Sunday, June 14, 2009


Even Humphrey Bogart could not resist the charms of this city.

But then, he had Ingrid Bergman with him, and what would not be charming with her around? I had, as my company, an old American friend from school and two of his college friends whom I had never met before. And having spent the day touring Paris with them, I have understood a great truth- what fascinates me about this place is light years away from what fascinates them. Or other, normal, rational people.

Sure, the city is extremely visually appealing- the Eiffel, the Louvre, the Champs-Elysees, the Arc D’Triomph- you know the works. Ultimately, however, I am hard to impress- after all, I come from Delhi, and we have the Qutab Minar, the Rajpath and the India Gate. As for the Louvre- well, we have Sarojini Nagar. Hundreds of people walking aimlessly in herds, looking around at things they wished they owned, wondering which way to turn- it’s pretty much the same thing.

The big things in Paris do not fascinate me- I am, however, pretty astounded by small, insignificant, everyday things. This is interesting, because I grew up in Berlin- and most of all, Paris reminds me of my childhood. However, living in India for the past seven years has conditioned me to a given way of looking at the world and a given set of expectations- I believe those seven years allow me to look at little things in Paris and appreciate small comforts with a new-found vigour. When I would enjoy them in Berlin, I was perhaps too young to truly understand their significance. I don’t know about wiser, but I am older now.

Take, for example, wall-to-wall carpeting. What a wonderful, wonderful thing. My feet have never felt more at home. I had it at home in Berlin too, but wearing slippers for seven years on cold, uneven floors (often competing for space with cockroaches and mice) has given me a new-found respect for floor coverings. I wonder why they are not common in India- perhaps because they are hard to clean with jhadoos by our maids- and of course, who would trust them with something as expensive as a vacuum cleaner? Perhaps because our food is almost always wet (and therefore spill-able) as opposed to the usually dry food Europeans eat. Perhaps because we are so consumed in buying big gold-and-maroon carpets to show off under the centre tables in our drawing room, we have never had the time to consider its practical implications.

Then there are the magical taps. Once you get used to the ever-available hot and cold water, turn them on: the water comes out in a thick, white, tempestuous, foamy stream. It’s truly amazing- I am so used to the limp, transparent cold waterfall in Delhi that I can- and sometimes do- spend hours just watching the water come out of a tap. I don’t know how it’s done, but it should be done more often, in all countries, and when I do buy a house in Delhi, I will make sure the taps function the same way.

And the bath tubs.

Bath tubs are singularly my favourite place in any home. They were in Berlin, they were in Cyprus and they are here. I suppose space is the major reason for their unavailability in most homes in Delhi. All we need in Delhi to have a bath is a running tap, some form of soap and a mug (the last is optional, as one can see on many streets at dawn). But a bath tub is like the caviar of the bathroom- it turns the cleansing of your body into such a luxurious, fulfilling and heavenly experience, that nothing else is ever good enough. What can’t you do in a bath tub to make bathing a better experience? Everything is possible- you can read, eat, drink wine, use aromatic oils, play with plastic ducks (actual, not proverbial- although that too I suppose is possible) or take a companion and make it a social, recreational experience! Bath tubs have permanently transformed the experience of having a bath- I am for ever spoilt, and you will be too.

It’s a bit strange to discuss all this when asked how I liked Paris. I suppose my feelings are unusual. I am sure it’s a great city and all, and lots of people would do anything to be here, but these are the thoughts I have been living with for the past week- I can’t help it. Not how pretty the city is, not how wonderful the Mona Lisa is (I failed to see what the hype was about. The chandeliers at the Louvre were pretty amazing though) or how it is the most romantic city on Earth. Let me tell you the secret to making a city romantic: it doesn’t matter whether you are in Casablanca or Paris- all you need is your Ingrid Bergman with you.