Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Falling in Love - with India

With just a bit over a month away from the long-awaited and dreamt-about, in-detail-imagined and anxiously-anticipated departure for India as a member of the medical volunteering team, I am compelled to list in one place all that I have been reading, viewing, ingesting, googling, pondering and imagining in order to make sure that my time in India counts - for the sake of the people I will be serving and for the sake of my own very sheltered yet ridiculously happy life. 

Mowgli - my first crush (Walt Disney animation) 
It is a funny thing to remember my first crush. He was small and skinny and wore only an orange langot - a loincloth. I was completely smitten by him although I believe he was likely twice my age at the time. He hung out with a bear and a black panther, elephants and monkeys. It is indeed Mowgli I can thank for my earliest fascination with India, and the enchantment with the idea of the human and animal worlds living in harmony. Add a catchy tune from Disney's The Jungle Book based on Rudyard Kipling's book and I happily committed to a tomboy childhood.

Books have always been my favourite way of getting to know places. Although I am no literary critic, the following are the books that got me hooked on India, its many faces, that one giant beating heart and one calm and friendly demeanour that greets you with "Namaste".


1. The White Tiger: A Novel - Aravind Adiga
Otherwise a slow reader, feeling as if the Bangalore driver had been writing directly to me, I read it over two nights, my heart pounding, my sense of self, smell and hope being put through the ringer. 

2. Shantaram - David Gregory Thomas
The best part of this epic novel was having my phone (and car) read it to me. I downloaded it from Audible - not only did 900+ pages simply fly by, but the accents! Oh, the accents were such a delight: Australian, Afghan, Nigerian, French, Persian and of course Prabhakar's Indian. For a while I added the "baba" after my family's names (driving them crazy) in the style of the novel. Never have I enjoyed being stuck in rush hour traffic so much!  

3. Q & A  (Slumdog Millionaire) - Vikas Swarup
If you have seen the movie which became a worldwide blockbuster, you will LOVE the book even more - Mr.Swarup's first literary accomplishment! 

4. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
A long, fascinating yet convoluted story about a man who had been "mysteriously handcuffed to history" and "what's his name" - God.

5. Life of Pi - Yann Martel
Richard Parker. So worth reading even if only to find out about who he is. 

6. Siddhartha - Hermann Hesse
I read Siddhartha for the first time when I was 13. My friend Dubravka had it in her sea-side condo. I was bored and confused. Yet intrigued. Intrigued enough to pick it up again 30 years later and understand it. Understand it and love it.

I have always been a movie buff. And although a fun night of going to the cinema for a movie opening got majorly derailed with the arrival of my little people, the me of my mid-forties guiltily admits to loving my time alone, late at night while everyone's sleeping, with the iPad and earphones in bed (everything opposite of the wise advice about how not to disturb your sleep!). It's simply a gift from me to me!


1. Gandhi
I saw this movie in Belgrade's cinema "Kozara" when it debuted in 1982. It was 3.5 h long and there was an intermission while they changed the reel. I was profoundly moved by the true account of this man's great life and became a life-long fan of actor Ben Kingsley. I just watched it again - it is a masterpiece and a must-see.  

2. Deepa Mehta Trilogy: Fire - Earth - Water 
All three are breathtaking. "Water" is my favourite - whether because it is set in mystical Varanasi or because - to the feminist that I am - it sheds light in a powerful way on the deep-rooted custom that women can be and should be thrown away.

3. Monsoon Wedding
Light, funny and very Bollywood take on the importance of family in India and the tradition of the arranged marriage. After witnessing some amazing real-life matches, I am - interestingly enough - not against it!

4. Passage to India
Pretty epic and not only for the mid eighties - it is a great cinematic glimpse into the British colonial India and why it really needed to end.

5. Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India
I come from a place where soccer (fudbal) is "the most important secondary thing in the life". Apparently, Serbians got it all wrong - it's cricket!

6. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
To make it up to the Brits for being escorted out of India, there comes a cute movie that made me smile during the in-flight presentation. Although sequels are seldom worth it, the same goes for the The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (now playing on Air Canada flights).
They say "Love goes through the stomach" so here is the section that needs no intro. I am a foodie. Will go a long way to source the authentic spices and ingredients cooking up a storm at home or track down the ethnic take-out spot in town where the women in saris line up to shop.


