A dash of Pepper…

…with a splash of Mint

Archive for the ‘Life in India’ Category

Tinkling joy

Posted by Pepper on January 14, 2016

One of the many perks of living in India is finding tiny little ‘shops’ scattered all across. Not just shops, you will even see little makeshift galleries selling an array of knickknacks on the road.  Dig a little and you can find a real treasure hidden in some of these. I find buying these bits from small vendors far more satisfying than shopping in a mall.

Last week, I bought this pair of anklets from a small roadside shop. I put them on immediately and they made me so happy. I keep admiring them myself every now and then. I even received multiple compliments for them and that totally made my day.

Sorry about the blurred image, I am not very patient when it comes to clicking pictures. Even so, you have a little overview here. Aren’t they pretty? I certainly think so.

a1

 

If you look closely, you will see the anklets are full of smiley faces. I love how we incorporate new age designs into age old ornaments.

a2

 

But more than anything else, my favorite part is the price. Anybody wants to take a guess? The person who comes closest to the price will be rewarded with err, a long email from me. I’m going to wait for 3 days to see if I get any responses. On that note, good night folks! See you tomorrow.

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Posted in Life in India | 32 Comments »

Sea change

Posted by Pepper on September 29, 2015

While nagging Mint to clear the clutter from our bedroom the other day, I spent a moment to reflect upon the noticeable changes in my personality. To say my attitude towards life has changed in the past few years would be an understatement.

When Mint and I started living together after we were married, we realised we had a terrific partnership going. We were both appallingly lazy. We couldn’t believe we had found such perfect matches for ourselves. Our personalities were perfectly aligned. Any kind of work was considered evil by us. We would move a muscle only if we absolutely had to. We loved to sleep all day long. Wasn’t that the best way to utilize time?

We vacuumed our home only when we knew we couldn’t get away for another day without it. Some weekends we would mutually decide to skip taking a shower. We allowed the laundry to pile. While people around me would equate marriage to responsibility, I would laugh at them and tell them it was the opposite for me. Because back at my parents’ home, I was nagged and made to shoulder some responsibilities and maintain a semblance of tidiness around the house. I couldn’t get away with mess or any kind of callousness beyond a point.

On the other hand, marriage for me was a burst of freedom. Mint and I lived by ourselves, in a country far away from home. We were answerable to nobody and had no one to impress. The set up allowed me to explore new depths of laziness. Mint and I were completely in sync with each other’s desire to do nothing.

We were both very comfortable living amidst clutter. Tidying up wasn’t worth the effort. Perhaps it was also about the age. At 23, I was free and footloose. We both wanted the good stuff without having to lift a finger. We would roll out of bed only by noon on weekends, we got a lot of take away food because we wanted to escape the task of cooking. Since we had no loans or EMIs to cater to, we traveled a lot. Sometimes we made travel plans on a whim. I would be too lazy to even pack my bag and would use our car’s trunk as a closet. A bunch of tees and a pair of flip flops would be thrown in and we would drive off. Life was all about having fun.

Cut to the present. I don’t know what force I’ve been overcome by, but I have actually started feeling less repulsed by the idea of work. Work is no longer evil. Well, I must admit that I speak from a certain position of privilege. We have employed help that manages the everyday cooking and cleaning, things that we had to do by ourselves in the US. Having said that, I find myself doing things that I couldn’t imagine doing earlier.

For one, I have this undying need to keep the house tidy. This is the house that I have built with a lot of effort. While Mint was happy to have a bean bag and a TV along with an internet connection in our living room and end it at that, I was the one who insisted on featuring some kind of a visual appeal in our decor. I spent a lot of time choosing the colours of our cushions to ensure they matched the theme I was working around. I did a lot of things that I previously considered unworthy of my effort and time. And now that I have put in that effort, I want to ensure my home remains immaculate.

Some days, I cook lavishly, despite having a cook who is fully capable of taking care of our meals. Mint absolutely doesn’t understand why I ‘want’ to cook when I don’t have to. Of course, it is also because our cook has certain limitations and only cooks Indian food, which I get bored of after a point. But the fact that I sometimes choose to cook instead of ordering in or eating out is enough to baffle Mint.

I enjoy making life a celebration, even if it calls for some amount of effort. I bake a cake on some days, just to experience the joy of eating a home baked cake with my family. I enjoy working towards a vast menu when we have people coming for dinner and having our best cutlery and serving ware ready, because the extravagance makes me feel happy. Mint reminds me that I am the same person who ordered in pizza and served wine in disposable plastic cups every time we had people over at one time.

While this change in me may be considered good by some people, it certainly leaves a gap between Mint and me. He still harbours the same ambition in life, which is to laze around and do nothing. As a result, I find myself either reprimanding him all the time to keep things in order and take some effort to do certain things, or being mad at him for not complying. I feel upset every time he leaves behind his wet towel on the bed. He feels upset every time I want to clean the house or cook instead of flopping down on the couch with him. I know he misses the old me and often wonders what has gotten into me. I am no longer the person I was.

Perhaps this change is only momentary. I may return to my old self and go on to embrace my indolence once again. Or I may not. I have no idea. Until then, Mint and I will have to continue living on two different pages. In hindsight, this may not be a terrible thing. Because at times, I know I need the influence of his passive approach. I know I need to step back and just be. And I know for sure he needs my new found vigor to shake him out of his lethargy.

Posted in Life in India | 35 Comments »

Thoughts on education

Posted by Pepper on August 20, 2015

Towards the end of my last post, I said ‘It makes me sad when I realise that quality education in India is only for the privileged. I know we will never be able to afford this school for our future child. This is such a flawed system. But well, that is a post for another day..

I had no intention of crystallizing my thoughts and writing a post on this subject soon. ‘Another day’ was far away. But I found myself writing *a very long* response to a comment from Hidden Passions. The length of my comment was equivalent to a lengthy post. So I thought I should probably just share my views in a separate post here, instead of replying to her individually. After all, that was a part of my long term agenda anyway.

For the sake of convenience, I am reposting HP’s comment here.

“I agree that some kids get better education over others depending on how rich one’s parents are. You are 100% right there is lot of inequality. No one wants to admit that it is not equal society.

But, here is the thing, one need not go to school for us to have a successful society. Some times, education can be waste of money and time for some. The trade/skill can be learned from their family or opportunities around to live a successful life, that does not mean that they should not be given the opportunity in the first place. The government spends ton of money on education, those public schools, IIT’s , IIM’s, all other colleges, does it mean that you want to get in free for nothing? society pays for it in the form of taxes. Do I have to pay for others in return for nothing? . There is no ideal solution for this problem.

There is limit for everything, and only some people can get into it. There are central government run schools and the students are well groomed for a very nominal fees, for instance kendriya vidyalaya’s, bhartiya vidya bhavan’s, army, navy schools and many such schools exists? they are open to common people as well, and if they can get into it, they are no less than many people educated at high-profile private institutions. Infact, I met many successful people who got their education entirely from government institutes, in some sense they know more about hard work and hardship with limited resources and are giving back to society in some or the other form. Does it mean, only by sending kids to those international schools be the kids successful? are there any statistics to back it ?

Overall, IMHO – there is price one should pay to get something. After all, nothing comes for free. Some one has to pay price for it somewhere.”

For easy reference, I am going to be sharing my thoughts and responses to her views by extracting parts of her comment. My responses are to HP, because I am copying the comment I composed. Her comment and its extracts have been made bold.

