautiful, and very sympathetic to her subject. You never for a moment feel that the camera has been intrusive or exploitative. You just instinctively know that her subjects cooperated with her. These are definitely not grab shots, the kind we are all guilty of, but rather lovingly and sensitively composed portraits.

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What strikes one is the intrinsic African-ness of these villagers, who, despite bangles and dupattas, look every inch as though they are sitting in a dusty village in Botswana, say.

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I used to live in South Africa, and miss the continent enormously.  Visiting the exhibition with a South African friend who also lives in Delhi, we were both struck at how – well – at how African the photographs looked.  The faces and vignettes of village life could have come straight from a dusty “kraal” as opposed to a dusty “gaon”.

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Gorgeous images, which made me deeply envious (and deeply admiring) of Ms Sheth’s commitment to black and white, in a world where Instagram and iPhone selfies otherwise rule.

Highly recommended.

 

Gallery Timings:
Opens daily from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Closed on Mondays and National Holidays.

Entry Charges:
Indian: Rs: 10/-
Foreign National: Rs: 150/-
Student / Child: Rs: 1/-

 

Seriously, NGMA, seriously ? Rs 150 for foreigners vs Rs 10 for locals…

Hong Kong Ballet

On a recent trip to Hong Kong at the end of August/early September, my daughter and I (both balletomanes of note) were thrilled to be able to see a performance of “Swan Lake” by the Hong Kong Ballet.

It was the first time either of us had seen this company perform and what a pleasure it was.  We live in India, so are are completely starved of ballet, and with a classic like “Swan Lake” to boot, it was an afternoon to savour.

The dancing was excellent, and the corps de ballet could not be faulted.  Such co-ordinated precision, not a hair out of place, which made for a visual treat of the first order.

What was lovely about this performance was that it was traditional to a tee, which, when you are deprived of ballet, is exactly as it should be.  The (recorded) music washed over us, the dancing was perfect, and the matinee audience of lots of yummy mummies and little girls in frilly pink was delightful.  There were even a few little girls in tutus, and during the intervals, much twirling and pointing of pink-shod feet took place. (Guaranteed to feed the nostalgia!)

We went to the matinée on the 1st, and our cast was as below:

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Wu Fei Fei was very good as Odette and truly outstanding as Odile, absolutely fabulous.

In Act III,  Candice Adea as the Italian princess was a delight, and Kostyantyn Keshyshew (Prince Siegfried) was excellent.  Leung Chun Long, who danced in the Pas de Quatre in Act I, is a talent to be watched.

 

After the noisy anarchy of Indian audiences, the crowd was a model of good behaviour.  Quiet, on time, appreciative, phones off, no talking, no texting, no leaving before the end of the performance…

Which gloves to use while trekking?

Having just returned less than a week ago from my first ever “proper” climb in the Ladkh region of India, my mind (and heart and soul, if I’m being honest) –  everything is still very mountain focused, so this is an ideal time to review the equipment I used on this tough trek and 600+m climb.

To counter the harsh Ladakhi sun, I had brought along my trusty old Chinese silk gloves from the year dot, and which have seen me to the top of Kilimanjaor x 2, and to Everest Base Camp, but this was to be their last trip.  They shredded visibly before my eyes, each time they came in contact with any Velcro.

I had thick gloves and mitts for the ascent, but these were all too hot for the approach trek.

A fellow climber kindly offered me the use of a brand new pair of gloves he had just bought in the US, and here they are –  the amazing Manzella Power Stretch TouchTip gloves which I can now heartily recommend.  They were a touch warm on the lower slopes, but the great thing about them was the amazing pads in the 2 x thumbs and 2 x forefingers of the gloves which allow you to use a touch screen or operate your phone with gloves on.

 

Here they are.

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Am a total convert and after returning these gloves, with grateful thanks, to my friend, I will instantly order a pair online.

For my next big adventure.

As it happened, I didn’t use my iPhone at altitude that much – in the total absence of any signal –  but for those moments when I used the phone to make a short video clip, these gloves were great.

 

My (borrowed) gloves came from REI in the US but after checking out www.manzella.com I see these amazing gloves are available in a whole range of styles and colours, so there will have to be another adventure soon, just so I can buy these gloves…

 

Looking for a good, reliable Indian trekking and climbing company? Look no further…

Having just returned from a very successful climbing trip to Ladakh, I want to share with you my impressions of the company with which I travelled – the Delhi based White Magic Adventure Travel.

I have trekked and hiked in the subcontinent before, and despite the continual joy and beauty of the scenery, I have usually had reservations about the outfitters, ranging from minor niggles to downright dangerous and unprofessional behaviour. There is one company here in Delhi that I would not touch with a barge pole.

No such reservations this time round.

