Tag Archives: India

A year of life after Delhi

mehndi

This morning, as I was waiting for my extremely pretentious puehr-tea-with-dried-chrysanthemums to brew, I noticed my diary from last year sitting on a shelf, covered, as expected, with a light dusting of Gobi desert. It was strange flipping through 2012 again, with notes-to-self including “Republic Day – no Hindi class”, “Train to Orissa 6:30am” and “Chai in Chanakyapuri… Visit astrologer??” March 26th said “Close bank account”; a note which jolted me right back into the Saket branch of HDFC, where I had an awkward farewell with Harshvardhan Singh, who broke my heart by saying “I am destroying your cheque book in front of you, madam” and ripping the thing to shreds. Sigh.

Can you believe, dear readers, that it’s been a year since I left Delhi?

I think about India a lot, and I miss it. The chai and the autorickshaws, the choley kulcha stall at Delhi University. Mother Dairy butterscotch ice cream cones and Café Coffee Day. The smells of Old Delhi, Paharganj, INA market. The cows. The monkeys. The green parrots. Speaking in Hindi. Ajay Devgn’s moustache.

I will never forget my India, ever. Ever.

I promise.

But now, dear readers, it’s time to proclaim to the world that I think my heart belongs to China. To Inner Mongolia, especially. And to Baotou – Centre of the Universe. The city where women wear silver leggings and thigh-high faux-leather stilettoes to go to the supermarket, and where taxi drivers have cigarettes in one hand and iPhones in the other, and where eating frog hotpot is totally normal. It is completely mad here, beyond all comprehension, and for some reason that seems to suit me and I love it. And I’ve signed a contract to stay another year.

My students, some old, some new (including a boy called Squall and a girl called Eric), are hardworking and hilarious. I’m giving lectures on European History and Culture (or, more accurately, what I’ve taught myself about European history and culture via the BBC primary schools’ website), encouraging more Chinglish metaphors in my writing classes, and still attempting to learn Chinese.

The gym didn’t quite agree with me, though. A tragic loss, I know, but now I have a lot more free time to shovel Mr Cake red bean doughnuts into my face.

And what about my Chinese future husband? Well, it turns out he can cook and do kung fu, possibly even at the same time. Who wouldn’t want to marry a guy like that?!

This time last year my hands were doodled with mehndi from Green Park market and my suitcase – full of sparkly sandals, salwaar kameez and statues of Saraswati – was wrapped, Indian-style, in cling film. This year I still wear the jasmine perfume I bought from an old man in Varanasi, and the green parrot earrings from Dilli Haat. And now a fake jade necklace from Beijing. I listen to Bollywood and Fenghuang Chuanqi in roughly equal measures. And, yes, I drink pretentious puehr-tea-with-dried-chrysanthemums, but I also drink adharak wali chai. And sometimes when I try to speak Chinese, Hindi comes out instead.

This year pink cherry blossoms are slowly appearing on the Baotou trees, and I’m sentimental, as usual, but very happy.

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Caffeine dreams

As most of you know, I spent much of my time in India cultivating a dangerous chai habit. Every time I passed a local chaiwallah in Delhi I couldn’t resist buying a tiny cup of sweet, milky amazingness. It got me through the painful Hindi grammar lessons at DU, warmed me up on chilly winter mornings and gave me a little kick on hot, summery afternoons. These cups of desi tea were the sugary punctuation marks that organised my day.

But I have a confession to make. As much as I love a scalding-hot cup of full-fat cardamom chai, my first love – hot beverage-wise – has always been coffee.

When I was twelve, my friend and I used to go to a cafe after school and force ourselves to drink extra-chocolatey mochas. We hated coffee but were determined to acquire the taste so that we’d be able to sit sipping cappuccinos like sophisticated European grown-ups. The training worked, and before long I was on the hard stuff – strong, black, no sugar. And I never looked back.

In fact I admit that I may have turned into a bit of a coffee snob. Sure, there’s a time and a place for St*rbucks, but everyone knows you don’t get a decent caffeine hit from a Grande Extra-Hot Super-Skinny mug of milk.

