I was planning to write this yesterday, but I had a tiresome Wednesday so instead of packing yesterday’s precious 2 hours of me time with a blog entry I decided to apply one of my relocating tip : take time to relax. So I put my feet up made myself a nice cup of tea and watched a movie instead.
My relocating tips are the ones you apply after you found a place and are gearing up to pack and move, for us this phase always left us about 3-4 weeks between the day we knew we would shift to a certain place and the day packers and movers would come to pack our stuff. Now this time our move will be one without packers and movers, a way I am used to, because as told previously, if you relocate within the same city you enlist the help of friends for as much as you can and even in the case of an intercity or interstate move the moving company dumps box in your flat a couple of weeks in advance to let you do the packing. Anyway, in India should you move around the corner without packers and movers or at the other end of the country with their help there are always things that you need to plan. My tips below apply to moving within India first and foremost.
1) If you got the chance to see the flat you are going to move in beforehand, ask for a second visit if possible, take your measuring tape along with you and start visualising what goes where. That way you have the few coming weeks to prepare yourself, and by the time the packers and movers come in into the new place with your stuff, you can direct them immediately on where to put what.
I did one totally blind move over the years, the one that took me in the flat we currently live in and are about to leave. That was the hardest, I had 5 minutes to inspect the empty place before the first boxes and furniture arrived, in the end it went well, but I found myself frantically figuring out where I wanted my shelves and how my bed should face while directing other movers to other rooms with some boxes. The other nearly blind move was the Navi Mumbai, but I had a full day living in the empty new flat before they arrived, so it was till fine.
2) MAKE LISTS, as early as possible, make them in a notebook, and put everything move related as soon as it crosses your mind, it might seem silly, but if something such as “wash the curtains before leaving” strike your mind 3 weeks before the move, just note it down, the last few days leading to the move are hectic, and both physically and emotionally draining, and you would not believe how many times I was glad I wrote silly stuff a month before because they just slipped out of my mind as the time got near. And there is nothing more upsetting than unpacking something dirty in your new home when all you want at that point is to be done with it all and relax in your new surrounding.
I usually make 3 or 4 lists : “Things to organize”, “Before leaving this flat”, “In the new flat” and “Shopping list”, sometimes shopping goes in the “new flat list”.
The other reason why I make lists are that it allows me to clear my mind, even if yes I KNOW I’ll have to call the carpenter to put my shelves on the wall in the new place, the fact I write it down means I can stop worrying about it or mulling it over and over. It’s all there on my to do list so it’s fine.
3) If you are moving across the country and will get to spend time in the empty flat on arrival for a day before the movers come like it has been the case many times for us. Measure all your big furniture BEFORE they come and pack your stuff and keep a record of the measure in your relocation notebook (war plan as I call it). That way you can take your time on the first day to measure things in the new home and figure out if whatever vision you had will work or if you need to figure out a plan B. Again this may sound silly, but trust me from experience (and sadly we have far too much in the relocation department) the more you plan in advance the better, moving IS stressful, there are moments you will want to scream and kick, or collapse on the ground wanting it to be over with, so the more you can organize before finding yourself in the mayhem will ensure you’ll get through less battered.
4) I mentioned a shopping list, this may sound again stupid, but again, if you know you’ll need certain stuff in the new place like shower curtains, storage boxes, new buckets and mugs, chances are you can buy these before moving, and spare you some shopping trips, or the hassle to figure out where you can get these stuff if you are shifting to another city you know nothing about.
things that are always useful to have as soon as you are in your new quarters: cleaning supplies, clothes drying lines, clothes hanging clips, mops, plastic mugs and a broom. Or put it on a list separately and place an order with your local general store as soon as you arrive to have them delivered to you so you can clean up before the packers and movers come, or buy everything before hand and pack it yourself in a box labelled CLEANING SUPPLIES in bold. The last thing you want is to have to empty 5-6 huge boxes of kitchen supplies wondering where the hell they packed your stuff to finally find out they decided to throw them in a bathroom box.
5) Unless you have friends or relatives you can live in for a few days while in transit, prepare yourself for urban camping, we did it 3 times already, the air mattress we bought at a trekking and camping supplies store was the best investment, first we used them quite a bit in just that one year we moved 3 times while in transit, but they also come in super handy when you have more guests than you have beds in your house, and take far less space than even thin cotton mats you find in most stores in India. Pack a hot plate with the stuff that will travel with you, you’ll need it would it be just to make your cup of tea in the morning, and let’s not forget Maggi noodles which just about comes in handy in such time. The first two urban camping experience we packed real tea mugs, the first time we forgot plates and cutlery, had to buy them in plastic and paper, the second time we packed the plates with us as well, but they are heavy and take space and could potentially break in your suitcase, the last move we decided to go the paper cup and plastic plate route. We had 3 days in our empty Bangalore flat before leaving for Mumbai and we ate out a lot, but it still came in handy.
6) Start de-cluttering as soon as you know you’ll be on the move, even before the new flat is found if you can, the more time you have the better because that mean you can just tackle one area after the other on the span of several day. It’s amazing the amount of crap one can collect in a short amount of time, there hasn’t been one move so far during which we haven’t jettisoned some dead weight. This one will be no different, this is the perfect occasion to donate old never worn anymore clothes, throw away plastic containers you don’t have use for, and sort out your important papers,you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll find yourself getting rid of. And it’s all crap you won’t have to figure out where to store in the new place too.
7) I always end up writing things like “pay the milk man and newspaper guy” on my lists, let them know a day or two in advance that you’ll be leaving so that they can prepare your bill. That’s one of these small thing that if not written on the list I am sure to forget at the last minute, and it’s not fair to them to suddenly come one day to find you gone and a few weeks of milk or newspaper they’ll never get paid for.
8) Write down important phone numbers in your war plan as well, I always have a list of take out joints in there, as moving day and urban camping looms upon us you can bet we are in for easy food source. I also write down the various delivery service number’s we use to cancel them, because the last thing you want is frantically wonder where you put their business card at the last minute. I also kept the Tata sky number, the Eureka Forbes one and any of the known service at destination so I would not need to try to find them online, the fastest I have my Aquaguard set up the better.
9) If you really care about something…pack it yourself! Packers and Movers aren’t all careful with your belongings, and it’s better to wrap certain things in boxes yourself before they come. For us there was also the issue of books, we have books that we want in the shelves, and some DH want to hang on to but we don’t need to have displayed, the problem is that packers and movers can;t possibly know that, and they will just fill book boxes with book and mixing it all up, if you pack your “storage book” as such in boxes on your own and label them so, you will not have to sort out through heaps of books on arrival, the box labelled “storage” goes in storage, the one with books will go in the book shelves. We made the rookie mistake when we shifted to Navi Mumbai, we then had hours of sorting them out we could have spared ourselves, since they also found a pile of old magazines we wanted to throw away (but forgot to put it on the list) and threw them in with all the books, no fun figuring what was to be trash, what is storage and what is nice book when you are dead beat, want a shower, a clean home and food in our tummy.
10) Keep basic tools with you…at all time! Screw drivers, Allen keys, these are things you will need to fix certain things, the one you aren't;t taking in your suitcase, pack them in a box where you’ll find them fast and not at the last moment (along with the cleaning supplies works well). We have a Swiss army knife that has a interchangeable screw driver heads tool, that thing is by far the best thing we ever had, it has all the tools a Swiss army knife has and yes it comes in super handy during a move, and the screw driver thing is just added sheer genius, and it takes no space at all in the luggage.
11) If you are relocating across the country, pack you personal transit belonging in a suitcase the night before the movers come, keep the suitcase shut with everything you will need for 2-3 or more days in transit in there including important papers and valuables such as jewellery. Put all the stuff that will travel with you in one corner of one room, and give the packers and movers the express instruction not to pack these, keep checking during the day that they are following said instruction. And when I said keep everything you need for you own trip shut I mean it, during our Bangalore to Navi Mumbai move I di leave my towel on the top of the suitcase after my morning shower, DH left his jeans, by the evening I had no towel for my evening much needed shower and DH had no clean jeans to wear the next day to head to the airport, they packed everything that was not in our bags. And while we are on the topic, put all keys and AC remotes that belong to your landlord in your purse before they come too, and write on your list that you should hand them over to the owner of your premises while checking out. What good would that be to have an AC remote from your Mumbai flat you no longer live in and find out about it in Bangalore simply because you forgot about it and the packers and movers packed it? Sure the owner can replace it, but it’s a question of principle, there are enough lousy awful uncaring tenants that do things on purpose, don’t make the statistics grow and give a reason to your previous owner to be wary of tenants. It takes 5 seconds to write it down as early as you can on your list, 5 seconds to remember to keep these away on D-day and another 5 seconds to read your list and hand them over to your landlord when you leave.
