Unusual Occupations

Saturday, August 26, 2017

N - New york - Musings along the New York skyline


Been there ... done that



N - Musings along  The New York Skyline






From far across the Staten Island I am about to embark on the most touristy thing that one does when in the US of A.

I am going through the security check. In a few minutes I would board the ferry that would take us across to Staten Island. 

From afar, the lady in Green beckons us and everyone in the ferry is clicking away on their DSLR and mobiles phones. It feels surreal.  (That is when you realize that selfie sticks are the best thing that happened since sliced bread. One shudders to think how civilizations of the previous era managed without something as primitive as a selfie stick) 

The icon that symbolizes what America stands for.


Over many centuries since Christopher Columbus accidentally discovered that promised Land, millions have arrived on her shores to make their dreams comes true in the land of milk of honey. Rags to riches stories of many immigrants who made their wealth and their mark after arriving here are what legends are made of.

Just across the Island is Wall Street whose spirit is filled with stories alike of people from Riches to rags as well.  It has weathered many an economic upheaval.  The great recession of 1929 was etched in historical memory for the many riches to rags story of American dream until the 2009 Global recession whose epicenter originated arguably over here and not somewhere over the ethernet. . 

 Yet even today the Manhattan skyline allures and attracts many men (some women as well) in the promise of making wealth. 

On the way to board the ferry to Staten Island, I stopped by a street hawker selling souvenirs of New York. In it is a picture of work men sitting on top of what looks like an iron scaffolding far above the sea level.




Like those men on the picture postcard, there must have been millions of unsung heroes who must have toiled to build those tall skyscrapers, those iconic bridges and the symmetrically laid out city of New York.
They look tough, weary, and dirty and in overalls that labourers would wear at construction sites. Yet there is no mistaking the smile on their faces.

A smile perhaps taken during a break for a few minutes from some back breaking manual work. ..

Or perhaps 

A smile thinking of a loved one or a family left behind many miles away, 

Or perhaps 

A smile dreaming of making enough money in the land of opportunities 

Or perhaps

A smile of having been part of building something that would last beyond their lifetime


The New York Skyline ...

There must have been thousands of them over the centuries. 


From the ferry  back from Staten Island , I notice the sun dazzle across the Manhattan Skyline and reflect light into the sea before it. It is a picture perfect moment.
But there is a void over here, There stands ground Zero, where once stood those two iconic towers.  The rest of Manhattan , the Wall street, the Empire state building, the Waldorf  Astoria hotel , the Grand central station and the other skyscrapers that make the magnificient Manhattan skyline are all there intact.

It is the spirit of New York.  The spirit of those who toil to make money . The money that they hope will one day help them make their dreams come true. 

She is a very attractive bait.  
Those who land in her shores, seldom go back.
They toil  happily  and  unhappily. 
Some settle down make this place their adopted home , Some keep dreaming of going back home  and many die here while taking their dreams to their grave.  

And that is the spirit that keeps the New Yorkers going.


I click a picture with the big bull ( these were times before the fearless lady found place opposite the big bull) . 

Then as I walk back to the Wall street metro station after watching in awe the city that churns a good chunk of the world’s wealth,   I notice this little poem on the underground Metro train.

Billy Collins wrote it.  And so beautifully summarized what I have clumsily attempted in so many words all over this post. 

As you fly swiftly underground
 with  a song in your ears
or lost in the maze of a book, 

remember the ones who descended here
into the mire of bedrock
to bore a hole through this granite,

to clear a passage for you
where there was only darkness and stone. 
Remember as you come up into the light. 






M- Malai Makhan in Benares


Been there... done that


Malai Makhan  in Benares







It is pre-sunrise time and the Ghats along the river Ganga in Varanasi are buzzing with action.
The pilgrims have come to take a dip in the holy river. The priests, sages and the common men alike are also getting themselves ready to bathe in the river before going about their daily chores. 

Akhil, my appointed boatman for the day picks me up at the Dashaswamedh ghat and rows the boat to the middle of the river bed. It is a late February morning and the sky is greyish black. I wonder if the sunrise would be clear enough for me to do the touristy thing.  I am here to click the sunrise along the river bank. I am not very optimistic but Akhil says it would be a fabulous sunrise this morning.  I dismiss his optimism as the usual sales talk and take in the sights.


