Monday, 16 November 2015


Soon after we moved to the UK, I started working with an ad agency where I was commissioned to write a limited-edition book, to be produced and published by a high-end brand that wanted to do something that wasn't 'advertising'. They wanted a book that would embrace people, celebrate individuality and differences.

James Stroud photographed the project, and I was left to respond to each image as I wanted - with a single word, a sentence, a page, an instinct. The photographs were stark, intense portraits of people. I worked from home: shut myself in a room with the photographs strewn all over the floor, and just wrote. Ma and Baba were visiting us that summer, and I remember Ma knocking on my door, putting a cup of coffee by me and slipping out again. I love that memory.

Last week Chotto-ma was sitting and flipping through the book and it made me think of how, since that time, so much, and so little, has changed. We became parents, I left my job to mother a little person who consumed my thoughts, we traveled, made friends, I wrote the first blog post, opened my Etsy shop, Chotto-ma started school, I started writing fiction, went back to work. Life expanded in directions I had not foreseen.

But there was something that, unfortunately, has not changed: the need for a book that urges people to accept others, to live and let live. In fact, there seems to be an even greater need for it today. It's heartbreaking, it's frightening, yet it spreads on and on. This cancerous intolerance everywhere you turn, in every newspaper you open. Sometimes subtle and under the skin, sometimes searingly overt. People dying for being different, being shot for the colour of their skin, or cursed for the religion they follow. What's holy for me must be holy for you. What I know to be right can't be wrong. On Friday night, so many innocent lives were lost in Paris, lives ended in a single evening. And days before that in Beirut. Baghdad, Kenya, India, what does geography matter? It seems like the darkest of times in many ways.

My heart has been heavy. And I've wondered many times this weekend what we're unleashing, and leaving for our children.

I had written a poem for that book seven years ago. A book more commercial than literary, but with truths that still hold. And I thought I'd share it with you today.


I see you.
You're foreign
Yet strangely familiar.
I may not understand you
I accept that, I accept you.

You are interesting
Because you're different.
You have your own truth,
Sing your own anthem,
Follow your own tribe.

But our roads meet
Our stories merge.
We dance the same dance
Laugh the same laugh
Die the same death.

It seems so simple,
This thing called tolerance.
Funny how there isn't more of it
On the street, in the shops
In our sitting rooms,
in our blood. 

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

You at Seven

I can see the three of us standing under the horse-chestnut by the river. The leaves are brown. They float down softly on our heads and toes, they tickle a little. Above us, squirrels leap from branch to branch making conkers fall around us like stars. And as we stand on the crunchy floor of rusted leaves, you jump, and turn seven.

Seven. Today. 

Seasons are easy to sum up, but not you at seven. I often see your thoughts whirling round and up and up like leaves in the wind. My autumn child. Not summer, not winter, but the in-between. You're the in-between. There are two of you, so many of you. One, for the people you love: goofy and loving, nonstop-talking. Another for the rest of the world, in which you hold back, observe, keep your thoughts to yourself. I took out my paintbrushes and tried to draw your world today, you at seven, but I didn't draw your eyes; I can never do them justice. They say so much. You're deeply independent, unflinchingly honest. You can be positive about the greyest cloud. Never conflicted about what you feel. And when your questions come, they're as sharp and clear as raindrops on blades of grass.

"Ma, why does extraordinary mean something really special when it's extra + ordinary, more ordinary?" you asked yesterday.

Happy birthday, our Chotto-ma! You're seven. That's seven whole years of making our lives a little less ordinary. We love you more than all the leaves that fall in autumn.


Thursday, 3 September 2015

A dark pint of Dublin

It's a city of song; at every turn, buskers sing their souls into upturned hats. It's a city of writers and poets. Of bridges over water, and history scribbled all over. It's a city of men with boyish eyes and thick beards. Of quiet humour and a laidback energy. It's a city that likes to brunch. Where food comes in hearty portions. Smiles too.

Dublin stands sure in its skin - old and modern and uncomplicated. Its parks very green, its art very edgy. Its buildings are often painted a deep red, a screaming pink, clover green, old-lady-purple.

There's a certain New-Yorkness to this wee city, especially when you zoom in through the lens of a camera. Parts of it reminded me of Williamsburg in Brooklyn: the red-brown bricks and art-splattered streets, the large loft-like spaces converted into cafes, derelict buildings with funky shops, feet in clean canvas shoes.

With all it's history hugged tightly to its chest, Dublin seems to have marched headlong into the Now. You could walk into a 12th-century pub for a glass of Guinness and some beef stew, or lunch at a restaurant where modern Irish cooking bends expectations, often blending fresh local ingredients with Middle-Eastern flavours.

And if you're lucky (as we were), you could be sitting in an old, old pub with your dark, dark pint, when suddenly, a group in the corner takes out their guitars and breaks into unprepared song. Strong and clear. Their acoustics bouncing off the wood-lined walls. And everyone cheers and claps and they sing one more song, and then another. And you leave Dublin humming the city like a well-worn tune.


