Sunday, 27 September 2015

Murder She Wrote...

I have been feeling deeply satisfied as I have watched my son this past week. He has finally succeeded in doing something that he had been trying to do for the last two years. He is now immersed in an Agatha Christie book! He is in 6th grade and is eleven years old. That's how old I  was when I read my first Christie book in Guwahati, Assam but surrounded by voracious readers in the house and knowing the fact that she is one of my favourite authors, he tried early but could not proceed beyond the first few pages. He has finished all the Harry Potter books and the entire Percy Jackson series before he turned ten, though! I guess Rowling is an easier read than Christie! But he is half way through the book already during this attempt and a few days ago, when I went to turn off his room light at bed time, he said," Mom, please. Just five minutes more, the murder has just happened." I knew right then and there that Dame Agatha had got her claws in him and I felt totally content! I actually smirked, so pleased was I!
And then, last Friday I opened last Sunday's Times Of India. It is delivered to us every Tuesday as it comes from Mumbai, India, but I got around to it only then, such is my schedule these days...My on line students have all but taken over my life and the kids and my husband claim the remaining bits. A chunk of this goes in telling my son to START studying and my daughter to STOP studying and go to bed! # IndianMothersAreNeverSatisfied! Believe me, I am one of them and I deal with scores more in my classrooms, both concrete and virtual! But who's complaining? I'm savouring this phase in my life to the hilt!
But I am digressing from the core topic of the day! I read in the paper that Agatha Christie just had what would have been her 125th birthday, on 15th September 2015. My son had borrowed his book from the school library but I , of course, have almost all the sixty six murder mysteries and some of the short story collections that she wrote in her life time, lining my book shelf back home in Pune. I also have most of the books that she wrote under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott and these are rather autobiographical in nature. This fact comes to light when one reads Christie's autobiography, titled just that! I remember I had bought that particular book just before my then four year old daughter and I embarked on our journey to Dar Es Salaam, where my husband was based. I like to have a thick book in hand while travelling. Then the many waits and the delays that are inevitable during a journey cease to affect me because I am too busy reading!
On this occasion, when we reached Dar, my immediate neighbour kindly offered to send lunch so I could recoup after a night of travelling with a young child. I eagerly and gratefully accepted, not because I was too tired to cook, but because it meant uninterrupted Christie Autobiography time! I spent the rest of the day immersed in her life of more than a hundred years ago and finally finished it by evening! The delicious lunch my neighbour sent us went well with the book!
Agatha was born to a British mother and an American father. Was that the reason, I wondered, that the American school library has so many of her books? They certainly don't seem to patronize other British authors! Or is it because she is in the Guinness Book Of World Records as the world's best selling author? Her works are at number three in the most widely published books list, coming in behind only the Bible and William Shakespeare. She is also the author of the longest running play ever, the Mousetrap.
Two years ago the High School Drama group had performed one of her plays in the children's school. It was the first time I had ever seen a Christie play being performed. This one was based on her book 'An Appointment With Death' and I was enthralled. Agatha was clever to tweak the endings of the plays that were based on her books so that her fans had to go out and watch the play even if they had read the book because the murderer was a different person altogether! The drama sets transported us to Petra near Jordan and we rapidly forgot that it was school children that we were watching, as they enacted and brought to life Christie's well fleshed out characters. I wanted to write about her and the play then, hard core fan that I am. I wrote it out in my head but never got around to putting it into cyber space. I am doing it now, two years after the play , triggered by the book in my son's hand and the article in the paper! May be, deep down, I believed it would be terrible presumptuous of me to write about this widely acclaimed, record breaking author who was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1971.