Not that I only drink coffee for the caffeine. Making proper coffee is a morning ritual (as well as lunchtime, mid-afternoon and evening); the smell, the water just off the boil – and of course, if there’s time, it’s best enjoyed while still wearing pyjamas. But yes, I suppose the caffeine does count.

Drinking decent coffee is a particular necessity for teachers, obviously. I mean, how else could I survive a Monday morning class at 8am with twenty five students obsessed with Gangnam Style dancing? It takes energy. And when it’s still dark and minus fifteen degrees, I don’t have a lot of that.

So it’s a pity I’m living in another country of tea drinkers. Don’t get me wrong, I love Chinese tea (and here we’ve also got Mongolian milk tea, but best not to get me started on that), it’s just that it’s a bit too… healthy. Flowery. Leafy. A cup of water and leaves is not going to help me teach “Encounters with Westerners” classes to a lecture theatre full of giggling Chinese twentysomethings.

They also drink cups of plain hot water here. I mean, come on.

Anyway, for almost three months I had no choice but to resort to Nescafe. It works, and doesn’t taste all that bad, really, but oh, how I pined for my French press, my Italian moka pot, my Turkish cezve...

And then a miracle happened. Lisa took me shopping the other week so I could stock up on a few essentials (Christmas lights, alphabet fridge magnets and satsumas) and in the market I spotted a glass cafetiere. At first, in shock, I was sure I was dreaming, or suffering from some sort of Nescafe-induced hallucination, but no. It was real. Made in China, of course, but still with all-important proper-coffee-producing capabilities. I may have shrieked with joy.

Oh, and it was £3, I might add. I was smugness personified.

One week, and the scouring of the “Imported Goods” aisles of three Baotou supermarkets later, I acquired some ground coffee. And my life in China hasn’t been the same since. I can even take my freshly-brewed caffeinated amazingness to work in a thermos, to slurp with satisfaction as my students sit at their desks, bundled up in puffa jackets, writing topic sentences, discussing intercultural communication, Gangnam dancing…

It was all just blissful until English Bloke decided to calculate my daily caffeine intake. Because now I feel a bit like a drug addict. But never mind – unlike all the Indian chai, at least this habit won’t require a root canal treatment.

Don’t know when I’ll be back again…

I’m leaving! On a jet plane! Tomorrow!

***

Six months ago it was winter and I was in Delhi, wearing fuzzy boots and a yak wool shawl, sitting on a floor cushion in Kunzum Travel Cafe in Hauz Khas Village. Brandi was working there at the time, and so I was in the habit of going along regularly to drink honey and ginger tea and distract her.

That day my main purpose of going to sit in Kunzum was to agonise over the job I’d been offered in Inner Mongolia. The job I’d applied for a week earlier on a complete whim. The job I’d applied for kind of as a joke, because “Inner Mongolia” sounded like the most obscure place on the planet, and  therefore I obviously needed to go there.

That day Kunzum was doing a project-type-thing with postcards, where someone would write something on one, and it would be sent to another someone, somewhere else. Loads of people had emailed in their mailing addresses so they could receive a mysterious anonymous postcard, but not that many people had actually come to the cafe to write one. So Brandi gave me a postcard and a pen and told me to get started. And this is what I wrote.

***

Six months – and a lot of agonising – later, my bags are packed (well, sort of) and I’m ready to go and start living another one of my whims. On Friday I’ll be in Beijing, and next Monday I’ll be in Baotou, my new home by the Gobi desert. I just hope that China’s infamous Great Firewall doesn’t completely block WordPress, because I imagine this next year will come with a lot of writing opportunities. Stay tuned!

FILMI FIX! (Ajay Devgn Special!)

Ooh, look! The moustachioed superstar of my dreams (literally), who may or may not have had or be having an affair with Kangana Ranaut (although, really, there must be better women to have affairs with?) is finally getting a full Filmi Fix dedication on my blog. Which, my dear readers, is a bigger deal than an Oscar or even a Stardust Award.

First, there was the original Bollywood dream, where Ajay and Katrina Kaif and I were sitting on a sofa wearing matching pyjamas. The two of them kept saying that they hoped I wasn’t just hanging out with them because they were famous, and I kept replying, “No! Of course not! You’re both such nice, genuine, real people!” (But, at the same time I couldn’t help thinking, “Ugh! Why does Katrina Kaif have to be here? She’s far more attractive than me!”)