‘here is the thing, one need not go to school for us to have a successful society. Some times, education can be waste of money and time for some. The trade/skill can be learned from their family or opportunities around to live a successful life’

What does education mean to you? Do you believe the purpose of education is only to enable you to earn a livelihood? Sure, like you say, a trade or a skill can be acquired through family expertise. In fact, I am a big believer of informal learning and education. That skill you acquire may actually turn into your profession. You do not necessarily need formal schooling to earn money.

But is education all about the power to earn? For me, the answer is a resounding ‘No!’. I think a good education teaches you how to think, question and evaluate the choices we make in our everyday life. It teaches you to be imaginative and makes you explore new ideas. It makes you truly progress.

We are all products of our learning and education (both formal and informal). Yet, we’ve all seen ‘highly educated’ people living lives guided by their very narrow thinking. Gender biases, disparity, lack of logic, misogyny, disrespect for the environment, blind adherence to regressive customs are all factors that rule their lives.

How do you explain educated people behaving like that? I think it is because our education only gave us information on different subjects. It only taught us what to think. Not how to think. Indian education system syllabus encourages rote learning. We are given data and are asked to memorize it. We are never taught how to use that data. We’ve never really been taught how to think. You don’t need fancy schools to have a good education, even home schooling can work wonders, as long as you are exposed to quality education.

You’ve said that, ‘The trade/skill can be learned from their family or opportunities around to live a successful life’. What does a ‘successful life’ mean to you? Rather, what does a successful society mean to you? One which boasts of 100% employment? Or what is your idea? Do you think Indian society is successful? If yes, what does it owe its success to? If not, what do you think is the problem?

I have a feeling our definitions of ‘education’ and ‘successful society’ differ. Because unlike you, I will never believe education can be a waste of time and money for anybody.

The government spends ton of money on education, those public schools, IIT’s , IIM’s, all other colleges, does it mean that you want to get in free for nothing? society pays for it in the form of taxes. Do I have to pay for others in return for nothing? . There is no ideal solution for this problem.”

I’m sorry, the Government does not spend tons of money on education. And even if you believe they do, the outcome is still far from desirable. Have you ever stepped inside a free public school run by the Government? These are institutes where slum kids and other underprivileged sections of our society study. These schools are falling apart, quite literally. The lack of infrastructure aside, the quality of education they provide is highly inferior. The teachers in these schools are barely paid. They have no interest in their jobs. Most are not even qualified enough to teach. The lack of quality is clearly visible. My helper’s son who goes to one such school is in the 8th grade and he is still incapable of doing simple Math and calculations. He can’t speak a line of English despite having that as a subject for 10 years. They are hardly taught well in school, he says. The teachers in these schools are absent a lot and kids run wild. Since the staff is so underpaid, they take on other odd jobs to fill the gap and neglect the school as a result.

I don’t care if colleges are made free. And by the way, despite the few examples you have cited, most colleges are not free either. Not everybody gets into an IIT or an IIM. (Are they even free?) But I would rather have everybody pay for their own college, but basic education (until school) should be accessible to ALL.

Please tell me, how do you expect people to break out of this vicious cycle of poverty without access to a good education? Yes, society pays for it in the form of tax. I will be happy if they allocate a higher budget for education out of the tax I have already paid. In fact, I may even be willing to pay a slightly higher tax if they improve public education in India. If they do that, then I can send my child to a good public school for free, rather than me using that money for paying my child’s school fees in an upscale private school.

We need all classes of society (including the underprivileged) to progress parallelly. It is a flawed system if only one segment of society progresses. That is what I see happening in India right now. Where did the statement, ‘Do I have to pay for others in return for nothing?’ come from? If I am paying the same amount (whether it is in the form of tax to the Government or fees to a private school), I am saying I would rather use the money I have to ensure education reaches everybody, rather than it reaching only MY child.  Do you really believe investing money in educating a society gives you nothing in return? That is such a flawed premise.

There are central government run schools and the students are well groomed for a very nominal fees, for instance kendriya vidyalaya’s, bhartiya vidya bhavan’s, army, navy schools and many such schools exists?

I think you have failed to recognize the notable difference between centrally run Government schools and State run Government schools. The KVs and other schools you have mentioned are centrally run, they are much better funded, because the Government has different motives for funding them. State run and local Government schools are almost always facing a resource crunch. They are in dilapidated states. I think this article explains the reasons for the stark difference in treatment between a Central and State run Government school quite well.

So tell me, how many good centrally run Government schools do we have in India? Compare the number of these schools to the population of the country and you will know what I mean. We don’t have enough of those schools to match the populations’ needs and demands. Most underprivileged kids have no means to even afford public transport. They walk long distances to get themselves to the nearest free school, which in most cases is run by the state or local Government. So if you are trying to tell me that our masses do have access to good education, I will disagree with you, strongly.

Moreover, you have also mentioned that the centrally run Government schools produce students who are ‘well groomed’. Again, this may be true, but I think it is also debatable. It depends on how we both define ‘well groomed’. Even if the students are what you believe, well groomed, I still believe these schools and our education system does not teach us how to think.

Infact, I met many successful people who got their education entirely from government institutes,

I think you mean to say you’ve met people from these schools who are well placed professionally. But ‘successful’? I think I use a different yardstick to measure success and professional life is just one aspect of it, it is not the whole definition for me. So how successful these people are is a matter of personal perception.

Does it mean, only by sending kids to those international schools be the kids successful? are there any statistics to back it ?

Please point out to me and let me know where I said this? I don’t think I said something even close to this.

What I said was the opposite. I said I feel sad that quality education is available only to the privileged. I said that I see international schools (and other elite boards) providing the kind of quality education that I believe should be provided to all. Since my sister works as a teacher in one such school, I have first hand information on their teaching methods. These schools do indeed teach you how to think. The young minds are stimulated in different ways. I think it produces individuals who are truly intellectual, open minded and well-rounded, not just individuals who are knowledgeable and informed.

Right now, only a small class of our population is privy to this kind of education. I believe our education system needs an overhaul. If our education truly teaches us how to think, I believe it will eradicate a lot of the problems that are so deeply woven into our society.

Overall, IMHO – there is price one should pay to get something. After all, nothing comes for free. Some one has to pay price for it somewhere.”

Sure, nothing comes for free. That approach is typical of a capitalist economy. While I may agree with that in other areas, I will never agree with that line of thought when it comes to education. Higher education can be paid for, but I will always believe basic education until school should be a fundamental right of every citizen. I know this is debatable but it is something I feel very strongly about. Every child deserves equal opportunity. Your circumstances of birth should not decide your destiny.

***

PS – The sister has volunteered for Teach for India, where in she was teaching in a state run Government school for a while. She has personal experience working with and teaching kids of truck drivers, domestic helpers and other menial workers from lower strata of society. She also has witnessed first hand, the practical problems faced by this segment and understands deeply why the present state of the free locally run Government schools is not helping them. She knows where the gaps lie. The views I have expressed have been backed by her personal experiences.

Posted in A penny for my thoughts, Life in India | 41 Comments »

A sweet prayer

Posted by Pepper on June 6, 2015

There is a little temple in our apartment complex. When dusk sets in, typically around 7.30 in the evening, the priest performs a small aarti. I am not a religious person at all, but I love the sound of the temple bells. They add an aura of tranquility to the atmosphere. The breeze floating out of the temple carries with it a whiff of incense. I usually try to go for my evening walk in the complex around the time of the aarti. Although I never step inside the temple, the bells and the fragrance of the incense sticks make me feel happy.

