An abridged version of an article I wrote for Greater Hamilton Musicians Music News Blog, celebrating the music and teaching career of the late Ken Lamanes, http://musicbizbites.blogspot.ca/2012/11/a-tribute-to-ken-lamanes.html , is now available in print along with many other interesting articles about Hamilton’s vibrant local music scene. Although the blog version is a richer and more colourful tribute to Lamanes, the librarian/archivist in me is happy to see it published in print to preserve his memory.
You can read the print version online here and get your copy of the Greater Hamilton Musicians Annual 2012 at any of the following Greater Hamilton small businesses:
There’s something about sitting by a pool with a beer in the hot sun that can make you reflective.
This time here in India, my first ever visit, was not a deep and unprotected exploration of what it is to be Indian. I came here in a privileged position. A car, a swank hotel, a management position in a successful firm, leading a team of intelligent, educated and ambitious Indian citizens from a privileged middle class society. But there were signs of the other India all around me. Women hauling cement and construction waste in bags on their heads while their children played in the dirt by the road. Others, mere children, walking out into evening rush hour traffic to tap on my car window, begging me to roll it down and give them a few rupees for the cheap plastic pink toy they held in their hands.
I’m not immune to the aching hunger of those who have little here.
The other India
Nor would I presume to accuse India for not doing enough. The population is staggering, and this is a young nation with a daunting tradition of oppressive beliefs and political baggage. You don’t change that overnight. But India is in the ascendant. Its youth are talented. And very ambitious. They can’t wait to get ahead. They are also kind, fierce about fair treatment, and compassionate. Prosperity, growing world economic strength, and a commitment to democratic principles will spur India on to 21st century glory. Empathy, social responsibility, and a commitment to universal education will ensure the whole population grows prosperous with it.
My bags are almost packed. I’m looking forward to home, and family. But I leave behind an exciting, intriguing new friend. And I can’t wait to visit her again.
Nothing characterizes India better than it’s food. Indian food IS India. If you think that’s a stretch, click over to Incredible!India or The Lonely Planet Travel and Information Guide to India and try this little exercise: replace every reference to India (or it’s people) with “Indian cuisine”, and replace every touristic site (or characteristic) they mention with the name of an Indian dish. If you don’t know any, just try these — chicken tandoori, daal, salan, veg handi, basmati, paratha, dosa, naan– and you’ll get what I mean.
Indian cuisine is a metaphor for India itself. Indian food shouts at your senses for attention, but its ingredients do not compete with each other, they live side-by-side, blended together in a rich multiplicity of flavour and aroma. Just like the country itself, Indian dishes are bewilderingly diverse, their spices and flavours outrageously sensual, their colours chaotically vivid, and their concentration in the bellies of the privileged undeniably controversial.
Chaat Street Vendor
My colleagues took me down to the cafeteria before our quarterly department meeting last week and introduced me to chaat – India’s version of fast food. In Hyderabad bazaars, office canteens, and on neighbourhood street corners all over the city, Hyderabadis indulge their craving for snacks in a way that puts the hot dog to shame.
Harish showed me how to crumble up a samosa in the bottom of the plate, then smother it with a fragrant and mildly spicy yellow pea curry called ‘ragada’. On top of this he piled thinly sliced sweet red onion, matchstick carrots, fresh yoghurt and mint sauce, and tangy sweet tamarind sauce. An exotic blend of powdered spices called Garam Masala, salt, cayenne, and a crunchy graham flour vermicelli called sev are sprinkled on top to finish it off. It was the best afternoon snack I’ve ever had. It will make settling for French fries again seem like, well … ‘settling’.
South American Import
I know there are regions of southern India where the curried dishes are so full of heat I couldn’t possibly eat them comfortably. Indian food has a reputation among foreigners of being too hot and spicy. However the chili pepper is a relative newcomer to Indian cuisine. It is native to South America, and was only introduced to South Asia in the 16th century by Portuguese and Spanish explorers. Indians adopted it all over the country to varying degrees, probably for its antiseptic properties and effect on the circulatory system. But the cuisine I experienced in Hyderabad was delightfully flavoured and just spicy enough to be exciting.