The level of competence and professionalism I experienced at every stage of my dealings with White Magic inspired confidence, and (once my wretched shoulder gets better) will also inspire further trips with them.

I went to meet the owners of White Magic before I signed up for the trek and climb of the 6155m Mentok Kangri. Their office is in Delhi’s Gulmohar Enclave, and there was an air of calm competence that I found reassuring. Regular emails followed with kit lists, training advice, and individual queries were efficiently and speedily answered.

We all met up in Leh towards the end of July, and since Avilash Bisht (one of the owners of the company) was completing a successful climb on Mount Kun, the pre-departure logistics and the first half of the trip were handled by the charming, serious and uber-competent Tsewang Namgyal. When we met in Leh, Namgyal asked to see all of my equipment, examining everything in detail, including the quality of my glasses for summit day. He checked all my equipment, from my gaiters to boots, even asking how many pairs of socks I had and then checking them for suitablility – great thoroughness which I have never yet had with any other Indian outfitter.

On the trek we were 5 putative climbers + 1 super experienced climber + 2 trekkers who would not be attempting the climb, and we had a staff of 5 (and loads of horses and a darling noisy little donkey).P1040008

At the point when the trekkers would leave us, which was the only place with road access during the trek, Avilash and another young but experienced guide joined us, so for the summit attempt we had a crew of 7.  Since our numbers also depleted with 3 of our group deciding not to try for the summit after all, the ratio became very favourable towards we remaining 3 climbers.

The service and kindness of the staff cannot be too highly praised. Already very caring and always willing to help, they all became super heroes in my eyes.

I slipped on the way down from the summit, damaging my right arm (I thought I had sprained a muscle. Turned out I had an avulsion fracture) and from that moment onward, not only did Namgyal and Mohan virtually spirit me down to high camp then intermediate camp, the rest of the crew were amazing. My arm hurt too much even to tie my shoe laces, so with great kindness every day, some one would lace my boots for me, would pack my things, deflate my mattress, roll up my sleeping bag.  And all with a cheerful smile and a brushing off of my embarrassed thanks.

As soon as I fell, Namgyal tested my arm to see if it was broken (it was, but none of us knew for 4 days until I went for an X-ray in Delhi) as did Mohan later, and then Avilash, who put me on painkillers and into a sling.

So, on that score, full marks to White Magic. I had no qualms re their first aid knowledge. Even I didn’t know I had broken my arm, since it just looked bruised and wasn’t swollen. (Still isn’t)

Tents and equipment were all in good condition, and for the first time ever in over a decade of serious trekking, I could have dispensed with my own mattress.

Avilash told me they supply good thick mattresses, and they do.

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My (superfluous) mattress being packed for the horses.

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When Mohan thought he spotted a leak in my mattress, him & Namgyal calmly set about repairing it, without even telling me till it was finished.

Talk about service.

Food was essentially veg (as am I) so no complaints there. Very generous servings, lots of little extras like a constant supply of biscuits with tea, popcorn in the evening – so there was very little need for the energy bars I took along. I never left the mess tent feeling hungry or short changed. The cook, Ramesh, soldiered away day and night producing endless cups of soup and nutritious Indian meals, with a few stellar performances such as momos one night.

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Even at 5000+metres, there was an attempt at style on this trek.

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Most days, a hot cooked lunch, complete with crockery and cutlery (above) was carried up the slopes for us. Seriously good service.

On summit day, when I collapsed back into my tent at high camp, tired and with an aching right arm, I did not feel hungry (a rare thing for me) and this so worried the delightful first-timer in the crew, 17 year old Zakir Hussain, that he tried to spoon feed me, telling me in a surprisingly maternal way to open my mouth since I had to eat and that it was good for me.

Too, too sweet.

There was always a wide array of jams and honeys and spices and pickles and (always) hand sanitizer on the dining table. Black tea was always on offer, and served in one’s tent at wake up time – what a treat.

We started out with 2 loo tents, but ended up with just one, which wasn’t such a big deal overall despite my misgivings. The logistics of loo tents at altitude, especially when it is difficult to build suitable pits are difficult, and except for one camp site where it was very marshy, the crew managed to make the best out of a difficult job.

Summiting is always a special moment, and when I finally stumbled up onto the rocky summit of Mentok Kangri, it was to the cheers and applause of Namgyal, Mohan, Lapsong, Zakir Hussein (who may be the youngest person to have summited ??) and dear Gangu.  Avilash was behind me with one of our team. Kuntal Joisher, a terrifyingly fit young man, had even managed to change into an Everest themed T shirt, bless him, and so my summit time was a happy mix of tears and prayers and hanging up prayer flags and photos and the ceremonial offering of one of my energy bars.