But more than that, I know what I look forward to the most. It is a sight that melts my heart. Right after the aarti ends, the priest hands out tiny laddoos to every person who enters the temple to pray. Our complex has many kids of different ages, all playing in the complex premises in the evenings. As soon as the aarti ends, I see all the kids abandoning their bicycles, skate boards, swings, games and running towards the temple. They queue up inside and wait for the priest to present them with a tiny piece of laddoo. I stop my walk and wait outside the temple sometimes, just to see the gleeful faces waiting patiently with their little palms extended. Sometimes they run out with a fistful of their prized laddoo. Sometimes they gobble it up before they even step out. Their excitement on finding the laddoo is heartwarming. Oh, the joys of being a child.

Posted in Life in India, Small joys | 7 Comments »

Blessing in disguise

Posted by Pepper on September 18, 2014

I am quite pleased to announce that I’ve quit using the elevator since the past 3 months. Both our houses (my parents and ours) are situated on the 4th floor. When put together, I use the stairs a minimum of 4 times a day. God knows my knees really need the exercise. I wish I had abandoned the lift earlier. But better late than never, I suppose. The lazy bugger that I am, I would never have taken to the stairs until something pushed me to it. And here’s how the final push came.

During one of our initial interactions with the previous owners of our home, they told us they were ‘quite friendly’ with all the immediate neighbours. Mint and I smiled. That was a good thing. At that time however, we had no idea of what friendly really meant. We soon found out. There are 4 homes on the floor, and let’s just say, all the residents on the floor love each other. And that’s putting it a little mildly. Our previous owner’s children grew up in the neighbour’s homes. They ate their meals in one of 3 adjoining houses. They bathed and slept in one of the other homes too. Almost every other day.

Every house on the floor leaves their main door open through out the day. With all the doors open, the neighbours can go in and out of each other’s homes without the hassle of ringing the door bell. Facilitating easy access was the purpose. The open doors also allow good cross ventilation, so it suits them. This practice continues till date. Some evenings I see the women sitting in one home, helping each other chop veggies.

When we met the neighbours, they took great pride in telling us how closely knit they were. One of them also added, “Pata hai, aisa Mumbai main bohut kam hota hai” (You know, this doesn’t happen much in Mumbai). Sure, we agree. But Mint and I were a little unsure of how we would fit in this setup. We belonged to a very different age group. That apart, neither Mint nor I are very conventional in thought. Would they be shocked by our lifestyle and choices?

At that time, one of the neighbours suggested we leave our main door open at all times too. We shuddered. Now while we like the idea of friendly neighbours, I don’t think either of us are capable of living with them. I don’t even know how they do it. I am not a very social person. The idea of of having our door open at all times was downright frightening.

All of us need some privacy. At times I wear a pair of *very tiny* shorts at night and I am not sure how comfortable I would be being seen in them by all and sundry. Mint and I tend to share random, long hugs while passing. We also tend to get mad at each other for no reason. I love lying on his lap while watching TV. There are so many little things that are only meant for you and your family to revel in. The thought of displaying our life to outsiders makes me so uneasy. Don’t we all have our own private world behind closed doors?

I told the neighbours quite politely that we aren’t home all day anyway. So the door can’t be left open. That one wasn’t too hard. I thought it ended there and we wouldn’t be subjected to excessive familiarity. It wasn’t meant to be that easy, ofcourse. Since the doors of the other homes were open forever, they caught us getting in and out of our home all the time.

At first, I thought a smile and a hello each time we ran into one another would be good enough. But most of them wanted to engage in long conversation every time they saw us. And when I say long, I mean it. They stood in the passage, chatting with us forever. This works when you meet somebody after a while, but expecting an hour long conversation twice a day was a bit too much for us. We don’t have that kind of spare time. But more than that, I get plain nervous in front of people. I believe I suffer from some kind of a social anxiety disorder.

The adults apart, there are two little brats (aged 5 and 2) who live next door. I adore the brats and I know I am entirely responsible for spoiling them. Whenever time permits, I let them into our home and play with them for an extended duration. I shower them with attention. They’ve now come to expect that from me. So they want me to play with them each time they see me and unfortunately I don’t have the luxury to do that. Getting them to let go of me takes me quite a while.

For a while, I was actually scared of being seen by the neighbours. And I couldn’t help being seen if I stood outside waiting for the elevator. In order to avoid them, I started sneaking out of the house and dashing down the stairs before I could be spotted. At first, I used the elevator from a lower floor. In sometime, I actually started preferring the stairs all the way.

For the same reason, I had started using the stairs even to get to our home. It helped me remain unseen. Although I was compelled to do it for the reasons mentioned above, I actually started enjoying the little exercise. Soon I switched to taking the stairs even while going up and down my parents’ home. It’s been three months now. I trudge up the stairs even with my heavy laptop bag. No allowances, unless I am exceptionally tired. Like I said, I am glad my knees are getting the exercise. This was was truly a blessing in disguise.

Posted in Life in India | 26 Comments »

To traumatise

Posted by Pepper on August 29, 2014

My sister has been rather ill for a week now. It all started with a bout of nausea in the local train. We were on the way to her college to complete the admission formalities for the new course she’s begun. Before we could fully asses her condition, she began throwing up. Fellow passengers were kind enough to help us out by giving us a bottle of water, a plastic bag for her to throw up in and some valuable suggestions on how to counter the nausea. Unfortunately, nothing worked and she puked the entire day. In the train, in the cab, in her college. That was a bad day.

Anyway, we attributed it to indigestion and since she seemed to be getting back to her usual self by evening, we didn’t think it necessary to check with a doctor. Then it happened again. I got a call from her college day before yesterday. They told me the sister was throwing up violently and I had to go and pick her up because they didn’t think she was fit enough to travel all by herself. Thankfully, her college is not too far from my office. I found myself in a cab within minutes. When I saw her, I realised she was extremely weak and dehydrated. She was having a hard time even taking a few steps.

We took her to a doctor immediately. Her BP was very low! The doctor asked her to take complete rest for the next 4 days. Along with that, she gave the sister a round of medicines that she asked her to take quite vigilantly. Despite the medicines, she developed a high fever by night. And it has been there ever since.

Yesterday was her birthday. My little baby sister turned 22! But due to her spells of dizziness, vomiting, low BP, fever and weakness, we had to cancel all our grand celebratory plans. Nevertheless, we sneaked her out for dinner, ignoring everybody who objected to the idea. Unfortunately, I regretted the decision as soon as the sister complained of stomach ache after ingesting just a little bit of food. We were in a restaurant in the mall. The restroom was on the other end of the mall. She said she wanted to throw up all of a sudden and we had to run all the way across the mall to get to the loo. Quite a harrowing experience.

We got home as soon as we could. By then she had such a high temperature, she was burning. When we reached, we found out that my dad was not very well either. He was quite feverish himself. And today was the day my mom was not home. Sigh. Anyway, we tucked the two sick people in bed. I have realised one thing about myself. When people around me are sick, I am overcome by this desire to soothe them. I do all I can to comfort them, be it sponging them with an ice pack, stroking their hair or settling them in bed.

The sister was unable to sleep because of a bad headache. So I sat beside her, massaging her temples with Vicks Vaporub and alternately sponging her body with a cold piece of cloth. She fell asleep with great difficulty. It was past midnight by the time I turned in for the night.

And then it began. At 1.10 am to be precise. A *LOUD* noisy procession with a *BLARING* musical band. It took my just asleep brain a few minutes to register the source of the noise. What the hell was it? And then I realised. Ganpati. It was the first day of the festival and they were bringing in the idol.

