My Urban Gardening # 5 thereabouts.


While I procrastinate about how best to write my next post-it is half written-summer is here with a vengeance. Although it rains in the mornings, they say in this part of the world, it is hot as the rest of the day. I had my first swim in the Pacific Ocean some weeks ago but have yet to go in after that. Meanwhile my garden flourishes. This year I have done away with the chilli and eggplant. I have in my little balcony at the back a long pot of strawberry, spinach, cherry tomatoes red and yellow, broad beans, red guava and lime. This year I have vodoo-ed the pots. So the aphids, the fungal gnats, the ants and assorted summer pests are afraid to come anywhere close. So far so good.

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This year I planted seeds I had harvested from my lemon basil and tulsi. Little pots on my kitchen window sill, protected from the fiercely cold Auckland wind but allowing plenty of sun. It is a miracle when seeds, coaxed and chatted to, germinate and grow then become robust plants. This is my family, these plants. I’ve got blood and bones liquid to feed them too. Yeah it seems squeamish-to feed human/animal stuff to plants and then think of them as ‘vegetarian’. But then I wonder how vegetables are grown in bulk without feeding them (or enhancing growth, if that is the agri-market-speak). Better blood and bones than mineral depleting chemical fertilisers. As long as my plants are happy and I can go out the back door to cut some chives/coriander/spinach/basil/pick tomatoes even while I cook. Yeah, this summer is going well so far with my plant family. I just need to loosen the soil and repot some. And I do seem to getting better at gardening. From never having tried back in Bombay to making sure it on my list of things-to-do-always, kind of like meditation. That’s all.

Passive Performance As Multiculturalism. (In New Zealand) Part 2.


In part one of this blog I introduced my argument and quoted Milton Fisk. Multiculturalism in New Zealand is based on a neoliberal model that recognises diversity but does not allow it flow over into the mainstream because that upsets the economic structure and global expression of the same. I used as a starting point an article by Henry Johnson and Guil Figgins that: (a)Examines the re-contextualization and transformation of Diwali in New Zealand with emphasis on performance (b) Explores the role that various organisations have and looks at (c) The ways in which performances are expressions of self-identity and part of a process of place-making.

Re-contextualization/Tranformation:

The paper says Diwali Downunder is a secular affair that is recontextualised and transformed into a celebration.

Diwali, as celebrated in India, is a family affair. However it is still public in a way because the entire country celebrates it according to region and community. So it is a public-private affair. There is no place for communal performance of any kind especially Bollywood. The ‘transformation’ cannot be called secular because the very nature of the festival excludes non-Hindu South Asians-it is a Hindu festival within a ‘homogenous’ space as per organisers. Perhaps because India is a larger economy than other South Asian countries? In my film Jennifer King says that since the Chinese Lantern Festival was successful, they decided on Diwali. (So a non-religious Chinese festival is the same as a deeply religious Hindu festival?) Then the very nature of this does not offer any scope for re-contextualization. My questions:

  • Is a publicly celebrated foreign festival a true transformation when the space is predetermined by government organisations?
  • How can a culture be re-contextualized in that same space which only seeks passive participation from the local Indian community?
  • Isnt the otherness endorsed by the same and then to maintain that because it is about replicating and imitating from back home and that becomes representation.
  • You need local creatives to re-contextualize. Where are the local artists?
  • Why has Jacob Rajan never performed at Diwali?
  • Name one creative who has come out of this transformed/re-contextualized space to breakout on to the national stage?

Organisations and events:

The paper says that the role of the organisations is positive and Asia:NZ’s role (then known as Asia 2000) contributes towards developing visibility.

To a certain extent that is true but what has the role of Asia:NZ to develop visibility of the Indian community got to do with social integration? Asia:NZ Foundation was established in 1994 by the Jenny Shipley government (National) to help develop better economic ties with Asian countries. On 7/11/2004, the tenth anniversary of Asia:NZ, Phil Goff (Labour), then in government, said in a speech in Parliament Ten years ago, New Zealand had embarked on a policy of active engagement with Asian economies. We had expanded our ties with Asian countries on a number of fronts politically, economically and diplomatically. …”

When you have economic benefit as your core ojective then culture has to be shaped and presented accordingly. Diversity becomes a commodity instead of a value.

Then organisations develop mutually beneficial MOUs such as with Auckland City Council.

Self-identity and Place-making:

Expression of self identity means taking charge of who you are. Culturally, ethnically and in the present. It means challenging notions of being the ‘other’ to oneself and to the mainstream. That goes beyond recognition. It is about equality.

  • Expression of self identity is a form of resistance and that is anathema to neo-liberal multiculturalism. The Indian identity here is shaped within the context of Diwali-exotic and different. But equal?

Placemaking comes from telling stories by owning a place and you own a place by actively participating in the place/space. There is only passive participation in the Diwali Mela.

  • Real place-making can happen only when the past is not sought to be fossilised in the present. It is different from cultural maintenance.

Indian culture then does not spill into, flow into and mix with other cultures or even the mainstream. How then can social issues be addressed?

What multiculturalism then?

It is clear from the current neoliberal model of multiculturalism in New Zealand that migrants and their diversity are recognised for economic benefits. The inference in my film is the same. “Food, footfalls and festivals for cultural consumption…my identity reduced to song and dance to satisfy the stakeholders…” Here the stakeholders are the organisers and sponsors. The Indian community is clearly not perceived as a stakeholder in an active, participatory, decision-making manner except to please them about their presence and numbers at an annual Diwali Mela. As if seeing others like yourself once a year in masses is reassuring of your place and space in New Zealand.

