Brutality

.. of a new level, that’s what the last few days have been, haven’t they? First the senseless shooting in America, and now the horrific gang rape in Delhi. I couldn’t sleep last night. Sitting up listening to the news, reading.. Made me stay up, wondering, worrying.. Just how brutal can people be, how confident they must have been of not getting caught.. Just reading all this made me feel so very helpless. And if we, are feeling this hopeless and helpless, I can’t even imagine how the victim and her family must be feeling right now.

What kind of country are we living in, when the systemic failure ensures that half the population could be attacked randomly, repeatedly, and we can do nothing about it. When women are told to be ‘careful’, to keep themselves safe, when nothing, absolutely nothing is done to keep those criminals off our streets.

I hear of people saying that this is why we need to teach our daughters self-defence, that we, the people have to take measures to keep ourselves safe. Yes, absolutely. But again, these are individual measures. What about the responsibility of the government to ensure that such crimes do not happen again and again? I’ve been reading up on this, and this article makes so much sense. It talks about deterrents to prevent the crime. Ways of ensuring that potential rapists are warned away so that crimes themselves stop happening. The way I look at it, one of the most important things to do, is to try to ensure that crimes of this sort are prevented. At least as the first step.

Looking at all the issues crop up – police reforms, judicial reforms, stricter punishment, mentality of our people, it sometimes gets so disheartening. It makes me wonder if anything will ever change. If we will ever be able to live in our society without the constant fear. It makes me wonder if a day will come when I can call the police and not be scared. To be honest, I think it is, us the innocent, who are more scared of the police than the guilty. Remember that
problem we had with the maid, well, we had to go to the police station to report it, and we were actually a little scared, while she was totally comfortable. We could only assume that she had been there before, and knew how things worked. Sad, isn’t it? Is it any wonder that people would rather not report a crime, if they have an option.

All I can do is hope that one day, if not me, at least daughter will be able to live in India, confidently, knowing that we have a system we can depend on. Knowing that the police is there to protect us, knowing that the criminals are the ones scared, not us. A day when a woman knows that she is safe in the country that she lives.

PS: The one good thing that has happened is that, at the very least, the case is not being referred to with the victim’s name, as used to be the case, until a few years ago. I just wish they wouldn’t hide the faces of the suspects.

Henna for the Broken-Hearted by Sharell Cook

I am an occasional silent reader at Sharell Cook’s blog, and when I found out that she had written a book, it came onto my wish list. A few weeks ago, I managed to lay my hands on the book.

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How far would you go to change your life?

Sharell Cook is 30 years old and living a privileged life in Melbourne’s wealthy suburbs. She has it all: the childhood-sweetheart husband, the high-powered job and plenty of cash to splash.

And it’s not destined to last. Sharell finds herself in a broken marriage, and everything she had taken for granted seems to have changed. Impulsively, she decides to take a break and go to India to do some volunteer work for a few months. Living in Calcutta, a life which was totally different from the time she traveled in India with her ex-husband as a tourist, Sharell grapples with life in India, the frustrations and joys, the unexpected and the normal. She also meets her future husband in India. Reading her book, you start to believe in destiny taking you where you belong.

The book is her memoir of her time in India, the way it changed her, and the way she now leads the urban life of a white Indian housewife. Her journey from what she was, to what she becomes, as she lives in a different culture, which she accepts so open-heartedly. Her transformation, as she calls it. Some of things which even, us, Indians would balk at, she calmly accepts and lives with them. It was fresh take, devoid of the stereotypes one would expect, and without any undue glorification of India either. She writes it as it is, and that in itself is very refreshing.

I loved reading her experiences in India, as she travels through India, lives in various parts, lives a life which is different at the same time, similar to locals. Washing clothes by hand, living through water shortages, temperamental landlords, nosy neighbours, part and parcel of middle class living in India, and accepting it all in a very matter of fact way. I absolutely love her attitude.

What really stands out is the risks she takes, probably because all that she considered familiar had changed after the breakdown of her marriage. The risks she takes in coming back to India, living with the man she would later marry, and her willingness to make the most of her situation, to accept what life has in store for her. It’s not something what most of us would find easy to do. And her attitude towards the changes in her life. Her open-hearted acceptance of the confusion that India can be, and her willingness to be a part of it all.

She literally taker us on her journey, through India, with the wonderful companionship she shares with her husband, and their adventures of various kinds. Living in different parts of India, until they reach the place they end up settling down in – Mumbai. Her husband’s family comes across as such wonderful people, accepting her a part of their family, and doing what it took to get her comfortable. The wonderful bond that she shares with them comes out loud and clear in the book.

If I had to describe the book in a few words, it would – honest and captivating. She keeps the pages turning, you want to know more, and you actually feel sad when it ends. A book I would definitely recommend.

Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River by Alice Albinia

I’ve come to really enjoy travelogues. Of all sorts. This was another Goodreads recommendation, based on the books I have read and rated. The description had me hooked.

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‘One of the largest rivers in the world, the Indus rises in the Tibetan mountains and flows west across northern India and south through Pakistan. It has been worshipped as a god, used as a tool of imperial expansion, and today is the cement of Pakistan’s fractious union. Alice Albinia follows the river upstream, through two thousand miles of geography and back to a time five thousand years ago when a string of sophisticated cities grew on its banks. “This turbulent history, entwined with a superlative travel narrative” (The Guardian) leads us from the ruins of elaborate metropolises, to the bitter divisions of today. Like Rory Stewart’s The Places In Between, Empires of the Indus is an engrossing personal journey and a deeply moving portrait of a river and its people.’ says the blurb, and I just had to get hold of it.

Albinia, a British journalist, fascinated by the River Indus, and the civilizations and religions that it spawned around it, travels up the river, from its delta in Sindh, to the place of its origin in Tibet. As she travels through Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Tibet, she also narrates history, and links it up to the present world and culture. The Sheedis in Pakistan, who could trace back their ancestors to Africa and to the first African disciple of Prophet Mohammed, the life, and hierarchy of Pakistani society after the Partition, the Aryans and India as it had been. The way of life in India a few centuries ago, when religions co-existed, peacefully. Fascinating tidbits and facts – both historical and contemporary ones. There is a lot more of Pakistan than India, in the book, but that is of course a given, since Indus is almost completely in Pakistan now, but she still manages to link the common history of the region with the mighty river flowing through it, really well. A wonderful mixture of history and culture with Indus as the ever-present protagonist. The river which is mighty, deep, mysterious, divine and a lifeline to those who live by it. For centuries, Indus was more than just a river. At one point in history, conquering the Indus was equivalent to conquering India. The books spans from the Vedic times to today’s world, touching upon Kargil, the demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas amongst other important recent developments that impacted the subcontinent.

The author’s meticulous research is evident in the book. And her evident interest in her subject. Conversant in Urdu and Hindi, she is able to converse with the locals, and live like them, fasting during Ramzan, living in their houses during her travel, almost becoming one of them. The author’s enthusiasm, and zeal left me amazed. The journey that she undertook, couldn’t have been easy by any standards, through one of the world’s most volatile regions, potentially one of the most unsafe regions for a woman to travel alone, is one of the bravest things to do. A lot of travelogues have the authors being enraptured by the subject, in this case, she is utterly fascinated and yet objective, fascinated enough to have researched her subject thoroughly, and objective enough to analyze it all, so very well. I just did not want it to end. I wished she could go on and on, I wished I had learnt history reading books like these.

A totally recommended read for anyone who loves travelogues and history – such a marvelous combination, handled in such a wonderful manner! Another Goodreads recommendation, that I absolutely loved.

To Celebrate a Gorgeous, Sunny Sunday Morning…

I take pictures of my favourite plants….

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And just to add, sunny still translates to gorgeous for me :) I guess, summer will change all that, until then, I bask in lovely sunshine, enjoy the clear blue skies, and my flowering plants… and remember the days when December was cold, and frigid.

The Best and the Worst of two worlds..

Living away from a place, in a lot of ways, makes you a stranger, ill equipped to deal with simple things, sometimes..

- Talking about the weather doesn’t make a conversation starter. These days, if I start a conversation with the weather, more often than not, I am met with a blank stare. I’m sure the other person must be thinking I’m a little soft in the head. On the other hand, if you ask about their children – you can be rest assured that you might not need to contribute much for the rest of the conversation :)

- You feel decidedly unhappy when it rains, and people think you’re crazy. Yes, the sight of sun streaming in, still makes me happy :) Years of yearning for the sun does that to you, I guess. Just this morning, I rearranged all my balconies such that my plants get the optimal level of sunlight. The only complaint I have is that at the moment, one of my balconies – the largest one, gets no sunlight at all. Can’t get everything, I guess.

- You almost buy clothes without trying them on, only to remember that I can’t just return them later. It sure helps in reducing random buying though. It works only for clothes – I wish it were more effective for food as well.

- Random people being rude to you, for no reason at all. While I do understand that it must have been the over all stress and chaos that makes them rude, it takes me back at first, because I start wondering, what I did to trigger it.

Of course, there are plenty of habits which I’ve acquired here, that is going to make my life tough if/when I do need to go back. I’m going to miss the delicious breakfasts I get to make -ready made dosa batter to the rescue. And of course the gorgeous weather will ensure that my batter will rise- when I end up buying a grinder. Being able to step out on a Sunday evening and not feeling desolate at the sight of closed shops, even if one had no plans of shopping.