12) Last but not least, and probably the most important tip: TAKE TIME TO RELAX…everyday. Each time you feel overwhelmed or ready to blow up, stop what you are doing, even if it is not move related, and just do something fun: watch TV, go for a walk, go shopping, go for a hair cut, pedicure…whatever rocks your boat…just DO IT. I’m not kidding when I said moving is stressful, don;t try to be a hero, nobody is going to give you any prize for stoically going through your stuff and hours of planning. Beside wonder woman and superman are fictional characters, they do not exist and you should not even think you can do it all. because here is a breaking new: nobody can do it all. You can’t plan a move be a good wife/husband, mother/father, domestic goddess, corporate worker, and handyman at the same time…so give yourself a break. The world is not going to end if you don’t clean the whole place up in a day, you aren’t committing an inhumane crime serving leftovers or calling freezer food a meal, or for just not wanting to cook at all and ordering take out…in fact as part of the “RELAX” bit, just do it, make take out a friend on a bad day.
As announced earlier today on my Facebook page, the flat I was mentioning in my previous entry is ours. The measures of the door frame indicated we can slide the fridge through, even without removing the handles, the dog is allowed and they will remove the two beds we don’t need.
Now we already told our maid the good new since the flat is a 5-10 minutes walk up the hill from our place and she already told me that we have to let her know in advance when the big move day will take place so she can book her whole day off to help us. I have myself started making lists of all the things we need to organize, plan, do and buy for that move and my “external hard drive” is back in business.
This morning my maid was in a discussion with DH about boxes and stuff and he told her that boxes will not be necessary, we have enough bags and basket around to stuff things into, beside since it’s a highly local move we don’t need packers and movers, just deal with the idea of making a few back and forth trips with our car. Turns out our maid might be even more of an organization freak that me (if that was even possible) so she flooded my poor husband with planning ideas, and such which for most conflicted with my war plan, her thing is that we should pack and unpack the kitchen last so that she can cook…GASP hell no!
First the new flat has no piped gas, so we need to take a connection for a cylinder, to do that we need to have the registration paper for the new place, which will come close to the move, and subsidized gas companies take weeks to process things, so we are fully aware that we will have no cooking gas for a while and we know the drill. Then the kitchen has a huge hole in the counter, the owner might have had a cooking range, so we need to buy a small table to wedge in that spot to place our counter top stove on top, that will probably be a last minute thing too as we need the key in hand to go measure the spot and buy something and have it delivered there. And last but not least from our sadly way to extensive knowledge on the packing and moving topic, we know that we will not care about eating home cooked food in plates on D-day, experience had it that we are far happier and more relaxed outsourcing the food issue to a restaurant doing take out, beside if the maid cooks she is in the way of storing things in the kitchen anyway, not a good idea to do any food preparation until the flat is more or less settled. But yes to her this is an alien notion and I can get it.
The other sad but true fact learned from earning our veteran badges in relocating is that of all the rooms the Kitchen is the messiest to pack and settle, so the earliest we can get it done the better, and this time the short distance is all working in our advantage, we can even if we get the keys a few days before “Massive D-day” get a few bags of things bring them up the hill, store them away quietly in a still clutter free place and be done with it, beside no one really need the entire content of their kitchen until the last minute, all we might at the most need until the last minute is the hot plate, the electric tea kettle and tea mugs, so that both DH and I can have our own version of what we call tea/chai. I could not care less about cooking dal and sabzi while in the boxes, all sweaty and tired, leave alone eat it, so all my pantry food can safely go away early, beside even on a short distance move it matter far more to eat all the content of the freezer before the move and leave as little in the way of fridge perishables as possible, so chances are the fridge will be bare by D-day and running to the market to buy food will definitely not be on our agenda the evening of the great shift anyway…having a nice shower to clear the sweat and dust away followed by a collapsing on the sofa on the other hand will rank very high on the priority list that evening.
As sweet as my maid is, I think I’ll have to don my household minister and general hat and set boundaries. DH is blissfully clueless about the planning phase since he didn’t have to deal with it at all in the past move alone and I gave him a short summary of it in all the previous moves understanding that as a SAHM and Housewife the management of the house is my full time job and he as a typical office going man could not be bothered about the necessity of making lists that include : buy mobs, keep all important papers in one place, and buy some storage racks and adhesive hooks for the kitchen, especially when they go on the list 3 weeks before the actual move. From my experience these small things don’t weight much in the boxes, and you are always super glad to have them beforehand because there is nothing more annoying than have half your house cluttered with knick knack that could have been stored immediately if you had been prepared with the right tools.
This time around I also clearly have an edge over DH in expertise, see we mostly did long distance relocations, only one was within the same city back in 2005 but it was across town and we had no car so we had to hire a packers and movers company to relocate 3 box of stuff and 4 plastic chairs (oh those where the days!).
In Switzerland people don’t hire movers unless they relocate to another city and moving companies back home do NOT pack your stuff, you need to contact them weeks in advance for the estimate and they will then give you boxes that you pack yourself. Needless to say that you generally enlist the help of friends and family to move in Switzerland. I moved once within the same city, and helped friends do it to, so I know how that works, I know how a minimum planning goes a long way when you end up having to do a lot of back and forth with a car to move things, and what the priorities are like in such time and it seems that the years of joint experience DH and I have moving our stuff across India plus my many experiences of helping friends pack and move as well as my own Swiss move has me have old instinct I never really had to use before kick in this time around.
I probably will write some entries with simple tips to plan a move ahead of time in the next few days…and it seems the relocation label on my blog will start to disturbingly creep to the top of the list who would have known?
Now when I was a new to India, that was exiting, it was new, it was different, it was good, even in Mumbai. Now several moves later it’s daunting, depressing, and brain racking considering not only we are tired with the process, but the prices went up and we have far more belongings to fit in the equation (not to mention more people and different standards to go with them).
So as stated, we are in the market for a 3BHK, simply because in Mumbai the space constraint is huge and the 2BHk we are in right now is one we lucked out on when it comes to space, it’s still 40k and starting to be far too costly for the mere 900sq ft of carpet area we have for the price.
A thorough search of prices trends indicated that we could get an extra bedroom for about the same rent price if not lower, but real estate websites and classified lie big time in India, and never ever think that the square feet mentioned on the page is the amount you’ll get in your flat. Brokers lift these numbers straight from the developer who hand them the “build up” area numbers, because when you buy a flat in India you pay for the carpet area surface as well as a portion of the lobby, common area and hallways, so for a flat that announce a glorious 1500 square feet, you are more likely to have living quarters of about 800.
Back to Saturday, we had an ad that was stated as posted by an owner for a flat in one building we liked, when we called he informed us it was in fact the building right next to it, and told us to meet at further down that road at a easily spottable landmark. There we met the guy who told us that the flat we were interested in was no longer for rent but that he had something else in a nearby building…yup he wasn't an owner as claimed, but a smart ass broker who found a way to rope in people who wanted to avoid their very service! Stuck with him we visit the said flat, in a gloomy complex, that I knew from the outside would not give us much to enjoy, the flat had a giant living room, 3 bedrooms so tiny no bed could fit in them, rickety wardrobes, and a kitchen with no cabinets, no utility space, and I swear the architect who designed the place must have realised at the last minute that he forgot the bathroom, he squeezed in two that are not even straight but in bizarre triangular zig zaggy shapes with odd angles. Guaranteed to make you feel claustrophobic even if you were not. Needless to say we passed on it, when we told him we were interested in another bigger more modern society, he told us he had no idea if there was anything there at all and would call us back later.
Which he did, announcing he had found 2 there but that the market was tight in the area and there wasn’t much at all. I found that super odd considering I found a lot on the website listings. Anyway by late afternoon we were there, we first visited one in the oldest of the tower, a ridiculously tiny kitchen greeted us, were no fridge would fit, a tiny hall, and 3 impossibly small bedroom and 2 bathrooms with door so narrow I wondered if I would fit through. No utility space, nothing and only one old super rickety metallic wardrobe…no thanks. The second one was within the same complex in a newly constructed tower on the 17th floor, the kitchen was decently sized, just had no space for a wider than average fridge, but it could fit in the hall, bedrooms were decently sized for Mumbai, but the bathrooms were again narrow and there was no utility space, the washing machine could not even pass through the narrow bathroom doors, but there was still some solutions to be found there, the deal breaker was that all windows were low easily climbable by a toddler and there was no grill or guard preventing a child to plummet to their death, we have a toddler that is hyper active, I kid you not I spend the whole day running after her, finding her escalating furniture and getting bruises on her legs from her antics, a flat where she could lean over the window frame with no safety measure into place is a giant fat big no no, and apparently the housing co-op allows no installation of safety grills on windows…pass, next please!