I do not have a clear cut answer to which model of multiculturalism New Zealand should seek. It is a matter of korero, dialogue.

Milton Fisk: The cultural view of recognition stays within the bounds of neoliberalism. the social view of recognition does not counterpose recognition and equality; instead, it makes equality a vital part of recognition.

Amartya Sen: 1-Promote diversity as a value in itself. 2-Focus on the freedom of reasoning and decision-making positively supported through social opportunities.(Identity And Violence The Illusion Of Destiny. Sen, Amartya. Allen Lane-Penguin Books, 2006.)

Tariq Modood:1-Socio-economic opportunities and outcomes. 2-Socio-cultural mixing. 3Civic participation and belonging (Open Democracy blog)

New Zealand is unique because we have the Treaty Of Waitangi that no other country in this world has. Any form of multiculturalism cannot be propagated without involving tangata whenua. How does the Diwali Mela create a dialogue with Maori? What is the place of migrants as tau iwi? If migrant culture is seen as economically viable to sell the idea of New Zealand as blissfully diverse, to tell India and China that their people are loved here so let’s get on with the FTA, then Maori will become invisible to migrants. That would be perilous.

And after all this, I must make clear that I am not against the Bollywood dance competition or Diwali. It is the implementation and institutionalisation that is problematic. Besides, the Indian community in New Zealand, the youth need to take charge of their identity. Not just as ‘Indians’ but as New Zealanders. They need to question their space here. Merely doing an anti-Paul Henry dance at Diwali does not stop the racism. Neither is it resistance.

Passive Performance As Multiculturalism. (In New Zealand.) Part 1


This blog I have put together from a presentation I did at a Symposium in Dunedin ‘Interrogating Multiculturalism in New Zealand: An Asian Studies Perspective’ jointly organised by Otago University and Victoria University. It is still rough and there are some gaps to fully support my argument but I prefer to post it rather than write a longer academic article (and it is still in two parts). A friend advised me to read Foucault and Derrida but I do not have the time to digest such heavy reading. You can either agree or disagree.

The title comes from my documentary film DANCE BABY DANCE naach gaana hum aur tum that I made to examine the representation of the Indian community in New Zealand via the Bollywood dance competition at the Diwali Mela organised by Auckland City Council and Asia:NZ Foundation. The questions I asked myself and put to the viewer were ‘What does it mean to be Indian in New Zealand?’ ‘Who are the people that decide?’

When I first came to New Zealand and discovered that Diwali is celebrated as a publicly funded* festival through the organisations above, I was happy and excited. It was a way of sharing my culture with mainstream New Zealand. But the more I saw this festival the more uncomfortable it made me. Is this how multiculturalism is officially expressed in New Zealand? An annual festival that brings in footfalls and local Indians but to what end? How does this help in integration? How does it create a platform for querying your space and identity in New Zealand? What is the discourse around it? Is there a critical discourse? If not why not? The only way I could find out was by making a film. I interviewed the organisers and followed five different kinds of participants as they rehearsed for the Bollywood dance competition (since this was the ‘showstopper’ and heavily promoted and also the most problematic) . What did I infer at the end?

I needed academic backup to support my conclusion. My arguments come from the point of view of being an ‘ethnic’ media practitioner in the mainstream media of New Zealand who is on the fringe of the community and the mainstream by virtue of being neither or both and hence requiring me to be think in a critical manner. Outside/inside or inside/outside.

To begin, I referred to an article by Henry Johnson and Guil Figgins: Diwali Downunder-Transforming And Performing Tradition In Aotearoa New Zealand. This paper
a) Examines the re-contextualization and transformation of Diwali in New Zealand with emphasis on performance
b) Explores the role that various organisations have
c) The ways in which performances are expressions of self-identity and part of a process of place-making.

I’d like to argue that all three are limited and shaped by neo-liberal ideas of multiculturalism that converts migrant/ethnic cultures into soft, non-threatening consumable exotica to maintain the position of the ‘other’ rather than allow for integration. This then (a) Creates a space for passive participation (b) Continues to ghettoise the community (c) Sweeps social issues to the fringe or under the carpet because those are not part of this form of multiculturalism. Cultural differences are celebrated and accepted but rigidly maintained and not allowed tospill over into an effort to have equality of a form that would run counter to the economic norms the regime is expected in the global context to protect.’  I quote Milton Fisk, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Indiana University who wrote about Multiculturalism and Neoliberalism.…in the liberalism and the neoliberalism that associate closely with a positive view of the economic market, the notions of equal worth and equal dignity do not imply a right to economic equality but only a right to recognition. Here recognition implies…no more than an acceptance of others with their difference and of the task of maintaining that difference when they desire that their difference be maintained.”

Recognition of diversity is not the same as equality. It is a diversion from normalising and engaging with migrants and their lives and stories in New Zealand. Negotiating multiple identities and existence in New Zealand-they get lost in this ‘recognition and endorsement’ of popular Indian culture (Bollywood) and its economic hegemony. This recognition is like the carrot, it leads to the mirage of freedom and equity. But for the Indian community in New Zealand this multiculturalism continues to underscore and locate representation in food, clothes and performances rather than an exploration of their inherent complexities and space in New Zealand or creating a platform for democratic participation and open, critical discourse. Eventually failing to translate into wider cultural engagement or integration because it is always the ‘other’.