A small boat made of thermocole sails past us.  Akhil asks me if I want to have an up and close view of the Siberian birds and I nod. Akhil makes eye contact with the boy who is now sailing towards us on the makeshift thermocole boat.  The boy hands me over a paper cone filled with seeds from across the two boats.

This is the bird feed that he is selling to me.  It is a part of the package deal from Akhil.  I do not have to pay the boy. He will settle it with the boatman. 

The little boy, not more than 10 years old shrieks out... caw…caw… caw and the Siberian birds come flocking towards our boat as he sprinkles  out the seeds.  He hands me a handful and I repeat after him. Akhil in his practiced tone now tells me to hand over my camera and sprinkle the seeds. 

After all he has been there, done that. Day after day, tourist after tourist.  





Once we have captured the moment in the digital format he tells me about the Siberian birds and their migratory flight from Russia. Apparently when they arrive in November they are white like snowflakes. By the time they leave they turn greyish. But they return  without fail every year before the onset of winter and fly back soon after Holi , the festival of colours in the month of March.
             
Akhil my boatman studies History and tourism in college and takes the occasional tourist when the real boatman Mukesh is out of action.   He does not get paid for the work.  He depends on the tips from the tourists to earn his money for the day.  

True to his prediction the sun has risen and the views are spectacular. I live in that breathtaking moment only occasionally  remembering to click the pictures of that much awaited moment.
 We then get talking.  He takes me close to the Harishchandra Ghat where a couple of corpses are burning, warning me not to take the picture of the dead as it is considered disrespectful. 

We row past the Dhobi ghat where the washer men are washing the linen by beating them on the stones and dipping them in the river water after scrubbing them with the sand and clay washed down the river bank. 
As we row along I watch the devout pilgrims taking a dip into the Ganges as the sun rises above on the horizon. 
Somewhere in the background a flock of Siberian birds are cawing while in yet another boat, yet another tourist is sprinkling seeds that he has bought from the little boy rowing down in the makeshift thermocole boat. 
   
It has been more than an hour since I had my chartered boat trip watching the sunrise.  The sun has now risen and I get out of the boat and alight at the Manikarnika ghat. This is main ghat  where the dead are  brought to be cremated.

There are a few corpses that were set on fire earlier in the night that have now turned into ashes.  A group of relatives of the dead  return to collect the ashes that will be immersed into the holy river before they leave the ghat.

As I climb up the river bank, yet another fresh corpse arrives for the ritual. There is never a opening and closing time at the Manikarnika Ghat. The dead bodies  arrive 24/7 and the Dom workers take turns to do the needful.

I cross the narrow lanes above the Manikarnika Ghat that are piled up with fire wood . The fire wood will be used up in a day or two for the number of corpses that arrive to be cremated in Kashi. About Tow quintals of forewood is required to cremate a dead bocy. On an average about 350 dead bodies at the Ghat on any given day.

The narrow Alleyways now merges into a street that is slightly broader. It is still very early in the day and the shops that sell trinkets, clothes, sweets have not yet opened.


A hawker has set up a small makeshift  shop in front of a small but ancient temple and is selling a bright orange milk sweet.


Malai Makhan  - he says as he attempts to catch my attention and convert it into a sale.

 I am tempted to move on but it seems like a moment worthy of a photograph.

He coaxes me to buy one.  Five rupees per cup he says.  I am amazed at how cheap a sweet could sell for.  But I am not a fan of milk sweets.  Certainly not butter and I politely decline.

Akhil who is passing by after mooring the boat stops by and greets me.  He tells me this is a special delicacy of this region.   You would not get it in except in the winter mornings.

Hafeez Mia is an expert in Malai Makhan he says , as if to flatter the vendor.   

Malai Makhan is made from the cream that floats over the unpasteurized cows milk  when it has been freshly milked in the winters.  It is the magic of the dew drops that make it light. soft and frothy. 

As the day’s temparature rises the buttery cream would melt . The commerically savvy restaurants add transfat to it to make to last longer so they can do brisk business throughout the day. 

The real test of Malai Makhan is when the froth bubbles are constantly dipping over.  In a pure one they do not last beyond a few hours after sunrise on a fairly nippy winter morning. By the time the dew drops have evaporated an unadulterated Malai Makhan would also moved beyond its shelf life.   It is a delicacy that has a shelf life of not more than a few hours and that too  only in the winters.

