Thursday, June 28, 2012

Out of the colorful chaos.....

 of India to the order and structure of beautiful Bath.

I whole heartedly admire people who bring up lively sporty boys in England! I have spent more hours in the wet, soggy, drizzly park playing football and cricket on damp grass these last 2 weeks than ever! June 2012 in the UK must be the wettest, coldest on record. Maybe the sun is saving itself for the Olympics. Anyway we will be returning to India with sniveling colds but otherwise rejuvenated by 2 weeks on western soil.

 England was all of a patriotic quiver - whether from the Queen's jubilee, looking forward to the Olympics with a splash of with Euro 2012 thrown in, I don't know. Tho' we watched England fail on the footie pitch last night in a style as nondescript and depressing as the grey weather. Wimby starts today, which means the newspapers will yet again be full of the will he?, won't he?, this is his time ......Andy Murray speculation, but surprisingly only a sprinkling of white clouds in the sky with a hint of blue lurking beneath, not the usual Wimbledon grey.

Anyway patriotism seems to have struck hard and strong. Union Jacks and the red cross of St George flying (and flapping in all the cold wind). Even the most unexpected, fashion conscious of people flaunting Union Jack bags and shoes. Tee shirts and hoodies in the blue, red and white abound. We had already left the UK when Lady Di died and weren't in the country for Kate and Will's nuptials last year, the most recent patriotic outpourings.  I vaguely remember street parties for the diamond jubilee when I was a kid and my mother taking the train (and a footstool) down to London when Charles married Di, but nothing on this scale. This national patriotic flying of the flag seemed very unBritish, in a nice sort of way. Maybe in times of economic hardship the jubilee and Olympics come as a welcome distraction and opportunity for the UK, if not the sun, to shine. Or maybe we are just celebrating our distance from the troubled Euro!

These were some of more incongruous uses of the flag as an advertising tool....
 Above - an alternative to a fig leaf perhaps, to cover your essentials
Below -the latest in medical aids... offered to buy my Dad one but he declined, preferring his unadulterated wooden version. keep your Union Jack y- fronts smelling sweet, you need to spend $$$$$$ on a new washer/dryer.
No cows wandering the streets of Bath, but the odd horse polished and shining, obeying each command, sporting a horse diaper - so much order, cleanliness and calm. Our life of contrasts!!!!

Where is the road!

When we moved into Vista the road out of the confines of the 'hood, beyond the security gate, to the main road was not perfect but it did exist, was sort of surfaced, sort of wide enough for one stream of traffic and a cow in each direction and not quite sufficiently potholed or speed bump adorned to leave one feeling seasick. However in the intervening 18 months it has been dug up for unfathomable reasons numerous times, many times in exactly the same spot as previous, and after each major surgery the scar tissue has got thicker and the width of viable road thinner.
Yep - this is the latest detour on the road home for both Simon and the school bus, not a cross country dirt track.
The process by which holes are dug, refilled and re-dug is very manual. Not your western construction workers with their builders bottoms hanging out from their jeans but ladies in saris with magnificent postures carry the dirt to and fro from its temporary resting places.
The dust, the dust, the dust....some try to keep it under control from their store fronts.....but face I think a loosing battle.
I sometimes think we should give up, buy an ATV and go out and have some fun when the traffic is light, but in the meantime its bump, bump, bumperty bump!!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Cultural confusion

After eighteen months I was feeling I was getting to grips with some of the cultural differences and modes of behavior in Bangers, but it seems I still have a way to go.

Shankar and I are in the car when I see coming towards us what looks like a new white vehicle, covered in flower garlands just like all new cars are when they leave the car shop, freshly pooja'd. In front of the new sparkling white vehicle are a few people banging drums, singing and looking pleased with themselves. I assume this is all part of a new car pooja. So, feeling I have actually successfully identified an Indian celebration I share my observation with Shankar. 'No ma'am' he said trying to hide a chuckle 'it is a dead person'. Got that one wrong - not the celebration and pooja over a new car, but a funeral procession! So, I explain to Shankar that in the west funerals are quiet, sad and slow. 'Here, noisy and happy' he retorts. 'Next life is better.' I didn't reply to that!

Stable Shankar is just that - calm, collected and just about unflappable. He manages to hide his amusement/shock/confusion over most of our eccentricities and keep his eyes on the road. But I have managed to disturb his sense of well being at least once. The other day I was asking him about marriage ceremonies and responsibilities in India. When Sweetie's sister gets married to Sweetie's husband's brother, Sweetie will have a foot in both the bride's and groom's camps and thus dual responsibilities. This apparently means she needs financial aid, aka a loan. So I checked this out with Shankar who confirms that marriage ceremonies here are very important as regards one's families personal standing and you have to invite the whole village and it appears everyone you and your family have ever known. When I tell Shankar there were only four people at our wedding including me and Simon, Shankar is visibly and totally shaken. He turns round, "Madam, what was wrong, you have no friends, no family, what is problem." Eyes back on the road Shankar!!