Lal Mirch ka Paneer Tikka
Spices add colour and flavour to Indian food but they are also part of an ancient medicinal tradition in India called Ayurveda. Many of the spices in Indian cuisine were chosen hundreds of years ago for their effect on the body, in particular the digestive and circulatory systems. Spices such as cardamom and cloves are used for their antiseptic qualities, fennel, cumin, and coriander for their digestive and anti-inflammatory properties. Every spice has its purpose, and flavours and seasonings are chosen to complement them to produce a richly exotic and balanced dish. Chutneys, yoghurt, nuts, fruit, and a large variety of marinated pickle are served as condiments to provide a complete meal.
My first taste experience in Hyderabad necessarily demanded a local dish. Hyderabad is famous for its Biryani, a basmati rice dish cooked with either meats or vegetables, and infused with a mouthwatering combination of yoghurt, onions, ginger, garlic, spices, lemon, saffron, and fresh coriander. We indulged in chicken biryani and veg biryani — served with a delicious Mirchi ka Saalan (green chili in brown gravy) — a few times on this trip, but unfortunately never made it to the mecca for Hyderabadi biryani enthusiasts, the Paradise. We’ll have to save that for the next time.
How do they do that?
Chicken Biryani, Daal Makhani, Salan and way too much raita (I love it)
The base ingredient of many Indian curries is the masala, a stir-fried blend of four key ingredients: onions, garlic, ginger, and tomatoes. Depending on the region or dish, a different combination of spices and seasonings is added to flavour the various meats, fish or seafood, lentils, cheese curd, or vegetables that are added and gently simmered until a rich sensual gravy results. Other dishes are “dry” preparations, where a blend of yoghurt, garlic, ginger, salt, cumin, turmeric, chillies and coriander are applied as a thick marinade before cooking, kebab-style, in a clay oven called a tandoori. Main dishes are served with rice preparations and flatbreads such as naan and roti for dipping or scooping by hand.
The best meal — by far — that we had here in Hyderabad was taken at Kebabs & Kurries restaurant at the Kakatiya Sheraton. In fact, it made such an impression I had to go back there again last night … for research purposes, of course. Kebabs & Kurries seduces your senses. Lori Anne did not put up much resistance.
“The prawns, Louise! You have to try the prawns!”
Tandoori jhinga are succulent jumbo prawns as big as your palm, butterflied and marinated in ajwaim seeds, yoghurt, turmeric, garam masala and chillies and then grilled over smoking hot charcoal. The buttered naan was chewy and flaky, and perfect for scooping up the house daal, a makhani-style version of black lentils, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, cream and spices simmered slowly for 10 hours over charcoal and liberally laced with butter. It’s so good they brand it a “Bukhara” – a house specialty. Every mouthful makes you roll your eyes back in your head, sigh with pleasure, and blissfully ignore the fact that you’re going to see it all on your hips the next day.
Tandoori jhinga, Kekashan, Daal "Bukhara" and roti at Kebabs & Kurries
K & K’s vegetarian menu is no less impressive. We rounded out our meal with a riotous, colourful dish called Kekashan. A healthful mix of green peppers, cauliflower, potato, carrots, peas, corn nibblets and stewed to perfection in a pomegranate seed gravy laced with cumin, whole red chili, and topped with toasted almonds. I didn’t just want to eat it. I wanted to move in and marry the chef.
I can’t wait until the return trip in February … I think more research is absolutely necessary.
When one’s travel is restricted to a chauffeured car in a complex crowded city like Hyderabad, it’s difficult to get one’s bearings. I never know quite how far we’ve driven or in what direction. There is no such thing as a western grid layout here. A bewildering maze of boulevards, avenues, and narrow streets fan out from Hussain Sagar Lake like the silk threads of a spider’s web. They twist and turn, and sometimes split in two, built around — rather than through — sacred Hindu temples and Moslem mosques, which had claimed that land long before the roads were built.
Knowing when I’ve arrived at a destination can be elusive too, even on the daily drive to work. The immediate reality outside my car window demands my attention, and my brain can’t process all that I see and keep track of where it’s going too.