Then there was the dream where Ajay and I were fighting aliens with laser guns, and he, at the same time (he’s so good at multi-tasking) was begging me not to leave India. His moustache was trembling with the impending heartbreak, and I woke up seriously considering a career in Bollywood.

THEN there was the dream (it was last night, actually) where Ajay and Shah Rukh Khan and I were shooting a big action blockbuster at the Lal Qila in Delhi. There were lots of guns and exploding cars and the director was very impressed with my performance as the lead female.

I swear I’m not making any of this up. This really is real stuff that my subconscious has created, for whatever bizarre reason.

Anyway, enough about my subconscious. Let’s watch some Ajay Devgn videos.

Ah, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Possibly the best thing to ever come out of Bollywood. And doesn’t dear Ajay look youthful with that late-nineties hairdo and baby-soft moustache-less face?! WHAT was Aishwarya thinking, going off to Budapest (I mean ‘Italy’) to find Salman Khan when she had the handsomest husband ever? I suppose the whole love triangle thing did give her plenty of opportunities to do that classic ‘woe is me’ expression she’s so good at. And she chose right in the end.

Okay, admittedly this song is awful and makes my ears hurt but it’s another chance to swoon over Ajay’s nineties hairdo.

Apparently my friend Joanna was an extra in this film (Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai). This makes me very jealous. I did go and see this at the cinema though, and this song is really nice. I remember thinking that if I were a man I would have this exact same moustache.

Finally, a bit of comedy. I mean action. When I saw this one (Singham) at the cinema I couldn’t stop laughing at this video. Partly because it’s just like the opening track in Dabangg. And partly because of the litres of baby oil dripping off Ajay. Why couldn’t I have been an extra in this?!

Just another day in Glasgow

“The problem wi’ Glasgow is all them bloody foreigners!” the old woman said between drags of cigarette and swigs of instant coffee. “They come over fi’ Poland an’ that an’ take all the bloody jobs! An’ –” she coughed “– that’s why everyone’s unemployed!” She slammed her coffee mug down, flicked the cigarette and adjusted her nightie. Seeing my expression, her face softened a bit. “Don’t worry, he’ll be out in a minute. He’s gettin’ dressed up an’ doin’ his hair. Thinks he’s goin’ on a date or somethin’.”

Finally, after what seemed like hours, my interviewee appeared in the doorway of the kitchen – hair gelled to perfection – and said we could go into the living room to complete the survey. I mumbled a goodbye to the grandmother, who grunted and lit up another cigarette.

It was just another day in my weird job, really.

Following Delhi’s slightly embarrassing attempt to host the Commonwealth Games back in 2010 (I’m pretty sure that big stadium by Connaught Place still isn’t finished), it’s now Glasgow’s turn to shoulder the burden. I remember watching the CWG closing ceremony in a sports bar in Mumbai (I’d purposely run away from the capital for the duration of the games), and being very amused by the abundance of tartan, kilts and bagpipes (not to mention a makeshift Loch Ness monster) being flung around the stadium in an attempt to ‘celebrate’ the passing of the [whatever the CWG equivalent of the Olympic torch is] onto another (un)fortunate city. Lucky Glasgow!

So in preparation for this ‘fabulous’ event, about half the city is being demolished and rebuilt, with lots of fancy new buldings, fancy new roads and, perhaps most usefully – a fancy new velodrome. (I’m sure there isn’t a Scot alive who wouldn’t want to roll out of bed, hop on his bike and cycle round and round some smooth, vertical walls at a trillion miles and hour!) Anyway, the point is, the good people at Glasgow University, and a few other organisations, want to find out how (or if) all this urban renewal stuff is actually going to benefit the health and wellbeing of the people who live in the city’s East End – where the Games are going to be.

Now, in the same way that Azadpur isn’t quite up to Vasant Vihar standards, the East End isn’t the swankiest part of Glasgow, and so there’s loads of regeneration going on there anyway. But the arrival of the Commonwealth Games will just give the whole process a little kick up the proverbial rear end.

