Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Volunteer at school - It helps you realize that your kid is a kid

I took four first graders on a field trip once. I was a parent volunteer to a class trip to the zoo. A girl and three boys were my responsibility for the day. We were to walk the zoo, have a picnic lunch and meet the rest of the class at the end of the day.

Five minutes into the trip Boy1 had started to trail behind. I looked back - urging him to hurry - just to find he had dug into his lunch bag and started eating a sandwich. I cajoled it back into his bag so we'd have some for the picnic later and moved the group along. 

We saw the lions and giraffes and had interesting discussions before we stopped for lunch. Boy2 at this point was very interested in the seagulls that were scavenging around. He wanted to feed them and not want to have lunch. Lunch was immaterial to him. Lunch was all that mattered to Boy1. So, I tried to get them in sync. 

Boy1 - I really cannot eat my sandwich.
Me- Why?
Boy2 - My mom made me a PB&J.
Me- So?
Boy2- I am allergic to peanuts.

Being a mom you know when you are being blatantly lied to. I called him out on it and told him I wanted the sandwich finished. Few seconds later I heard "Oops" and saw the sandwich hit the ground. For a split second I was going to tell him to pick it up, dust it and eat it. Before I could react the seagulls had swooped in and to his delight finished it. I wished I could have made an army of PB&J appear to help me defeat the six year old but all I had was the usual mommy line - "Well, you will be the one hungry later."

Towards the end of the day we came across a baboon. I have yet to meet a baboon that looked happy but this one had pulled a blanket over his head and sat against the glass looking as sadly at you as he could. The kids contemplated his state and the girl in the group solemnly told them - "If you were a slave to the zoo you would look this sad too"

There were many moments of laughter and fun that day. There was contant chatter but seven years later the sandwich, seagulls and the baboon have not left my head. That was the first school trip I drove the kids to. Over the years I made it a habit to sign up for as many as I could. Every year I got to spend a day with my son's peers. I got to hear crazy stories and was urged (with no luck) to 'race faster than all cars' or buy them all candy. Every time, after every single field trip, I came home with stories and told my husband just how crazy the kids were. And told him how normal and age appropriate our own crazy son was.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Games on the playground

It is the first week of school. I happened to be there in the afternoon to volunteer and while waiting I chanced upon a group of first graders playing an organized game on the field. The game seemed simple - everyone scattered around and then the teacher said "I want you to form groups of " and people formed those groups. Most came together in groups of the right number but there would always be a groups of the 'leftovers'. Leftovers - people that did not want to join a group, or be with boys/girls, or just cling to their best friend. However I kept seeing her tell them that no one won and they were all out. After two rounds I listened more carefully - the rules were -

1. Everyone had to be in the right count group or the whole class was out. So if the group number was five then everyone had to be in a group of five else noone won.
2. It was not - in groups of five, she always said in a group of at least five.

It took a couple of rounds for someone to suggest that they form one big group and they'd win. Simple.
Nice way to get the class to work together and be inclusive.

Ek Chidiya Anek Chidiya

Friday, July 20, 2012

You never know - not light reading

I had walked into Macy's for a quick return. The store was rather empty and I was happy to find a staffed checkout counter. There was just one lady in front of me but soon I realized that the line was going nowhere. Frustrated I peeked over to see what was taking forever. 

An older woman wanted to buy three suitcases. Coupons of all sorts had been pulled out- multiples of $20 off each item and 20% off the entire bill. The checkout lady had a calculator out and was punching and writing numbers. It wasn't rocket science and I really wanted to get out of there. I was on the verge of asking to be served first but then I saw the two of them. Two old ladies trying hard. The suitcases were $155 each so I interjected and told her that the 20% coupon would work better than three $20 off coupons. They did some punching and writing and agreed. The woman then decided that she was going to look around and see if that was the best deal. Before she walked away she turned and thanked me.

At this point - as we do in passing conversation I did the equivalent of saying have a good day. "Hope you enjoy wherever it is the suitcases are going to take you" I said.
"I have to go to Iraq. My son was kidnapped, tortured and killed there" she said. It seemed she had memorized the line. It was not said with sorrow or with tears. It was said in a flat practical tone that I wish I never have to use.

I said I was sorry to hear that as she walked away. Shaken and shocked I went through the return. Walking away from the checkout stand I wanted to find that lady. I wanted to do something. Anything but nothing seemed appropriate or right. All I was thankful for that I had behaved civilly moments back and not let impatience push me into making a blunder that I would have forever regretted.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Wrapping up in India - Doing right by the people that helped bring me up

I was a hungry little kid. I loved food and would end up for my second lunch in the one room house that Phulia lived in.  Phulia Dai was one of the maids working in my parent's nursing home. I really do not know much about her family but she lived alone in a room. I know she loved me and I'd eat up half the rice she cooked. She'd add a little oil and salt and mash it up for me. It was the fat, cheap, parboiled rice but there was something about it - something more than just hunger - that drew me back to her place everyday.

I grew up, left home and flew off to the US. Somewhere along the way Phulia Dai retired to her village. She'd come back to my parent place biyearly to collect her pension and then she passed away. I was young and busy in my life to reflect too much on her last years. There were fond thoughts and little sighs of "I should have done more" but they were too little and a little too late.