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*The Diwali Mela is funded through various private sponsors, the Lion Foundation and advertisers but the primary organisations are government bodies who ‘raise’ the money, hence I use the term publicly funded.

More Urban Gardening


Winter is not a great time to grow plants but in mid-autumn I planted a bunch of broad-beans on the advice of a mate. Had no idea what to expect. The first thing that happened was that the pot got infested with ants. I have a lot to say about ants @$$$£$^&*&! At my Buddhist/Zen best I want to let them be because they are fellow creatures. At my human depth I want to kill each little bastard individually. These ants ate my egg plant and chilli plant in the summer. I’ve never known ants to eat chillies, Indian chillies too. They got into the pots and fed on the roots. I got one, ONE, brinjal and a mere handful of chillies. I love my plants. I love potting them, watering them every day, talking to them, touching them, feeling them…get the gist? And this was no time to be Buddhist. For my first attack I got ant/insect spray from the supermarket and sprayed it all over my balcony and around the back door. There was respite and I rejoiced. Round one to me. Not for long. I discovered they had snuck into the broad-bean pot and were proliferating. When Arjun was facing his cousins, the Kauravas, at Kurukshetra, wondering how he could kill them, Krishna, his charioteer said that sometimes the call of duty is greater than brotherhood. So the call of seeing my plant actually bear fruit was bigger than love for those little buggers. It was all out war. The enemy had to be killed with the deadliest Weapon of Mass Destruction. Ant Sand, supposedly safe (for humans). I sprinkled it all over the pot on the soil, around the plot and into the gaps in my balcony. There was no escape! I am pleased to announce the enemy has been destroyed 🙂 The war has been won, no insurgency expected. The plants are flourishing, thank you. They’ve flowered and the beans should not be far behind.

Meanwhile the Calendula and the Lemon Grass are doing very well. The LG was plucked out from another garden and by the time I drove home and potted it, it was as good as dead. This was towards the end of the summer. Then a mate of mine, the same one who gave me the broad-beans, said I should keep the faith and keep on watering it, coaxing it.Used in my Thai curry chicken some weeks ago.

My fenugreek (methi) experiment has failed though and I’ve got a mere two shoots. Keep trying, keep trying, that is mantra. I love gardening and having plants around me, some flowers, some food, some decoration, some edible. I think I should feed it some supplements. Next on the agenda is to plant strawberries and flax. Let’s see how that goes. Yeah it is not strawberry season. Yet.

One last thing. That can happen only in Auckland (or New Zealand). Last month I went to my old street and plucked all the red guavas I possibly could from the tree that everyone ignores. Only the rare person in that neighbourhood cares about this free kai (food in Te Reo Maori). Delicious little red guavas that I never knew existed. I was only aware of the green variety back in India. Here’s a look at the beauties.

Shrinking, dithering fusspots!


I was all ready with another blog (s) about good hair, meditation,  Maoists and Arundhati Roy haters when I changed my mind in reaction to the constant refrain from the New Zealand media about security at the Delhi Commonwealth Games. So the bomb blasts at Bangalore before the IPL cricket match were a shock. Of course. Yet the game was played and Indians carried on with their life.  If you know India then you also know that the blasts could have been the work of any kind of group. From the mafia to religious fundamentalists to even someone who wants to take revenge on Mr Lalit Modi (just an idea).  To terrorise is to intimidate by coercion and violence, as most dictionaries describe. How easily the New Zealand media is creating the space in which to ‘terrorise’ its own people about going to India for the Commonwealth Games.  By coercion, subliminal coercion. Just like any other mainstream media does in any country to keep its people in the realm of fear-for-the-self-and-mistrust-of-the-other.  Oh are our sports people safe in India? Oh, there is no security there. Oh our cricketers were outvoted over whether to abandon the IPL match or carry on. Oh there is such chaos in India. Oh the sheer madness. Tich and tach.

India has been the subject of terrorists attacks from homegrown as well as external terrorists for many years now. I cannot harp on enough about the 13-in-a-row bomb blasts that went off across Bombay on 12 March 1993. The first ever such terrorist attack anywhere in the world but then only brown people died so why should the Western world have cared? My sister was in the Sea Rock Hotel when it happened and one of my patient’s came home with glass shards lodged in his arms and tears in his eyes because he had seen his colleagues blowing up (in the Air India building). He was standing at that spot just a few minutes before! Innocent people died. They always do. But life went on.

On 26 November 2008, Pakistani terrorists went on a rampage in Bombay.  This time the images were broadcast all over the world. I wept on TV3 News. It was my neighbourhood, my city, my love. What did the New Zealand media want? They first called to ask if I knew any New Zealanders who might be in Bombay. New Zealanders=white people.  When word came out that the Deccan Mujahideen might be responsible, a bright thing from TVNZ asked me what ‘Deccan’ was. Oh and do you know of any New Zealanders there? As if the shock and loss of Bombayites, now New Zealanders, did not matter.

Would there be such a fuss if the Commonwealth Games were held in London? There is better security there no? Oh hang on, I remember something that happened on the Underground network on 7 July 2005 and later on at Glasgow Airport too.  Perhaps the Commonwealth Games should move to the U.S.A. Plenty of security. Except that Oklahoma City marked the 15 anniversary of the bombing two days ago and more Tea Parties are being held across the country than ever before. But New Zealanders will be safer in the Western world. India is chaotic and corrupt right?