1. Punjabi Chicken in Thick Gravy - Cilantro for breakfast? Not a problem!
2. Masala Chai - Indian spiced tea - it is the book Shantaram, that convinced the low-carb moi to drink this delicious sweet tea!
 Recipe at
3. Chana Masala - Savoury chickpea dish - Married to an Israeli, it's no secret we eat hummus with each meal. So this was an easy yet spicy upgrade!
4. Samosa - Favourite on the go - I know it's deep fried, dammit! It could be baked, in theory. 
5. Palak Paneer - Fresh spinach with cheese - I actually crave this, right now. Googling Naples Indian take out... brb
6. Gulab jamun - Cardamom, saffron and rose water delight - I salivate even while pronouncing it out loud! Try it! It's also a great threat for my four year old: "When I catch you I'm gonna make Gulab jamun out of you!" - then he giggles uncontrollably, which is even sweeter!


I added New Delhi to my weather app (and world clock to start planning for the 9.5h time difference), back on March 5th, when I heard the news I had been selected as the Canadian volunteer for the "Connecting Hearts Abroad" mission. It is a part of my daily routine and something tells me I won't be able to ever delete it from my list. Thankfully the monsoon did arrive, ending one of the worst heat waves in history, hitting the frail and the homeless by the thousands. With "dust", "haze" and "smoke" as common weather descriptors and photos of melting Delhi streets all over the internet, this former West Nile Virus sufferer is often asked: "How are you going to survive the heat/humidity/mosquitos/pollution?"
First - I have no idea. Second - just the same way the patients I'll serve will. Thanks Dr.Saldanha for the first round of my travel vaccines - I haven't slept on my left shoulder for a week! Looking forward to the part two, not!


Not in love yet?! Take a look at my favourite YouTube clip: Baby bath time in India
I'm a mother of three and although I was a bit shocked the first time I saw it, I now tend to envy both the moms and the babies. It is a beautiful and social time for the moms - aren't we all a bit lost those first days of motherhood - all isolated in our near sterile surroundings - intimidated by the little body parts we need to clean, all the while making sure not to squish or drown them? Isn't the full body baby massage beneficial for circulation, release of gas and 'skin-on-skin' soothing effect? I would have loved to try this!


Do follow muradosmann - his mesmerizing and breathtaking photos of India - a part of his #followmeto travel series - will get you to travel (smart phone in hand) and see the world even while lining up at the grocery store behind that ultimate queen of coupon-ing - and you won't mind!

Best news story of 2015: 

The best 244-words-long article giving me hope young women in India are done with tolerating crap. Game over!

Blogs about India:

Lathmar Holi - a day when women beat men?
- Old Delhi food photo blog


I have been a hot yoga devotee for the last few years: twice a week, my husband and I have a "date night" on the mat -- 75 min of warrior twos, downward dogs and dripping sweats. Sleep like babies afterwards!

Although I couldn't have been any more smitten in the sweet anticipation of my first trip to India, what's yet to be accomplished between now and me boarding a 17h long flight is a full Bollywood Dance Cardio workout, that neck movement, the hips, the teasing jerky moves - it's on my must do list!

Great read while pondering legacy

With all the sights and flavours and colours it is easy to get lost and forget what's my mission. This time around my mission is to be of service. My mission is to extend my heart, to deepen my humility, to bring my best skill, to spread my enthusiasm. My hope is to become a friend and a family and to instantly cease being a stranger. To upgrade from a fellow traveller to a life-long companion. To be that one of the 7+ billion, that knows that each act of kindness both matters and multiplies.

My legacy?

Today I would be only guessing what my true legacy after this mission will be. Something tells me that once I land, fully take in the new surroundings, visit the local market and adorn myself in the traditional kurti (long blouse) and dupatta (Indian scarf) and meet my new family, the clarity will start sinking in and I will know what's next. For now, inspired by a volunteer in Guatemala, I've collected about 30 pairs of used prescription glasses and will be bringing them with me. Apparently, what keeps sitting unused in many drawers (changed Rx or post LASIK) equals life and livelihood in the poverty-stricken parts of the world. I know that's just the beginning!

I'm ending this heart-fluttering-in-anticipation report with the poem, that has been my favourite for many years. It only happens to be written by an Indian poet - the same one that got me to fall in love with Mowgli. Namaste!

"If "  by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

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