The tiffin box

the tiffin box

One of the things that I wanted to see in action when we moved here was the tiffin. I had learned of them a number of years ago through a news clip on a tiffin service that was being offered in Toronto. This company provided hot lunches, for delivery or pick-up, and it came neatly packaged in a multi-layered metal container like the one pictured above. It was my understanding that the word “tiffin” referred to the container, and I really wanted to see if they are actually used in India.

It became apparent to me, just days into our stay in India that not only are tiffins used, they are EVERYWHERE. We mostly see workers carrying them, but there are also a number of school children who carry them to school, as well as caterers and food cart vendors (or wallas) who use gigantic ones. Most have two, three, or four uniform containers that seal as they stack on top of each other. They are held together by a latch on each side, and seem to be liquid tight. Our driver, Subbu, even has an insulated sleeve for his, so that he can keep his meal either hot or cold.

I have now learned that the meal itself (usually lunch) is actually the tiffin, and the stacked container is the tiffin box. Traditionally, these tiffins consist of a dal, a curry, some rice or bread (naan, roti, paratha…) and possibly a raita or a dessert. Some cities in India, like Mumbai, even have a vast network of tiffin wallas, who deliver hot lunches from home to the men who are at work. I am not sure if Bangalore has such a network, but I am sure that Willy would love to have a hot lunch from home delivered to his desk.

I have fallen in love with the idea of the tiffin box, and know that I will be bringing one home to Canada, so that I can bring my own tiffin to work with me. Early on in Tamara and Chris’ recent visit, Tamara and I were talking about them, and she mentioned that she might like to have one if we could find one that was reasonably priced and not too big or small. This past Tuesday was their last day in Bangalore, so I offered to pick one up for her if I could find one while out shopping. The lils and I were pleased to find that our grocery store had a good selection, and we picked one up. Actually, we picked three up, as Woo and Goose decided that they MUST have them as well.

Our new tiffin boxes
They can’t wait to bring their lunches and snacks to school in their new tiffin boxes. In the meantime, they demand that their meals be served in them at home!



Wordless wednesday – Agra Fort

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My defenses are down

The first time I saw a cockroach in our house, I freaked out a little bit a lot. They are the one bug that really gets to me, my nemesis, my kryptonite. It was in our bathroom, the one attached to our bedroom! I called Willy and had him dispose of it, then glared at him and emphatically stated that “THIS WAS NOT PART OF THE DEAL”, even though I had had an inkling. Based on what I read and knew of this climate, I knew that I would likely have a couple in our house. The problem that I was having was that I had forgotten how big they could be in a tropical climate.

So big that that night, I lay in bed worrying that one would attack the littles while they slept. Irrational, yes, but it was THAT big, and it flew! I got through the night, and the next few weeks without seeing anything, and I started to relax. Until I got out of bed in the middle of the night and saw a black blob in the bathroom. Not having my glasses on, I moved in a little closer to see what it was, figuring that one of the lils had thrown a sock in the tub. I got just close enough to see what it was and it scurried. Away from me, thankfully. Given that it was the middle of the night, and I could see that it could not climb out of the tub, I put on my big girl panties and went to the kitchen to get a container to trap it in.

But they fly.

When I returned to the bathroom, it had escaped the tub and was on the ledge, scurrying to the dark of the bedroom. That tupperware flew out of my hands and somehow managed to trap it. Knowing that it was safe for the night, I eventually got back to sleep, and happily let Willy dispose of it in the morning. We’d been in the house for two months at this point, and had had two of these nasty buggers. I hoped it wasn’t the start of a trend.

A few weeks went by, and I started to relax. Then one night I walked in to the bathroom, unsuspecting, and it was. This one was fast, and moved to the door and into the darkness of OUR BEDROOM. Willy was summoned, and tried to catch it, but it hid under the too large to move wardrobe. We went to bed, but I couldn’t stop worrying about it, so Willy offered to get up and flush it out. He was successful and I was able to sleep.

Our last visitor came about six weeks ago, and made a rather startling entrance. We were sitting in the living room and something thudded on the floor near us. It seems this one decided to commit suicide off the second floor and ruin our weekly wine night. At least it was easy to catch, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Lately the fact that it has been so long since one of these big buggers showed up has been starting to bother me. I think that we are due so I have been doing my best prepare myself. I walk into the bedroom, turn on the light, then go to the bathroom, turn on the light. I lean my head in and peek, venturing in only when the coast is clear. This was working perfectly till the freaking light in the bathroom burnt out this week. The light that is located on the ceiling, at the highest point in the house, in the house with no ladders. It’s likely only twenty feet up, but it seems like eighty.