Displayed in the Beehive is a tattered New Zealand flag recovered from the 9/11 rubble of the Twin Towers. What does that flag convey? New Zealanders might not be able to visit Gallipoli this year on Anzac Day because of the volcanic eruption and flight disruption. Why do New Zealanders want to pay homage to those that were commanded by colonial powers to be fodder in a losing battle? How did Sir Peter Blake die? Why is Sir Ed Hillary so revered? I have a mate who is in the Himalayas now planning to climb another mountain. He failed to make it to the peak of the Everest the first time he tried but then he did it the second time around. It is better to die trying than be afraid.

Would New Zealand media prefer if our sportsmen sat at home because of supposed lack of security or immerse themselves in the Commonwealth Games in spite of the lack of security and come back with medals?

This security business is just an issue created to make news. The Commonwealth Games in Delhi is a matter of prestige for the Government of India. Delhi will be chocker with all kinds of security. What is a minor bomb blast? You can die here when police cars take u-turns on roads or someone throws a beer bottle at you or from drink driving or just bad driving or drowning. Seriously. You can get dehydrated by the runs after eating spicy Indian food. That is more dangerous! Perhaps the fact that New Zealand and India are working on a free trade deal might be more persuasive to the media. A no show would be a bad look.

Yeah, best not be shrinking, dithering fusspots. Not only will there not be any medals, chances are economic benefits might slip away too. I don’t think the government would like that. No no.

Plants (that feed) In The City.


Just a real quick blog before I go to bed. There are many things to write about and as usual my resolution for 2010 is to be regular. Whatever. However, this one is to begin a new category I’ve categorised as ‘my urban gardening’. Now that I have moved into an apartment it calls for a change in the way I grow my food. In the last blog I lamented about the lack of composting and the heartache I got after throwing my kitchen scraps in the rubbish bin. Two months and still living through a fabulous summer I have got an eggplant, a chilli plant and a tomato plant. I also got herbs. Rosemary, lemon basil, mint and parsley. The right corner of the planter is

empty because my third attempt at growing coriander failed. (Just started a new experiment today, the results of which I shall know and blog about soon.) For the moment I’ve planted calendula which is medicinal, edible and smells nice.

Yeah so there is great pleasure in seeing Mother Earth give you food. I was thrilled when the first chillies sprouted on the plant. I have seen this many times and I never cease to be amazed. So it was with the tomatoes too.

I used the chillies today when I made a savoury from puffed rice. The tomatoes are not ready yet but boy have they grown. Here is how they look now, the tomato and chilli plants. The white arrows indicate the number of chillies that have grown on it. The eggplant has not yet got ‘fruit’. All I do is to water the plants every morning before it gets too hot. There is no plan to add fertiliser-and anyway the potting mix has fertiliser that will last for six months, by which time it will be winter.

Apart from using the herbs for cooking (lemon basil goes really well with Indian food), I made a pot-pourri from them. It is easy. I dried rosemary, mint and lemon basil leaves, lavender leaves plucked from a hedge on my street and used oolong tea leaves.  All I need is one of those fancy little silk bags in which to bundle them up.

The next step is to begin composting. I had a chat with my neighbours downstairs this morning and they offered me use of their worm farm. Nick opened it up for me-it looks fabulous with the creepie-crawlies, the earthworms and the ‘earthworm poop’ (as little Ryan put it) that comes out from the waste. (In my next blog about urban gardening I will insert the photo.)

None of what I am doing is new or ground breaking but the pleasure of growing one’s own food, or some of the ingredients, in an urban environment; reading and researching about gardening and techniques that allow humans to adapt ‘farming’ to new environments; watching a seed germinate and ultimately give fruit are all activities that bond me and the land. Homo Sapiens tamed wild vegetation for aeons to make food from it and now we have to learn how to take that further through changing landscapes and civilisations as if cultivating an apple tree in the  your flat’s balcony is a normal thing. Why should food and farming be a distant, rural concept?

Moving house; uncluttering my life


It has been a hectic December. Moving house is unsettling. After flatting for six years it was time to move and the adamant, pedantic and particular being that I am, it took me months to find the perfect place.  I am a city girl. Love the bush and the ocean; the sounds of silence, wilderness, living absolutely basic but I am also a ‘culture-vulture’. Cannot do without my films and visiting art galleries or just walking on Karangahape Road. I practically live on Queen Street during the Auckland International  Film Festival going from one theatre to the other and then work in-between! It had to be a city suburb. Easy to drive out of Auckland into the Waitakeres or the West Auckland beaches. Thirty minutes max. Besides, I cannot do ghetto nor do I envisage death by suburbia! Imagine living with inquisitive Indian neighbours! Or somewhere within endless rows of characterless houses enclosed by ‘new development’. Not to say it is all like that…yet… the whole point of living in Auckland or out of India is to be able to be amongst all kinds of peoples and ethnicities and they exist in Auckland. (181  ethnicities in Auckland at last count.) A global existence. Even if that makes me snobbish.