At this point the masquerading broker had nothing else to show us, but our own broker through which we found the flat we are staying in right now called saying he was on his way to meet us in that complex we were visiting, he immediately whipped up his brand new tablet to check which one were there and which one we saw, informed us that he had one more he could show us right away. It was the same floor plan as the first one with no bedroom space, no utility space and tiny all, so we gave it a thumb down. He then told us that without having to make calls he had two more in our budget in his list, both in the very enclave we live in but in two different societies as ours have no 3 BHKs. The first one was in an older building, clearly darker than the more modern ones, but rooms were big, it was semi-furnished, had a one big veranda like balcony, and the only issue would be that our big fridge would have to go in another room rather than in the kitchen (a common issue in India even with a regular sized fridge anyway), but it had a big utility area for the washing machine, 3 bathrooms and was priced at 36k!!!!! In a quiet area of the enclave too. We loved that one instantly, it might not be glossy, open and state of the heart but the place seem to have a soul and some potential. We had one more to see though, and it was in the newly not yet fully built society in the enclave, the highest priced too at 45k, that one was a joke, granted the rooms were big, the kitchen had zero cabinet, just the granite counter and sink, nothing under the counter, nothing above and the kitchen was tinier than in our current flat too, two bedrooms had windows giving like the living room straight down on the construction ground, meaning that day and night we would hear noise ranging from mild hammering and drilling to deafening jack hammering, and see the crane dangle cement containers inches from our windows from time to time, the 3rd room was tiny and window less! No wardrobes were installed, it was completely bare in the barest sense of the term…no thanks. By then it was 7.30pm, I was tired so was Ishi and we pretty much made up our mind about the older flat we saw, the only issue that stroke me was that to glide sideway through the door my fridge still needed some space, we agreed to visit it again the next day after I measuring the fridge at home, at first I measured 31 inches which could mean it could be tight in a normal door, but found out that the handles can be removed and that brings it down to 28 inches. I need to go back there today and measure the doors but it seems there is some hope, we also want to see the flat in natural light too since we visited it when it was already dark enough but it sounds like right now the only thing that could still stand in our way is a) the owner doesn’t want tenants with a dog and b) refuse to take out the two double beds we don’t need.
So the ordeal isn’t really over, but the idea of almost being done with it is a good one, and to be shifting about 800 meters away from my place in a cheaper bigger place without having to buy wardrobes and arrange for a school car pick up service in the middle of the year is worth having to give up having the fridge in the kitchen and a bit less light through the windows seem like a super mild compromise for Mumbai, heck even the bathrooms there which are “wet rooms” can still get shower curtains and look better. So right now I am keeping my finger crossed that from the owner’s side all is well, and that we can get going and plan our move.
Winter in India means more green leafy veggies on the market, and for the past few years that also means lettuce leaves.
When I moved here in 2003 there wasn’t any, and one thing you should know about the Swiss is that we are a salad happy bunch, we eat a side salad with our meals, a big tossed salad is often considered a lunch in Summer. We have iceberg lettuce as a favourite in Spring and Summer, and darker bitterer leaves in the Winter (some I suspect belonging to the same family as methi). DH often joked that people must be part bunny or goat in Switzerland judging by the size of the salad counter in most canteen and restaurant, if that says something about our fresh leafy green obsession there.
So with that in mind imagine how though that was for me to go without in India, what people call salad in India is a few slice of tomato and cucumber on a plate, in Switzerland that would be an appetizer course served with a dip, not a salad.
Fortunately for me, variety came in the supermarkets over the year, and I can’t tell you how happy I was the first time I saw a few leaves of iceberg lettuce sold in cellophane in my local supermarket, I could have stumbled upon the holy grail and it would not have been any different. Back then it was a few leaves, but now if you go to a nice enough supermarket or gourmet store in a big city you will find more : curly leaves lettuce, iceberg, oak leaves…And as I stated last year sharing my aloo methi salad, methi leaves are awesome eaten raw too.
This week I found a big fresh plump oak leaf lettuce and here is what I made with it the first day:
A strawberry, tomato and walnut salad. Because in India not only are the lettuce leaves in season in Winter, so are the Strawberries, and let me tell you the combination above tastes great, I used to put apple and pear bits in my salads back home, why not try with strawberries? I just made a dressing with one table spoon rice vinegar and 2 table spoons olive oil, added some salad seasoning herbs and drizzled it all over the salad. That bowl made two big fat serving of salad, one I called lunch, one I ate for dinner along with some grilled chicken. The rest of the week I made another salad with apple chunks and what’s left of the lettuce is still in the fridge with some walnuts, I ate some last night to go with my version of sausage and beans known as “cassoulet” back home (DH loved it).
And one of the thing that is so great about Winter in South India is that winters are quite mild, which means days are still warm enough to enjoy calling a salad a lunch, in Switzerland it becomes a side dish as soon as the mercury starts dropping and the hours of sunlight shrink.
I was planning to have a light easy foodie post today, but a bomb got dropped in DH’s mailbox and that warrants a blog post from me.
As I mentioned last week our landlord announced that he was planning on putting the flat on the market for sale and we were taking precautions starting to look, thinking that we had time…well not so much.
This morning DH read a mail from the landlord stating that he is terminating our lease and we had a 30 day notice. Nothing wrong there, it’s legal, he abides by the notice stipulation on our rental agreement.
The problem is that this guy will apparently remain tactless until the end, let’s set aside the fact he refuse to accept the whole rent amount in cheque so he can screw income tax, that’s not just tacky it’s illegal. But his calling ON Diwali day to tell us he is selling the place is already not so nice, the fact that now he is sending us an impersonal email announcing we are to be out by December 20th is just crass…while I understand the email bit as a protection thing and yes sending one was a good idea, it would have been far nicer to inform us by phone he did so, just common courtesy. And heck his knowing I am a foreigner should have clued him in on the fact I celebrate Christmas and maybe just ask us if it was ok for us or if we had any plans during the holidays, again just a little courtesy, it would have not killed him to ask, I would certainly not have been totally apposed to moving out of the flat 4 das before Christmas, but his not showing any consideration and dropping a e-bomb via Gmail on us early in the morning is just wrong. Knowing the guy I am sure he is going to try to claim some deposit money for himself, and I am so mad right now that I know I can give him hell for that and probably will.
In the meantime, we are now going to have to find a place we like quick, as mentioned we are looking for an upgrade in number of rooms and found out our area has 3BHKs at a cheaper rent than that 2BHK we are currently in. I now need to squeeze moving out into my Christmas holiday list, think of how to turn my advent calendar plan into a more mobile one, order some new wall stickers for Ishi’s new room to facilitate her transition, as it would not be too good to unsettle her more than the minimum now we finally got her to sleep in her own bed. My black book will come out of the drawer with war plans drafts, and if I didn’t have an incentive to keep this year’s Christmas meal simple, I now have, if we move out on the 20th, you can bet I will not want to kill myself cooking a feast while in post relocation trauma mode, granted it’s a short distance shift, I doubt it will be any less stressful than an of the other shifts.
Happy Holidays to come to me!
This Sunday I was busy dealing with hyper and distraught daughter and trying to get household stuff done as out maid has been on leave for a week, that i didn’t get to sit down with the Sunday magazine called HT Brunch that comes with our newspaper. I mentioned it before, but there is one columnist I love to read in there every weekend: Seema Goswami, and as usual she had a witty piece for me to read this Sunday, which I read this Monday morning. It’s all the things she hates about Diwali.
The firecrackers, the commercial aspect, the forced social obligation of visiting as many people you can…these are some of the one she dislikes. As you know I find the crackers beyond annoying, and yes I find the commercial aspect getting more and more ridiculous by the year…and she put it in words very nicely in her article.
I think what irk me the most about the commercial aspect, is that once more it apes the worst behaviour from the West, and we Westerner are blamed for having introduced India to that mass consumerism. Never mind that India had a choice, we are the bad guy. But yes I made parallels between the commercial aspect of Diwali and Christmas.
Believe it or not, minus the crackers and the card games, I hate all the same things she hate about Diwali when it comes to Christmas and then some more. What I have witnessed before leaving for India and through my friends back home and on Facebook, is that the West is correcting some of the madness while India is still blooming into it. Diwali and Christmas share many common thing, first thing first, they are both festivals of welcoming the light after the darkness. Christmas happens in December around the solstice time because the early Christian needed to graft themselves into an existing festival. The Winter solstice is the darkest time of the year, people gather, light candles, feast and pray for the light to come back. Jesus is a symbol of hope to humankind for the Christian as well, he was sent to Earth to save us, at a time where the darkness of the Roman empire was upon the middle East, so the theme of the bearer of promise and light is maintained even in Christianity.