I was livid. It was past 1 am. And these fuckers were passing through an entirely residential lane. (Yes. For the first time ever, I am not going to watch my language on the blog. I am *that* angry.) How dare they subject all the sleeping residents to this blasting music? Did they have to screech and dance at this hour? Did they have to bring the idol at this time? Did they have to have such a noisy band? Did they have to pass through residential lanes? DID THEY?

I walked in to the other room, and as suspected, my sister was in acute discomfort. She was clutching her temples and twisting in pain. My father was tossing in bed. I have two sick people in the house who had just managed to fall asleep with great difficulty. This was so not done.

I waited for five minutes, hoping the procession will pass. It didn’t. I continued pacing back and forth in our living room for a good twenty minutes. Finally, I stepped out in the balcony to see what was going on. There they were. Dancing in front of the cart that carried the Ganesh idol. The procession didn’t seem to be in any rush to pass. They were dancing in the same spot, barely inching forward. If you insist on disturbing me and passing through my lane at this hour, can’t you atleast be considerate enough to leave fast? Do you have to dance and stay rooted to the same spot for a bleddy hour? From my balcony, I could see other residents waiting angrily by their windows, hoping this would end soon.

When I had had enough, I twisted my dishaveled hair into a ponytail and slipped into my flip flops. I decided I was going downstairs and confronting the assholes. Just as I was stepping out of the door, Mint grabbed hold of my hand. He told me it was a large mob. How many people would I single-handedly take on? What if they were linked to a political part? What if they were dangerous? What was I planning on telling them anyway? How would I accomplish anything? I had no answers to his questions.

So I stepped back in and thought some more. I decided to contact the police. This was something I have never done in my life, so I was a little apprehensive. I pulled out my laptop and googled for the right numbers. I found this page that dealt with ‘Noise Pollution Complaint in Mumbai’. There was an option to send an SMS, but I wanted speedy action and I wasn’t sure that was the best way to go about it. So I called the Police control room directly.

The lady at the other end was very helpful, but since my surrounding was so ridiculously noisy, I could barely hear what she was saying. I blurted out to her my problem in the best Hindi I know. I was so angry at that time, I wasn’t sure if my blabber made any sense. I just remember saying words like ‘too much noise’, ‘loud band’ ,’almost 2 am’, ‘sick people at home’.

She asked me my exact address. I had a tough time explaining to her where exactly the procession was. The lane they were passing from has no name. Not that I know of. So I gave her my apartment address and told her they were exactly below my building since almost an hour. She said she would send a Police vehicle in less than 20 minutes.

I hoped the miscreants would have to deal with the police. The band and the loud beat of drums continued to pierce through the night. Twenty minutes were up and the noise showed no signs of abating. I was wondering if my call to the police would have any effect at all. Finally, after 35 minutes of making the phone call, the band came to an abrupt stop.

I rushed to the balcony to find out what had caused them to stop. I wanted the satisfaction of knowing that the cops were here and were giving the jerks a hard time. Unfortunately by then, the procession had moved further ahead and I didn’t have a clear view of what was going on. I would have to live without knowing how it ended.

I walked back to bed, thankful for the precious silence that had crept on so suddenly. While I have always loved the spirit of the Ganpati festival, to say I am disappointed with the way some people treat it is an understatement. How many laws can you break in the name of religion? How inhuman and inconsiderate can you be to people who are aged and sick? How much more can you harm the environment? I am too scared to find out.

Posted in Er-rant-ic behaviour, Life in India | 54 Comments »

Red. The colour of my cheeks is red.

Posted by Pepper on January 23, 2014

One of the reasons I love living in Mumbai is that it gives me an opportunity to introduce Mint to components of my childhood. Yes, even when we were living in the US, we did visit Mumbai every year. But it was never the same. It can’t be. There are somethings that can be seen and experienced only if you are living in a place, as opposed to just visiting it. Now that I am back to living in my city, I often take Mint around to tour my past.

The little playgrounds I ran around in, the corner on the road in which I waited for my school bus to arrive, my favourite restaurants, the building my grandmom once lived in, all of it. I let him absorb it, hoping it gives him a better understanding of where I come from.

Yesterday, I took Mint to the Jatra. The jatra is a 5 day folk fair that happens in January every year. When we were in school, the BFF and I would wait for January to come, especially because it brought the Jatra along with it. We never missed it. This year, I really wanted Mint to experience one of my childhood joys. So plans were made. The BFF, her BF, the sister, Mint and I. We would all meet after work and head there.

We did, and we had a whale of a time. The jatra is full of thrilling rides,giant wheels, games of skill (Shoot the balloons, ring the stuff toy), street food and the sale of delightful little knickknacks.The first ride we went for made our senses reel. The spinning and speed were dizzying and we were all screaming until we were hoarse. What fun!

DSC_0652

We did a couple of other fattu rides (I really don’t know how I can translate ‘fattu’, forgive me) after which we moved on to the giant wheel. There is something about the giant wheel that makes even adults squirm in childish glee. Each time we rose up in the air, I felt my heart whoop. I couldn’t get over the lack of safety measures in sight though. No belts, no bars, no protection! This would NEVER ever happen in the US. But here, we just sat in an open capsule. Finally when I did look down from that height, I couldn’t help but clutch on to the sides. Much joy, nevertheless.

Giantwheel

We bought a lot of pretty little things. Earrings, peacock feathers, a slate, hair clips, a toy gun with dart like bullets, and a handmade mesh resembling a cage with two little parrots dangling from a wire inside. I totally loved it and bought two of them. See? I plan to hang these near my window.

parrots

I haven’t come to the most embarrassing part of my evening yet. After the gala time we had at the fair, we decided to head out for dinner. Now this was a good restaurant. As we sat on our table, I decided to take a look at the goodies we had purchased. I examined the gun. For some reason, the bullets weren’t staying inside. They would fall out the moment I pushed them in. I was upset. I’ve been wanting a toy gun forever (Do not remind me of my age!). Now that I had finally bought one, I wanted to make sure it had no defect. Because if it did, I planned to go back there and exchange it. I pulled the trigger to test. Nothing happened. Sorely disappointed, I started pulling the trigger repeatedly, deriving some unknown joy out of the sheer act. And then it happened.

Without warning, a bullet flew out of the gun and landed on the next table. And to make matters worse – it landed right inside a plate. There was stunned silence. The people on that table had no idea what had come flying over their heads and landed in their midst. And then they saw the gun in my hand. I was HORRIFIED. I stood up, and said “I am sorry. I am really sorry. I am so sorry. I am sorry”, or something to that effect. How the f*ck was I supposed to explain that? I wished the gun in my hand was real, so I could shoot myself in the head and die. For a moment, I even considered hiding beneath the table. No kidding.

Mint and R, ofcourse, could not stop laughing. They were sitting across the rest of us and had been absorbed in deep conversation when it all happened. They had noticed nothing. So all they saw was me standing up all of a sudden, looking at the people on the adjacent table and vehemently apologizing. They were very confused, until it all dawned upon them. I feel mortified even as I write this. Here’s the bloody culprit.

gun

 

Posted in Life in India | 20 Comments »

You wonder..