So, moving house.  I despaired at first. There were the usual cold, dark Grey Lynn villas and the hugely expensive Ponsonby flats or places in Kingsland, Mt Albert and even Sandringham. Not all were bad but neither did they call out to me and few lived up to their description in the advertisements. I even went to the local real estate agent to talk about what I wanted. (No, not much to say about real estate agents that has not been said before. They are not answerable to their customers neither do they care because they know that house-hunters don’t have a choice.) Then suddenly there were three apartments available in Herne Bay. I would have never thought there would be apartments in Herne Bay. It is where the terribly posh people live in their seaside mansions. Or atleast that is the reputation. So I went along blindly to  one apartment, the first place I inspected. There were a lot of people there. Couples confabulating with each other as they scrutinised the space. As usual I was the odd one out by myself. Never had to scout for a house before and did not really  know what questions to ask the real estate agent/property manager. Not that I learnt much because the second flat I saw, which I liked, the real estate agent was superficial and distant. It was an experience, that one. I asked to rent the place straightaway and filled out the form. ‘The landlord is away so I’ll let you know in two days’, she said. Ya cool I thought. I waited and waited. The landlord is still away, she told me. It took me while to fathom. The woman was, in typical Pakeha (white) Kiwi fashion, covertly racist. She did not want to tell me perhaps that an Indian would not do. What if the flat stank of curry eh? Otherwise what other reason is there not to give me the flat? It is not like negotiating to buy a house is it? Renting a house in New Zealand is simple and straightforward particularly for residents and citizens. I have never encountered blatant racism especially not in the industry that I work in. You are capable so who cares about the colour of your skin. That place was not to be mine. For a good reason.

My current flat/apartment is a gift from the universe. The first time I saw it, from the end of the driveway, I fell in love with it.  Brick edifice of eight flats built in the sixties/seventies. Four downstairs, four upstairs. A common garden in the front and at the back. The beach across the road and two more on adjacent streets.  Fruit trees and nice neighbours. Perhaps a pain in the winter but perfectly suitable for little hippy me. So I moved in.

And started to unclutter my life. I am a hoarder by nature. Inherited it from my grandmother. I’d hoarded bits and pieces, pots, pans, kettles, computer cords and all kinds of things. I’d need it all one day when I moved or so I thought. But then I’ve come to live the reduce, reuse, recycle motto. The triviality of material possession is an absolute truth that cannot be emphasised enough. I really only had/have my computers, my mobile phone, car, dvd and video player. Being the good Indian girl 😉 I had a well-equipped kitchen including my steel thalis, katoris and glasses. The rest of my belongings only tell the story of my life, my journey so far and only I value them. At this moment I sleep on an air mattress and have just bought a faded, velvet green sofa from the Sallies. My dining table is the floor. A kind friend donated the television and I have rented the refrigerator. Of course I have a collection of shoes and some really nice clothes, sarees, bits of jewellery, make up, perfumes…mere requirements for a slightly bourgeois existence, occasionally self-indulgent.

The next step is to stay green. Yeah, yeah planted the herbs, chillies, tomotoes, even egg-plant but what about giving back to Mother Earth what she gives us? In my old flat I composted my kitchen scraps. For six years! When I moved to the new flat I had to explain to the property manager that composting can be done in an urban, apartment environment. My little greenie heart breaks every time I chuck my tea leaves into the rubbish bin rather than into a compost bucket. So now I am thinking Bokashi. One of my ex boyfriends was anal about research, a habit I picked up for better rather than worse. So, next year perhaps, after Googling up as much as I can, going to the green shops and talking to the experts I shall have much knowledge, enough for another blog. 🙂

Here And There And Everywhere.


I  watched  Dancing With The Stars-our local NZ version of course-and I rooted for the charming, handsome Tamati Coffey. Not that Barbara Kendall was bad at all. Just that Tamati is such a gorgeous dude 🙂

Just back from Australia, Melbourne to be precise and I keep thinking about the crap media in that country. Nothing that reflects the diversity on the streets, nothing. I love Melbourne. It is a great, photogenic city, lots of buzz, many things happening, the public transport is superb and the shopping is great fun too. Then I look at the television shows and I see crap. Big haired blondes and blokes going yeay-yeah (that is my bad version of the Australian accent).  I always look forward to visiting Melbourne. This time I decided to check out places I had not been to. One day I went all the way to Heidelberg. This is a northern suburb and you have to change to the Hurstmere line at Flinders St. Station, take a train going towards Eltham and get off at Heidelberg. Then I took a bus-on a Sunday afternoon too-to the Heide Museum For Modern Art. There is an exhibition on modernism in Australia. I love travelling by trains. The stations, the graffiti on the walls, the passengers, the railway stations…these stations in Melbourne are a delightful mix of old, colonial architecture and new fangled structure. Wrought-iron railings, the odd iron filigree on columns supporting the ceiling, electronic signs, clipped announcements and the people. I also like walking the streets of the city. I hung out at St. Kilda and thought it was cool. Except that the Tasman Sea is out of bounds. Imagine living in a seaside city fringe suburb and not  being able to walk over to the beach easily. That is one of things I would miss if I ever lived Melbourne. The easy access to the ocean, the bush and the mountains. Yeah so Melbourne is one of my favourite  cities but Australia? Nah full of Australians mate! And where is black Australia? I visited the Koorie Heritage Trust Cultural Centre on King St and cried at the stories of the Stolen Generation Kevin Rudd apologised but what after? For every Tamati on NZ television and for every Maori word spoken colloquially, I wonder when I will see an indigenous Australian as a normal, regular person on their television? Maybe there is, I just have not seen it.

