There are two blog post I red on two separate blog recently that both reflect on behaviour and how it is perceived in the West and in India.
The first one is on the Diary of a White Indian Housewife, where she reflects upon an article wondering if India brings out the worst in us behaviour wise. The other is on White Bhabi’s blog where she is starting to notice her non confrontational nature might lead her to just being pushed around by her in-law’s family.
While rude behaviour is rude by any name, it is interesting to see that one culture can consider something bad, when it is actually good in another culture. Since I’m Swiss I’ll be speaking about what is considered a proper behaviour back home first.
Swiss are pretty non-confrontational in nature, assertiveness is considered as a flaw, and putting yourself in the spotlight is considered selfish, those who do are looked upon, probably a reason why we don’t really have football superstars, no political figures that made a big impact on the international scene either, the concept of class topper as I’ve seen it in India is non-existent in Switzerland, not that top students don’t get awards, it’s just not spread all over newspapers, and used by schools to brag about how they got a “genius” studying within their walls.
In Switzerland you don’t push in a crowd, you don’t make a scene, you avoid anything that will make you the hot spot and in the crosshair of disapproving eyes such as bringing a toddler to dinner in a restaurant (big big no no in Switzerland), if you’ve been faulted and cheated in anyway you don’t go storming the shop who sold you a crappy item and make a scene, you just try to point out the defect, negotiate a peaceful settlement and if all fail, you go sitting in front of your computer, write a legal letter in proper form, send it as registered post, keep copies in case your complaint get ignored, and hope for a favourable settlement, in fact schools all teach you how to write these type of letter, as there is no way you’ll ever get anywhere without learning the proper structure and form for these. Swiss LOVE their procedures and forms and planned affairs, they are quite uncomfy with spontaneous events in general, and oh boy they love love love punctuality, if you have an appointment with a Swiss citizen, be bang on time, at the most 10 minutes grace period but never without a good apology for being that late, disrespect an appointment time and you devalued yourself in front of your host, and in the case of a job interview, you’ll have a very though time selling your skills as impeccable as they might be if you didn’t bother showing up on time.
Respect thy neighbour is another notion Swiss live by, you don’t show up unannounced, if you are coming unexpected you need a good reason, and apologise for it, and as common courtesy you don’t disturb anybody by phone or in person around meal time. You don’t press your face through the hedge to spy on your neighbour’s garden, or at least not in an obvious way, and you don’t under any circumstances give unsolicited advice…EVER that will make you a bad neighbour, you wait for someone to ask you a question about how to tend your potted geranium to share your tips. Finances are private too, asking how much someone earns or how much their car did cost is rude, don’t do it.
Now for those who are familiar with India, you probably know that the above behaviour will not get you very far, you are more likely to be turned into a doormat. Indians are more assertive, if not aggressive in their way of dealing with day to day woes, while Switzerland believes in equality and tries to harmonise people, hierarchy is pretty much prevalent in India, it leads to competition, because for most life is a struggle, granted that the said competition is reaching dangerous proportions in certain area, it is still there, and non-confrontation will not get you anywhere. That means you often need to yell and push to get things done. As a Swiss myself I had a though time figuring that out, and am not too proud to say that I had to yell and become very un-lady like to get certain things done, such as being given a spare gas cylinder I’ve been entitled to from the time of subscription but never got when asking for it the polite way. A few f word bombs a lot of screaming and banging the desk suddenly had them admit that yes we did pay for 2 cylinders and that we never got the spare, problem solved in one very aggressive discussion and hour after almost a year of polite requests that went nowhere.
I spent 8 years in India and yes by my compatriots standard back home I’m looked upon, I’m considered harsh, rude and cold hearted, probably a reason why I really don’t think I could ever live back home again.
My mom pointed out she could never live in India, it’s a too harsh, fast paced, aggressive mean country for her, she admitted growing a thick skin is not something she can do, I pointed out to her that when it becomes a necessity to just get by you do it.
The other thing that bothers her is the hierarchical pattern going through the entire society, and well I’m with her there, there is something about the hierarchy here that irks me, it actually gives an excuse to some to just act mean and crass just because they perceive themselves as above somebody else, and yes I do struggle a lot with the whole touch your elder’s feet things going in my in-law’s family, not that I mind doing it as such, what bothers me is that it is a sign of respect granted to elders who in return my end up treating you like crap just because they can…My MIL being notorious for just demanding respect but waiting for the first opportunity to corner me, belittle me and insult my culture to my face with nobody being able to stop the nasty bitching fest, believe me DH tried, FIL tried, but all it did was making her meaner and more vicious the second she was alone in a room, 5 years into this marriage and family we know she won’t change, and that in this situation assertiveness won’t work, she placed herself to high up to tolerate it, and for once my Swiss compliant diplomatic behaviour is paying off, but had to go through the alteration process of being coupled with passive aggressiveness which is a notion I didn’t even know before moving to India. the delicate art of bowing out but in a way that will irritate the other but in a such subtle way that they can’t call you on it directly, this doesn’t solve tensions, but it helps you keep your sanity.
All this to say that one culture’s bad, is another culture’s norm or necessity, and that it is exactly why diplomacy was invented in the first place. When being in an intercultural relationship, you need that skill. And I don’t think I’ve become a better or worst person since moving to India, I’ve just learnt to adapt, but it hasn’t been done in one day, and it’s a work constantly in progress.
