Hibernation normally happens in Winter with certain species of the animal kingdom that is, though while living in Switzerland I could totally feel like crawling in bed for the cold months and come out of it with the first sign of spring. I was suffering from SAD (Seasonal affective disorder) which is mainly due to the lack of daylight thanks to much shorter days, a syndrome that affects a fair percentage of the population across Europe even though more common in Northern countries where it’s almost continuously dark around the Winter solstice.
I remember these days, came November and I was starting to feel drained for no reason, by December the holiday madness was what made me go through the motion, came the 26th however I used to be there for nobody, staying home in my jammies with my Christmas food leftovers (sent in plastic boxes home with me by my mom) I would just munch and watch my favourite movies in DVD, read books, and just enjoy doing nothing, absolutely nothing. I was in a profession that fall under the syndicate break between Christmas and New Year, so these were my blissful days of social non-obligations, until December 31st that is, date during which you apparently have no right to stay home and read books, but must mingle with a crowd of at least 4-5 people and cling glasses of bubbly at midnight to salute the next calendar year. Then if I was lucky enough The new year would start in the middle of a week and the syndicate break would extend until the weekend allowing me more time to just laze around and be able to get away with it.
I kid you not when I say my favourite part of the Winter back home was actually just that short little period of time after Christmas, simply because then you have the excuses to just be there for nobody and no social pressure to just play hermit in your home, the only holiday during which if you say “I stayed home and slept for days” is understood and unchallenged by a vast majority (of course you still have bunch of hyperactive that will say “Really? Why didn’t you go skiing?”.
This little introduction to say that the Mumbai Summer is getting to me and I just feel as tired and ready to just laze around until the monsoon with little desire to do anything. I tried doing some Pilates just to say I’m still working out, but considering the only time I have to do it without being turned into an interesting toddler gym is when Ishi is in her 2 hours Summer camp, which comes at 10am after a whole morning of preparing breakfasts, packing lunches and snack for both DH and Ishita and a straightening of the whole apartment. So much so that once I’m done with all this and prepped stuff for lunch I’m just about done with the idea of doing anything physically demanding, it’s movie watching time, reading time, or gaming time. Because the heat has made my creative juice evaporate in steam while the rest of me drips into a puddle, I resist the AC until nap time, I just don’t want to be addicted to it.
I know I’ll crib once it is there, but right now I long for the monsoon, just to feel alive again, watching the rain fall, holding a steaming cup of tea while doing so. I’m a water sign, that’s my element, and as much as I’d like to be rational about it, I can’t I thrive near water, trips to the beach proved it, and as long as it’s not constant, rain does energize me.
Until then I will just slip into “hibernation mode” writing my blog just to keep it going, with mild daily life topics, drink plenty of water and live life in slow motion.
Summer haze on hiatus!
My fellow blogger just wrote a post today that I felt inspired by read it here, she raised the topic of family care in the US. She had a couple of people commenting how cruel we are in the west not taking care of elders and having no family values. This is actually a common stereotype many Indians have about people living in the West, and no they make no distinction of culture and country, the WEST is one big mean entity filled with evil and sexy corrupted girls running in their underwear stealing money from their too soon divorced husband and young people locking their elderly parents away…if that was so simple!
What those Indians going strong on the nasty family values and too individualistic nature of the Western world often fail to understand is that just because it’s culturally different from what you grew up used to doesn’t make it evil, because then boy oh boy I could go on and on about things around here too and fall into the stereotype and bashing game they often submit my fellow westerner.
So let’s talk Western culture for a moment shall we? We’ve been blamed of being individualistic in nature like it was a disease rather than a positive thing, mostly because we live in nuclear families and enjoy the hard earned fruit of our labour instead of supporting elders. First, just because we don’t support elders the way it is done in India doesn’t mean there is no support at all. In Switzerland every working citizen give a chunk of their income into a national pension plan called “AVS”, it’s withdrawn at the source by the employer and paid to the national fund. The money taken to working people serves to pay the pension of those who are retired right now, when the working citizen retire the national pension fund will calculate how many years that person worked and paid the “premium” and pay him that money back, money that will be given by the next generation of working people. The system has one flaw because right now my generation still pays for senior citizens that never contributed to the fund because it’s got introduced a few decades ago. People have less kids nowadays and the unemployment rate is higher, meaning that when my generation retires there will be less people in their youth working to fund us. not that it is the whole point here, the point being that even if we don’t look like we are supporting the elderly we actually do, just because people in India don’t know the depht of the system abroad doesn’t mean we are insensitive cruel individualistic people.
Because if you want to talk nasty individualism, I’ve seen some in India, where people take the law into their own hand to serve them personally and nobody else, decide that for some reason they are entitled to bigger windows in a high rise building they can just alter the outer structure of the building to suits them 9if you don’t believe me go see what the phase 2 of the NRI complex in Navi Mumbai looks like, it’s dreadful), and that because they perceive themselves of higher social status or caste or possibly both they can just push through a crowd, litter and inconvenience everybody else. That my dear is evil individualism, and yes it occurs in India, so much for being better than the West you point your finger at huh? In fact I am willing to bet that those who travelled abroad saw much more civism, and cleanliness and respect for the common good there than here, but we are diverting from the topic of family ties and I don’t want to engage in a West vs India match in matter of individualism.
