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India: Literature

Another great way to get a sense of a country is to read books that are by writers from that country or books that are set in that country. I picked up Behind the Beautiful Forever by Katherine Boo in Mumbai airport - it's released in June in the UK - which is a non-fiction book about life in the Mumbai slums that sort of feels fictiony, but in a good way.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts is a beast of a book coming in at 944 pages but don't let this put you off - it's utterly absorbing and well worth a read! It's another one that blurs fiction and non-fiction as a lot of is based on the author's experiences but it's a captivating read if you can get over the size of it. 

Man Booker prize winner The White Tiger by Aravind Adigais is another book to add to your Indian reading list. About the "white tiger", a once teashop worker, now chauffeur, you ponder if there's more to Balram than his philosophical thoughts suggests... Read it!

Are there any more books I should read about Mother India? x

Latest Loves and Looking Forward: TV edition

First up, am loving the Beeb's programme The Tube at the moment. When you're on the tube, you only see your little bit of it and mostly you're trying to ignore everyone else, so it's definitely worth a watch and is an eye-opener.

It's an old one, but I never watched it when it was aired so am loving it NOW. That would be 24 with death-defying, bad ass Jack Bauer. I'm up to season 3, but even though each season lasts 24 hours, it's going to take me a lot longer than a day to get through all eight seasons! 

March sees the return of Mad Men, a Latest Love from February 2011. I cannot wait! Anyone else looking forward to the return of Don, Joan and co? I'm also looking forward to the return of Fairly Legal which nearly didn't get picked up for a second season, but thankfully it did!

What are your latest loves and what are you looking forward to? It doesn't have to be TV-related! x

Book giveaway: Divergent

I accidentally bought Divergent by Veronica Roth again, thinking that I was actually buying the second book in the series... oops! Bad news for me, but good news for you as I'm now giving this spare copy away!

It's a fab book, and all you have to do to enter is leave a comment below and I'll pick someone at random - UK only though. Make sure you leave me your email address or Twitter handle so I can let you know if you're the lucky winner!

You have until Saturday 17th March to leave your comment. {^_^} x

Home-made sausage rolls recipe

Home-made sausage rolls are the best, and oh-so-easy to make. First up, pre-heat your oven to 220°, or Gas Mark 7. You'll need:
  • Puff pastry sheet
  • 6 good quality sausages
  • 1 egg
  • Sea salt
  • Sesame seeds
  • Crushed chillies or fennel seeds
  • Olive oil

Method:
  • Divide the puff pastry sheet into two pieces length-wise. Each piece is long enough to fit three sausages on it
  • Beat the egg into a glass, and use a pastry brush to cover the pastry fully
  • Place the sausages in a long line in the centre of each piece - make sure you remove the skin first if they aren't skinless
  • Sprinkle the crushed chillies over the sausages, then wrap the pastry around the sausages. You could also use fennel seeds
  • Brush the top with the beaten egg and sprinkle sesame seeds over the sausage rolls
  • Cut the sausages into the size you require, then drizzle olive oil on a baking tray. Place the pieces on the tray
  • Place the baking tray on the top shelf of the heated oven and cook for 15-20 minutes until they are puffed up and golden. Enjoy!

Kindle review

Way back in September 2008, the Sony PRS-500 Reader was finally released in the UK - I wasn't very impressed at all, declaring I couldn't see the point of it and that I would be sticking to my *actual* books.

Roll forward to February 2012. More than likely spurred on by how many books I was planning to take to India with me and the realisation that he would be the one to lug said heavy suitcase containing these many books, O surprised me with a Kindle.

I was dubious at first - not sure how I would react - as picking up books do conjure up images of holidays for me. My copy of Memoirs of a Geisha - not available on Kindle, funnily enough - takes me back to buying a copy in the St Andrew's Tesco Metro the night before flying to Brazil and then reading it in the blistering sunshine. Eat, Pray, Love I read in the Middle East and Angels and Demons was read in Paris, and I remember at the time thinking I should have read it in Rome. It's not just holiday destinations - one of my favourite books of all times, Cents and Sensibility, transports me to summer 2006 if I ever pick it up, reading it in the garden in the horrifically hot heatwave we had that summer and in between calls at my front-of-house job at the Burberry offices.

Having a Kindle removes that. It also removes the barrier to purchase, by which I mean it's very easy to lose your head because the books are yours at the mere click of a button. There's no checkout process - a preventative measure to check over your basket and edit it down as you realise you've spent close to £100 on books - it's click and buy. Done. It also seems odd that some Kindle books are more expensive than an actual paperbook - you're getting something physical sent to you cheaper than something that's digital and wirelessly sent to you... it's a little odd.

Despite this though and my initial reservations, a few pages into my first book - Passenger 13 by Scott Mariani - and I was converted. I was more than fine, in fact, I loved the ease of the Kindle - how light it is, how I don't have to cart two books with me if I know I'll finish one on my journey, how nice the reading experience actually is. I think it's safe to say that I'm now a convert, and considering my 'rents are on at me about what I'm going to do with the two thousand physical books I left at their house... it's probably a great time to have become a Kindle fan!

