Monthly Archives: February 2013

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Palm Fruits

This week I discovered a new fruit. It comes from a palm tree, and is called nungu in Tamil. It has to be chopped out from a brown husk, with each husk containing three jelly seed sockets. The jelly part is covered in a soft white skin which you peel away, to reveal a translucent jelly-like fruit (similar in texture and appearance to lychee).

The fruit itself often has a little bit of watery juice inside it, so the trick is to peel off the white shell, leaving the inside intact until you can properly suck it out. Its quite messy but also a lot of fun.

The taste itself is nothing like a lychee – it has a very mild flavour and no pit. Curiously, even though the fruit spends the day in the warm sun before I buy it, it is always cool and helps to cool my body temperature down as well.

This is the man who sells it to me, and you can see him extracting the fruit from its shell.

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The whole fruits are on the ground next to his bike, and he uses a machete to skilfully chop around the jelly fruits inside. I want to find out if his skills transfer over to drinking coconuts.

Because it is the start of the season, it is INR50 for a dozen fruits. However I have been told that in summer it is possible to get a dozen fruits for INR9!

As well as the fruits it is also possible to buy palm tree juice (called pathaneer), which as far as I can gather, is extracted in the morning from the tree itself. It is sweeter than the fruit, and is very refreshing. When fermented (extracted in the evening) the juice becomes alcoholic and is consumed in parts of Maharashtra. The juice is kept in a container on the back of his bicycle, and it is drunk from a folded palm tree leaf which serves as a bowl.

After visiting this guy everyday for a week and using sign language predominantly to tell him what I wanted, I finally managed to remember the Tamil word for twelve (which is pannirendu for all those listening at home) long enough to drive the three minutes on Scooty and ask him for pannirendu pieces. To which he asked me clearly: “Do you want five pieces, or twelve?”.

Go figure.

How to: Not get eaten alive by mosquitos

As much as I am a novelty for people in this city, I think I’m more of a novelty for mosquitos. They seem to target me, and I think I get bitten several times a day. While that isn’t as dangerous here as it could be in other places (Dengue cases are quite infrequent, and malaria isn’t present), it still worries me. Also the bites are damned itchy and annoying to deal with.

So heres a few precautions I take to try to prevent from being eaten alive.

  • Wear long clothes as much as possible. This isn’t too difficult, because my salwar kameez covers me from elbow to ankle, however my ankles are exposed and often get targeted. And of an evening I like to wear something cooler and with a bit more freedom (either a typical Indian house dress, also known as a maxi, or a cotton dress I brought from home). But covering up as much as possible is the best way to prevent mosquito bites.
  • Apply insect repellant to exposed skin. Again, this is not a fool proof method because I’m absent minded and often forget to apply the lotion, but it is very effective. My repellant of choice here is Odomos, which doesn’t contain loads of chemicals designed to kill or knock down the mosquitos. Instead, it masks your body odour, meaning that mosquitos can’t find you. You’re basically the Invisible Man when you have Odomos on.
  • Put mosquito netting onto windows. This stops mosquitos from coming into your house and hiding out in dark corners, waiting for a chance to strike. Unfortunately this does not seem to be a norm in the rented houses I have seen here, but I’m making it a point to put it on all my windows so that I can keep them open for some air circulation, and not have swarms of mosquitos invite themselves inside around 6pm for dinner.
  • A mosquito net over your bed. I have one tucked into each side of my mattress, with no gaps for mosquitos to sneak into while I am sleeping. This brings the most peace of mind, because i know that there are no mosquitos in my vicinity, and I can’t hear any of them buzzing around my head while I am trying to sleep. However the occasional one does get inside somehow (I think they sneak in with me as I get under the net… Sneaky buggers). Plus its pretty cool sleeping under a mosquito net.
  • Invest in some electronic mosquito repellant vaporisers. These are reasonably cheap here, and plug into the power socket. They have a little tube of mosquito repellant which is vaporised. From what I can gather they are reasonably safe, and I haven’t noticed any odour coming from mine. Its much less obtrusive than the traditional mosquito coils. I have one in every room of the house, and they come on whenever I have power. However, I think they are most effective in rooms which are shut up (windows and doors), so I’m not sure of the effectiveness of the one in my bedroom, because all my windows are open. Doesn’t hurt to have one though.
  • Light up a mosquito coil. Sometimes when I am feeling particularly besieged, I light a mosquito coil. The smoke repels mosquitos, but it stinks and I am really not comfortable with breathing it in for an extended period of time.
  • Squish them. If I see a mosquito buzzing around, I begin in a single minded mission to hunt it down and squish it between my hands, on the wall, window or whatever surface I can. I know this isn’t really responsible or effective but it brings me a great deal of joy. Especially when I’ve just woken up of a morning to see that there is one inside my mosquito net. And extra satisfaction comes when I get one inside my net only to see that it has left a red stain after I squished it. Karma for biting me while I was sleeping and defenceless.
  • Don’t go outside after dark. Night time belongs to the mosquitos. Don’t enter their territory unless you have to, and even then make sure you are adequately prepared by adopting as many of the above measures as is humanly (and socially) possible.
  • Burn a wax match. Apparently if you burn a wax match (boxes of which are available for 1 INR), and wave it around the room, the smoke from the match will make the mosquitos drowsy and slower. Thus easier to track down and squish. I haven’t tested this out yet but I’m sure the day is coming when I lose my mind and try it.

