Interiors Project: Karen Fish in Mumbai, India

Welcome to Issue 6 of the Interiors Project. Today we are at home with Karen Fish in Mumbai, India. Karen and I became friends at our school in Bangkok and I am one of the lucky people who inherited some of her good stuff when she made the move from Bangkok to Mumbai. Karen is an art teacher who approaches everything with grace and compassion whether she’s helping the counselors with an art exhibit, facilitating community service or decorating her gorgeous home(s). Thanks, Karen! Enjoy the tour.

I think if I were an animal I would be a turtle.

With a surname like mine, Fish, being a turtle is not too big of a leap. I love the ocean, I like to dig my toes into the sand and my Facebook profile picture says it all; I would always rather be at the beach! Beyond the beach obsession I would be a turtle because my home comes with me wherever I go. I firmly believe in supporting international removal companies, so wherever I go, “my stuff” goes too. Five international moves and many thousands of dollars later I have come to realize that I am a highly skilled nester. Maybe when I make my next move I should start my resume with, “Highly skilled nester who can also teach art.” What do you think, will I get the job?

My current home is in Mumbai aka Bombay, India. The Mumbai Bombay thing had me tricked at first. What should I call my new home? My solution is I just switch back and forth. Originally from Sydney I’ve lived and taught in Albury in rural Australia,  Penang in Malaysia, Sydney, Hong Kong, Bangkok in Thailand, and now Bombay in “Incredible India”! Whoever came up with that slogan really was a genius because it really, truly, is incredible.

Mumbai… before the shipment arrived:

Here is the “interesting” ASB furniture including what I liked to call the “Out of Africa” tiger stripes and all dining room set…. all now thankfully in storage!

My apartment
I’ve lived in teeny tiny apartments and huge rambling places with more bathrooms and wardrobes than anyone could possibly need. This sixth floor apartment is on the smaller side but I have managed to fit all my worldly possessions into my roughly 50 square meters of space. Yes I did have to measure; all I knew was it is small but luckily it’s basically a square so it wasn’t too hard. It took a bit of downsizing from my 145 square meter apartment in Bangkok so, if you are reading this and you helped me out by giving one of my treasures a new home, I thank you!

Home means…
My definition of home? I seem to have two homes, Bombay where all “my stuff” lives and Sydney which is where “my people”, my family and many friends live. Whenever I am in one place I always seem to refer to the other as “home”. My family is really important to me and I keep them close by having lots of favorite photos around my Bombay apartment. One thing I know for sure, for the period that my worldly goods are in a shipping container sailing across the high seas I feel a deep sense of unease. When it all arrives “home” I breathe again! My nest has returned.

What’s first to be unpacked?
What do I unpack first – my great grandmother’s clock, my antique Chinese cupboard and a very precious painting given to me by my dear friend Katrina just before I left Sydney in 1992. She arrived with it on top of her car and I had to call the removals and add just one more thing; a rather large, 120cm x 200 cm painting on wood. They laughed and arrived with a perfect wooden crate into which it just safely slipped ready for its journey across the globe.

The collections
Wherever I go I collect. Over my 23 years teaching abroad I have collected paintings, sculpture, furniture, carpets, masks, cushions and way too many decorator items. Each and every one of them has their own story. Like my indigo blue Chinese carpet bought in a dark and dingy Beijing Hutong practically sight unseen, well at least sort of,  I could see it was a carpet, I could scrape enough mud away from the surface to work out it was blue but that was about it.  I have Modigliani sculpture. OK that’s not quite true – I have a reproduction from the Louvre bought on my first art history school trip to Paris. I was there with a wonderful group of students who kindly helped me lug it home to Hong Kong. I love it as an image and for the memories it evokes. Another piece in my art collection is a painting from Hanoi that hangs over my sofa. The image just spoke to me from the moment I first saw it. “Buy me…buy me…you know you love me!” Over three days I bartered with the gallery and finally the artist himself but in truth it was all a game because I knew that it was mine.

My favorite things…
My favorite thing about my current home is the light. It’s the beach things again – light, sun water. When people ask why I love India one of my first reasons I give is the golden light. It brings such warmth to everything and my large windows let it fill my apartment especially in the early morning. I also love the view from my windows, past my Bali sculpture into the tree tops of Bandra. When I tell people I live in Mumbai I’m sure it’s an image of Slumdog Millionaire and not an image of trees that comes to their mind, but Mumbai is a city of trees. I have no idea what kind of trees they are but one thing is for sure, they are gorgeous. Sadly those same trees are home to the thing I like least about Mumbai; noisy squawking, horrible, scavenging crows. No wonder Hitchcock made them the villains in his movie, “The Birds” – they are nasty creatures. They are the grumpiest birds, always bullying the pigeons and making a racket.


