Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Singapore Fling

Singapore is one of those countries that is a hot bed of activities - touristic, artistic, cultural, musical, etc. The Tourism authorities have successfully created a value proposition for the visitor who may be a business person, a family vacationer, a shopping addict or an arts and culture enthusiast. There is always something new happening in Singapore, enticing you to return for more.

In the recent past I have been fortunate enough to experience world class productions like The Lion King, Swan Lake - a ballet on ice, Elton John live and recently, the Titanic memorial exhibition.

Some of the other things I love about Singapore are:
  • Food, food and more food. The cultural diversity of Singapore is reflected in its food. You can get any type of food here from a Brazilian charcuterie to the Chilli Crab and not to mention the Indian, Malay and Chinese local food. It is cheap, fresh and wholesome and easy available. My all time favourite breakfast is yam pau with kopi.
  • Shopping. I believe Singaporeans are shopping addicts. You cannot escape it even if you wanted to.
  • The beach. I love the way they have made the most of their resources. ECP is my favourite hangout in the evenings.

Yam pau (photo courtesy - Internet)

The famous Chilli Crab

The beautiful East Coast Park (ECP)

The Merlion

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bombay - a walk down memory lane.....

Yesterday, I had the opportunity of rediscovering a little bit about my fascinating city Bombay. Smita and I had signed up for a heritage walk of the Fort area with Alisha of The Inheritage Project. Though it was a hot day to begin with, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and at the end thought it a very well spent afternoon.

Alisha was a very captivating and knowledgeable guide. And she is passionate about this fascinating city which really makes you want to enrol for more tours with her in the future. As she describes her project on her facebook page........

The Inheritage Project aims to promote active, hands-on and minds-on engagement with heritage. This mission is grounded in the belief that heritage – tangible and intangible, cultural and physical, yours, mine and ours – matters. It matters as a vital source of pride and identity, of learning and understanding, and of fun, pleasure and inspiration. By building understanding and appreciation for heritage amongst those to whom it belongs, one step and individual at a time, the Inheritage Project aspires to stimulate its preservation in the long run.

‘Inheritage’, a play on the word 'inheritance', reflects our fundamental aim of putting the individual at the centre of our activities. We believe that heritage is rendered meaningless without the people that inherit it, that understand, interpret, value, use, and eventually transmit this heritage.