Our intrepid driver Ansar
I am bewildered by sensory overload: the absolute crush of people, traffic, shops, and billboards, the riotous colour of saris, fruit stands, shop fronts, street vendors and larger than life adverts for films featuring attractive young Bollywood stars, the distractions of people staring at you, the precocious smile of a child looking out of a crowded three-wheeler to wave at me while his sister giggles, the roaming packs of stray dogs and the desperate reality of poverty still visible in Hyderabad’s streets. Everything is too new, too different, for me to take in all at once. I often feel lost, and thank “Uncle D” for the great privilege of having Ansar to get me to my destination safely.
But this Sunday morning, there is no doubt where I am. As Lori Anne, Farhana and I head south into the heart of downtown Hyderabad, competing with the growing throngs of families out to do their shopping, I can see the famous Charminar in the distance and can’t wait to explore the bazaars and mingle in the crowded streets. Ansar drops us off in front of the fruit sellers on the south east side, and we set out with a kind reminder from Farhana to “be careful where we step”. I look down to the dusty, uneven street and see little rivers of sludgy “who-knows-what” pooling in the potholes and neglected trails of garbage along the broken curbsides and I take her advice seriously as we enter the streets.
The Charminar gleams brilliantly white against a deep blue sky in front of me. Its name is derived from two Urdu words — Char Minar — meaning “four minarets’. This monumental landmark of soaring marble arches and graceful minarets was built in 1591 by Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, the fifth ruler of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, to commemorate the end of a plague that had ravaged the region. A beautiful mosque occupies the roof of the structure. Although visitors can climb to the top of the minarets for views of the city, we decide to avoid the growing queue and explore the markets instead.
The Laad Bazaar is a vibrant, crowded, noisy, smelly, but above all colourful place. Street vendors show their wares on loaded carts or on cloth spread out on the sidewalks. Overflowing cartloads of lemons, fruit, flowers, chai porcelain cups, wooden ladles, housewares and hardware crowd the open spaces.
Paan for sale
Men wander the market with giant platters of samosa atop their heads, and old men crouch low over baskets of neatly stacked betal leaf, or paan. The shops along side streets and under the arcades sell pearls and jewelry, saris, and other textiles, but most especially “chudiyaan” or bangles. Laad means “lacquer” in Urdu, referring to the traditional bangles worn by Indian women that are sold in this market. We stop at Md. Zaheer Uddin’s A1 Bangles and Jewelry to shop while Farhana stands patiently by to act as our negotiator.
Bangles bangles bangles
The clerk pulls out set after set of colourful, jewel-studded bangles, urging us to try them on. Both Lori Anne and I come out twenty minutes later successful, each of us carrying a red box full of bling.
Although many western corporations and businesses have set up call centres and hi tech services firms in Hyderabad, the western face is still a novelty among the locals. Many people reach out to touch us or take our picture. Some women, babies on their hips with little hands expertly stretched out, follow us relentlessly asking for money. The most we can do is be patient and firm as we say “No” over and over and over because a single “yes” to these pleas in the bazaar guarantees you’ll be swarmed by other hopefuls, and your visit cut short as you run for the safety of your car. Everywhere beckoners approach us with strings of pearls on their hands, running them through a flame to prove their worth. They cajole and try to convince us to “just take a look” inside the shops hoping to be the one to nab a sale. It’s difficult to ignore, after all, who can blame any of them for trying to earn a living or to make desperate ends meet? Of course, some shopkeepers raise their prices at the sight of us. Lori Anne spent a good half an hour carefully selecting some pretty glass beads for a friend back home, only to have to walk away from the sale because the shopkeeper refused to sell them at a reasonable price.
We stroll the main streets of the market in the hot (for this time of year) sun. The traffic and pedestrians continue to pour in from all directions. Men in trousers and open-necked shirts or kurta, some women cloaked in black burkas for modesty, others openly joyous in silk and cotton sari or salwar kameez, duhpatta fluttering out behind them. The streets reek of the faint smell of sewage and the hot metallic scent of the iron-rich dust from the soil and rock of the Deccan plateau that the city is built on. The exhaust from vehicles hangs close between the buildings and irritates my eyes. But apart from the handkerchiefs many sport over their noses as they motor through, no one seems to care much. They have families to feed. And bills to pay.
