Friday, December 3, 2010

A WEDDING in the Family...and...

"There is an upcoming  wedding in the family, that is, my dear husband's (DH) brother is getting married in January 2011". Innocuous sentence eh? No!! There's a wedding in the family is synonymous with "yours truly is on a shopping frenzy" and DH is alternately losing his mind and fearing for my sanity.

Being back in India is insanely exciting come wedding and saree shopping time.

Excitement aside, this woman has hardly ever shopped for sarees in her life and never before has she done it without mom or an aunt beside her to give her moral I am dependent on DH for moral support while BUYING SAREES...ouch!!

The scene kinda goes like this, we walk into a store having decided beforehand what kinda stuff we are looking for, gape at a hundred different varieties of sarees flown, flung, draped and defined for our benefit -
by the end of which we are too stunned to decide anything - shrug apologetically, give perplexed smiles and inch our way out murmuring that we would be back the next day...knowing full well that we won't go back and the sales guy knows it too!

For those of you wondering why all this bewilderment...try figuring out stuff like pure georgette, dye-able, brocaded, self embroidered with silver tikkis (Not stones!) with traditional border vs synthetic georgette(that's why it is cheaper madam), double colored, velvet floral bordered shimmer material with stones (Not tikkis!)...yada, yada, yada....

or how about a Benarasi pure silk patola vs, Benarasi Brocade vs Benarasi Jamaver vs South Silk (meaning kanjeevaram) plain or south silk enhanced with Kutchi work, kundan work, kantha work...etc etc etc

or better still the latest sarees with beautiful handwork including tikkis, crystals and uncut diamonds ranging in price from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars...whew! I wouldn't mind paying thousands of dollars( one day in the future if and when I can afford to that is!!) for an elegantly woven and worked silk saree...after all the production of my saree begins with thousands  of poor little silkworms (which means my saree is organic, right?)...but I cannot imagine paying so much for what to me appears to be gorgeously colored and worked mosquito nets....but on the other hand some of these net sarees are out of this world maybe they are not so bad after all....

...and this is just the beginning, we still haven't touched silk cotton...Italian crepe...pure chiffon...raw silk...paper silk...tussar silk...moonga silk....blah blah blah...or sarees from all different states and districts...cities, towns and villages...handcrafted vs machine woven...chemical dyes vs vegetable dyes, royal vs rustic....oooooooooofff...gasp...some water please...
If this is not enough to fry your must be made of one of those pure silk with pure gold thread border kinda material that they promise will live on in full glory for eons after we depart this saree laden earth...

After going through this process(torment?) in some smaller boutiques and indie shops, we felt braver to approach the big guns of the city. (Or may be the fact that the wedding is less than two months away has something to do with this sudden spurt of courage??)

So now we have actually started buying sarees!! More about that later...coz you see after buying comes the drooling and draping...and plenty more ings....

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Of Me, my Dear Husband(DH) our Maid and Cook....

To continue with the story of trying to manage a maid and a cook....

After weeks of getting up in the morning and sweetening our morning cup of coffee with squabbles over what instructions to give the maid and cook on that particular day and which of us would do it, I had had enough and came to a decision; to split "them two" between "us two".

I bagged the cook and gave DH the maid as in our former lives I used to be master chef and DH the sous chef and he was the janitorial supervisor, me the imbecile cleaner ( which basically meant that I was too stupid to do the bathrooms etc so he got to do all the heavy duty stuff...hehe!)

Today happened to be the first day we could put this into practice as DH happened to be at home( he is usually out of town, either for a day or for days together on business) BUT when I woke up this morning he had just gotten back from his early morning yoga class thoroughly thrilled with the weather and sighting my daily plumpening (is there such a word? If not, there should be, coz there's no better way to describe me...)he "encouraged" me to go for a nice long walk and offered to pass on my instructions to the cook AND promised to remember everything I had pointed out around the house to him so he could instruct the maid.

I went for my nice long walk and stayed out for about an hour soaking up some sun before it got to be burning hot and then went back home to find... DH busily typing away at his laptop.

Cobwebs continued to lurk in both dark and bright corners while the maid was apparently on the point of finishing up her day's work...the toilets did not look like it had been cleaned...on questioning DH, he asks me, "doesn't she clean it everyday?" (????)...on questioning the maid, she explains that she cleaned it with plain water (?????)...
Went to the kitchen to inquire after my dish of thinly sliced and sauteed raw bananas only to see that the thin slices seems to have transformed to big fat I ask DH, "did you forget to give her my instructions?" and he goes..."No! I told her that the bananas have to be "thinly sliced", hasn't she sliced it?"...ok who do I yell at? DH for assuming that a woman who struggles to articulate basic numbers in English would understand the term "thinly sliced"? Or my cook for assuming to understand when she hasn't understood his instructions?
Well...I didn't yell at anybody...after all it was a nice morning and I had just come in from a nice long walk...and also DH excused himself on the score that he was preoccupied with his work...yeah yeah...

Fast forward to our luncheon conversation...DH is telling me how my cook's alcoholic husband has ruined her life...the cook told him her story this morning and apparently the maid too added her two cents to abuse the cook's husband...ok! whew! The two women hardly ever shoot the wind with me despite me being at home all the time, while DH sprints in and out of the house like a freakin olympic athlete and the day they get him alone they gossip and all my instructions are gone with wind....