We share time with family, the same way people celebrating Diwali do, we exchange gifts to wish each other a prosperous year to come, and back before it became commercial, gifts were home made, they were useful, they were cherished and precious: oranges, nuts, home knitted sweaters and socks…Meals at that time of the year were rich full of promises of longer days to come, and best enjoyed shared with loved ones, prepared with love. See as I said, similar to Diwali.
Yes it is now commercial as hell, and I remembered loathing hearing Jingle Bells in November knowing that by the time Christmas would arrive I would hate it. I hated the social obligations that went with the holiday season: the annual office dinner, the various club’s annual dinner, the mighty family quarrels about who get to host the Christmas feast, in my family the quarrels were so epic that for the sake of our sanity, we were the one celebrating 3 times, my family was the only one living in Geneva when the relative stronghold was in a neighbouring city about 30 minutes away taking the national highway, so the 23rd was just us at home, the 24th we would pack overnight bags to go to my paternal grand parents to eat dinner there and sleep over, the next morning we would drive down town in the same city to go to my mom’s folks for a Christmas lunch and by the 26th we were too pooped and stuffed to want to do anything. By the 27th we had our ski gear packed to head to a communal chalet for the New Year celebration. After my parent’s divorce it was 4 celebration, because both my mom and dad kept arguing the thing with their own parents, none wanted to come to Geneva, leaving us to do all the travelling again. The one year my parents succeeded getting everybody into our home was the worst, my paternal grand parents complained we were doing it all wrong doing a 25th December Lunch instead of celebrating Christmas eve, my maternal grand ma liked the date and time but complained her daughter was not making the meal she was planning to make, everybody complained about the smoked salmon toasts that was OUR own new little family tradition, because it was too fancy, then there was complaint about the time we lit the tree, the fact we bought gifts for people that wanted none, and then some rushing my mom into tea time because they didn’t want to reach home too late with all the driving…by the time they left my mom was fuming and glad to have them gone and the next year we sucked it up again and did all the travelling and overeating…since it was by far the lesser of two evil.
What was not done into my family was the abundance of gifts, we had some, of course, but starting November my dad would come up with a craft project my sister and I could make each so that every grand parent and relative would get something that was made with heart, I kid you not all of the hand made craft projects we made over the years are still used till date by both my grand ma: cane woven bread basket, painted wooden hanger, wood clad giant match boxes, enamel paint coasters…My sister and I of course put a toy list together, in Switzerland Santa isn’t done, the gifts come from the family, Santa is celebrated as St Nicholas and put dried fruits and nuts into kiddo’s shoes on December 6th. But we would only get one gift, two max from each person, my grand parents would do two, one was from our wish list, the other was a silver spoon or knife or fork to complete our silverware set that would be ours to use by the time we turned 21 (lowered to 18 once the majority age was lowered), this silverware tradition is still practiced to some extent for girls, but less than it used to in my childhood days.
The 80’s was the decade of decadence and when the whole commercial Christmas idea peaked, Christmas back then had to come from a store, the Christmas decoration displays in stores were huge and started in November, real pine trees on the market as soon as we turned to the December page on our calendars and public plazas turned into forests when the pine tree market craze started. The only thing people really still baked for Christmas then was cookies, but with ready made dough from the store.
The 90’s saw an improvement, a small recession hit us, people wanted to keep it simpler, more authentic, decorations were more natural looking, the displays in stores shrank in size, and the German trend of Christmas markets started, with artisans displaying their products: hand made candles, home made organic jams and dips, mulled wine booth, eco friendly Christmas decorations…traditional home made cookies sold in pretty boxes…people went back to celebrating simpler things.
If you ask me it is still overly commercial, and yes stores start putting a show in November still, but compared to the decadence of the 80’s and to an extent the very early 90’s things have mellowed down, department stores are putting less offers and suggestion for gifts, the mail in catalogues are far thinner than I remember them to be as a kid. What’s left is the big meal feast and family feud, but gifting insane and costly items for the occasion seems thankfully to be on the decline.
As an expat, Christmas is important to me, it’s part of my cultural heritage, but the things I love the most about it is the building of anticipation during the month with an advent calendar, the cookie baking, the Christmas tree, and celebrating with those I love, since gift giving is a tradition and is deep rooted in the celebration, I do it, but thanks to my parents I too keep it simple. This year Ishita will probably get some roller skates because she has shown quite an interest into them for a few months, and that will probably be it. With our probably having to move out of the flat soon, I am not sure if DH and I will exchange gifts this year and I am fine with it too. Cuddling on the sofa might end up being just what the doctor ordered anyway.
I’ve never ever been grounded, I never abused my parents authority to deserve it and yet this is the situation I find myself in this weekend, but not grounded because I disobeyed my parents, nope, I had to move to India to experience on several occasions what a “Bandh” or shut down is.
It usually happen only because some political extremists enforce a reign of terror regarding an issue or another.
I got the Kannada activist bandh that left me without cable TV a few years back in Bangalore, they were contesting a border between Maharashtra and and Karnataka, then Bangalore was on lockdown in 2006 because actor Raj Kumar’s death triggered riots, when we were in Navi Mumbai the Shiv Sena called for a Bandh to protest petrol price hikes in the State, and this weekend it’s the same party that has completely thrown my Sunday out of whack…the reason? Their veneered leader died at the ripe age of 86!
The news went out on Saturday, DH hurried home from office to catch one of the last auto still on duty before Mumbai became a ghost town. Shops shut down, some voluntarily, but many because some party goondas made them to. The problem with the Shiv Sena is that they can’t tolerate anybody having a different opinion and take on life, so basically they want to mourn their leader, and so should the rest of the State of Maharashtra, and the best way to ensure it is done is to terrorize shop keepers in staying closed, and citizen to fear going out, pelting buses with stones being one of their tactic…nope we have no choice but “respect” a leader that despised the majority of people living in Mumbai for not being from the State of Maharashtra! Mumbai he claimed belong to maharati people, preferably Hindu as well, so all other faith people should be taken out, North, South and East Indians too, they are polluting the city, they are stealing jobs from the locals. His goons spread terror, resorted to violence to punish those who publicly stated another opinion and today was no different.
Some buses have been reported to have been pelted with stones, the city lived in fear of the guy and shut down, cable TV operator blocked all entertainment channel…Bal Thackeray is dead, you can’t watch silly TV, you MUST mourn, too bad if you are Muslim, Christian or North Indian, if you won’t mourn, then at least the bandh acts as a punishment for you guys to be making a living in the city that should belong to Maharati people and them only.
Today was the only day off in DH’s week, we had a massive list of groceries to tackle, hoped to start visiting some flats for our plans of shifting, but nope we couldn’t do it, we don’t care for the guy, he despises DH’s kind for being North Indian, probably would want me out for being Swiss and argh daring to give birth to a mixed child in Bangalore, so for us, the bandh was punishment. We had no fruits no vegetables left, just a little milk, and no soy milk for my lactose intolerant daughter. No bread either. I baked one using imported yeast I used to contaminate local flour (ha ha take this!), DH made Maggi Noodles and that was it. We have Tata sky, so we could watch fun TV, and by the evening DH went on a hunting expedition to find sustenance after we learned our supermarket would be closed until Tuesday, as apparently a whole day of being locked at home was not enough, after all it seems God himself died so we should at least renounce fresh produce for 2 days. Schools will remain closed on Monday (educating people is certainly not a priority), DH hasn’t received words from his office going on the bandh wagon, but if he can’t get an Auto, he won’t go because it will not do good to be out in a city where a political party of highly xenophobe nature is mourning…certainly not in a car with plates from the State of Karnataka and a driving license issued in the State of Uttar Pradesh!
Meanwhile Ishita will have to do without her soy milk, we found none, I made emergency supply of rice milk, using the last cup of brown rice I had in my pantry in an effort to keep some nutritious food into her…she refused to drink it, was upset at the lack of “bleh” as she calls soy milk…and how do you explain to a 3 year old she can’t get it because an 86 year old disturbing man died and has his followers ensuring we should all pay attention to him? How do I explain that to my daughter who I swore once I would want her to be proud of an India without corruption and divisive policy?