This year we spend Diwali in Lucknow with DH’s parents after a long time not seeing them, the last time we visited them was for a few days in January 2010, and the last Diwali spent there was in 2007.
We left on the 19th and stayed 2 days in Delhi with my BIL before taking the night train to Lucknow on the 21st and stay with the family until the 27th.
I would have loved to say the trip was uneventful, but we had a few glitches. While Ishita was fine in Delhi she decided to greet her grand parents with a sudden high fever barely two hours after our arrival, drama, over-reaction, and worries followed for the next 2 days and a half, at which point she had a big diarrhoea, and all went well from there. My MIL managed to stay polite 3 days, and switched to vicious leading me to ignore her, on Diwali morning I slipped in the stairs and hurt my ankle a little, thankfully nothing too serious, and on the 27th we were all down with various degree of sore throat and my MIL was pinned in bed with the same high fever Ishita had when we first arrived.
All in all it was still a nice trip, but as usual, DH and I get bored of Lucknow after a few days, as his family doesn’t go out much. We visited a few relatives, and Ishita who is a bit shy and was after all sick just about had enough of it all on Tuesday, the rest her stay was spent in whine and fuss mode, with a bunch of relative really and clearly not getting the message she was trying to get out: Stop poking and teasing me and leave me alone. Indians have one big soft spot for kiddos, especially family kids, and they just wanted to tickle her, pinch her cheeks and carry her, while she just clang to me dearly slapping them away. Alas a toddler shooing and slapping grown p away is “Aw sho shweeeeeeeet” and triggers more poking and probing and patting and teasing and tickling. I tried diplomatically to explain she was shy,sick and really it would be best to leave her alone, not everybody got the message. And by the morning of the 27th she was in full tantrum mode all the while until we hopped in the cab for the airport at 4.30pm, at which point she slowly started feeling her old self again.
During that trip I got to meet one fellow blogger who lives in Lucknow at the moment and it was nice to finally meet each other, we are hoping to be able to get together again. You can read her blog here.
And here is my contribution to Diwali, the last time I went I made a flower rangoli, but this time we didn’t plan things ahead so I just painted one with regular poster paint, and we got to re-use the same old fancy diya stand we bought the last time :
Here are the things we learnt from our trip and some of these lesson might become specific blog entries later:
- 10 days away with a 2 years old is far more challenging than 17 with a 5 year old, thanks heaven for laptops and downloaded favourite cartoons!
- Having a sick child when visiting in a desi joint family is not something I want to repeat…EVER!
- My MIL will always be my MIL and behave as such…we’ll leave it at that.
- Diwali will always be Diwali and fun
- Indigo might be a low-cost airline but boy it’s far better than any of the other so called premium domestic airlines in the country.
And last but not least:
IT’S GOOD TO BE BACK HOME
I realised I never fully wrote about my new maid, after the drama caused by the two we had in Navi Mumbai last year, and the greedy vulture maid we had in Bangalore, the one we have now is a dream. Well she is a dream regardless of the few past maids we had, I never had one so nice, hardworking and helpful.
I’m not complicated, what I expect from my house help is : punctuality, good behaviour, good work and the ability to just take initiatives when needed. And as I said it many time on this blog this is hard to find.
This maid started by scoring massive brownie points the day we moved in, she came by in the morning to ask if we had a position for her, we laid out the list of duty, she gave us her fees, we settled the deal, and she asked us when we would need her, DH told her that it was highly unlikely we would be out of the boxes by 6pm when it was her time to come cook, so that cleaning would have to wait for the next day.
By 5pm that very same day she stopped by asking if we needed help around tonight, DH and I were in the middle of a sea of wrapping paper and empty boxes trying to settle the kitchen, so DH asked her if she was interested in taking the old boxes for herself sparing us the hassle to figure out what to do with them. She told us that yes she could but the next morning, because the recycler’s shop was closed, and seeing us all tired and in such a mess she said “here let me help you guys unpack and clean here” In 2 hours she helped us get the kitchen straight and had the boxes all flattened and pilled up for the next day. She didn’t have to, but she did help.
The next day she helped us flatten more boxes and fold away tons of wrap paper (again not in her job description but did it), then I found out the stove was not working on the piped gas system we had, she flipped it over to announce it was old and dirty and needed a solid servicing, she took it right away with her knowing where to go, brought it back 2 hours later all fixed and cleaned and ready to go, we gave her a 100 bucks for it which she tried to refuse. not once during our whole settling down did she shy away from helping us with something.
In the beginning, she had to come twice a day, once in the morning to clean and do the dishes, and once in the evening to cook, however she always did the dishes twice a day, and has this obsession about us really liking the food she cooks, in the early days she would ask me what masala I wanted in what dish, and how much oil she should use before cooking, now she knows us well enough, she also knows how to use spices, and not just the good old combo of chilli,coriander,turmeric and jeera. Nope she uses cinnamon, cloves, black cardamom and star anise with expertise in various dishes as well, giving us a lot lot of flavour in our daily food beyond the scorching heat of chilli powder our maid in Navi Mumbai submitted us to.
This maid also want to cook us breakfast on weekends, and gets exited at the idea of spoiling us with stuff like paratha, dosa and idli. When I asked her if she wanted to make the idli/dosa batter from scratch or wanted me to buy some fresh one from the grocer she was offended at the idea of me eating something store bought, nope nothing but proper homemade batter stuff for us. To gain time she tend to take the coconut I buy for chutney home to prepare it in her downtime, when I tried to get her some curry leaves and green chillies from my fridge for her to make the chutney she stopped me firm saying this was nonsense, she would use what she had at home.
