Sunday, January 29, 2012

Tales of India : The last chapter, A day in Delhi

My dearest friends

How lovely it has been to read your comments on my other posts on my India trip!

Thank you so much for reading and for your lovely comments

I close with one of my favorite days in India.

This is one of our last days in Delhi

Delhi is a fascinating city about five thousand years old

( do just the words not give you a shiver?)

It has been the capital of many empires and dynasties  ( at lease 11 as per record )

I have spend a lot of my life here

First, as a little child when my dad was a major in the army.

Then at 17 while getting my Undergrad in Economics and living away from home for the first time

And then finally at 23 as a newly minted working woman and at 24 as a newly wed.

I left Delhi at 26 but we go back every couple of  years

The previous evening- to the day I describe here -  I return to Delhi from Kolkata .

The return to Delhi has been a strenous trip -

I had a 102 temperature in Kolkata and dare not tell my mum and dad as they worry about me.

While R does not do the running away that some parents have to deal with, he does R wander around to whatever interests him .

 He also tends to not eat anything - Both of these make traveling with him alone very stressful

We reach Delhi.

When DH picks me from the airport  - he tells me there is a party in our apartment

My heart sinks when I hear this - as I have been looking forward to watching TV and  going to bed .

Plus our apartment is only used for 2-3 days each month so there is no help - we have to do all our work ourselves

 Of course when we get to the apartment - my MIL has already cleaned up and prepared a massive meal

Our guests show up around 9 and I forget my fatigue for a while so lovely it is to catch up with these people that I have not seen in years

By the time the party ends its 1.30 am ( this is normal in Delhi ) and I am wiped out

My MIL shoos me when I say that I want to help with the dishes and I fall into a deep sleep.

When I wake up, I am almost about to wimp out for I am still worn out

But DH insists I come

R whines and tugs at my heart strings but his grans tempt him by making a swing of him.

A few minutes after we leave the apartment, my MIL calls me to tell me that he has forgotten his sorrow ( indeed I can hear his squeals of joy in the background )

Much reassured, we board the Delhi Metro ( I have seriously never seen a more spic and span subway )

Picture from previous trip but I wanted you to see how shiny and dazzling it is

Delhiites don't mind you staring at them.

DH and I take full advantage of this.

We speculate on the lives of the people around us

I also eavesdrop ( in the west, people use unkind words like snooping.  But in the east, a natural curiosity in other is seen as very natural. This is NOT a complete boon though as you need to get used to all sorts of personal questions being asked.)

There is a hefty girl next to us who is chatting on her mobile phone about her recent movie experience.

She was so disappointed by the latest Shahrukh khan movie that she simply walked out.

 I think she is trying to show her friend how refined her tastes are.

Ahead of us a man is bargaining on his mobile phone for a contract for apparel - he is tense and sweating and I think he is nervous that he wont get it.

There is a couple with their son - the lady looks so grumpy but her face transforms when she looks at her son.

But she and her husband are so loving to their little boy - he is constantly hugged and kissed ( a thing I love about the east is how demonstrative dads can be to their children . My own father would play with us with our dolls and be an honored guest to our tea parties for hours on end )

 Apart from meeting my family I think the highlight of my trip is a visit to Chandni Chowk ( translating to moonlit square )

If you have any sense of atmosphere this market will give you the goosebumps

I hunt for pretty scarves and saris

This lane is called Kinari Bazaar-  "Lane of Borders"( for the women of India would wear plain saris the border of which were elaborate with silver and gold thread and they sewed these on )

Some of these shops are a hundred years old .

I am ensconced in thrilling thoughts the ancient women who have been in these very streets before me - all looking for something to make themselves look lovely

The streets are so narrow - for when these shops and market was built, the only way to travel was by horse or little carts or your feet

This market, I often tell DH is the most romantic place on earth
 ( the other romantic places to me are Bhopal - so serene and of course Paris.- to me its just amazing that a place like Paris lives upto its reputation. How cosmopolitan I sound !
The Paris trip was pure good fortune-  DH and I were once lucky enough to be stranded in Paris by shenanigans of the airlines and had a lovely time there  )

Every time DH holds my hand in Chandni Chowk  ( for practical reasons like crossing the roads - for PDA in Old India is considered uncouth) my heart skips a beat

The thing about Delhii even Old Delhi - is that  not that time forgot it.

