My Indian Friend, with a Bag of Spices, in My Kitchen...

We could have met much earlier in Paris but my life was kind of upside down when he was there.
I heard a lot about him from mutual friends. More important, I heard a lot about him from my son who from the very beginning, felt very close to him.

He went back to his country and was there during a tragedy when the 2004 tsunami struck the eastern coast of India. True to his beliefs, he went there to help in every way he could. And help he did.

It even included creating a very special school for dalit children in order to keep them out of the streets and to give them a chance to reintegrate normal schooling. The other side of the program was to give their mothers a feeling of self-respect by learning some trade other than begging, which would in turn encourage their children to learn and study.

Then he came back to Europe, to Leiden University, Netherlands, where he has been working in the department of Astrophysics for the past five years besides other occupations, all of them worthwhile, of course.

Now he went back to India. And I really miss him a lot already even tho he only left two days ago and has already sent me a mail!

My Indian friend, with a bag of spices, in my kitchen...

We met in Brussels in July 2005. Swee'Pea had been to Amsterdam to spend a few days with him and one night he called us to ask if it was allright to come and spend a couple of days in Brussels with us.

He’d be coming with his friend who really wanted to meet us, he said.

I was kind of worried because to me, this guy was highly impressive: a PhD in Astrophysics, an avid reader, very involved in politics, social and gay rights issues (and a lot of fun too, my son had told me).

So we met in Brussels and it was love at first sight. At first, I had a hard time to understand his English... I’m not this good at deciphering a strong Indian accent when used at high speed... It took time but he was patient and soon we were really communicating. He was awesome, still is. So eager to share and not a bit patronizing. He opened new worlds for me.

Very soon after our first encounter, cancer struck back. And he started sending me a note and/or giving me a call, before and after the many very unpleasant times in my life at the time... Many notes and many calls. He was so sweet. He also kept my mind alive by feeding it... with books to read, videos and movies to watch! And he was always there for my son who besides working on his thesis with a very damaging director, was living every day with a very noxious anguish about my very dubious recovery.

My Indian friend, with a bag of spices, in my kitchen...

As soon as I started recovering from a very successful but very hard chemo, Swee'Pea came quite often to stay with us in Brittany, many times with friends, including «him» of course.

I have been a little bit reluctant to give names but I have to do it because «he» and «him» are too cold for such a warm person. So from now on, it will be...

My friend Niruj, with a bag of spices, in my kitchen...

Because besides being a scientist, an activist, an avid reader and learner, Niruj is an extraordinary good cook.

Which explains «the bag of spices» which he carried around whenever he was going somewhere, especially to places where no one ever really cooks, like our home and Swee'Pea’s.

Niruj was extremely surprised I had never taught Swee'Pea how to cook! Yes, this is one thing I never took time to do, not because Swee'Pea is a boy but because cooking is not my forte besides a few recipes, honestly!

So whenever he was around, Niruj took over my kitchen... and since I never realized he’d go away one day, I never learnt from him... I savored everything but I never learnt. And now it’s too late. But in Swee'Pea’s kitchen and in Brittany, we still have a few Niruj’s bags of spices because he was generous and left them. He was probably hoping that they would somehow drive one of us to start cooking. Some enchanted bags of spices maybe! After all, they brought all the Oriental flavours and scents and mysteries to us...

Last summer tho, we held a cooking event. He cooked one meal. The following night, I cooked what I consider to be my masterpiece ever - a gazpacho (which is a cold Spanish tomato soup). If you want the true Spanish gazpacho, it takes a loooooooong time to prepare but it’s worth it. Well, Niruj loved mine!!! I shall be eternally grateful to him! The Master of Absolute Delights loved my gazpacho.

There are so many things to tell about Niruj, the way he had such an impact on our family... So many things!

all about Niruj (a few excerpts):

He is the first Indian I’ve met who actually is Tamil, which helps enormously understanding Belgian problems.

He is also the first person I ever met who knows by heart all the songs from «The Sound of Music». He can sing them perfectly and dance over them too.

He loves my craziest shoes, and my crazy sunglasses and crazy old me.

He loved having me around and talking with me, even though sometimes 
he had to repeat the same thing one hundred times since I did have a few problems with his accent. So patient and caring Niruj.

He never laughed at me because I loved Bollywood movies but he also steered me towards more serious Indian/Tamil movies and taught me where to find them in Paris (without forgetting to mention the guerilla taxes forced upon the Tamil shops in Paris, of course).

He even helped me to survive by sending me tons of pictures and videos of Shah Rukh Khan. No kidding...

He doesn’t feel comfortable at sea but he came boating with us and even asked Swee'Pea to teach him how to swim, which was a great moving time in our life (and his, I’m sure), always to be remembered.