Posted by Pepper on January 21, 2014

Sometimes you witness something that leaves you thinking for a long time. I witnessed something like that today. We were driving, dad and I. We saw a pedestrian jumping right in front of the car ahead of us. In order to save the pedestrian, the car ahead swerved to its left. Yet, it hit the pedestrian, who fell down with the impact, but was relatively unhurt and able to get back on his feet slowly. The car ahead slowed down after it hit the pedestrian, but instead of stopping and stepping out to make sure all was okay with the man who had collapsed, the driver sped away.

I was seething. How could any driver be that inhuman? How could he not stop? I was so angry, I felt my entire body tremble. My dad, who had witnessed the entire scene was able to gather his thoughts and gain composure more easily. He made me realise that the locality we were driving through was known to be aggressive and dangerous. Had he stepped out of the car, the crowd that had gathered would have thrashed the driver and left him severely injured. After all, no matter who is at fault, it is always the driver who is held responsible in India. So I had to keep that in mind, before sitting on my high horse, making a judgment and calling him inhuman.

Yes, the pedestrian was entirely at fault and the driver had no hand in this. We saw how the pedestrian recklessly appeared in front of a speeding car. He came out of nowhere, quite literally. The driver attempted to save him. I witnessed all of this. But yet, I couldn’t accept the way he fled. Shouldn’t he have checked to make sure the pedestrian wasn’t seriously injured, and maybe offered to take him to the hospital if need be? But again, if he did get out, he would have to face an unreasonable mob. Should he have risked his life for a mistake he didn’t commit?

I know I would have stepped out of the car to help the man, risking all that lay in store for me in the form of an angry crowd. But perhaps, perhaps I should judge the driver a little less. Sometimes, humanity collides with self preservation. It is not an easy choice.

Posted in Life in India | 14 Comments »

Maid to order

Posted by Pepper on January 16, 2014

Mint and I thought long and hard before we employed a maid. Both of us are of the belief that domestic helpers in India are exploited. They are grossly underpaid and most of them have no paid leave. Well, we could give them days off with pay, but could we afford to give them a ‘decent’ salary? Our definition of ‘decent’ is definitely not in congruence with the regulated rate and pay scales offered to them in this country. What you pay them does not allow them to lead a struggle free life. In order to eliminate their struggles, their pay has to be enhanced by a huge margin. Only then can they lead a respectable life, like their counterparts in the West.

So if you can’t offer them a good pay, what do you do? Make do without them! But then, this is a circular argument. If you don’t hire them, somebody else will. And offer them something worse. Or maybe this is something we say to pacify ourselves and eradicate the guilt. With the kind of explosive population we have, unskilled labour has little value in India. And so, the sorry state of affairs continues..

I know a lot of people who jump up in offence when I say this. They refuse to accept their flaw – how can they be exploiters, they wonder? And then they launch into a tirade. Our maids are so inconsiderate, they say. We do so much for them, yet they take advantage of us. Yes, they do take advantage and  many of them are inconsiderate. But have you ever paused to think of how unfair this whole system is to them? We are so conditioned into thinking we are right, we hardly question their sorry state of being. Anyway, this is a never ending debate.

When we moved into our new home, we asked our neighbours about their domestic help. Yes, we did decide to have one. After all, despite our apprehensions, the harsh truth is that we enjoy their service. It is one of the advantages of living in India. I know I sound like a hypocrite, and perhaps I am. Oh well..

We decided to do our bit in our own way. We would hire a maid, and pay her as much as we could afford to. It didn’t have to match with the ‘prevailing rate’. And so, we welcomed Lakshmi. The moment her pay was fixed, we were confronted by our neighbours. “Why are you paying her so much and spoiling the building rates? Because of you, all of us will have to suffer”. Okay, great. So now you will resort to collective bargaining in order to rule over them? Do you see to what level they are controlled and exploited?

We ignored the neighbours and continued to support Lakshmi in the way we do. The problem is, she has very little regard for hygiene. Each time she did the dishes, I would find the utensils sticky and terribly stained. So I would wash them again, a second time. I’ve been embarrassed when I had guests who dropped in suddenly. When I stepped into the kitchen to serve them some coffee, I noticed all the mugs had stained rings of coffee. So I had to wash them hurriedly, only to have one of the guests enter the kitchen and ask me why I was washing dishes at that time!

I once caught her wiping our just washed utensils with the same piece of cloth she uses to wipe the sticky kitchen counter with. It almost gave me a heart attack. These things are simply not acceptable to me. So I redid the dishes after she left. Each time, Mint would ask me – Why don’t we replace her? What is the point if we have to redo most of the work she does?

That does make sense, but then, I’ve grown up with domestic help who stayed with us for 18 years. She worked in our home from the time I was born, and we only had to let go of her when we moved out of that house. She was family and I never looked at her in any other way. Sure, she made mistakes at times and messed up on many occasions, but we only reprimanded her gently, until she corrected herself. The thought of sacking her was unimaginable. That is the the environment I grew up in. So till date, I can’t wrap my head around the concept of hiring and firing maids.

Our struggle with Lakshmi continues. I try and tell her why hygiene matters, and why some of the things she does are unacceptable. She doesn’t always get it, but I can see how much she tries. And to me, that counts more than anything else. Also, I see that streak of concern in her. When I am ill, she will enlist all the homemade remedies she can think of. She will shout at me for taking my health lightly. She sighs and tidies up the place when the mess we create goes beyond her level of tolerance.

She took a day off on Pongal. She called me when I was at work and told me she had made idlis and vadas for us and wanted to come by in the evening to hand them over. I was touched, but I told her we wouldn’t be home until late. I could sense her disappointment. She told me she made them for us, especially. So I told her to leave them with the watchman. I would collect it on my way home. Satisfied with that arrangement, she hung up with an excited, “Tell me if you like them, okay?”

When I see the package she left behind for us with all that love, I know our decision to employ a helper, pick her and keep her with us was the right one. Had she not been there, I may have missed out on this love. Yes, when it comes to love, I find myself greedy. Because I do believe no matter how much love you have in your life, there is always space for some more. It is the best ingredient to sweeten your day. I wish we could do more for Lakshmi. I wish we could better her life. But for now, we will try and return all the love that she showers upon us.

Posted in Life in India | 19 Comments »

Diwali 2012

Posted by Pepper on November 23, 2012

How was your Diwali? Ours went by in a blur. Mint and I spent a good amount of time together, and now that he is gone, I feel those distinct withdrawal symptoms. Let’s play catch up. Here’s a preview of the past week. Or was it more than that?

Mint and I had a chance to catch up with my newly married BFF#2, along with her husband over dinner. We chose Pizza Hut, since it was a convenient venue. While the BFF has had several opportunities to bond with Mint before and after we got married, this was the first time  the two of us met along with our respective husbands. The whole idea of meeting along with the husbands seemed so grown up. I mean, just yesterday, we were two young college girls, giggling at the mention of marriage, and considering it to be a very far off possibility. And here we were, married couples catching up over dinner, discussing work and life. How did this happen? When will I accept the fact that we have indeed grown up?

It was a fun meal. The two husbands didn’t talk too much. Or perhaps the ceaseless banter prevailing between the BFF and I didn’t leave the guys with adequate opportunity to talk? *Note to self* – Meet at a quieter place next time. And talk a little less.

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Mint also had the chance to catch up with the rest of my extended family this time. Every time we meet, I realise what a crazy bunch we are. This time, we booked a room at Otter’s Club in Bandra. So we had all of my mom’s side of the family gathering there, along with my uncles and aunts, cousins and their kids. We spent most of the afternoon sipping drinks and eating tasty tandoori appetizers. Since this was not a typical restaurant set up with tables and chairs, the kids had enough room to run around in our private area. It was a lovely, relaxing afternoon, full of laughter and conversation. The kids also spent some time in the children’s library. When we got bored of the adult talk, we joined the kids in the library. I had fun going through the vast collection of children’s books! I even made Mint read out a bedtime princess story to me. And he did. With full expression.

