Before you wow him

C and I went to see the excellent Silver Linings Playbook last night (although I haven’t seen Lincoln, I wish Silver Linings had beat it for best picture as it was a lot more original than yet another Watch Daniel Day Lewis Be Commanding And Win All Awards movie). Also I want to be Jennifer Lawrence.

The ladies’ loos at R City Mall cinema were plastered with ads, for two uniquely feminine products. The first was ovulation strips. The second, the ‘rejuvenation’ cream 18 Again. The slogan on the bathroom ads for 18 Again? ‘Surprise yourself before you wow him’.   18 Again is a vaginal ‘rejuvenation’ cream (link probably NSFW). This cream claims to ‘tone’ muscles, addressing women’s ‘intimate feminine concerns’. One of the quoted medical experts says ‘This gel is for all age groups who have attained puberty and is approved by the expert gynaecologists.’ Let’s just go over that again. If you are a woman, as soon as you reach puberty, your genitals need fixing up.  And if you don’t , you could suffer from ‘lax vagina’. What does a lax vagina lead to? ‘Loss of self-confidence, and stress and irritability’, apparently. (Ironically, many of the active ingredients are simply those that increase blood flow, like many, er, ‘love’ creams – in this case, use it in good health!).

This is how I feel about writing my book chapters today



All the loud music and coffee in the world isn’t making me any faster.


When I first started knitting as a hobby/compulsion, I was unemployed and needed a cheap pastime.  As time passed, my taste in yarn has become more and more expensive and now includes a lot of luxury yarn. Hand-dyed yarn, in particular, tends to come in skeins rather than balls and needs to be wound before use. I have a ball-winder but prefer to wind balls by hand (centre-pull balls tend to collapse on me).  But a swift is an indispensable tool.

This post by Peggy Osterkamp has good detailed advice on how to use swifts, but one simple tip that  always makes it easier is ‘snapping’ the skein. To snap, uncoil the skein. It should now look like a circle of yarn (held together by yarn or string ties). Take one end of the circle in each hand, making sure that none of the yarn has fallen to the other side of the circle (if that make sense). Firmly snap the circle a couple of times. Now put it on your swift! It will wind much more smoothly.



Evening falls over Powai.

What to wear: Mumbai

Some of these will not apply to you if you are a man. Also, I am tall, pale, fair-haired and busty; and my suggestions are coloured by that. You may be more or less sensitive to staring than I am; but I’d preface all of the below by saying a) you are likely to be stared at, and b) India is a highly conservative country.  Cultural considerations aside; Mumbai is hot, dirty, and crowded.

In no particular order:

  • a lightweight, fairly voluminous scarf. Useful for covering up cleavage, covering your head, putting between you and a dirty seat, and generally as a bit of a security blanket. You don’t really want pure cotton as it will get too damp. Something polycotton would be ideal. I have bought a few nice scarves from the Indian site Done By None (prompt COD service in India).
  • Flat shoes. Many pairs of flat or low-heeled shoes, especially sandals. They should have soles and heels with a little grip. If I see a woman wearing high heels in Mumbai, I know she’s only walking to meet her driver. You’ll be more comfortable in something that breathes a little, whether because of holes or fabric. Pavement (where it exists) is bumpy. Streets are dusty (or wet). There is a lot of shit.
  • A long skirt, or long pants. I don’t wear anything that isn’t below the knee. If you fit standard sizes, you can buy pants or shalwar kameez easily and cheaply once you get here. Make sure you don’t buy a sari petticoat and wear it as a skirt (tip from this article at Enjoying India, which has a lot of other good advice).  I often wear a long polycotton knit skirt. Maxi skirts in general can be more comfortable than pants when it is very hot and humid.
  • Sunglasses. Sunglasses help you to avoid eye contact. Sometimes, leaving harassment out of it, you just want to hide a little. Sunglasses (ideally reflective) help.
  • Loose, long tunic tops. 
  • Dri-fit or other wicking fabric tops. (Even if buying something from Nike smites at your former student activist heart). Mumbai is sweaty. I find cotton t-shirts a bit damp, especially if I am at the gym or working out at home.
  • Bras. Particularly if you are an unusual size, stock up before you come. Not a huge range here, and ordering things online from overseas is likely to mean a visit to customs to retrieve the parcel (if you are lucky enough that it actually appears).
  • A light raincoat or poncho, if you will be here during monsoon. Particularly on crowded streets, umbrellas can be a bit of a hassle to manage. Or bring a small umbrella. You will need one with you all the time if you are here during monsoon.

