Vanakkam, bienvenue, welcome.... so say the shop signs on the Rue Du Faubourg St Denis in Paris. In fact, I feel as though I have just stepped out of Chennai Central railway station. In reality, I am in Paris' Indian quarter, home to immigrants from the former French colonies of Pondicherry and Karaikkal.
Dodging crowds of humanity, I exit the hyper-busy Gare du Nord station and step out onto the rue du Faubourg St Denis - Paris' Little India, or should I say Little Madras. I could be walking down any main street in Chennai.
The shop signs are in Tamil; the stores are called Thangamma Sarees and Tirupathi gift store; the appetising smell of idlis and sambar and other pure vegetarian sapaad (meals) wafts out of restaurants like Krishna Bhavan and Saravanaa Bhavan while the corner shops sell Anandavegadan and other hot-off-the-press Tamil revues.
Always my first and must stop, VT Cash And Carry has everything Indian crammed onto its shelves. An exquisite selection of Paris' best and freshest Asian vegetables is available here; drumsticks, tender coconut, bitter gourd, lady's fingers, curry leaves... recipes float in my head. It also carries every spice under the sun, a frozen section for samosas, chappatis, kulfi, dals, basmati rice, hair oils, Lakme make-up, Horlicks... oops, a packet of Bombay Mixed Munchies almost fell on my head!
Today, I buy the latest issue of Filmfare and fresh jasmine garlands for my daughters, but on Sundays I am ready for a heist. I march in armed with shopping bags and carry away half the store as my patient husband waits in the getaway car, keeping an eye out for the gendarmerie (police) in this difficult no-parking zone.
Hooked on Hindi movies, my children discovered Aishwarya Rai and Bollywood at Vaanavil Music. The price of five DVDs for 10 euros always stops them with "mummy, pleeeaase!!". I have found some great buys here: Classics like Mother India, Mera Naam Joker; and the children love the funny dance videos like Hum Tum, Bachna Ae Haseeno and Chance Pe Dance.