I have lovely memories of staying up till 4:00 am in the school holidays, reading a new Christie book, simply because I could not bear to sleep till I found out 'who done it'! I have memories of buying her books at railway stations scattered across the length and breadth of India from A.H Wheeler book stalls! The Times Of India article says these book stalls still sell her books!  Like a plane journey, what's a train journey without a good book in your hand?
Her books take us back to a long forgotten era of trains that ran on time, (4:50 from Paddington), of elderly women shopping at the Army And Navy Stores in London and gardening on their knees in well laid out gardens, all the while keeping a sharp watch on the neighbourhood,(Miss.Jane Marple), of lavishly served ten course meals,( Dead Man's Folly), Of Christmas being celebrated the old fashioned way,(Adventure Of A Christmas Pudding), and an era when affairs and pregnancies were very discreetly hinted at , unlike the throw everything in your face attitude, seen today.
Hercule Poirot, her most famous Belgian detective is treated as a 'foreigner' in old fashioned England and keeps lapsing into French! This was influenced, perhaps, by Agatha having to leave her childhood home at a young age and travel and live in France with her parents. Her father's income from America had drastically reduced and so it made financial sense for them to lease out their sea side home and stay in France, Staying on the continent then , it is apparent, was cheaper than living in England! Her au pair was a French girl and little Agatha soon became as proficient in French as she was in English.
During the First World War she did her bit for her country by working in the hospital pharmacy and this was when her quick brain absorbed all that knowledge about poisons and chemicals that years later would spew out onto the pages of her books! Agatha Miller, for that was her maiden name, says in her autobiography that she almost ended up marrying the son of close family friends but at the last minute was swept off her feet by dashing Archibald, 'Archie' Christie, whose surname she would later make so famous and who would be the father of her only offspring, her daughter, Rosalind.
Here is an extract from her autobiography where she meets her husband in an attempt to reconcile with him, after he has left her. It is followed by my own take on it, as part of a Creative Writing project I did for a diploma, a couple of years ago.
 "Archie and I met by appointment. He looked ill and tired. We talked of ordinary things and the people we knew. Then I asked him what he felt now; whether he was quite sure that he could not come back to live with Rosalind and me. I said once again that he knew how fond of him she was and how puzzled she had been over his absence."
By the time her husband decided to leave her for another woman, Agatha had already published a few mysteries. Here she indicates her willingness to take her husband back mostly for the sake of her daughter but Archie Christie was too besotted by the other woman to take heed of Agatha’s words. So Agatha began living the life of a single mother and soon began to become more and more successful! I often wonder if Archie would have left her had he known how wildly popular Agatha Christie would become and how much financial success she would enjoy! Agatha Miller, being married, wrote under the name of Agatha Christie as was the norm in those days, but the man who gave her his name, by his own early wrong choice, would never enjoy the fruits of her labour! She, to me, proves you do not need a man’s blessings to succeed in life!
Agatha did  remarry a few years later. Her second husband Max Mallowan, like me, was an archaeologist and many of her subsequent books were based in archaeological excavation sites and around middle eastern towns most of which, unfortunately, today, are in the throes of violent civil war. As a school girl, my already deep interest in this field was further fuelled by all I read in her books! 
This "Grande Dame" of murder died the year I was born and I am so glad I can say I walked or rather crawled, on Earth at the same time as her for a few months at least!
And the book that got my son Addicted to Agatha? 'The Murder At The Vicarge', one of my personal favourites. Well, actually, I just love them all!