I remember being in a discussion with my sister in law in Delhi once, about college education and how in Switzerland and yes in US even more than in my home land kids WORK to pay their tuition fees. She commented it was unfair and that parents must bear the full cost. Sure in India this is how it is done, there are child pans, savings and parents having different priorities. That doesn’t make the West cruel. The culture is different, and it starts with the whole school system. India has a school system more focused on learning fact as such by heart and repeating them in the exam, it’s a very result oriented system. The system in many a European country is more focused on HOW the kid reached the result, they want to see how the child thought and figured out the answer, and encourage kids to think outside the box to get to it. No one system is better than the other, in fact if you want a something superior you should blend the western system with the Indian one equally. But that doesn’t change the fact that kids are given independence to think on their own and manage by themselves, and that includes parents making their offspring financially responsible early too. Allowances are usually given at an early age, and what falls under the personal management of the child with said allowance along with it. Generally it starts with a few Swiss francs a week to buy you own trinkets and candies, when you run out of money, parents don’t foot the bill for more candies, so you learn to set your priorities “Do I really need to buy so many candies when they prevent me from buying my favourite comic book?” As kids grow so does the allowance, and so does the responsibilities, that’s when you start realising that no mom and dad will not buy you that 50CHF doll, but that if you manage your money the right way you might be able to get it in 2-3 months, or less if you offer to help do the chores around the house and get an incentive. Now don’t go telling me that it is evil to tell your kids that everything has a price and that one must work for it? It is also perceived that we are all rich in the West, what those uttering these words do not realise is that the cost of life is higher, and we are obligated to pay loads of social insurances straight out of our gross income before it hits our bank account. In the State of Geneva when I was working that was 10% taken at the source, and then there is still 20-30% that goes into income tax (I don’t remember the exact figure, I was a minimal wager so exempted from income tax), you also are compelled to have a private medical insurance, and a civil insurance (covering any accidental damage you might cause to others). Each member in your household has to have their own medical insurance with a separate premium. Once you paid all the bills, there isn’t much left for frivolities. Beside most parents and grandparents open a saving account for their kiddos that cannot be touched until they turn 18, so some of the money is there to pay for college, but it’s never enough, and one need to work…that’s how it works in the West, it’s different, not cruel and insensitive.
Then there is the still hot topic of senior citizens, as already stated, we support them even if is not obvious. And some people in India call us mean monsters for putting our parents in retirement homes. First thing first NOT all senior citizens are in homes, many still live in their own home and function well. And all the senior citizens I know who went to a retirement home did so out of free will. They want to go because they feel they can’t function alone and want to be in the company of peers and not have to worry about cooking meals and have medical personnel on site, have activities planned for them the whole day long and enjoy their golden years to the fullest possible. And they know it would not be fair to ask their kids to work all day to support them and then cook and entertain them in the evening, beside many elders are fully aware that even if you close your eyes really hard you will not make the generation gap go away, in a retirement homes they get to be with people born in the same era, who know what the great depression was like, how WW2 affected them personally, and nobody can blame them or their kids for allowing them to be among like minded peers, just try fitting in a place where you don’t get any sense of belonging, even if you have your kids with you.
When DH was on assignment in Switzerland in 2008 he told me many time how amazing it looked to him to see senior citizens out in the world, going swimming, socialising, going to cafes, joining book clubs, going on bus excursions with people their age, not letting a thing such as a walking cane confine them home.
he was particularly amazed by my maternal Grand mother who is turning 82 this year, who suffered a massive pancreas inflammation in 2005 along with the removal of a cancerous tumour on the kidney, and has mild heart problem and Parkinson, a widow still living on her own, still cooking, doing grocery shopping, meeting her friends at the cafe daily, going for a long walk everyday, going on mini trips with a cousin several times a year, playing cards, scrabble and reading. She never let her age dictate what she could do or not do, and certainly not health issues tell her she was too old. Same with the mother of one of my friend he saw still going for a swim in her pool ever morning and tending to her garden the whole day at 85, this lady lives in her own house next door to her daughter…so much for Westerner not living near their parents huh?
He hasn’t met my other Grand Ma who is also turning 82 this year, and was still skiing in her 60’s until she broke her leg, but she still goes to the municipal pool in the Summer to swim a mile a day, goes on excursions with her friends, tend to her vegetable garden, play cards, go to cafe, do all of her cooking and household chores alone. She has one son in Portugal, one living in the next town and my dad who is right now in New Zealand enjoying his own retirement touring the world on his sailboat, he has been at it since 2007 and it has been his life long dream to do so, he saved his whole life for this one trip, not letting age dictate anything either, granted he got an earl retirement for being in the police corps for 30 years.
To DH it sounded amazing, because in his own family and the India he knew, people start complaining they are old at 60 and use it as an excuse to stay home and do nothing, or limit their trips or to start planning living with a son in another city even if they hate the idea of leaving their city, simply because they are over 60. Never mind they are over 60 and in the pink of health and not a single aliment in sight. In the India he grew up in he was left to think you are old at 60 and need support at all cost, and that you can’t go travelling the world anymore. To him it was an eye opener as to how it is perceived we treat our elders in the west and how it really is. He will tell you that thinking one is old at 60 is now idiotic enough.