"Excuse me sir, I want to photograph your T shirt"
Be silly. Be honest. Be kind. I noticed this peculiar slogan on the T-shirt of a total stranger at the Salarjung Museum today and coerced my colleague Farhana into chasing him down so I could photograph him. Living up to his T-shirt, the young man obliged me.
The guy probably thought I was just a crazy tourist, but I had a good reason to want to record that image. The slogan jumped out at me because it described perfectly the youthful and enthusiastic spirit of my colleagues during our KMS Sports Day at Golkonda Resort & Spa on Saturday. At first, when I saw that the list of scheduled sports included “lemon and spoon race”, “jalebi eating contest”, “tug of war”, and “skipping” I was a little worried about what I was getting into. But we had such a beautiful sunny day for the event and the venue was perfect for rowdy behaviour, of which there was plenty. Four teams (Satra se Khatra, Killing Services, Kolaveri Blues, and Dark Horse) competed in good-natured rivalry in a whole host of silly sports, games and cheerleading. True to their name, Dark Horse came from behind to win the “Trophy Trophy Trophy”! It was such a pleasure to see the staff participate so enthusiastically (and competitively!) in this teambuilding event. And I felt so genuinely welcomed (they even took time to teach me a thing or two about cricket!).
Since the pictures speak for themselves, I’ll give my pen a rest and let them show you how Indian hospitality can be seriously silly, genuinely honest, and incredibly kind. You’ll find the slideshow here: KMS Sports Day Hyderabad 2011
I wrote earlier about the flexibility of road rules in Hyderabad, and from what I understand, it’s not just a local phenomenon, but a matter of national pride to get in/on your vehicle, enter the fray, and casually show the world you own the road between your starting point and your destination. For an Indian, red lights are merely a suggestion, the number of seats in/on a vehicle entirely flexible depending on how many people you wish to transport on a given trip, and jaywalking in rush hour ranks slightly below cricket as an entertaining spectator sport. But having done the half hour car ride to and from our hotel and the Deloitte offices for three consecutive days now, I will say that no matter how chaotic it seems, there are no better drivers than the Indians.
Indian drivers in rush hour perform a ballet of sorts. And they have to pay attention. Cars enter the intersections at speed, shift and float across lanes, swoop forward and to the side, then brake back before surging again to insert themselves into openings half their size. With a toot of the horn, they announce their intentions and go for it, all the while avoiding collision by mere centimetres. They are like a constantly moving school of fish or flock of barn swallows riding the evening wind. For them, it’s just the way things are. For a newcomer, it can be frightening. For me, it’s just crazy! But the fun kind!
Here’s a few raw video clips I took (reaching out the car window) of our morning drive to work, with many thanks to our excellent driver Ansar, who remained cheerful and polite in spite of my risky behaviour! Oh. And by the way. If you see the traffic cop at the end of the last clip, don’t get any fine western ideas about law and order. He’s usually just a suggestion too.
Jet Lag – Simple Plan ft. Natasha Bedingfield. Official Video produced by Patrick Langlois and filmed at Terminal 1 – Toronto Pearson International Airport in Spring 2011.
Jet lag. It won’t be ignored, and you’re body will eventually win over your desire to keep working, keep moving, keep looking, keep experiencing the crazy sensuous chaos of colour and sound and taste and smell that is Hyderabad.
Just remember that. Sleep will come to you and demand that you pay attention.
Last night she finally came to me after a long day struggling through meetings and presentations to staff. It was a struggle to work through the day. My body felt sluggish and my mind confused and dizzy. I found it very difficult to concentrate. Lights were garishly bright and flickered as I tried to focus my eyes on things. Sounds seemed amplified to me. And I was completely disorientated about time. What day is it here? Is it morning or afternoon? What time is it back home in Oakville? Are my kids asleep or awake in Switzerland right now? I sat at my desk forcing myself to puzzle it through but was completely unable to do the math. I was like a drunk yesterday, trying to force myself to walk a straight line to normality. I’m almost certain if someone had asked me to touch my nose I couldn’t have done it!
I did make it through the day. I did stand (sway?) in front of 40 new faces and deliver an introduction and networking presentation with energy and competence and even a little humour. I did get through all those meetings, and I even remember a few things that were said in them. And I did manage to stay awake long enough to enjoy a delicious meal of noodles and cantonese style prawns at the exquisite Golden Dragon, the Taj Hotel’s Asian cuisine restaurant (I decided to save the ultimate experience of Indian cuisine for a day when all my senses could appreciate it fully).