Jeez...whenever will I acquire the skills required to manage my servants and teach it to DH? Coz, you can't simply give orders to Indian maids or you will speedily find yourself without household help. You've got to learn the value of well placed smiles with your regular requests, special smiles for special requests, playfulness while delivering corrections and criticisms, the ability to turn a blind eye towards certain negligent behaviors while wholeheartedly appreciating positive behaviors, just the right mixture of coaxing and command while instructing, not being too uptight about (for them immaterial) things like punctuality and keeping you informed in advance about a change in their plans....the list goes on so I will stop here...

The day I master all this, I'll apply for a position as a foreign ambassador and have myself sent to our favorite neighboring

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Back In Ahmedabad

Got back home to Ahmedabad almost a month ago and working hard on settling down. Our things arrived from the US bringing some much needed cheer to our home. It's lovely to have all my favourite things and books around me again!
Also, the Arabian Sea was kind enough to send some really cold winds and misting rain our way so I actually got to stomp around in my much loved jeans and knee high boots, helping me create the illusion of being my normal self as I knew it over the past few years! Oh! The frivolous stuff on which my happiness rides!
And then, there's the new things that I get to enjoy now...the world's best oranges and guavas, custard apples and big fat gooseberries, winter vegetables, winter fashion (by which I mean wedding fashions because the wedding season of this part of the country is in full swing now!)
I want to say that life in India is good after all but I won't for fear of provoking the evil eye...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

South Goa - A Story in Pictures - Part 3

Our beautiful sunset ride on a motorcycle took us to the heart of Agonda, a fishing village comprising chiefly of local fisher folk with foreign visitors happily slumming it in the middle of nowhere. Riding through the village, looking at the tourists hanging out in the rustic shacks and stores, I wondered why someone would take the trouble to travel all the way from far off places to end up in the boondocks, especially in a country like India where you can spend years travelling and still find out there's more to see and do than what you have done already!
While still pondering this question, we came upon Agonda beach and all thoughts of the primitive village flew from my mind to be replaced by awestruck admiration. I could have happily lived in a cave wearing skins if I could wake up to this view and sleep to the sounds and sights of this magnificent expanse of water, sky, hills and sunlight...

...If ever you feel a overwhelming need to experience absolute beauty and innocence, go to Agonda Beach during the monsoons at the hour of the sunset...

Friday, October 8, 2010

South Goa - A Story in Pictures - Part 2

Another Day in Paradise

1. Our first morning in Goa began with another stroll on the beach to a food shack for some breakfast. We sat there in a sunny dream watching the azure blue sea, devouring banana pancakes, thick sliced bacon and steaming hot coffee.

2.     Another short walk on the beach to watch some men wrestling with their fishing nets…
3. …the colorfully dressed women beach cleaners…
      … Men clambering up coconut palms to pick coconuts...
 Now, we were ready to take on the town and the first thing we did on going into town was to try to rent a scooter for easy mobility and ended up renting a motorcycle instead. VJ had a ball zooming us around the twisted little roads and lanes, pretending he had finally bought his dream machine!
             After spending the day exploring Palolim and Canacona town on the motorcycle, we decided to ride down to Agonda Beach, which is about eight kms away from Palolim. We had an unbelievably glorious ride through unspoiled countryside wrapping ourselves in the cool evening air and chasing the golden sunset. I thought I had found perfection in Palolim and then I saw Agonda…but that as they say is another story…for another day!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

South Goa – A story in pictures - Part 1

(Note: After the recent spate of cynical writings here, I thought I would write about one of the many beautiful experiences I have had while exploring this country of mine over the past few months).


1. Towards the end of the monsoons, my husband and I spent a couple days in South Goa, in a little fishing village, which also attracts a ton of tourists seeking quiet beauty and warm sunny serenity during the winter months. We stayed on the beach in the village of Palolim, which is a gorgeous place nestled between the Arabian Sea on one side and thickly wooded Sahyadri Mountain ranges, on the other.
2. We landed at Dabolim airport in the early afternoon and driving south for about 60 Kms, we reached Palolim in the evening. After finding a little place to shack up for the night, we walked to one of the places on the beach for some food. Therefore, our Goan experience began with some delicious crusted calamari and a tall bone colored mug of the world’s best coffee served black with steamed milk and sugar on the side.
3. After lingering lazily over coffee n’ calamari we decided to go for a sunset stroll on the beach and never have I seen such a breathtaking glory of colors in my life before! The western sky was a searing red gold, the waters a lustrous silver gray, the mountains a constantly darkening green black and it being the monsoons, dark clouds were gathering in the horizon promising us a stormy night.
4. We showered and changed into fresh clothes and went back to the Dropadi bar and Restaurant for a late dinner. The waiter displayed the fresh catch of the day for our benefit and it included a giant lobster, snapper, red snapper and bass. We chose a snapper and had them spice and grill it in the Tandoor (clay oven) for us. The prepared fish with a garden fresh-spiced vegetable salad and hot steamed rice on the side was especially scrumptious due to the freshness of the ingredients.