Over the last few months we have been prepping up to leave India and one of the hardest things has been watching Ashvin come to terms with leaving Lalitha - his nanny and our housekeeper. He wants to marry her so she can come to US with us. This made me think of Phulia and others that were there for me as I grew up. Besides Phulia my thoughts kept going back to SitaRam and Nagendar.

SitaRam has been there in my parent's house before I was born. He was the cook but I remember him being part of my potty training, school pickup and was in fact the 'chaperone' on my first lone trip on a train when I met Peeyush.

I don't know when Nagendar showed up as our driver cum office manger cum backup cook but he is there in my memory as far as I can remember. He believed in me. Full of praises he thought the world of me. There was little I could do wrong - I was the best six year old english speaker in the entire town, my speech in school was flawless and had left him speechless. I know I was not that good but it was great to have a cheerleader all along my childhood.

I am still busy with life but with age comes the wisdom to make time so I am not left with too many regrets. Today SitaRam and Nagendar got onto a plane for the first time in their life and flew from Patna to Bangalore. They are guests in my house in Bangalore for a few days. They were the talk of my parental home and their village. I could have sent them some money but I am going to give them stories. After all they have been a very important part of my story.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Taming of the madam

Two year ago we were waiting for our shipment of furniture to arrive in India. A ship somewhere near Mumbai dumped its cargo into the ocean. It was not ours but it caused enough of a wave to cause our shipment to be delayed by a few weeks. After putting all the data in spreadsheets and discussing options it was decided that we would move into the house we had rented and find some rental furniture to tide us through.

So Madam Mallika- still fresh from Seattle – with her high expectations and rolling eyes went with the relocation agent to a rental shop in Russell Market.

Russell Market is an old school Indian market. You can buy literally anything and everything here – fresh veggies, meat, fish, carpets, dishes, hardware, clothes and paraphernalia in little shops tucked in small lanes I have not dared ventured into. It is also one of the dirtiest and trashiest markets around.

Long story short, I was put in the capable hands of Mr Pervez. He must have seen many like this Madam cause he was patient. Very patient as I shook my head in disbelief and horror at the dirty, dusty furniture in the showroom. Dismantled beds and dusty sofas were stacked in multiple floors in a storage building. I could not believe that I had to choose from that mess. I repeatedly asked him if there was anything better. I moaned, I groaned and I grumbled. He let me take my time, promised me that the furniture would be cleaned and polished before it came to me, even conjured up a new mattress that would remain in its plastic cover till it came to my house.  A torturous hour later I resigned and picked up two beds, a dining table, living room furniture and a big TV.  Side tables and a TV stand were thrown in and the whole rental for two months – with delivery, setup and pickup – was under $200. I won’t be surprised or blame him if he added a bit extra for dealing with me.

Last week - two years later - our furniture was packed and shipped off back to US. I landed back in Russell market. I sent my driver off to pick up some fresh fish as I grabbed a few shopping bags and made my way to Adams Furniture Rentals. There was goop on the road and piles of cauliflowers leaves left on the pavement. I navigated them and stopped to take photos of some birds bathing in a pail of water. I met Mr Pervez again. We went to the building of dusty furniture. Ten minutes later I had three beds, a dining table and my couches.  The dining table and chairs were mismatched but I was not buying them or planning to get my kids married on them. Mr Pervez and I chatted about India and US. I told his staff to ensure everything was cleaned and polished. They smiled, I smiled and I paid.

Half an hour later I had posed with a huge necklace, bought two kilo of lychees, enjoyed a tender coconut and was on my way home with some good fish fillet for dinner.

I am not sure if Mr. Pervez cut off a few dollars for my good behavior but I must say I saw him smile as I walked away. Another Madam had been tamed by India.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Drinking the Indian Way - Black Dog and Soda

Had written this Thursday, February 17, 2011 - somehow it never got published. Wonder if sampling for the blog had anything to do with it ;)

Coaster has a famous Indian movie dialog -
"Jab main black dog peeta hoon,
mere seenay me kaley kuttey bhaunkney lagte hain"
Translated -"When I drink Black Dog, Black Dogs
start to bark in my chest"

Peeyush always drank his scotch on the rocks so I was surprised when at a party he asked for coke to be mixed with it. “Black Dog” he said, referring to the scotch, “You can’t drink it without coke”. Yes, it is that bad. Most Indians here drink hard liquor (wine attributes to less than 3% of the total alcohol sales) and cheaper scotches mixed with soda seems to be the way to down it.

Maybe due to excessive hard alcohol drinking, India has been a little judgmental about people that drink. “He does not drink” is still considered a plus on your marriage biodata (more on that someday). I was reading a blog about alcohol sales in the US by a friend of mine and got thinking of how India has progressed on the drinking front. I see more people (women and girls especially) drink at bars and can firmly attest to the fact that I have seen as many girls throw up drunk here in my last six months as I had seen in the US in the last six years. The concept of drinking has made it to the youngsters, the concept of moderation and drinking to enjoy a drink and not to get drunk is still on its way.