And then finally, and blissfully, I collapsed into bed without even looking at my writing table. Don’t ask me what happened between then and the cacophony of the horns outside my window at 7:00 this morning.
I don’t remember a thing. I must have been asleep.
In spite of 23 hours of travel, 8 hours of wakeful rest, 7 hours of work, and two martinis, I found it difficult to fall asleep while my body adjusted to the new time zone. Besides, I needed to stay up to talk to my family at home in Switzerland. So instead of sensibly going to bed, I poured myself a glass of remarkably passable Indian Shiraz and settled down at midnight for a little historical research on this amazing hotel that is spoiling my middle class Canadian steel town girl sensibilities.
The halllway to 716
With its dark hardwood parquet floors, vast marble foyers, crystal chandeliers and black pillars with inlaid mother-of-pearl, the old world opulence of the Taj Krishna Hotel in Hyderabad cannot be overstated. Yet this hotel is relatively new. Originally built by the GVK Reddy Group in the Banjara Hills of Hyderabad in 1987, the operation of this five star luxury hotel was assumed through a partnership with The Taj Group of Hotels, Resorts and Palaces in the year 2000, with a view to catering to the hi-tech industry developing here.
But as the Taj corporate logo affirms, “Landmarks are not made by the date on the cornerstone”. The Taj Krishna Hotel offers business and tourism travelers a taste of old world luxury and unmeasured Indian hospitality.
A quiet lobby for a good read
This can include slightly bizarre attentions to detail. For example: although I appreciated my breakfast coffee this morning was served by a smartly dressed and flawlessly professional young man with impeccable manners and white gloved hands, I found it rather disquieting to come home to my room this evening after work to find every single item I had carefully set out in the closets, the bathroom vanity and on top of the dressers, entirely rearranged in a different but inexplicable order (I actually checked my underwear drawer, to determine if anyone had ‘explored’ it … thankfully not!). As a North American, I am unused to this amount of attention. But all the same, what a thrill to look around this room and indulge in the warmth of quality linens, hardwood parquet and mahogany furniture and cabinetry, and a thankfully unobtrusive flat screen TV (which on principle I will never turn on, preferring to read if I’m not tapping away sleeplessly at this silly Mac Air!).
This is where I would sit, if I had a spare moment
As our driver brought us back to the hotel after work about 9:30 this evening (Tuesday), the road approaching the hotel was jammed with vehicles. A large celebration (a wedding, we think) was taking place at the hotel, and it took us more time to cover the 150m distance to the hotel gate than it had taken us to cover the entire cross-town trip from the Deloitte offices. Orange silk and glitter and beautiful sari-clad women floated everywhere around the grounds.
The valet crew were dressed in their finest black and silver uniforms. There were more cars in the courtyard than you can count in a Costco parking lot twice its size all disgorging the finest examples of Hyderabad society.
Wedding opulence - we weren't invited!!
From my window, even now, I can see the orange silks streaming from the central column erected in front of the guest of honour’s dais. But at this hour, the guests have gone home to sleep, and so, finally, must I.
Our plane touches down in Hyderabad at 4:35am. The city glitters on the black Deccan plateau, a vast electrified lake I couldn’t see to the other side of as we sailed in for landing. Five main roads snake out from the centre of Hyderabad like the spokes on a wheel, but from the south where the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport sits, only the airport road and the Hyderabad-Bangalore highway are visible as we fly in. The countryside around is also ablaze with light in a thousand tiny pockets, some large, and some small. I have to assume there are roads that lead to each of them too, but as far as I can tell, there are no street lights to guide a night time traveler there.
After passing easily through customs, we collect our baggage and go in search of our drivers. They’re there at the exit, at least 50 of them crammed shoulder to shoulder behind the barrier, holding out hotel signs hopefully, with guest names written in large bold type. I spot my name: Miss Louise Notley Taj Krishna. There are about 8 other drivers there from the Taj, each eagerly searching for his own guest passenger, and my colleague Lori Anne and I smile at the excess … we could have gone together in one car, but she steps ahead of me to a short mustached man waving her name at her “See you there, I guess!”. I nod to my driver and his eyes acknowledge me as his dark brown face splits into a brilliant white smile. Then he rushes –literally runs — to meet me. “My name is Haneef, Mum. I’m being your driver.” We leave the terminal building and cross the street, where he settles me with my luggage, flashes his full-faced grin again, and says “Mum. Wait here is 3 minutes. Excuse me. My car is there.” He points to the parking garage with his white-gloved finger, and quickly runs off to retrieve it.