So just because we do things in the West, doesn’t mean we are cruel, heartless value less people, each society function differently, and one must adapt to it, so let’s put this stereotype about westerners not caring for their family shall we?
Since I spend lot of time home, this lead to me decorating the house, and organizing things. In Europe that would be spring cleaning, here it’s more of a “Get yourself occupied on a hot day” thing or maybe a pre-monsoon clean up, after all, all that I organize and clean and straighten now makes for less useless crap and clutter that will mold during the downpour (yes the monsoon in Mumbai is nasty enough to cover everything in fungus).
So in an effort to keep on top of my game as Home Manager (a new alternative to the “housewife” or “Stay at home mom” that should be adopted worldwide) I’ve taken inspiration from a lady blogging about everything household related under the name of “The complete guide to imperfect homemaking”. The blog is amazing, and she has a “Home management Binder” that just is the thing I should have had for years, so I made my own.
The lady at imperfect homemaking says that when things look pretty and neat you want to keep things pretty and neat and use them well, so the Binder has to look good.
I found one in Staples that was sturdy cardboard but covered in easily cleanable plastic, because Mumbai is a dusty polluted place and things need to have the ability to be wiped clean easily, funny though that the only binder that wasn’t black or red and screamed boring corporate was mauve, and that I still had little labels in orange when I made wedding gift thak you cards with them bnecause I decided to go on a mauve and orange theme because these were the colour of my lehenga.
There are several sections in my management binder, I went about them in detail on my other blog, won’t do so here. But I will share one nifty little section I made:
Imperfect homemaking has some free printable, and this one of them: the weekly menu and and grocery shopping list.
I found myself too often wondering what to cook for lunch at the last minute before picking up Ishi in school simply because I have been too busy cleaning up, preparing DH’s to go breakfast and packing his lunch as well as changing diapers, feeding Ishi, and well anything household related to really put much thought into it. Inevitably left me with few options since Ishi comes back from school, hungry, and a bit tired ready to nap, low on patience toddler means the food need to be ready fast, so it always ended up being a quick salad and sandwich, or grilled chicken and vegetables, or the uninventive good old pasta with tomato sauce, which are all nice but get as old and boring as dal-sabji-roti. I’m a foodie, I need variety on my plate. Every weekend I shop buying nice veggies and stuff to create fun meals that never materialise because of the lack of planning…enough!
So this week the lunch menu is:
Monday: a potato / tomato / brinjal (eggplant) mix I serve with rice (and I’ll have to blog about that one, because there is a story there)
Tuesday is : Home made pizza which I do using a crappy ready to reheat garlic naan that taste atrocious as a naan but much better than the pizza base they sell in store. I could make my own dough, I sometime do, but I have these naans in my freezer for quick easy pizzas.
I like mine with a base of tomato puree or pizza sauce, loaded with mushrooms and black olives (and I mean LOADED) and just a sprinkle of cheese on top.
Wednesday is stir fried veggies Chinese style with egg noodles, and no it isn’t hakka noodles, but nice flat ribbon noodles.
Thursday is poha, and yes I know it is supposed to be a breakfast thing, but I prefer it for lunch, I use organic brown rice flakes called “red poha” because they are higher in fibre and taste much better too, and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE curry leaves, so a whole bunch goes in mine with a generous amount of coriander leaves as well…a feast for the eye and taste buds. And since my daughter doesn’t like green chillies or even red chilli powder I use paprika instead.
Friday while not written on the planner at the time of the picture will be Prawn satay, because I love prawns and don’t get them often enough because of the cost factor.
Weekend is usually brunch and leftovers for lunch, and sometimes take out in the evening. We chillax then making no plans.
The planning sheet also has a grocery section so that you can write down what you need in preparation of your next weekend grocery shopping trip, you add things as needed during the week and are ready for the next week menu planning by Sunday…I love it.
Another Summer short silly post, you are likely to see a lot of these as I previously said, but then some might be useful to people new to India, so here is a grocery pick post about a new flavour of cookies I found the other day :
Now for the record, Britannia Pure Magic cookies have been there for the longest time, I remember snacking on them in the first 2-3 weeks after I moved to India in 2003, back then they had the vanilla filling which is quite close to Oreo cookies, and the chocolate filling, these two still exist, and if you ask me I’ll tell you that the vanilla filling ones actually taste far better than the ones from Oreo. Recently Britannia launched a third variant in the Pure Magic range: Praline Crème, this one has a chocolate/hazelnut filling, and let me tell you it tastes awesome, you definitely get the woodsy taste of ground hazelnut in them and aren’t sickly sweet, granted though that hazelnut cream might be an acquired taste I just hope this flavour is here to stay.
On cookies in India, you will get some really delish ones, but there is one brand to avoid at all cost: Sunfeast, all their variants and flavour are cheap and have that nasty artificial smell that hits your nostrils before you even dare putting one in your mouth, their fruit cream fillings have some seriously disturbing colours, that makes one wonder if it simply hasn’t been dipped in a tub of the same ink that goes into highlighting markers. Even their non cream cookies crumble and taste odd.