The Leh office, headed by Tashi Angchuk, was just as efficient, collecting me from my non-team hotel in Leh, then going back to collect my GPS that I had forgotten.  The rental of snow boots and crampons, and airport drop off were all handled seamlessly by Tashi.

I could not have wished for a nicer group of people with whom to share such an emotional (& literal) high.

P1040041Lapsong, Zakir & Gangu hanging out.  As one does at altitude.

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Namygal and Mohan (above) getting ready to set up the fixed lines.

Avilash (below) in a rare quiet moment, at Tso Moriri.  Usually he was in the thick of things :

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Would I recommend White Magic Adventure Travel ?
100% yes.

Will I travel with them again?
Yes, just as soon as my arm heals.

The company has a great website, and though it is Delhi based, our initial team of 8 comprised 3 of us from Delhi, 4 from Bombay and 1 from the UK.

Here’s the link to their website :

http://www.whitemagicadventure.com/

Personally 100% recommended.

I paid my own way (obviously) and didn’t tell the White Magic people that I blogged until the trip was over.

Quick update on Back to Fitness physiotherapists, New Delhi, India

I had reviewed this efficient New Delhi physio practice back in 2011, and have told many people about them.

After helping me get over some of the pain in my ageing knees back in 2011, I promptly stopped doing my exercises (please tell me I am not alone in this).  Fast forward some 18 months and I start pre-trek panicking.  Having committed to a high altitude trek in Ladakh later this month, I went back to Back to Fitness, crying for help to get super fit in a matter of weeks.

I was received with much kindness, and a certain degree of resigned irony, as I fessed up to not having exercised, not having trained, not having followed all their good advice.  And yes, I was still wearing the same beaten up trainers from before (I tell you, these guys don’t miss a trick).

Then we got down to business.

My physio, the ever cheerful, tennis mad Vish, puts me through my paces 3 times a week, and follows up regularly to check on possible aches and pains after our sessions.  He emails me exercises, encourages me, and also checks on how much I am walking, whether I am wearing my ankle weights to train –  basically, keeping an eye on me even when our sessions are over.

Very professional. And also very encouraging.

All the comments from my earlier review stand.

Just the prices have increased a little.

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Wholeheartedly & personally recommended.

 

Where to have a round-the-world breakfast in Delhi?

In Baywatch in the WelcomHotel Sheraton, New Delhi, that’s where.

Located in Saket, right near the malls, the ground floor coffee shop of this business hotel is currently offering the world on your breakfast plate.  I was invited to experience this buffet along with a fellow blogger, traveling companion and young friend, Charis, who runs an excellent food-centric blog.

A leisurely 2 hour breakfast, much of it in the company of the charming, knowledgeable chef Neha, was a great way to ease into the weekend.

Being a complete caffeine addict I stuck –  somewhat unadventurously, I admit it – to coffee, and had a very acceptable cappuccino :

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Charis, however, got into the spirit of things and had a cup of “cutting chai”:

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Love love love the coloured glasses.  So much prettier than the usual clear (and probably smeary version) you see in the street.

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Our round the world over breakfast tour started in Japan, and we were treated to miso soup, grilled salted fish, sticky rice and a delicate Japanese omelette :

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I enjoyed this selection, though the fish was perhaps a weeny bit dry, but the miso soup was delicious.  Felt odd having soup for breakfast, but this was not meant to be a conventional breakfast, now, was it?

The next stop was Sri Lanka, with dodol and beef curry.  I skipped this, since I do not eat meat.  Correction, I skipped this, and then shamelessly shared Charis’s gravy –  the sauce of the curry was utterly, utterly divine.  Since my not eating meat is nothing to do with religion, I had no hesitation in depriving my companion of the sauce. It was too good.  Probably my favourite thing on the menu, if the truth be known :

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There was a piquancy and peppiness in the sauce that was fabulous.  On a personal level, it showed me how far I have wandered from my own cultural roots that I could find a spicy curry so delicious for breakfast.

From Sri Lanka we moved onto China, and were served delightful un-stodgy “bao” :

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I have eaten many a “bao” or steamed dumpling, over many years of traveling in China, and these were some of the nest I have ever eaten.

Firstly, they were small and bite-sized, as opposed to the usual large, difficult-to-manoeuvre ones I have eaten in the past.  Also, they were less stodgy tasting – perhaps a factor of their smaller size.  And because they were small, the filling didn’t fall inelegantly out.

Charis had pork bao and I had vegetable, and mine were delicious.  The accompanying bean sauce was seriously fab.  And, for the first time ever, I liked congee.

So all in all, an eye-opener.

The bean sauce (below):

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And the congee:

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From China, we flitted over to Spain, for a tasting of Spanish tortilla :

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These were generously filled with olives and tomatoes and peppers, and were tasty.