As regards language I generally do pretty well. I was having my hair/nails/eyebrows done at the little parlor round the corner. Its very reasonable at less than $10 for everything but not much English is spoken. The language barrier is normally an advantage as what I dislike most in hairdressers/nail places etc. is the banal conversation one is forced into. Here, I can just read a magazine, day dream, contemplate or doze in peace! Towards the end of my pedicure the lady says "Shake, Madam," so I shake my foot - thinking this maybe gets the blood flowing. "Shake" she said again, so I shake my foot more vigorously - the blood is definitely flowing now. As this is incredible India, me sitting mid - pedi, shaking my feet wildly in the air, didn't at first seem as bizarre as the picture it is now conjuring. After a few more "shakes" and my feet now feeling as if they are hardly connected to me at all, I realize it wasn't "shake" but "check", i.e. check that she is doing a good job.

As well as being culturally confused, we also cause a bit of cultural confusion. In  San Jose there are a lot of second generation American families, where the parents speak with the accent of their homelands and the kids, born and brought up in the US, have perfect American accents. So, to us, Adam having an American accent is quite usual, though, Will's Indian accent is a tad alarming at times! But OWC friends who meet me first, are quite surpised when Adam opens his mouth. Tho' it has been quite refreshing here to speak English english instead of American english. The kids play football, one gets ones knickers in a twist instead of panties in a wad, I need a lift (not a ride), chips are crisps and fries are chips........ and so on.

Maintaining some British culture is becoming quite tricky. Coming from an understated, not overtly demonstrative, seen but not heard, subtle is better (too loud or too much bling equates to vulgarity) nation and living in the US (big is best, commercialism rules) then India (sensory over-load, noisy, exuberant, lack of impulse control) our Britishness seems to have been quite squished. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Damned Drivers!!

This for all of you who think having maids and drivers make life easier, written by a grumpy me confined to barracks, a prisoner in my own home....well slight exaggeration!!

Shankar quit. Seemed to throw a hissy fit as we didn't pay him for a day he took off "tired". No notice, just decided Monday night that he was done. I have since found out (through a couple of sources) that he is looking for a job nearer to his home and in the most up market gated community where wages are higher. Why he decided to leave at that particular moment seems totally crazy as during the summer some or all of us are in and out of Bangers, coming and going from hither and thither or so it seems. His work is therefore less, and when we are all gone and there is no work, he's still getting paid. Easy to look for another job without losing any money! Also, June is the month of ex-pats leaving while the end of July/Aug is the influx of the new. Therefore lots of jobless drivers throughout the summer.

The world of drivers is more complex than you'd think. For us, language is obviously an important criteria and we still need someone with a good knowledge of the streets of Bangalore. In the immediate vicinity I have my bearings and also know the routes to my frequent haunts. But anywhere else and I have not much of a clue. Needing both the language and the knowledge of Bangalore (= more years experience) pushes the expected salary up and the number of suitable candidates down. Prices are pushed up even higher in some of the other gated communities where most of the population are ex-pats on assignment and their overseas/expat 'package' includes a driver allowance, or the company pays the driver direct.

Anyway Shankar is gone and the search for another driver is under way!

As we have been here eighteen months or so we have good friends and neighbors to help with the logistics of life sans-driver. Our driver-less state had to happen during the last week of school. Ads comes home after the day's exams - not on the bus schedule, so he needs a ride and Wills has certificate presentations, class party and parent/teacher conference where I am supposed to be in attendance, camera battery charged and ready to record the moment.

I email the yahoo groups for the neighborhood and the OWC. Then email/text/call my nearest and dearest in Bangers to ask them to ask their drivers if they know of good, available drivers who speak english. I specifically ask families, who I know are returning home or leaving for new adventures this summer, if their drivers already have new employs.

And then we wait. As the news spreads a couple of drivers in the neighborhood knock at the door. The one already employed by a vista family but looking for a change or more likely a raise gets rejected - can't poach my neighbor's staff.

The driver scheduled to come round last night was a no show. Hopefully tonight will be more promising.

Tonight scheduled to appear to speak with Simon are Gopinath, Shekar, ChandraShekar and name unknown. Fingers crossed! Another driver, P, knocks the door, works in Vista, lives close by, employers moving back to US at the end of the month. This one sounds promising so he also gets a slot.

