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Norah Casey fulfills a longheld
personal dream to visit
India, not least of all because
she has a family story that
starts in Calcutta.

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Published by Harmonia Norah, 2018-11-26 05:47:04

Journey to India

Norah Casey fulfills a longheld
personal dream to visit
India, not least of all because
she has a family story that
starts in Calcutta.

Keywords: India,Delhi,Calcutta,Etihad,Womens Economic Forum

Norah Casey fulfills a long-
held personal dream to visit
India, not least of all because
she has a family story that

starts in Calcutta.

JoIuNrneDy tIoA

India was all that I expected and family hadn’t set sail for the perilous I learned from their marriage
more. I landed in the early hours of the journey round the Cape of Good Hope certificate that John Seich Meroe’s
morning, hit by a searing wall of heat from Calcutta (now Kolkata) to Dublin parents were living in Benares on the
as I stepped from the plane. Despite the over 160 years ago. And while it took Ganges (now called Varanasi), the
early hour and the sleep deprivation, it me 14 hours to get to India, it took oldest and holiest city in India and the
was an emotional first step and more John Seich Meroe, his wife Mary Anne birthplace of Buddhism. We believe
than a few tears were brushed away and their young son Thomas, nearly six that John was a Batman to a British
as I walked with my fellow travellers months on board a merchant sailing army officer who came to Ireland with
towards the visa desk. ship stopping at Madras, Bombay and him. His first residence was the notably
various other ports. John and Mary grand Fitzwilliam Square in Dublin.
New Year’s Eve pledges over a glass Anne had three children, Thomas was Soon after however they moved to the
of wine for most of my adult life have born in Calcutta in 1854, Elizabeth, my Liberties and a life of poverty, the poor
involved a trip to India. And now, well great grandmother was born in 1861 house and illness. Mary Anne died at
over the half-way mark, I was finally (but we have never been able to find 39 in 1866 from the cholera plague
fulfilling that dream. her birth certificate so she could have that was sweeping Dublin leaving my
been born in Calcutta or Dublin) and great-great grandfather with three
All the while, as I was walking along the youngest son Patrick was born in young children to raise. He himself
the polished marble floors of Delhi Dublin in 1864. Sometime in those ten died of tuberculosis at 60 in the South
airport, I was remembering another years between Thomas and Patrick’s Dublin Workhouse and is buried in a
journey, one that was very different to birth the Meroes took that journey. pauper’s grave in Glasnevin. Both of
the one I was making.

I would not be here today if a young


his sons died young, one killed by a tram in Ballsbridge, the The Women’s Economic Forum:
other of bronchitis in the South Dublin Union Poorhouse Woman of the Decade Award
(now St James’ Hospital). But their intrepid daughter, my
great-grandmother Elizabeth, survived against the odds. She xxx
married into a strong Dublin family, the Dodds. Patrick, his Chandni Chowk: the heart of Old Delhi
brothers Luke and Reuben grew up and went to Belvedere
College with James Joyce. (With the help of Ulick O’Connor The inspiration for the Taj Mahal: Humayun’s Tomb
Reuben famously went on to successfully sue for defamation
over derogatory claims made by Joyce in Ulysses – he was
one of many real-life people who were named and shamed
in the tome.) In 1882, Elizabeth married Patrick Dodd at
Haddington Road Church. She was just 21 and he was a
69-year-old widower with a grown-up family. He died 14
years later but not before they had two children, Henry
and my grandmother Elizabeth Dodd. She met and married
a kindred spirit. In 1916, Elizabeth was with Cumann na
mBan helping to defend the railway line transferring buckets
of bullets up to the bridge for the Volunteers. One of those
was 17-year-old Leo Alfred Casey stationed at Boland’s Mill
and the Railway works at Beggars Bush. My grandfather
Leo was shot and imprisoned three times during the War of

“I wouldn’t be here today if a young family
hadn’t set sail for the perilous journey round

the Cape of Good Hope from Calcutta”

Independence and the Civil War. But Elizabeth waited for
him. They married in 1928 and my father Harry came along
soon after followed by two daughters and another son.