While some of Delhi has abandoned its past - most of it straddles the past and the current effortlessly

Infact, all the shopkeepers sitting in their 100 year old stores with foods made from the same recipes they were made all those years ago - have mobile phones and will often be talking with exporters and such .

My Sari shopkeeper- sitting in a several generation shop -  is talking to someone about his daughter who is traveling to London tonight and that the person on the phone ( who has "contacts" at the airlines) should please make sure that the folks at British Airways dont create trouble over her bags ( India runs on contacts !- You always need to have a guy or know someone who knows a guy). In this way he straddles the century effortlessly

While all the old markets of Delhi are fascinating -

you will come across things like a professional ear cleaner ( really !!)

And Shops with their menus written with incredible spellings

or a restaurant that only serves one meal ( comprising about 18 side dishes )

But Chandni Chowk is its own thing

DH eats a little desert which is famous here called Daulat ki chaat - two of the ingredients of this ancient recipe are dewdrops and the full moon

Truly its taste is  like poetry.

All the shops are specialty shops

I buy silver and pretty little things and  trinkets for my friends back in the South

By the time we return - its lunch time - we grab a quick lunch and then DH and I are off on our separate ways

I go to meet my friend who in now a famous designer and makes the most exquisite clothes you can imagine

I have come armed with all the gadgets and R's specific foods ( for his refusal to eat anything outside has been a huge stress to me )

Her label is much sought after now but she is the same loving and warm friend as always

She talks about the difficulties in making large amounts of clothes for what is essentially handmade stuff ( you can see the contradiction there )

 We catch up on everything that has been going on with our lives and eat lots of things

The Gramps pick me up  from my friend and we battle traffic to have dinner at the famous Delhi Gymkhana  Club 

Another 100 year club - they are renowned for their chicken tikka and their kebabs and pomegranate juice and for old money and influential bureaucrats

We feast on a fantastic meal and drive back home

DH has come in a separate car and so we part ways and he will spend the night in his friends' apartment

I am sad to see him go even though I know I will see him the next day .

But I console myself with knowing that he will be able to connect with his friends better without thinking of R's bedtime and such

And the day is done

I write this post sitting in the dining room of our cabin.

Surrounded by nothing but trees  and the lights of the cabin on the nearby hill.

Its past midnight but DH is still tinkering away at a house project in the bath upstairs and the occasional sounds of him dropping a nail or something are the only sounds around me

Its so quiet here

But while describing this day to you through this pictures I feel like I am back in that other place of bright colors, loud sounds  and crowds and ancient things

Such is the beauty of journaling.

I will add a few more pictures tomorrow .

Good night ! I hope you enjoy reading this post as much as I enjoyed writing it 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Part Two : Tales of India: Purulia Days

Thank you so much for all the lovely comments on my previous post . I was so glad to read them

In Purulia I was too lazy to collect pictures in one day. So I will try and paint a picture of Purulia from the odds and ends of my entire 10 days there

So here is the next instalment - a post on Purulia.

Purulia is a truly  small town.

When I say that - I  mean really really small town !

Everybody knows everybody

For instance, one day, DH and I are off to visit my aunt.

Lost, I stop at a  jeweler shop and I ask simply "Where is my aunt's house?" ( without even giving the name of my aunt or even introducing myself ).

Nonplussed the jeweler gives me accurate directions !

The pace of life is really slow (which is what I like )

Everyday we begin the day with drinking tea in the sun

We lazily watch kite fights (people  fly a kite but they  are also trying the cut the thread of the other person who is flying a kite and great kite battles take place in the sky. All the people sunbathing on the rooftops are avidly watching this from a distance )

I and my sister are really close and only in this once-in-2-years vacation do we get to hang out ( for she is super busy too being a working mum with 2 kids )

My mum and dad are kind of community leaders there

For instance in their neighborhood , every house has a well which is usually the main water source

Here is our backyard well that the maid is pulling water for washing the outside

There is a neighborhood tap which gets "soft water " from the govt .