She also promptly asked me to get as many type of lentils and pulse we could, as it is important to eat a variety of food not the same old dal everyday.
Over the course of a few weeks, DH asked her to come an additional time at 7am to make fresh chapati for his tiffin, and asked her to clean the bathrooms as well, we increased her salary accordingly. Now bathroom is a daunting task, but without having me to ask anything, she goes through thorough cleaning whenever needed, even took the initiative to clean some hard to reach dirt in remote corners of the common bath we rarely use, and worked out a great system for herself with her alternating the days of heavy work in there doing one bathroom heavily one day and the other the next.
In the past 3 months I not had to scold her, or explain things twice, she has a doubt about how to do something and she asks me, then just do it the right way. Not once did she break anything, or used too much milk, or pulled a no show without warning. Her husband is apparently sick is still hospitalised in a convalescence place, she took one or two day off to travel there on special occasion but usually feel so bad about leaving us without her help that she rushes back in time to cook dinner even when I tell her that it is fine and I can survive a day or two without her.
On certain weekend days we gave her a day off because we were out, and without a fail she takes time to THANK us for it.
This month she told us that she might ask us for some advance on her salary for Diwali, and DH told her that all she had to do was ask, and told her we would be away from the 19th until the 27th, last week she asked for some because of some medical fees she had to pay regarding her husband’s health. And this week she announced she was coming one additional time to do the heavy cleaning! Explaining that our house had to be clean for Diwali even if we were not there, so yesterday without me asking she went ahead and cleaned all the windows, and we are talking big ones as they all are wall to wall almost bottom to ceiling glass panels in every rooms. She also decided all our fans needed a solid clean up, and behind the furniture, and some of the shelves in the fridge, and the walls in the kitchen. Once done she announced that the next day she would tackle the kitchen cabinet doors, all furnitures, bedroom doors and the wall tiles in both bathrooms. All things I never even asked her to do, but I am starting to notice she is a perfectionist in everything she does.
So yesterday evening I reminded DH he needed to withdraw money for her Diwali bonus, we always pay our helps half a month salary as a bonus, in the case of our current maid that means 2000 rupees worth of Diwali bonus. So this morning he hands her the money while she was there for her chapati making explaining it was a Diwali gift, but she didn’t quite register it, she then came to me asking what it was for, and I told her it was her Diwali bonus, her reply was “That much!” and then a huge glow on her face and a huge “thank you didi” offered to me before leaving. She then came back for the 9.30am cleaning chores and again asked me if she got it right that the 2k were indeed a Diwali bonus as she simply couldn’t believe it, and I confirmed again, with her thanking me again profusely explaining with tears in her eyes that it would take care of getting some nice new clothes for her kids for Diwali. She then left telling me the round 2 of heavy cleaning will come at 3pm today again thanking me for the gift.
In 8 years in India, not only is she the first maid I have who doesn’t shy away from work, she is also the FIRST to thank me each time we give her a leave, or give her her salary and yes first one to thank me for a Diwali bonus she never expected. All the other ones we had started hinting at the fact Diwali was coming weeks before the actual date or plain asked we gave them the bonus!
And you know what? It feels really good to see that I truly made my maid’s day with this gift.
You always know when Diwali is around the corner, pretty much like all festivals nowadays shops are going all out with promotions, packaged sweets and nuts gifts set, chocolate boxes, cookie boxes, glittery painted diya shaped candles, kitschy sparkly decorations.
It’s fun, festive and I love it, this year we are heading to Lucknow to celebrate with family, so the planning for us is minimal (costlier thanks to inflated airline fares but less work nonetheless). So I am flipping through newspapers seeing the promotions and and Diwali goodies on offers feeling a bit detached, not that this is the point of this whole entry really, nope not at all.
The other day I was flipping through the paper checking the supermarkets promotional ads, you know the one where they list all their good bargains of the week, not surprisingly you find great discount on ghee, sugar, oil, sweets, cookies, chocolate, diya, and…Diwali guns.
Diwali GUNS! I knew they existed, I saw kids in my neighbourhood play with them, they are guns that make a cracking sound when you pull the trigger, not unlike the one I saw growing up that were destined to be used to play cowboy by boys, the only difference being in the shape, gone are the plastic revolvers, now you have: Machine guns and assault rifles, granted they are plastic and come in hues of neon pink, green and orange for the most (with few disturbingly too realistic). Until then well I shouldn’t be too shocked, toy guns aren’t a new invention, though must admit that the cracking guns using explosive powder have gone through restrictions in Switzerland, and kids anyway prefer water guns with girls taking equal part in the game as boys.
No what shocked me with this add, is associating Diwali with guns in the first place, Diwali is supposed to be the festival of light, though bursting crackers are also part of the tradition, in moderation crackers are fun for everybody, with proper safety measure it’s harmless. But the boys I saw playing with Diwali guns, are disturbingly too grown up in their play, they hold their buddies at gun point, mock shoot each other with some scary seriousness about it, with something that does contain some explosive in some case, infinite amounts sure but still explosives.
Call me old fashioned and conservative but aren't festivals such as Diwali about bringing happiness to people, prosperity and wealth into the house and bringing families together? isn’t pretending to shoot your siblings negating the spirit?
Just to say I’m not to crazy about certain new addition to the Diwali artillery (no pun intended), while boys will be boys and want to pretend fight, shouldn’t the gun remain innocent enough (and yes to those wondering I have issues with the realistic looking copies of toy guns sold in the west too), and shouldn’t guns be totally separated from any religious festival?