As yet, there hasn’t been much research into how all this will affect the residents. And so that’s where I come in! Well, me and quite a lot of other people. We’re working all summer on a survey about the impact of urban regeneration and the Commonwealth Games on the people who live in the east of Glasgow, which means we go out onto the streets, meet the locals, sit in their kitchens and, through an interview/questionnaire-type-thing, collect information (or ‘data’ to use the fancy term) about their lives, their homes, their feelings… and it’s proving to be really interesting.

It’s fascinating to catch glimpses of all the different lives being lived in this city, in my country. To be invited into friendly homes to drink tea and laugh and listen to people I’d never otherwise meet. To give them a chance to voice their opinions and to feel like, maybe, from writing down these opinions I could help change the city for the better (although, perhaps not including rants about “bloody foreigners”…).

In the past couple of weeks I’ve met young people and old people; people just engaged at forty-five and people married for sixty years; sporty people, lazy people; workers, mothers, unemployed, retired, Scottish, foreign, happy, sad… And I think, by the time this job is over, I’ll have learned a lot from all of them.

To end on a slightly ridiculous note, here’s an article about one of the more inventive ways the city of Glasgow is preparing itself for the Commonwealth Games in 2014.  I can only imagine the results if the same thing had been in done in Delhi…

Chai O’clock in Edinburgh

Although it’s not difficult to find Indian food in here in Edinburgh, getting something that’s both authentic and affordable is a completely different story. Last month I went out for a tasty meal at a local Indian restaurant but was horrified at the prices: £2.15 for ONE tandoori roti? A fiver for a side portion of dal? It was absolute madness. But to be fair, the restaurant was one of the city’s posher ones; the kind with that velvety wallpaper and fancy lampshades, and waiters in waistcoats.

There are cheaper places, though, like 10 to 10 in Delhi, with its embroidered floor cushions, Rajasthani wall hangings and pictures of Aishwarya Rai (before she got too fat, obviously). It’s a nice, cozy place, and the food, chai and lassis are great, but with menus stapled into empty Bollywood DVD cases and ‘Teach Yourself Hindi’ books on the shelves, it’s just a bit too wannabe-desi for its own good. Plus it’s always filled with the kind of people who start every sentence with, ‘When I was backpacking in India…’ Groan.

A tad OTT, maybe

Even the Mosque Kitchen, which used to be one of my absolute favourite places in Edinburgh, has gone downhill in taste and uphill in price. They have an indoor space now, with an espresso machine, and it’s just not the same as when you used to sit outside in the freezing cold at long, folding tables, trying to stop the hungry pigeons flapping off with your naan.

But just when I was starting to lose hope of ever finding a decent place to soothe my India woes, I discovered Bollywood: The Coffee Box, in the vaguely trendy suburb of Bruntsfield. Jai Hind!

Best box in town

It’s probably the closest you’ll get to Indian street eating without forking out for a plane ticket and visa, and right now, in the middle of the Scottish heatwave, there’s nothing better than enjoying your samosas in the sunshine. Nutan (who’s the friendliest woman ever, and is from Delhi!) has turned one of Edinburgh’s defunct blue Police boxes into a tiny kitchen, where she prepares fresh veg and non-veg dishes, snacks like pakoda, and all kinds of coffee. She makes chai too, of course, and we chat in a mixture of Hindi and English as she adds millions of spices to a pot of milk and stirs a pan of sizzling tomatoes with the other hand. The Coffee Box has been going for six months, she says, and has become really popular, even being featured on the local BBC news.

I stay and drink my spicy chai with Nutan, and we talk about Delhi summers, Indian families and learning Hindi. And it reminds me of the culture of street food in India. Over there people don’t grab their takeaway cups and paper-wrapped snacks and eat them as they tear down the street, the way they do here. Food and chai, even water, should be respected, given time, savoured slowly. I learned in Delhi that even the busiest people in the biggest rush still manage to find five minutes to stop and eat or drink a cup of tea. I like that. “Come back soon!” says Nutan, and bursts out laughing.

She makes a mean cup of chai

FILMI FIX!