Right now I am mad for being grounded, like the sulky teenager who broke the rule, except, I didn’t do anything to deserve being grounded. Mad to have some goons decide I should mourn a guy that made no secret of admiring Hitler…
On Diwali day our landlord called to say that he put the flat on the market for sale, and that a potential buyer will come with his broker the next day to visit the place…I am not sure when he put the place I am not sure when he put the place on the market, but the fact there is already buyers wanting to visit means it has been there for at least a few days before he called us.
With this we are now facing relocation. Not that we were not thinking about it, the lease increase 10% every 11 month, and we are now on lease number two at 40k a month for a 2BHK, that would still have been ok if the landlord was not once again screwing the income tax people and us, by asking us to pay a significant amount of said rent in cash and declare about half the rent we pay him to the tax people, leaving us in a fix as we can’t declare the full amount we pay him on our tax form and…yup end up paying his taxes.
The whole “flat on the market” thing is just going to speed up our moving out and getting rid of our cheating landlord, beside we found out that for 35k we can get a 3BHK not too far from where we are staying, and we realised that we really need that extra room since Ishita has now fully claimed her room and sleeps in there every night. DH needs his computer desk to work from home at night, meaning we need a study room, where he can also put his music on without risking to wake up Ishita.
Now the problem with all this, is that the move could come very shortly, DH has already been looking at listings yesterday and said he found one ad posted by an owner instead of a broker, we are going to visit that place the weekend to see how it looks, the other issue is that most flats in Mumbai come without wardrobes, we got lucky until now, but we will probably have to buy some at one point or another, and we will have to by AC units as well by the time Summer hits us again in February, in this flat we were lucky to have them provided by the owner. And of course as always there is the issue of deposits, landlords ask for 8-10 months worth of rent, and rarely release it before we hand the keys, a thing that always left us in a bit of a fix when we needed to give one month notice, and try to negotiate with the owner of the new flat on when the deposit will be in his hands, most generally don’t like putting their property on hold for a guy that will only be able to pay the deposit 2 weeks later.
I’ll probably have more on this whole thing later, right now I’m not even sure if we will be spending Christmas in this flat or in the next one, or how we are going to manage the whole thing, the only positive is that it’s a move in the neighbourhood, so we will be able to transfer a lot of our breakables and small items in our car in several trips, and avoid us the hassle of unpacking many boxes packed hastily by unprofessional packers and movers, as for such a short distance, we aren’t going to pay premium for a big company.
We also have the many years of experiences in the relocating department to give us strength, we’ve moved across the country 7 times since 2003, and only one of these move was within the same city, all the others had us move to a different State. The flat we stayed in the longest was for 5 years and it was our beloved rooftop terrace one, which we both still find ourselves missing awfully even now. The flat we are staying in right now is the second one we stayed the longest in so far, we are now at one year and 3 months.
Right now I think the wise thing to do would be to start drafting a war plan again, with the usual preliminaries: throw away junk, write lists of all the tiny things to do such as remembering to take back all our CFL bulbs, but the advantage of moving within a 3-4km radius, mean that even if the packers and movers pack things like the AC remotes, we can easily bring them back to the owner, and it also means no urban camping, which is the thing that took the toll out of us in our previous move.
This year we celebrated at home, without any guests and parties, a simple celebration of sorts. We bought some fancier diyas than we usually bought the other years this time around, but since we are all for re-using things they will probably last a few more Diwali. We put them on all 3 balconies, which I had previously decorated with electric lights. DH did his puja while I got Ishita dressed up and we headed down to do some crackers before cooking and eating food...simple!
Now in that short paragraph above you might be wondering why only DH did the puja, the reason is simple, I am not Hindu, and don't plan on being so, and I really don't understand the subtleties of it, or even put a deep personal meaning into it, I do it at my in-law's place because MIL expects it, at home we just drop the pretence, we are an interfaith and intercultural couple.
We dressed up, because that's still a festival and it's fun to do so, even if it was just for 2 hours. I showed Ishita the puja shrine but she was upset from the noise of the crackers and the fact she was in her birthday party dress that in the span of a few months have become a bit tight when it comes to slipping it over the head.
Speaking of crackers, Ishita didn't care about them beyond the 2 first flower pots we lit, simply because all of our neighbours were doing these insane loud bombs, so after a few more we packed up our crackers and went home to start cooking, while Ishita and Jasmine were both super upset with the noise. Now when Diwali is just us and nobody else, DH and I or go out for dinner, or cook chole at home, this year it was the at home cooking plan and of course it was chole, this meal is a partnership, DH loves cooking chole, and I help by making the puri (fried bread) that goes with it, we are both working together in the kitchen, that's a Diwali tradition if you could call it that way. This year however the cooking was not so relaxing, our flat has only big sliding bay windows, all opening on the garden downstairs, and this is the only place where it is possible to do the crackers, so we had our share of loud explosion, a barking neurotic dog and a frightened toddler to deal with.
Between the loud long chain of bursting crackers and a neighbour that bought million "rocket" packs we were served decibel wise. The rocket packs were actually down right dangerous, because the people who bought them burst them right at the food of the building, and us living on the 12th floor we were witnessing the sparkling flowers at eye level, a mere 2-3 meter away from the balcony, with incandescent bits flying into our home! We shut all windows to prevent our furniture from bearing burn mark and the living beings from being injured, the shut windows however did nothing from reducing the noise level, these freaking rockets were all exploding into sparkling bloom just too close to us and I cursed the bloody moron who thought doing them so close to the building was a good idea!
By 10.30pm the worst of the crackers was over, and I opened all the windows again, Ishita fell asleep clutching her stuffed turtle, and the dog went sulking, I was beginning to relax, when one person decided that since everybody left the cracker scene it was time for them to go and do theirs…at 11.15pm!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
More loud kaboom, more stupid rockets fired right under me windows, more incandescent bits fling into my flat, more shutting the windows, and more tension! And this is supposed to be an upper middle class neighbourhood full of educated people, clearly some missed the classes given on consideration for others and common sense…sigh!
By midnight all was finally quiet, and my ears sadly were paining, I am not sure I could hear any ringing into them at this point but they were really paining, the first time ever since in India that I felt that pain. Fortunately the pain was gone this morning, but it really makes me hate these loud crackers even more than before now. And as I am typing these words now at 11am, some kids are doing more bombs downstairs. Clearly loud crackers and tightly packed together apartment buildings really should never mix.
I posted two videos of the fire crackers noise on my Facebook page, you can go check them there, and if you haven’t liked my page there already, feel free to do so.
Yesterday was Dhanteras which in North India marks the first day of the 5 days of Diwali. in our home that means we are starting to get everything cleaned up, and get rid of old stuff and yesterday was no exception. It’s the first Diwali we celebrate in this flat since last year we went to Lucknow, so last year we really kept the cleaning to the minimum, beside we shifted to that place in August 2011 so it wasn’t like it really had the time to get messy and dirty.
This year we de-cluttered the shelve unit we put in the hallway, DH is still holding dear to his college and SAP books but they got so dusty they all needed some serious wiping, we got rid of a million USB cables, chargers and what not that keep accumulating without us knowing (I swear they reproduce themselves into these boxes!). While DH was busy in that corner I decided to wash the curtains in Ishi’s room, and dust the walls. Now I do that every months or so, but for some reason it always looked like it hasn’t been done in over a year every month or so, that’s how dirty Mumbai is. Since I was there I decided to wash the walls with water too, since the bottom caught grease, dirt, mop splatters and sports toddler hand prints and crayon doodles. We are lucky enough that in this flat the paint is a washable acrylic, so when I scrub crayon or doggy hair grease of the walls, it’s just that that comes off and not the whole paint. I spent over an hour just scrubbing all the walls squeaky clean, some areas needed more TLC than others though, and then I washed all the doors as well, while DH moved to completely clean the TV cabinet and what was behind, namely heaps of dust that accumulated after just 2 months since the last vacuum expedition in said corner…(got to really love how dirty things can get in India).
I already cleaned the kitchen during the week, and on Sunday just dumped all the old pots and pans we never use in a bag to give to the maid, not that there was much, but we haven’t used that old prestige pressure cooker in over a year preferring the hard anodized futura one, and we don’t need to hang to a broken bamboo steamer and a worn out chapatti rolling board when we replaced it a year ago by a new one, so off they went.
By 6pm we were done and ready to go shopping, that’s usually when we buy our Diyas and lights, and an inventory earlier in the day told us all we have left is a big diya urli that we last used in 2009 and the Diwali lanterns we bought in Navi Mumbai, all our fairy lights fried on the Christmas tree last year.