5. Having satisfied both our palates and our tummies, we decided to explore the town of Palolim. The town is a curious mixture of the indigenous and the sophisticated, as it needs to cater to both the local fisher folk and farmers and the international tourist. Then, our first evening in Goa culminated with us going to bed to the sounds of a stormy night outside our window.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Living the American Dream in India...

I think I am beginning to get a glimmer of understanding into the secret for contentment in India vs the US. India has much to offer the person who plays by the rules whereas the US has a lot to offer the rebel rather than the conformist...OK this is some pretty strong stereotyping, however, consider this;
In India, if you belong to the very poor or the very rich classes, you can get away with a lot, either because you are poor and you have to do what it takes to survive or you are wealthy so you have a right to behave the way you want to and use your money to smoothen the consequences, not so different from the rest of the world!
If you belong to the great Indian middle class, your duty is to get a degree, a job, a spouse, a car, two kids and a maid and spend the rest of your life saving your money for your children and your retirement and raising your kids without breaking the mold. Majority of the people who follow this formula appear genuinely happy and why not? Society beams its approval and makes subtle allowances and adjustments to enable the family to continue this lifestyle without becoming dysfunctional. People talk about rising divorce rates in India but it is still relatively minuscule compared to the US and the biggest issue seems to be that the woman has moved on while the man continues to struggle in the caves...don't expect me to sympathize with that!!
In the US, playing by the rules appears golden but for the most part seems to end in two or three mortgages, a spouse without the "sparks" or "chemistry", unhappy kids, stagnant career because you are too busy running the circus to focus on yourself (this happens in a land that worships individuality...go figure!) obesity, divorce, stress and burn out, drug or alcohol addiction, as how else would you cope with steadily increasing disillusionment?

How is it different when a person refuses to play by the rules?

In India, all hell breaks lose...everyone from your nearest and dearest to the stranger in the streets who strikes up a conversation with you is worried about the "lack of progress" in your life. Any attempts to explain why you have deviated from the norm simply results in a lot of arguments, counter arguments and snide much so that you feel like catching the next bus from here to nowhere! The really bothersome thing about this is the way it can drag you down and prevent you from accomplishing your goals, thus inevitably provoking "I told you so" comments. Whew!
In the US, as long as you are "doing something" with your life, nobody cares if you are playing by the rules or not. For the most part, people are too busy running their own show to have much energy left over for yours! In such a sanguine atmosphere, you can focus on you and accomplish your dreams without going through the enervating process of justifying them every step along the way and collapsing in a heap before you are halfway there!

Although the American Dream is a much maligned concept, it still attempts to pervade the country in its simple essence, To quote James T Adams from "Epic of America",
"The American Dream, that has lured tens of millions of all nations to our shores in the past century has not been a dream of material plenty, though that has doubtlessly counted heavily. It has been a dream of being able to grow to fullest development as a man and woman, unhampered by the barriers which had slowly been erected in the older civilizations, unrepressed by social orders which had developed for the benefit of classes rather than for the simple human being of any and every class"

It is just too bad that the American Dream is a travesty of its true meaning today and has generally come to signify expensive and exhausting house keeping within the borders of the white picket fence!It is even worse that there is no such thing as the Great Indian Dream! However, what really takes the cake is trying to live the American Dream (in its true sense) in India!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Battling tropical organisms and dreaming of epic journeys...

After deluding myself that a walk in the dust and rain was delicious, I paid for it by falling sick immediately and getting admitted to the hospital which forced Vj to reschedule his trip to the US...and as if that wasn't enough, the virus got into him as well and he had to reschedule the trip a second time. Now that I think of it my biggest accomplishment to date since I moved to India has been to fall ill to a precise schedule every few days...It has been four months since I moved and I am still going strong and accumulating a record number of sick days...beginning to consider writing to the Guinness book of world records, after all we should make hay while the sun shines no matter what the nature of accomplishment!
On the other hand may be I should pay heed to what my cousins say and consult an astrologer and find out if and why the stars are aligned against me...
Or better still maybe I should simply walk out of this dreaded land and seek my fortune in some friendly corner of the world...that is assuming that there is a friendly corner somewhere for me...
I wonder...would it be foolish to start on an epic journey to find the most conducive place to live in for me?

Grappling with tropical delights....

Currently sojourning in Mysore, generally pronounced to be a beautiful city with plenty of parks, gardens and historical monuments to attract people.
What is not so famously known is the peculiar mixture of sensory "delights" that can change this place from heaven to hell within a matter of hours.
You can wake up to soft sunshine and bird song, walk out of the house with a cup of coffee and sigh in pleasure when your eyes meet with a profusion of greenery and flowers both wild and cultivated...
And then, before you realize it you are wading through thick tropical heat, struggling with prolific allergens released by all this tropical glory and you have the beginnings of a sore throat, runny nose, itchy eyes, all wrapped up in sickening heat...
Cope with it all day hoping for some respite at least from the heat at such luck. Nights belong to mosquitoes on coke, worsening allergy symptoms, sleeplessness from all this discomfort, all wrapped up in sickening heat again.
Wake up again...look at the morning glory, which now feels like the proverbial salt on the wound and curse the stars that brought you here.

