Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Puja Flowers

Every morning the puja flower lady delivers small flower garlands or "poomalas" to every Hindu home. Religion for Hindus is truly a DIY - do-it-yourself industry. There are no sermons at Hindu temples, which might appeal to many a Sunday Schooler. No sermons, just prayers and incantations to whatever facet of the Deity you are concerned with. The many gods and goddesses are similar to patron saints in the Catholic tradition - each one has an office. You can pray to St. Jude or to Shiva the Destroyer if you need a quick favor.

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.

Are jellicle cats transgendered?

I adopted my cat in 1999 from a PetSmart in Germantown, Maryland. He was male then, but today at the CUPA Animal Care Clinic I was told he was female!

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

what i will miss about bangalore

  • 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.
  • mosquitoes
  • 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

interesting technique for ridding self of beggars

My mother-in-law, who lived in Delhi (gurgaon, actually) for some years, has an interesting way of dealing with kid beggars. We were in the market area once (Commercial Street) and had stopped to buy freshly roasted peanuts from a street vendor (just 5 rupees!) and two beggar kids, a little over 10 years old, came over to beg from Fat White American Me. I was feeling embarrassed because I didn't want to give money to these kids because they work for a sort of pimp who takes most of their money anyhow.

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

Indian etiquette

I remember one of the first times a family dropped in on us for the
Sunday afternoon visit. We served them tea and some homemade
goodies. I offered the goodies to each one personally, but i did so
only ONCE.

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

Both maids are gone...

We soon realized that asking the maids to stay until my FIL came back was dumb of us. Work quality decreased and their various pleas became more and more pitiful and nonsensical. The grandmother, though decreasing in age, was getting worse. The other one's mother was to celebrate her birthday on the 24th, etc.

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

India... a million mutinies now

We came to India because life is "easier," since you have "domestics" to help you with all the work.  In the year and a half we have been here, we have been understaffed more than half of the time. Understaffed in this 4500 sq. ft house --without dishwasher or food processor, cleaning up after and feeding  4 adults and 1 toddler, and 1 huge terrace garden--means we have had only one servant.  In the "good" days we have had two.

To our irritation, most of these domestics first "loyalty" has been to my FIL.  It makes sense because a) he is the eldest in the house, and b) it is he who pays the bills (at least they get it directly from his hand on payday).  This isn't really loyalty, it's just that his work takes priority - his clothes, his cup of tea, his room getting cleaned, or any project he has assigned. Those tasks will always get done first and then they will move onto whatever I have assigned to them. 

My FIL has been gone not even 24 hours and one of them kinda gave notice.  Of course, this is India, and we have given her family an advance of 3000 rupees before she even started working --- so she didn't come right out and quit.  She gave lots of stories upon stories.  First, she told my SIL (who's a college senior - the "kid" of the house along with Anjali) that her grandmother is deathly ill and the doctor didn't think she'd make it much longer, that she wanted to go home and see granny before she died, but would come back in a few days - oh, and her granny is 100.  Now, I did the math and taking into account her reported age and she is from rural India (with its teenage brides and unaccessible health care), that this could not be her grandmother she was talking about.  The next day we heard the same sad news, but this time, her grandmother was only 85 and not 100.  

So we called our plantation supervisor (who counts amongst his duties finding domestics for us), and asked him to verify the story for us.  That is how we found out she was lying and that 3000 rupees had been advanced to her family for her to start working - turns out they said they were in a very tight spot and couldn't pay the school fees.  My SIL confronted her (my poor SIL has to take care of all this stuff because she speaks the languages here very well).  Over the next 12 hours she revised her "truth" in so many ways - grandmother still needs her, her younger brother's wife is due to give birth and they have to do some puja, we don't eat enough non-veg for her liking (she is Christian), she doesn't like our other "domestic," who talks as though she's her MIL, her mom is beating her kids because there is no money for their school fees, etc.) 