Way back in October 2009, I’d just arrived in India for the first time and was trying to get to grips with various complicated aspects of the culture, like threading a drawstring through a new pair of salwaar and taking a shower with a plastic bucket. As I was also very new to all things Bollywood, another confusing thing about India was the whole business of films having music videos randomly slotted between scenes. This strange idea took a bit of getting used to, but fortunately I was able to tune into channels like UTV Bindass, Zoom and 9XM and quite happily educate myself in the realms of sequin-encrusted filmi musical interludes.

Paisa’ (‘Money’) was THE song to have stuck in your head that month. I didn’t see the film it came from (De Dana Dan) until later as I’d gone to Australia by the time it was released, but I remember either hearing or watching that music video at least once a day the whole time I was in India. And it was weirdly addictive.

But what made something that was basically a blatant rip-off of that song by Usher so good? Was it the blinged-up Katrina Kaif in her desi diva outfit? Or Akshay, the action hero in Aviators? Perhaps it was the abundance of 1000 rupee notes flying around the under-dressed backing dancers while Katrina, in English, declared the hard truth, that “my love is priceless, baby – no money can buy me”. Who knows?

I spent those early days in Delhi zooming around Paharganj in an autorickshaw with a group of recently-befriended Dilliwallahs who wore a strict uniform of faux-designer sunglasses, Reebok trainers and jeans from Palika Bazaar. We’d crank up the volume (the auto had a CD player and speakers, obviously) and sing along to our favourite song while passers-by watched in awe and/or bewilderment. Apart from a few staples like ‘namaste’ and  ‘dhanyavad’, I didn’t know any Hindi at that point, but I still managed to join in with the chorus. I’ll always remember speeding around Connaught Place, wailing, “main baarish kar doon paise ki, jo tu ho jaaye meri…”, which translates, I now know, to something like, “I’ll shower you with money if you’ll be mine.” It goes without saying that doing the corresponding hands/thumbs/elbows dance move was also essential.

I must have looked very stupid indeed. But I was happy, so I didn’t care.

In memory everything seems to happen to music

My American (oops, I mean Scottish) friend, Brandi, has just made this lovely little film and I thought I’d share it with you.

Made up of lots of clips and short moments, it documents the long train journeys we took from Delhi to Puri (Orissa), to Varanasi, and back to Delhi again, and includes some of the strange and fun and nice things that happened in between. Like puppies. And rowing boats.

I’ve watched it about eight times so far and it’s made me REALLY miss India. It somehow manages to completely sum up everything that’s wonderful about the country, and I totally think Brandi should consider selling it to the India Tourism board.

Just One Journey | 77 Hours of Sleeper Class from Brandi Dawn Henderson on Vimeo.

Hasta la vista, Aunty!

I am sprawled out under the ceiling fan in a semi-clean, third-floor room in Hare Rama Guesthouse, Paharganj. For those of you who know, this grimy neighbourhood, with its heaving Main Bazar and resident hippies, touts and cows, was the first part of India I ever experienced, and so it’s strange – but ultimately rather nice – to be back here.

A skinny, enthusiastic man in a pinstriped waistcoat showed me my room; demonstrating the two cold taps and the window with opening/closing function. As I followed him back down the stairs to fill out the book at reception he pointed out the hotel’s lift. ‘Very nice elevator we are having here, madam. But it doesn’t work.’

Ahh, India. I’ll miss you.

Anyway, you’re probably wondering what I’m doing in a guesthouse in the first place. It’s a long story, but basically my landlord told me if I didn’t move out at the end of March I’d have to pay an extra half month’s rent. So after several arguments I decided just to leave on the 31st, and now, with only two more days left in Delhi, I’ve ended up here.

And best thing about staying in a hotel? There’s no landlord!

Ever since I flew the nest (yes, I know, the same nest I’m flying right back into on Saturday…) I’ve had bad luck with apartments, and, more specifically, with the landlords and landladies that unfortunately come with them. Back in my Art College days, a few friends and I rented a place owned by a man called Jack, a property dealer crazy enough to think that ‘Slumlords’ (really!) was a good name for his company. There wasn’t anything particularly bad about him, though, apart from his obvious sleaziness and that fact that he was madly in love with himself. One wintry night, as my flatmate was running a bath, the hot tap got stuck and none of us could turn it off – leaving us with the only option of calling Jack for help. He showed up, eventually, and fought through the steam in the bathroom like a self-proclaimed superhero, turning the tap off effortlessly. How did you do that, we asked, perhaps with a little too much admiration. Jack said nothing in response, but grinned, lovingly patted his bicep and raised his eyebrows. Ugh, we thought simultaneously.