This tap has been placed right outside my mum and dad's house - as they are deeply trusted to not take over
( you should gasp at this point as this is respect indeed  )

My mum is also always settling disputes

One afternoon,a cacophony seems to have erupted outside .

When I look outside I see that  my mum's maids extended family come to get my mother to settle a BIGFIGHT

The dispute is about respect - The daughters of the house have moved back in with their mum and they are being mean to their SIL

I surreptitiously take a photo - shared for your pleasure here .

My mum resolves the dispute by ordering them to stop talking to each other. This is a very novel yet effective way to resolve a dispute

My Dad is the kindest of all and he has as always acquired another mass of pets

The pigeons circle him when he comes out and the dogs ( which he tells me, only like to eat meat ) are always waiting outside with looks of vacuous adoration for him

The skies are blue and its very pleasant ( almost 70 degrees everyday )

But Purulia dwellers are always cold

My parents adore DH - and also son in laws are always given special status !.

My mum makes fish for him everyday. Unlike the west, the main meal of the day is lunch

A note on Purulia would be incomplete without mentioning how direct people are!

One of my cousins is trying to conceive and all the aunts and uncles discuss things like "cycles" and "dates of possible conception"  without a thought  and in front of the couple in question ( who are also participating in the discussion )

Though if it were me, I think I would die of mortification.

Its like this with everything .

One day we are at a restaurant and someone who has been discussing their problem with being constipated .
In the middle of the meal they announce that they are "feeling the force".
Everyone respectfully makes way so she can go to the bathroom !

And the rest of the meal everyone talks about when they had similar experiences and whether the food in Gopal restaurant has any special qualities that enables the force

Autism awareness in Purulia

Nobody knows anyone with autism( my dad is almost definitely an aspie- a very high functioning one  and has a special understanding of R because of it.   ) 

But despite this lack of awareness they treat R with so much love and tenderness

My sister and nephew and niece are doting towards him

It seems he is perpetually hugged

And adored

He loves his rickshaw rides as always ( here he is with my sister )
What is different this time is that R is connecting with everyone

He has this game with my sister where he pretends as though he is going to pick her nose

She gasps in mock horror !

And gives him a mock scolding which makes him pass out laughing and squealing "no picking maashi's( aunt's) nose"

My niece and nephew play a simple game they have called "aaaaah ... wheee".

This simply involves them yelling a battle cry ( aaaaah ) and descending on him with a tight hug( wheeee) .

My mum tells him that he must stop saying "eeee.. eee"

I explain to her that this may damage his self esteem- to which my mum replies that "just explain to him that it makes him look different"

 But R thinks its a big joke and specifically does a lot of "eeeeee" in front of her so she will giggle and say "no ee ee" and this provides him with much amusement

R's sweetness wins everyone over

One day my dad and mum tell me in all seriousness that they wish every child was like R :-) ( and they mean it )

Once when I am expressing worry about R's future my mom says nonchalantly "he can eat, go to the bathroom , entertain himself, has good manners . what else do you need?"

Only once do I hear something disparaging about R - we are out at dinner - and one of my old aunts ask if R will always be like this

When I related this incident to my mum., she replies that that aunt is " like a cracked drum .. no one knows what sounds will come out of her next "


Do you find shopping lists very revealing ?

I do!

I feel if I only read your shopping list ( with some detail of why you wanted a thing ) I would know all about you.