But what I will miss the most is the ease of meeting family. I had family over last week, and it was such a wonderful time. Going out, meeting relatives, sitting around, chatting, gossiping, eating.. What fun it was! Of course, it helps when you have aunts and uncles who are closer to your age than your parents :) How lucky would I be, if I could get all this in one place :) Or at the very least, get to stay on here…

For now, husband is going to be here on holiday in December, tickets are booked, plans fixed and we can’t wait! We’re counting days now!

Return to India by Shoba Narayan

Shoba Narayan’s memoir of her family’s Return to India process, after living in the US for about 20 years. I knew I had to read to read it as soon as I came across it. To add to it, Smita, heavily recommended it on one of my posts. I just had to get hold of it.

Shoba charts her journey from the time she first started to dream about going to America. Her parents are horrified at the idea, and try everything to stop her. Fate, finally, had it’s way, and she made her way to America as a student, with stars in her eyes, all set to live the American dream.

America gave her opportunities that she had dreamed about. She had come to America to pursue a master’s degree in psychology, but ended up a full-fledged art major trying to do a master’s in sculpture, For Shoba, this was the essence of America’s opportunities.

As Shoba immersed herself in America, she also develops close friendships with her fellow Indian students as well as her American friends. Living her new life, the experiences of being a student on grant in America, studying subjects that excited her, finding funding and help in the most unexpected places, washing dishes to make some money, Shoba is content. Somewhere down the line, she gets married – a traditional, arranged marriage to Ram.

From her happy existence in America, her perspective on living in America starts changing after she became a mother. She slowly started thinking about the ‘India Question’, with more and more of her friends and people around her talking seriously about moving back to India. The country that she had fought to leave, was now, beckoning to her. The culture and society that she had once tried to avoid, was the one she started trying very hard to inculcate in her daughter. There are some hilarious episodes mentioned of how hard she tried to make her daughter ‘Indian’. She calls herself a ‘born again Hindu’, when she drags her family to the temple, she had never before visited, or tried to wear a sari the whole day, for a month, just to make it familiar to her daughter. In her own way, trying to bring India or being Indian, closer to her American born and bred daughter.

While she was passionate about moving back, her husband Ram, was more resistant to the idea. He was less bothered about the parenting worries that Shoba had. She was quite worried about how to parent her daughter, the American influences worrying her tremendously, while her husband believed that with the right values, their daughter would be fine anywhere. They had their discussions, their disagreements, and their concurrence on the ‘India Question’. Finally, after a few years, things fell into place and they did indeed move to India.

So, how did I find it? I really enjoyed her perspective on life in America(or abroad anywhere, for that matter). Her observations of how people behave, some reject India completely, while others become born again Indians. The way she herself changed after her daughter was born, is quite interesting to read. In some places cliched – just the way, we have heard of NRIs behaving, and in some places interesting.

When I started reading this, I couldn’t help wonder if I would find similarities in my situation with what she recounts, but I have to say, her situation, and her reasons for moving back were quite different, so I did not really relate to her story much. It was just reading her story than reading a story that I could totally relate to. Probably because we had not lived abroad for so long, nor had we ever planned to live abroad. Returning to India was a given for us, rather than a ‘question’. Also parenting worries of the sort she had, somehow, does not bother me. Influences of all sorts, would be there in any society, in my opinion. My daughter’s childhood cannot be exactly the same as mine, even if I went back to the town I grew up in, and did everything my parents did. But that is entirely my opinion.

An interesting read, in some places very cliched, but pacy and gripping all the same. The way her priorities changed over the years with changes in her circumstances is very interesting to read. I would recommend it to anybody who likes memoirs although I think I enjoyed her first book – Monsoon Diary more. Would I recommend it to someone who is relocating/planning to relocate to India? I don’t know. Mainly because I could not relate to it at all, but perhaps if you are in a similar situation as her’s you might relate and enjoy it much more. Other than that, as a memoir, it is an interesting read.

Back to Square One(almost)

In other words – we might just have to go back to the UK.

Returning back was something, I was confident, we would not end up doing.

Just goes to show how unpredictable life is, and even the best laid plans are not enough – sometimes. We might need to go back to the UK. We might have to return, not for the usual reasons, but because we can’t find a job here!

Eight years in the UK, we refused to put down roots there. Mainly because India always felt like home, and there was nothing we looked forward to more than coming back to Bangalore and living the dream we dreamed. Everything was as per plan, when we moved back in July. Or rather, until Daughter and I moved back – husband was still there for a while, until he got a job in Bangalore. How difficult would it be? Not too difficult, is what I had assumed, husband was far more realistic, even then. But clearly, I assumed wrong. Apparently, most companies just want him to go back abroad on projects. That doesn’t exactly bode well for our, ‘End of nomadic existence’ plan, does it? If we have to be abroad, we would stick to his current job, and stay in one place – UK, rather than be shunted back and forth on projects while being an India employee.