I guess no amount of beauty in the world can make up for the bleakness within...

Friday, October 1, 2010

Distance is not just a matter of miles...

Why do we even have the concept of "world peace"? Granted that it is just a term popularly used in beauty paegents but I have come across related terms and hopes in other places too. If repatriation after a relatively short time of geographical distance can get this complicated, how can people think of living in peace with other people who resemble them only in being human beings and whom they have never met?

Culture is deadlier than the nuclear bomb!

After coping with questions and comments ranging from why we have no kids despite being married four years (people are openly skeptical when I say it is from choice and that we do not have infertility issues) to the finer details of the reasons behind hiring a cook...
(Apparently it is automatically implied that I can't cook and we have plenty of money to throw around. Neither's true...what is true is our priorities are radically different from that of the people around us...another reason to feel out of place!)
... and everything else in between, I am beginning to develop culture phobia, unfortunately towards home country. I thought material homelessness was painful....wait till you begin to experience cultural homelessness!

This takes me back to my last few days at my workplace back in Cleveland. I informed a client that I was moving back to India and she asked me "Why? Don't you love our freedoms here?" and I replied, "I have pretty much the same freedoms in India". I am beginning to wonder if I had gone to work in a doped up state that day...same freedoms indeed! I'd bet you my last pair of boots that like everything else in this darned place even freedom comes in disguise...either that or individual freedom of thought and acceptance of differences is pretty much non-existent.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A maid or a crab???

I think I should write a book called "Chronicals of the Maid"! My maid finally left a crab walking sideways, she slid out of employment! I cannot even fathom why she could not simply tell us she's leaving and then leave! Her departure steps;

1. I will come twice a day instead of once ( I said no...once is bad enough considering the wait involved, twice would mean I would have to wait home all day)

2. I will bring my sister and we will share the chores ( after lengthy discussions of how the chores and payment should be divided between the two, this was okayed)

3. She turns up the next day with her "sister" and seems to be explaining all the duties to her. On questioning she says, she's going away to her village for a month so her "sister" will work this month and she will return to her duties here next month.

4. Then, it turns out the "sister" is uncomfortable about starting off all by herself so she is entreating this woman to come here with her for a few days...

5. Obviously we ask if she's not going to her village after all and she says no!

6. Finally we dumbos get the message that she wants to terminate her employment (grand words for a crab but I don't know what else to say! except may be that she's abandoning this hole!)

7. All this while my poor husband being the more proficient of us in the local language was trying to clarify the situation with these two women...and they were doing what women do best...fall into consulting each other on the silliest pretext and giggling endlessly...

8. When asked to clarify their relationship, both together reported with a straight face that they are "sisters"...the minute the previous maid left, the new one declared, "I am a Brahmin...we are Maharaj"...Ok I am really not interested in my maid's caste and lineage...I just want my Goddammmmm Work done...SISTERS my ass! They are not even remotely related... and the final touch...

9. My previous maid came by later for her salary and told us to call her if this maid doesn't do her job well...Phew!!

Man! I really didn't know how good I had it in America cleaning my own shit...

A walk in flowered dust and rain...

Went out for a walk this evening, my nose thanked me for giving it a chance to breathe in the wonderful fragrance of plumeria and jasmine and my eyes kicked my butt for feeding it finely ground dust...and the rains saw fit to come down when I was still some ways from home and soak me to the skin...
Got back home for a hot shower and hot hot cilantro theplas...yum yummmmm....

Monday, August 23, 2010

Progress as a repat...

I now have a cook added to my employees along with the maid and I must say it is a funny experience. My cook wanted to know all about my life in America and one of the first things she asks me is about the availability of household help. When I told her, it was difficult and expensive, so we did it all ourselves, she commiserated with me about how hard it must have been; and then said don't go back to America, life is much better here, you get lots of help...! I did not have the heart to explain the demographics and economics surrounding the availability of household help but she was geniuinely concerned and that was touching.

My maid continues to be as impertinent as ever asking me why we use all three bathrooms rather than sticking to one when it's just the two of us ( Maybe, I should have told her that's because she does the cleaning and not me!!) exclaiming over the number of undergaments used by my husband, telling me not to dirty the kitchen if I do something in there soon after she cleans up...she's a trip but she's funny and keeps the place clean and more importantly takes care of my plants when I go out of town, so I hope she doesn't leave in a fit of capriciousness!

So, my new life's making progress...what with a cook and a maid, I have so much more time to focus on my repat miseries...haha!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Holy Cow Sarah! Really???

Today my mood is thoughtful…pensive. Did Sarah McDonald really need to publish her memoir about her time in India? She undoubtedly has a right to do it, nevertheless is it necessary to dispense with cultural and emotional sensitivity as completely as she has done?

Her writing is good, many times, I found myself laughing uncontrollably and even empathizing with her on some of her experiences. By dint of transforming contradictions to caricatures, she has managed to keep the humor going throughout the book. Her basic attitude can be simply termed as “poking fun” at all and sundry. The truly heartbreaking thing about it is most of her wit is a result of her lack of discernment and acuity into the culture and conditions of this society.