We stayed with the Latin tradition, and next tasted Mexican “chilaquiles” –  salsa poured over  crisp tortilla triangles, and the whole topped with cheese and a fried egg :

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An interesting mix, and the crispness of the tortillas was unexpected and nice.  I had imagined they would go soggy with the cooking and the egg, but no.

England and Lebanon were next on the menu, both offering sweets.

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I am not a sweet eater at all –  well, I used to be, hugely so, until the need to trim the flab became pressing and so for –  what? –  some 3 or 4 years now I haven’t tasted a pudding or a cake.

Not even birthday cake.

So I surprised myself by taking a bite of the Lebanese “kunafa” which tasted baclava-ish.  Nuts, honey, raisins and topped with a rather crunchy shredded wheat.  Nice, but not my cup of tea.  Ditto the carrot cake .

I had no space left to even think of seconds, but had I done so, it would have been for the Sri Lankan curry sauce.  Too good.

 

World breakfast is part of the regular breakfast buffet and is on a rotational basis, with a different country being showcased on a different day.

Timings- 6:30am- 10:30am
Price- Rs 850 plus taxes

Delicious, good food, and it makes you think beyond your usual cultural limits, which is fun.

My favourite moments of The Reluctant Fundamentalist

I hadn’t read the book, though I know I should have.  Have to read it by next week for my Delhi book club, as it so happens, but this review is all about the film.

I loved it –  it is visually fabulous with photography to die for, and filmed with such compassion and open-mindedness, that you leave the cinema feeling moved and saddened at the alienation, yet fully understanding why.

There is little point spoiling your enjoyment of the film by telling you the plot, but suffice it to say it charts the reluctant transformation of an intelligent westernised Pakistani living the American dream who is singled out, questioned, and ultimately alienated by the country he loves, all in the tragic aftermath of 9/11.

So, my best moments ?

1)  Every single visual moment of the film.  The photography/videography is gorgeous, lush, sweeping – oh, every adjective you can summon up.  There is a slightly retro feel to it, and the air of genteel dilapidation that hangs over so many of our subcontinental monuments was brilliantly captured.

2) The music, especially the utterly, thrillingly fabulous “Kangna” which I have promptly downloaded and have been playing non-stop all morning.

I am trying this out for the first time –  giving you a link to an audio clip – so let’s hope this works.

http://www.dhingana.com/kangna-song-the-reluctant-fundamentalist-hindi-latest-37fa849

3) The warmth of Pakistan, which translates just as easily into the warmth of India, where I live.  I loved the moment when Changez goes for chai in the US.  Very moving.

4) The innate dignity and grace of the Pakistanis vs the brasher Americans.

5)  Om Puri, whose acting I have loved for years, asking about his son’s career.

6) Love love love the newcomer, Meesha Shafi.  OK OK, I stand corrected – Ms Shafi is terribly well-known but she is a newcomer to Hollywood, at least, and she dazzles and I wanted to see more of her.

(And, how thrilling –  I googled her, and found out that she will be in the soon to be released Bollywood film “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag”, in which I will be a blink and you miss extra)

And out of all of these fave moments, if I had to choose just one – oh, without a moment’s hesitation “Kangna”.  Too fabulous.

The fantastic Sanskriti Museums, New Delhi

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A visit to the Sanskriti Kendra on the outskirts of Delhi wasn’t quite on my bucket list, I have to be honest, but it was, nevertheless, something I had been intending to do for years.

So an organised, guided walk through the 3 museums that are housed in the Sanskriti Kendra was an opportunity not to be missed.  The location is absolutely gorgeous –  you turn off MG Road, under one of the metro pillars and enter a different world.  Greenery, gorgeous trees, watered lawns –  such a treat in a city that otherwise often resembles a noisy, permanently dusty building site.

There is a calmness and tranquility about the Sanskriti Kendra that is instantly relaxing.

This amazing place, the brainchild of Mr O.P. Jain, houses his personal collection, and contains 3 museums – the Museum of Everyday Art, the Museum of Indian textiles and the Museum of Indian Terracotta.

You can take photos in the latter but not the other two, so the illustrations below are all of the wonderful terracotta collection.

All 3 collections are fascinating, and are well displayed.  Exhibits are well lit, there are good explanatory panels, and the whole things was a joy.

And, can you believe it, it is free.

The terracotta collection is housed in rooms that are built like village huts, and you wander from state to state, as it were, seeing the different styles and traditions :

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Let me end with this adorable roof tile, below, from Orissa.  It’s their version of a scarecrow, meant to keep predators away from the grain stored in the loft.

Fabulous, right ?

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Check the website – www.sanskritifoundation.org –  for opening times, and a location map.