                                                (source visual via The Times Of India)

Monday, 14 September 2015

An Elephant In The Backyard And Other Tiny Tales From Aundh

The trip had been long in coming.We had taken the children there once nine years ago but the museum was undergoing extensive expansion and renovation so it was shut then. Besides, the children had been only eight and two years old so they did not really have any memories. And it was very important for me to take them to see the sleepy little hamlet of Aundh, where a part of their roots lay entrenched. I wanted them to see first hand and understand the legacy left by their great great grandfather, the erstwhile ruler of Aundh, in Satara district, one fifty odd kilometres from our home town, Pune, India.
The children have lived abroad for a large portion of their lives. They are true global citizens, fitting perfectly where you place them, like a well done jig saw puzzle. But I also wanted them to see for themselves the place where one part of their very existence began. I mentioned this to one of my mother's maternal uncles and his son, asking them to let me know if they were planning a trip while I was in India, so I could tail them in my car. To my delight, they were planning a trip soon and after juggling around my tight schedule and my daughter's even tighter one, we managed to free ourselves for a day, as did my grand uncle's family and we were off!
It was a lovely drive, interspersed by rainy squalls, cloudy skies and a cool breeze. We sped down the highway with just a short halt for breakfast and soon found ourselves turning off the main road onto a narrow country road. Here, the trees had grown so high on both sides of the road that the branches had actually merged above the road, forming a verdant, cool canopy. I wondered how long it would be before local politicians took it into their heads to widen this road (to make an extra buck or rather, many extra bucks) and then these glorious trees would be mercilessly chopped down.
A last hilly stretch and we were at our destination, ready to explore and more than ready to let the kids soak in a part of their heritage, visually, aurally and physically. Our first halt was the huge house where my maternal grandmother had grown up. We were truly blessed to have my mother's maternal uncle with us that day as this was the house he had been born in, lived in, grown up in, and who better than him to explain to us the nitty gritties of their life then and to relate long forgotten tales?
The one thing I truly envy my mother are her maternal uncles and I always tell her so! She had six of them, three are no more but each one is/was a gem and we have really fond memories, even as we continue to further strengthen our bonds with them and their families. They actually care about us, though their sister, my maternal grandmother, passed away more than seventeen years ago... Their love and concern for us is tangible. A rarity these days for sure!
The lady who is the current occupant of the house, as per inheritance laws, has built herself a plush bungalow behind the heritage structure, leaving us free to walk into 'my grandmother's house' as we still think of it. An open courtyard, as was the style in those days, greets us and has life size marble statues, one of them being my great, great grand mother's! The children are thrilled to explore the hundred year old structure, though some of it is crumbling and a large part of it has been struck by lightning.
My grand uncle points to a wooden staircase going up to his parents bed room on the third floor. Now the entire structure is too unstable to venture climbing up those steps. He names the various 'halls' that they had. 'Ajanta Hall' is named so because it had replicas of paintings found in the Ajanta caves. My great grandfather had actually camped out at Ajanta with his retinue and did the preliminary sketches there itself, before coming back home to complete the paintings. Next comes 'Ram Hall' as it has paintings from the Ramayana, our famous epic, all painted by my great grandfather, an artiste par excellence in his own right. Those genes speak to me today through my daughter who says, 'Painting makes me happy.'
We move on through the house and come out of the back door. Grand uncle points to our left and says this was where the marble sculptures workshop used to be. His father had trained skilled stone masons to become sculptors, so enamoured was he by the breathtaking statues he had seen when he had visited Europe. He even had an artist in residence and his studio was right next to the marble workshop, though neither structure exists any more. Then, he continues, was the cattle shed, where all the twelve kids used to line up for a glass of fresh milk every morning, straight from the cow! The remaining milk used to be carted off to the kitchen where his mother, the Ranisahiba, aided by the kitchen staff, would immerse herself in creating the most delectable of 'barfis'(Indian sweet meats). Wow, I could almost taste them then and there! And all because her husband liked fresh barfi. Royal indulgences! But he also worked it off by performing a 108 Sun Salutations every single day. The proof lies on one of the tiles in the room where he did these. The tile has worn away and has a slight dip where his forehead used to rest during a particular pose in each salutation or 'namaskar'.
We wander out into the vast grounds and stumble onto a pathetic, shackled elephant in the backyard. No Indian Royal would be caught without an elephant in the India of yore but today we wonder why this poor creature still remains. I recall the story of one of my mother's uncles crawling towards the elephant they had then and even as his horrified care giver followed rapidly, the child reached the elephant. Instead of crushing the child underfoot, the elephant calmly lifted each huge foot in turn so that the baby could crawl on unabated! Another elephant tale was that my own maternal grandfather sat on the royal elephant which then brought him to the temple where the marriage between him and my grandmother was solemnized. It was one of his favourite wedding memories... Later my mother's eldest sister, as a two year old, visited her grandparents and refused to go home without the elephant! Her artist grandfather, on being told the reason for the tantrum , rapidly sketched her an elephant and she happily went home clutching the drawing! And now we were looking at the last of the family elephants and my daughter had tears in her eyes as she witnessed this atrocity of chaining an animal. We silently apologized to it.