I found a shopping list in my phone which is written by my sister and I put it here as it will show you our priorities

Sweets are mentioned twice ( which tells you how important they are )

Once for our house and another time when we are visiting our aunt ( champa mamima - which autocorrect has turned to Champagne Mamma ). Its customary to take sweets with you when you go to visit someones house

The Clothes pegs are because we hang clothes in the sun to dry ( there are no dryers in India )

The "lower" is a warm pants to wear under jeans - for my nephew ( kukku) to wear - even though it reaches 70 degrees each day- the minimum temperatures of 47 are perceived to be arctic like.  All the kids wear plenty of warm clothes

( when my sister and I go and look at the available assortment we are so amused that some manufacturer without really understanding  the cultural connotation has purloined the "playboy" logo -complete with bunny- for underpants for small children . I am guessing he means" boys that play" )

Sooji is a delicious  cereal my sister made( kind of like the English porridge - only a million times better)
And I think the last line my sister is trying to remind herself that there are more people to plan and cook for
There is one small market in Purulia which we go to all the time as this the main entertainment ( apart from gossiping )

There are two main shops here .

One is called "Big Mirror"- the other is called "Small mirror"

The first day DH and I go to "Small mirror"- apparently this is a big social gaffe as - our family patronises "Big Mirror"

Shopping in Purulia is a lot of fun.

Even in a small town like this , the women are conscientious enough that there is an entire lane devoted to clothes simply called "Clothes Lane"

While all saris look alike to westerners. each region in India has its own craft of sari.

For example Bengal ( where Purulia is ) has atleast 6 main subtypes of sari crafts

One of the famous subtype is "Taant"- paper thin saris made in hand loom and having bright borders .

My sister has requests from all her colleagues that she must get saris for them . Here are the shelves in the sari shop - tell me have you seen more vibrant colors

Its the same with sweets ( and Bengalis love sweets ) . The distinct thing about the candy here is that they use palm jaggery instead of sugar ( which tastes like heaven)

Cows wander freely in the markets  - a point of great joy for R

R has this curious quality of being able to identify when someone is feeling off.

He has always had this and will stick to the people  who are not well.

Everyday  that my mum is not well ( and she has a heart problem - a source of great stress to all of us ) R is completely by her side all the time snuggling with her and a great comfort

The child's sweetness moves me to tears sometimes .

There is a lot of goodness in him 

I think of all the evaluations which show how behind he is in so many things

But with a little distance and perspective - I sometimes also think of the many  things he is so much ahead in 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tales of India Part One: A day in Dehradun

I am back my dear friends

I missed you and am slowly catching up on everyone's blogs

India was amazing and exhausting as it always is

The travel is long and  a very fussy eater creates a lot of complication. I will not bore you with details of that

I was wondering how to share India - India is so complex

We were in four places in India. But the majority of our time was in Purulia ( where my mum and dad live ) and in Dehradun ( where DH's mum, sister and uncle live )

So I thought I would do a portrait of a day in each of these place to give you a flavor of my experience.

 Its a long post but I always love reading posts from people when they describe their day in detail.

I always wish my international friends ( and my american ones ) would write about  the little bits of their day    - what they eat, when do they wake up,  what their living room looks like etc

So I thought I would write the kind of post I would like to read

Portrait of a Day in Dehradun 

I and R wake up at 9 am

When my  MIL hears me wake up - she sends her  2 maids up .

As I and R get ready for the day - my MIL has given instructions like a drill sergeant. Her servants have made the bed, swept the floor,  folded all the clothes that were strewn around after last night's long  drive to get here from Delhi !


I finally get ready

I go downstairs to make tea for everyone.

But its very different than the tea-bag tea I have back in the States .

This tea has ginger( fresh from my MIL's garden !!)  and cardamom and cloves and is supposed to be great for the immune system 

We eat peanut butter and toast for breakfast.

Everybody eats their breakfast while they are on the phones - its amazing how much time people in India spend on their cellphones ( called mobiles ). 

People get upset with  with you if you dont answer the phone. They call you again and again if you don't pick up .

 When they finally get a hold of you - the first question is an aggrieved "where were you ?!!!!!" . 

You have to apologetically explain that you were taking a bath or sleeping  ( Then your friends will be quite interested in your reason and will ask you - Why that late ? who takes a bath at 10 am? you should wake up earlier?.).

If a phone rings it must be answered ! Slowly you  get used to the disconcerting habit of people answering their mobile halfway through a conversation with you !

In the States- at least in the South people will almost apologize for calling you .