Recently I was writing upon my embarking on the 30 days shred program, I’m trying to be good about it and do it daily, but let’s face it the heat and humidity and lack of A/C in the living room often drains my energy. Mornings are never good to exercise as I’m a night owl and each and every time I tried doing hard core workout in the morning in the past I managed to get some injuries, I workout best in the evening.
Because of the intensity of this workout video, I found that doing it in good company (along with DH) works even better, if he does it then i do it, and vice versa, on days he gets late from office I push myself to go through it, and as I said I’m making good on that resolution on most days.
So why this post? If all was well and nice and perfect I wouldn’t need to set things straight with my toughest critic (me). Well to be frank it’s as much as a self praise as it is a self-lash. We are at level 2 of the 30 days shred, and I haven’t lost a pound, not ONE! Nada! However I’ve seen a lot lot more muscle definition, and a far better posture, so my guess is my weight might be plateauing because I’m building a nice muscle mass, that coupled that the overheated humidity of a typical October day in Mumbai probably leads to more fluid intake and water retention.
Yet I’m not fully satisfied, believe it or not, I might actually be fitter than I thought I was, because I actually breeze through the cardio in that video, sure I feel my heart rate going slightly up, but that is just slightly, meaning my body isn’t burning as much energy as I would like, until recently I was stuck with 2kg dumbbells and the workout was almost too easy, another good thing, it means I have a good muscle strength in my arms, but then again it means I’m not really working out, merely lifting comfy weights up and down, so DH went getting me 3kg weights yesterday, and for the first time I felt a difference, a significant one that let me to say “Hey that is more like it!” No pain, no feeling of dying as the first few days into the workout, but definitely some resistance, resistance I never felt, so hopefully from then onwards I should be able to burn more flab. I am annoyed at not having gone for heavier weights earlier, I spent probably the past 10 sessions breezing through a workout that was apparently to leave me shredded. By the end of the 27 minutes, I’m still standing, still energized, and if it weren’t for the heat, I could do more. DH sees it differently, he is often wiped out before the end of the workout. |
Yes my body has the ability to do much much more than 20 minutes a day, the heat however sap my motivation, nipped in the bud. And that frustrate me, I’m also quite frustrated at how ridiculously sedentary I have become since moving to India, half of it I can blame it on the fact walking on garbage roads, being eve teased and inhaling pollution isn’t appealing, and with a toddler even less pleasurable in these circumstances, but that is only half the issue, the other part of me is just a lazy bum, I jumped off the active wagon the first chance I had years ago fearing stares, hating the landscape, feeling observed and judged. But as a previously active lady suddenly deprived of a physical outlet for her pent up energy, I ended up filling the hours with TV, computer and food…the deadliest combination, it was there all along, I ignored it, I let it grow and nurtured it to the point of actually spending a fair portion of my day on my butt, while writing my blog is a good creative activity, the years I spent growing virtual vegetables in Facebook, or earning “money” in games to buy virtual pieces of dream furniture to fill a dream house…discussable, HIGHLY discussable. Playing computer games, is fun, it’s relaxing, but I’m telling you there have been times in the past where it became obsessive, and while I play less, I still find myself sitting in front of my netbook, I’ve been seriously questioning my sanity in the past few months, and even more in the past few weeks of found again enjoyment at being on my feet and moving.
So I’m breaking the habit, the computer habit that is, the plan is to limit feeding, grooming, and dressing pixels (who in some games need to spend more time on the commode than the real me) to a minimum, playing 20 minutes or so of these games is fine, checking Facebook and games more than that…not good. This morning I filled a solid 15 minutes doing strength exercise with my new dumbbells and loved it, time to just fill the free minutes of my busy mom days with more engaging activities, as “fun” harvesting virtual berries it’s not constructive, doesn’t do anything for my mind they way a jigsaw puzzle would, and at the exception of my right forefinger, no other body part is active.
Back in my youthful days I used to like swimming, hiking, walking, cycling, and roller skating. Realistically, I admit doing these activities now might not possible, but just because they can difficultly done here is no reason for having substituted them with sedentary crap, I should have known better and found physical substitute. Shall I put it on the account of being young and naive and at least congratulate myself on gaining some wisdom before it is too late?
All fresh of my newfound epiphany I decided to write this entry to publicly come out of the closet with my crappy habits, now that they are down in words on a public blog, I have the obligation to make good on my promises to do more with my free minutes a day.
I was born and grew up in a corner of the world with 4 distinctive seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, each with their very specific attributes. Naked trees and snow in Winter, light green fresh leaves and blooming trees in the Spring, vibrant greens, warm long days (sun sets at 9pm) in the Summer, nature in rust and gold tones in the Fall.
FALL, probably my favourite season of all, first because September is still warm enough, and October still full of sunny days, but mostly because the air gets that special quality and the leaves turns every shades of red, brown and yellow, within week and the landscape is turned into a kaleidoscope of hues warming your eyes and heart before the harshness and darkness of Winter to come.
Yes I grew up to that rhythm, schools had projects for each seasons: making snow men out of cotton pads, silk paper flowers in the spring, crafting a sun out of picnic plates and yellow craft paper, making falling leaves collage in the Fall.
As I grew up I of course learned that not all region of the globes have the same season cycles, I even travelled enough to somehow notice it a little, that said, travelling for 2-3 weeks and glimpsing it isn’t the same as living the change.