As we re entered through the back door, grand uncle looked up and said there used to be lizards around this light and we boys used to try to whack them with cricket bats as we came home at sunset, after a game of cricket in the field behind the house. It underlined the fact that royal or not, today or seventy odd years ago, boys will be boys. He then asked the kids to count the tiles in the smaller, inner courtyard. Eight eights are sixty four! Yes, it was a huge chess board and great grand dad and his chess partner would sit in the balconey above and house help would move huge chessmen on the board down below as per their commands. That's called not lifting a royal finger!
We finally walk out of the house and I wonder what the experience must have been like for grand uncle. In his mind's eye did he still see his parents there, his siblings and his friends? It must be painful to re visit a pale shadow of your once vibrant childhood home...We then walk in into the huge temple that adjourns the house. The government runs a play school in the temple yard and the clamour of little kids spells out clearly that life goes on, though the original inhabitants of these environs are almost all gone. The huge temple hall is dominated by large glass chandeliers and the walls are lined with great grand father's paintings, depicting stories from our great epics. This was the hall where my grand parents got married, where, grand uncle says they all, as children, played on rainy days. He points to mismatched floor tiles and says they were replaced more than seventy five years ago during a great flood when water got into the temple foundations and uprooted the original tiles. Small vignettes that only original inhabitants can recollect!
We seek blessings from the temple Goddess and move out into the main courtyard. Grand uncle takes a last look at 'his' house and points to the first floor. He tells us he toppled down from there while flying a paper aeroplane as a mere four year old! Then they raised the level of the balconey iron grill to prevent further mishaps! He escaped unscathed and lives to tell the tale and it is these fleeting memories that warm the cockles of one's heart.
We drive up to the main temple perched upon a hillock with a bird's eye view for miles around. As family we are given special permission to enter the 'sanctum sanctorum' of the much venerated Deity and we feel divinely blessed. A few steps down the hill is the family tree, etched on a block of marble. I am thrilled to find my grandmother's name there. It's the clarion call of the roots!
At the bottom of the hill is the famous museum. Imagine this small village housing so many precious artifacts and art work from different periods, all thanks to my great grand father's extraordinary vision, artistic talent, fondness for buying and collecting antiques and curiosities. He built it in 1936 at a cost of Rs.70,000 which is slightly more than a thousand American dollars today. It was an astronomical sum in pre British India. He wanted to house the collection that he had acquired mainly during his European tour, his own art work and the art work that he had commissioned other artists to do and this was some thing he was absolutely passionate about!
We wandered, wide eyed, around the museum, dazzled by the paintings, sculptures and great grand mother's exquisite embroidery. It's clear why I adore embroidery myself and am able to flawlessly execute complex patterns. Genes show up, some day, some where, some how! My mother's cousin had arranged for the Curator of all the museums in the district to meet us there. So after a finger licking lunch from one of the local households, we finally entered the 'Strong Room' where the most precious items from the collection are securely displayed.
Sadly, ivory wasn't banned in those days so we see a lot of carved ivory. There are delightful cameos of my grandmother and her five sisters, gold coins which are a few centuries old and ornately carved gigantic silver platters. An unusual item is a pretty, bottle green poison pot with a matching tumbler. The King's food was first placed here. If it changed colour, it was obvious it had poison in it! Court intrigues were common in India and those in power had to take steps to safe guard themselves. Another attraction is what is purported to be Mughal Emperor Jehangir's walking stick. Made of gold, encrusted with deep red rubies, it evokes medieval Indian history at a glance!
I covet a chess board with silver chessmen. But every thing now belongs to the Government of India and not to the family. Even if it did, my aunt helpfully points out, there are far too many claimants! True, so I leave 'my' chessboard behind! Then a lovely Ganesha, our elephant headed God, carved from a humongous ruby catches my eye and I marvel at its detailed features. 'Mother and Child' carved by the famous British sculptor Henry Moore dominates the room and is worth millions of pounds today. Great Grandfather acquired it for just a few pounds!
As we exit this room full of precious antiques that are worth a fortune today, a huge, pure white marble 'chowranga' , ( a squat, flat, four legged table) in the corridor catches my eye. Grand uncle notices me staring at it and quips, 'That was in Ajanta Hall. My mother's marble bust used to stand on it. That is in my younger brother's house now.' I wonder aloud why he didn't carry away this grand piece too!
The sight of that massive 'chowranga', sitting forlornly in that dusty corner, poignantly brings home to me like nothing else did, that we had just spent the last few hours exploring a bygone era. Time had never stopped, India's royals had ceased to exist at the stroke of midnight, on 15th August 1947, when we awoke to life and freedom and all that remained were memories, of people, of places and of things. It was time for us to move on too. We had a long drive back home.