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Diwali was, as usual, glorious. We made a rangoli and lit diyas. The sister, Mint and I spent a while playing ‘catch catch’ with a cushion at home. The house was overflowing with sweets. We had assorted barfis, home made ladoos and other kinds of mithai being gorged on all the time.. I love fireworks and crackers. Sparklers, in particular. But we had a cracker free Diwali. I know how much harm fireworks cause to the environment, but despite that, I find it so very hard to give them up completely. They form such an integral part of my childhood memories. Diwali was never complete without the sparkle of crackers. It is going to take a while for me to disassociate Diwali from firecrackers, but hopefully we’ll get there. Now, we just reveled in the brightness of the lamps. The colourful lanterns being sold on the roads added to the festivity. We ended the day with dinner at a restaurant (Yes, again!)

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We flew to Chennai to visit the in-laws early in the morning. 5 am flights don’t go too well with me. It means waking up before 3 am, or rather, not sleeping at all. Visiting the parents in law always makes me nervous. This was a very short, two day visit though. So I hoped nothing would go wrong. I am happy to note, I had a wonderful time. It was a packed schedule, what with Mint’s friend’s wedding thrown in. We had relatives visiting us. We were seen running around to get to the wedding hall. We also managed to fit in two dinner outings with Mint’s parents and Oregano. The highlight of the trip was certainly the food. I’d wake up to incredible filter coffee and unbelievably fluffy idlis with spicy molaga podi. And of course, no trip to Chennai is replete without a visit to Saravana Bhavan. Each time I go there, I eat, and eat, and eat. Why the hell don’t they have an outlet in Mumbai?

Here are some pictures for your viewing please.

Freshly made ladoos being cooled under the fan

Festivity in the air..

Pile of gifts lying on the bed.

Mint  sitting on a bean bag, reading to me. I decided to freeze the moment by capturing it on camera.. I love fairytales being read to me.

The sister and Mint playing with the pillow..

Posted in Life in India | 14 Comments »

Convenience lost

Posted by Pepper on October 22, 2012

When I proposed the idea of moving back to India, I had clear reasons backing my stand. One of them was ‘convenience’. The convenience and availability of cheap public transport, for one. I think that makes a big difference to the quality of life you lead. In the US, we used our beloved car all the time and drove everywhere. When we didn’t use our car, we walked. Buses had neither good connectivity, nor good frequency. Atleast not in the area we lived in.

I remember walking back from the BART station close to our home in the Bay Area and thinking to myself “Man, had I been in India, I’d have just gotten into an auto without any thought”. There were days on which Mint and I would walk back home from the station at night. It would be windy and cold. I’d be tired. Yet, we thought taking a cab was too much of a luxury. California was expensive. Splurging on cabs seemed like an indulgence we couldn’t afford. Each of those times – I missed India. After all, in India, most people huddled in the middle class bracket would be able to afford auto rickshaws, if not cabs.

I think those words are coming to bite me back in my ass. Auto fares in Mumbai have been jumping steadily, every few months. A little more than a year ago, it cost me Rs 20, to go from my home to the nearest station. Today, it costs me Rs 40! In case you are slow with numbers, that is double of what it used to be not too long ago.

Yes, petrol is becoming pricier by the day, but despite that, I don’t think it justifies the ridiculous fares we pay to auto drivers. Also, most autos/rickshaws run on CNG, which is cheaper than petrol. Anyway, meter rates keep getting revised upwards, even when there are no fuel hikes.  Today, driving your own car to a nearby locality would be cheaper than than taking an rickshaw. This leaves me a bit confused.

Where do the ordinary people go? There are more than a million people who cannot afford a car. They rely heavily on rickshaws. And then there are people who can afford cars, but still prefer to hop into an auto – just so they can escape the ordeal of parking the car in this crammed city. And then there are others like my mom – middle aged men and women who do own vehicles but do not know how to drive them. There are old people who cannot climb into trains and buses. There are people who can’t otherwise afford rickshaws, but still go ahead and use them sometimes when they are short of time and can’t afford to wait for a bus or a train. Now that rickshaws are no longer a commodity that we can afford, where do we turn to?

The fares have nearly doubled in the past year or two, unfortunately, our salary packages remain more or less the same. This is just creating a bigger gap between our needs and the available resources. Will autos become a luxury in India? Are they really a luxury? What am I paying for? A rickety ride in a slow moving auto rickshaw that forces me to ingest truckloads of pollution (‘truck loads’ literally) that is killing me?

I do not want to comment on the economic environment. Call it inflation, or whatever you want. I am only observing the effects it has on me. I know the famed auto drivers are needy people. They are fighting the rising prices of vegetables and other everyday essentials. But heck, I am needy too. Prices are rising around me too, and nobody is giving me a pay hike.

I know. They say rickshaws are criminalised and discriminated against.  I’ve thought through this argument. While I am not sure I blame the auto drivers for the fare hikes, I certainly blame them for turning into a pricey breed. The arrogance with which they see through me and drive away when I am waiting on the road with bags in my hands is unnerving and frustrating. Even if they do stop, they snootily turn up their noses after I tell them where I want to go and drive away. If they are needy, why don’t they really do their job and take me where I want to go? How can they refuse destination X and destination Y? Why can’t they respect their job? Now, we don’t exactly get to choose all our projects at work, do we? We don’t always get to take up the most profitable opportunity. We just have to take what we get. Why should it be any different for them?

Reports say this is the 3rd freaking hike that has taken place within the span of a year. I know I can no longer count on auto rickshaws as a medium of transport for an everyday commute. I miss the days in which I could heedlessly hail an auto and be dropped to to my destination. Now, with the new provisions of the autorichsaw fares- the middle class has been made to part with an integral component of their lives.  There goes my ‘convenience’ factor. I know I will have to brave the heat and the dust and walk up to the bus stop in the mid day sun, and then jostle my way in the midst of sweaty strangers who love all displays of profanity. Suddenly, I miss USA. And my car. And the smooth roads. And the prices of gas, that sound so sweet to me now.

Posted in Life in India | 73 Comments »

Entertainment

Posted by Pepper on September 26, 2012

One of the advantages of moving back to India is that I can now afford things I couldn’t even dream of affording in the US. Take for example, a good massage. A few places around our home in the Bay Area charged $50 for a 15 minute foot massage. As a result, in all the time I spent in the US, I went for a massage just one single time, that too, when LivingSocial threw up a good deal.

In this regard, moving back to India has been a real treat. A few months ago, my neck and shoulder pain returned with a vengeance. I still haven’t identified the cause, but the pain is nasty. It surfaces and subsides at its own whim. One evening, I thought the pain was causing me a lot of discomfort. I could do with a massage. Since I couldn’t think of anything else, I went to the salon (or local beauty parlour) below my house, and asked them if they could use some hot oil to massage my shoulders.

They agreed. The lady there got to work. She used her fingers skillfully, to straighten my aching muscles. She used organic SPA oil, and went on for a good 30 minutes, kneading, dissolving the strange knots at the base of my neck and releasing the muscles of all accumulated tension. It was magic. The soreness almost disappeared. I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. Just when I thought it was over, she got a hot towel and pressed it against my shoulders. I could have moaned in pleasure.