Back then, of course, I had no idea that in a few years’ time I’d be dealing with landlords far worse, and in the north of Delhi, of all places. And Sleazy Jack of Dundee, it turned out, was positively angelic compared to Uncle Ji of Azadpur.

Even before I discovered the bag of incriminating photos (more on that later), I knew Uncle Ji wasn’t a particularly nice man. When I’d just moved in he would regularly barge in unannounced to ‘check’ on my flat, wearing only a lungi and moth-eaten vest. His wife and three daughters would do the same, only in (obviously) different clothes. All day long I never got a moment of peace.

One morning, while cleaning, I discovered a suspicious-looking package wedged into the back of a cupboard. It was wrapped in a black scarf so ancient it was growing mould, and of course I couldn’t stop myself from unwrapping it. Inside was a big envelope full of photos of Uncle Ji and ANOTHER WOMAN (who, to make it even worse, wasn’t wearing very much), sitting in a park, or on the beach, or in a house. How fascinating, I thought. It was the first time I’d ever discovered blackmail material.

And it was tempting to mention my knowledge of these photos to Uncle Ji when I found out that his teenage daughter had been sneaking into my flat and stealing money from my purse. But that’s a whole other story. The point is, I moved out pretty quickly.

The next flat I lived in was also owned by a terrible landlord. Let’s call him Uncle Ji Two. He wore a leather jacket all year round, chewed so much paan that his teeth had rotted into little red stumps, and liked to get drunk and shout at his wife. I heard all the shouting because there was a massive metal grate in the floor of my flat directly above his kitchen, which meant that he could also hear everything I said. B was staying over one day, and we laughing, and it made Uncle Ji Two so furious (jealously, probably. I doubt he’d ever laughed in his life) that he screamed at B through the metal grate, ‘Shut up, or I’ll come up there right now and give you a slap!’

I moved out of there, too.

Finally, I decided to part with a bit more cash and try living in south Delhi. It was calmer, quieter and more firangi-friendly, and when I found my little apartment in Saket I was thrilled. The landlord was the friendliest man ever and even had the added bonus of looking exactly like Fred Flintstone. I signed the papers, paid the deposit, and knew that this time was going to be different. But then I met Bad Aunty.

My landlord and his wife were wonderful, but what I didn’t realise when I signed the rent agreement was that the landlord’s older brother and his wife lived in the same building, and they were not nice people at all. To avoid confusing myself I thought of them as Good Uncle, Good Aunty, Bad Uncle and Bad Aunty respectively, and the names kind of stuck. But as time went by I realised that even Bad Uncle was nice enough, and that it was Bad Aunty who was the head of whole enterprise; the one with the power, and the final say. She massively overcharged me for my electricity, and when I did something to upset her (like invite friends over for chai and other such wild exploits) she would switch off my water supply for the entire day to teach me a lesson.

But I didn’t let her get to me. I kept smiling, saying ‘namaste Aunty Ji’, bringing her shortbread from Scotland, and I think I finally won her round. And this time when I moved out I was actually sad to leave, and  to say goodbye to the big landlord family. Well, maybe not that sad, but at least I didn’t shout ‘good riddance!’ as I left. The thing is, even though I’ve had to stay in some horrible places with horrible people, I’ve honestly loved living in Delhi. Having my own home; kitchens with single gas burners, bucket baths, sleeping on charpais under electric fans – the whole thing’s been such an interesting experience. Much more so than if I’d stayed here in Paharganj with all these other videshis. They’ll never know anything about Indian landlords and the ‘tension’ they can cause. And hey, that’s what gives me writing material!

Me, maxi nightie and (in the background) my tiny kitchen. My second flat in Delhi, February 2011

10 things I’ll miss about Delhi

While there are some things I’m not so attached to in the city that’s been my home for over two years (including, in no particular order, the smog, gropey men and the expulsion of bodily fluids in public), there are plenty of aspects of Delhi life that I’ve become terribly fond of, and which I’m really going to miss.