                                          A lovely day for a drive!
                                          Temple chandeliers!
                                          Courtyard of marble statues.
                                           An elephant in the backyard.
                                         The temple adjoins the more than a 100 years old house.
                                           The family tree in Devnagari script
The Grand Patriarch- from my maternal side.

                                                                     Aundh Museum
                                          Temple Hall where my grandparents tied the knot
Temple on the hillock

Thanks to my Dad for sharing the last three pictures with me so I could use them here! He was the 'Royal' Photographer of the day!

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Oh Africa !

This particular poem was not written this morning but thirteen long years ago on my first visit to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. It is my first piece of writing on African soil and all I had written till then was a few stories in third and fourth grade in school, school and junior college essays and my M.Phil thesis, which was more factual than creative ! I wrote this when I had been in Africa for a mere three weeks but then, there certainly IS something about this land that compels you to write. Just ask Ernest Hemingway and the countless authors who have produced best sellers after having visited or lived in this vast continent. I had a little four year old daughter playing by my side when I penned this and my son wasn't even thought of !
This year we have completed ten whole years of living in Africa (we had a three year stint in India in between, hence it has been thirteen years since I first put foot on this continent) and so I am sharing the poem as a tribute to this land which has been so kind to us. I am reproducing it from memory as my original copy is locked up in my cupboard at home in Pune. I hope I've got it right! Today, in the cool, crisp Nairobi air, my sentiments remain the same as they were on a hot, muggy morning in Dar so long ago...

 Oh Africa !

Oh Africa, you are beautiful,
Warm, wild and wonderful,
Untamed, dark and bountiful!
Land of forests, mountains ,deserts, plains, valleys too,
Whatever God created, He gifted you!

Here came David Livingstone,
Changing the African equation.
It must have been, I presume, quite a sight,
When, for the first time, Black met White.
Then began colonial rule,
And African children started school.

Land of snakes and of great lakes,
Land of the Nile and of the crocodile.
Land where the Masai their cattle herd,
Land of lion and of leopard.
Your wild life you have preserved,
The evidence lies in your game reserves.

Land of the Pyramids and of Kilimanjaro,
Today your cup is full of sorrow.
Poverty, corruption, HIV and malaria abound,
Where, once, Louis Leakey hand axes found!

Land of diamonds and the Tanzanite,
Awake, arise, fight with all your might.
Use the resources which to you do belong,
And, one day, other nations to you for aid will throng!

*Dr.David Livingstone was a pioneer European explorer who came to Africa.
**Dr.Louis Leakey was a famous archaeologist who did extensive excavation work in East Africa. Hand axes are stone tools made by early humans.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

A Vegetarian's Guide To Survival In A Non Vegetarian World...