 They will start a conversation with "I hope I am not calling at a bad time .... "

My SIL leaves for her school  . My SIL has a seizure disorder and an intellectual disability . In spite of her health issues - she is high functioning and very sweet 

 Her school is called ASEEMIT ( limitless ) and it has a staff of three .She waves me good bye with her lunchbox and bag - I think I will burst with pride !

The school has  given her such a sense of purpose.I really think, everyone, including special needs folks need a purpose and a social outlet. 

I ask Uncle what the purpose of the school is? He answers  that "its an escape from the prison of home". 

This is very true 

This is a school that parents have combined together to create. India has very few resources for special needs folks. Parents and charitable institutions often find creative ways to get help for kiddos 

I am so moved by this place.There are many sad stories of the young adults who are here - ( one that particularly moves me is of a computer programmer who was attacked by a gang of hoodlums and lost all his skills and abilities  - his parents are trying to get him around computers in the hope that it will revive lost memories in him ) 

Nothing is perfect and there are plenty of problems for the school ( they had a great teacher in charge who has left for higher studies  )  

Still, its a lovely positive place and my SIL is proud and happy to be there !!'

Her picture is on their brochure!

DH and my MIL leave for a whole bunch of errands 

I am sitting outside in the sun alone on the roof  and there is only me and R in the house!

How often does this happen ? 

One of the best parts about Dehradun is its gorgeous sunny days - the temperature will reach in the late 60's and early 70's and its a mild beautiful sun 

 Sunbathing is a fine art in India

 Even the dogs do it  all day 

My MIL has 2 little dogs who curl around each other like the ying and yang symbol every night, but in the day their litte beds are set out in the sun and they sleep separately

I  think of how universal mother hood is 

There is a small complex behind my MIL's house where her maids and their families  live . 

 ( I can hear you saying la di da. Please don't think we are high and mighty or anything like that  - this is a very normal practice in India for well-off families  and  my MIL is a good employer.  In India - electricity and water are precious commodities. For instance, one never takes a bath in India. One uses a bucket of hot water and a mug to pour water over oneself as it would be sacrilegious to waste water in a bath tub. But services are very affordable )

From those apartments,  comes  the voice of my MIL's maid 

" beta kha le ( son eat please

Her  2 year old son's wails .."nahi " ( no ) 

She cajoles  "mera accha beta hai na " ( aren't you my good son? )

How is it that  mothers and children all over the world speak in the same way?

 Who tells us what to say?

But there are also differences

Indian mums are a slap-happy lot

Later I find the same maid giving her toddler two sharp slaps for some infringement

She forgets her anger quickly and oils his hair and chubby little body lovingly in the sun

One of the dog whines to get in 

I let him in and he joins us on the roof 

Later on the dog gets scolded as she  gets into the kitchen and eats up all the meat that my MIL has bought specially from the butcher for lunch 

 I tell R about what she has done 

R loves when others are in trouble and takes pleasure in pointing out the bad dog and the good dog  

R and I spend the morning doing silly things like making faces in the mirror ( him ) and reading books ( me) 

 We practice writing a couple of essays 

I will do a post on Reading Comprehension as this is what we are working on and R needs a lot of help with this 
The idea is that he suggests a topic and then gives me some words relating to the topic 

Then I turn the words into sentences 

So he suggests" India " and gives me some words - I turn them into sentences with help from him 

Here is our essay 

Grandma and aunt live in dwarka ( a neighborhood in Delhi where my MIL has an apartment ) 

Women in India wear Sari 

We came to India at theAirport 

 Our plane was a United plane 

R went to sleep in the plane.

Another time at the   airport we took airtran and Delta
 last year this time  we stayed at the Hilton double tree.
Granma and aunt and Granpa live in India 

Golu kuku ( my sister's kids) also live in India. 

But golu kuku don't live in dwarka 

Golu kuku also live in a house 

There are no bathtubs in India 

In India I don't go to school

( I wish i had continues with working with R more but the rest of the trip is very hectic and I am very distracted) 

 In the afternoon, everyone returns and I and our uncle go to pick up my SIL at her special needs school -

I buy some spices- which is part of the project work that the school does !