And change it was, moving to India not only was the culture different, life moving a different pace, it didn’t take me long to notice that in South India trees stay green year round, and that seasons do not mean the same, Summer occur in March until June-July, then it’s the monsoon, then a dry albeit still warm period that is referred as Fall by some, and Winter that last from December until February. The only markers being : insanely hot and humid, cooler and downright wet, dry and warm to cool depending the region (Mumbai being insanely hot and humid in October) and then dry and cold (yes cold!), visually the only noticeable marker are the dark clouds in the sky during the monsoon.
Of course after a few years in the same place, you notice that some trees bloom at different time, and you find a visual marker of passing time and nature cyclic changes again.
But life as you knew it is missing in action, your friends back home and in the northern temperate hemisphere start posting picture of trees changing colours in Facebook, talk about racking leaves, decorating the house with pumpkins and rust tones, those in US are starting to plan Halloween, while my own status line might read something like “finally storing the umbrellas away”, or “went to the beach this weekend” or like one I just wrote recently “Winter please come” which probably sounded like a very funny request to all my friends, as they are probably asking for a longer Fall season with a few more warm days before the snow hit.
While for me reading Fall status, seeing fall pictures and hearing of pumpkin pies brings back some nostalgia and a hint of homesickness, once upon a time all this was my world, my steady constants, my rhythm of life if you want. And while I surely do not miss Winter that much as I hated the cold and long dark nights, or even spring with it’s unpredictability and a body struggling to get out of a hibernation mode it never slipped into in November, or even Summer with its haze and few storms, Fall in all it’s flamboyant vibrant splendour is dearly missed.
A few years in Bangalore however had me slip in a new comforting seasonal cycle of hot evenings spent on our terrace or balcony eating ice cream, watching the rain falls from the porch or listening to it in bed with a good book and some tea during the monsoon, welcoming back our sweat pants in the Fall, and spending evening on our terrace in sweaters and thick socks in December.
The past year changed it all: Mumbai and it’s heavy gloomy super damp monsoon, Mumbai and it’s insanely hot humid and suffocating October-November leaving you beg for some cold air, Mumbai in December when you finally get your wish, take out your sweat pants, sock and shawl to go on the terrace and get cold, then sit down with a cup of tea and munchies. Then back in Bangalore looking forward to what you knew and enjoyed: the warm ice cream filled Summer nights, the cool refreshing monsoon, and dream of Christmas in sweaters…that part we know it never happened, we went back to the Mumbai cycle, of heavy downpour during the monsoon, soggy fabric and books inside, a month of September hinting at warmer days, and finally October where we are sweating away buckets, worshiping the A/C unit that was already installed in our master bedroom by the owner, and a promise of at least restful nights after a day of inferno, looking forward to the brief period of cooler days to come. Patenting until then with the rare thunder storms that can still occur like last evening and today, taking in the violent wind, rain spray and letting my eyes soak the lightning, a part of Fall that hasn’t changed between Geneva and Mumbai…
The one thing I noticed since moving to Mumbai is how assertive kids are around here, and it doesn’t always meant to be nice, some are downright aggressive brats.
Back in Bangalore, kids in our apartment complex were nice, good player, and at the exception of one, no one slapped, pushed and snatched toys away, the one who did all that was immediately seriously scolded by his maid and the other parents, made to go for time out and stood corrected, said sorry and life goes on.
In the past 2 months here I stopped counting the number of time Ishita has been pushed off the slide, sat on, pounded, dragged of a swing, thrown on the ground, or had her OWN toy snatched away from her by a kid who then proceeded to tell me I want to play with that give me! I WANT? GIVE me? Since when kids use such imperative tone addressing a grown up they barely know?
A few of these case of selfishness were even dangerous to a small toddler like Ishi, like being forcefully pushed down the ladder leading to the top of the slide by one kid who decided he wanted to come down from the top using the ladder, this slide stands 7ft high Ishi was almost to the top and fortunately I caught her just before she went tumbling down backward probably breaking her neck in the process on the sharp steps of the said ladder. When I yelled at the kid to stop it and be careful I suddenly had the mom in my face (she was chatting with a friend on the nearby bench not paying attention). What happened she asked me on a harsh tone, me to explain, and her to use the sweetest voice possible to tell her 5 year old boy “Aww remember what mama said, you have to behave nice to girls at the playground, mama don’t like when you push girls” WTF? Why just girls? What about the fact you just don’t kick and push all the other kids risking sending them to their death or a wheelchair on the pretext you want to do what you want with no regards for other?
Should Ishita have done such a dreadful thing as this boy did, she would have been eligible for a smack bottom, big time yelling, immediate removal from the playground and straight back home. if you can’t behave well in a social environment, then you need a time out. That boy however was back at pushing other kids around, slapping other boys, and nothing was done to address the matter from the mom, and day after day he keeps on with his aggressive, pushy, “me first” behaviour with little reprimands from his mother, this led to my daughter being scared to play at the playground when that kid is there.