A couple of weeks ago we had 'Open House' at school. For the uninitiated and for those who may not have read my post about it a few years ago, it is a day when teachers and parents mingle in school over tea, coffee and snacks, and then we follow a mini version of our children's daily schedule. The teachers in each class talk about the syllabus, their rules and expectations and yes, Indian/ Indian origin parents are forbidden from asking 'How is my child doing?' !! ( Translation : Will he/she be the next Satya Nadella/ Sundar Pichai/ Indira Nooyi. Please understand it's an American school so we Indians are willing to give references they would comprehend immediately!) Jokes apart, Open House takes place when school has been going on for less than ten days!
This Open House had one major change! The number of Indian/Kenindian parents has gone up in the last few years and the number of vegetarians has dramatically increased. The school seems to have taken cognisance of this and we actually had 'pure' vegetarian snacks laid out for us on pretty platters! I remember many a day when the only thing I could pick from the whole array was a sorry looking cookie which probably had egg in it...Times had changed and how!
Times change but Indians don't! Even as I stood in queue for the veg samosas each 'pure' vegetarian was frantically confirming from the other. "Are you sure it's veg?' 'What is in it?' "Potatoes, peas, carrots?' 'Are you SURE?' 'Double check!' Most of us neatly dissected the Samosa the minute we plopped it onto our plates. The biology teacher would have been proud of us! We trawled through the stuffing the way those foraging for gold in rivers sift through silt. Once we were completely satisfied that there was 'nothing' in it, did it find its way into our mouths, 'nothing' being a euphemism among vegetarian Indians for chicken, fish, meat and often eggs too.
And so I thought this was a good time to put into writing a guide that has been bubbling through my mind for many years, especially as many vegetarian Indian students are leaving home and hearth for the first time to go and study abroad, notwithstanding the fact that the Indian Rupee stands at an all time high with respect to the American dollar. I know I am laying my head on my non vegetarian friends' well scrubbed chopping boards but so be it! This survival guide is based on lessons learnt during the thirteen years that I have lived outside India, out of my twenty vegetarian ones. Yes, I know I just opened up a can of worms right there but I will not elaborate on that here!

1. The Samosa and/or the Spring Roll. The Samosa, a deliciously sinful creation of carbohydrates stuffed in fried refined flour dough, is available on every street corner in India and can be eaten there without undergoing the ritual I described earlier. However the world outside India has come up with their own non vegetarian version which has chicken/meat and may be fish at times. So you will say you will order a vegetarian one and be done with it! No! Hotel freezers are chaotic places and the two versions often get badly mixed up because they look exactly the same from outside! This happened to me on a pristine beach in a popular resort in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. But cautious me had broken it into two first, only to find that it was the meat version! Back it went where it had come from and I refused to accept a replacement because obviously their veggie and meat ones were jostling next to each other somewhere in their kitchen!
Ditto for spring rolls! These Chinese creations, now comfortable in their spicy Indian Avtaar, come in the chicken variant too and get mixed up with the veg version. It happened to me during a late, lazy Sunday lunch in a tranquil garden restaurant in Nairobi, Kenya. But clever me had cut it into two first to check and sure enough slivers of chicken flesh burst onto my plate in all their stringy glory...I did not go back to that particular restaurant for the next two years!
 Moral: Chop and examine thoroughly before consumption!

2. Pizza. That tempting creation of the Italians now trademarked by the Americans! Pizza Hut came to India and the eating out part of life, as we knew it, was never the same again! Indianized Pizzas with spice and all that's nice soon began rolling out of those customised ovens and every kid wanted a birthday party in a Pizza Hut outlet. We took our four year old daughter to one such brand new place for her first 'not made at home' pizza and ordered one choc full of veggies. The one that landed up at our table turned out to be choc full of chicken instead! The lady in Pune, India, had messed up our order! I was VERY suspicious when I looked at it  but still took a tentative bite against my instincts, only to spit out the tiny morsel. My poor daughter was so traumatised that she did not eat pizza, unless it was home made, for the next four years! Had this happened in the United States, I've been told, we could have sued them for sure!
Moral: Dissect your pizza too. Yes, even lift the puddle of melted cheese and see if anything that was once living, is lurking beneath!

