Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Shiva is reputed to be quick to like people, easy to please but very dangerous to piss off. My mother-in-law is convinced that Shiva is protecting my husband because when he was 2 years old a cobra could have gone for him but didn't - cobras belong to Shiva's dominion. And she says that our (my husband and me) horoscopes reveal that our union is similar to the Shiva-Parvathi union, which she says is the ideal relationship. Parvathi set herself on fire (committing suicide) when Shiva accused her of infidelity, and Shiva also beheaded the son she created on her own (since she is the mother goddess she don't need no man). We have yet to experience such bliss in our union as yet.
Back to the puja flowers. At the market one day I saw where all the puja garlands came from. There was a lady with a high table - like a judge's bench - with heaps and heaps of fresh flowers piled on top. Fresh jasmine and rose and honeysuckle. I was smitten by the site of so many pretty fresh flowers and I wanted to just thrust my nose into the piles and breathe deep of their perfumes. I made a move to do just that when i felt my maid pulling me back, and I saw the flower lady rushing to protect her flowers with her arms.
I had forgotten that mere mortals are not supposed to smell the flowers offered to God until God has had a chance to sniff them first. These people were protecting the flower lady's inventory because if I had succeeded, she would not be able to sell the flowers that I had sniffed. They would be deemed unusable for offering to God.
We have a very sweet "Man Friday" that has been with our family for 10 or 15 years. (Interesting side story - my father-in-law discovered this guy when he was 12 and peddling a bicycle delivering pickles. My father-in-law decided to pay for this guy's education provided he do odd jobs afterschool, but he also had to pay the guy's father just to let him go to school - Dickens would love this place. ) Man Friday now is officially a senior office boy and is very proud to possess a set of business cards, but he is also on call for domestic duties, such as driving me to unfamiliar places.
I asked Man Friday (heretofore to be called Joe) to drive me and my cat to the clinic, since I am spatially challenged, almost debilitatingly so. Unlike most drivers, Joe doesn't like to sit in the car, he likes to join me in my exploits since he is practically family. (My inner snob used to worry that when he accompanied me to places that people might think i was married to HIM - not that he is so undeserving of a girl with my fairness and US passport, but the working poor here are quite spindly and unattractive - not the stuff of gardener fantasies.)
The reason we were at this clinic was to get my cat's favorite Lion Cut - you guessed it, they shave all the fur except for around the neck (mane), the lower legs, and a bit on the tail. He suffers terribly from hairballs and, when his fur gets long, will pointedly puke up yummy globules in my normal haunts - desk chair, staircases, etc.
I warned Joe that he should leave the room, otherwise he will be covered with cat hair. He didn't seem to mind and went on to chat the whole time with the "barber" in Kannada. He was very interested in the whole place and the other patients - unabashedly peeking into the treatments rooms, and laughed when he saw that the animals were getting hot water baths (such an extravagance for a lower life form).
I noticed that while my cat's legs were being shaved, Joe and the barber seemed to be looking at my kitty's crotch and speculating. Joe asks me, "this is a boy cat, madam?" I said, 'yes, it's a boy cat!" "No, ma'am, this is a girl cat." I thought they might be confused because the cat was neutered and so no evidence of maleness was present.
These two were pretty interested in how much I paid for my cat. It was humbling to tell them that I spent between $50 - $75 (INR 3300 - half their monthly pay probably) to adopt the cat and try to convince them that it was CHEAP. They had trouble processing the concept of adopting an animal that someone had given up, and when they saw that my cat's front claws were no longer there I could feel the judgment. I kept telling them that the first family did that to him, it was done before I had him - but maybe they think I made up the first family.
I was worried that their misidentification of my cat as a female might lead to an ugly scene with the razor. I called for the doctor and tried to clarify things, but the doctor checked and agreed with the barber and Joe and showed me the part in question. It was definitely not a protruberance.
So now I am wrestling with my cat's newfound sexuality - or newfound previous sexuality... how will I get him/her back to the US if the US paperwork states that he is male and the Indian paperwork states the she is female? Does this explain the nipples?