I know that India can be an overwhelming experience, especially for people born and raised in less populated, better-organized, simple monocultural societies. I am Indian, I cannot even pretend to begin to understand this diverse, tangled country of mine, and she has disposed of every aspect of this country in a shallow, flippant manner. If she aimed at caustic wit, she did not reach there, as there is no depth of perspicacity, just a superficial satire.

The key concepts of her plot like the airport beggar foretelling her future, her wish for bigger breasts being granted her albeit as a disease, the astrologer in Rishikesh coming up with correct predictions; all sound like blatant falsehoods created to give her “memoir” some significance. As otherwise, it would read like a tiresome travelogue of a bored foreigner unable to engage with the country where she happens to be a reluctant visitor.

The Indian government does not interfere with people’s religious beliefs in the name of bureaucracy, city governance or urban planning which is as it should be and the author terms it “inefficiency”. (Ref to Parsi Dakhmas)

There is no beautiful piece of land in India, every single square foot is dirty, dusty, dry, hot, stinky, muddy…the negatives are endless. She professes to understand the concept of multiple paths to God endorsed by Hinduism and persists in giving frivolous descriptions of different Hindu Gods.

I could analyze her book to bits and continue to ramble some, so I will stop here. This is not the first book about India written by a western visitor that paints such a starkly depressing picture of the country. Most of them invariably begin with extreme reactions and end up making peace with it under the “India is a land of contradictions with exotic eastern spirituality” theory. “Holy Cow” is no different.

The problem as I see it is developed nations function based on a “mainstream society” which also happens to be the majority population. There is a clear demarcation between the center and the periphery and it is obvious who is who and what is what and where you stand in relation to society the moment you land there. India has no such clearly defined mainstream. If you like, you can define Hindus as the majority population based on statistics but that does not translate to mainstream. Here everyone is mainstream. External visitors are fond of searching for the real India and gravitate towards urban slums and poor villages, which makes no sense. Why on earth are Modern India and Rich India considered illusory siblings of the poor and ancient?

India is not contradictory; she is all-inclusive. Every person, every thing, every culture and every attitude has a place up front and center thus creating a rich textured, multi layered social fabric that defies any attempts at mainstreaming and classification. No wonder, the wandering stranger ends up confused and bewildered at the gazillion seeming contradictions that attack his startled gaze. It’s like being locked up with Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and the rest of the Renaissance gang and their art with perspective and proportion since you were born and one fine day being kicked out on your ass and asked to appreciate and enjoy 21st century abstraction art with its pluralistic “whatever” attitude!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Of Thunderstorms and gay peacocks...

The mayor of Ahmedabad prayed for rains, he, along with temple priests performed a Yajna sitting in huge copper cauldrons of water around the fire...hmmm...not sure if the cauldron was part of the ritual or just an ingenious way of coping with having to sit around a burning fire on a burning hot day. However, that's beside the point. A couple days after invoking the Rain God, the heavens opened up and drenched these dry lands in torrents. Monsoon has arrived in earnest. Now the days are blessedly cloudy and the temperature hovers in the balmy F80s...what bliss! I can't get enough of staring at the rains and standing in the balcony to soak in the spray. If I were younger or less self-conscious, I would have gone out to the courtyard, unfurled my non-existent feathers and danced like a peacock...but I am neither younger nor un-self-conscious, so that's a moot point.
Speaking of peacocks, heard something quirky the other day. There's a peacock around here somewhere that apparently loves men and hates women. He is very friendly towards the men who visit him but God forbid a woman tries to get close to him! He chases them down and tries to peck them to death...yes...these pecks are no little birdie kisses but serious attempts to draw flesh. I wonder, is this a case of a "gay peacock" who doesn't want the human being to be in anyway confused about his sexuality or a simple misogynist? What is being done about this? Nothing. The peacock is free to roam and attack any unsuspecting woman in the vicinity. Whatever...too bad this isn't the US of A where NOW would have called for stringent action against the peacock and PETA would have strongly objected and requested a psych analyses to check for PTSD and the bird would be clapped up behind bars for sure. But this is India, the land of infinite patience and what if this poor peacock hates women? It is peacock what if it seriously hurts a's the woman's fate...Hey Ram! Don't you get it?!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Life feels funny again...

A female school teacher turns out be a bootlegger! This a dry state, an anachronism in these times especially considering this is one of the most industrialized states of India. How can industries flourish and business deals smoothened out without the mellowing influence of alcohol eh? They cannot and they don't have to when you have enterprising school teachers selling IMLF, for the ignornant, that is Indian Made Foreign Liquor - whatever that means! Apparently the woman's husband had no clue about her moonlighting as a liquor baroness. Really?! That is intriguing. Did the woman not store the liquor in the house then? Or was she hiding it in kitchen corners and sneaking it in and out in the voluminious folds of her sari? Now that I think about it, it is a possibility, he probably never enters the kitchen the sari is best left alone!

But...I am still awestruck....An Indian Woman who can be a school teacher and a Bootlegger at the same time?!