We eat lunch out in the sun that my MIL prepared with some assistance from her maids early in the morning 

DH and I go out for a quick shopping trip

All shops are specialty store what you would call "mom and pop stores " here in the US

R and I look for Coke and Sprite in a sweet shop

Fresh produce is sold in stalls like this

Though the wal-mart-esque stores are coming up - these specialty stores  are what are most common

DH stops at his tailor shop ( the one he has been going to from when he was a small boy at the Doon Boarding School based here in Dehradun  )

The name of the shop always makes me smile .

Evidently its meant to connote a gentlemanly countenance for its clientele

As soon as the sun sets it becomes terribly cold ( all Indian houses are designed to withstand the terrible summers ) 
 My MIL's house is all marble (which  feels lovely when you walk barefoot in the summer on it but now is like being in a refrigerator) 

In the evening DH and I go off to his friend's house to eat dinner 

They are planning out their Doon School 25th year reunion ( for this DH will come back in October alone- I am already missing him in anticipation  ) 

His friend has made a fireplace outside and we all sit around it 

In many ways, its like any barbecue we would have here in the west 

However, there are a few differences .

First, there is an unwritten rule in the west that only one man - the host-"mans" the grill

 On this fire however , all the men and women are busy adjusting logs and wood chips.

They are constantly chiding each other's efforts as "smoke-raising" while praising their own contribution.

There is a man - servant who runs around serving everything and so the host and hostess are free to chat !

The food in different ( no salsa- chips , chip and dip, no hummus.. Instead there are raw veggies served with lime and salt, peanuts in their shells and Spicy chips - which they call wafers ) 

We move inside the house for dinner. The dinner is fully vegetarian and has also been prepared by their cook .

One of my friends moved back to India from the states and was surprised to find how much she liked hosting parties once she started living in India ( no surprise to me though- what's not to like about being a gracious host when other people are doing everything for you ? )

The conversation too - I bet you would find eclectic -Our host and hostess are very very charming and gracious 

The hostess's son had health issues  and she describes all the efforts they took to help him.

Besides going to a regular doctor  -she also went to  a reiki master, and a homeopathic doctor.

She  considered doing  a past life regression 

( a little note on this last thing-   Hindus believe in reincarnation. That means that each soul is born many times etc till you attain nirvana and become one with God.
In the way that psychologists believe that you cannot move on without resolving issues that have happened in your past . 
In the same way people who do PAST LIFE REGRESSION believe that you need to resolve the issues in your past life before you can move on )

 Its midnite by the time we leave and I am really worried that R will be upset

 ( I have been hinting with eyes at DH for the past hour that we should leave.

In the car,  I berate him for ignore my silents pleas- he claims that every time he looked at me I was busy stuffing my face and gave him no hints at all !!) 

My fears ( that I will find R weeping in waiting ) are unfounded 

 R has had a great time with MIL and SIL who have given him the royal treatment .Everybody has gone to sleep and we have to spend quite a bit of time outside while MIL wakes up and lets us in !

He has been allowed to do all sorts of forbidden things ( such as eat and drink in bed ) and is snuggled up with them fast asleep 

I bathe( not in a bathtub but with a bucket of hot water )  and change. Then I go  and pick up his warm body up from their bed and marvel as to how a skinny runt  like R is so immeasurablly cuddly 

He opens his eyes when I put him on our bed as the sheets are cool to the touch.

 "all done bye bye mama" he says settling  on my shoulder.

"That's right sweet angel" he adds ( This is my usual reply to him when I agree with what he says.  If I  am a minute late in replying - he supplies my answer himself )

"That's right sweet angel "  I confirm

"You are the best part of our day" I tell him

 And the day is done 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year

My dear friends

I am out of the country right now . getting ready to celebrate my niece's birthday in a " 100% pure vegetarian restaurant " but wanted to wish you guys a very very happy new year

Wish you a  year full  of sweetness and joy and calm

Love and kisses

Another random week in 2020

 Everything that I could say about 2020 has probably been said.  On the whole,  its not as bad as it could have been because I am with my tw...