Couple of things that have stood out negatively here are excessive drinking, hypocrisy and bringing down all scotch to the Black dog level (meaning diluting it). On the positive front social drinking is popular and there is a vast vareity at most bars to enjoy. Wine clubs are also making a foothold so the future looks more drinkable.

Few Indian drinking nuances-
1. Most people will not drink in front of their parents. It is not just about the lecture you might get, unless they drink and offer you a drink it is considered a sign of disrespect.

  • My dad would hide his glass of scotch under the table if he heard my grandma come.
  • My cousins have walked around with an opaque glass wrapped by a napkin at a party trying to conceal the golden liquid inside.

2. Alcohol shops are 'shady' places often with a curtain to protect the identity of the people in there. Else they have iron bars all over the facade. I have never bought a bottle of alcohol from a regular alcohol store in India. I think I’d be rather uncomfortable walking into one of these joints. I saw the sign of one at a mall but it was tucked away in some forsaken corner.

3. Drinking amongst the lower income class is still considered taboo and it often done in extreme - hard alcohol with the purpose of getting drunk. Drinking for pleasure is not the norm.

4. In general drinking amongst the younger and higher income class is not a big taboo (except for point 1 - away from the family) and people dole out US prices for drinks at a bar without much thought. Top drinks are - scotch (with soda) or beer for the guys, vodka for the ladies - though the choices are many and I have sat with indulgers of sake, brandy, gin and tonic etc.

5. Wine is … hmm… bad. India is getting into the wine scene and I have had some decent wine at not so decent prices here. There is some 300% tax on wine and due to low inventory movement the wine list is usually limited. Don't make the mistake of ordering by the glass, the bottle is the way to go.

6. When visiting India be nice and bring over a bottle of scotch (not black dog) for a friend. Alcohol is taxed very high here and a bottle of Blue label ($140 at duty free can go for around $400 in stores here). Ensure they try it soda free and you will be doing double goodness – teaching someone to drink for pleasure.

On drinking for pleasure - recently, a friend was disgusted when she saw good some really scotch being mixed with Sprite. She walked off.  I would have done that too - with the bottle in my hand. Bottle of sprite that is (in case my inlaws are reading this)

Friday, March 23, 2012

A long weekend from trip Bangalore - A river, a race, a beach, a fishmarket and a roadtrip.

A few weeks back an event invite popped up in Facebook. It was for the Royal Enfield's road trip to watch the Kambla races. I am no motor-biker but the itinerary and Kambla races piqued my interest.
I contacted the organizers to see if we (an innova and kids) could tag along. It was a bike only trip but they were nice enough to share all the details if I wanted to do it on my own. So, planning began and the a wonderful weekend came to fruition.

Day 1 - Bangalore -> Dharmashtala. I found a really nice cottage by a shallow stream on a plantation. Stream of Joy - Trip advisor had lots of good things to say about it and it turned out to be an amazing stay. The shallow stream with a tire tube swing, bamboo raft and a macchan to hang out and spend the night on was an amazing experience. An evening excursion to a famous temple nearby to hand feed a thousand hungry fish followed by a jeep ride to a Jain temple overjoyed the kids. The home cooked food was local, vegetarian and very delicious.

Day 2 Part 1- Dharmsthala - Kambla Race. We left our cottage around 10am and spend a good half an hour looking at how bowls and plates were made using palm stalks at the plantation. Then we were on the road and with a little meandering made our way to the Kambla race. A large field by a river had enough buffaloes being bathed, fed and decorated to confirm that we had reached the right place. I had heard conflicting reports about this traditional race - especially concerning the treatment of the buffalos and their ability to run. The race tract was not very long and after watching a few races I was more concerned about the human runners that had to keep up with the beasts.
It was hot day and after watching some thirty races and meeting the motorbikes we decided to make our way to Mangalore.

Day 2 Part 2- Dharmasthala - Mangalore was a two hour drive. Based on trip advisor and a great expedia deal I had chosen to say at the Taj Gateway hotel. In a way it was nice to get into an air conditioned hotel as it was turning into a hot and humid day. We ate and relaxed before visiting the beach. Camel and horse rides along with jet skiing kept the older kids busy while by little one was content sitting by the edge of the ocean while the waves pushed him around. A short, slightly crowded beach with lots of snack stall could not compete with the beached of Goa we frequent but was still a beach and that always means fun.

Day 3- Mangalore to Bangalore. While the kids wiped out from the beach slept my mom and I made our way to the fish market around the corner. Mangalore is famous for its seafood. While we did not buy any fish we had a great time looking and taking photos. The fisherwomen were very friendly and happy to pose for the photos. The variety of fresh fish was worth seeing.
From Mangalore to Bangalore it was an eight hour drive with a few breaks for food. We left at noon and were home by eight pm. The roads were good and the drive comfortable with some nice scenic views as we traversed the western ghats.

It turned out to be a great use of a three day weekend and had more packed in it that I thought possible. I would recommend Stream of Joy as a great weekend getaway even without the Kambla races and Mangalore. With its serene surroundings and peaceful water activities it is a place that created beautiful memories.