• Meenakshi Shedde: Edinburgh Diary

    Meenakshi SheddeMar 12, 2017, 06:23 IST

    Edinburgh's Calton Hill foregrounds dramatic skies. Pic/Meenakshi Shedde
    Edinburgh's Calton Hill foregrounds dramatic skies. Pic/Meenakshi Shedde

    It's always been a dream of mine to help foster a film hub in Mumbai, where watching films is as important as hanging out after, with a congenial atmosphere for post- screening question-answer sessions, animated addabaji, with affordable yet great food and drink. Basically, a great way to spend evenings and weekends, by creating a stimulating community of like-minded people."

    Edinburgh is a city hunkering down. Its foreboding, dark stone buildings weigh it down; its roofs, serrated with chimneys, holding out stoically. Possibly against the 'haar', the cold North Sea fog that often shrouds Scotland. Or, maybe, it just seemed that way when I visited it in the wintry first week of March. Anyway, you can't possibly hold anything against a city nestling on something so charmingly alliterative as the Firth of Forth — the estuary of the Forth river, that flows into the North Sea.

    But, after just a day's patience, Edinburgh revealed itself in all the glory I remembered it for, since my last visit about 20 years ago. Edinburgh — and Glasgow — have the most extraordinary quality of light. It's not nanga light like in India, high intensity, everywhere, all day, so you hardly notice it. Edinburgh has a mischievous, moody, unpredictable light that plays hooky with the clouds and rain, glints and glimmers over the horizon, and explodes in dramatic rays through dark clouds, like in The Annunciation by Fra Angelico.

    I'm visiting Edinburgh without doing a single Google check of top 10 places to see: I much prefer to be surprised — and I'm delighted. I catch up with an old college friend, JP Singh, whom I've scarcely met in decades. He's now Chair and Professor of Culture and Political Economy, University of Edinburgh, but we connect as if we were still in college. We walk the streets of Edinburgh, loudly singing old Bollywood songs and giggling hysterically, pointedly ignoring everyone's stares.

    Suddenly, Edinburgh's battened down spirit lifts, and my heart soars free. After a stroll in the city, JP takes me to Slumdogdelivered — he knew I'd squeal at the name — a cosy restaurant run by a genial Sardar, Jaspal Singh Gill. This is exquisite, post-colonial revenge: a Sardar tweaking the British film title of an Indian story and making a success of it, in Edinburgh — wah, bhai!

    Then I'm invited to dinner — with 'JP' — by Pamela Timms and Dean Nelson, old friends from my Delhi days, at their beautiful, nineteenth century Georgian home. Pamela is a wonderful chef and food writer, author of Korma, Kheer and Kismet: Five Seasons in Old Delhi and her eatanddust blog, and Dean is a senior journalist. Pamela had once invited me to 'high tea' at their home in Nizamuddin, Delhi, years ago, and staggered at the incredible range of treats she had made just for me — tarts, cakes, hot buttered scones, clotted cream, strawberry jam and all, I had said this was truly "uparwali chai" — which later became the name of her popular, pop-up high tea parties in Delhi.

    Sensing I'm pining for ghar ka khana after a month-long trip in Europe, Pamela has thoughtfully made rice and dal, and a delicious fish curry with hake fish and tomatoes, finishing with a lovely flaky, lemony cake for dessert. Apologies, I'm hopeless with the names of dishes; my heart and tongue remember them better than my brain.

    On Sunday, Dean and Pamela take me to the utterly delightful Dishoom, a Parsi-style restaurant in Edinburgh, cleverly "curated with many elements to make up a good story", as Pamela put it. After demolishing a satisfying akuri, masala chai, and more, they take me on an invigorating walk up Calton Hill and Edinburgh Castle — and I'm so jealous. Right in the middle of the city, just a few minutes' walk from their home, is this wonderful hill, like Matheran, swathed in mists, with spectacular views — of Edinburgh Castle and the Firth of Forth. My lungs are so shocked with the clean air, I choke. It's only once I've returned to Mumbai's salty, polluted air, that my lungs calm down again.

    Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at meenakshishedde@gmail.com

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