Festivals mean many different things to me and they engage all my senses. Festivals are about the history of celebrating that festival through time and in different parts of the world.  They are about art in terms of the music connected to that festival, about visual art and even the dresses we wear on the day of the festival. Festivals are about family and society which comes together during festivals to celebrate together or at the very least greet each other.  Most importantly they are about the food which to me brings together all the different aspects and combines the outside with the inside.

Festivals also hold a mirror to society and tells me what are we about, our state of affairs, what excites us and how do we celebrate (or not celebrate). Although festivals take their spiritual basis from religion, they have become so much more and are part of our culture. It would seem strange to me to live anywhere and not wish everyone for Xmas, Eid or Diwali. Living in a country which I still don’t quite understand , festivals are an excellent way of connecting, understanding and eagerly peering through that mirror into the lives of my fellow countrymen. Some of them embrace the festivities, some run away to warmer climates, others hibernate and some paint Friday black.

One thing that I have stood for all my life is that I belong to all religions. I like to wish everyone and be in turn wished for all festivals and then partake in the food and drink ! Nothing irritates me more is when people for some reason assume that I will take offence at being wished Merry Xmas and instead wish me a Happy Festive Season. I accept if someone who doesn’t celebrate Xmas doesn’t want to wish me Merry Xmas but if you wearing a Santa hat and clearly very festive, happy festive season is not good enough.

So have a good Xmas. That wasn’t so hard.

I have only read about what Beatlemania was like, but I can get a fair idea of what it is like as London seems to be in the grip of Murraymania. The country is pining for its first British (if not English) winner at Wimbeldon since 1936 and this year it seems ever so closer. Murray since his defeat at the finals last year has won his first Grand Slam and an Olympic gold and seems in murderous form.

In the past fortnight, the frenzy levels are the same as if England are playing an Ashes test match and are competing in World Cup football at the same time. Like for example, it wasn’t immediately apparent on news websites today that there was a ladies final going to happen in the afternoon. All the talk was about Murray’s semi final victory yesterday and the upcoming final with Djokovic tomorrow.

Watching that match at the local pub yesterday it was obvious that it must be painful to host the premier tennis tournament in the world and not have a local winner. Business papers take parallels from it and say that Wimbeldon typifies London where it is easy to come and do business , and while it is good business it doesn’t generate any local winners. If Murray doesn’t make it this year then one wonders if he will ever win it.

The bookies however seem to have been unaffected by all this and the odds are for Djokovic to win it in 4 sets.

I moved to London 5 years ago and its has often felt like I have joined a party that is coming to an end. It has been a long and a wild party where everyone has been on this roller coaster that only went up.  The country was stable, the economy was booming, liberal ideas were everywhere and there was a general well being all around and what’s more no one really had to work that hard and if you didn’t want to work at all then the government took care of you. It is probably what the Victorians must have felt in their hey days. 

This party is now winding down and the hangover is beginning to bite. It manifests itself in many ways – workers demand bonuses for doing their jobs, unions striking for the sake of it, immigration is suddenly not politically correct any more and there is immense displeasure at welfare payments being reduced. Workers complain for being made to work only for work experience at a very low pay and now the government even wants to clamp down on cash payments to handyman and cooks. It is hard to see how the government and the economy is going to pull itself out of the rut and manage the overall decline in its global standing,

But their is still some top grade stock left over from the party which is pulled out to make the hangover better temporarily. This has been on show in the run up to the Olympics and with all the accompanying soft power paraphernalia. This will be a summer to remember not only because of the Olympics, but also because Britain is probably going to look back and think of it as the end of the glory days.

Living in London I sometimes forget I live in the United Kingdom. It is probably because so many different communities and cultures live here and they stubbornly refuse to integrate and the authorities seem to have given up and are instead integrating with them and so local council literature is often published in many languages. It is also because I hardly see the Union Jack or the St. George’s cross unless there is a big sporting event. Even in the sporting event, the visitors seem to have more passionate fan following than the english team and hence the ‘cricket test’. I suspect half of london will fail the cricket test and proudly so.

So I have been surprised to now see the Union Jack everywhere. I see it on the cover of my dishwasher packet, on lighters and even on the buntings on Regent street. This reminds of the post 9/11 America with stars & stripes everywhere. There are of course good reasons for it. It is the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics are around the corner and even the PM has asked everyone to get behind Team GB.

But I wonder if there is another reason behind this. As the economic forecast gets even worse and the worst of the austerity is yet to come and the government has this interest in measuring happiness , maybe this is a way of improving the general well-being and putting on a fresh coat of paint on a crumbling house.