What not to wear:

  • Anything tight, sleeveless, strappy, or above the knee. 
  • Anything so delicate it can’t survive a stain or a wash.
  • This should be obvious, but anything that, shall we say, co-opts sincerely held religious beliefs into kitsch. Leave your Krishna t-shirts at home.

Wages and bargains

C and I employ two people, a driver (Sagar) and a housekeeper (Asha). Asha cooks and cleans. We apparently pay them way more than the going rate. This doesn’t particularly worry me (except perhaps with Sagar, who gets *a lot* more than most drivers but gives us a lot less). I don’t see anything fundamentally unethical about employing people to work in your home. Domestic work is work. (And the chances of me having my lunch cooked for me 6 days a week once I return to Australia are slim indeed…). There’s a lot of talk on expat lists (and among middle-class Indians) about the ‘right’ wages for maids in particular, and making sure you’re not paying too much.  To give some facts before I get going with the polemic, maids’ wages are worked out per task, per month. So, washing dishes, for instance, is one task.  The various tasks are totted up, and then you agree on a monthly wage. Asha works for us part-time, but some maids work full time (and may live in or out).

What I’m about to say is restricted to expats. It’s really easy to be beguiled by the labour arbitrage concept. The fact that ‘arbitrage’ is commonly used on the share market makes it easy to think that you’re simply lucky, living overseas with the income of your home country and the expenses of your temporary home. But with labour, you’re not exchanging one thing for another as you might with shares or currency. The people that are working for you have a lower standard of living than someone doing the same work in your home country. Don’t, to put it bluntly, be a dick. Pay well. Pay over the odds. Pay on time. Expect the agreed work to be done, but give reasonable time off. I’m not saying that you should make ex gratia payments out of affluenza guilt, but when you make your bargain, be generous. Don’t you want someone who will be in your home almost every day to be happy with the bargain they’ve made with you? 

This Economist blog entry is worth a read, and by way of contrast have a look at this article from the tabloid Mumbai Mirror (the comments indicate that it is satire, but I’m not sure from the article itself).  

My mehndi


I had mehndi done last weekend at the annual family day for our ‘society’ (block of flats).  It cured to a very dark brown in the first couple of days, then began to flake off. It’s now faded in a way that makes my hand look shabby chic.

Ad countdown


Indian TV (English-language TV, anyway) has two awesome features with ads that I think should be emulated – a ticker at the top left of the screen to let you know how much time remains in the ad break, and the name of the program in the top right.  And yes, I am watching Packed to the Rafters.

Methi thepla

Asha made methi thepla (pronounced MEH-tee TEP-lah) for lunch today. Methi thepla are a Gujarati flatbread, with mehti (fresh fenugreek). Methi looks a little like a cross between oregano and spinach, with an agreeably dark, slightly aniseed taste. I’d never had fresh fenugreek before coming to India. Her recipe was atta (wholegrain flour), oil, methi, turmeric, green chilli, coriander powder, and chilli. Although I’m pretty sure Asha didn’t use cumin, this recipe from Manjula’s Kitchen otherwise looks pretty damn close. She served the methi thepla with plain dahi (yoghurt), and a very sweet carrot and tomato dish that was something of a hybrid between a relish and a stew. C and I had the leftover thepla with fried eggs for dinner, which was delicious.



The sound of Asha’s bangles clicking as she makes chapatti.

Being woken by the sounds of a march outside one Sunday, assuming it was a protest and then finding out it was a real canary in the coalmine indicator of India’s growing middle class — an awareness-raising fun run.

The pigeons constantly woo, woo, woo-ing outside my study window.

A little boy, who must have been about two, sitting on his father’s knees on a motorbike and holding on to the handlebars gingerly as they went over a speed-bump.

Red stains from gouts of betel-spit on the tarmac.