The back-up light is switched inside the bathroom, BEHIND the door. There is no way to turn it on without going in the room. This has messed me up to the point where I am paralyzed, and stand in the doorway trying to decide how to get in the bathroom without going in the bathroom to turn on the light. There is much hesitation and several aborted attempts before I actually make it in, only to forget why I am actually there in the first place, or to realize that I forgot to turn on the bedroom light first, so anything could be scurrying into the bedroom, now that I have left it as a safe haven. I try not to think about them, but at night, my mind goes into overdrive.

So I am happy to keep all the geckos in the house, as I am told they should help. I just won’t let my rational side see that the geckos are all pretty much smaller than the roaches.



So poor

There has been a lot of talk in the local media this week about the poverty rates in India. The poverty is one of the hardest things that I have faced since moving to India.  Almost 40 percent of the population is believed to live below the poverty line and many of those live in slums in the larger cities.  Cities like Bangalore.

When Willy and I first arrived here, we were informed that the “poverty line” for India was set at approximately 35 rupees per day for urban areas, and 25 rupees for rural areas.  These amounts translate into roughly 70¢ and 50¢ Canadian.  Those numbers continue to shock us both, as we can’t fathom being able to live on $15 – $20 A MONTH.  Yes, the cost of living is much lower, but not that much lower.  We see it daily, from the moment we step outside of our community, our little bubble.

There are small and large areas of slum dwellings pretty much everywhere you go, everywhere you look.  There are a number of families that squat in an open lot between the parking lot of the lils’ school and the lane that we walk down to the school building.  They live in shacks that have no electricity, no running water, but they have the luxury of a few feet between their house and their neighbour`s, something that this not seen in the large and packed slums that we also see in our travels.  Official estimates say that approximately 10% of Bangalore’s population lives in slums, but I can see that the numbers are higher, much higher (by our definition). It is generally accepted that 30-40% of the population live in slums.  Bangalore is a city of 9.5 million people, which means that at least 3 million people live in slums.  That is more than three times the population of Ottawa.  It`s sobering. I know too that we have been protected, that we haven’t seen the worst of it.  We catch glimpses of it when we travel to the poorest states, like Uttar Pradesh, where Agra and the Taj Mahal are located.  Or travel to other large cities like Delhi and Mumbai, where 50 – 60 % of the population lives in slums.

Poverty has been in the national news this week, as the latest figures on the percentage of the population deemed to be poor have been released. It seems that the numbers have dramatically dropped over the last five years, and officials state there has been a decrease of almost 7 per cent in the national poverty rate.  In five years.  This decline is more significant in my state, Karnataka, where the drop is said to be closer to 10 per cent.  This appears to be a substantial development at first glance.  When one delves just a little bit further, they see that this reported drop is tied to a similar drop in the figures used to determine the “poverty line”, a move away from the anecdotal figures that we have been told, and away from the UN determination for poverty.  The new current figures use a rate of 28 rs (urban) and 22 rs (rural).

I don’t see how this arbitrary lowering helps the poor in India, other than telling almost 100 million people that they are no longer poor, and that they very likely will lose the meagre subsidies and coupons that they received when they were “poor”.  There is also little that I can do in my time here, poverty India is systemic, is generational, is structural.  It hurts in ways that I never anticipated.

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Wordless Wednesday – to market, to market

Ready for sale

Piles of garlands


Green onions

Garlic aplenty

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I sat and watched the sun rise this morning. There were no distractions, no interruptions.  I was alone, and I loved it. I was alone, so I just took the time to watch it creep up in the sky, filling my world with a brilliant and warm red glow. On any other day I would have chosen to stay in bed, to grab a few extra minutes of sleep, but today was not any other day.  This morning I was sitting on an airplane, waiting to fly to Delhi and then travel on to Agra, to once again visit the Taj Mahal. 

We were here just two weeks ago. While I loved viewing the Taj with my family, and would be completely satisfied if I never visited again, I am selfishly excited that I have the opportunity to be here again, and drink it all in.  I am traveling with friends, but I am also alone.