This new domestic has been with us for one week, the old domestic for 10 weeks. The older domestic treats all of us like we are her daughters-in-law, only she doesn't give us work.  She just keeps yapping yapping and gives us backtalk occasionally, and almost always butts in on our conversation to ask stupid questions. Also, she has always told little lies.  She told me she doesn't like ghee, but when I asked for a dosa she was making herself, it was so soaked in ghee, it practically slid down my throat.  She's been giving us all sorts of information and misinformation about this new girl - which we think is ironic because the two say they don't speak each other's language and so do not understand each other.  The "senior" domestic knows we have given 3000 rupees in advance and is now saying that she deserves a similar advance. 

Yes, life is much "easier" here. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

What do you call someone who can speak only one language?

American.  A few months ago, I took an Introductory Tamil course... and I speak very imperfectly but quite entertainingly. 

I have told the maids:
- to eat the baby, rather than feed the baby. "Baby shapadah."
- that my father-in-law has an "evil" heart, instead of not so healthy (bad)
- that they should take a shower after they finish playing, instead of working (i learned work and play at the same time and used the wrong word at the wrong time)

One of the maids, who used to work in the Gulf (is it Persian or Arabian?) thinks she speaks English well.  She told me she used to work for "my people" at Arby's.  I was impressed.  "Really, Arby's - the Arby's?," I asked, incredulous.  Note:  this woman is of the Nair caste - so for her to be slinging roast beef sandwiches for a living adds to the delicious incredulity.  I try to imagine her sans sari with the polycotton Arby's uniform, hat, and drive-thru headgear. 

She repeated it again, but this time it sounded like "army." 

"Oh, Army! You worked for the US Army?", I tried to clarify - maybe she'd worked on some Halliburton contractor. 

"ARABI! ARABI!," she started saying louder and more forcefully.

My sister-in-law clarified - "Arabs; she used to work for Arab families."

This same maid keeps making me some green "juice," something between lime juice and a mint julep - more mint than julep.  Rather tasty, but when I drink it, I feel like I'm drinking some secret concoction meant only for Arabs (which is what she insists, only They drink it, like it's some kind of Priory of Scion secret.) 

Monday, January 15, 2007

Happy Sankranti! Happy Pongal!

Today is a paid holiday in Bangalore - it is the festival of Sankranti or Pongal - whichever you like.  Tamilians celebrate Pongal and Kannadigas celebrate Sankranti.  I think they're the same thing, in both cases, you deck out your cow today and feed the cow some "pongal" - a rice dish.

Cows do so much for us, with their five products (milk, butter, cheese, cream, yogurt) and even their poop is used as cooking and heating fuel.  Today is like Mother's Day for cows.  You give her a nice mani/pedi, paint her horns, put bells on her horns and a necklace of bells, and you can even paint her hide with different colors of powder!  Beautiful!  Howda! ChandAM!  

And you must treat her to a nice breakfast of "chakra pongal" - a sort of rice pudding.

My mother-in-law treated my daughter and i to a truly desi treat today.  She brought us each a stick of sugar cane.  She then ripped the very thin bark off with her teeth, broke a section off, and divided it between us two.  My daughter LOVED it... 

It's a little like an apple, but with more of a "twiggy" feel when you chew it.  You're supposed to just chew it, suck the juice from it and only swallow the juice, you spit out the fibers.  This was right up my daughter's alley.  Her 2-year molars are troubling her, so she kept putting the stick of cane in just the right spot!  She also loves spitting - yes, we are so proud...  so for someone to encourage her to spit something out, she thought it was the best thing ever!

Usually she greets her "amooma" with a series of smacks (A-DEE! A-DEE! she will victoriously declare - A-dee means "beat'), rather than hugs and kisses.  I think today Amooma finally won the war for her heart and mind.  "Amooma!  .... LUCKY DAY!", she declared. 

I rather enjoyed eating the sugar cane, too...  I kinda felt like a monkey eating it... maybe that's why it's fun!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Religion in the workplace

I am sitting at the family's office in Indiranagar. It's getting to be closing time.

