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Igniting 2008

First and most importantly, it is hereby announced that DJ Mariz-e-Muhabbat (Saurabh) and DJ Ilaaj (me) will be throwing the mightiest Bollywood party yet with the help of our apprentices, Shararat (Khatidja) and Safed Bijli (Nathan). On 24 January, prepare for all of Kabul's snow to melt and for the winter to dissipate into a heatwave.

As for the lesser important start of the new year on 1 January, I managed to bring that in in proper style in India. This included Shareena's wedding in Bangalore, new years in Delhi, and an unexpected detour to Dubai and Bombay.

Of course all this goodness nearly didn't happen thanks to a snowstorm here. My Indian Airlines flight was cancelled due to poor visibility (you have to feel sorry for the people on the flight, who took off from Delhi, circled around Kabul for two hours, and then had to return!). Well, a few of us were determined to get out and managed to do so with the help of Pamir Airlines. Indian assured us they would honour our tickets from Dubai if we could get there, so me and a few others took them up on it. Of course we had to buy new tickets to Dubai, and Pamir was accepting cash only, so I narrowly escaped thanks to a then complete stranger (Dinesh Sah) loaning me $110 so I could by the ticket. So in the course of the day waiting around at Kabul I got to make some friends and network! Along with Dinesh and a few other development types, Ron Susskind, an American author, was stranded along with us. I also learned that the Kabul airport restaurant is not to be scoffed at (it is easily found by following a series of post-it notes) and that they have a most delicious karahi gosht there.

Finally we got on the flight, which took off in a hurry before night fell and ascended at a good 50-degree angle to pop out over the clouds. The rest of the flight was smooth and I had the honour of sitting next to someone who had never been out of Afghanistan or on a plane before. It was truly amazing to see his first impression of the outside world, from the snaking and well-lit Iranian expressways below us to the platforms in the Persian Gulf to the blazing light of the Emirati coastline. In Dubai I had a mini-vacation in the terminal which is a first-rate shopping mall and spent some of the last cash I had on a Starbucks coffee. Event the (expensive) drive from Terminal 2 to Terminal one was a treat just getting to see the clean roads and big shiny buildings and feeling the Middle East again. I hung out with my new friends at the terminal and talked my way onto a flight to Bombay (the Indian Air rep had simply written that I should go Dubai-Bombay-Bangalore on the ticket in chicken scratch--my original flight was Kabul-Delhi-Bangalore, so dealing with a state-owned monopoly has its advantages in that they can easy fudge schedules).

The rest went smoothly and I can't complain, since averting Delhi saved me the risk of getting stuck in fog. Even though I only saw Bombay on the takeoff coming out, I have to say it's one of the most amazing things I've seen. I've never seen a city so big or so dense before...the sheer amount of huge buildings and closely packed houses that fill a peninsula which juts far out into the Indian Ocean and spill out into the Maharashtrian hinterlands dwarfs Manhattan. While I generally need to do things other than go to India, I have to take up some friends on their invitation to give me a proper Bombay tour. Also, note that I'm calling it Mumbai, the city is Bombay (a Portuguese creation) and I would like to emphasise in the rudest way possible that Hindu Nationalists can all go fuck themselves! :-) When I got to Bombay, the first thing that greeted me were the headlines announcing Modi's landslide victory in Gujarat. This is depressing because it was bad enough when Modi was the genocidal leader of Gujarat who was personally responsible for thousands of deaths in the pogrom--no, now the overwhelming majority of Gujaratis are vilifying themselves by throwing their support behind Hindu nationalist terror. Did I mention Gujarat is dry? As a person of integrity I slam teetotaling every chance I get, and to Gujarat's ebullient extremist I have just one insult: you guys are worse than a bunch of American Christians and NWFP extremists combined. But then again, we can always be thankful for justice in that prohibition, conservativism, and discrimination will sink Gujarat eventually as they have slapped down everyone else who has tried them.

Enough with that rant; Bangalore was beautiful and the weather was perfect. I stayed with Martin and Priya, friends of the groom who were great and polite hosts. Shareena's wedding was great too. I spent a lot of time relaxing and eating super-hot Andhra food. The only downside was that I had to "blacklist" a former friend for extremely disappropriate behaviour (her name is Amber Sommer; because transparency and accountability are so important to me I make a point of calling people out either for good or ill--that way we learn from past mistakes.). But the fallout itself had an upside in that I wasn't pressured to go to annoying tourist traps and could focus on the real Bangalore: eating and shopping!

Delhi was also fun and mellow. I spent much of the time with Saurabh (my friend from Kabul), and Aasim who just returned from a trip to Pakistan. The three of us ended up at Malchamarg Market of all places on new year's eve, at a Chinese restaurant. I also did yet more shopping, buying pretty much every major piece of music made between the summer and now as well as a tonne of classic movies (Mother India, Amar-Akbar-Anthony, Muqaddar ka Sikandar, Hey Kabuliwala, etc.). We also hit all the best restaurants of Delhi, like Karim's and Andhra Bhavan. The only thing I still have to cross off the Delhi list is Dum Pukht, which specialises in Lakhnavi food (yes, Nihari!) and has a remarkably particularistic menu. That's a big relief in Delhi, where even the best Mughlai establishments feed the need to give you a selection of Mughlai, South Indian, Continental, and Chinese--come on people, just do what you do best! I personally find that there are very few people who can do such diverse cooking styles well, so unless the establishment is damn good, most of that menu will just be dead weight. Of course I also got some drinks in at 4S, the dive bar in Defence Colony which I so often call home.

The flight back to Kabul was smooth and on-time, and since I've returned so has everyone else. A few friends had breaks far more dramatic than me and have also returned home in good spirits and ready to start the new year. Now all we need is for this weather to warm up...

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