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I tried to say gl-o-b-al- wa-r-mi-ng through my numb lips but only managed to pout, sexily I hope. This was perhaps the answer to botox and lip plumpers. Mwah mwah. Cheap and easy. All it takes is to be up bright and early on a cold Saturday morning at the Tongariro National Park, to do the Tongarirro Crossing. I could not do the summit of Mt Taranaki-Egmont at the beginning of this year but I was determined to do the crossing. Seven mad hours of hiking with 300 others. It was super!. It is always good to go into the wilderness in New Zealand and get away from it all. With strangers thinking just like you are. To cross a volcano, queue for a pee, tramp across mountains and streams, into the bush. Yeah. Next on the list is Mt Ruapehu…I think.

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Another of my journeys between the long time writing this blog and the previous one was to South Auckland. I went to Manurewa (instead of Mangere where I was supposed to be). It was between two appointments, one at the Nathan Homestead in Manurewa, so I thought I would sit in the local library and blog. The library was shut, it was getting dark-not yet the end of daylight savings but getting there, so I sat in my car.  Paranoid, afraid of some South Auckland type wrenching open my door and mugging me or something. Yes I am ashamed. I sat in the car hunched over the eee PC, hungry and almost fainting. I did not want to get out and look for food but I did. Walked to the local shops at the town centre after asking two school girls for directions. It was an interesting place to be. There were buildings that must have been around for a long time, I thought. An old settlement with a colonial history now in the news only for the murders, killings and muggings. On a normal day I would not venture into Manurewa. I have been to the Otahuhu shops but why would I go to Manurewa? I am secure in my middle class, pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-liberal existence in the city fringe. One day I was at the bus stop with those tall, hulking teenagers just out of the local boys college at 3pm and felt intimidated. They spoke a language I didn’t understand. Some kind of hip-hoppy, New Zild, Bro’town accent. These guys are going to get into a fight or do something to me, I thought. Not true. When the bus came they stood aside like gentlemen and let me get in first. After you, they said very sweetly. These are fears I create myself. That evening in Manurewa was revealing. I thought I was cool and inclusive and liberal. How can I explain the cowering little woman in the car? Here is room for improvement and this is going to be one of my tasks. If there is an ‘Other’ then that has to be respected because there is nothing to fear. That is all I can say for now.

Respect.


Fifteen days into the new year and I read about the resolutions everyone has made. I haven’t made any. One day is the same as another right? One year is the same as another except that we get older…and wiser perhaps? 2008 was an interesting year for me personally. A lot happened. I travelled quite a bit and started this blog amongst other things. My road trip over NYE 2008 was the most liberating experience of them all. It all started with my need to just be alone and reflect. Not necessarily at my Vipassana centre. So I planned the trip. Sort of.

31/12/08

I pack my car boot with my tent, sleeping bag, lots of food, walking shoes, hiking boots, my plastic Bata chappals Bata Sandak(that only ‘maids’  wear, according to my desi friends), my jandals, warm clothes, summer clothes, swimming togs, ‘brolly and a big bottle of sunscreen. Got the map, lots of cds, cassette tapes, the petrol tank is full, checked the pressure in the tyres, two cameras, mobile phone, charger, batteries, flashcards and water. It is 2.45ish. I am heading to Waharau Regional Park on the south-east of Auckland, just on the other side of the Hunua Ranges. It is a ninety minute drive and I don’t want to risk NYE traffic headed wherever on the highway. I have checked out all my routes over Google Maps and Google Earth. I know exactly where I am going. I am pleasantly surprised to find complete absence of traffic. Maybe people have left in the morning? The weather is glorious. I look forward to camping out by myself. Never heard of Waharau before I called Auckland Regional Council to book a place at Awhitu Regional Park past Manukau. It is full they say but there is space at Waharau. Yeah cool I say. Costs $10 to stay overnight. I am game to change of plan and easy with a different location. Isn’t life about things never going according to plan? So I drive along, excited. Along highway 2 , taking the Mangatangi exit towards Kaiaua,through pastoral New Zealand. Suddenly…JFC!!!!! The water shows up on the horizon Beckoning from afar. I can’t wait to get to Waharau. It is now about 5pm. The Auckland Regional Council booking office emailed me a code for the padlock on the gates to the camping grounds. I struggle to pen it until this dude comes along and rescues me. He has to go in too. (I like being rescued by handsome dudes, I tell myself. Maybe some damsel-in-distress situations might hit bullseye in 2009?) Once inside a find a place to set up the tent, put it up and go for a walk/hike-a short one. I want to get back and read. I take more photos and think. That is all I will do through my road trip. Take photos and think. Take photos and think. Or read or drive. I like it that I don’t have to work so I can think about anything else but work. Just dreamin’, that’s what I do as I walked through the bush marvelling at the ferns and the various reproductive systems of them. Spores 🙂 I get back to the tent, eat leftover fried rice I’d carried with me and lay back on the chatai to read. It is still daylight and very quiet. Other campers do fry-ups, play badminton and listen to music. Suddenly the sun goes down and it becomes cool. I get inside by sleeping bag, within the womb of the tent, and fall asleep right away.

