Monday, 23 June 2014

How do I say 'Goodbye Bombay'?

I have been putting off writing this for some time.  I wasn't really sure how to word it.  Or how I would feel whilst writing my swan song. How do I say 'Goodbye Bombay'?

Yes, it's true - I am leaving Maximum City.  Mr Jules has been called back to take a position in the UK, the packers are in and I have one foot out of the door.  My doggie Bartlet is preparing for a new life on pastures green.  In fact, I have known for some time that the inevitable was going to happen but I felt such a strong connection to my blog, my readers and Bombay, that I have put off mentioning it for as long as possible.

I've never properly revealed myself before on this blog...here I am!
It's very emotional.  My Mumbai journey has been the most rewarding of my life. It has brought me so much and changed the person I am for the better. There is too much to hark on about that I don't really know where to begin with it all.  The people, the city's hidden gems, the people, the travel, the people, the food....and of course the shopping!

And here is the fabled Mr Jules (us on our weddnig day)

When I started writing my blog almost exactly two years ago - it was only ever intended as a communication with friends and family and perhaps other expats.  It soon became much more than that. As I began to explore the city and shop for furniture for our apartment, I also began to share information on the best stores with newcomers.  Whilst sharing personal cultural experiences with those back home, my blog seemed to help other 'accompanying spouses' arriving in the city - who were apprehensive or did not know where to begin with setting up home.  Then, within about five months, BombayJules started to attract a local readership as well - Mumbaikars began to tell me that they enjoyed the alternative perspective on the city that only a foreigner could bring. Not too rose-tinted I hope: the city has many flaws for sure! Thank you to those city-dwellers who have written to me personally to show appreciation of those posts. Please continue to explore and enjoy Mumbai - it's not an easy place to live but there are lots of hidden gems yet to be discovered.

Having never written publicly before I started blogging (other than business reports and English Language exam entries), the whole thing has been a revelation to me and opened up a creative side that I never knew I had. Certainly, I could improve the standard of my writing (and grammar!) but it has given me a massive ego boost when a few pieces have been picked up by newspapers and websites. My feed can also be found on 'We are the City' and 'We are Mumbai' and I have had many requests to write for online sites such as Times of India, The Scribbler, Style Dabba etc etc.  However, I do believe that specially written content should be paid for - that's why kids go to university to study journalism and I feel sad that free content from bloggers should threaten that institution. Blogging should be a showcase for writing and opinion, not a free-for-all bargain basement opportunity for the media industry!

Our belongings (and my many Mumbai purchases!) being loaded on to a container.  So sad.
The amazing cultural and travel experiences that I have had in India are, of course, far too numerous to mention: From spectacular Indian weddings and intimate Ganpati celebrations; to visits to the ethereal Taj Mahal and the Golden Temple; riding on elephants in Assam and learning to photograph Bengal tigers in Tadoba; floating up the Ganges in Varanasi or the backwaters of Kerala; bargaining for rugs and brass collectibles in Rajasthani bazaars; the refreshment of smoggy city air by the crashing rains of the monsoon; learning to cook butter chicken with the Pandit sisters and becoming addicted to Parsi cuisine; dancing to Daler Mehndi in the Hawaian Shack; drinking chai in Dharavi and gorging myself on Vada Pav on the side of the expressway; learning to appreciate tribal art and buying up crates of Indian textiles and crafts; buzzing around in Mumbai's bumble-bee auto-ricks; photographing everything I can possible photograph from the inside of a car. Two years have brought me and Mr Jules endless delights. Incredible India indeed.