When it was time to pay, I was a little apprehensive. How much would this indulgence cost me? When she told me, the total charge was Rs.100, I almost collapsed in shock. A measly 100 rupees for such luxury? The owner of the salon happens to be somebody my mom knows. So they are always giving us good deals, but despite that, this seemed too good to be true.  I realised I could get used to this. So it turned into a ritual. Every few days, I would take my achy shoulders to them for a quick fix.

A few days ago, I went to the salon for my usual massage. The girl who does it for me was not around, and I was a little disappointed. She does a splendid job. They asked me if I was okay going under the hands of a relatively new employee. Not having the heart to say no, I agreed. She got to work. After a few minutes..

She: Ma’am?
Me: Yes?
She: Are you okay?
Me: *Not knowing what this meant..* Yes, I am fine. Thank you.

After a few minutes..

She: Ma’am?
Me: Yes?
She: You don’t seem okay. You used to be such a funny girl at one time. Now you don’t even laugh.
Me: *Totally taken aback by that remark, I wondered what she meant. I used to be a funny girl? And she was saying that? Before this day, I had seen her a grand total of two times. I didn’t remember bouncing about like a clown on either of the two days. To prove to her that I was still very funny, I let out a small laugh*

After a few minutes..

She: Ma’am?
Me: Yes?
She: I think you have tension. See this pain here? It is because of stress. You can tell me what is wrong.
Me: *Really wondering where this is going..* I don’t know what is causing the pain. There is nothing wrong really.

After a few minutes..

She: Ma’am?
Me: Yes?
She: You should not be hiding things from everyone. You can talk to me.
Me: *Slightly exasperated* But there is nothing to talk about. I am okay. Why do you think something is wrong?

Silence.

After a few minutes..

She: Ma’am?
Me: Yes?
She: R told me you are staying with your parents since a few months, though you are married. Did you have a fight with your husband? Is that why you are stressed and getting pain in your neck and shoulder?
Me: WHAT? *Suddenly realising what this was all about* Err, I didn’t have a fight with my husband. I chose to live with my parents while he is doing his.. actually, never mind.

She was silent after that. Probably because she knew it wasn’t a good idea to mess with me at that time. And I couldn’t help wondering, what was going on? After a while, the whole incident started tickling me. I felt sorry for the girls who work at the salon. They need some gossip to keep them going right? I don’t mind, being their source of entertainment for a while. Now I am left wondering. Who else do I unknowingly entertain?

Posted in Life in India | 52 Comments »

Because I am angry and sad..

Posted by Pepper on June 14, 2012

Of all things that bother me about our nation, one that tops my list is the ‘I only care about myself’ attitude. People will screw you a million times over, just to race ahead by a few steps. Well, that is an extreme statement. Talking about less extreme examples, I see cab drivers bringing their cabs to a halt in the middle of the road when they see a passenger. And then they take their own sweet time to move ahead. Perhaps their old engines take a while to splutter to life and come to speed once they are turned off. This adds to the snarling traffic jam. Why not stop in the corner so that other vehicles can pass? Why do you have to stop in the middle of the road, obstructing traffic? Oh right. It is because you don’t care about what others have to go through. Why should you take the effort of moving on to the side?

And then I see people littering all over. A lot of times, I have seen people in little shops lining the road, cleaning their floors and sweeping out the trash directly onto the road. I feel appalled. Why do you do that, I ask them? They say it takes too much effort to collect the trash and put it into the bin. Okay, so to save that minuscule bit of work, you will dirty the streets? Clean your own home, because it belongs to you. It is your personal abode. Dirty the road because it is not your personal property. Who cares if others have to wade through the dirt in order to walk? Your own homes remain clean and that is all you care about.

A month ago, the sister and I were observing a family of four. After having eaten some bananas, the kids handed the peels to their parents. The parents said “Yahin par phek do” (Throw it away right here). Horrified, the sister and I picked up the peels from the road and looked around for a trash can. When we couldn’t spot one, we pulled out a plastic bag and put the peels in it. We told them we will carry them back and discard them in the trash can at home. All this was done in front of the family. We then told the kids that littering on the roads is not right. Beside that, anybody can slip on the peels and have a bad fall. All of us should try and keep the roads clean. The kids nodded quietly. The parents, a tad embarrassed, told us, they had asked the kids to throw it on the road only momentarily. They were planning to pick it up from there themselves. Of course!

My mom, who was witnessing all of this, told us it is useless talking to people and explaining to them. They will continue to do the same things.  The sister and I argued with mom and told her, useless or not, we will do it. These kids are the future of our nation. I cannot watch their parents encouraging them to litter. If they have to hear from a stranger on the road, so be it. Perhaps it will make no difference to them. Or perhaps it will. The 0.1% possibility of it making some difference makes it worth it.

And then there is my biggest pet peeve. Spitting on the road. Have you noticed? 9 our of 10 auto drivers spit on the road. Most of the times, it is a disgusting red paan and gutka filled spit. Almost every auto I travel in, I tell the driver to not spit, whenever I see him doing it. I try my best to be polite. I resort to begging.  Some of them listen to me, but since they are chewing gutka, they have to spit it out. They can’t swallow it. So what should they do? I don’t know. I tell them to carry plastic bags and spit into them, but at the back of my mind, I know how unfeasible that is. Beside that, it is not a very environment friendly option either. And if there is no way out, then they shouldn’t be chewing those nasty things at all. Unless they are doing it at home. I ask them, why don’t they spit in their autos? Because they know it will dirty the auto. So then why not worry about dirtying the road. Just because it does not belong to you the way the auto does?

When I was a child, I was told that people who behave this way have to be pitied upon. They lack education. They are ignorant. They do not understand hygiene. But as I grew up, I realised that is not true. In most cases, I see educated citizens having the same kind of disregard for anything that does not belong to them. If those people did not care about hygiene, how would you explain them cleaning their homes, while dirtying the roads? How would you explain them not wanting to spit in their autos? I really do not know why Indians have the ‘I only care about myself and my personal property’ attittude.

Let me get to the reason behind this rant. Two days ago, my dad slipped on a banana peel. He didn’t notice it because it was hidden beneath layers of dirt. He fell down, head first and hurt himself. Badly. His lip was torn. His glasses were flung across on the road. He bled profusely, soaking up handkerchiefs. When he got home, we were beyond horrified to see his wounds. Not only was his lip swollen heavily, the contours of his upper lip seemed disfigured. It was a ghastly sight, one that we couldn’t bear to see.

His wounds are now healing, but whenever I think of it, I can’t help but seethe. If only I knew who it was that threw that peel, I would drag him out by his hair and thrash him till he begged for mercy. You walk over me a hundred times, and I might take it. If you mess around with my parents even once, I swear I will tear you apart. When it comes to my parents, I am that protective tigress that has  knife like claws and a threatening fang for added measure.

It was my dad who fell the other day. It could have been anybody else, including the family members of the person who threw that peel there. Why don’t people realise that? When people spit out on the roads, they might not care about the disgusting stains it leaves. But how can they escape the pathogen filled air that they create? It might get to their dear ones, if not them. People in our country can live with this ‘I don’t care about you attitude’ only for so long. Ultimately, every action of ours has a consequence that we have to bear ourselves. The day we understand this fully, our country will be a better place.