1/01/09

The new year has begun. It is 6.30am, the sun shines, the birds tweet, the world is up and getting about. I pack up the tent, slap on the sunscreen and head out. It is a big day and I have to reach Waitomo before 11.30 to begin my Blackwater Rafting adventure at 12 noon. I have never driven so far out of Auckland on my own.  I just don’t know how long it will take me to get to the other side of the country. So back on highway1 past Ngaruawahia on to highway 29. That is a good short cut because going through Hamilton takes up more time. It is hot and I am hungry. I have not really had breakfast so I keep munching on baby carrots, plums, bird food (my healthy mixture of pumpkin and sunflower seeds roasted with red chilli powder), drink heaps of water and hope to reach Waitomo on time. New Zealand is such an interesting country. You can go from the east coast to the west coast in just a few hours. You can see hills and dales and treacherous country all at once.  It shines bright under the sun, without the ozone layer. I reach Otorohanga. No time to check out the town but I do notice the flower baskets hanging outside the shops and a big sign that says Kiwiana with a picture of the Buzzy Bee.  I keep on driving until I reach Waitomo.

I feel like Indiana Jones coming out of the caves. I have plunged into cold water, jumped off waterfalls, floated along underground streams, banged my helmeted head against stalagmites and wondered at the surreal beauty of the glow worms. Green things seeming to hang and glow from…ummm… nothing! No sfx can create this! Now it is time to go for a walk in the bush.  No rush to reach New PLymouth. It takes tow and a half hours from Waitomo with plenty of daylight. Besides, I don’t want to drive in the heat. The first day of the year and it is unbearably hot. That is the sign of a good summer? The bush is cool and soothing.

Back on highway 3 I am cruisin’. Faraway pine trees stand out in a silhouette on the horizon towards Awakino. Until I get my first, fleeting glimpse of the Tasman Sea. I gasp. OMG! The drive is curvy now. I really must pay attention to the road but I also want to see the Tasman Sea again. As if in answer to my prayer I only see water from Awakino onwards. The Tasman Sea is so different from the Pacific Ocean. One is blue and deceptively calm, the other full of waves and froth. I stop at Mokau for a stretch.  From here through Urenui onwards there is no break until New Plymouth. I have to cross the gorge and go through steep roads in the  mountains. I am tired and a big tanker tailgates me. I don’t understand drivers that tailgate. Why? Especially if the next bend says 25k and you are on my arse wanting me to go faster. I don’t want to die dude.

Kraftwerk play on the cd. AU-TO-BAH-NNNN. Electronic music on the New Zealand highway. Yeah! I also recommend Latin Jazz and of course good old Hindi films songs. Mere haathon mein nau nau chudiyan hai…reverberate through the mountains, pile on the colour. I see Sridevi do her thing 🙂 The tanker still breathes down my neck. I am mad at it but road rage is a tool for the impatient. I am going to learn to be patient this year. It is not a new year’s resolution exactly but….

2/01/09

New Plymouth. I am at my flatmate’s parents home. I was meant to go for a hike on Mt Taranaki Egmont. The weather is shite. So Jennifer, my flatmate’s mum and I go into town.  To Puke Ariki, the museum cum library (on the other side). The Maori section is well laid out. I like museums and art galleries. Something about the past, something about the future..It is windy and raining. The New Plymouth waterfront is pretty cool. Better than the Auckland waterfront-any day. So far I have seen the Wellington waterfront and the NP waterfront and both are better than Auckland. There is just no character to the Auckland waterfront. The apartment buildings are un-aesthetic monstrosities and one can’t take a walk along the ocean anyway. There is a great coastal walkway in NP.  The buildings are interesting too. That apart NP is a small town. I can’t imagine living here. Only five cinema theatres. That is a good reason for my mental death. All establishments are closed too-this second day of 2009. Everyone is on a summer holiday. We go back home and I take a siesta.

It is still early in the day to just layabout. I go back into town and to Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. The home of Len Lye. Entry is free. Unlike Auckland where we have to pay to get into the museum and the art gallery. I guess the scale and scope are different? I mean I have to pay to see some exhibits at National Gallery Of Victoria, Melbourne but I have to pay to get into Auckland Art Gallery, period.

Later that I go to Pukekura Park for the Festival Of Lights. Overflow, a rock group, plays cover versions. Not quite the head banging I expected, yet… It is an open, free event for families. Only in New Zealand can you see groups of people bringing out their mats and picnic blankets, smiling and giving space to each other.. There are babies in prams and hyperactive little girls who sing loudly to all cover versions of AC/DC. Or is it Metalhead? I have seen rock nerds in movies but for the first time ever I see them in real life. Middle-aged men, some balding,  do the air guitar and head banging oblivious to everyone else. It is sweet and funny. I go closer to the stage. They have their wives/partners and indulgent kids singing along too. Good on them!

3/01/09

The weather still Scheiße. It will be worse on the mountain. So I stay put and read my book. ‘The World Is Flat’ by Thomas Friedman. I am bored by the avo. There has got to be something to do! It is not raining any more but the sun continues to hide behind the clouds. I drive to Oakura. I want to get into the water. Surf’s up as the wind blows and the flags are close to each other. I stare at the grey water. WTF! I change into my togs, slap on sunscreen and dive into it with the boogie board. The water is surpringly warm and every time I get out of the water the cold wind bites  into my skin. Still…

4/01/09

Early morning in the ‘Naki. It is a bright, beautiful sunny day. Just as I had prayed for the previous night. You can’t come to New Plymouth and not go up the mountain ya? It is my last day this side of Aotearoa. I want to get back into my work in Auckland tomorrow. And I am going to get my wish of going hiking on Mt Taranaki Egmont. I pack my stuff into the car, bid farewell to Jennifer and Peter and drive towards the mount as it summons me. Towards Egmont village I proceed. Suddenly-the mountain looms large. OMG! How beautifully imposing is that? Not quite as majestic as the Himalayas yet regal in its own way. I can’t wait to get up and go on my hike. It is a winding road towards the Egmont Visitor Centre, through Egmont National Park.