Very little comes close to seeing your first Bengal Tiger.
Some of you will know that I have been working with The Foundation for Mother & Child Health for two years - a far departure from the corporate accountant that I was before - and the wrench of leaving this organisation is also very hard for me.  In those two years, FMCH has gone from being a staff of five and a managing committee - helping a few hundred malnourished children in the Dhobi Ghat slums - to a staff of nearly 20 and and an Executive Council reaching out to thousands through the replication of our model in other parts of Mumbai and rural Maharashtra.  Exciting times.  I have been so lucky to have been involved with the strategic planning process that will help evolve this wonderful organisation - I just hope that I can somehow continue to contribute. Thank you all at the Foundation for welcoming me in June 2012 - and putting up with my opinionated self all of this time!

The amazing team behind Foundation for Mother & Child Health
Clinic at FMCH.
The most important contribution that Mumbai has made to my life is of course...Bartlet the street dog.  I adopted him at an animal welfare event in November 2013. He nearly died within the first 48 hours of owning him (unbeknown to us, he had a serious case of dysentery) but we soon nursed him back to health and he has been an absolute joy ever since.  He's cheeky, sometimes naughty (but he's just a puppy) and he adores people and other dogs. I just love his welcoming, smiling face with his tongue hanging out when he greets me (even if I have been out of the room for only two minutes!) Unfortunately he has become very scared of walking outside, due to the noise and the traffic and it is for this reason, that I am looking forward going back to the UK - where he can run in the green fields to his heart's content.  I know he is going to love it - and he will enjoy the cold weather too.  I have to admit, I think I will enjoy being in the cold again too!

Bartie has grown from this.....
....to this!

That just leaves me to say goodbye to you, the reader.  I can't thank you enough for all the support and interest that you have shown in my ramblings over the last two years.  It's been so much fun and it's given me so much satisfaction to gain the support of Indians as well as friends and family and people from all over the world who have written to me.  I hope to blog again sometime in the near future - I will put up a notice on the BombayJules Facebook Page in case you want to see what I am up to in the UK.

So long dear reader, so long!

In the manner of 'The X-Factor' or 'Big Brother'...here are the 'best moments' of my blogging career!

Very exciting moment when my blog gets picked up for the first time by DNA newspaper.

My Beanbag post was a revelation to me - I never knew 'Beanbag 26407383' was such a mystery!  This story was my most popular post ever and brought BombayJules lots of new readers (and a bit of media attention - as highlighted above on Midday and below on the Redbull website)



A personal highlight....being featured along side a pic of Salman Rushdie... ;-)
My first 'media appearance'! Culturama June 2013

Absolute India online newspaper

"Captures the essence of Mumbai"....thanks for your kind words Deliverychef!



Thursday, 19 June 2014

The Foundation for Mother & Child Health opens in Powai

It has been ages since I mentioned the Foundation.  For new readers - yes I do actually have a volunteering job - when I'm not blogging (or shopping)!

The last time I talked about our work was here.  I explained how FMCH specifically reduces and prevents malnutrition amongst children in the Dhobi Ghat area.  How our staff operate from tiny clinics to improve the lives of hundreds of 'India's future adults'.  I also previously wrote about the opening of a clinic in a 10 square foot room in Sukhawni ...here.

One of new mothers with her daughter outside the Powai centre.
A lot has happened since then and it's quite strange looking back at past posts about FMCH.  Over the last two years, our managing committee has been working on a strategic plan that includes objectives to take our operating model and replicate it (either directly or through NGO and corporate partnerships). 

Our long term ambition is that, with sufficient funding, we can open an Institute for Health & Nutrition where we can intensively train other NGO and hospital staff to run their own malnutrition reduction and healthy eating awareness programmes (through 'Training of Trainers').  Already, we have made some significant partnerships: During the last 18 months we have implemented a successful programme in rural Maharashtra, a regular Saturday clinic in Dharavi and an intensive malnutrition centre at a local hospital. These are just the beginnings of our long term reach.  

Wearing her best dress and extremely happy to be here!
Yesterday was another significant day for FMCH, because we opened an additional centre in a Powai slum (in partnership with two other NGOs who gave us the space to carry out our work).  Powai is in the north of Mumbai - about an hour or two's drive from our existing community in Dhobi Ghat - depending on the traffic. In Powai, the Foundation is now able to conduct its clinics, pregnancy classes (see below) and cooking demonstrations to provide much needed services to a wider audience.  