Check this out - They decide to increase the number of buses plying in Ahmedabad city and twenty brand new buses are prayerfully inducted to the existing fleet of buses. Duly decked up and garlanded they are paraded to the general public. And what does the fond public do? In their joy and excitement, in their loving anxiety to take a peek into the beautiful interiors of the bus, they clamber all over it and end up unwittingly destroying the windows. Last I heard seven of the gorgeous new twenty have gone into surgery...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

And living here sucks!

I did not think I would say this but there is a lot to be said for a lifestyle where home appliances are cheaper than maid services. It is alarming to be dependant on a maid for the cleanliness of your home, especially when that maid has no sense of time. From what I hear, all maids are supposed to be this way, so it is not even like we have a choice. What is the point in firing someone only to replace them with a similar person?

After having managed myself, my work and my housework by myself for the past year when I lived alone in the US, sitting around here waiting for the maid to come in and finish her chores before I can start my day is extremely aggravating. If I call her because she is late, she may answer the phone or she may not and sometimes after ignoring my call, she actually switches off her phone! And I am not exactly an ogre or a strict task master, I've told her that if she is delayed or can't make it in the mornings all she has to do is let me know. But I guess answering a phone call is too much work for her!

So, I decided I would take a look at the availabilty of appliances like a washer/dryer, dishwasher etc so I can dispense with the maid altogether. After all, I've been doing it all for so long, what's the harm in continuing to do so? But, the prices are ridiculous! Maybe, they are the same as in the US, I wouldn't know as I never had to buy them there as I lived in apartments. Here, most apartments don't even have closets, let alone appliances! But anyways, there is no way I would be able to buy everything I need in one day. Actually, at this point I am not even sure when I will be able to buy them as I have a serpentine list of things I absolutely need to buy before I even dream of appliances. Paying my capricious maid is a hundred times more affordable!

Nevertheless, it is annoying as hell. In hindsight, the smart thing to do if you want to move back to India is set up your India home first, while you are still in the US, fill it up with everything you need under every eventuality and then move during the winter months. Do not move like I did in the middle of a hellish summer to an empty apartment that did not even have air-conditioning and start running around in a state of heat induced insanity to make your home livable!

Do not think that IST has has not, Indian Standard Time continues to run hours behind any other time zone in the world.
Nothing and no one here is reliable and pretty soon you will also become an unreliable person. So be prepared to accept this before you move. Otherwise you may just break your heart at your own disintegration! And you have to prevent that at any cost, this country sure as hell does not need more broken down stuff...or people...

Friday, June 25, 2010

….And I struggle to go beyond clichéd descriptions…

Something that a friend said to me would not go away. He read one of my previous blog posts titled, America Vs India and stated how things I mentioned about India did not feel strange to him, as that is how he has always known it but he thinks that, having experienced a different system, I thought it was something to remark upon.

On a superficial level, I was aware of this fact. However, it kept bothering me as I went about my day. Was I being too nitpicky about life here? It was hard to say because even when I lived in India before moving to the US, I had plenty of things to complain about India and the direction in which she was headed( like most every Indian I should say). Living in the US, I had plenty of opportunities to listen to Americans lament about the deterioration of the US, which rather made me wonder if citizens of any country are completely satisfied with their country and systems!

Nevertheless, I still wondered about my propensity to compare the two countries, with India somehow coming out sounding weird in my descriptions. I think I had my answer while driving out on one of my numerous shopping trips to fill my apartment with “things”.

I was driving past a huge mall, which has some of my favorite stores that I got addicted to in the US like, Lush and The Body Shop. There are numerous other stores and boutiques where you find the best, the most expensive and most modern of items in there. Right in front of the mall, going past all the fancy cars parked in street side parking spots was a good old-fashioned camel cart, as usual loaded with goods to be transported. If ever there is an instance of the ancient and the modern co-existing together, it was this.

Another time, driving along the Sarkej-Gandhinagar highway, a BMW M6 roared by taking advantage of a two-bit length of traffic free road to come to a full stop near a crowded intersection. The top was down and it was clear the hip kids in the car, in their designer tees and spaghettis were high on hot wheels. Then, a group of sari-clad women demurely covering their heads trying to cross the road surrounded the car. Another instance of old and new marching forth side-by-side?

There are old-fashioned communities in the US too, like the Amish, the Mormons, some Native American communities etc. However, like everything else in the US, organization comes into play here as well and you rarely see them beyond their villages and reservations as part of mainstream life in a direct manner.

India is another story! There are too many people and too many different ways of life for any of it to be tucked away neatly in designated places. The contrasting images provided by this fact are too glaring to be ignored. If you spend a day, viewing a monochromic picture unblinkingly and then move on to a huge canvas splashed with every color under the sun, would not your awareness of these colors and the contrasting images they provide be heightened? Something like this happens when you experience life in a completely modern society in a relatively young country like the US, then move to an ancient land like India that is trying to accommodate the old and the new, the modern and the exotic, and make everybody feel at home within her borders. Also, do not forget “the old” is usually thousands of years old; I would not be surprised if the camel carts are as old as wheels themselves!

If my descriptions of India come out sounding weird and clichéd, it is because I have not yet figured out how to go back to appreciating holistic asymmetry as I am still longing for the coolness of a monochrome picture as opposed to the blast of colors my aching eyes are faced with here!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Flying Thieves...