You have to take all precautions when going on an adventure. If the weather is bad, don’t do it; if the conditions are treacherous, don’t do it. Stick to the designated path. Equip yourself with water, food, suncreen, proper shoes, protective gear…the sun drops down here and it becomes cool. Etc. I go into the visitor centre and enter my details in ‘the book’. Just in case I get lost they know where I went and what time. In case the situation is dire they know whom to contact.

A friend of my flatmate who is a regular on Mt Taranaki Egmont has suggested the Maketawa Hut Loop. First through the bush towards the hut where one can stay overnight or more, up towards the summit but not quite and then back down a gravel path made for 4-wheel drives. I love walking in the bush. This vegetation is so ancient, it whispers secrets I can’t decipher. I can peek up at the summit as I tramp on. The clouds form a curtain around it. When I was at the foot of the Kanchenjunga in Pelling, West Sikkim, the mountain was swaddled by clouds. A local told me then that she (the mountain is a deity for the locals) would reveal herself only when she wanted to.  Past Maketawa Hut, into the sparse new vegetation so different from the bush, I climb in hope the volcanic deity will reveal himself to me. (This mount is a man ya?) But nah. Not this time. I take photos, chat with other hikers (so many Germans…) and go down the gravel road. At least I had an adventure. Now to drive back to Auckland.

On my way home I stop at Otorohanga for a quick visit to the Kiwi House and for the first time ever see a live Kiwi bird. Very cute.

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I am back.  I realise that I am such an integral part of this world, this universe. I have the power and ability to make change, to sustain resources, to make sure I leave behind a beautiful, peaceful world for those after me-however transient everyone’s journey on this earth. Respect of and immersion into this universe, the laws of nature is what will make it a better place. Peace. Now to make some money.

Gorging On Films


Life is busy. Madaz busy. And the Auckland International Film Festival started on 10 July. This is my time for absolute self-indulgence in the name of audio-visual education. This is the time when I weave films into my life and work, rather weave my life and work around film sessions. It is a process I have mastered now after attending so many Auckland International Film Festivals.

Get a programme, mark all the films I want to see (about 50) and then eliminate them according to whether they will come back into theatrical release (French films, German films, Michel Gondry and assorted cult filmmakers etc always do), clash with my work or with other sessions. That brings the number down to about 30. One year I did 38 films and was completely filmed-out. So much so I could not bear to watch/update myself about Bollywood films. Its another thing that Bollywood films are quite unbearable after gorging on world class cinema and storytelling. I watch Bollywood cinema because it is what I grew up on and if fascinating in the way it includes so many ideas within a format. It is also fascinating in the way so many ‘other’ (‘non-Indian’) ideas are stolen from across the world and turned into Indian stories. I watch Bollywood cinema for cheap thrills, for the songs and to keep in touch with what is going on back in India. I still think of it as my own popular culture that goras would never understand. Oh and there is a gem or two in there that is really worth watching.

Anyway, back to the film festival…after 38 films one year I decided to be a good girl and limit myself to 25. So far I have managed. Some films I usher for, some films I buy the tickets for, some films I am invited to and some films I get tickets in lieu of ushering. All good I say. Just the way I like it aha-aha.

This year the festival opened with TAKE 3, Roseanne Liang’s very simple and very clever short. That Roseanne is talented is without any doubt and that she brings her Chinese-New Zealand sensibility to her filmmaking is amazing. The feature that followed APRON STRINGS is an indication of festival director Bill Gosden’s foresight about New Zealand filmmaking and the shape of this country. Multicultural. Another story by the immensely talented New Zealand director Sima Urale. I feel proud for the cast and crew involved with APRON STRINGS. These are my mates, my colleagues and my teacher, scriptwriter Shuchi Kothari, who has created space for the likes of me. I feel happy for Leela Patel, who brings so much depth to the role of Tara. (She plays Indian nurse Shanti’s mum on Shortland St.) A well made film with great acting. Nathan Whitaker reminded me of a young Shashi Kapoor from SHARMILEE etc. This dude would do well as the chocolate hero in Bollywood. 🙂

Of course watching these films at The Civic just adds to the experience of cinema.

I worked with Sima, Shuchi and some of the crew members on COFFEE AND ALLAH, playing in the HOMEGROWN section of the festival. I did the protagonist’s costume (the blue burkha) and played the nasty Mrs Indian for all of thirty seconds. The first time I saw myself on the big screen (cast and crew screening) I cringed. It was horribly embarrassing. The second time I saw myself on the screen (yesterday) I wanted to hide under my chair. Although I debuted as an actress in Venice dahlings I don’t think I want to be seen on a film screen. Gosh no! Not that I cannot act…just that I think I don’t look ‘good’ on screen. Prefer to be behind the camera. Absolutely!

Now it is three days into the festival and I have stopped counting how many films I am seeing/have seen. In my diary I have only marked the dates, times and theatres I have to go to. The countdown ends at the closing night film WALTZ WITH BASHIR. Until then, I shall gorge on cinema, work on auto-pilot, do some work, earn my living….and vomit at the end of it all.

Then have visions of my mother lecturing me on over-indulgence.