You would not get it anywhere else, says Akhil the boatman  whose sense of salesmanship bowled me over and  whom I had generously tipped earlier in the morning as he takes leave to go about his day as the student at the local college.

I am tempted . Despite the many cautions about street food, my instinct tells me to go for it.   
Anything that does not travel well usually escapes the traps of mass scale commercialization and therefore can be considered to be fairly safe.  
I ask Hafeez Mia for one cup.  A cup made of dried fond leaves is taken out and a generous scoop of Malai Makhan is doled out to me.

I take a spoonful into my mouth from the wooden ice cream spoon with the usual expectation of a buttery and  milky sweet and there  I am taken in for a surprise.

Malai Makhan  melts into my mouth and before I could relish the pure taste of fresh cream and the flavor of pistachio and saffron that my taste buds have just savoured,  the moment has passed.

The gentle cream made of cow’s milk has not been sweetened by sugar. The natural  light sweetness of milk lingers in my tongue for just a fraction of second as it melts away and gets out of reach of the taste  buds.   

By now my taste buds that have been left wanting signal for more.  Hafeez Mia babu has sensed it .  He knows by now for sure that I would order  another cup . This time I make  sure I relish it slow and steady. 

This is what memories are made of.  That crisp and cool morning over the ghats where I was taking in the amazement of a city  that  has existed there for centuries , topped up by a Malai Makhan  that just could not be replicated elsewhere.  I felt privileged for having experienced it at the right time and the right place.

Any other time ... any other place ... I could not have been there ... done that 

L - Pehelwan ki Lassi




Been there ... done that


Pehelwan ki Lassi






A cycle rickshaw takes me to Lanka crossing.

I have just been inside the sprawling campus of the Benares Hindu university , that is such a world apart from the old city of Benares.  Tree lined streets , garbage free roads, students bicycling their way  inside the campus and the various departments and the modern replica of the Kashi Viswanath temple inside the  campus.
Nothing could have embodied a more modern  outlook of Hindutva.

Once cannot but Marvel  the vision that Madan Mohan Malaviya its founder had in the early 1900s.
 
Legend has it that when MM Malaviya was on his death bed and his family insisted  on shifting him to the old benraes , just  so he could breathe his last  on the banks of the Ganges river and thus attain moksha from the cycle of birth and rebirth,  Madan Mohan Malaviya refused to go there because he believed his work was not over as yet and he would not want to die, leave alone on the banks of the Ganges.

Wonder how many of us overworked Zombies from today's air conditioned but toxic workplaces would say that.
   
While the BHU campus and the museums were the main purpose of my visit, it was Pehelwan ki Lassi that I was eagerly anticipating to visit.
I had starved myself all the way while I was inside the campus because I was forewarned. 

I was told Pehelwan ki Lassi was a meal in itself and one would not do justice by having even a light meal if you were to savour Pehelwan ki lassi.

About ten minutes of walking from BHU is Lanka crossing.  A busy  thorough fare  that connects the modern and new part of Varanasi and the old city.

 It is over here  that there are about three ‘Pehelwan ki lassi ‘ outlets and plastic chairs strewn  across all of them.  It would have been impolite of me to ask which one was the original pehelwan ki Lassi and so I chose the middle one, although in all probability they were brothers or cousins of each others and decided to bank on the brand of the legendary ‘Pehelwan Ki Lassi’  that to this date remains the iconic brand of Lassi for the locals and the tourists alike.

Getting to the point. 

Banarasi Lassi, particularly Pehelwan ki Lassi is’nt anything like the Lassi from Punjab.  The one from Punjab is served in huge glasses, is frothy and creamy and is a thirst quencher.

Pehelwan ki lassi is more a desset meal and less a drink.  Served in baked mud earthern pots it is topped with malai ( clotted cream) and a generous helping of Rabri ( condensed milk sweet).

Laid in front of you  are huge plates full of set yogurt in flat stainless steel plates called Parat,  from which some is scooped up  to fill your earthern pot before topping it up with generous helping of Malai and Rabri.

The Parat itself is set to form yoghurt the previous night, using condensed milk that is boiled over and over again perhaps to half its original quantity.  A dash of palm jaggery is added to it and then some yogurt is added so that the next morning it sets into a thick base for the Lassi.