If he was the only one behaving that way I would say “fine that’s one kid with social issue” but I had a little girl who snatched Ishita’s ball from her hand and pushed her on the ground, and when I told her to stop it she retaliated telling me “That boy was playing with that ball before it’s not hers she can’t play with it”, I told the girl it was Ishita’s ball in the first place, and the girl just kicked it away with Ishita crying and saying “She is a bad girl she steals toy” this girl was here with her maid who didn’t get any English and didn’t seem to care a toddler has been pushed on the ground for being accused of stealing her own ball and a grown up being told to not let her own child play with her own toy.
or the 10 year old kids playing football, who just trampled Ishita while she was walking holding my hand on the park’s foot path, which had me yell, and the boy to retort, we are playing here get out! I don’t know about you, but should a grown up who is the one paying the maintenance fee of the society being told to get out of the public facilities by a 10 year old boy? I don’t think so. there was another boy and a girl who told me several time to please remove Ishita from the merry go round (she was there first) because they wanted to spin it fast, and me to say ok just wait until she is done to be snapped at “I want it NOW, LEAVE” again no parents no maid to just tell the kids to play nice, and them to spin it fast with my daughter on until she got nearly thrown out and be told again that THEY wanted to play NOW.
All in all about half of the kids at that playground have strong social behaviour issue, lack of discipline, violent burst, and absolutely no restraints in how they address an adult.
DH and I talked about it, and agreed that it might be a syndrome of the dual income well off middle class nuclear families. Mumbai is a costly city, more and more families are becoming dual income with kids left in the care of a maid that might not really give a damn about discipline, and parents who add to the issue by going on a guilt trip and give in to every demands their children might make. This leads to such brat issue where the kid is used to always come first, always have what they want right away and be prepared to use force and ill behaviour if it isn’t met right away. And notice that I say it’s a well off middle class syndrome in cities, the distinction matters because I doubt that my maid’s kids do behave the way these kiddos at the playground act.
I myself grew up in a dual income household, my mom being a teacher and my dad being a prison officer, they both worked full day when we were in elementary school, we had no maid, so my sister and I had the house key with us, the drill was that school ended at 4pm and my dad was home at 5pm, my mom not long after that as her commuting was longer. But we had rules, no TV before homework are done, then TV until dinner was ready at 6-6.30,, and no TV again after dinner, in Summer we had the right to play outdoor until later than on a school night, rest of the year it was or playground with my mom, or reading books, with a bedtime at 8pm. No amount of trashing, blackmailing, screaming and drama would ensure we would get what we wanted if our parents said no the first time, there was one single menu on the table, it was eat now or go hungry until the next meal, Barbie dolls are special occasion treats, not something you get when you say “I want”. And pretty much as I see it, any discussable violent social behaviour was nipped in the bud with a scolding and a time out, playground time was not a right, it was a privilege for well behaved little girls, throw sand in the eye of another kid for taking your bucket for a minute ensured that the sandbox was gone for the day’s play, no ifs no buts, and the scolding going with the removal was loud enough to dissuade you from trying again.
In just that short 2 months, I noticed Ishita being increasingly wary of the playground she usually loves, downright scared if she sees other kids, and even reluctant to play with other toddler her age in fear something will happen to her, shunning away from a tot’s extended hand. She was previously super social and extrovert…I don’t know about you but I surely find this disturbing enough.
Around exactly a year ago, I went to that beach with my mom and let Ishita have her first beach experience. Back then it was filthy, there was more plastic rubbish in the sand than there was seashells and the water was nasty shade of brown.
Now that we are back in Mumbai and living closer to Juhu beach than we used to last year, we decided to go there on Saturday morning for a stroll and then some coffee.
The verdict: Juhu Beach is still dirtier than Aksa Beach in Malad, but far cleaner than the Juhu beach I visited last year, when we arrived at 9am the clean up truck was there collecting a huge amount of plastic plates and cups left from the previous night’s visitors, since despite having a big chaat corner there is very few dustbins, the amount of garbage they were collecting was impressive and disgusting but at least it was getting cleared. The time I went with my mom last year we went around 5pm, the collecting truck and garbage collector were there, but they were extremely selective in what they picked up : Glass bottles, plastic bottles and coconut shells were trash, plastic plates, bags, and food wrapper were left behind to be swallowed by the next high tide…so all I can say is that there is a change in the approach to cleaning the space, a strong positive change.
Another thing noticed this time around that wasn’t there the last time were banners calling for a cleaner greener Mumbai and a clean drive campaign on the beach…again much welcome and a positive change, next step should be big dustbins near the chaat corner area and at regular interval all along the beach.
We were there at high tide, the water was still brown, but I didn’t notice a single plastic bag in the waves, a few bottle caps in the sand among the seashells, some odd bits such as an empty nail polish bottle, and lot of Puja pots and flowers, some probably from the Dussehra puja that took place just two days before our visit. A few half melted Ganesh idols were also getting licked by the waves remains of the Ganesh Festival. And that was about it.
Ishita didn’t enjoy the beach as much as the last time though, she was for some reason scared of the water refused to even dip a foot in it on her own, and screamed when DH tried to lower her to the ground, she was however happy to build sand castle in the comfort of the dryer portion of sand away from the waves.
All in all, Juhu beach 2011 is far cleaner than Juhu beach 2010 so let’s hope for an even nicer cleaner experience in the year to come.
I must be in a home decorating kind of mood these days, so here we go for another post about homes, or rather the bedrooms.
For me the bedroom is the MOST important room of all, it has to reflect my personality, has to be absolutely clutter free, and if possible with the biggest amount of natural light and a nice view. In all our relocations we had some bedrooms qualifying as good bedrooms, great bedrooms and crappy ones. I didn’t have a digital cameras in the earlier days but here are all my desi sleeping quarters detailed.