Melded into my genepool is the DNA of two intrepid
explorers who set off from India in the 1850s. Unlike my
own cosseted journey, they faced danger and uncertainty
to start a new life in Ireland. My great-grandmother’s
determination and survival against the odds matched by the
strong Irish blood of the Dodds. My grandmother Elizabeth
picked up the mantle of her ancestors, fearlessly playing her
part for the freedom of Ireland attracted like a magnet to
a fellow courageous rebel, Leo Casey. And their respective
DNA entwined to create my father, Harry, who met and fell
in love with Mags a nurse from Leitrim to create me and my
sisters and brothers – the family we have become.

So, here I am returning to that country where it all began
and it was far more emotional than I expected. But aside
from our own family history, Ireland’s connection with India
runs deep with 350 years or more of shared history. Ireland
was England’s oldest colony and India its largest.

India’s capital Delhi is an extraordinary city, crowded
and vibrant, built by Mughal emperors but it is also

On the way in from the airport, the driver Shyam Singh,
who was a constant companion and guide during my days
in Delhi, outlined a packed day of sightseeing ahead. He
dropped me at my hotel, Vivanta by Taj at Dwarka on the

Charming the snake: not the captured it. The Red Fort is a World
most relaxed moment of the trip Heritage monument and opposite
Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi.
outskirts of Delhi at 4.30am for a I was eager to be distracted from
few hours to shower, nap and pack the dare devil action movie enacted JAMA MASJID
a small bag for the three day trip to in real time through the far too Jama Masjid is one of the largest
Udaipur that evening. I was in India many windows of the car. Shyam, mosques in India and certainly one
to speak and receive an award at the by the way, remained unruffled by with the most spacious courtyard
Women’s Economic Forum later that the car rage with the odd muttering holding up to 25,000 people. Shah
week, but for the moment, I was on of ‘crazy traffic’ followed by a Jahan’s architectural vision led to the
my own. That first morning I headed shrug of the shoulders at some of beautiful marble and red-sandstone
out from the hotel with Shyam in the the more spectacular death defying façade and the perfect symmetry of the
early morning driving through the manoeuvres. two 40-metre-high minarets and the
relatively quiet roads around the hotel four watch towers. Commissioned in
heading for the highway and New OLD AND NEW 1644, this calm oasis in Old Delhi is
Delhi. There are 20 million people in Old and New Delhi blend an worth a visit for a wander around the
Delhi, 11 million cars and the most ancient culture of centuries old courtyard alone. For a small fee and
chaotic death defying driving I have forts, tombs, monuments and amazing views, you can climb one of
ever experienced. streets with the pristine tree lined the minarets with a direct line view
avenues and splendid architecture of the Edwin Lutyens architectural
While Shyam deftly dodged and of New Delhi. Steeped in dynastic jewels of Connaught Place and Sansad
jostled inch by inch on the traffic influences from the many empires Bhavan (Parliament House). As with
jammed high way (six lanes but who who rose and fell here, among them most holy places, wear appropriate
cares about those white markings) the Tughlaqs, the Khiljis and the clothing covering head, legs and
I went through multiple near death Mughals. New Delhi was planned shoulders (I brought a pashmina
experiences. This is the craziest driving by the British and designed, for everywhere).
I have every encountered with no the most part, by architect Edwin
rules whatsoever. Driving in Delhi is Lutyens. CHANDNI CHOWK
like one giant game of chicken and Old Delhi’s pulsating heart is centred
dodgems combined. Buses, trucks, RED FORT on the ancient, jam packed Chandni
tractors, cars, motorbikes, rickshaws Emperor Shah Jahan (who also Chowk, one of the oldest and busiest
careering towards each other on one commissioned the Taj Mahal) markets in India. Bazaars, ramshackle
way streets, just in time for heart- ordered the construction of the shops and temples line the once elegant
stopping swerves and the constant Red Fort in 1638. A decade later Mughal area which derives its name
cacophony of horns blaring. Who the imposing 18-metre-high walls from centuries ago when, impossible
knew there could be so many different stretching for two kilometres were to imagine nowadays, the moon was
decibels, sirens and pitches built completed, intended to protect the reflected in a central pool – hence the
into a car horn. Two lost nails later city from invasion. Unfortunately, name Chandni Chowk ‘moonlight
we picked up my guide for the day, both the Sikhs and the British place’. There is no pool now. At this
Poonam. She was an oasis of calm and stage of my sightseeing I had come
to terms with my own mortality
and accepted that the only way to
experience the ancient narrow lanes,
havelis and bazaars of this bustling
capital of the Mughals was on the back
of a rickshaw. After a bit of haggling
and a bucket of courage I headed into
the labyrinth and chaos of Chandni
Chowk bazaar.