If you have any suggestions on other ways to prevent mosquitos, please, let me know. I will try anything. Anything. ANYTHING.

How to: make sure what you just ate was actually good

At home, it is fairly easy to discern between the restaurants that you don’t want to eat at for fear of getting sick. Here, it isn’t so easy.

The best meals I’ve had here have been at shady looking places that I wouldn’t even dream about walking into at home, and the sickest I’ve been has been following eating at a fancy restaurant.

So, as the saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. You cant judge whether what you are about to eat by the appearance of where you are going to eat it. Similarly, you can’t judge the quality of the meal by the initial taste.

Here is my tried and tested evaluation of whether what you ate was any good, and whether you should go back for more!

 

Emily’s Food Checklist

  1. So you’ve just finished your meal, and you thought it tasted pretty good. Now, sit for 30 minutes, and see what your stomach thinks. All ok? No grumbling, bloatedness or discomfort (NB: discomfort from eating too much and discomfort from illness is easy to tell the difference between)? Then you can progress to the next step.
  2. Now you’ve arrived back home/to the office/to the shopping mall/to the zoo, and its been a one or two hours since you ate. How is your stomach feeling? Is it still happy, or is it starting to grumble? If you don’t have an overwhelming urge to play princes and princesses and sit on the throne, then congratulations you can progress to the final step.
  3. The final step can occur several hours after you have eaten this meal. There’s no delicate way to put this… But if you and the meal part ways as friends, then you are friends. But if it leaves your life in an awkward, or overly dramatic way, then it does not matter how good the friendship thus far has been, it was all a lie.

 

Ganesha’s wisdom

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Part one of a series of entries retelling Hindu legends about different Gods in my own words. While there are over 330 million Hindu gods, I’ll just tell stories that I encounter, or stories about particular gods that fascinate me. This entry, and the next three after this will be about Ganesha.

A Hindu legend about Ganesha. Probably one of my favourites about this popularly worshipped God. Now keep in mind that I have rephrased it in my own words, with the utmost respect for the lessons contained within it.

Ganesha’s Wisdom

Shiva and Parvati had two sons, Ganesha and Kartikeya.

One day, the parents presented their sons with a competition. The prize was a fruit containing the nectar of Supreme Knowledge and Immortality. The competition? The sons had to race each other: running around the world three times, with the winner getting the fruit.

Now, it wasn’t really a fair competition. Kartikeya is the embodiment of perfection, and a war god. His companion is a peacock. So he jumped right on his peacock and took off, around the world, stopping at every sacred place along the way worshipping the Gods and asking for blessing.

Ganesh on the other hand, is a rather portly being, with a huge Indian paunch and a large elephant head. His companion is a mouse. Thus, he knew that he would not be able to beat his brother.

However, he turned around to his parents, and showing signs of deep devotion, he walked around them three times.