The first one was in Bangalore, I was renting a room back then, there was an old wooden bed for which I had to buy a cotton mat (futon style) the room was big, all there was was a single bed, a godrej wardrobe and a desk, I was new to India this was a temporary solution, and it was nice not to have to furnish the place, the room had a decently sized window giving on a balcony, I stayed there 3 months, but the room was far bigger than my whole studio apartment in Geneva with far far much natural light coming in, I wouldn’t have minded such a room back in my singleton days in Geneva, the room had potential.
Then we shifted to Mumbai together, lived in a furnished 1BHK that I hated with passion, though the area was really not bad, the fact this flat was craptacular and I was new to India made me hate the city big time. The whole flat was dark, with tiny windows, no sun coming in, shabby tacky furniture, horrible bathroom and a bedroom with a bed taking practically all the space, it was one of these mammoth beds made of wood and laminate you find in cheap furniturewallah shops, and once in the room there was 2 feet between the bed and the wardrobe, 2 feet between the bed and the window, and 5 feet between the head board and the door, because yes they installed the bed in there with the footboard against the wall and the head board facing the door, the mattresses were greasy, lumpy, there was no air coming in this room, it felt rather claustrophobic, we used to pay 8k a months back in the days, we live in the same area right now, a 1BHK of that standard would now go for around 16-20k! That was the worst bedroom I had in my entire life, by far! We stayed there 2 months though.
Then came Chennai, while the bedroom was probably not the best, it was decent, it was the flat in which we owned our first “furniture” namely plastic patio chairs, a plastic coffee table and laminate computer desk, the bedroom was furnished with two thick coir mattresses and we slept on these 2 years before upgrading our sleeping arrangement, the room was big, but a bit dark, I remember we had the TV in there, which was the least ideal situation, if you want to spend your life in bed, that’s exactly what you need to do, and since we didn’t have a dinning table and enjoyed eating in front of the idiot box, it meant food ended up in bed too…ewww , we stayed in this flat 7 months, we loved the flat overall, it was bigger than our Mumbai one and far cheaper, the bedroom was the gloomiest room in the whole place and compared to the Mumbai one it was heaven.
Then we came back to Bangalore, the place was a temporary solution as we were subletting, but the bedroom was bright, with 2 corner windows, the rest of the flat was ok, but that bedroom was really neat. 6 Months later we had to find a new place though, and that is how we ended up in the BEST place ever, the place I still miss today. The whole flat wasn’t big, 600 square feet of carpet area, but we had a huge rooftop terrace right outside our main door, and all rooms were bright and airy, our bedroom ended up looking like this :
I say ended up looking like this because when we first moved in we still had just our plastic chairs and mattresses on the floor, the bed came in 2006 when I got some cash wedding gifts from my family in Switzerland. The window acts as a head board, meaning we always had fresh air right on our face, in this picture it is closed though as it was a rainy day and the downside was that during a rain spell it would soak our pillows if left open, there was a tree outside that window too but not too close as to block the sunlight. The room was small so all we had in there were the bed and the bedside tables. We lived in this flat for 5 years! The longest time ever spent in one place, so by the time we left it we had lots of furniture, and a nice decor going on in there.
And now for the last 3 shifts in the past year shall we? In July 2010 we were kissing our good old home goodbye and embracing the new in Navi Mumbai. Now while the whole area was crappy, the flat looked good (it only looked the part, if you are regular reader you would remember that the place was brand new but already falling apart), the bedroom looked like this:
All things considered and in spite of all the hate I have for Navi Mumbai and the NRI complex, this bedroom was the BEST, huge, bright, and with a nice view, the first place I could get my bookshelves in the bedroom, for the bookworm I am this is big, the windows were tall and there were two big ones, and the view, well it was facing the sea (the Thane creek)…sweet. The only issue was the humidity, what came in from the window stayed in, there was no good ventilation as there was a tiny hallway leading to the bedroom door as this master bedroom looked more like a little suite with the bathroom right after the entry door. If I could have grafted that room on our previous beloved old flat in Bangalore it would have been ideal.
Last February we were back in the Garden city in our biggest flat so far, but the whole place was dark, thanks to ugly salmon pink walls, and the bedroom was a bit gloomy during the day:
square feet wise it was almost as big as the Navi Mumbai one, but for some reason not as easily furnishable so all we had there was the bed and the bedside tables, The flat was in the North-West corner so there wasn’t much light coming in except during late afternoon, the room only really looked cosy at night. I still miss the place, this flat was the one with the best location by far, and the friendliest playground for Ishi.
Last but not least, the place we are living in right now, smaller than our 2 previous living quarter, but bigger than the place we lived in for 5 years and loved, the whole flat has wall to wall and almost up to ceiling sliding windows/door opening on very narrow balconies in every rooms, by far the airiest, brightest rooms we ever had, which considering the highly urban setting is just what you need to not feel claustrophobic, our bedroom looks like this:
Again nothing else but the bed and the bedside table, and DH’s puja shrine on the wall opposite the bed, since that picture was taken we bought new curtains as ours were to narrow and too short to cover the whole window, and this is the first place we actually have an AC which is part of the fixture coming with the flat itself, at least in the master bedroom.
The view isn’t much to look at, it’s a jungle of high rise building ahead of us, but as I said, thanks to the bay windows, it is far less suffocating than it would be otherwise. And of all the rooms, the bedroom is the one I absolutely need not to feel trapped in, otherwise I don’t sleep well at all, I also do not tolerate any mess in there, so just because a bedroom has space in doesn’t mean it is an excuse to cram more stuff in there, no way.