Beside Dhanteras is the auspicious day to buy metal, now most people say it’s precious metal that should be bought, making jeweller happy, but DH remembered that as a kid his mom would throw out old utensils and buy new ones on the occasion. The previous years we went the unimaginative silver coin route, and we then are in a fix of what to do with them, we have a bunch that clearly we should sell, but apparently it’s not auspicious to part with precious metal unless absolutely necessary too.
This year however, I really needed a Dutch Oven pan, the continental big pan also referred as crock pot, and I needed one that has metallic handles so that if a recipe need it I can start the prepping on the stove and shove it in the oven for the final cooking stage, I’ve actually been thinking of getting one for quite sometime and just recently saw one in Lifestyle that was just what I was looking for, so instead of buying our auspicious metal in the form of a coin that will oxidize and catch dust once Diwali over, why not put the money toward buying a metallic, still auspicious crock pot? 1799 is all it did cost, and it will used a lot to cook home food…WIN!
While I was on Dutch oven mission, DH tackled Big Bazaar in the same mall and found cute diyas there, we then headed closer to home to buy lights, and back home we went. Tired, but all set for Diwali. Ishita keeps asking for the light, we will try to put them on the balconies tonight if DH manage to come back early from office, otherwise it will be a last minute thing as it always is in our home.
Diwali falls on the 13th this year, and with it the lights, chocolate and sweets and firecrackers make their appearances in shops.
While I like Diwali and love the lights and diyas, and the festive atmosphere I abhor the firecrackers and it seems years after year I have less patience for them, and sadly they become noisier and noisier too. Perhaps because with each passing years we find ourselves living in area with larger disposable income and this year it’s a swarm of bratty kids who just can’t wait for D-day to burst these ridiculously loud “bombs”. As I am typing right now some of the kids who the rest of the time just push and slap kids at the kiddie playground are bursting a whole pack of said bombs down our building, with little regards for other people’s ears and of course no adult supervision whatsoever (they aren’t even supervised at the playground and look at you funny if not shout back at you when you scold them for pushing a 3 year old).
I like fireworks…the kind that do pretty lights and sparkles with minimal noise, I HATE these deafening useless thing that don’t do anything beside a loud kaboom that usually makes me jump in my chair. But if it was just one day, I could bear with it, the problem is that you are almost guarantee to hear them for a week, at all hours of day and night, keeping any sane human being tensed and jumpy to the point of being irritable. They are always done by kids who are never really supervised and in my old neighbourhood in Bangalore that meant the minute they were up at 6am! In Mumbai with most people living in apartment buildings, that mean less space to make them burst and far more echo noise from the kaboom, and far more tension for those who like me hates them, and we are apparently a growing lot judging by the articles in the newspapers these days.
The problem with these crackers as pointed in the papers recently is that there is no regulation, and selling defining bombs is not a problem, people are as always reluctant to ban certain things simply because it’s festival time and Diwali has been more and more associated with firecrackers over the year…let the kids have fun (who cares if they might lose a fair percentage of their hearing? Or worse), some think that putting a warning on the box stating that they should only be burst between 6am and 10pm is fine, but considering the fact that I observed a blatant lack of civism in this country over the year, you can bet it has little impact. The crass, inconsiderate people will not morph into decent kind people during the festive season and will do as they please with crackers just the same as they would with everything else anyway. The kind considerate one just seethe at home and horrify themselves with the realisation they can have murderous thoughts.
Today is the first day I am hearing these bombs, but it’s been a steady week of kids mock shooting themselves with “Diwali Guns” which might not be super loud, but have the knack of turning super irritating when amplified by the echo between the tightly packed buildings and the non stop shooting. I will not even go about how I think it is disturbingly wrong celebrating Goddess Lakshmi the Goddess of wealth and prosperity by pretend killing your play friends! (wrote about it last year).
What baffles me more and more is the fact that Diwali is supposed to be the festival of LIGHTS, not the one of noise loud enough to give your entire neighbourhood a dose of tinnitus and respiratory issues. It’s a festival during which you worship Lakshmi asking for wealth and prosperity in the year to come, and invite her in your home to stay for said year to come. Yet people seem to think it’s all about spending humongous amount of money not only on material goods and sweets, but on firecrackers…which simply put is just setting your money ablaze. And while yes a few flower pots are fun, and bright and festive, it seems I see more and more middle and upper middle class thinking that the biggest, loudest costliest is the best bet. In Bangalore I had neighbours that just seemed to be in a contest with themselves trying to top their previous year’s cracker budget and I kid you not it looked like they spend 10-20k on these every year! Sorry to say but with 20k I would rather take a vacation somewhere rather than seeing it go in a series of kaboom and sparks. If I were not I would rather spend this amount inviting my friends over for Diwali over a big meal, lights and a lot of happiness to share.
And I’d rather not insult Lakshmi by blowing up the wealth she granted me in the previous year in order to ask her to grant me with more the coming one.
DH and I agreed that this year the lot of crackers will be even more minimal than it already was in our home, first all the previous years we were left with a box or two of stuff we forgot to burst, and then Ishita is scared of loud noises, there will be sadly enough of that going on, and we don’t need to add to it.
When you have kids, you know that weekends need to be full of activities to keep them entertained. Sadly in most big metros in India there is not much to do that doesn’t involve heading to a mall and put them on kiddie rides. In Mumbai the climate is so hot and humid most of the years that you can rule parks and the beach too.
So it leaves parents with not many options left. All kids like zoos, petting zoos and Aquarium, and Mumbai has a zoo and a government subsidised Aquarium, we’ve never been there, because we got countless testimonies of other parents like us who told us that the zoo is not well kept, and the Aquarium a sad little place with dirty tanks and not much to see in matter of fishes.
This Sunday however we came to know about a special (obviously privately funded) exhibit of fishes in Dadar: Aqua Life. The article bragged about exotic species, endangered ones, and a big 18ft tank claiming it was the largest in India. So we went, Ishita was of course all exited, and to be fair it was good enough, except most tanks looked like this:
A solid majority of the tanks contained regular household fish like goldfishes, guppies, and neon fishes, the one that were in the fish tank I had growing up, there were other a bit less common household fishes such as angels and discus and very few tanks contained exiting species such as Piranha fish, small rays, and eels, there were a few salt water tanks as well containing the popular ones such as clown fishes (I told you we found Nemo), but nothing as ground breaking as the newspaper article that led us there suggested.
It pleased the kids there, and what’s not to love? I mean seeing real fishes, in tanks instead of on TV? Ishita couldn't get enough of them, and for people who like me will not want to go through the hassle of keeping a tank at home (I know how much work it is to keep a tank clean and your fishes healthy…I grew up with a dad who loved fishes and we had two tanks at home), going to an Aquarium is a good compromise.
On the way back DH commented it is sad that there is no permanent well kept Aquarium center such as in all big cities across the world, this would be quite a hit, considering that these places need to be kept cool in AC and would provide a perfect form of educational entertainment for our little ones. I pointed to him that they could even come up with petting zoos as I am sure many kiddos would be thrilled to feed bunnies, pet a goat and go on a pony ride, and I know that parents like me would gladly fork out 100-200 bucks per entrance ticket for a quality privately owned place instead of paying a similar amount in a lousy kiddie rides and junk food at the mall every weekends.
There is clearly an entertainment segment that metros in India could tap into.
I was about to write on my Sunday, but my fellow blogger at American Punjabi PI wrote this very interesting blog post where she links back to me about Pardesi Appropriating themselves some element of the desi culture
It’s a very interesting topic, I wrote about it in indirect ways in the past, more recently wrote about how certain women married to Indians just seem to go overboard in their appropriation in my post titled “Where a line is crossed”. The debate is still raging in the gori community about what’s right or wrong. But APPI this time pointed out that while some Indians seem to mind the western women appropriating some elements of their culture, mostly through wearing sarees and salwaar suits find it offensive, people in the west have less of an issue with outsider wearing Jeans and t-shirt.
A good topic indeed, because I know many people back home who think it is sad that people in Africa dress western style in their home countries instead of their traditional attire, but are going hissy pissy at young girls going to school wearing a head scarf in the west, so clearly some of my fellow westerners operate under a double standard of some kind too. And while we are at it, they find sad to see African ladies no longer in traditional outfits, but are appalled that Women in Saudi Arabia are still wearing the abaya quickly calling a culture they probably know little about sadistic against their own women. (but this article is not about the condition of women of Saudi Arabia so I’ll leave it there).