I had never imagined that things would come to this one day. Living in India, I used to be crazy about global news and I used to latch on to whatever snippets that used to come my way. From that situation to the situation last week where I was feeling very homesick ( even by my high standards!) and so I was on a bit of an India binge. Thankfully, I live in a city which gives me ample opportunities (apart from the food) to do that. So here is the week that was:

Twelfth night- I don’t now much about Shakespeare and I think I have possibly seen not more than 2 or 3 plays of his so far. But I am a theatre fan and so when I heard that the Globe Theatre was doing Shakespeare in the major languages of the world I had to go to the Hindi one and when the tickets for the weekend got sold out, I had to take leave and go on a weekday afternoon ! I am so glad that I went. I don’t know much about the original play, but the hindi adaptation on its own merit was brilliant. The theatre group gave this a very rustic feel and the characters were straight out of an Indian town. The music was very original and had different forms from hindustani, to sufi and qawalis. It reminded me of my days of going to the NSD festival except this was much better. 

Hockey –  I am still sore that in the socialist republic of UK everything (from Wimbledon to Olympics) is sold via ballot and given my luck I don’t win anything (apart from shooting and hockey). So when I heard that India was here for the hockey warm up series I had to go to see them. Warm up was only in name because we were sitting in freezing cold weather watching the Indian team refuse to take off their jackets until they absolutely had to while the British team were running around in sleeveless shirts. Talk about a home advantage ! The Indians lost 2-1, but they played well and I have hopes for a mid table finish at the Olympics. 

Cuckold – was the book I was reading by Kiran Nagarkar. It is set in Mewar in the early16th century. The book is a half fictional historical account of the Mewar kingdom in those times and is narrated by the crown prince who had the dual distinction of being associated with two more famous historical characters. He was married to Meera Bai and fought Babur who had taken charge of the Delhi sultunate. I have been skirting around the edges of Babarnama for sometime now and resisting its lure. 

My office canteen has now started to serve a half decent Indian thali. While eating it, I started to wonder if the food has really improved or have I given up and lowered my standards of Indian food or is it a bit of both. Then my thoughts turned to this so-called famous Indian dish – chicken tikka masala.

This is not a preparation that I recognise. The closest to it that I have had in India is a tawa chicken at some greasy all  nighter after an alcohol fuelled evening. No matter how much I loved those places for providing me with food in the middle of night, those places are not exactly known for culinary excellence and I would never order it when I am more in my senses !  But even they seemed to do a decent tawa chicken than the chicken tikka masala that I get here.

This led me further into the recent protest by Asian restaurants on the new visa scheme which prevents chefs from India to come to the UK.  Given the quality of so-called Indian food here I think this is a good thing. They will hopefully be fewer Indian restaurants which serve decent food and not the stale, heavy and over spiced food that is passed off as Indian food. Also I don’t see why do you need an Indian chef to do Indian food ?

Food plays a big part of my state of being and if I get to eat delicious and different kinds of food then I am willing to ignore some of my other miseries ! When I came to London, I didn’t quite expect the excellent quality of food.  One thing that has been disappointing has been the level of  north indian food but even that seems to be getting better.  Because I am lazy, I am lucky to have excellent food right on my doorstep in the local high street. Here are my options:

The local pub – this one is a newly and fabulously restored pub with winter fires , mulled wine and traditional ales. But what is even more interesting is that it serves authentic Thai food six out of 7 days. Sunday is when they have the traditional roasts and when it looks and smells like a traditional pub.  The pub has everything except free wi-fi so I can’t yet do ‘working from home’ there !

Persian food – my area is home to a big Iranian diaspora and that is reflected in the number and quality of Persian food. On my local street, there is one run by two women and is probably named after their town in Iran. The food again is excellent.

Nepali/north Indian – my street has 4 or 5 nepali and indian restaurants of which only 2 are good, the others I don’t think I am going to go unless I am very homesick and everything else is closed !

South Indian – whats been an absolute bonus is an excellent south indian / sri lankan restaurants which serves the best food from that part of the world ( as in fish curry, prawn curry, everything devilled) . Priya swears that they make at least one dish as good as her grandmom !

Italian – two italian places of which one has a proper wood fired oven but food is average.

Chinese – I have three options here, one is a Cantonese take away, other is more Mainlandish and the third is Michelin starred which I have not tried yet. the first is standard fare and the second has a wonderful steamed fish which is yum !

Coffee shops and bakeries – we have some choices between a french style cafe, middle eastern style with excellent home-made biscuits or a persian style with shisha in the night. There is also a local stand alone bakery which has the yummiest looking shop window.

Others – these are ones that I am not interested in trying – fish and chip shop, polish delis and fried food joints

But I want more, so here is my 2012 wish list for additions to my high street:

– French food

– a good authentic north indian

–  a better italian

– another east asian

Bon a petit !

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