He is true to his beliefs and feelings and knows how to fight for them, except maybe once, when he moved into a very nice and posh  apartment in Leiden, overlooking the canal... and it kind of mellowed his vision of society... But I’m sure it’ll all come back in India!

So many things to tell about him... This guy is really amazing!

But since he’s bound to read this blog... I’d better stop being so lyrical.

I know one thing though: none of his friends, none of the people he’s worked with or fooled around with, not a single one of them would disagree with what I wrote... And they probably would add an extra  hundred things to my list! Wouldn’t they?

(Stop fidgeting, Niruj! You know I’m telling the truth, ah, ah, ah!)

Last week, I opened the box where I keep one of the bags of spices... and then I felt like crying.

The bag of spices, in my kitchen, without Niruj!

*Good Luck, and Good Night!*


A Ring? Am I talking about a Ring?

Yesterday was a nice day in Paris, sunny and warm. Since I didn’t care a bit about our sorry soccer team, I went to meet one of my friends who works close to the Louvre.

We had a nice friendly girly chat and then it was time for another appointment.

Since it was so sunny and I’m getting used to my ankle «apparatus», I decided to take a leisurely walk along the Seine, at least for a while. The sidewalk was much too crowded so I crossed the road and decided instead to stroll around Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois. The history of this church is quite interesting but won’t be my point today.

I always carry a camera with me, just in case! So there I was, taking pictures of the church front... very oblivious to my surroundings, the way I always get when I’m taking pictures.

But all of a sudden, I heard a metallic sound right by my feet. It kind of startled me. Right in front of me, there was this shining golden ring lying on the pavement and still oscillating.

A ring falling from the sky? Goodness gracious! No one around...

I was wondering whether or not to pick it up when a man’s hand did it for me.

It really startled me out. The guy was young and smiling at me. He held the ring to me and said in quite a good French with a mild eastern accent: «There you are, Madame. Look what I found for you. A lucky charm for you. This is for you. I found it for you. Take it, please.» And on and on...

I didn’t want it but I hated to create a scandal in public. Passers-by were darting curious glances at us. So I took the ring with a thank you and started walking away.

The guy who was very tall came after me. How stupid I can be!

«Now that I gave you the lucky charm, won’t you give me some money?» There no longer was a smile on his face. I could feel he was desperate and really hard up.

I dug into my purse where I keep a few coins, just in case, found one 2 euros coin. I took it out and I stuck them in his begging hand, along with his ‘lucky charm’... and kind of limped away. Wished I could have run because the guy was screaming to the top of his lungs: «But Madame, this is your lucky charm. See. It’s too small for me. This one belongs to you. I want to give it back to you.»

Could have been a lucky charm after all. Had I put it on my finger, I would have become invisible. So much fun!

Hey, wake up, girl! This really was a swindle but an interesting one... A real artist!

How did I get away tho, me and my purse and my camera? A empty cab happened to be driving by! Lucky me after all.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


Will there be an auto-da-fé?

This morning, I heard on the French news that an Israeli movie supposed to be shown in June, was cancelled in most movie theaters where it had been scheduled.

The movie is «5 hours from Paris» by Leon Prudovsky. It is not a political movie but it is a moving love story which could happen anywhere. It is set in Tel Aviv, of course since Leon Prudovski is a young Israeli film director.

This ‘cultural auto-da-fé’ is happening in France.

People, wake up.

Israel is blockading the Gaza Strip after trying to destroy it. Why? Because Hamas is the main political force in Gaza after defeating Fatah in... lawful elections. I won’t go on discussing Gaza’s choice, probably because Fatah had become useless and somewhat corrupted. But there were elections. Not eveyone in Gaza voted Hamas. Enough of them did.
That’s all.

In 2009, Israelis voted lawfully for their own governement. Due to their own election process, ‘hawkish’ Netanyahu became Prime Minister. We all knew then that the peace process was in great danger. But again, let’s not forget that not all Israelis were extremely happy about this appointment.
‘Operation Cast Lead’ was not as popular in Israel as media tended to let us think it was.
That’s all again.

So now, we have to deal with an escalation of violence, once again from Israel in less than two years and this time, against international pacifists, in a very unlawful and criminal way.

The world leaders are reacting. I’m tempted to say: ‘At last.’

How do you get very angry and violent children in the same family to behave and make peace?

I have many answers which have all proved wrong since our Semitic brothers were often very close to a peaceful agreement and then for some reason (always a good one depending on which side you are), everything fell apart and life in the family became uglier and uglier.

Being such a tiny insect on earth, there isn’t much I can do.
Except one thing: I will say and repeat: ‘Let us not enter into a new auto-da-fé era!’ This century is already becoming very harsh. Let’s not repeat our errors.