One interesting bit is that the vet suggested i pay him 500 rupees for each rabies vaccination my cat had missed since coming to India (which is really 1, but he keeps saying 2) and that he will write it in my cat's vaccination card that he gave those doses at the appropriate times, even though he did not. I don't know... maybe he needs the money for tuitions?
Monday, January 29, 2007
- eggs with the chicken poop still on them... hey, you know it's fresh!
- stressing out every morning whether i woke up in time to catch the milk man - if i don't give him my tickets, my daughter doesn't get her milk!
- every few days in the hot hot summer, half of the milk order will have already soured by the time it gets to me.
- boiling the day's milk every morning, and waiting for the cream to solidify on top so i can remove it and not have clumps of it showing up in my coffee or cereal.
- the garbage man suddenly going MIA for weeks and trash accumulating in my backyard, providing a feast for rats miles around.
- the garbage man turning up again after his MIA and demanding extra pay to remove the backlog of trash, or better yet, could i give him a cup of coffee?
- maids i cannot communicate with who keep yakking like i am their long-lost sister, and how much they love Australians, oops, Americans.
- needing an interpreter to translate Indian English to American English and vice versa
- the puja flower lady - really, i will miss her... she's nice, even tho we can't communicate. sometimes she gives my daughter her own poomala (flower garland) to desecrate
- the maid deciding to boil the cream accumulated from the daily boiling of milk into ghee in the middle of the afternoon, stinking up the entire house and preventing me from assigning any real work
- turning on the motor every morning and afternoon so we have enough water for drinking, cooking, baths, etc.
- the nights when the all-out refill runs out and i wake up covered in mosquito bites
- the impromptu appearance of small marching bands outside our home on certain holidays
- the do-it-yourself approach every self-respecting Bangalorean takes to igniting many, many fireworks on diwali, new year's, christmas, etc.
- taking my daughter to see cows everyday in the neighborhood
- taking my daughter to see horses everyday in the neighborhood
- avoiding the stray dogs my daughter thinks are "nice doggies" in the neighborhood
- hearing my daughter say "VENDA" to street vendors and beggars along with me
- hearing my daughter say "hello, cow, shake hands! awww, come, sit lap!" when we pass a cow on the street
- the helpfulness of the grocery store clerks here, you can still shop while you are being rung up, heedless of the line of people behind you
- the adoration nearly every citizen here has for babies, toddlers, and children - no matter the class, caste, or creed, they live to make kids smile.
- the adoration nearly every citizen here has for foreigners like myself :)
- the lust for my greenbacks that nearly every small shop owner has
- the almost daily contest of wills with my hot water geyser
- the shoddy craftsmanship that is omnipresent in consumer durables
- the freedom to call oneself an "electrician," "plumber," or even doctor without evidence of any talent or training in that particular arena
- the freedom to keep a herd of cows even though you don't have any land to call your own
- the freedom to drive motorbikes, scooters, horse-and-buggies, and bullock carts the wrong way up a one way street
- the liberty which the government takes in declaring a street one-way in one direction and then abruptly, without notice, reversing that one-way direction of that same street.
- my weekly grocery bill coming in under $50 US, and still being more than i pay the maid, ironically.
- the fights with the sneaky, one-eyed HOPCOMS grocer to avoid purchasing more food than i need or want
- the slow and subtle destruction of my non-stick cookware and kitchen gadgets by my "help"
- the $3 or 250 INR fees to see a doctor, prescription drugs at almost 1/5 of the US cost in some cases
- manicures and pedicures at half the US cost with twice the US service
- 7-star hotel buffets at $20 per head, including 2 alcoholic beverages
- no-power sundays and saturdays every coupla months
My mother-in-law, having completed the peanut transaction, finally notices these kids who are pitifully calling "Maaa" to me, almost like sheep bleating. My mother-in-law grabs her pocketbook, looking like she's going to check it and shouts, "PICKPOCKETS??!!, hai, PICKPOCKETS??!!"
The kids RAN away so fast.