Some of my other favorite things are books, including my latest additions to my library – two new books on Indian contemporary art, my latest obsession. I love cushions of all shapes and sizes from camel bags to Thai silk lovelies and collections of everything from mirrors to little Rajasthani dolls. Writing this article and taking the photos led me to a realization: I have a favorite number. It’s three. I own so many things in sets of three it’s kinda weird. Finally fresh flowers are a favorite Friday afternoon buy on my way home from school so I can enjoy them all weekend long.

I don’t really have a favorite place that I’ve lived; they’ve all been great in their own way. I certainly loved Hong Kong and the school where I worked. That’s why I stayed so long but now I am really enjoying India. I love the people, the food, the palpable spirituality, the light, the colors and the unpredictability. You never really know what you will see next or what might be happening just around the next corner. I need the security of my nest but I am energized by the adventure of the city I live in. For me living in Mumbai is the perfect mix.

On being an international teacher
One of the greatest aspects to this nomadic life is the people you get to meet. I really have been blessed with working with some amazing people and have made some incredible, loyal and loving friends who are now scattered all over the globe. That just gives me the excuse to look at my bank account balance in terms of potential airline tickets and not the number of $. Where can I go next? On a rough count I think I have been to 37 countries and as far as continents go there’s only Antarctica left, but as I hate being cold, it’s not too likely!

With the advent of social media it’s now so much easier to stay connected with all my friends who are stretched around the globe. I am strong believer in the theory of six degrees of separation. Once you’ve spent a while on this wild roller coaster of international teaching you know it’s true too. Wherever I go I seem to meet someone, who knows someone that I know…if you know what I mean.


Travelling
Like a certain author, my three favorite places in the world are Italy, India and Bali, after all what’s not to like?  As for favorite meals, there’re two.  The first, summer on the Cinque Terre in Italy with my best travelling partner, my sister Narelle. A long hike across vineyards, along rocky cliffs and meandering through small picturesque towns led to a recommended restaurant in yet another picturesque town.  A last climb to the top of a tower was rewarded with a freezing cold Peroni beer accompanied by pesto lasagna. Mmm mmm delicious.  That led to seafood then wine followed by tiramisu and coffee and not surprisingly, the ferry home. While I don’t have the recipe, this one looks pretty darn close. Just remember, to really enjoy it you need to be tired, hot and perched above the ocean in Italy. Oh and don’t forget the Peroni!

A more recent delicious meal, again on a journey with Narelle was in Kerala. It was a celebratory Diwali lunch for the Hindu festival of lights, on our Houseboat in the Kerala Backwaters. Our cook prepared an amazing array of southern Indian cooking in his tiny kitchen at the back of the boat. It was a veritable feast of delicious spicy flavors and cooling coconut smabal.

How do I know when it’s time to leave?
In the end it’s easy because I just do. I might have been thinking about it for a while but then I just know that my time in this place is ended and it’s the right thing for me to go and start again in a new place. I have never regretted moving on; while the leap might be scary, the landing sometimes bumpy, the journey is always rewarding.

Saying that, it’s time to leave right now! Congrats if you have made it this far. You never know, our paths may cross one day soon because those six degrees are all that separate us!

Byee.
Karen

You are invited to leave little love notes and questions for Karen in the comments section below.

42 comments

  1. Lovely style and so fun to see the before and after pictures! I loved this line: “I have never regretted moving on; while the leap might be scary, the landing sometimes bumpy, the journey is always rewarding.” Not sure when I will be ready to leave my current post in Beirut or where I might go, but these are certainly words of wisdom. Hopefully I too will just know that my time here has ended.

  2. Lovely style and so fun to see the before and after pictures! I loved this line: “I have never regretted moving on; while the leap might be scary, the landing sometimes bumpy, the journey is always rewarding.” Not sure when I will be ready to leave my current post in Beirut or where I might go, but these are certainly words of wisdom. Hopefully I too will just know that my time here has ended.

  3. Thanks for sharing your lovely home Karen! Truly beautiful. Would you have any suggestions of international schools to check into in Australia? Thanks! -Jodi

    1. Hi Jodi I loved your article too! You live in a very intreresting part of the world that I need to explore far more. As for international schools in Australia are rather rare as many of our private schools follow the IB so expats go to those schools. So sadly none to recommend. Sorry about that!
      Byee
      Karen

  4. Hi Karen
    I loved getting a peek into your new life in Mumbai/Bombay. Glad that you are so happy there. I am amazed by the transformation of your latest apartment- I’m sure you could be a professional nester (interior designer) tomorrow if you chose.
    Angela

    1. Hahahah! Cute Angela. What i like most about that idea is just think of all the shopping I could do!! Mumbai is great you will have to come and visit!