Just after he had finished this, Kartikeya arrived back after his third turn around the Earth. He started celebrating, thinking that he had won: after all, his brother had not even moved from that place.

However, wishing to understand his actions, Parvati and Shiva asked Ganesha why he had not even tried to race. To which he replied:

I am your son, and to me, you both make up my whole world. Why should I go any further to win the contest?

Thus, Ganesha won the race.

Introducing Scooty

This is Scooty.

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Without Scooty I think that I would be very frustrated. It is amazing how much bigger the world seems with your own transport and ability to move around. Scooty reaches maximum speeds of 40km/h – although it’s reasonably rare that I get a clear road on which to gun it. Sometimes though, on the way home from work, I get a clear stretch on a straight patch of road, and I put Scooty through her paces.

I’m lucky that I am living in a reasonably peaceful Indian city, where the roads aren’t too congested. I don’t think I would even dream of riding a scooter in Bangalore, it would be far too stressful. The Coimbatore roads are reasonably peaceful, except for the morning and evening peak times when everyone is rushing home from work.

I think I also benefit from the fact that I am one of a few (if any – I am yet to see another white person outside of the train station) white people in Coimbatore. I seem to get given more space than I would otherwise expect – I think its because a lot of other drivers are surprised to see a single white girl driving a scooter. Driving it reasonably aggressively too I’ll admit. Whatever the reason, the extra space makes driving a bit easier.

Driving around is a lot of fun, and I sometimes take a longer route to get where I am going (on purpose, I swear…) just so that I can drive for longer. Also a huge part of my work at the moment involves driving to schools in the district, so I’m getting a fair bit of scooter time. However I am not allowed to drive at these times – I’m relegated to the back of the scooter while my colleague drives me. I still really enjoy it though!

Two days ago I treated Scooty for a full tank of petrol, and also a bit of a make over.

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I had this Ganesha sticker put on the front of Scooty, because it is supposed to bring good luck.

Ganesha is the god of the present, sitting between the past and the future, removing all obstacles, ensuring the realisation of every dream. So it makes sense to have him around when you’re travelling and possibly encountering obstacles on your journey.

So, I went and found the biggest sticker that would fit on the front of Scooty. Ain’t no one going to stop me now.

How to: stay cool without electricity

Given the unreliable (read: scarce) nature of the electricity in this city, I have had to reinvent many things that I previously took for granted. One such thing is staying cool in a city that records 35 degree celsius averages: in winter.

So here are a few suggestions for how to stay cool in a hot climate without requiring electricity:

  • Regular cold showers. Luckily, this one is quite easy, because I don’t have a functioning hot water geyser, so all my showers are cold.
  • An earthen pot full of water. Directions for use: firstly, obtain an earthen pot, one with a wide base and a narrower neck/top. Secondly, wash said pot well in order to get rid of dirt and grime. Thirdly, fill with water and place a metal plate over the top of the pot. This will ensure that you have a constant supply of cool water to drink (provided you remember to fill it up when it gets empty).
  • Ice cubes. Yes, I am aware that this option cheats a little bit because it requires electricity at some point during the process, but provided you keep your freezer shut they will stay frozen for many hours, and can be used at times of extreme desperation.
  • Humidifier. Now, this isn’t your typical electrified humidifier. This is a bona fide, state of the art, cutting edge technology solution. Steps for use: obtain a container/vessel. Fill with water. Place in the corner of your room, and the water will evaporate, creating artificial humidity (which is more comfortable than dry heat, and less exhausting). This is fully customisable based on your interior decorating: if you’re a minimalist, you can use a nice polished steel container. If art deco is more your thing, feel free to obtain the most hideously bright container you can.
  • Sleep naked. Just make sure your curtains/windows are closed.
  • Wet blanket. Usually a negative thing that you don’t want at a party, this can be your new best friend on a hot summer night. Instead of inviting around your most socially awkward friend, try wetting a towel and putting it on your neck and shoulders. Just remember that it soon heats up and you will have to reapply water. Also, not the best option to take to bed at night: it fools you into thinking that you need to go to the bathroom almost constantly.