As I watched the sun set on the Taj tonight, I loved every minute.  I was close enough to appreciate the beauty and majesty, yet not close enough to touch it, that will come tomorrow. So I just enjoyed the moment.  There were no distractions, no cries of “mama”, no little people to watch out for.  I was able to take the time to bask, to compose my thoughts and my shots, to take the pictures that I wanted to take, not the pictures I managed to squeeze in.  It was a wonderful moment, evening, day, and I will repeat it tomorrow.    

While I miss Willy and the lils terribly, and would love for them to experience Agra again, I will take this one for me.  Alone. 



The dew nut tree

We are quite happy that the lils have great imaginations.  They keep themselves entertained on long flights, long waits for toys to arrive from home, and many a long drive in and around Bangalore and beyond.  They also keep up entertained, which is an added bonus.

About a month after we moved here, I began to hear the lils talk about a number of new things, one of them being dew nuts.  I didn’t really ask, as I figured that they were either imaginary or a passing fad. They kept talking about them, and I got more curious, but they were never around when I asked.  Then one day Woo and Goose were making a concoction with odds and sods that they found in the park, and they called it “dew nut soup”.  I asked for some, mostly so I could see what it was.  They served my portion, and the main ingredient was this:
Dew nut

None of us knew where they came from, they were just lying on the ground.  They seemed to be pretty common, as they were in a few spots in the park, and near our house.

A few weeks ago I was admiring the beautiful flowering tree in our front yard:
Sunny day, bright flowers

Pretty purple flowers

When I looked passed the flowers and saw DEW NUTS!
Look past the flowers

Look past the flowers

Now we know where they come from, and the lils are excited to have a seemingly endless supply, to cook with, break apart and examine, and “feed” to the neighbourhood bugs and cats.  I still don’t know what they are called, but I am happy with my pretty tree and the joy it brings us all, for different reasons.

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Plan B

I am really lucky to have two great friends from home visiting this week and next.  We have been planning for their visit since about a week after Willy and I announced that we were moving to Bangalore, so this has been a LONG time coming.  I am really enjoying their company, and think they are coping pretty well with having to hang out with me!

The visit has forced me into the role of tour guide, which I am not entirely comfortable with.  Willy is an excellent tour guide.  He reads the blurbs, gets the audio guide, or has someone provide him with a guided tour, then REMEMBERS it all and passes it on to whomever he next shares the place with.  He also has an uncanny ability to know exactly where he is and how to get to where you want to be without needing maps, GPS`s, or quickly and quietly ascertaining which is his left or right hand*. Sadly, he has to work (hello, sugar daddy!) so I am that gal for this trip.

Thankfully, I had an ace up my sleeve for this trip, in that I have spent very little time exploring the city markets that are scattered about.  I was saving them for Tamara and Chris, as they too are photographers, and I knew they would be happy to walk around and shoot with me.  About four weeks ago, I decided that I wanted to take them to Russell Market, one of the oldest markets in Bangalore.  One week after that, a large fire broke out overnight and caused significant damage to the building.

I was sad to learn of that, but put the thought out of my mind until yesterday, when we were planning our week.  They were keen to market, so I asked around and was told that the market was expected to re-open this morning!  We though it was perfect timing and set off.  When we arrived, I was clear that the market was indeed operational, but few stalls were open, and about three quarters of the stalls were under repair.  I know I felt let down and could tell that Tamara and Chris were hoping for a little bit more.

Thinking, I stepped to the side and whipped out my phone to determine that one of the other major markets (K.R. Market) was reasonably close.  We headed to the car and verified that Subbu knew exactly where we wanted to go.  Upon arrival it was clear that we were not to be disappointed. The sights, the smells, the bustle and the sounds all amounted to a bit of sensory overload and a photographer’s paradise.  We happily watched and shot away the next hour or so.  Thank goodness I had been there before and was able to use it as a back-up plan!

KR Market
*yes, I am THAT directionally challenged. 



Wordless Wednesday – Holi



*photos by Willy*



Visiting the Taj Mahal

If you are planning on visiting the Taj Mahal, and are looking for some tips, scroll to the bottom of this post

If you had asked me a little over a month ago if I thought I would gladly spend twelve hours (each way) travelling to a tourist destination, only to spend a little over three hours there, I would have told you that it would never happen.  I had just been through a couple of rounds of visitors, and several long trips both near and far from home, including a close brush with a cyclone.  The proposed trip was to see the Taj Mahal, though, so we started planning.