Britannia is ITC’s direct competitor, but where ITC seems to be constantly failing Britannia succeeds, in the early days of expatdom I found comfort in their Butter and Cashew cookies, and their choco nut ones. Another brand that has good ones is Parle, their hide and seek chocolate chip cookies are probably the most well known of their cookie range, back in 2003 they had them only in chocolate flavour, but expanded the range to mint, coffee and orange. Though I haven’t seen the mint ones in a long time, and they were my favourite.
Ishita sadly hasn’t developed a palate for good cookies or “sikki” as she calls them and she seem to not mind the horrid tasting Sunfeast ones that much, and each time I have to store an open pack in our cookie jar they contaminate even my healthy crackers with their stench.
though she loves the vanilla filling of both Oreo and Pure Magi so much that she open them carefully peel the cream filling disk off the chocolate biscuit and eat it discarding the actually cookie part. Not all hope are lost with my little cookie monster, she did get a strong liking for my homemade Christmas cookies last December, I hope this year she’ll help me make them too.
This project has been in my mind since last August when we first moved in into this flat. I had several ideas and colours going through my mind. First I wanted one big painting, but not sure of what, then I thought something that would match the curtains : turquoise and lavender, but it had a feel I didn’t like, when I finally had ideas about the content: flowers or abstract, it had a generic hotel room feel in my mind.
And then my mom sent a dream catcher she bought in Canada via my cousin who visited in November and I pinned it above my bedside table and loved it so I thought maybe I should go for some tribal inspired paintings, I had several ideas coming through my mind, and in the end I decided to go for tribal tattoo inspired paintings, then I picked out water element creatures because the room is blue and white and I love water, so a pair of fish and a sea turtle were my choice, the “sun” is not copied from any tattoo art I found online, it’s my design, I blanked for a 3rd design and when I found sun tribal designs I just had a hard time drawing them symmetrically so I went freestyle and decided to place it in the center to create balance between the two sea inspired ones.
They were quick to paint, but symmetry in the design was a bit tough to achieve, my fishes don’t look as alike and symmetrical as they should have.
I used a minimalistic colour palette because I didn’t want the painting to steal the focal point too much from our huge bay window and the curtains which are the boldest item in the room decor:
Which I realise isn’t making as much of an impact on this picture, the curtains look much more dramatic when they are closed shut.
So yesterday I wrote about decorating your apartment in India, and I pointed out one of the biggest issue one will face here : clutter. In Switzerland apartment building have lockable basement cells allocated to each tenant to store their unused items: suitcases, Christmas decorations, old books, ski gear…so that the inside of the apartment remains fairly clean and organized, and in my family we also had a lockable parking cubicle in our building as well these doubled as storehouse for all other items we used more often but not often enough to keep in the flat.
In India you are going to have to learn to do without that, parking bays in apartment buildings are open so you don’t have a space to store stuff away. Basement cells do not exist either, which means all the stuff you use occasionally need to be crammed into your home. For a lot of people that means buying iron wardrobes commonly referred to as Godrej Almirah, they are functional, lockable, but cost a lot more than they probably used to, and they aren’t always pretty to look at, not to mention that they take space, if your rental property comes with wardrobes already, you won’t have much space left for yours. DH and I never bought a Godrej Almirah, most flats in Bangalore have built in wardrobes, and in Mumbai we always picked out flats that had them.
In our old 600 sq.ft. rooftop apartment we used the top of the wardrobes to store our mess, and our kitchen was big enough and had an overhead concrete shelf close to the ceiling on 3 walls, living a lot of space for all these les frequently used items. In Navi Mumbai our flat had a tiny extra room that was designed as a live in servant room, but like most we used it as a storage room, the problem was it got insanely humid during the monsoon and due to proper ventilation planned in that room things did mold (to show how much care is put into servant’s wellbeing for those who have live ins!)
When we shifted back to Bangalore we agreed a 3BHK was needed so we could have a separate room for our study which also meant extra wardrobes to store all our crap.
The problem arose when we faced a relocation to Mumbai last July, 3BHKs in Mumbai itself are costly, so we were forced to downsize to a 2BHK, and even these are smaller in Mumbai than in Bangalore. Granted the one we live in right now is big by the city standards, it still meant, one wardrobe less to store crap, and we didn’t want to blow money on an eye sore of a Godrej Almirah either.
So we used what we had and came up with this :
Our flat is fortunately well planned enough so that the washing machine area is inside in the narrow hallway, this is the view from my kitchen door, there is a well designed drain and water tap to hook the machine, and some space on the side to put a storage unit, since we didn’t want to blow money out. I thought outside the box a little. In Navi Mumbai we had purchased a ugly looking steel shelf unit to put in the storage room, in Bangalore it migrated in the kitchen to act as a pantry shelf, and in our current place this was the only spot it could fit in, and since DH didn’t get the heart to throw away all of his useless books, we put them in that ugly shelf along with my tool box and other stuff. The problem, is it was even more of an eye sore when loaded, and right smack in front of Ishita’s room, and we didn’t want her to star unloading that shelf every day so we needed to hide the mess.
The 3 BHK we left in Bangalore had 3 bathroom, all with shower curtain rods, so in the common bath we hid the cleaning products and gear as well as the baby pram in the shower behind a colourful curtain. The curtain became useless in the new flat because for the first time ever since I moved to India we have separate wet and dry areas in both bathroom, separated by a glass door, so I used a bit of cloth hanging rope, passed it through the holes of the shower curtain and tied it to the top of the shelf unit, and voila! mess concealed and hallway looking pretty!