This base in itself is a full meal and with the toping of malai and Rabri gives it the feel of desert.
     
You got to have a real sweet tooth to relish Pehelwan ki Lassi.
It does not matter if you do not have a sweet tooth or are lactose intolerant , When in Benares you have to indulge. Otherwise it is like walking out of Louvre without watching the Mona lisa.     

And Benares has many such delicacies that leave a stamp on you. 


Watch out fot the next post for one such delicacy that cannot be had in any other place and any other time except in the winter mornings  and in the alleyways of Benares ... 

         

Thursday, April 13, 2017

K - Kochi -The Chinese fishing nets of Fort Kochi

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Been there done that 
Kochi – The Chinese fishing nets of Fort Kochi









Cheena Vala’ as they are called in the native Malayalam are found across the harbor towns in China.

Kochi once a trading port owes the import of Chinese fishing nets as a legacy of traders from the AD 1400 court of Kublai Khan, these enormous, spiderlike contraptions require at least four people to operate their counterweights at high tide.   

 

While such nets are used throughout coastal southern China and Indochina, in India they are found in Kochi , where they have become a tourist attraction. 

The Indian common name arises because they are unusual in India and different from usual fishing nets in India. With the advent of modern fishing techniques the Chinese fishing nets are not exactly profitable, but have been preserved as a tourist  attraction.   


They are fixed land installations, which are used for a very unusual and now outdated method of fishing. Operated from the shore, these nets are set up on bamboo and teak poles and held horizontally by huge mechanisms, which lower them into the sea. They look somewhat like hammocks and are counter-weighed by large stones tied to ropes.

The net is left into the water for a short time; say for four-five minutes, before it is raised back by tugging the ropes. The catch is usually modest, but it is not meant  for  a big trade. At the corner of the Chinese finishing nets are small street hawkers who could take  the fresh catch and cook up a lip smacking fired fish fritters that would get sold  in a Jiffy.

The Chinese fishing nets are also most photographed  attraction  while aboard  a local ferry especially around sunset.
Here is another one when the sky was overcast and the tides were high on the backwaters of the port of Kochi. 



The cool breezy humid air atop the ferry was refreshing to feel as the chinese fishing nets dwindled into oblivion while the local government operated ferry touched the island of Vypin.





Wednesday, April 12, 2017

J - Jew Town of Mattancherry


Been there ... Done that ...

Jew town of Mattancherry 


1170: When the traveler Benjamin of Tudela visited India, he reported that there were about a  thousand Jews in the south.
1686:   Moses Pereira de Paiva listed 465 Malabar Jews.
1781: The Dutch governor, A. Moens, recorded 422 families or about 2,000 persons. In
1948:  2,500 Jews were living on the Malabar Coast.
1953 : 2,400 emigrated to Israel, leaving behind only about 100 Paradesi Jews on the Malabar Coast.

Amongst all the must see tourist destinations in Cochin is the ‘Pardaesi’ Synagogue . Paradesi in native Malayalam means the Foreigner.  The Synagogue which is the main tourist destination is a small place of Jewish worship.

The bylanes that approach the Jewish synagogue are strewn with Antique shops selling tourist souvenirs  and real as well as fake Antique Trinkets, furniture and bric a brac from the era gone by .
They are all not necessarily genuine, but if you really have an eye for the antiques you can find them.  On the face of it they are exorbitantly priced, and a good deal of haggling is absolutely necessary unless you want the shop keeper  to laugh his way to the bank.

This is the Jew Town of Mattancherry which until 1953 was home to about 100 hews whose descendants had made this neighbourhood their home over the centuries.

Today hardly six of them remain.  The youngest Yael Halleguan is in her mid forties.  She is the care taker for the Synagogue which charges five rupees as the entry fees. The money goes in maintaining the synagogue. 

It is an ornately decorated synagogue.  Its tiled floors were imported from China in 1762, the handknit Oriental rug from the last emperor of Ethiopia and the cadle lamps from Belgium. 

Sadly though, there is no Rabbi to sand at the bimah, the Pulpit. The place itself is a small museum that is visited by travellers specially Jews from all over the world. Services are held only when there is a minyan - a group of 10 Jewish men needed to form a prayer service.  It is now only possible with the inclusion of Jewish male visitors.  So the beautiful Synagogue is usually empty, save for tourists who some to marvel its beauty.   