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.

Latest Indian English terms I have heard myself say...

1. my head is paining. (i have a headache)
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

I hate it when the maid is right...

I really hate it when the maid, who probably didn't even make it thru
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.

Mugged by a cow in HAL market...

One of the things that I love about India is the freshness of the produce.  I have never eaten such fresh fruits and vegetables in my life!

When I can, I like to hit the HAL market (so named for the neighborhood - Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd Layout).  This is a small market, where the fruits and vegetables are just 2 days away from the farm (produce first comes to City Market in the center of town, then gets distributed to the other small markets.  Tree-huggers would love the do-no-harm ecological approach these markets embrace. 

First, they let cows roam freely thru the market.  The cows eat the produce that has wilted and no one will buy.  All the vendors just throw the "bad" produce into the walkways, where the customers and cows mingle.  Second, most customers bring their own bags, rather than rely on the cheap plastic bags the vendors give you - these bags are notorious for ripping just over a cow patty. YUM!

The market is a noisy place.  Vendors are constantly trying to attract your attention, especially if you're a firangi memsahib.  "Madaaam, Madaam, nice oranges you see, 50 rupees/kilo, all the way from your Australia." (I am not Australian, btw) "Caaarrrots, Caaaarrrots!"  Now and then an ambitious cow moseys along the walkway, stops at a vendor's table and attempts to gobble at the good stuff.  In between the "madam, madaaam" cries are the "Hei! PO PO! BhajuHUT!" - Tamil and Hindi for GO, Get Lost! - aimed at the cows.  Also, many vendors drink on the job - a freedom even most Americans do not enjoy. 

At the market the other day, I was admiring one particular cow while my maid was picking thru bundles of "keerai" - a relative of spinach.  Unlike most market cows, this cow was not covered in dung, she was very clean and looked like she belonged on a milk carton!  The cow came towards me, and too late, i realized she was after the cucumbers that were poking out of my basket.  She stuck her head in my basket and I just cried "Heeeeyyy!," then my maid gave the cow a good smack on the side and the cow moved away with half a cucumber.   

Yuck!  The maid threw the other half into the walkway... and all the market enjoyed the escapade.  Maybe they paid the cow off!  :-)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The evil eye...

Whenever I take Anjali to a party or similar gathering, my in-laws tell me to put a black dot somewhere visible on the her face.  This is to avoid attracting the Evil Eye.  People may say so many nice things to the child, that some evil vibes get jealous and attach themselves to the child.  All the evil vibes will be absorbed by the black dot and then be washed off, rendering them harmless.

If the child doesn't wear the black dot, she may get Evil Eye.  This can cause sickness, bad luck, and just that creepy feeling so it's hard to settle them down.  If she gets Evil Eye, you can hold a lime and red chili over her head and circle it a few times, then you're supposed to burn the lime and chili to get rid of the Evil Eye.  

Servants like to offer to do these removal services whenever we come back from an outing and my daughter seems out of sorts.  I don't know if it's because they believe in it or they just want to earn brownie points with my inlaws. 

A few months ago, my husband was adamant that my daughter get an "alus" (sp?).  An alus is one of those tiny metal vials that you wear around your neck, it is usually filled with some sacred stuff that has been blessed in a puja (prayer ceremony) for the person's protection.  His mom and her sister got one for us from one of the family temples in Kerala.  Our daughter now wears it 24/7.  

I thought that now since she wears this alus wherever she goes, she wouldn't need the black mark anymore.  Not so, apparently this alus is against "black magic."   

Who the hell does he know that has the time for black magic?  This is a wacko place. 

You should see this one kid in my daughter's mommy-n-me class, he's got six or seven protective charms around his neck on a black thread in all kinds of metals.  My daughter's a snob that way, she has only 22kt everything. :) 

Oh No! it's the po-po...

The Indian po-po (police) are badly in need of a makeover, from their uniforms to their values.