It is too dark still to see much on the drive, so I concentrate on the traffic, and learn a number of valuable things about driving in India. Cars drive on the left, as in England, and for the most part, drivers do tend to follow that rule, although most of the roads we drove along had concrete medians between the carriageways, so I was unable to test that theory in depth. As far as I can tell, this is just about the only rule that IS followed. One must be confident and extremely alert to drive in India, or have a death wish … I can’t decide which.
The main roads have the usual dotted white lines separating lanes of traffic, but it becomes clear to me that they serve some purely ornamental purpose, like silver threads woven through a length of dupion sari silk. Driving between the lines as we normally do in the western world appears to be strictly optional here. The horn is therefore, an absolute necessity if you would like to pass without getting sideswiped. Haneef demonstrates this very effectively and I shudder as we swing by another car with mere inches to spare. Lights are also optional, especially it seems, on large, heavily burdened, slow moving trucks and tiny three-wheeled tuk-tuks or auto rickshaws, groaning along under precariously packed sack loads of rice or potatoes, bags of cement, or people. This wouldn’t seem so dangerous, if there were posted speed limits, but there aren’t any as far as I can tell and posting one would seem silly given the ornamental status of the lane markings. So vehicles on the same carriageway could be inching along at 30 km/hour or sailing by at 100 km/hour. Nothing is predictable.
You would think that the pedestrians would be very cautious about the roads under these conditions, but they surprise me too. Even at this early hour, the streets are full of people. Groups waiting for buses on the street corners spill off the sidewalks and stand in the road, or sit casually on the curbs with their legs stretched out into traffic. Old men run across without warning, hopping between cars like jack rabbits, as the vehicles horn them and swerve left and right to pass them without bothering to slow down. It is chaos. And Haneef tells me this is nothing. The day hasn’t even started yet.
The road from the airport into town is actually a 12km raised bridge running over top of the city proper. Haneef turns and tells me with a cheerful smile “It’s a bridge … just for airport traffic. Roads like this in Hyderabad, very good!” as I bounce along in the back seat. “Outside city, very bad”. I bounce along in polite silence and wonder what the subtle differences might be. As we come to the end of the bridge, it slopes down to meet the roadway into downtown, and I hear the first sound of the city … my driver pressing the automatic door locks as we turn onto a crowded boulevard. The horns sound everywhere. But it’s still too dark to see much of what passes by my window. On one street corner, a woman sits on the curb wrapped in a dark sari, her knees pulled up to her chest, and her arm wrapped around a large burlap sack of something beside her. In the street, cars jockey for position with a cavalry of bicycle mounted delivery boys, their rear baskets loaded with the morning edition of The Times of India. Haneef navigates through them with expert skill, and “Excuse me Mum” points out the Karachi Bakery to my right – apparently very famous for its fruit biscuits — and the Five Taj on my left, before finally pulling a U-turn around the boulevard median and gracefully arriving at the hotel.
The Taj Krishna Hotel is a 5 star hotel of the old British Raj style. It sits up on a hill and is surrounded by a thick stone wall, and ornate wrought iron gates. As we approach the gate we are stopped by security, who greet me politely, open the trunk for inspection, and run a mirror around the perimeter of the underbody of the car. Looking for explosives. This is my first reminder that Hyderabad is considered a medium risk city, where violence is not uncommon, and where both political and religious interests can occasionally clash without warning. Our vehicle passes inspection and we are allowed through the gate. Haneef drives the car up over the black cobblestones to the front entrance where he gives me a map of the city and his business card, before saying good day and saluting me with another one of his engaging grins. Then the welcome staff take over. My bags are scanned through a magnetic imaging machine, and I am whisked off to room 716 where every one of my needs has been anticipated. Hello India, I’ve arrived.