I told my husband about this technique later. He was aghast at what she'd done and said that must be a trick she learned up North (in Delhi). There are some choice jerks up there, he elaborated.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Sunday afternoon visit. We served them tea and some homemade
goodies. I offered the goodies to each one personally, but i did so
My husband was so irritated with me that I stopped at one offer. He
pulled me aside and urged me to offer the goodies twice more. Two
more times, but they already declined once! He told me that offering
only once was like a half-hearted attempt, that you really could not
care less if they ate the item or didn't eat the item. A well-bred
hostess will offer the same item three times to each guest and if
they decline on the third attempt, then you can give up. You've done
your part and they feel good that you really cared that they eat
something but they just didn't feel like it. So I went back and sure
enough some did eat when prompted for the third time.
So the next time we had people over, I offered three times in a row.
Do you want this?
are you so you don't want this?
Not at all?
My husband was livid - it seems you have to pepper it thru the
evening, otherwise you're just being pushy.
i guess my ancestors really were barbarians. :(
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
The house is nice and quiet now - only my daughter's toddler noises are to be heard. I used to complain that I preferred my American dishwasher to my Malayalee dishwasher, because the former made much less noise than the latter.
My SIL and I did the jadoo-pucha (sweeping and swabbing) on this pirate ship we call home.
This morning I realized I am missing 400 rupees from my own wallet, one of my daughter's silver spoon, the leap frog fridge magnet that teaches the ABCs, and my sandwich-maker. I paid the maid $2400 per month and she took her own perks.
Monday, January 22, 2007
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Monday, January 15, 2007
Friday, January 12, 2007
Every night at this time, an evening puja (prayer ceremony) is performed. One of the office boys (really a man) chops coconut into small pieces, breaks up a bunch of small bananas, cleans the puja area and lights the lamp. He walks about the office with the "sacred flame" - burning camphor placed on a metal plate. He stops at each employee and they hold their hands over the flame and bring it to their heads.
After the puja is performed, he distributes the prasad (the chopped coconut and small bananas) that was offered to God to the employees.
The employees are a mix of Christian, Hindu, and Muslim, but all participate in this puja.
2. that is the onely thing i don't like... that's only but pronounced as like the number onely...
3. you mean over by Frank Unthahny's (Anthony's) Public School?
Thursday, January 11, 2007
middle school, knows something I, a master's degree holder, do not!
It turns out there are two species of cilantro. One is a big leaf
variety, the other is a small leaf variety. The smaller leaf variety
has more flavor and costs more. I did not know it, but at least I
handled it better than my college senior sister-in-law. The two of
them were arguing in Tamil, and even the vendor was joining in.
Actually, it is wise to argue because sometimes maids and vendors
will connive together to rip off firengi memsahibs just out of
patriotism or caste pride.
Libran lover of harmony that I am, I came up with a compromise. Let's
buy a bunch of both and have a taste test, I told them. All were
happy with that and that is how I found out the maid is right. Aiyo,
I hate that feeling.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Friday, January 05, 2007
My friend’s son is a sweet, quiet, well-behaved little boy. My daughter is very sweet with episodes of extreme naughtiness in between episodes of sweetness.
We met up at the boy’s grandmother’s house. My daughter started out nice, giving hugs and shaking hands. The boy wasn’t very enthusiastic about being with her, since he had just woken up from a nap. Over the course of the afternoon, my daughter pushed him three times, knocking him over once; wedged herself between his mother and him in order to gobble up his snacks; chased him away from the windows she was hogging. I scolded her at each point and took her out of the room in some cases. I also apologized to my friend for her behavior.
My friend said, “Actually, it’s nice to see a child who’s a little naughty.”
“Why, because she’s not your kid?,” I quipped.
“She’s completely normal for an Indian kid. Indian kids are naughtier than American kids, because there’s so many adults around to dote on them,” she elaborated.
I dunno, I almost feel as though my nation’s integrity is at stake. It can’t be that we Americans don’t have the naughtiest children on the planet!
If that had happened in Jersey, I’d have to pay for the slice!
While I was paying the cashier, my daughter found where they keep their plates. She started bringing plates to some customers that had just sat down. The customers wanted her to join them for lunch. This place is soo kid-friendly!
Since my husband is out of town, I call my father-in-law for help. He calls the office boy, who is in the middle of an errand on the other side of town, and tells him to drop everything to come help me.