Overladen bicycles, hawkers,
rickshaws and porters fight for space
with the cars and motorbikes. It is
teaming with life. This is a full-on
assault on the senses. My eyes were
everywhere all at once, trying to
soak it all in, the teaming, overladen


cycle rickshaws, the porters pulling a Hindu nationalist on the grounds Entrance to the Red Fort
impossible loads, the women dressed of Birla House in 1948. Unofficially
in vibrant reds, acid yellows and named the Father of the Nation,
shades of magenta, rolls of carpet and Gandhi led India to independence
piles of colourful ornate pashminas from Britain and his long quest for
creating an explosion of colour in an nonviolent protest inevitably created
otherwise dull oppressively hot day. some who disagreed. This was a
And the smells – at once sweet and beautiful interlude in my day with
putrid with the piles of spices making hordes of laughing school children
my eyes water and my throat tight. I jostling for photographs in the grounds
ducked into a doorway with Poonam and amazingly quiet and respectful
to haggle for some ginger, rose and when they reached the turquoise
white tea. From there, we took the pathway to his memorial.
perilous journey down lanes, dodging
Gandhi spent his final days at the

“A beautiful interlude to my day with hordes of laughing
school children jostling for photographs”

loads and crowded pathways to the house and inside there are rooms just Mahatma Gandhi Memorial
jewellery market for some traditional as he left them – a pair of chappals The Red Fort
silver earrings (that I couldn’t leave (sandals), his distinctive walking stick
without!). and spectacles. School trip selfies
The spice market
Built some 60 years before the India Gate Designed by the prolific
Taj Mahal there is a similarity to Edwin Lutyens, India Gate is an
Humayun’s Tomb in symmetry, impressive 42m-high stone memorial
aesthetic and the marriage of Persian arch in tribute to Indian army soldiers
and Mughal influences. Built for the who died in WWI at the eastern end of
second Mughal Emperor Humayun in Rajpath.
1570 by his Persian wife Haji Begum, Lodhi Gardens To escape the city, head
the red sandstone and white marble to Lodhi Gardens built by the British
contrasts with the beautiful gardens. in 1936 where you will find a peaceful
paradise a world away from the hustle
QUTB MINAR and bustle of the city.
Dating back to 1206 and the sultans Hauz Khas For another beautiful
of Mehrauli, this UNESCO World escape head to Hauz Khas built in the
Heritage site is one of the most 13th century with lovely parklands,
important places to visit in Delhi. ruined tombs and birdsong. To reach
The Qutb Minar is the tallest minaret the reservoir, cut through the Deer
(made of brick) in the world and Park, open during the day and head
one of the finest example of Islamic to Hauz Khas village later for some
and Indian architecture. Artisans and cool restaurants, cafés and hipster
craftsmen added to the foundation of boutique shops and vintage Bollywood
this ancient ruin over the centuries and memorabilia.
the tombs and monuments. Said to Travel Tips All of my travel, transfers,
symbolise the triumph of Muslim rule drivers, guides and accommodation
in India the calligraphy and carvings of were organised via India Tourism
the five-story tower and tombs feature in London by an excellent local
the Qur’an. travel agent, SA Southend Travels
( owned by Anurag
GANDHI SMRITI Agarwal. Etihad Airways operates daily
One of the loveliest and memorable flights from Dublin to Delhi via Abu
visits was to the revered place where Dhabi for travel times and prices check
Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by


When you travel to India everyone warns you of one thing, the
dreaded Delhi Belly. My culinary experience in Delhi, however
was magnificent with three standout restaurants. And I have
one man to thank for these great recommendations: our own
gastronomic award-winning chef Sunil Ghai, of Pickle Restaurant
fame, who introduced me to India’s foremost food writers Rupali
Dean who in turn took me on a culinary journey.