Sure, there are many honest cops here but i think they occur in the same ratio as albinos : normal skinned people.  

By now, everyone has heard of the disgusting case of lax policing that occurred in Noida.  That is an extreme case. However, I know and have spoken to many people here who have been the victims of a crime - i.e.,  from a maid stealing some jewelry to actual home-invasion style mugging, and they have either reported it to the police and regretted it, or they have chosen not to report it to the police because they don't want the hassle. 

What happens is police shortlist suspects, and depending upon the severity of their alleged crimes, rough them up to get a confession.  With that confession, they go back to the victim and ask them if they want to proceed with the case, and usually ask for compensation for the trouble they took to get this far in the case. 

What is even more appalling is that if you have a beef against somebody, you can just implicate them in a police complaint.  You pay the police some money to do the ugly business, and the cops find the person, bring them to the station for "booking," but they never do book them, instead they take them to a part of the station where no one ever goes and beat and torture the living daylights out of them for the time requested by the paying customer.   I know of two such incidents.  

A very sweet man who has worked for our family for 15 years has been a victim of this unofficial vengeance system.  He is unhappily married and his wife will not give him a divorce (she is Christian) and tries to get the most money out of him all the time (like any good wife, right? :).  She beats him regularly, and has even had her father beat him.  He doesn't like this treatment, so naturally he found another woman who treats him sweetly.  When he did that, his mother-in-law paid the police a few thousand rupees to have him picked up and beaten the crap out of.  

I am tempted to pay the equivalent to have the mother-in-law beaten up.  

Another man is a well-educated, professional.  I only got glimpses of the back story (i was not in the country when it happened), but it turns out someone paid 100,000 rupees to have him picked up and beaten for three consecutive days.  This was the work of an amateur "Cigarette-Smoking Man," who had a convincing false case built and published in the newspaper.... so that must mean the press is in on it, too!  I guess his crime was that he lent someone a lot of money and had collected it from them, but they hadn't want to repay it at all.

So many Indians, especially the youth, have their patriotism dampened when such things occur.

Finally had an accident - i hit but didn't hurt!

My nightmare finally became a reality, I had an accident here in Bangalore driving alone.  It was barely a fender bender, and I think the result of the insurance adjuster's report would say i was 30% at fault.  I was trying to switch lanes, had my blinker on and had checked in back of me.  I saw a little black car coming but figured he should be decelerating, as i had my blinker on and we were nearing an intersection where you're supposed to slow down.  Apparently, the other driver felt that he should go faster when approaching the intersection, and he wanted to be in front of me.  We scraped each other's paint just a little.  

In India, when you get into an accident, the crowd that witnessed the accident takes off, going about their own routines.  But, don't worry, a new crowd replaces that crowd... this crowd are neither witnesses, nor helpers... they are just nosy mischief makers.  Oh, and you don't just automatically pull over to the side. You block the other guy's car from moving, because many times people just take off and don't care about the formalities or the other guy's problems. 

The first time I was involved in an accident I wasn't driving, my spaced-out, nonEnglish, nonKannada speaking driver was driving.  He nudged a rickshaw when trying to pull out from a parking spot.  If you remember from my earlier post about the traffic rules - he with the most expensive car loses - the auto driver became very agitated.  The auto driver was further enraged that my driver did not speak Kannada - that he was injured by a "foriegner" driving another foreigner.  A small crowd of mostly good-for-nothing types surrounded the vehicle, agitating for the Kannadiga autodriver vs the foreign-owned/driven Scorpio (a domestic made SUV).  They were shouting for 500 rupees to fix the auto's scratches (a ridiculously high amount).  That is one of the few times I felt really unsafe in India.  Nobody came to intervene between the crowd and my driver.  I threatened to call the police, but they just laughed because they figured i would have to pay something to the policeman anyway (police here, as everywhere, are unpaid, so most take unofficial "perks" or bribes - sometimes they'll even demand to be paid for investigating your complaint!! Strangely, when they are around foreigners they are on their best behavior and will be insulted if a foreigner tries to bribe them.)  I ended up paying 150 rupees just to get out of there. 