First driver calls at his allotted time slot to check he is supposed to be coming. So he will obviously be late. When he appears Simon concludes he is only "OK". Next two are great but either live too far away or very close to other gated communities so we conclude we would not be their ideal job and would be liable to be dumped should a more geographically favorable  position arise. While Simon is dealing with theses drivers, I go to the Villa where the Vista driver, P, is currently employed to get the scoop - all good. Driver, P, comes round when he finishes work. Passes the Simon test with flying colors, terms and conditions agreed and he starts at the end of the month.

In the meantime, I am enduring cases of severe 'auto rick hair' and begging rides from friends and neighbors. On days when I really need a driver (like tomorrow - Ads has his last exam, Wills has parent/teacher conference and a friend coming back from school to play) I have been referred to a site where you can book a driver for a set number of hours and they will arrive to prescribed place at prescribed time, ( Booking has been done on-line. Tomorrow at 7.15am I will comment as to the efficiency of this service!! Whether Simon is safely on his way to work with driver at the wheel and my day will proceed as planned or whether Simon is in the front right hand seat of said car, and I am trying to work out how to get the rest of us where we need to go and home again!!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Sweetie's sister gets married.

Sweetie has been gone, distracted and all of a quiver about her sister and brother-in-law's marital union. Finally the big day has arrived.

We all get appropriately attired. Kids with collars and no tantrums - major achievement. Simon in pants, shirt and jacket. Me in blingy silky kurta and pants. Aimed to have pics of us all dolled up but it wasn't to be! This evening is actually the reception. The ceremony will be the next morning. This seemingly backward arrangement is because the date of the weeding is driven by finding an 'auspicious' date, no consideration given to the day of the week. As folks can't take the day off work to attend the reception, it is pushed to the evening before. The only ceremonial part is the exchange of garlands

We left with Shankar (also invited) at the wheel and arrived at the prescribed time. Not the time on the invite but the later time Sweetie had decreed. However, when we pull up there are no guests and the archway of balloons with bride's and groom's name on is still only partially erected. Shankar calls Sweetie - there has been a delay, no-one has left home yet. We are to wait somewhere. Simon asks Shankar for a "Cafe coffee day" (Bangalore's answer to Starbucks), Shankar replies 'May be difficult, sir" Looking around he could be right - this is not central Bangalore, not exactly deepest darkest but not a typical european type coffee area. However Shankar comes up trumps.

So here we are dressed fancy, in a Cafe Coffee Day, somewhere in Bangalore waiting for our maid's sister's wedding which is running late at 8.00pm on a Thursday night.......only in India. Got to love it - we laugh at the sheer absurdity of the situation. Then, coffee, hot chocolate, samosas and cookies - yeah time is ticking by and we are getting hungry waiting for the phone call!

At last Shankar calls. All is set. In fact it is more than set. The party hall is full of mainly ladies in wonderful jewels and saris. It transpires we are a sort of star attraction, second only to bride and groom. I don't think white folks at local weddings is the norm! Anyway we are both spectacles and spectators and enjoying every minute!!

Bride and groom looking both gorgeous and handsome respectively, take to their thrones looking very serious and not exactly overjoyed at their lives slowly entwining. It was the same at the other local (as opposed to non-resident) Indian wedding we went to. There seems to be a standard wedding photo-face that portrays all of the gravitas of the situation but none of the joy!
I did get one picture of the beautiful bride sneaking a smile when no-one was looking!

Essentially, once photos are taken of the (I'm sure under their serious wedding faces) happy couple it is time to file past, wish, greet and be photographed. We are allowed to queue jump here as Sweetie recognizes it is getting late, our kids have school and Adam two exams in the morning.

Then out of the main room and downstairs to eat. The familiar long table with a banana leaf and a glass of water. The gentleman next to Wills kindly offers to find him a fork or spoon but Wills quickly and firmly rejects that idea. He can eat with his fingers with the best of them. As this is a multi-shift meal, it's eat and go. We no longer question eating anything in this sort of scenario and after a quick signal to Shankar who's sat at the other end of the table we gulp down the water as well. All yummy and all stay healthy!!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

British Birthday party......

what else but high tea!!

Scones, jam and clotted cream and Pimms.....need I go on!

Thanks to D, the birthday girl, this was an extravaganza of the best of British fair. How long is it since I have indulged in such wondrous mouthwatering food. The true British tea - high in taste, calories and all the wrong sorts of fats....but how yummy!!!

Cut scone in half, drop on a huge dollop of cream and a dab of jam (Fortnum's no less) and wash it down with a glass of Pimms. Heaven!
And the birthday cake - why a homemade victoria sponge, of course.
A bittersweet Happy Birthday to D. I'll be warming to this tune in the next few weeks. Ex-pat life is making friends and then bidding them farewell as they move homewards or onto pastures new! Miss them when they leave but in the meantime make the most...
Happy Birthday!!