Posted in Life in India | 66 Comments »

A different kind of beauty

Posted by Pepper on June 3, 2012

Since the time we’ve moved back to India, I find myself confronted by a few common questions. “Which country do you like more? India or USA?”. That one is not too hard. In all honesty, I tell them I can’t choose. Both the countries are close to my heart and special in their own way. What gets my goat is the assumption people make. I’ve had some folks come up to me and tell me, “Oh so you didn’t like the US at all, which is why you moved back right?”.

That assumption riles me up like nothing else. I love USA from the bottom of my heart. That country gave me a home, gave me immeasurable joys and everlasting memories. It is an integral part of who I am and I can never deny that. Till date, I find myself getting dreamy when I think of my beloved Bay Area and I let out a wishful sigh. So when I dispute all those claims and tell those people in no uncertain manner that I absolutely loved the US and I always will, they view me with suspicion. “What? If you loved the US then why did you move back?”.

Sigh. I usually take a deep breath before I even attempt to answer that. What can I tell them? Why did I move back to India when I loved the US? That is a valid question. If only it were that simple. There are so many layers to this, but when I am forced to answer them in one line, I say “I moved back to be closer to my family”. That apparently, is not reason enough. So I let go.

And then there are other people, NRIs mostly, who are considering a move back to the homeland. They are keen to know my experiences, in order to procure some help in their decision making process. Again, I don’t know how to answer their questions. All I tell them is, not to base their decisions on my experiences. Each of us has some different goals, ambitions and priorities in life. What I find easy to deal with might be extremely hard for you. What you think is enjoyable might be torturous for me. Whether you should move to India or not is a decision only you can make.

I know people a lot of people dislike the ruffled existence in India, and would choose the smooth life any day. Fair enough. I did enjoy the smooth life to a great extent too. When I lived in the US, I appreciated everything that the place had to offer. It was easy to express my appreciation to people. Most of the benefits are tangible in that country. I could talk about the scenic drives, clean air, quality of life and people understood it.

Now that I live in India, I lay my focus on appreciating everything that this country has to offer, but it is a lot harder to define the positives in a few words. Most of it is intangible and people do not understand me when I tell them I like India because it lets me ‘feel’. If all of us had an inbuilt switch, I would say in India, our internal switch is ‘on’ ninety percent of the time. You either feel happy, angry, sad, dismayed, excited, unnerved or something else. I like this ability to feel something different, at all times. Life here is unpredictable, full of surprises and shocks.

Do I like living in India? That is an easy question to answer. Yes, I love being here. Not only because it means being close to my family, but also because India inspires me. And the same aspects that inspire me can frustrate somebody else. I enjoy being around people. India, with it’s vast, ever growing population has no dearth of people. You see people walking on the road in throngs. You go to the petrol pump (or gas station, depending on your location), and you are greeted by people who will do your job for you, unlike the US, where you have to fill gas on your own, with no human interaction. You have tailors setting up shop in the middle of the streets. You see people selling their wares on busy roads. Everywhere, people are doing something. Even if you stay indoors, you have maids, watchmen, dhobis ringing your door bell. Sometimes I wonder how the day goes by. There is so much of one on one interaction with people. When I compare this to the quiet, programmed life in suburban America, I realise I feel a lot more alive in India. In the US, an average human is surrounded by more machines and less people. In India, it is the opposite.

I am not saying India is all good. Far from it. Chaos reigns this country. I often find myself screaming in my head, feeling the kind of frustration that makes one weep. I question my choices when I pay a killing price for a bumpy auto ride that almost throws me out of my seat, when I sit inside with sweat dripping from my furrowed brow, nauseous because of the poisonous fumes coming from the surrounding trucks. This is a part of my everyday life that I cannot ignore. There are certain aspects about India that I abhor. Like dowry, female infanticide, gender biases, but I can afford to sit in my high chair and say ‘these things don’t happen to me’. But something like an auto ride? The traffic? The pollution? There is no escaping it. No matter what you do.

Despite all of that, I think the pros override the cons. I find simple pleasures here that make my life worthwhile. When I go for walks in the evening and make some spur of the moment plans to stop by at a street side chaat corner, when the sister and I see a giant wheel in the middle of a chaotic road and decide to have some fun, when my maid comes and hugs me with delight, when I am able to see, touch and hug my parents whenever my heart desires, when I get to play with my cousins’ kids  and watch them grow, from babies, to toddlers to little adults, when I stand in my balcony, watching the world and see a frail man playing the flute as he walks by, when a morning walk in my building premises brings with it a whiff of incense. The sweet fragrance lingers on for a long time. All these aspects bring me fulfillment.

USA is beautiful. Most of us will agree. It is the kind of beauty that the world recognises. India is beautiful in a way that not everybody can recognise. These are two pictures, both taken around suburban residential areas, one in the Bay Area, close to where I lived and one in Mumbai, close to where I now live. Both speak a thousand words. And both these beautiful places will always remain close to my heart.

Posted in Life in India | 24 Comments »

Driving myself crazy.

Posted by Pepper on May 28, 2012

That’s exactly what I have been doing. Just that I mean it quite literally. In other words, I have, to an extent, over come one of my greatest fears. The fear of getting back to driving a car in India. When we decided to move back, driving is one of the things I dreaded most. I kept avoiding the thought, I kept trying to evade the matter till I could. The disciplined, ridiculously easy driving in the US actually made me unlearn the Indian way of driving.

Each time my dad asked me to drive here, I tried to muster up the courage. But the township we live in is hopelessly dug up. One side of the road has been closed. Which means you have two way traffic going from one narrow side of the road. To even get out of this place, you have to skillfully dodge BEST buses, autos, cement mixers, cars, pedestrians and hawkers. Just the sight of it would break my resolve and I would back out, saying I will drive another time. This seemed to go on forever.

There were a lot of barriers I had to cross. I was no longer used to a gear and a clutch. My biggest hurdle was being able to drive on the left side of the road. It would mean reversing the map of my brain. I feared accidentally driving on the wrong side of the road, considering how used to I was to driving on the right side. For all these reasons, the prospects of driving here scared me.

There were some people who got on my nerves. They couldn’t understand why I was hesitant to start driving here. The common argument would be, “But you know to drive. You’ve driven in India before.” It would leave me baffled. Did they even understand what it would take to resume driving here? Even if I had never left the country, even if I had just quit driving and I was asked to restart after a couple of years, I would fear getting back to the wheel. And here I was, not only out of touch with the Indian way of driving, but also used to the American way, which is worlds apart.

When we were in Chennai, my mom in law asked me if I would be able to drive to the restaurant we were planning to go to. I refused, and told her it was unreasonable to expect us to be able to drive in India all of a sudden. We had just moved back a week ago. We needed more time. The next instant I saw Mint asking her for the car keys, telling her we’d take the car. When she asked him if he was sure he could drive, he said “Obviously I can. As if I have never driven here before”. I wanted to strangle him then. Really.

Mint’s ability to drive in India with ease resulted in more pressure being put on me. I don’t know how he does it, but I really dislike that guy. After several arguments with my dad, I decided to go ahead and give it a shot. I realised my fears were valid. The first time I drove, I drove on the wrong side and saw a BEST bus heading towards me. All along, I could hear my dad’s voice in the background, asking me to watch out, telling me I had come on to the wrong side! I glared at him with a “I told you this would not be easy” look. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to move to the other side with relative ease. Phew.

From that day to now, I think I have come a long way. I can now drive, without my brain feeling muddled, without alarmingly questioning my senses about which side of the road I am supposed to go on. I think that is quite a milestone in the chapter that reads ‘Getting back to life in India.’

Posted in Life in India | 28 Comments »

 
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