The curtains covers only the front of the shelf as you can see:
And we still have some junk on top of the shelf, but the gap on the side is handy to store the laundry detergent on the high shelf and easily accessible when loading the machine while still being out of reach of Ishita. I have plans to do something more functional by asking a carpenter to fit shelves above the washing machine, and Dh swears he’ll get rid of the books one day, so maybe we will end up gaining space in these shelves at one point, the pram and baby gear fit on top of one of the bedroom wardrobe and the other wardrobe has all of our suitcases. The point is we found a cheap innovative way to hide our crap away in our new significantly smaller apartment and it even looks pretty enough, the steel shelf did cost us 3k and is one of these utility shelf that can bear enough weight and is versatile enough to be used in various rooms, should we have gotten a Godrej Almirah we would have had to shell much more money and it would not have been practical in our Bangalore 3 BHK flat anyway, this one did the trick look how functional it was as a pantry shelf:
Useless disclaimer: You might see a few more decoration post, the Summer has hit, the humidity is peaking and I just refuse to leave the comfort of my home for more than absolute necessary trips in the open air, meaning I won’t have much to say about the Indian outdoor until it cools down a little. Ishi’s school ends this Friday, I don’t get to hang out with the other moms at the playground after school due to the heat and my social activities with other stay at home moms will start again in June. Ishi will be in Sumer Camp until May end though because I still need to get my quiet time and she still needs to be with other kids her age without frying in the sun.
June will see my first hosting of a kitty party, Ishi entering Nursery class, and my Birthday, then the first week of July we will travel to Lucknow for Ishita’s birthday, so with the rain things will look a bit more alive.
I’m an interior decorator, and even if I’m no longer working the field and building sofas, hanging curtains, laying rugs and giving tips to customers, this is still pretty much part of who I am.
And decorating and furnishing a home in India is much different than in the West. First the concept of decoration and style in the home is a very new concept in India, space management included. Then due to climate constraints you can’t do the same in a urban Indian apartment as you would do in a urban Swiss one, this simply wont work.
Until recently living in a family house was quite common, the home was functional, generally had a big drawing room and tinier rooms and that meant enough space to put heavier dark furniture in the living room where they would stand out and make the appropriate impact. My in-law’s house is one of these, the drawing room is so huge that they partitioned it with a curtain with one side being the storage area hidden from the guests, and the other being the living room with one big wooden sofa and 4 armchairs, made of sculpted wood and padded cushions to sit on and there is still enough space for a high divan coffee table, corner tables and a TV stand.
Try to fit all that in a modern apartment building or an independent house that had be designed for rental and you will suffocate, if you even manage to cram it all in the first place.
In a city like Mumbai don’t even try, most decently sized apartments rarely exceed 1000 sq. ft. of carpet area with 700-800 being the average, older buildings have also an awful more wasted space in the form of long narrow hallways and crazy corners that more modern buildings managed to eliminate.
This new type of living needs a new type of furnishing, and sadly the market hasn’t completely caught up with it, at least not in the affordable prices range of home furnishing.
To live in such quarters, you need to have a more western approach to what goes into a home, heavily carved furniture while looking stunning in a big family home, will dwarf a room in your average apartment and keep your eye from noticing the space around you. If you still want a desi feel to your home, look for smaller furniture and floor sitting solutions such as ottomans, you can still find wooden frame sofas that will not impose themselves in your space, look for less carving, and neutral fabric on the seat’s cushions.
If you want to go for a more modern approach, keep it simple and functional, and that is where it might end up being tricky, big store brands such as Home Stop, Home Centre and @Home have things that could work for compact urban living quarters, but they also come with a higher price tag and the quality isn’t always up to par either, though there is a way around it, should you know a good carpenter, browse online, get your inspiration from websites, ask relatives to bring you a IKEA catalogue from abroad, or if you are good at designing furniture draw your own and ask your carpenter to do it custom made for you, it won’t be dirt cheap, but it will cheaper than a big store model, and will in all like hood be of much better quality.
The guidelines with furniture in India be it desi style or international, go for good material, a hardwood piece of furniture will last you far more longer than the cheap laminates I’ve seen around here (which by the way aren’t even cheap).
I’ve made the mistake to buy laminates, they last you 3-4 years and then they loose shape, chip and look tacky in your space, especially if you bought them from a road side independent dealer, the biggest mistake we made was this one:
These are two bookshelves that we bought with wedding gift money in 2006, 3500 a piece in a store in Infantry road in Bangalore, this picture was taken in 2009 3 years later, and while you can’t see it here, some of the laminate went off, one or two of the cabinet doors lost their plastic handle and the shelves started tilting, and we didn’t even use them at their full capacity storage, 7k well wasted, these shelves never made it out to another flat, one got trashed in 2009 shortly after this picture was taken, and the other got donated to our made when we relocated to Navi Mumbai in 2010.