So where does wearing an outfit become offensive to the culture it originated from? If some Indians are offended seeing sarees on western women, why shouldn’t we as Westerner be offended if Indians wear jeans? Or is it ok to have a paisley print on a shirt, or a zardosi border on a t-shirt? Shall I as a Westerner wear symbols of another culture simply because I find them cute without having an attachment to it?
it’s a very difficult question, we all did it at one point, if you are from the West you must remember that trend in the 90’s to have t-shirts with Chinese Characters on them and the fact they didn’t necessary have an appropriate meaning too. But On the other side of the world I have seen picture of young Japanese having some really discussable English writing on their outfits such as a baseball cap embroidered with the word Vomit. In all fairness if the word “toilet” written in Chinese is considered cute looking by people in the West why not the word for Vomit in a culture where they use a different writing system? In both case it is hilarious to have the party that can read the word and makes for many joke. Would I call it offensive? Not sure, I sure just find it funny to see that Vomit is considered cool enough to wear on your clothes in Japan, but I come from a culture were we are flexible enough on these things, would the Chinese be offended reading crazy stuff on people’s t-shirts? Thinking back on it, I have no idea.
Now when it comes to appropriate an entire dress code, things can be different. I think the context matters more than anything else. There are some region of the world where some outfits are still heavily tied to a culture and community and denote a sense of belonging to such culture. In the case of India it’s even more apparent where the locals discriminate heavily among themselves and where the chance of making a blunder as a foreigner is even higher if you aren’t completely in the know and that is probably what the local would find offensive to begin with.
Like anywhere else in the world, there are degrees of formality in the dress code in India, not all dress the same everywhere, and certain situation call for different dress code. Overdressing, might send a message that you think the locals aren’t as caring as you are about the Indian tradition…you can see where that is offensive right? Dressing too casual but wearing elaborate bindis and heavy ethnic jewellery will probably make people laugh behind your back the same way you might roll your eye at the word Vomit on a Japanese hat. Insisting on wearing bindi with western wear and having never been to India or having any tie to India simply because you think they are cute will probably have people wonder why, but is not offensive, the truth is that glittery bindis in India have started to be more of a special occasion thing than a symbol, and many women will wear them to look pretty regardless of their community, it’s one of these things that is starting to fall a bit more in the public domain. However, wearing sindoor simply because you think it is cute without being married to an Indian or married at all can be an offensive blunder for some, because it still has deep rooted cultural associations where the practice originated.
In all cases there is something true about the proverb “In Rome do as the Romans do”. I have Indian friends who when they went abroad for the first time years ago were feeling out of place in their ethnic wear but wondered if they should go all the way into the summer short skirts to fit in the very same way I went wondering if my jeans were appropriate to wear in 2003 Bangalore. They felt a bit odd wearing western wear back in the days the same way I found it a bit odd to wear salwaars suits, and like me they probably had moments of trying as hard as they could to fit in at the expense of their personal comfort of preferences. The fact is that the human specie is a social one, where each group and community have their own set of norm, and when you are an outsider you are left to wonder where to fit, how to fit and how far you can go in the dress code spectrum before offending someone, be it by going too close to what feels natural to your own culture or too far from it.
To make it even more difficult in India is that the country itself is in a developing phase caught between retaining age old practice and going all western, trying to find their own place in a world going global. In nearly 10 years in the country I have seen tremendous change of mind-set in cities, and more traditional places that seem to be frozen in time. This it the country of fast paced cities with iPhone sporting young things and villages where people have water issues and little electricity, where fancy school goers brush with those too poor to even go to a government school. So as a westerner it becomes even trickier to go by the Roman adage, because which type of Roman are you to begin with?
Indians automatically place you at an upper middle class urban dweller rank, so dressing too traditional will not do, they will not expect you to wear a saree everyday, and you might end up looking weirder and even less fitting doing so in a big city, but not offensive, not yet. You might however become so if you were bragging about how you can wrap it in 2 minutes and you don’t understand why Indian women complain about when they say it’s daunting to put one on a daily basis. Or complain that more and more Indian women don’t wear a dupatta, or that is it sad to see Indian men wearing jeans and a shirt instead of a “pajama kurta” because they are so much more comfortable. I went there in my crossing a line post, it’s the trying to appear more Indians than the Indians themselves that is offensive. it’s giving the impression that you are doing it better than the local by consistently over dressing, and insisting it’s the best and more modest way to behave. It’s the spitting at your own cultural background and overpraising the “so colourful and rich and beautiful Indian culture”. You find wearing bright silk sarees colourful and all, but let me assure that Indians are as fascinated by your own culture than you are by theirs, and they don’t need a foreigner tell them all about the proper puja rituals when they would rather really learn more about how your own culture is in real life as opposed as what they hear from the medias.
And to be frank, if you had a person from another country come to your own, you would be eager to learn straight from the horse’s mouth how it is like over there rather than have them dress in your own' country’s ethnic garb and lecture you about how they know how to square dance better than the local, get offended that you are letting your own culture die because you haven’t mastered lace making, yodelling or let your local dialects die. If someone from afar came to me dressed in an edelweiss embroidered outfit with a lace bonnet and ask why people around here stopped wearing folk outfits and no longer tell tales by the fire at night but watch reality TV instead…I would be pissed let me tell you. On the other hand if said foreigner is open to a cultural exchange discussion and tell me I heard villages still carry traditional fairs in the Summer in your country, I would be totally happy that they read about such thing and tell them about it and even ask them if they want to go attend such an event and participate as the local do.
So Ishita slept another night in her bed like a big girl with even less crying than the first night, so we celebrated today by heading to the mall, where we picked up a few books, a Princess tiara (had to do it really with all our Princess bed story) and I let Ishita pick up a big girl toy.
She’s been looking at the Barbie ads on TV for a while now, finding them interesting, but I grew up thinking Barbie was a special toy you only get on special occasion, and what better special occasion for her very first Barbie doll than sleeping in her own bed and room like a big girl?
So I took her to Shopper’s stop and she picked up this one:
That’s a blurry pic taken at the coffee shop after the big purchase, and it’s a Barbie Pilot! She preferred it over all the pink glittery skimpy dressed ones in the store, the Barbie with the coolest job in Barbie world! The reason was that there was an airplane on the box and she loves airplanes. But still choosing the one in the less frilly glittery outfit in the toy department…way to go Ishi!
I was a child in the 80’s back then Barbies were feminist too, there was a Barbie Doctor, an astronaut, rock stars, explorers, and of course princesses, but they all came in shade of pink that were cool when I was a kid. What they also were looking far more like bimbos in my childhood days than they do now, the 80’s Barbie has big breast, an impossibly tiny waist and giant hips. Of course as a kid I didn’t make the connection, it was a great doll to play with, but I can’t help but think that maybe my generation has this idea that women need to be impossibly proportioned to be considered pretty ingrained in their subconscious.
Today’s Barbie has far more human proportions, sure she is thin and still has long legs, but as a parent I think the new millennium one is far more appropriate than the one I grew up with and was probably irking my mom.
And to my daughter thinking Barbie Pilot was the best of the lot…you totally rock girl! The only think pink that came with this one is her pink suitcase…and pink suitcases are great!
We did it! Ishita slept in her bed the whole time! She did wake up quite a few times, but I managed to get her to go back to her own bed.
I started by telling her the whole day long that it was time to sleep in her big girl bed in her own room, each time she replied with a assertive NO, but I ignored, I kept telling her what would happen. I didn’t let her nap at all after school too, as I wanted to maximise the sleepy factor and bank on it to get her to sleep there in the first place.
And so she watched some cartoons in the afternoon, and was quite fascinated by Princess Calla in the Gummi Bears adventures (a cartoon series from Disney back in the 80’s and yup available on DVD). I asked her if she was a princess too, and she happily replied yes! (yup toddlers do know that word, they just don’t feel like using it often). Seizing the opportunity on the spot, I announced that princesses don’t sleep in Mommy’s bed, they sleep in a Princess bed in their own room, and add that she will spend the night in her own Princess bed. This time she offered me a curious look, and I left it at that, we went to the playground at around 4pm, I casually repeated that she was a Princess and will sleep in a Princess bed a few time, and she even said yes to one of these (Mumbai might as well experience a snow storm….my daughter said yes to sleeping in her own bed no less!).