So right now, we are wondering if we took the decision too quickly, if we should have waited till husband got a job before relocating. At that time, this seemed the best thing to do, to come here at the start of the academic year, so that daughter would not have to miss much, so that she could settle in easier. And it worked too – to that extent. Daughter is comfortable, well settled in school but missing her Daddy terribly. She just cannot understand why he can’t get a job here, or why he can’t just come here and find a job.. It’s taking a toll on all of us but hopefully, we will be able to look back at this phase and smile, in a few years time.

Hoping for the best, here we are gearing up for the worst – having to pack up and head back. After a year apart – we plan to give it a year – until the end of this academic year, and lots of money(and effort) spent on the apartment(and other things), we might just have to head back. The mere thought of that make my heart sink. While it would be wonderful to be back with husband, I only wish it were him joining us, rather than the other way around. The main reason we decided to move back – parents, would still be a reason which makes it tough for me to go back. It feels really bad to be so far away, at a time when they might need us… I so wish we were living some place closer to home.

On the positive side -I do believe that daughter would have it better there – in many ways, education, opportunities. And most importantly, safety. Every time I read the newspaper, it scares me. I know, its silly to worry like this,but one can’t help worry. As I have mentioned earlier, I had/have my doubts if India is the best place for daughter, but I was still hopeful that we would be fine. Every country comes with own set of problems, but being in India had so many things we were looking forward to. Being close to family, the fun, that feeling of belonging, and to be finally able to set down roots. For daughter, it is those simple things like being able to play outside everyday. Not having to worry about rain spoiling her playtime. But after the first few months of soaking in the new place, the new atmosphere, now, she has started missing her old school, and friends and also comparing them. Although she hasn’t been very upset, she does wonder why they don’t do some things in the school here, like experiments. But she’s alright, and I suspect she will be perfectly at peace here, once husband gets to join us. Right now, I think the situation has started to unsettle her, just a bit.

Being in a situation like this is annoying, and frustrating, to say the least, the uncertainty, killing. ‘Suspended equilibrium’, sort of situation. No idea which way we go. I’ve stopped getting work done on the flat. We had been looking forward to so many things, not knowing that what we would get is uncertainty and confusion. Right now, I would settle for some definite plans – either way, it would just be good to know which way.

Taking one day at a time, doing just what needs doing, at the moment, keeping our fingers crossed, and hoping that whatever be the outcome, we have the strength to face it, and make the most of it. And if we do go back, one thing is for sure, we would not be doing any relocation, unless all of us move together – lessons learnt, eh?

Joys of not being in the UK

- Shops don’t close at 4. What joy that is! Not having to rush out at 3:30, hoping against hope that you might just slink past the security guard, one minute before the store closes. Once we’re in, we’re safe, as husband says. Not quite, because we have that voice telling you that you need to get your stuff to be billed in 5 minutes time. What pleasure it is, to be able to stroll out and shop when it pleases you on a Sunday evening.

- I yearn for the rains. I never thought that would happen to me. Not after living in a place where it rains all the time. I guess there is truth in the saying,’Never say never’, after all.

- Not having to carry a jacket – just in case it rains or it gets too cold. It’s true freedom, I tell you.

- Getting someone else to do all the housework – what joy! Although I can see it adding to the inches on my waist.

- Being able to call a store and ask for provisions to be delivered home. There’s nothing like it when you are home alone with a sleeping child and urgently need something before the shops close for the day.

Despite all that, I can’t help feel a tiny bit homesick when I read Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island. Especially when he mentions the familiar places like the Yorkshire Dales or Harrogate. It makes me sad to think that I will probably never go on a drive there, on a Sunday evening, just because there is nothing else that we can do.
Or plan for that holiday in Lake District where all we plan to do is relax, and walk around – which never happens, by the way. Both of us can’t just do nothing on a holiday. Or go back to North Wales and hike up to Snowdonia. Or complain about the rains, the never ending rains – that is fun too, you know. But what I miss most is to be able to walk into a store and get a packet yeast, just because I fancy baking some bread.

See, I told ya. The grass is always greener on the other side.

When I was away..

..India turned into America:)

One of things that puzzled daughter at school was the fact that there were no toilets. She kept insisting that there were no toilets, and I kept telling her to ask her friends. I did not want to email the teacher about it. She was, after all, old enough to figure this out, right?

Turns out the toilets were called, ‘restrooms’. ‘But why?’, Asks a puzzled daughter, so I explained that what they are called in America. ‘But we are in India not America’!

Well, what do I say to that :) And now, I notice ‘restrooms’ everywhere. I had a waiter look down snootily at me, when I asked for ‘the toilets’. Apparently toilets aren’t called toilets anymore :(

All that I need now, is to ask for ‘queues‘. Not that most people seem to have a clue what it means anyway:)