My FIL told me it might take an hour for the guy to reach me. I’m OK with that because even in the US roadside assistance means a one-hour wait. My daughter is happily sleeping in the car-seat still, so we just sit tight waiting for the office boy.
Now, wouldn’t you figure the office boy would be less than thrilled to have to drop everything and go rescue someone who doesn’t even work for the company?
Thirty minutes later, not one but two office boys show up - the one that can drive and the one that can’t. They are both very concerned about our well-being, whether we got hurt and all that. Once they are sure we are both fine, they’re all smiles, like this is the most wonderful thing that could have happened to them.
But I think I understand their excitement: it’s like when you’re an intern and you boss sends you to buy Powerball tickets when the jackpot is ridiculously high.
Not one car pulled over to offer help.
When I first got here, if the same thing had happened, I would have thought “This terrible country...look no one will help a woman with a flat tire by the side of a busy road, with a child in the car....What heathens!”
But now, if someone did try to help, I would be totally suspicious!!
She asked me to repeat the account number for her. I did. Loudly and slowly. No good, again i am asked to repeat it, each time she is getting ruder and ruder.
She says, “no, no, you’re are not giving me a proper number!! what is your account number please? it should end with a letter!”
I said, “it does, i have been telling you it’s the letter A as in APPLE (i wanted to say another A word but then i wouldn’t get my gas booked, would i?)
”Oh, “ she says, light dawning on Marblehead, ”you mean the letter “yay.”
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
I rented a car at Newark airport in freezing cold February. I had to rent a carseat too, so I asked if they could intall it for me - i didn’t want to because i was barely familiar with my old one. And that way I wouldn’t have to cart my infant out into that icy chill while the carseat gets fixed into place. NOPE. LIA-FREAKIN-BILITY. Because the company cannot afford help with brains and the american consumer cannot pass up an opportunity to SUE... as i struggled in the dark and bitter cold to connect black latches with black hooks, i longed for india.
I stayed at very nice hotels and dined at restaurants of all kinds and discovered that customer service in the really IS crappy. Americans have too much of a sense of self-importance and lack creativity when it comes to following policy or pleasing the customer.
But I loved being back where scalding hot water is always on tap, and washing machines take bushels of laundry at a time and wash them up in under 30 minutes. Nothing can beat American household help - the dishwasher, the garbage disposal, the food processor, the washer and dryer...as noisy as they may be, they are much quieter than my Indian household help and i get consistent results every time.
These new maids yap yap yap all day long, and try to get me involved, and they don’t speak my language and i stumble in theirs - i think that’s their entertainment. I mean, i did once tell them to eat the baby, instead of feed the baby. I think they want to hear some new material...
And the grocery store was heaven.... so many items ...scented trash bags, washing detergent that comes in the shape of a ball, all kinds of character shaped organic snack crackers for the kiddo, whipped cream in the aerosol cans ...wooohooo. i could spend hours in a grocery store after seeing the same limited supply of things here...
And it was true. I asked Anju (that’s her name) for details after the Aka left. What’s his name, what’s he do, is he cute, yada yada. She said “I don’t know.” I was like “Your Aka didn’t tell you? or you didn’t ask??” She just shrugged. People say she’s lucky her family ran out of uncles, because that is their tradition - the daughters marry the mother’s brother. I had thought her Aka’s husband was a bit older than Aka.
So the day we all dreaded came around. i gifted her a bunch of things that only she could use (what tends to happen is that whatever you give to your maid, her family will take from her if it’s of value to them) like drawing pencils, and pictures of Anjali. when i went to her quarters to give her these tokens, i saw she was in tears. i had already been crying for a few days at the thought of her leaving - so many of Anjali’s firsts were witnessed by her and me, and i know i spent more time with this maid in the last year than with anybody else. I kept with my American instincts and i cried with her and hugged her goodbye. On the back of Anjal’s picture, i wrote down our contact details - just in case, her husband doesn’t treat her right.
A couple weeks later, we got a call from her. When my husband’s cousin asked about “the boy,” she could almost hear Anju blushing. “He’s nice, aka.”