The small desk where the laptop is was bought in Chennai in 2004, our dog chewed it, the laminate started chipping a year after we purchased it, the ergonomic sucked, and the weight of the computer made the wheel mounted at the bottom break, I don’t remember how much we paid for that thing, we had a limited budget back then, so it was cheap, but in the long run still too costly. The corner desk is the only laminate piece that we kept until our recent move as there was no space for it in our new place in Mumbai so I sold it to a friend, but that is the sturdiest, bought in Home Stop during the sales for 5k if I remember correctly.
We knew a good carpenter in Bangalore so I designed my own furniture and asked them to be made of rubber wood with a dark taint finish:
I had a drawer unit made to store baby clothes and diapers, and what I drew is exactly what I got, the drawer unit is now in my living room and hold my craft supplies, after 3 moves it sadly got damaged a little, but nothing that a carpenter can’t fix, the price of that drawer unit was 14k if I remember correctly all hard wood in visible areas and the bottom of the drawers and the back is made of plywood to cut cost a little, we never saw any similar units at less than 19k in stores across town, design, size and quality taken into account, so we saved 5k and 3 years later it is still in good condition minus that crack in one of the drawer panel curtesy of careless packers and movers.
The desk next to it is also my design, DH needed a laptop/reading desk as he was working from home and the corner unit had our desktop PC on it, this was again rubber wood and plywood and did cost 4k, we still use that desk, it is still in mint condition, and we have no plan of getting rid of it anytime soon.
My crappy shelves got replace by this in 2009, though this is the picture of where they are right now in our current flat in 2011:
The bookshelf is on the right, the cabinet on the left is yet another really crappy laminate thing we bought because our old Bangalore apartment had not much storage units in the kitchen and we didn’t want to invest a lot of money into a pantry cabinet we weren’t sure would be needed should we move, this cabinet ended up in the storage room in Navi Mumbai sucking humidity during the monsoon which made the laminate bubble, the packers and movers broke a glass door and if you go on my craft blog you’ll see I gave it a makeover. But back to my designed bookshelf, I wanted basic, minimalistic and functional for it, so that it could fit anywhere. If you browse this blog home decorating labels you might see it went into various rooms over the moves, the price for it was 9k if I remember correctly, keep in mind my crappy laminate ones cost me 7k so not that much more for something made of rubber wood, this one hasn’t chipped, or lost shape since 2009, my daughter even climbed it a couple of time without deforming the shelves which are glued and nailed into the frame. Again a piece of furniture we plan using for years as it is versatile enough to go anywhere.
And then there is the once upon a time DVD wall mounted unit I designed for our living room that now stays in Ishita’s room to hold her toy and books:
We just mounted it lower on the wall so she can reach the shelves, slid the two guest mattresses under it so that it makes a reading corner (when the room is tidy which isn’t often), 4k spent in 2007 and still standing, the only damage is a big dent courtesy of the packers and movers, by daughter used it as a ladder too and it’s still standing.
All this to say that YES minimalistic western style design is possible at more decent prices, we of course have store bought things too, and yes they were pricey but DH knows that when it comes to spotting good quality, I’m good, so since we now have a budget that can allow us to buy quality, we do it. We will never go for laminated MDF board furniture again, we know they don’t cut it.
So yes in short regardless of the style you want to go to, invest in solid wood, and keep proportions in mind.
A smaller space also calls for more hidden storage space and definitely less clutter. A thing I’ve seen is an issue in many an India household, not in the form of decorative items but in the form of lots of boxes of old stuff people find hard to let go of, even in my in-law’s place that is big there is a lot of things that are never used and never will be that are crammed into the wardrobes taking valuable space.
And contrary to homes in Europe, there is no basement in houses, and no basement storage cells in apartment building for people to keep their empty suitcases away when not needed so you need to get inventive there. Since we can’t get rid of the suitcases, they are on top of our wardrobe in the bedroom, but because we are no different than other people, we have our lot of almost never used things too, so when we aren’t traveling, they stay inside the suitcases for storage until one day we will have enough of lugging the dead weight back up the wardrobe after each trip and will get rid of them.
And while we are at the topic of clutter, the European houses I know all have a lot of trinkets and sculptures and figurines on the shelves that I haven’t seen in that much abundance in India, the reason being that here they are a pain in the butt to keep clean. India is a dusty place, I dust in a day what I would dust away in a week in Switzerland, that’s how polluted and dirty cities are around here, so unless you trust your maid to do a good job or you don’t mind spending an hour daily to get your crystal figurines and glitzy photo frames dust free, just don’t have more than one or two accent pieces around.
For us the problem is solved as with a dog and a toddler we just can’t have too man of these things around, the never last long enough anyway.
Better to decorate the space with bright cushions and curtains that don’t cost a fortune and can be tossed in the washing machine when icky
This is a long post, I’ll stop there, more pictures of how to make a space look nice in the future, not that there is a shortage of pictures already posted on my blog in this department anyway.
Tiffin! One of these words that couldn’t scream India any louder. To all the non initiated this is the name commonly given to a packed meal nowadays, and a little digging had me found out this was actually a British word derived from an old slang word to describe the light meal eaten at tea time. The British left India but the word remained behind, and is said to describe any light meal, though frankly in 8.5 years in India I never heard the name in that context at all, see the tiffin describe a packed meal of any size that one take to work or school or on a trip, and more commonly refers to the box in which the meal is carried, which wasn’t what the original British slang was about but how the word has evolved nonetheless. In fact I am willing the original use of the word has died in UK as well and has therefore become an Indian term.