There’s no doubt that this new blog is going to be packed with nostalgic laments about all things desi (in fact, probably to the point of nausea, so if sentimentality’s not your thing, you should probably think about unsubscribing. Just a warning), and so what better way to kick things off than with a list of things I’ll miss most of all. Right? Everyone loves a good list!

Let’s get on with it, then.

1.  Chai!

It’s impossible to pick my favourite Indian food – everything’s so damn delicious – but when it comes to drinks nothing beats a hot cup of chai. Drinking milky tea has been a morning ritual for me ever since I first arrived in Delhi – B’s sister used to bring me spicy ginger chai in a metal cup every morning, until I finally learned how to make it myself. It’s not even difficult, and now I make it at home every day. Personally I like it brewed with cardamom and tons of sugar. And as well as first thing in the morning, I also drink it after lunch, in the mid-afternoon, before bed… you get the idea. Maybe that’s why I had to get root canal last year…

I expect, like so many of the good things in life, chai is best enjoyed in moderation.

2. Pimped-up autorickshaws!

I sincerely doubt there’s a better way to travel than in an autorickshaw fitted with subwoofers, faux snakeskin seats and pictures of Katrina Kaif in bridal gear. While Delhi’s green and yellow autos all look pretty much the same on the outside, you’ll soon find that each one has had its interior lovingly customised by its owner. Many go for the religious theme, with a mini temple on the dashboard and garlands of fresh marigolds wrapped round the handlebars, and some combine this look with glittery, heart-shaped stickers featuring Bollywood stars, and maybe a fancy ‘welcome’ sign. The most impressive auto I’ve ever seen was one that incorporated a small shop – a string was tied across the windscreen, over which hundreds of sachets of paan and mouthfresh were draped. The driver also had a box of individual cigarettes and matches, and seemed to be doing a roaring trade at the red light in rush hour. That’s entrepreneurism!

3. The Delhi Metro Ladies’ Coach!

Although autos are great, it’s admittedly not much fun to sit in one in the smog on a gridlocked, eight-lane highway in the middle of summer. So that’s where the Delhi Metro comes in! It’s shiny and super-clean and super-efficient. It’s leagues ahead of the London Underground. And every train has an entire carriage reserved for women. This is the hotspot for eavesdropping, with all sorts of proverbial dirty laundry being aired: Did you hear that such-and-such ran away from her family and had a LOVE MARRIAGE?! Etcetera. The most fun thing about travelling in the Ladies’ Coach, though, is getting to shout at the trespassing menfolk who often try to get onboard. ‘Arre! Yeh Ladies’ Coach hai!’ we snap at the culprit, and point him (with a flourish of jingly bangles) towards the (much busier) next carriage.

4. Bling!

Jingly bangles! Massive, fake-diamond-encrusted earrings! Red and gold platform bridal shoes with bells on! Anklets with bells on! Salwaars and sarees shimmering with sequins and embroidery and beads! India truly is Bling Heaven. Back in Scotland I could never get away with wearing three faux-gold and diamond rings on one hand without fear of looking chavvy, but here in Delhi, over-the-top displays of sparkle are actually quite fashionable. There’s a shoe shop in Lajpat Nagar that I go to purely to gaze in wonder at the wedding sandals, wishing that I was just a little shorter so I could wear those eight-inch stilettos coated in red glitter. Sigh. But at least there’s no height restriction on the spangly gold, pink and blue handbag that Udita gifted me last week!

5. The mysterious Delhi winter (aka Bizarre Knitwear Season)!

Of course the bling fashions continue into winter, which, in Delhi, consists of two months of blistering cold and fog before the sun comes swiftly back to roast us alive once again. In December and January we’ve got to wrap up, and this means donning chenille shawls, lurid cardigans covered in gigantic plastic jewels, and, Delhi winter’s pièce de résistance, the Tinsel Tank Top. This garment, knitted in a special gittery wool in colours like flamingo pink and baby chicken yellow, is the epitome of suaveness and sophistication for the desi boy. I tried hard to get a tinsel tank top for my brother’s Christmas present last year – I even asked waiters and car park attendants who were wearing one where they purchased it. The answer to the mystery? ‘My wife in the village knitted it.’ I obviously need a wife in the village…