On my “bucket list”, it was still a trip that I never thought I would make.  Likely the best known landmark in the world, it is in a place far, far from home. I longed to visit, to learn, to soak it in, and to photograph it.  Then we moved to India, and I knew that I could not leave without seeing it.

Our family left early Friday morning, flew to Delhi and drove to Agra.  Our plan was that I would hang back in the hotel on Saturday morning, while Willy went to view the building at dawn.  He was stood up by our driver, which actually turned out to be a good thing for us.  In making alternate arrangements for his transportation late Friday night, I learned that the hotel offered a horse drawn carriage ride to the Taj.  Knowing that the lils would LOVE this, I signed us up.

When Woo, Goose, and I met the carriage at the front of the hotel, they were literally humming with excitement.

There were two attendants all dressed in white, guiding two lovely horses.  As we settled in, the driver had the horses trot a little down the laneway towards the road.  Woo looked up at me, his eyes as big as saucers, and said, “Mom, I knew they would run!!!!!”, before he and Goose settled in to a content and quiet snuggle on the bench.  They watched in awe as we moved slowly down the roads, completely oblivious to the excited shouts and waves of the children we passed.  When we stopped to buy the admission ticket, one of the attendants placed them on the driver’s bench so that I could take their picture.  When the other man returned with the ticket, they were allowed to stay up there and “drove” us to the drop off point.  This made the day memorable for us all.

We were lucky and there was not a line at our gate.  We met up with Willy, and walked through the gateway to our first real viewing of the Taj.

Taj Mahal

We were all impressed, but Woo most of all.  He was quite keen to learn all that Willy had learned from his guide, and to get up close to the building.  As we walked along, I took a few shots and listened to Woo and Goose quiz Willy on the history of the building and the love story behind it.  I knew little of this, and took it all in with them.  As we paused to cover our shoes, I began to feel very emotional about our visit.  It wasn’t just the story behind the building, which was built to honour Shah Jahan’s wife, who had died in childbirth or the efforts made in the twenty-two years to build this magnificent building.  It was also the fact that I was realizing a dream of mine, and that I was sharing it with my family.

We wandered at a leisurely speed and soaked in as much as we could.  Willy was lucky to have had an hour or so before we arrived, and I will be going back really soon with some friends who are visiting from Ottawa, so we let the lils decide when they had seen enough.  After a few hours of soaking it all in, we returned to the carriage, and Woo once again drove us back to the hotel.

If you are planning on visiting the Taj Mahal, here are some of my hints and tips.

  • It is closed on Friday, save for prayers between noon and 2:00pm
  • The reflecting pools are drained on Friday and Saturday
  • Admission is 750rs (about $15 CAD) for tourists, 20rs ($0.40 CAD) for Indians
  • Children under the age of 15 are free
  • Your ticket is valid from sunrise to sunset, but there is no re-entry allowed.    So you can stay as long as you like once you are in, but you can’t leave and come back under the same admission fee.
  • There is an evening viewing for the five days around the full moon, but you can’t purchase these tickets on the Taj grounds.  it is limited to groups of 50, who are let in for 30 minutes.
  • You must buy your ticket at a separate building / queue.  The building for the East gate is quite far from the gate, but they shuttle you to the gate once you have purchased your ticket.
  • There are guides available, but there is great variability in the information that they provide you with.  They may or may not be affiliated with the Taj.
  • Ask at your hotel if they can buy the tickets for you and have them waiting.  Our hotel did offer this, but we requested it too late in the day.  It will save you standing in one line the morning of your visit.
  • You aren’t allowed to wear shoes up on the platform surrounding the tomb itself.  You can get/buy little disposable shoe covers, but they are flimsy and you end up taking your shoes off anyway.
  • You are allowed to carry a small bag/knapsack, but only if it is not too big.
  • I found this post – http://vmphotography.com.au/blog/tips-on-photographing-the-taj-mahal/ to be really helpful in preparing for my visit and thinking about photographing.
  • If you are looking to photograph it (and I didn’t really put much effort into photographing it THIS time), you are not allowed to bring a tripod in without a permit, which must be applied for well in advance.
  • Arrive REALLY early and don’t stop to admire anything until you are in front of the tomb if you really want the shot with few people in it.
  • I brought my 11-18mm and 24-70mm lenses and felt that they served me well.  I might bring my macro too next time, just for some of the detail on the buildings.
  • You are allowed to carry a cellphone (I’d seen conflicting info on this)


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