We went back home at around 5pm and she asked for Maggi noodles, of all things, eager not to anger her I obliged, and she ate almost her whole plate, and then insisted on not only taking her plate back to the kitchen, but decided to surprise me by taking a plastic box out of the box drawer, pour the content of her plate in it, close the box, and gasp! Put it in the fridge herself…I’m telling you Mumbai is going to see some snow! She then had her shower, got dressed for the night, and when I announced it was Princess bed time at 6.45 she went to her bedroom and bed without protesting! We read 3 bedtime stories, talked about the flowers on her blanket and on the wall stickers, and then I took my laptop and sat away from her bed but still in her room, she fell asleep by 7.30pm.
between then and 9.30 she woke up 3 times more because we were not in the room than anything else, but made no move to go to our room, she fell back asleep the minute she saw we were around. So at 9.30 I decided I might call it a night since I was sure it would be one of broken sleep, plugged the baby monitor and caught a few zzzzzz. By 1.30am she started crying, so I went to her bedroom, and she gathered all her plush animals and ran to our bedroom immediately. I gave her a firm calm No and gently led her back to her own bed while she was sobbing, she asked for a tissue and went back to her bed, but kept her eyes wide opened, I stayed in the room for 15 minutes, then told her that she would be fine and went back to bed, she didn’t come after me or whined or anything, I fell back asleep, by around 3am she was awake again, no crying though, just asking “Mama!!! Bleh” which is her request for a soy milk bottle. Deciding that we should tackle one issue at a time I agreed to providing room service before sunrise, fill the bottle, and went back to bed, again she didn’t protest to my leaving the room. By 5.30 am she woke up without crying and tip toes to our room with a pair of panties in her hand, considered she was butt naked I suspected she removed her diaper and peed somewhere. I went back to her room with her following me, the diaper was off but completely dry, so was the bed, the only logical explanation was that she went to the bathroom by herself and peed there. The instant I put her diaper on she went straight back to her bed without me asking, but I knew my night was over so I didn't;t really fell back in deep sleep into my bed, kept an ear on the baby monitor only to hear her babble away happily, and when I went checking, she was telling a story to her stuffed turtle, so I tip toed back to bed, and by 6 she calmly said mama into the monitor, and watched me coming to her room to hand me her empty milk bottle asking for more and ask for the TV.
I count that as a success, a small one, but definitely not an epic battle, hopefully the next few nights will go even better, and DH and I will eventually get used to have the bed back to ourselves as we both started the night both squishing ourselves on the edge of our bed head against the bed side tables like we did for way too many nights, but by the morning we were claiming back our queen sized space and as for me even though I still had broken sleep, it was far more relaxed than in the past, the bed was mine, the few awakenings were toward a good cause, and by the morning I wasn’t even as grumpy and snippy as usual.
Yes I am sleep deprived today, and caffeine is my friend, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and tomorrow Ishita and I are going to the mall together to get her a Princess gift for being such a great big girl. This morning she actually felt quite proud of herself already.
I am bracing myself for one of the toughest battle of parent vs. toddler starting tonight: Ishita has to start sleeping in her own bed!
When I was pregnant, we bought a crib, as I was against the idea of co-sleeping, having a Queen size bed to begin with, and not trusting myself or DH not to squish her in our sleep. We even bought a pack and play pen with a bassinet so that she could sleep in our room the first few months and prevent some drama from happening in the first 3 weeks my MIL was due to visit and stay with us.
By 3 months of age Ishi was sleeping through the night, and we moved her to her big crib in the other room, using a baby monitor to keep on top of things, she was doing great in there, she kept sleeping through the night, with no issue whatsoever until she turned 9 months old, by then she was a mobile little one, walking confidently just holding the furniture with one hand (she took her first steps without holding anything at 10 months) and with her new found mobility, our princess decided that it entitled her to have an opinion about certain things like where she slept. The first 3-4 days I would take her in my arms, let her sleep, and put her back in her crib, inevitably she would wake up again, and again and again and again until I decided to try letting her cry it out, which was a terrible mistake, she cried no stop for an hour and choked herself to the point of throwing up. DH pointed out it was better to keep her in our bed, and that beside that’s what people in India do anyway. I was so sleep deprived then that I agreed, she was till tiny and not moving too much anyway. My family found that weird, they questioned it and I ignored it, and was relieved to hear my cousin whose daughter is just one year older than Ishi was giving them the same hell over the sleeping alone thing.
Years passed, we hoped she would change her mind about her now turned into a toddler bed crib, she still regards it as a great pretend play game and she still goes to our bed to sleep. But the past few months have been less than peaceful at night. She kicks, she stretches, she claims our pillows pushing us aside, and basically ensure that both DH and I end up with nights after nights of broken sleep. And if that weren’t enough, she thinks she is eligible for room service whenever the craving for a soy milk bottle strikes, and I had one too many argument about her call for “bleh” (her name for soy milk) at 4-5am. I explained that no milk would come her way until the sun was up, and for the past week she decided that she would still give the “bleh call” at 5am a shot, and upon hearing the word sun would stay awake and kick us and watch outside the window for the first sign of dawn at which she shouts “SUN” (generally around 6 am), by which time I drag myself out of bed to get the milk from the fridge, hoping that she would just let me go back to sleep.
No such luck, parents of toddlers reading this will all nod in agreement. Toddlers rise with the sun, and once they had any form of nourishment hit the spot they start their day. Ishi is no different, and her next request is for a pair of panties, and the TV. And if you think the TV will allow you to go back to sleep, you are or 1) Not having a toddler in the house yet 2) Having a very cooperative lil one (tell me how you did that please!) or 3) have a toddler that just hit that stage and you aren’t yet used to the drill.
So in our house TV means wake up and be ready to serve me! For ages I have been on constant negotiation to extort a please out of my pint sized despot, and while please is still a very elusive notion, I at least feel grateful she decided “tee koo much” is something that is worth saying 80% of the time. By 10.30 am I am glad it’s time to get ready for school because I then desperately need my “Me time” after a morning of running, cleaning, preparing food and packing lunches, and the sleep deprivation is not making it any easier, beside I am not a morning person at all, and never will be.
So what suddenly made me decide to tackle the great “Sleep in your own bed battle?” Well first the idea has been there for a while, but I figured out we would need cooler nights so we could start the process when the AC was no longer needed at night, if Ishita has to wake up alone in her own room at night and panic that might as well be so with all doors opened giving her a bit more comfort in the process. Then there was the fact I still secretly hoped she would show an interest in her own room. The past week in our bed has however taken a turn for the even worse than usual with Ishita feeling the need to drag a zoo worth of stuffed animals in our bed: a turtle, a crocodile, a frog, a cat and a bunny no less! We can still kick the menagerie out by the time we make it to bed, but still might face her suddenly waking up and screaming for one of her plush pets. Last night she decided to not only bring the zoo in bed, kick us half the night and push DH off his pillow but removed her diaper in the bed for me to finally put my hand into a suspicious wet spot on the mattress and piece all the pieces together: yup she peed in our bed! worse she removed a perfectly fine diaper to do so. The minute I woke up she whined “pee pee” just in case I would not have guessed. A quick glance at the clock revealed it was 2.30 am! Not happening, too dead beat from a previous day where she didn't;t nap, and an equally pooped out DH I decided to not change the bed sheet immediately. Went grabbing the first towel I found in the dark, put it over the pee pee puddle, grabbed another diaper for Ishita, and told her to go back to sleep. Would have been a perfect fix if the queen herself didn’t object to the idea of having a towel in bed and pulled it off only to scream “weeeeeeeeeet”. By then I was so tired, and pissed and grossed that I was about to ship her to her own bed, but seeing how serious I was she calmed down and agreed to sleep on said towel, only to wake me up at dawn for her milk fix…gah!
Needless to say I was in a bad mood, but so was DH who for the first time ever said “I don;t want her in our bed, or I’ll sleep on the guest mattresses!
So I am pretty much dead set on getting her in her room tonight, if that means a few more night of broken sleep to get her to do so, then be it, but I just can’t share a bed with her anymore, a bed she in the absolute should never have started sharing in the first place (but babies don’t follow rules all the time). I however rejected DH’s idea to drag the whole toddler bed to our room and make her sleep there. Because I know that I might as well get Ishi to agree on both her bedroom and her bed at the same time to spare myself another epic battle in a few months when it will be time to move the whole thing back where it belonged all along.
To maximise our success rate tonight, I plan not to let her sleep in the afternoon, not that she will as she is really doing away with the whole idea of napping anyway.
I reached a point where the sleep deprivation is taking the best of me, making me moody and in permanent PMS mode, I feel unproductive, and not even inclined to do much more than sit all day, and have little tolerance for her whining. We truly reached that point where co-sleeping make no sense at all anymore and is not benefiting either of us. I am realising it, Ishita hadn’t but for the sake of our mother daughter bond she will have to, as right now, I feel I would be a much better parent if I could just sleep at night. we have so many other things to focus on, like getting her to start speaking at an age appropriate level and getting her ready to tackle Jr. Kg next year, and if all I do is discipline and screaming and feeling frustrated as a response to chronic lack of sleep, it won’t be done.
That said I hope the battle won’t last too long and she will agree to my terms without throwing too much of a fight.