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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
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!