QLA charred watermelon. baked in the shell.
The first night I met Rupali (a former PRA PRA PRANK
chef) she invited me to a beautiful My favourite places for lunch is how BO TAI QUTB
contemporary bistro style restaurant Rupali described our next outing to Pra Our final night, we were guests of the
called Qla in the Kila near the Qutb Pra Prank, the latest culinary venture owners of a new opening in South
Minar. It was a tasting menu by from the creative geniuses, the Banga Delhi, Bo Tai. This is one of an array of
an exciting young experimental brothers (Inderjeet and Jasmeet) who culinary greats launched by restaurateur
chef, Priyam Chatterjee, with wine created a stir with their nostalgia- Zoravar Kalra and his wife Dildeep
pairings by co-owner sommelier themed Prankster restaurant. This whose Massive Restaurants dynasty
Prateek Arora. It was a match made time, however, they set out to create a includes Masala Library, Farzi café and
in heaven. While Rupali mingled with hybrid speakeasy-cum-bistro space with Pa Pa Ya. Zorovar is culinary royalty,
the rest of the guests I chatted with eclectic décor, knockout cocktails and a multiple award winner, Master Chef
fusion Asian menu. Rupali explained the India judge and the son of the great Czar
‘Jackson Pollock’ painted plate of Pra Pra concept which centres on two of Indian Cuisine – Jiggs Kalra.
snapper with coriander cream, jade (Pra Pra) – two brothers, two different
sauce and Swiss chards spaces, a food fusion of modern Asian The restaurant has a New York vibe
and modern Indian, and two chefs. with glass doors leading to a pristine
And I guess more than a hint of Prank space of natural woods, muted tones
as what looked like a wall lined with and a very cool bar, but the real wow
miniature spirits opened to a separate factor is out on the terrace where
‘speak easy’ style dining area. And the the moonlit view of the Qutb Minar
food? Each course more wonderful than through the treetop sets the mood. As
the next, with such dedication to the for the food: perfect tartlets filled with
flavours, textures, aromas and beautiful tangy laab kai, great dim sum with
presentation. The highlight for me was hints of lemongrass, crispy prawn with
the Indian Ocean Baked Lobster, the caramelised onion (served with raw
tender lobster meat baked with curry mango) and the softest tastiest Thai
leaf butter, cashew nuts and spices and crab cakes. Zorovar is one of life’s great
enthusiasts who’s passionate and eager
her husband, Bakshish Dean, himself for his next adventure – a new opening
an award-winning chef, known as in London this Summer. Watch this
the Molecular Magician. Bakshish space.
is a mentor to Kolkata-born Priyam
and it was a culinary lesson in itself
to see these two masters interact.
Opposite me sat the Ambassador
of Champagne Rajiv Singal who
established the market for wine (and
Champagne) in India and a fellow
publisher of a magazine, Fine Wine &
Champagne. Stand out dishes include
Watermelon Medium Rare a playful
faux-tuna dish with slow baked skin-



Inspired by one of the greatest love stories ever told, the
Taj Mahal was also the iconic backdrop to the collapse
of one. Norah Casey sits on that bench and has her own

spiritual moment at the most universally-admired,

world-heritage masterpieces.

On the right bank of the Yamuna the final resting place of the Mughal to love as a backdrop. The irony of her
river, south of the walled city of Agra Emperor Shah Jahan’s beloved wife situation not lost on the world.
lies an immense mausoleum of white Mumtaz, a Persian Princess who died
marble inspired by love and built to in childbirth. Naturally, the bench has attracted
last. The Taj Mahal is magnificent to some famous visitors. Most recently
behold and mesmerising to gaze upon. And then there is what the guides her son Prince William who along with
The sunlight and shadows create hues call the ‘Lady Di Chair’. That iconic Kate recreated that moment as a loving
of pink and white, stark against the moment on the bench which captured couple. Presidents Clinton, Putin,
vivid blue of the sky while shimmering her loneliness so graphically back in Obama and Trudeau, Oprah, Leonardo
in the reflective water below. This 1992. Speculation about her marital DiCaprio, Tom Cruise, Arnold
is without doubt one of the greatest difficulties were rife and Prince Charles Schwarzenegger and a multitude
architectural and artistic achievements had chosen to go elsewhere that day. of other’s behinds have sat on that
in the world for its beauty and That photograph made headline news bench. And now mine too. It was quite
harmony. across the world. It was just 10 months something.
before her official separation from
Visiting the Taj Mahal was a real- Prince Charles was announced. The We booked a driver from Delhi
life dream. But if I’m being honest, image is printed in my memory. The for a day trip and left around 5am.
I’ve quite a few countries and world poignant figure of Diana dressed in Everyone tells you it’s a two-and-a-
heritage sites under my belt and if purple and orange sitting alone with half-hour drive but the reality is more
anything, I am often underwhelmed. the world’s most beautiful testament like four with lots of traffic delays,
This, however, was the highlight of my cows, monkeys, crashes, lane chaos and
visit to India. I was blown away. “The hype doesn’t do it justice near misses to keep you wide awake
because the real thing is for most of it. As we drove towards the
The hype doesn’t do it justice walled city of Agra we stopped on the
because the real thing is spell-bindingly spell blindingly monumental river bank dodging some early morning
monumental in scale and senses. There in scale and senses” chaos caused by a nonchalant cow
is a presence about the Taj Mahal, a who bravely stood her ground against
serenity which settles over you despite the blaring horn and simply stared
the crowds. The white gleaming façade into the distance chewing the cud. So,
is said to represent heaven on earth and I dived into a ditch to catch a glimpse

