Tastes like chicken



The Naga tribes eat frogs. We saw several baskets of frogs for sale in Kohima. It’s difficult to make out on this picture, but the frogs’ legs were tied together to prevent escape. A passer-by told me that the Nagas think of frog meat as medicinal.

Inclusive language



Inclusive language has a little way to go in Manipur. Taken in central Imphal.

Strawberries in Mahabaleshwar

mahabaleshwar strawberries


The fruit and vegetables available in Mumbai are generally fine, but after I had a particularly bizarre reaction (involving fever) to some strawberries I was wary of buying them again in the city. My parents and I drove to the hill station village of Mahabaleshwar (about 300km south east of Mumbai) in early May for the weekend. Mahabaleshwar was the summer capital of Bombay province during the British Raj. My great-great-grandparents were married there in 1867.

Mahabaleshwar is very pleasant, although super touristy. I think it would be nice in the winter when it’s a little emptier – although not so enjoyable during the monsoon when it’s apparently spectacular but sodden. These strawberries, at Rs 80 per kilo, were delicious – so much so I bought 5 kilos!

‘Let corporate leaders have a say in how taxpayer money is spent’ (actual headline)

You have to admire the cut-out-the-middlemen directness of this campaign by the Times of India.

In summary:

In his budget speech on February 28, 2013, finance minister P Chidambaram announced a 10% surcharge on those with taxable income exceeding Rs 1 crore. He also announced that the surcharge on domestic companies would go up to 10% from 5% where the total income exceeds Rs 10 crore. [Approximately $200,000 AUD] As a means of raising resources, such measures makes little economic sense. The experience of the last two decades and more has shown that moderate tax rates encourage tax compliance and actually boost revenues.

A far better way of balancing the fisc [budget/books] would be to cut down on wasteful expenditure. As things stand, the government is accountable only to Parliament on how taxpayer money is spent. In other words, the political class has a monopoly on determining how this money is spent. Common sense tells us that the instincts of the political class will be to spend money on what they perceive to be most populist, not on what makes most sense in economic terms. What we need, therefore, is a mechanism to act as a check on these populist instincts. [emphasis added] We suggest that the best way of doing so is to constitute committees of eminent and credible corporate leaders representing various sectors of the economy to advise the government on expenditure. These are people who have a wealth of experience in managing large sums of money and who are not constrained by the need to ‘buy’ votes.

So, in short, the best way to deal with budget shortfalls is not to increase revenue, but to appoint a committee.

It’s interesting that the campaign assumes that the public service and Parliament are occupied by the ‘political class’, a discrete body.  Again, can’t tell whether that’s refreshingly clear eyed or a symptom of a broken system.

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!).

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.