3.Burger. Mcdonald's outlets in India are, by and large, quite careful and other than Indianizing the menu to sooth our hot and fiery palates, also have a green dot on the box to indicate vegetarian items. But once you step out of India, you better watch out! On a crisp,cold summer morning nineteen years ago, my husband and I set out to visit the Tzar's Summer Palace. We decided to have breakfast in a Mcdonald's outlet and poor, ignorant me, ordered a cheeseburger. The sight of the warm, brown burger bun stoked my appetite and young, hungry me took a giant bite! The next moment all hell broke loose in St.Petersburg, Russia as it turned out there was a meat cutlet in a CHEESE burger and I spat it out as fast and as thoroughly as I could, without caring a fig for my table manners!
Moral: Lift the top portion of the bun, scrutinise the innards with a magnifying glass, replace the top, consume if satisfied.

4.Ice cream, jellies, custard and cheese. If we have lived in India all our lives we assume ice cream is vegetarian as are jelly and cheese. Sadly, outside India one has to look for ice cream which says suitable for vegetarians which means no animal fat has been used by that particular brand to make it creamy. It's the same case with cheese so look for ones that are made without animal rennet and be sure to ask your pizza/burger place which cheese they use, if you, like me, are extremely particular about what you pop in into your mouth. Vegetarian jelly crystals and custard powder are not always available and most imported brands use gelatin derived from animal sources. So I simply pack a few packets of various flavours and get them with me.They are available at your neighbourhood grocer in India! And yes, don't give your kids gummy bears or other sweets that contain gelatin.

5. Miscellaneous: Oil! Oil that has been used to fry non veg food items imparts a fishy odour to the veg items that might have been fried in it later. So make it clear to who ever is in charge to use fresh oil to fry your food! It happened to me at an Indian "acquaintance's" house in Dar Es Salaam. No, my friends would never make such an error! I forced down that tiny veg cutlet with great difficulty and said NO to seconds!
Pasta sauce: It looks like tomato sauce but often has a meat base! So call for the chef and ask if you are eating at a buffet table. Don't assume it is vegetarian because it 'looks' vegetarian!
If you are a vegetarian and are invited to someone's home for a meal, please specify before hand what you DON'T eat! It's not rude. It's even worse to say no after they have taken the trouble of cooking for you! It happened to me in Nairobi where two of the three dishes had egg as the main ingredient and I landed up eating only the boiled squash! I had assumed they knew I did not eat eggs, unless invisible in a cake!
Beware of dimly lit 'romantic' restaurants! A pricey Indian one in Nairobi nearly turned out to be my undoing as they served us chicken tikka in a gravy instead of the paneer (cottage cheese)  tikka we had ordered. Only my paranoia of being served non veg saved me as I asked for another candle to examine the dish before I served the kids! And sure enough I had to return the item!
Once in a foreign land, specify what vegetarian means! Spell it out by saying no chicken, no meat of ANY kind, no fish and no eggs, if applicable to you. Soup from which those floating chicken pieces have been removed, is not classified as vegetarian. Nor is rice from which the meat has been picked out. So open your mouth and ask/ tell, else who knows what you might unwittingly put in! There are no helpful green for vegetarian /red for not dots made compulsory by the Indian government for all packaged food items, once you leave your native shore. So use your brain, if in doubt just refrain!

Disclaimer: This is not intended to hurt any sentiments but is a genuine attempt to help fellow vegetarians, specially the students with their brand new passports and matching Louis Vuitton luggage, as colleges reopen the world over! So my non vegetarian readers, do take this with a spoon of salty vegetables!

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