As a Swiss the notion of having a lunch packed to go to work is pretty foreign to me, of course I heard it from friends in the US where it is done, but in Switzerland until recently, people went home to have their lunch, courtesy of the housewife making sure kiddos and husband had a sit down meal in the comfort of their home before heading back to work. The French term for the lunch box is “Gamelle” or “Cantine” and is a typical blue collar term, no one eats out of that thing if they can afford it, and the only time a housewife will actually break out the Tupperware boxes will be to go to a Summer family picnic, or at least it was so in my childhood, because economy oblige, very few are those who can have a family on just one income in my homeland, and with two parents working, nobody really want to cook a meal during their lunch break, so kiddos eat in the lunch meal program in some school, and older kids or get lunch money to buy the plate of the day in the cafeteria or bring their own lunch in a plastic box, which due to the lack of cultural tradition hasn’t been nicknamed to anything cute, no one will use the two blue collar word to refer to their packed meal though, because they are looked as degrading and pejorative. And truth be told, we pack a lunch only in the hot days where a salad or a sandwich is substantial enough, in Winter, we break the bank to get something warm tossed on a plate in the canteen or a local cafe if we can’t go home for lunch.
In India, the distances are often too big to allow one to get home for lunch, not to mention the lunch break significantly shorter, so much so that packing a lunch is no big deal. Your most common tiffin box is likely to look like this:
3-4 stainless steel containers that are stackable and held by a clamp together, the cheapest consist of just the steel container, the most sophisticated one have an insulated outer box to slide the containers in as it is the case with one of ours, this way it keeps the meal warm-ish between the morning packing time and the lunch time, ours has a small plastic container to put on top to keep the chapatti in. DH used this one for years, but recently started complaining it was leaking, smelling and half of the time the food tasted funny by the time he opened it so we upgraded for this one:
Tupperware had to have tiffin solutions in this country, and DH keeps raving about it, it’s leak proof, smell proof, and because they are plastic containers I don’t need to heat the food to put it in, he can microwave it in office, which we suspect contribute to keep the food fresh longer. Gone the complaints of funny smelling food and dal spillage, beside DH says the little carry bag looks really smart too…his words!
And if you have kids chances are you have some of these around:
The kid’s tiffin is smaller, and rarely contain a full meal as kids have lunch after coming back from school, so these typically contain a snack, which by western standard would be called a lunch, but as I came to know over the years Indians don’t think a Sandwich or a salad is substantial enough to qualify as a lunch.
Ishita being Dora crazy, I got her that one first, to ease her transition into playschool, never mind that she is in school for just 2 hours a day, they do enforce snack time to teach kids table manners, and a tiffin must be sent along with the kiddo daily. On most day I put cut fruits and sandwiches in hers, they tried enforcing a set menu, but for some reason they stopped. The Dora box is great for dry snacks and sandwiches, but leaks if anything remotely wet is put in, so we bought another smaller pink one for that when the set menu was asking us to put idli and sambar in the box.
Now with the Summer break having started for some schools, stores across the country have started selling the back to school stuff to spoil the fun, and by June every shops and supermarkets will have a huge selection of kid’s tiffin for sale, generic ones for those not brand conscious which isn’t the majority, and Dora, Ben 10, Spiderman, Lightning Mc Queen, Hannah Montana and the Disney princesses for those who are, along with the matching water bottle (called sipper).
As a parent the easiest task being to find a box your kid will like, but the toughest remain: what to put in said box that will still look appetizing at snack time, that your kid will like and that will not be considered offensive to the school as many enforce a strictly veg rule, meaning no meat sandwich and nothing containing eggs, in order to make sure no kiddos belonging to a strict diet family accidentally take a bite of something religiously offensive such as a home made muffin made with egg in the batter.
Just today a friend of mine shared an article she read in the Pune Mirror, which you can read here.
These are the result of nation wide survey conducted in school to poll students on attitude and values. And I’ll have to agree with the author of that article, if these are representative of the mind set of the future citizens of this country, India is in for a big mess, far from my goal of having my daughter being able to truly mean “Proud to be Indian” when she says it.
Here are some of the scary results that came out of it:
43% of the students polled think educating a girl is a waste of time and resource!
30% Say they want the last word in an argument
80% say different abled people are a burden
60% say they are unwilling to accept immigrants from other STATES (no we aren’t even talking about other countries, just other freaking Indian states here)
And equally disturbing in this article is the paragraph about civic sense which I’ll copy paste for you here:
“ Poor civic sense
Students in Std IV seem to have a stronger sense of civic responsibility than students of Std VIII with regard to disposal of garbage. Older students seem to have less personal responsibility and repeat undesirable practices if they see everybody doing it, or if the desirable deed involves more work.
A large majority (67 per cent) of students think that it is okay not to consider others’ convenience if done once in a while, if others do not complain or if one is clear that laws are not being broken.