It’s one thing to demonstrate, one thing to weigh on our leaders in every lawful way we can.

But it is very, very, very dangerous to start using cultural means to retaliate upon unlawful and violent acts.

It is ugly and it stinks, to be true.

Nazis did it. The Inquisition did it. Please, let’s not do it.

In 1972, after the Munich Massacre, or in 2001, after the attack against the Twin Towers, did I feel like burning the Qur’an? Did I quit going to Le  Louvre and its Islamic Art section? Did I destroy my Umm Kulthum records? And what about watching Youssef Chahine’s movies? Or reading  Mahmoud Darwish?

Now should I burn my priceless Primo Levi’s books or maybe Anne Frank’s Diary? Should I quit listening to Arthur Rubinstein or Eugene Ormandy’s recordings? Should I turn away from my Israeli friends?

It stinks.

And it won’t help.

In the XXth century, Jules Romains, a great French writer, wrote a cycle of works called «Les Hommes de bonne volonté» (Men of Good Will), a pacifist literary monument. In 1927, he signed a petition against a law that was calling for the abrogation of intellectual independence and all freedom of expression in time of war.

This time, more than ever, we need ‘Men of Good Will’. Don’t you think so?

After all, anything and everything can happen. I’ve heard that  ‘fries’ are once again ‘french’ in America the Beautiful. It makes me feel soooooo good!

French people are so proud of their culinary gifts that we did feel bad... except that thank goodness, we never insisted in getting back the Statue of Liberty. (At least I hope we never did... seeing what we are capable of doing right now in the name of whatever you call it.)

Let’s hope you don’t sleep well, all of you, people filled with hatred.

Oh my God, am I getting violent? Is it infectious?

@TareX who left me an interesting comment... it’d be nice to let me know who you are. I’d rather communicate than put up with ‘anonymous comments’.


Gaza, blogging doesn't seem right tonite

I haven’t recovered from the shock of yesterday’s news.

Everybody who knows me well enough is aware I have strong ties with Palestine and the Arabic Middle East. And I also have several very good Jewish friends who are really peace-minded people.

I had been following very closely the departure of the Free Gaza boats. I knew they would not get to Gaza and deliver their goods. Goods I believe were totally humanitarian because being engaged in such a cause you cannot slip, not even once.

Those goods were intended for the people of Gaza, people like you and me. Except that they are not at all like us. Most of them are without food and medicine. They were cold this winter. Lots still don’t have any decent housing. No water, no electricity, most of the time.

Please let’s try to forget the endless battle fought for whatever extremists (from every side) call it: land, revenge, fight, politics, spilling blood for blood.

This is a time to remember that a handful of people were very wrongly killed and wounded. This is a time of mourning because it shows that there will never be peace in the Middle East.

I grew up reading incredible books about people who had been wilfully destroyed, unbelievable stories of men, women and children tortured, famished, murdered and ending in gas chambers because they were Jewish.

I read books written by survivors who still believed in peace and love of mankind, who believed we would walk towards better tomorrows.

In 1960, I cried watching the movie «Exodus» and I said ‘never more’, even though the movie’s plot was a little bit twisted. But I cried.

Then I started reading history books telling about the creation of the State of Israel and I felt very uncomfortable. It was hard to condemn a people after so many terrible hardships but it was hard not to think about the Arab refugees trying to survive in camps after loosing everything, their land and what was worse, their soul.

Then there were those times of blind terrorism which were unbelievable. Terrorism and wars. Deaths, lives broken and destroyed... On both sides.
And more refugees.

The State of Israel still existed and was turning prouder and prouder to the point of turning rogue. And we hid our questioning behind our guilt.

We were taught only to see our wounds and we refused to ask ourselves how such a deadly extremism had come to pass.

We kept meddling with lots of countries knowing very well that we were fueling resentment and hatred. But we needed their wealth or whatever seemed useful to us, be it just a matter of a sphere of influence.

I know that we’ll never learn from the past. I also admit I have no idea of the way I’d be feeling, were I from Gaza or from Israel.

All I know right now is that I cried a lot and anguished a lot during the codenamed «Operation Cast Lead» against Gaza, codenamed by the Israeli government. The Arab world calls it «The Gaza Massacre». The Israeli media called it «The War in the South» while Al Jazeera talked about «The War on Gaza». They can’t even get united on a name. This is so tragic.

For a handful of people like us, it’s «Ibrahim’s story» who died at 11, killed by an Israeli missile.

I feel so helpless tonight. The sun is still shining over a very peaceful sea where fishermen are at work. I will post what I have so emotionally written down. But my words are so inadequate... They are words written with pain, anger, and such a lack of understanding.

No peace on earth today.

Shall I keep on wishing «Good Luck, and Good Night»?