Our home in Ahmedabad was burgled while we were away visiting family in the south. The burglars also hit our neighbor’s apartment at the same time as they were away holidaying as well. We received some interesting information while we filed a complaint. We assumed this had been a nighttime affair; however, the police stated that there were plenty of daylight robberies going on. Thieves break into locked houses knowing that the owners are away, clean the house out within no time, and flee the city. Check this out…apparently most of these people are from out of state who fly in, commit a robbery and fly out! Moreover, these people are supposedly from states like Bihar, MP and UP.

Despite being bummed out about losing a significant amount of my gold in this robbery, I had to laugh when I heard this. Traditionally, these states have harbored some of the most ruthless burglars, a number of whom were the best you could find in the realm of highway robbery. So now, it sounds like these people decided that there is no reason why only the local population should be granted the privilege of their visits. After all, India is a vast country with a growing number of wealthy people. What is wrong with a little cross-country charity, albeit forced? In addition, India is big on being a land of growing economy and huge opportunities today and nowhere does it say that opportunities are confined to the poor non-criminal elements of society like us!

So, while people like me are stupidly cavalier about their possessions and the security system, both public and private are still waking up to the fact that India is no longer a sleepy, laidback country, our intrepid robbers have outdistanced us by eons.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Don't I Belong Here?

After traveling some in cooler places, I am back in Ahmedabad where the sun continues to burn earth and all her creatures. The heat is so intense and my inability to tolerate heat is so bad that I can slowly feel myself losing my sanity especially when it is mid-day and the sun is at its hottest.

My friend happened to call at that time and I was full of complaints. After listening to me for a while, she gently suggested that I should move back to the US and that people had to work harder here. That got me thinking about my decision to move. I had always said that no matter where I travel in the world, I would want to come back to India to settle down. When I finally moved, it was not a natural progression of my plans but rather a move forced on me by certain circumstances. I had a choice of continuing to stay on in the US or move back and get started on settling down here and I chose the latter.

I had no idea of knowing if this is the best decision and had to take a leap of faith and then try to make it work. I had anticipated many of the difficulties of uprooting myself and starting from scratch in a completely different place under forced circumstances. The one thing that made it easy for me to take this decision was the thought that no matter how difficult it got, I was still going home, home to a place that I always loved. I did not anticipate any significant barriers to settling down here.

This was just one more false notion of which I seem to be a connoisseur! It has been a month and I am still unable to do anything because of the heat. All the practical problems that I envisioned as a matter of course where change is involved continues to plague me for the simple reason that the heat does not let me even lift a finger to work on settling down. All of my energies are focused on simply surviving. I have never before lived such an idle life and I find it extremely demoralizing.

The typical response I get to this problem is a suggestion that I go back to the US. I could go back to the US if I really wanted to move back. I am sick and tired of living like a dehydrated animal with no purpose in life other than to find the coolest spot during the day to pass out in and cautiously venture out in the evenings to hunt for food. I have also had enough of never feeling clean no matter how many showers I take during the day or how many times I change my clothes. I am tried of breathing in dust every time I walk out of the house and I am sick of seeing the dust and soot deposits on all the older buildings that have not received a fresh coat of paint.

Add to this the general inefficiency of systems in India (yes they are somewhat inefficient, whether we like it or not) and you have the perfect recipe for a metamorphosis of the human into the sub-human. Consider this, we would not have had this heat wave if the systems had been working and the city developers had followed the environmental codes that specify the ratio of trees per square yard of land. This may sound simplistic but anything that would help reduce heat in a hot climate needs to be followed. Instead, officials have free reign to ignore these requirements and then lament when people including newborn infants die due to excessive heat.

Getting back to my original point, there are days when I feel that I would like nothing better than getting back to my former life in the US. My friend seems to think that people in India have to work harder. I am not so sure about that. If people here genuinely worked harder, we would probably have better systems in place, not to forget that household help and family support is widely available here thus making life a lot less stressful. The same cannot be said of living as an expatriate in the US.

However, leaving aside all these comparisons for the moment, the question I am pondering is, why is it considered so strange that I am struggling to adapt to life here? Is it really a solution for me to just give up and move back? Physically and emotionally, this has been a draining experience but that does not mean I am never going to feel comfortable here. At least I hope it does not mean that!

I may complain, whine, and even hate it here at times but that does not mean I am an outsider now. I may feel homesick for the US and on certain days wish myself back there fervently but that does not mean I want to turn my back on India. Do not get me wrong, it is not from any noble ideas of patriotism that I say that. The fact is, I was born and raised Indian and will always be one. It is important for me to maintain my connection to my country.

From somewhere in the mists of the past a line I heard comes to mind, “I need to hate you to love me”…I get the feeling that people think one cannot love two countries at once but I believe you can. I do not have to hate the US to love India and vice versa. Also, I do not need to believe that India is perfect in order to love her; I can do it despite her flaws. To put it simply, no matter what, I am Indian and that gives me the right to crib, find faults, lament my decision to move back here and yet continue to work on making myself at home here again!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A condescending Repat...