of one of the most universally admired world laid to rest. Although you are able to
heritage masterpieces in the distance through visit replica sarcophagi of Shah Jahan
the early morning haze. An iconic outline so and Mumtaz they are actually buried
familiar from a lifetime of images. lower down. The ninety-nine names
of God are inscribed on the sides
But nothing is quite like being up close to of her actual tomb. The lotus motif
the real thing. We picked up a local guide features throughout the design, on top
in Agra and although he said he had been a of the main dome, the smaller domes
guide for 50 years and had probably told the (chattris) and the decorative spires.
story over 10,000 times he made it sound The minarets stand 40 metres tall and
like it was the first. No mechanical vehicles provide the perfect symmetry of the
are allowed near the Taj Mahal so we took UNESCO World Heritage site. Twice
a local rickshaw to the entrance. Prepare for the domes and minarets had to be
queues and an airport-like security check hidden by scaffolding during wartime
system. to escape bombing.

The first glimpse is magnificent. It took my Viewing from a distance is
breath away and despite the crowds rushing incredible, but as you get up close
past me I remained transfixed at the sight. and wander through the chambers
And here is the love story that led to the you see the beautiful calligraphy
creation of the Taj Mahal. and motifs with passages from the
Qur’an decorating the walls. Delicate
A grief-stricken Shah Jahan commissioned herringbone inlays create subtle
architect Ustad-Ahmad Lahori to start work artwork while dark and black inlays
on the Taj Mahal in 1631. His third wife against the white marble add drama
Mumtaz had died giving birth to their 14th and texture. Marble lattice work
child and he wanted the grandest of designs separates the glaring sun from the
for her final resting place. Their love story shadowed interior where flowers and
inspired the grand Persian and early Mughal vines come to life over frames and
architectural design and exquisite detail. It archways with polished inlaid stones
took 12 years to build, at a cost of over 50 of yellow marble and jade.
billion Indian rupees. The main mausoleum
was finished in 1643 and other buildings The Persian inspired gardens are
and the gardens about five years later. While said to represent the four flowing
many Mughal buildings were made with red rivers of Paradise, with heavenly
sandstone Shah Jahan wanted to use opulent fountains and avenues of trees the
gleaming white marble inlaid with semi- prelude to the main magnificent
precious stones. spectacle. On the other side of the
Yamuna river lies the Moonlight
The most skilled artisans were recruited Garden to the back of the Taj Mahal
from across the empire, masons, stone- and the only side not bordered by
cutters, inlayers, carvers, painters, sandstone walls. To add balance, two
calligraphers and dome builders. Shah Jahan grand sandstone buildings which
wanted nothing to ever rival the Taj Mahal mirror each other (a mosque and
and all of the artists signed an agreement in Jawab) stand in contrast to the white
return for a hefty fee that they would not gleaming marble of the Taj. Since that
work on any other project in their lifetime. ‘Diana moment’ tourism has increased
Some 28 precious and semi-precious stones ten-fold and with eight million visitors
from across Asia and India were inlaid into annually the government has recently
the translucent white marble. Over 1,000 announced limitations on visitor time
elephants and teams of twenty or thirty oxen at the Taj. Like many world-famous
hauled the materials along a 15-kilometre sites, pollution and tourism are taking
ramp, Lapis Lazuli from Afghanistan, its toll, this is one place you should
turquoise from Tibet, sapphire from Sri see before you leave this earth. For
Lanka, Carnelian from Arabia, Jade and a prelude of heaven or a spiritual
Crystal from China, jasper from Punjab. moment like no other, don’t delay.

The most dramatic focus of the Taj Mahal
is the white marble chamber framed by an
archway and topped by the large 35-metre-
high central dome where they both are now

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