The heritage walk that we had chosen was for a duration of 3 hours and started at the Asiatic Library. The Asiatic Library was built as the Town Hall on the island of Bombay where the East India Company had decided to build a Fort. Pity, that the remnants of the fort no longer exist..........but ironically the area is still referred to as Fort. Am sure not many people even know why. At least I didn't, till yesterday.
The Horniman Circle as it stands today, didn't exist till much later. It used to be the Cotton Green where the cotton was assembled, weighed, packed and transported. Much later, a garden was built and around it a crescent shaped set of buildings which were the first buildings to house the business district of Bombay.
The East India Company was quite progressive and invited people of all religions, regions and backgrounds to live within the fort area and set up their businesses. Therefore it is not surprising that Bombay has been cosmopolitan and business oriented for over 500 years.
We revisited sights that we had seen and probably visited in the past but were now getting to know more intimately through Alisha. St Thomas Cathedral was next on the list. It was the first Anglican church in Bombay and was built between the European quarter and Indian quarter in the Fort Area. It was built as a place of worship for the English population and was also built to attract people from other faiths so that they could be converted.
Post that we walked by the University, the Rajabai Tower, the High Court, the Watson Hotel, Kalaghoda, the Army Navy building, Sassoon Library, Elphinstone College, Jehangir Art Gallery, the NGMA, the Police Headquarters, Dhanraj Mahal and ending at the Gateway of India.
Some of the things I picked up during the tour:
  • Every building has a story which makes the building most fascinating. For eg. The Asiatic Library was built in 1804 in the neo Classical style because they wanted to make a statement about the importance of Bombay.
  • The Asiatic Library was originally the Town Hall and the side wings were offices of the Asiatic Society which was formed to collect and record information about the region. This was to promote learning and understanding of the people, culture and region. In the bargain it served as an archive of our past and is great reservoir of information.
  • Only one of two known original copies of Dante's Divine Comedy is part of its collection. Apparently in the 1940s Mussolini had offered the society over a million dollars to buy the copy as he termed it "Italy's national treasure". To our good fortune, the society turned down the offer.
  • The Fort area is known as Fort because there actually was one there.
  • St Thomas Cathedral was the first Anglican church in Bombay and its tower was meant to be the highest point in the city.
  • The road we now know as DN Road was actually the boundary of the fort and had walls with a moat separating it from the Esplanade.
  • There were 3 gates to the Fort - Apollo Gate which is now Lion's Gate, Church Gate which is near the Flora Fountain and the Bazaar Gate which is near VT.
  • Bombay Gothic is a style of architecture which is unique to Bombay. What makes it unique is the modification to the original Gothic style where in the new style they had larger windows with some verandahs which were meant to capture the cool sea breeze, the double roofing to ease the heat and the decorative motifs which are uniquely Indian in nature.
  • The University and the High Courts were built in the Bombay Gothic style. They were all meant to be sea facing buildings which would impress the people arriving on the ship to a new land.
  • The Gateway of India was supposed to be a gateway to the city. The architect had originally planned to demolish all the buildings in its path and create an impressive central avenue with waterways, etc. He unfortunately could not implement his idea as he ran out of funds.
  • It was also known as the getaway point of India as the British troops left from there amidst great fanfare.
  • The Watson Hotel is India's oldest surviving cast iron building and is unique in its own right. Much as we do not realise its importance, elsewhere in the world other heritage societies are interested in its conservation. This is because there are very few examples of such buildings in the world and we should be proud to have it in India. The entire frame and the bricks for the building were made in England and transported to India. Such a design was a precussor to the skyscrapers which would come much later.
  • After Miami, Bombay has the highest number of Art Deco buildings. These were built by rich Indians who wanted to make a style statement as well as wanted to be treated with respect and equality. These Indians were educated overseas, were thinkers, merchant princes and did not want to be treated like second class citizens. Prime examples of these buildings are Eros, Metro and all the other cinema halls, Dhanraj Mahal, etc.
  • The entrance to the Taj Mahal Hotel was always supposed to be where it is and not as rumour has it built incorrectly. Also the French architect did not commit suicide as is widely believed. The hotel was supposed to take advantage of the sea breeze and that is why most of the rooms are sea facing.
  • If you look closely at the Taj building, you will see influences from every part of India - arches of all kinds, Hindu and Muslim influences and most surprisingly (which I confess have never noticed before) verandahs from the East Indian villages of Bombay.
  • Indo-Saracenic style of architecture is again unique to India and was the British way of amalgamating Hindu and Muslim influences. They did so with no fixed method. So we have examples of such architecture which is very unique - The Gateway of India. The Indo-Saracenic architecture found in Calcutta and Madras are very different from that found in Bombay.
  • The merchant princes who funded these important buildings were actually into the opium trade! Bombay was the drug capital of India.
  • When Maharashtra was founded and the zealots wanted the statues of all things/people British removed, they were sent to the Bombay Zoo! I wonder. That is going to be my next stop.
As we walked through the old Fort area and listened to Alisha recount stories from yester years, one could not help feeling a barrage of emotions - pride, that Bombay used to be one of the most important cities in the world; sorrow, to see the neglect and apathy; despair, to see there is no sense of urgency to conserve our rich history and heritage for future generations; hope, to note that there are still some (like Alisha) who care and are doing their bit even if it is a drop in the ocean.

The Asiatic Library was built as the Town Hall

It was built in the Greco Roman style with Doric columns

St Thomas Cathedral

Each gravestone has its own story to tell.

Beautiful stained glass

The Flora Fountain

Rajabai Tower

The High Court

The University Convocation Hall

The Watson Hotel with its original iron grill work

The Army Navy Building which was always a department store.

The Watson Hotel (now a decrepit building) and the Rajabai tower in the distance.

The David Sassoon Library

Elphinstone College

The frieze featuring Neptune and merlions.

The Police Headquarters

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Christmas in New Zealand

The best part about Christmas is time spent with the family and ofcourse the delicious food prepared. 2011 Christmas and New Year was spent with my sister Tiana and brother-in-law Giles in Auckland. The highlights of the trip are...............
  • Christmas lunch with Mum, Tiana and Giles.
  • The awesome Kiwi and Indian cuisine - Ham on the bone, pork vindaloo, roasted kumara, trifle pudding, mince pies.
  • Visiting family and friends.
  • The presents under the Christmas tree.
  • Checking out the Christmas lights at Skillgate avenue.
  • Planning the trip to the Coromandel and Waiheke Island.
  • The day spent at the wave pool.
  • The yummy food consumed - yum char, Nando's, Chinese from Flourishing Cafe, butter chicken at Masala (though I dont think highly of their service)