  5. Wow, that was such a joy to read Karen you should write a book! Your’s would be just as good a read as the other famous author you mentioned. I am one of the lucky ones who as been pleased having met and worked with you in Bangkok. I am pleased to see your new ‘nest’ and always look forward to your amazing photos and feel I’m able to enjoy laces through your eyes. I miss our book club and the times we spent together. I look forward to seeing you again some time. Take care and continue to enjoy your new home. India is lucky to have the Fish! X

    1. Thanks Jacinta! Hope all is well for you back in Oz. Not much hope of me doing a book though as the writing part does not come easily! Byee

  6. Nicely done Karen. What great photos and great narative. Will you come to MN in two years and help me arrange my new house? Every little part of your house is a perfect picture. Great to see you in Mumbai. See you sometime soon.
    Pat

    1. Sure! I love the decorating part of moving! And think of all those great stores in the US…mmmmm…fun! While Mumbai has awesome exotic shopping (as you now know first hand!) there are days I would just love a Target or Ikea! If I come to the US I could go to a Walmart…I’ve never been to a Walmart! 🙂 A new cultural experience awaits!
      Byee
      Karen

  7. Wonderful descriptions of your home and your philosophy of life, Karen. I am so glad that I got to know you in HK!

  8. Hello possum! LOVED hearing your voice in your writing and seeing your essence and spirit in your home! Your home is so beautiful and such an expression of you! I am so blessed to have spent time in your home over the years, and see what you mean that it travels with you. The size/shape may change but the feel and expression of you remains constant! Thanks for sharing of yourself with us and inspiring me to put a bit more of me in my own home! With love and admiration! Jen

    1. Awww thanks my little possum! Thank you for the kind words. This i s my first ever venture into blogging and its all thanks to the lovely Monna. I know writing is your thing and I can only say that my respect for you and all the other writers and bloggers of the world went through the roof as I did this! BIG HUGS to you and the family!
      Karen

  9. Karen, your place in Mumbai looks great, like all of your other places. Girl you have style! I’m so happy to see you really living life in India, I’m thinking Europe may be my next stomping ground, you will have to come to visit and help me decorate!

    1. Just say the word…any excuse to come to Europe is fine by me! Thanks for the nice comments! I am not sure about style but I sure can shop 🙂
      Byee
      Karen

  10. So much fun to see your place and hear the happiness in your words, made me remember days shared in HK and your warm laugh. Loved the photos, your home is beautiful.

    1. Thanks Chris! This is so cool…reconnecting with so many people! I’m having a blast as I read everone’s comments. You really need to keep reading Monna’s blog it is a delight each time a new post appears. We may all live in so many different places but with every article I feel a strong connection with the author. As a global nomad yourself z’m sure you would enjoy the posts! Thanks for your kind words, must be time for me to visit Korea!
      Byee
      Karen

  11. Hi Karen. I just loved reading your story and although I haven’t travelled nearly as much as you, I can relate to all you say. I love your flat and sense of style.
    Being surrounded by personal history, in your home, makes change doable. Of course, particularly laughed over your story of Trine’s painting. It looks fantastic.
    You write extraordinarily well. That, combined with your sense of creative style, keen eye and multitude of teaching skills, makes for some very lucky students.
    Cheers from London.

  12. Loved reading this as I’ve loved hanging out on your couch surrounded by beautiful things in HK and Bangkok (with a glass of wine in hand). Hope to return to Mumbai and see the inside of your lovely apartment. I always think of you when I’m tempted to be too symmetrical while hanging things on the walls! AM. xx

    1. Ha ha ha! There is a place for symmetry but just a little corner! Loved hanging out with you recently my friend! Just say the word and the spare bed is yours and there is always a glass of wine waiting for you!
      Byee
      Karen

  13. How beautiful this was, so full of images and your strong voice coming through! I enjoyed all the visual sensations!

  14. Hi Dearest Fishy.
    What a wonderful blog! Great photos and your text, its like you are actually talking to us. We so want to see you soon if we are not washed away! If not in Oz, then in 2013.
    Any hints on travel around Athens, Turkey and Italy? We hope to go there in October/ November with Jan and Peter. Will visit fellow ex Albury and International School Teacher Jenny Hall in Geneva as well. (Jenny played netball with us in Albury…many, many years ago.)
    You have an amazing collection of belongings! You could easily become an interior designer, buying to your hearts content…and making gorgeous homes for others.
    Thanks for sharing your new home in Mumbai. No wonder you were so enthusiastic last time we saw you.You paint vivid images of India…. with your words and photography.
    Lots of hugs…Irene and Craig xxxx