This time a small crowd assembled, but the other driver went to get the policeman. I called my FIL and asked him to send someone from the office who could translate for me.  I showed the policeman my license and insurance paper, and told him my boss was coming to wait just a few minutes.  I didn't realize it, but the other driver was not the owner of the vehicle-  he may have been an office boy or driver.  I had thought he was too thin and not that well dressed to own such a vehicle (a Honda City -  similar to the Corolla).  After a year here of mistaking maids for madams and madams for maids, I finally figured out that the very thin ones with not so nice teeth are the maids and the chubbier ones are the madams.  

Anyway, the owner came, rubbed the scratches with a hanky, and decided that a few scratches wasn't worth any trouble.  He approached my vehicle, since my windows were up and I remembered how ugly people can be here at times like this, without letting him speak,  I said - "don't worry, i have insurance, someone from my office is on the way," and I began to roll my window back up. 

He said, "No, please, you misunderstand me, madam. It is only a few scratches to the paint. I do not want to get the police involved in such a small matter, how about you?" 

"I don't mind if you don't mind. Are you sure, like I said, I have insurance for these things...,"  I told him. 

"No, no, it is not necessary at all, " he repeated and then he went off to the policeman and told him no report was necessary.


Phew!  But dontcha think that guy must have been a little bit shady to not want to involve the police like that??  I do, but then maybe it's the last vestige of American prejudices that i cling to...

Friday, January 05, 2007

Indian kids are naughtier than American kids!??

My daughter is getting to be a Master Brat. A friend of ours whose son is just six weeks elder to my daughter came on her annual visit to her family in Bangalore. My friend’s son is American born and raised but of Indian parentage, my daughter is American born but Indian raised of mixed parentage.

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!

Kid friendly Bangalore

I took my daughter to a nearby bakery for some snacks with some friends of mine. My daughter had squirmed out of her chair and was moving about the place, since it was almost empty. I wasn’t worried because I could see her thru the glass pastry case. She was behind the case, where the doors open. I thought the doors were closed and figured she couldn’t be much of a menace. To my horror, I saw her hand go inside the pastry case and her finger scooped up a big dollop of cake frosting. I ran over to her and grabbed her, all the while apologizing to a waiter. The waiter says, “That’s OK. No problem.” and squeezes my daughter’s cheek.

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!

Ooo Madam is in trouble... Quick! to the batscooter!

A few weeks ago, I had to make a split-second decision that happens to many drivers here in Bangalore... i was traveling at about 40 km/hr when I noticed a brick in the middle of my lane. I could either swerve to my left and hit the autorickshaw next to me (who, by the way was trying to make a three-lane road into a 4-lane road) OR i could just hit the brick. I decided to be antisocial and hit the brick, and voila, a flat tire.

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.

How I know I have finally got the hang of India...

I got a flat a few weeks ago. I pulled over to the side of the road and got out of the car to inspect the damage. The tire was totally flat, riding on the rim. I stood outside the car for a bit, making calls from my cell phone.

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!!

booking gas...

I was trying to book another canister of cooking gas the other day. I called up and gave the account number to the surly witch who answers the phone there. The account number ends in a letter - the letter A.

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

Reverse Culture Shock

Since moving to India in September of 2005, I have returned to the US twice for three-week stretches. Each time I have to cope with reverse culture shock.

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...

goodbye, my first maid... :(

So one fine day, my maid’s thumbi (little brother in Tamil) comes to visit her on his way to school. My spider sense was tingling because it’s unusual for him to come before school. Then, in the afternoon, her Aka (older sister) and brotherinlaw/uncle (that’s a whole other post) comes to visit. I began to get the feeling that this was the moment i had been dreading for a long time; this was when i would find out that they were going to marry her off and i would have to do without her forever.

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.”