About 45 per cent of students in Stds IV to VIII generally show an extremely positive attitude of trust towards the police and believe that police will try their best to help people. Nearly 20 per cent of students think that it is okay to bend traffic rules in an emergency. “
Yup it seems that people don’t see why they should stop littering unless their neighbour does it first, the good old blame game at play once more. One of the excuse I heard the most often in this country regarding to all the above is that India is a country that is largely uneducated and that it is the problem. Well judging by these result, clearly you can’t blame it on the lack of education, as these kids were polled in schools and are therefore educated and in all likehood come from educated families as well. these kids didn’t come with these prejudices on their own, and I sure hope it’s not the school teachers that perpetuate them. My guess is that parents are the one responsible, kids imitate behaviours they see around them, and as I said in that same “making India proud” blog post, the first duty of any parent is to raise responsible children that will turn into responsible caring independent adults which can affect changes. If it isn’t done nobody is to be blamed but the parents unlike what this lady quoted in the article said:
► Parents cannot be blamed for everything going wrong in society. It is the friends’ circle and those are who committing violence who are disturbing children
- Anju Hiranwar, parent to a Class IV boy
If I go by what this lady said that means that once again the blame is on all the others. Well sorry ma’am but when I grew up and did something my parents found objectionable they would punish me accordingly, and if I questioned said authority using a line such as “But so and so does it” clearly using a “put-the-blame-on-something-“ trick here is what my parents would say “If so and so asked you to join them in jumping from the 7th floor of a building would you do it?”. That always put things back into perspective, and taught me very early on that just because some people do things doesn’t mean they are ok. So my answer is YES parents are to be blamed for these alarming survey results, they are the authority figure in a child’s life and guess what raising a child is a big responsibility, so start doing it right, because if your kiddo think girls shall remain uneducated no matter where they got the idea, it is your job to correct it, and if you don’t that means you agree the others are right and that girls are a burden, which makes you a sick person! Ditto for religious intolerance, poor garbage disposal, and all other ills going in this country.
No ifs no buts.
Life is blissfully uneventful, the Summer haze has got to me and probably made my muse drowsy as well. yet I refuse to just let the blog without regular update, and since I have no hot topic to write about, no crazy events to report, I decided to take inspiration from a friend of mine who posted picture of her pantry cabinets and just show you what lies in a pantry of an expat married to an Indian living in India, I would have done my fridge as well, but it’s not as photogenic as my cabinets just now…one day maybe.
So here we go:
The lower shelf contains all things dal and a few essential, we have all kind of lentils, yet DH swears only by toor dal, my maid keeps asking if he isn’t bored of it though, in summer I find Indian food way too heavy for my tummy so I don’t eat much of it, but in winter I do ask her to cook other types of dal, DH be damned because I agree with her, toor dal is boring, she makes a mean black eyed pea dish. Of course I know how to cook myself, but it makes no sense to cook dal for just one person when there is already a box filled with another kind.
The spray lite cooking spray is my latest find, it makes cooking French toasts, omelettes and sunny side ups with far less fat content. And since discovering red organic poha flakes last year, that’s the only one I go for, no more white starchy poha flakes for me thank you very much, I still prefer my own poha recipe over my maid’s one, so I cook that one myself, I love mine with TONS of curry leaves, and cashew nuts instead of peanuts, and once the dish is ready I top it with a generous amount of coriander leaves so that mine looks fresh and green.
Now for a better view of my top shelf:
A few more jars of pulses, vermicelli and some maida, I also keep the ghee up there because I don’t want the maid to be tempted and add it to everything, Maggi noodles because no Indian household is complete without a pack around, Italian pasta, Asian rice vermicelli, lasagna sheets, two packs of instant soups for these light dinners, complan because DH grew up on it, Nutella because that’s a taste from my childhood, peanut butter because having the same stuff on your bread all the time is boring. A can of tuna fish because it goes well in a sandwich or in a salad in these hot Summer days, and Kinder Joy because my daughter picked it up, my stash of dried Shiitake mushroom is shrinking, and I guess I’ll have to wait next winter to get more because it seems to be a seasonal thing in our local supermarket.
Interesting fact about the Nescafe jar, DH bought it in South Africa when he was staying there for 3 weeks, and brought it back, that was in 2009 and we still have some left, I don’t drink coffee, Dh does occasionally and swears it still tastes fine. I say under no circumstance does Nescafe ever taste remotely good…oh well.
Let’s move to my countertop spice rack, fashioned out of Styrofoam blocks I might add:
has all the basics for Indian cooking and continental cooking, Including my olive oil and two type of vinegars for my salads, I keep saying I should get something better to arrange all my spices and herbs, this is a work in progress.
A lot of spices are in pantry cabinet number 2 :
More spices and herbs on the bottom shelves, and cashew nuts and almonds which is a particular favourite in our household. The ready to fry namkeen stuff never get’s fried in our home, we microwave a handful at a time for 1 minutes and we have a oil less air pooped snack ready.
The top shelf in that cabinet is quite boring and messy:
Oats which we eat often, medicines (including the brandy bottle) my stash of yeast from Switzerland, and a jar full of cornflakes I now think I should throw away because we never eat these unless DH has a cornflakes phase, which hasn’t happened since last June.
I have other bigger pantry cabinets full of my bigger stock of non perishable, but I always transfer small amount of said food to the cabinets mentioned above, so their content is irrelevant, two giant steel canister contain my rice and atta in one of these below counter shelves.
As I said an uninspired blog entry, now you know what is in my pantry, if you were curious about it anyway.