“We dream of a world where the potential of each child is not restricted by poor early health or malnutrition”
(FMCH Vision)

At FMCH, there is a huge focus on the first 1,000 days of a child's life - so we hold pregnancy classes to teach women about the importance of feeding themselves and their babies correctly (including breastfeeding techniques) - in the hope that a healthy child will be born at the outset.  If a child is nurtured correctly within the first 1,000 days of its life (that's from conception to the age of two), it is more likely to develop properly - both physically and mentally. So this is a critical programme for us and one that can be easily replicated by other NGOs.  

Measuring babies for height against weight to detect signs of undernourishment (per WHO guidelines)
It's been amazing to see how much the organisation has grown over the last two years.  From five members of staff to nearly twenty and new initiatives and partnerships starting almost every month. Exciting times!

Please visit www.fmch-india.org for more information about what this wonderful organisation does to help Mumbai's women and children.  Of course, we are always looking for donations, CSR opportunities, volunteers and health/nutrition/business professionals who are able to give some of their time on a pro-bono basis.  Do get in touch!  contact@fmch-india.org


Our Executive Director Piyasree Mukherjee cuts the ribbon
As soon as the ribbon is cut, women from the new community rush to get inside
Our head nutritionist, Neha Arora checks out one of the first customers! 
Grandmothers welcome!

The women wait their turn.  In the foreground, Piya uses a tablet to enter client information straight to our new database which is 'held in the cloud'.

Jocelyn, one of our Community Health Managers,  talks to a young mother.

Many consultations between FMCH staff and women take place around the room.  The space is a lot bigger than we're used to operating in so it's a nice change.
Pinky, a Community Health Manager can't get enough of this cute baby!
Visit www.fmch-india.org for more info.



Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Harry - Star Jeweller to the Expat Wife

It's not usual that I am the last to know about something. Especially when it comes to shopping.  But I was definitely not in the know when it came to Harry - Star Jeweller to the Expat Wife.  

I told my friend MaximumCityMadam, that I had a 100 year old pendant that had been passed down to me by my mother's godmother which contained a pretty ruby - and that I wouldn't mind having this ruby re-incorporated into a ring (as I am not much one for jewellery but I do quite like rings).  That's when MCM (the font of all shopping knowledge) told me about Harry - based at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Santacruz - 'where all the expats go to have their jewellery made'.

Well it can be hard to trust people when it comes to matters of gold and diamonds and so I was very happy to go on MCM's recommendation.  And the three times that I have since been to Harry's shop 'Living Jewels', I have always been at the back of a queue of western women and men waiting to have a consultation with Harry.

The Living Jewels team (Harry on the left)
So on my birthday, off I went with MCM to see Harry - clutching the ruby pendant which had such sentimental value to me but was unwearable.  Mr Jules had kindly offered to pay for the making up of the ring as a birthday present - providing the price was reasonable.  I also brought a picture of what I envisaged the end product to look like - a sort of Art Deco design with my ruby at the centre surrounded by tiny diamonds with a few more diamonds on the shoulders (well I was going to try my luck if Mr Jules was paying!).

This was the design that I found on the internet that I was aiming for

It took all of five seconds for Harry to look at my stone and the suggested design for him to agree 'no problem' and a reasonable price for the white gold shank and diamonds. Harry also explained to me that his jeweller craftsman was soon going back to his village for a holiday, and so he would get a shank made up right away so I could approve it before the setting of the stones.  The setting would be ready for approval by the following Monday (this was a Friday).  Excitedly, MCM and I went off and spent the rest of the weekend celebrating my birthday, leaving everything with Harry.  