The Nitty Gritties: where we slept and ate and drank, and the places we loved in Dublin.

Where we stayed:
The Dean Hotel. Very retro-chic, complete with vinyls in the room. And a rooftop restaurant and bar that's hard to beat.

Where we ate and drank:
We tried lots of lovely places, but there were some clear winners. I've put them together in one perfect day of eating and drinking.


The Fumbally. It was one of our favourite places in Dublin; try their fantastic brunch, and enjoy the gorgeously haphazard space!


O'Donaghue's. A pint of Guinness at this pub, amidst that impromtu jam of guitar and song, was one of my best afternoons in Dublin, and one that I'll remember for a long time.

The Pig's Ear. Modern Irish cooking at it's best, and a short walk from O'Donaghue's. The restaurant also sits near the National Gallery of Ireland where we really enjoyed the Sean Scully exhibition.


Sophie's at The Dean. That's the rooftop restaurant I mentioned earlier. Have a cocktail by the wall of glass and look down at the city and the mountains beyond as the sun sets. You can't do better. The pizzas are great, as is the rest of the food.

Coppinger Row. A Mediterranean restaurant in the hub of Dublin. Our meal here was faultless, fresh and full of flavour, and all whipped out of a busy, open kitchen. (Oh, Beyoncé and Jay Z dined here, if that counts!)

Dublin for kids:

Dublin is very child-friendly. People would bend down to have one-to-one conversations with Chotto-ma as if she were a solo traveller, and we weren't there at all!

There are great galleries and museums to keep kids interested, to learn a bit about Ireland and the influences of other cultures that passed through this island country. Chotto-ma loved these -
The National Gallery of Ireland
The Chester Beatty Library
National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology

In good weather (which we amazingly had almost everyday of our stay) head to -
St Stephen's Green is one of the loveliest city parks, with a duck-filled pond, fountains, gazebos and nooks and cranies to explore.

Merrion Square has a wonderful playground themed on The Selfish Giant. Chotto-ma had finished reading Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince and Other Stories just before the holiday, and had loved The Selfish Giant, so she especially enjoyed this park. (It's also very close to the National Gallery of Ireland).


(None of the places mentioned above have sponsored this post. They're just mentions of things we enjoyed, so others might enjoy them too. I don't do reviews on the blog.)

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

It's own timbre

Yesterday, the sky was a flat-packed grey. Under it, wet roofs, wet roads, damp brick walls, damp people in damp socks, the neighbour's cat with a sweet squirrel in his mouth. Bleak stuff. It's August, the prime of summer, but the sky is British you see, it can't comment on summer. So what if the rest of Europe is laid out on their beach towels like strips of bacon in a frying pan? We'll just take the old umbrella out for a walk.

Still, the weather doesn't irk me like it used to.  Maybe it has something to do with a little girl who goes 'Yay, rain!' every time it rains. I mean, who says 'Yay, rain!' in this country?! She can be positive about anything, this one. A couple of days ago, she hopped and grinned and danced around me saying "Ma, I'm really, really excited about nothing!" So yeah, it could be her; she makes me notice the grey less.

There's something else I like about days like these. The silver light. Like a snail's trail that has dried on the ground in slow, shiny loops. This light, even through a bare window, is diffused, discreet. It's incredible how a land's people mirror its weather.

I was writing this post when I looked up and saw Chotto-ma engrossed in her book, and realised how utterly quiet the house was. Only the rustle of a page turning, and her foot softly kicking the arm of the sofa, thup thup thup. I picked up my phone quietly and took this photo. Of her and the light and the quiet. There's a special kind of silence on grey days. It's different from the silence of a sunny day. Like the difference between synonyms - each with it's own timbre, its own use.

I've been meaning to share a recipe for weeks. It's for a plum cake that has been baked, eaten, baked in a loop recently. It's beautiful; soft, sweet, tart and almondy. I'd Instagrammed it, just out of the oven, and now here it is. These photographs are off my phone camera too, because I forget to do any better when this cake is sitting on the table making our rainy-day house smell all kinds of wonderful.

Almond, Plum & Brown Sugar Cake


1 cup plain flour
1 cup ground almond
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup coarse demerara (you can use white sugar too, but this gives the cake a rich, roasty flavour)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 heaped tbsp of butter
1/2 cup oil
1/2 - 3/4 cup milk (as needed)
4-5 plums, halved, then sliced (with peel on)

Preheat oven to 160 degrees C (320 degrees F).
Grease a rectangular baking dish (or a cake tin of your choice) with butter, keep aside.
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl - flour, ground almond, baking powder and sugar.
Make a well in the middle. Crack in the eggs. Add the vanilla essence, the butter and oil.
Start mixing it in a circular motion. Pour the milk a bit at a time as you mix, till you get a nice smooth batter, easy to stir.
Pour batter into cake tin. Top the batter with the sliced plum, laying them on with a gentle hand so they settle into the batter a tiny bit, but not sink in.
Bake for 40 minutes if the baking dish is flat and rectangular, and about 45-50 minutes if it's deep and round. Slide a knife in to check if done.