  15. Karen, I loved the before and after shots and your wonderful descriptions of your travels and your shopping. For those that are following the comments, I can assure you that Karen’s current place is every bit as lovely as the pictures and words above. A fact I can attest to since I was in Mumbai last week and had the chance to drop by. Thanks, Karen.

  16. I love the fun and optimism that just glowed in this whole post. It makes me feel so excited for whatever is next in life! Karen, your home is beautiful, and it was such a treat to read your thoughts on life in India and elsewhere. Thank you for sharing. xoxo

    (Monna, this series is really incredible. I am blown away by it.)

  17. Karen,

    Thanks. This is a beautiful collection of photos and reflections. The familiar pieces bring back great memories – the new pieces hint to your continuing journey! It all speaks to your joy in life. Fun to see. Cheers, Susan

  18. Karen, thanks for sharing this festive collection of photos and reflections. The familiar furniture and art bring back huge memories, and the new pieces speak volumes about your continuing journey. The notes bring back your joy in life, filled with fun, food and friends wherever you are!

  19. Beautiful Karen and glad to see that you still like the painting I gave you. Its so big that its a credit to removalists in four nations that it wasn’t the straw that broke the camel’s back! A fascinating read and your new aparment is amazing. It looks just like home and proves that you can make a home anywhere with a few favourite possessions. Hope to be sitting on that couch soon myself.
    Much love Katrina and promise not to bring
    another giant heavy painting!

  20. Hi Fishy – it is Shan O’Brien here (Craig’s Sister) I’m at Craig and Irene’s place for tea! Just thought I would tell you how amazing your place looks your furniture is just beautiful. It was great to see a picture of you – you haven’t changed a bit since last I saw you in Albury when we were both much, much younger!!! Mum and dad are both here and think your place is lovely Mum is wrapped in the screen – however they are not technologically advanced and asked that I pass on their good wishes. Take care Fishy – enjoy your adventures xx

  21. Hi Karen,

    So glad to have read your wonderful naration from your new life in Mumbai. May you continue to be blessed and safe wherever you may go.

    Pauline, Heather and Nevs, neighbour.

  22. hi there – we are just in the midst of planning our next family trip to Mumbai. I accidentally ran into your blog and could not stop reading it in its entirety. I can not wait to come back and visit. We are from Calgary, Canada, and our ancestors are from India. We fell in love with Mumbai in 1999 and have since been making frequent trips there. Your building looks very familiar to me. Would love to connect with you when we are in Mumbai. Come and have a meal with us, and our friends. Keep in touch please and I agree with all those above, you should write a book.

  23. Hello from Kyrgyzstan, Karen. How wonderful to see your new home in Bombay – such fabulous, gorgeous colour inside & out!! I think one of the challenges of the nomadic/semi-permanent life of the international teaching community is making the many treasures fit into such varied & differing environments – a challenge you have certainly nailed. I’ve been meaning to track down Monna’s Interiors Project for some time & now I find it & you simultaneously – is that serendipity, or what!?! I was prompted to track you down to tell you about a facebook site that may interest you ‘Daily Secret: Mumbai’ : https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mumbai-Daily-Secret-English-Edition/302086129884860 (mailing list delivers daily emails). I came across ‘Daily secret: Istanbul’ when I was planning a visit there earlier in the year & think the ‘secrets’ look great for those who live in the city to give direction or impetus for adventures into different parts of town – imagine it will be the same for Mumbai… Anyway, if there’s an adventure to be had or a special experience to be enjoyed, I figure you are the person to be doing it.
    Best regards, Allana (friend of Allie Coutts – we meet in Bangkok)

    1. Hey Allana! How great to hear from you! Where are you? Melbourne or somewhere strange and exotic again like Afghanistan or maybe Soi 8? Hope you are well and thanks for the tip I will check it out! Karen

      1. Hi again, Karen. I’ve been living in Kyrgyzstan (where?? 2 countries north of Afghanistan & two south of Russia) since May this year – Bob was relocated here from AFG in January & when I visited in February & it was -20C (yes, minus 20C) I thought ‘I could live here’ so I am… So, yeah, it’s exotic enough & a lot safer than AFG 🙂

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