Come the following Monday, I unfortunately had a very poorly stomach, so couldn't make it back to Harry's shop to have a look at the setting.  But that was no problem at all because Harry offered to send his son Akash to our apartment for me to approve it!  Within 30 minutes, I was looking at the rough white gold shank which just looked like a piece of tin! But the shape was there and I was really pleased - and so no alterations would be required.

Akash holds the unfinished, unpolished shank for me to inspect....
....and with my ruby slotted in.
An incredible two days later, and my ring was ready to be collected (that's five days in total!) This time I was well enough to make it to the shop, dragging along Mr Jules with his credit card. When Harry opened a neat, red box to reveal my gleaming, sparkling, new ruby ring, I was blown away! That sad old stone in its disgusting old yellow-gold setting looked completely different....and huge!  Turns out that my li'l ol' ruby is nearly two carats in weight and not in bad condition.

The finished article...(under natural lighting conditions)
...and from the back.  Hallmarked and everything.
So of course I would like to recommend Harry to anyone who would like a bespoke piece of jewellery made. His service, is fast, accurate, reasonably priced and trustworthy.  Actually I have already been back with a deep lilac amethyst that I bought in Jaipur, which is being made into a silver ring - and due to be picked up this weekend (so excited again!)

Harry is a real character and he works closely with his handsome and charming son to deliver whatever you have in mind.  Not all business is bespoke orders - if you are looking for a quick purchase (as most visitors staying at the Hyatt will be), his shop is full of ready to buy jewellery and knick-knacks. 


Harry!
Harry's rather good looking son Akash
Pret-a-porter rings and earrings! 


Precious stone necklaces

Father and son.  From what I can see, they are the only ones doing any business in the Hyatt Shopping Plaza!
Harry
Living Jewels
F-30B, Grand Hyatt Plaza
Off Western Express Highway
Vakola, Santacruz (E)
Mumbai 400 055

The shop is located on the upper level of the shopping plaza of the Hyatt - towards the rear of the hotel (next to Popley's). Husbands struggling for gift ideas should take note!!!

Tel: 6702 0418 / 3060 1028
Mobile: 98201 50456
Email: living_jewel@hotmail.com

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Changing Colours of the Mumbai Sky

Every so often, I take a photograph of the Arabian Sea from my living room balcony, with the same block of flats in the distance.  Perhaps when the light glows after dusk, or when the sun is setting - or when the sky is lit up by lightning or fireworks.  The view of the ocean in the distance and the colour of the sky is a fine barometer of the changing seasons or time of day in Mumbai.  

Sometimes the sea is obscured by smog, and sometimes the view is as crisp as anything.  June is a particularly interesting time of the year - when the clouds begin to gather in readiness for the monsoon.

Photos:

Pre-monsoon and clouds begin to gather
June 2013 at 1pm and the view is crisp and the trees are a lush green 
The clouds obscure the setting sun at 7.30pm
Red sky at night...shepherd's delight (as we say in the UK)
Peekaboo!
1.45pm one September 2013 day and the monsoon lingers - the sun desperately tries to
peep out from behind the clouds.  Gathering kites speckle the sky.
A evening of lightning strikes make the sky a gorgeous purple
September 2013 - a pre-rain eerie bluey glow is cast on the buildings
Ganpati celebrations 
November 2013 - Diwali fireworks light up the block of flats.
November 2013 - the weather is cooler but the sea is almost obscured by the rising mist that
helps to make Mumbai smoggy-ish
The same day - the sunset is poor and sea is invisible
February 2014 - one of many stunning sunsets I have witnessed from our balcony
The scene today! So crisp!
Another pre-monsoon eerie glow at about 7.30pm last Sunday.
From last year  - a snap of lightning from the balcony at the back of the apartment - unfortunately I couldn't get such a picture of lightning over the sea.
Update: 13/06/14 - The dramatic scene last night as a monsoon cloud drifts by, dragging rain over the sea but not coming inland.