Ishita having turned 2 last July, the time to think about school came, not that I had ladies ask me about whether she was in school or waitlisted in one since she was 18 months of age. As her 2nd birthday approached ladies were telling me I HAD to start looking or else all the good school would be gone, and me to reply that since we were to go to Mumbai I’ll start then.
Now with the move behind us and our being settled, I am just about ready to have Ishi with kiddos her age and out of the home for 2 hours day, but that doesn’t mean just sending her to any school. The one thing I’ve been quite concerned with for the longest time is the school system in India, it’s academically driven, the competition is fierce and simply put I don’t need to have that kind of spirit taught to my daughter at an age she should be playing and socialising. The other factor is that having no car, I need a school that isn’t too far, beside, a toddler shouldn’t spend too much time commuting to school.
Anyway turns out I live in an area that is full of pre-schools, some right smack in our society, so I started looking for info online as most of these are part of chains and franchises and I was pretty clear about what I wanted out of playschool in the first place: play and social skills learning…no amount of boasting academic excellence start up for me thank you very much. 3 of these schools are in my immediate vicinity, one boast Montessori education, and states that kids start math and writing at age 2.5…red flag! The other boast a mix of Montessori and International system but add “Adapted to Indian Standard and culture”. Which pretty much means “Same old techniques but branded toys and an international feel to charge you more money”, that one came advertised to me in the form of a leaflet slipped into the newspaper, full of pictures and detailed curriculum, days start with prayers, kids learn to recite one in particular, there is basic counting and alphabet learning, a few festival but more importantly they seem to brag a lot about their cushioned floor and imported playground indoor toys and that they are the ONLY school in the area being in a commercial building and that they stay near to a clinic in case of emergencies, the “adapted to Indian standard and culture” was my red flag, not that I’m anti-Indian culture, but for a school to feel they have to point the fact, I get only to question whether people from another culture are welcome, the other red flag was the whole prayer thing, call me nut but while I think it’s nice for kids to celebrate Diwali, Navaratri and other cultural event with a religious background, I don’t think making kiddos pray before school is fair and appropriate, and certainly not at age 2.
The last one is apparently an international school, mainly based in India but with some branches in Dubai, following a method essentially based on play, integration and multi-intelligence nurturing, kids are welcome as they are, and get to be well kids, this one raised no red flags in me based on their website, the only apprehension is that since they claim to be an international school the fees could be steep, but since it’s the one my gut feeling told me was the most suitable, I decided to start by visiting that one first and see from there if I would go check the others.
And so yesterday I stopped by the school to just enquire a little more about the place, the principal wasn’t there, but I was put on the phone with her immediately by one of the other teacher who was still there. The lady on the phone told me I was more than welcome to join a class the next morning along with Ishita as they were having a Dandiya to celebrate Navaratri , and she would be happy to talk with me after the school session. So this morning we both headed to school, and Ishita was very very shy at first, refusing to let go of me, clinging to my chest as Velcro but eyeing the premises with a curious eye, we arrived at the time when all the kids were playing with building blocks, and she agreed to have a closer look but still seated on my lap, refusing to leave them, played with some of the blocks from the comfort of my knees despite being warmly invited by the teacher to come on the play mat, then we all sang bye bye to the toy and Ishi timidly waved to them, unsure what to think and another teacher gathered all the kiddos to watch her pull things out of the “magic box” which was full of animal puppets, each of them had a special song, some of the kids knew the songs, some stayed silent, and Ishita started really being fascinated by the whole thing and started singing (in gibberish but singing). Then it was dandiya time. Dandiya for the non initiated is a folk dance from Gujarat that has become a prominent even in the whole Navaratri festival and is heavily celebrated in Mumbai, the dance is done with participant holding two sticks, one in each hand and hit their partner’s sticks while dancing. Done by grown up it is a very elaborate dance, beautiful to watch, for kids that’s just lot’s of fun.
Back to the school dandiya shall we? I forgot to mention that it means dress up for the kids, and most kids in school today had pretty ethnic wear (Ishi was in normal wear though), the teachers handed out dandiya sticks to the kids, some having been made in school by the kids themselves, and some for guests like Ishi who were store bought. By then school had Ishita’s full attention, she was watching all the kids playing with sticks very intently though refused to wander further than a 4ft radius away from me. The music started and she looked at the teachers carefully trying to imitate the way they hit sticks, did venture toward some of the other kids to hit their sticks, and by the end of the hour she was torn between going and have fun all the way and maintaining her shy girl image and stick to mommy. She got to keep the sticks as a gift along with some munchies offered to her at the end of the class, and I got to talk to the principal.
The school organize festivals, special days and field trips almost every week, the teacher/kids ratio is high so that kiddos get attention and proper supervision when out. And it is indeed all play and fun learning, exactly what it should be for a 2+ year old. The fees to my surprise were not as steep as I thought they would be, 21k for a 6 month term, and 5k admission fee. I got to talk to another lady whose daughter attend the school, and she told me pretty much what my gut feeling stated, the other schools around are more about academics, and some are very tiny with too many kids crammed in one room. So much so I might actually enroll Ishi in the one I visited today and give a miss to visiting the others. A school that think singing nursery rhymes, playing with blocks, dancing and having regular field trips and special day, is just what I am looking for in a pre-school, Ishita can start in November, finish the school year in playschool and join the next year in Nursery class in the same school. Fine by me.