As you finish looking around the synagogue, you would inevitably visit the adjacent exhibition that has some artefacts that explain the history of the Jews in Malabar. During Portuguese persecution in the 16th Century, they were granted sanctuary by the Hindu Rajah of Cochin, Keshava Rama Varma. The present day Paradesi synagogue was built in 1568 on land granted by Varma, and the Jew Town neighbourhood built up around it.

By 1953 when Israel declared independence many Jews from Mattancherry emigrated back to their ome land, although most of them had been living in the ocast of Malabar for generations.

Of the few who remained in Mattacherry is Sarah Cohen. 

When you walk past the Synagogue you cannot miss the quaint ‘Sarah’s Embriodery shop’ in the outer verandah of what once must have been a quaint Jewish home.

As I  look through the window I see an incredibly old woman sitting up in a four poster bed calling out in a feeble voice when the house keeper comes and props her pillow down for her to sleep. 

I enter the shop and look around for the things.  I am not exactly a customer looking to buy a challah  the jewish Ritual Bread covers  or the Mezuzah , intricately embroidered with Hebrew writings on them.

I must say I am  tempeted. But my main attraction is the lady of the house, now probably resting down for her siesta. She speaks fluent Malayalam to the house keeper.

The house keeper is a middle aged muslim lady.  

She and her son are doing the day duty today looking over Sarah’s aunty as well as the occasional customer to the shoppe.

Her husband Thaha Ibrahim , when he was a young boy  was a frequent visitor to the house of Sarah and her husband to the extent that the childless Sarah Cohen considers him her adopted son. His father used to work next door at the post card shop and he would visit them as a young boy and was intrigued by all things Jewish.

When Jacob Cohen died it was his wish that Thaha Ibrahim take care of his wife. It has been nearly two decades since then and the Ibrahim family is the caretaker of the shop as well as Sarah Cohen.
Thoufeeq Zakriya, a friend of Sara Cohen maintains a blog that Chronicles the Jewish Heritage . A Chef by passion and a calligrapher by profession, Zakriya, learnt the Hebrew language and helps tourists decipher some of the Hebrew script at the Paradesi Synagogue.
    
Sarah Aunty’s memory has been relapsing on and off in the last few months says Thaha Ibrahim’s wife. Her son who was showing me around the shop is now sitting and studying.

Sarah is now listlessly gazing at the ceiling, as I take her photopgraph.  I ask if I may click her photograph and I am told that she would hardly understand.  In better days she has entertained many a curious  visitor and explained to them a lot about the interesting history of Jew town.  

Today she hardly remembers things happening around her.  

A nurse comes and stays in the night when the Ibrahims get back home which is just at the end of the lane.    
As I look around the shop I see many quaint black and white photographs that talk about a vibrant social life that must have existed in the 50s and 60s in Jew town among the Jews.
Sara & Jacob Cohen on their wedding day 
    

Today Sarah Cohen is too old to do her own embroidery. Her hands shake and her memory relapses too often. 

Most of the embroidery in the shop comes from a village in Andhra Pradesh.  Many Jews and non –Jew tourists who come to Fort Kochi inevitably visit Sara’s Embriodery Shoppe where you still can buy some very delicately embroidered Mezuzah and Challah covers.


It is one of the last remnants of a once industrious and thriving Jewish community in this region.   





Stay tuned for more from Kochi  

To be continued


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

I - Irish Whiskey taster


Been there, Done that 


Irish whiskey taster 



Jameson’s Distillery, Bow Street, Dublin







If you thought whisky was always Scotch, the Irish would be really offended.
And therefore, when in Dublin they make a song and dance about educating you on the subtle nuances of whiskey.

One of the main attractions in Dublin is the Jameson’s Whiskey Distillery on Bow Street.  A 3 hour tour on the still functional distillery is a tourist attraction, since they offer free whisky tasting as part of their entrance fee.

Essentially according to them the world of Whiskey is divided as Irish whiskey and the insignificant non-Irish types of whisky.  Ireland has had a history of whisky making.  Much before Guinness the Beer usurped their status of a whiskey drinking nation.