What are you thoughts on Kindles, Kobos and e-readers? Have you got one? xoxo

India: The wedding

Now to the wedding itself, which took place at the Grand Hyatt. The groom arrived on a horse - apparently it *could* have been an elephant - and a big noise is made with drummer boys, cheers and dancing leading us to the bride's family. This is called the Jaan.

Once the groom is in place at the mandap - where the ceremony takes place - the bride arrives, covered and carried by men. The Hindu marriage is more than just uniting bride and groom, it's about forming a tie between the two families. 

The bride and groom are not allowed to see each other at first, hence the white cloth. You can see the bride here approaching the groom. No one is also allowed to wear shoes on the mandap.

After the wedding rituals are performed in front of sacred fire and the groom's scarf is tied to the bride's sari - memo, never do it through the chairs, always over! - mantras are chanted and the couple is blessed by family and friends who shower them with rice grains and rose petals. Vows are taken and a necklace - the mangal sutra - is placed around the bride's neck. The groom also places sindoor by the parting of her hair - both signify she is now married!

At this point, when the bride and groom try to leave the mandap, they can't as the bride's family have stolen the groom's shoes. Now, this was one of Olly's job as best man to guard these shoes - though he is supposed to let them get them at some point - and... it wasn't the best guarding in the history of Indian weddings. The bride's family asked Olly about the shoes... he handed them straight over forgetting all about the guarding! More bribery takes place - the best man has to buy the shoes back - then the groom demands money from his new mother-in-law before they leave the mandap. A lot of money is involved in Indian weddings, as you can tell!

After the ceremony, everyone gets changed - there are a lot of outfit changes over the course of an Indian wedding - and there's a reception afterwards.

Just like an English wedding, there are LOTS of photos taken, though I'm sure none are as glamorous a location as a sunset over the beach with waves crashing in the background. Aww!

Here are the bride and groom - that sari was so heavy with all the detail and finery on it. The outfits and accessories get more and more elaborate as the various parts of the wedding proceed.

And this is what I wore to the evening reception. {^_^} I was covered up in another dress for the actual ceremony.

Again, there are food, fireworks, dancing and entertainment at the reception to conclude a very eventful - but apparently rather tame - Indian wedding. It's very colourful and very different, so if you ever get the chance to go to an Indian wedding in India, make sure you do!

India: Wedding preparation

On to the reason we went to India - for a wedding! Now, an Indian wedding can go on for a long time and is very different to any wedding I've ever experienced before. They can vary in ceremony length and what they entail, so this is in no way a definitive guide to an Indian wedding.

The day before the wedding prayers take place to bless the bride and ensure she is spiritually pure. As with the actual wedding ceremony itself, money - a bribe - is involved for the bride to agree that she is getting married. Before she will leave the prayer area, she demands money from her family to get married.
This was followed by the pithi in the afternoon. Both bride and groom partake in this, though separately, and they are covered in a paste that is supposed to cleanse them as well as making the skin lighter. In the West we strive to have a tan, in the East they strive to be fairer - go figure!

In the evening, there was the Mehndi night.This is where the bride gets her hands, arms, lower legs and feet adorned with mehndi, aka henna. Female guests also can have it done - here's my hand below which was so intricate, but took less than ten minutes. It chips off and becomes a brown colour - the darker it is, the more warm-blooded you are apparently.

The Mehndi night also involves lots of dancing, food, shisha, fire eaters and fun. Plus it gave Olly the chance to wear his first Indian suit. He's pictured below with the groom.

India: Delhi Belly

One thing you are profusely warned about when you tell anyone you're going to India is Delhi Belly (Google it if you're unsure). Now, this should not detract you from exploring India's culinary delights - I've yet had to have an Indian since my return, but I'm sure I'll be disappointed - you just need to be careful. Gross bit over.

If you're ever near Arpora, then you need to visit the following two restaurants. First up, Le Poisson Rouge which serves up the most amazing Indo French cuisine, so we had to go twice! It's definitely worth trying the "saveurs" menu - for 1500 rupees you get 5 courses that certainly aren't taster plates. 1500 rupees? Oh, that would be about £19 to sample such delights as "Baby calamari filled with prawns and tendi pickle, spicy reduction and Cilantro olive oil pearl" or how about "Steamed red snapper roulade, filled with prawns and rechard masala. Penne and broccoli medlee with bisque emulsion". Delicious.

So, if you're thinking £19 for 5 courses, then yes, Goa is very cheap. The next restaurant you must visit is Nick's Place which we declared has the BEST garlic naan bread you'll find, scrummy rogan josh, generous portions and they do amazing fish tikka. It'll cost you about £4 for a main and you won't be disappointed. I'm not a cheese fan, at all, but I know Olly would recommend the paneer tikka, if you're also that way inclined. More later!

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