6. The brain-frazzling Delhi summer (aka Mango Season)!

I don’t mind bone-chilling winters, but when the Delhi summer hits its 45-degree-plus peak in May and June all I want to do is die. Either that or eat mangoes. Yes, mango season probably is the only saving grace of summertime, and usually the only reason I step out from under my ceiling fan. Mango lassi, mango ice cream, liquidised mango served straight from the blender into a glass, ice cold… oh, and even the actual fruit! During my first Delhi summer I learned an ingenious way to eat a mango: first you squish it till the inside is all soft, then you bite off the end and slurp out all the fruit before violently hurling the empty skin and stone onto the ground. It’s quick, easy, and even keeps your hands clean.

7. Mouthfresh!

Speaking of things that are tasty, we can’t forget about mouthfresh. If you’re in a restaurant or dhaba, and you’re lucky, you’ll be presented with a little metal dish of green fennel seeds and sugar granules when you get your bill. For the first six months I lived in Delhi I was highly suspicious of this dish and refused to touch its contents, until finally I was brave enough to give it a go. And it was amazing! Much better than a mint, as is the western tradition, this ‘mouthfresh’ (or that’s what I was told it’s called) really makes your mouth… fresh. And perhaps ready for some post-dinner chai. It’s not always fennel seeds, though – sometimes you get tiny green (or rainbow-coloured) sweets made from all kinds of weird chemicals. These are really good too, to the point that I sometimes have to remind myself that you’re only supposed to take one spoonful.

8. Hinglish!

I spent two academic years (which is quite a long time) learning Hindi at Delhi University, only to realise that nobody in Delhi actually speaks ‘Hindi’. If I spoke to a shopkeeper or rickshaw driver in the kind of pure Hindi that I’ve been taught, they’d most likely fall over laughing. We speak Hinglish in Delhi, you see. It’s Hindi with an English twist, or vice versa. And it’s amazingly useful for firangis like me – when we get stuck trying to think of the right word, we can cheat and use the English one instead, and, most importantly, not feel guilty about it, because everyone does it. ‘Table saaf kariye, bhaiya’ or  ‘Meter se chaliye!’ are phrases used all the time. And in the movies, actors chop and change their language constantly. It’s weird, and awfully trendy, and the best bit is that it makes it look like I actually have a clue about the language. Itna clever, hai na?!

9. Filmi channels on TV!

I honestly cannot get enough of Bollywood songs and music videos. Everything from the traditional ‘couple in a field/on a mountain’ (complete with blowing sarees and piercing backing music), to the more modern dance numbers that feature lots of macho men and blonde foreigners wearing not-very-much – it’s all good stuff. And there are loads of TV channels that only show these, back to back, twenty four hours a day. How utterly fabulous. But I know what you’re thinking: why sit for hour after brain-dissolving hour watching TV when you’re living in India?! Well, I think there’s a lot that foreigners can learn from these music videos. The language, obviously. And the dance moves. We can start to recognise the different Bollywood stars that are such a big part of Indian culture, and, when our favourite filmi song is played on the radio, or in a shop, or in a club, we can sing along (and do the corresponding dance routine if we’re coordinated enough) and really impress the locals.

10. Wildlife watching!

In Delhi, almost every journey can become a fascinating safari. Whether it’s a single bullock chillaxing in the middle of a four-lane road or a herd of buffalo (or goats), there’s nowhere better to look for wildlife than on an Indian city street. One of my favourite ‘safari’ destinations is the road between Vidhan Sabha metro station and Majnu ka Tila. Here you can spot all kinds of street dogs, chickens, goats, donkeys (although I think the white donkey has died, unfortunately) and the famous Big Black Boar. It’s the most humongous pig I’ve seen in my life, and spends its days rolling around in a giant pile of rubbish, which, for a pig, is probably a blissful existence.

But I don’t need to go out on regular safaris, as there’s easily enough wildlife at home in my flat for even David Attenborough to make a documentary about. There are ants, obviously, and mosquitoes. Plus the odd grasshopper and lizard. But I’ve also had a few unexpected encounters with bats (terrifying) and monkeys (annoying – they stole a novel I’d only just started reading!).

What things would you miss most about your city, if you were leaving?