Irish are great storytellers and they weave an educative and interesting story which they call‘from the grain to the glasses about the process and the finesse involved in Whiskey making.
Sine Metu is their motto. And that when translated from Latin means
 ‘Never Fear ’. 

Apparently the Jameson’s family has had this motto since the 1600’s.  Legend has it that John Jameson, facing middle age crisis arrived in Dublin and took up a job as the general manager of the distillery and ran its operations.

Ok let us get it out over here. 
John Jameson got his job easily. And that is because he arrived from Scotland probably armed with a CV that had in it, years of experience in Whiskey making.   

Oh yes … the founder of the original Irish whiskey was a Scotsman.  (Then why all this fuss!!!)   

    
Nepotism possibly wasn’t a bad word in the 1800’s and thus John Jameson passed his legacy to John Jameson II, then John Jameson III and then John Jameson IV.  John Jameson as sons established the brand in a whiskey distillery area that in it’s hey days had many distilleries in Bow Street.


As a part of the distillery tour you get taken to where the barrels are maturing with the distilled malt buried in those huge wooden casks. There is a subtle difference between how the Irish whiskey is distilled vs. the scotch whiskey is distilled in Scotland vs. how that American whiskey is distilled in the Americas.

Then comes the whisky tasting session. 

The tour guide calls for four volunteers and there are many.  (Huh ... obviously!!!) . 

He has to make the choices. But then there is a hitch. These are days of being politically correct and gender inclusive.

The hands that went up were all that of men.  And they needed a woman.  A special call was made for the few women who were on the tour. 

Not that I was not adventurous, but whiskey was never my forte and I did not put my hand up. 
The lady next to me was coaxed into being a volunteer and she wriggled out saying she thinks she may be pregnant.
I had no such excuse and boldly signed up as the only female representative amongst the four whiskey tasters of the day.
There was an ornate wooden table laid out, where we were explained the differences between the malt and the distillation process of Whiskey blended in Scotland (Johnny Walker). The one blended in America (Jack Daniels) and the one is Ireland (Jameson’s)
Wonder why the all start with J.  
It was supposed to be a blind tasting session and you were asked questions after every source of Whisky being served.   I blundered along and said I liked the one with that fruity taste.
And that happened to be Jack Daniels.  (That was my second time with whiskey … cannot help it)  

The Whiskey master was embarrassed.  

 I got another sip of the Whiskey, so I could be sure about my verdict and as if by cue just said... of course this one is the best,

No marks for guessing, that one... it was ofcourse the Jameson’s Irish whiskey. 

And thus we were awarded a certificate each of being a certified Irish Whisky taster from none other than the Jameson’s distillery at Bow Street in Dublin. 


Years later when I was laid  off and was frantically searching for a job, a recruitment  consultant asked me if apart from my years of professional  experience enumerated in my CV,  I had any  certifications.

I said I was a certified Irish Whisky taster, with a certification from Jameson’s distillery in Dublin, just in case it counted.    


I never heard back from the consultant thereafter.  

Monday, April 10, 2017

H - Hongkong -Sniffed out in Hong Kong

 Been there ... Done that 

Sniffed out in Hong Kong












I must confess I was adequately warned about it. 
Some people I know had, had their share of misadventures with it. 

In fact, that is what  raised my curiosity. I had to experience it.  
You live life only once and I certainly did not want to die ignorant.  

I looked up google maps,  made note of directions and walked a couple of miles into alleyways that must have carried years and years of  history and commerce with it.  

It was all intriguing and fascinating. 

To the eyes the place felt like Bombay for its sheer energy and enterprise. 
To the body the place felt like Chennai  for its heat and humidity .
To the heart the place felt foreign at the same time it felt like home. 
Rich, fertile, green mountains that nurtured thousands of species of animals and plants stood in stark contrast to the sprawling urban jungle, that stood tall and high in all that reclaimed land. It stretched not horizontally but vertically to dizzying heights that made you feel the awe for the sheer wonders of modern  man made creation. 

It was relatively clean ( considering what you are used to if you have lived in Indian cities) and extremely safe even in the middle of the night ( although the over cautious traveller in me refuses to take chances)

It was extremely modern and commercialized. What with Louis vitton, Cartier, Dior, Chanel, Versace, Prada and Jimmy choo outlets it felt like Champ de elysees of the east.