When my husband read my previous piece titled “America Vs India”, he was a little pissed because he felt it had a condescending attitude towards India. My reply was if it comes across as condescending, then that is exactly how I feel! I probably opened a can of worms with that statement.

Like every other Indian, resident or non-resident, I have an aversion towards criticism of India. I think our flaws are unfairly magnified and beauty either totally ignored or facetiously exaggerated. On the other hand, people who genuinely try to relate to the country and culture find themselves hugely rewarded. Growing up here, I obviously had no problem relating to this culture on a visceral level and deriving huge benefits from it. In fact, I was so much of an Indian, that the highly organized, straight forward and fast-paced life in the US felt quite alien and boring when I first moved there. I felt that this made life too predictable and mechanical and longed for the vibrant chaos of life in India.

Where else would you find gutsy idiots riding their motorcycles on the raised medians between opposing freeways with an elephant carting firewood on the shoulder of the said freeway to boot? Or how about you open your office door to find a monkey in charge curiously inspecting the water cooler? Here, BMWs and bullock carts share the road with equal élan and progress and corruption continue to rise higher hand in hand.

I have no recollection of when I began to fall in love with the comfort of structure and predictability. Nor do I recall when I began to regard the lack of seamlessness of life in India to be a source of frustration rather than fun. The truth is, as a repat anything disruptive in my life here, of which there are plenty provoke intense reactions. To my chagrin, they are usually negative or “condescending” as my husband so kindly put it and I live in hope that it will change soon.

America Vs India

Mornings in the US-

Curse the ringing alarm clock at 6.30 AM, jump out of bed at 7.00 AM and into the shower, do my hair and face, gulp coffee, more often than not skip breakfast and jump on the freeway for a 25-mile commute to the office.

Mornings in India-

Wake up around 5.00 AM sometimes 4.00, because it is too hot to sleep, have coffee, wait for the maid to come in and start her chores. Place a chair near the window and an air cooler near the chair and sit staring alternately at the cooler and the shimmering heat outside. I think I probably know the blades and blinds of the air cooler far better than I know my husband’s face despite having known him for almost ten years and my cooler for two weeks.

American Remedy for Insomnia-

(Or remedy for when your body is coddled and your mind is fried and you cannot sleep)

Half-fill a champagne flute with chilled whole milk, add lashings of vodka, a dash of sweet stock vermouth and some drops of kahlua…multiple flutes allowed until you pass out.

Indian Remedy for Insomnia-

Go out in the hot sun, catch yourself a baby heatstroke…leave the adult heatstroke alone unless you are on a suicide mission, go home and pass out…in the interest of remaining alive, multiple jaunts in the sun are not allowed.

Buying a cell phone in the US –

Walk into a store and buy a phone and a telephone plan.

Buying a cell phone in India-

Walk into a store and be seated respectfully to be told respectfully that you have multiple options. After you choose your desired plan, you are again respectfully told that you cannot buy it as you have not brought any legal document to show that you are legally present not just in the country but in the state and city as well. “Sir/Madam, can you at least, please get something from your bank showing proof of address? And Oh!, please get a passport size photo as well”.

You don’t have a bank account in this city yet so you take a document that says you are a legal resident of this city, procured God alone knows how, so you can get a gas connection for cooking, only to be told that it has to be notarized. Go out, get it notarized and go back with the photograph. “But sir, this is a stamp size photo! We need a passport size…”

American Highway –

If you are stuck in a traffic jam and all vehicles have come to a standstill, call someone to chat, listen to music, read a book, sing a song, fall asleep…whatever but stay put in your lane.

Indian Highway-

Stuck in a traffic jam with all kinds of vehicles, cars, trucks, motorcycles…trucks monopolize the lanes and crawl and truckers from their sky-high seats guide the cars and motorcycles along the shoulder…what fun!

American Maid Service-

Walks in to a dirty apartment and walks out leaving it a hell lot cleaner than what you have ever accomplished by yourself, and you are lucky if you even know her name.

Indian Maid Service –

Usually walks in an hour late, mine even brings in little satellites sometimes and delegates tasks to them! She multitasks, asks irrelevant questions, inspects new items in the house, complains about pains in the hip, hints that she wants a washing machine to do the laundry, all the while, I am chasing after her to make sure she has cleaned everything well and hasn’t left things half-done which is her usual style.

Monday, June 14, 2010

How can you hate living in a country that you love so much?

Although planning my return to India was a bittersweet experience, I was more excited than sad about the move. I had loved life in the United States; however, I also had great memories growing up in India, so I was confident that my return would be seamless.

Well, so much for such high hopes!

After the jet lag wore off and the initial hoopla was over, I began to feel increasingly homesick for the US. I knew I would miss my life back there but I was not prepared for the gamut of emotions flooding my mind at the thought of permanently residing here again. The most bewildering thing about this experience is that I cannot honestly say I dislike my life here or find nothing to enjoy here. On the contrary, I am enjoying the abundant sunshine, delicious food, colorful towns and cities as I am traveling in country quite a bit these days, catching up with family, friends, and a host of other things.

Nevertheless, even as I am enjoying all this, something inside me screams for the US!

This has me in a quandary. How can I love this country, enjoy so many different things here but continue to pine for what I left behind?