 But as a stark contrast  it also exuded a quaint old world charm. The narrow alleyways with hawkers selling stuff at mind boggling and ridiculously low prices. ( After you have numbed your conscience and bargained your way through.).               

It felt very foreign in a sense since people on the streets hardly spoke or understood English.  But it felt very much like home since the street smart locals put their gadgets and their mastery over sign  language to good use and communicated to make up for the lack of mastery over that arguably universal language. 
The people ... they were proud and yet they were humble.

Ah ... but I have digressed a lot.  

I walk through the narrow alleyways, clicking away pictures and enter a market. Finally I am there and I decide to take a shot at it.
.  
I try my hand at bargaining over the price.  But they see the tourist in me in the way I am cheekily taking photographs and refuse to budge on the price.   

They have probably made a killing since I agreed for a price just 20% lower than what they quoted. I just could not bargain any more since my impatient self  was raring to go and to take a shot at this piece  of experience for what felt like a reasonable cost. 
But it had to wait.  People over there do not do this on the streets or anywhere in public.

They packed it well for me and I tucked it deep into my bag.

 I headed back with the single minded determination of trying it out in privacy once I was safely in my hotel room. 

The underground trains were crowded. It was peak hour evening traffic.  But I managed to get a seat.



I clutched my bag close to my chest.  That is when it struck me.

It was the Durian.
That exotic fruit cut and packed in polystyrene  container that was safely tucked inside my bag.  

It started smelling. 

I braved  the smell and held it closer to myself in the hope that the other passengers around me do not smell it. 

I consoled myself saying they could suspect it in anyone’s bag .

It is like farting in a crowded room or peeing in a pool. No one would get to know who did it, unless your face gives it away.

It did not take them much time to figure it out.  Faces turned towards me. The way I was clutching my bag, I think I gave it away. 

To say it was embarrassing, would be an understatement .  I look up and down the train trying to avoid other people’s gaze.  And this is what catches my attention.




Damn ... Will they dump me off the train? 
Will they imprison me?  
Will they deport me from this country? 

If it was a fine I would have gladly paid. Ok, may be I would have grudgingly paid.  
Why is there no fine for Durian?  Is probably is a bigger and more unpardonable crime than smoking, eating, drinking or carrying inflammable goods ? 

Oh no !!!  I should have been careful .  Me and my misadventures . It was’nt funny at all.
Thankfully my  station arrives and I quickly get off the train and make a quick exit off the station. 
On the streets I take long strides and walk like I am chased by a spirit. In my mind I can almost imagine the cops chasing me from all sides. 

 I do not have the guts to look back and check. 
I make my way into the hotel entrance and into the elevator. The elevator door closes on me.


Honestly, I cannot fathom how I did not notice this signboard in all the previous instances days when I took the elevator.

Now I cannot even plead ignorance.   I get into my room and  I am still holding my bag close to my chest.  It does not help much. 

By now there is no mistaking the smell of the  Durian.
Is it foul ? 
Is it sweet ?
I cannot come to a decision on that bit.
I guess ‘Smell’ like beauty lies in the noses of the beholder.

it emanates a smell that cannot be controlled.  Soon the room smells of durian.  There are no windows that can be opened. 
The only place to bury the Durian was in my stomach.  I quickly pick a piece up. It looks like a piece  of chicken. The strict vegetarian in me revolts. 

But right now there is no other place for the two pieces of Durian to go but into my mouth and then into my belly. I close my eyes, roll up my nose and put one piece into my mouth.



It was an orgasmic moment.
What the nose smells the tongue does not.

The sweet, fleshy Durian pulp, almost melts into my mouth.
My taste buds ejaculate in sheer ecstasy.

I pick up another piece, notice to remove the seed and slowly and steadily let my taste buds linger on this experience for just a little while more before it melts into my mouth. Long after the after-taste has vanished from my tongue, the taste buds linger for more.

A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME WOULD SMELL AS SWEET  said Shakespeare .


Clearly that bloke had not been through the Durian experience in his lifetime.   

I cringe when I think of the dirty looks, the co-passengers gave me on the underground train and the imaginary cops who chased me on the streets.  For now I do not have the gumption to try out another misadventure.

But who knows ? It is certainly worth the second try. And a third ...  

No wonder the South east Asians call it the King of fruits.