Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Belated Happy Independence Day to all my Indian friends at home or abroad.

Today (it was today when I stated writing this!) marks India's 66th (I think I did the math right) Independence Day and our 3rd in India. The flexibility of IST (Indian stretchable time) and the general  never here but will be "coming Ma'am" state of being seems to all but disappear when it comes to Independence Day maters. The Ozone celebration (much like the Vista one but bigger) was scheduled to start at 9.30 am and did just that!

The open field was decorated in the green, saffron and white and security dressed smartly albeit slightly  un synchronized in their march by.

The flag was opened by the neighborhood elders. I do love the respect given to one's olders and betters here in India.

 The flag raised high and the wind co-operative so I could get a picture......

the kids resumed the a day of freedom from school - but also in Wills case a true freedom fighter from a homework recall from the British (parents)!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sri Sri Ravishankar

On Saturday I met and spoke to Sri Sri Ravishankar. An incredible experience on so so many levels!

Sri Sri (Guruji) is founder of the Art Of Living movement which is a volunteer based,  educational and humanitarian, non-governmental organization. It transcends all divides, government, race and religion. 

It also runs stress relief courses, which follow Guruji's philosophy of non violent resolution.

 "Unless we have a stress-free mind and a violence-free society, we cannot achieve world peace”

Back in the US I took my Part 1 Art of Living (AOL) course, at the encouragement of some of my San Jose friends. The course was run by one of the wisest people I have ever met and who remains a role model/mentor to me today.  I learnt my breathing exercises and became familiar with Guruji's 'knowledge' - the simple truths of life.  His book ' Celebrating Silence' is well worth a perusal.

On arriving in India, especially Bangalore (Sri Sri's Ashram is on the outskirts) there are posters extolling the great man and his achievements (of which there are many) and advertising his courses everywhere. I have to confess that this turned me off the whole AOL thing. A movement that preaches humility, equality and the power of a greater force putting forth a human idol. Didn't hang well. A man that has met with lots of the big players on the world stage with all that pageantry, paparazzi, and power - can't live the life of the human values he extolls, or so I concluded.

But last Saturday I had the chance to go and see him in the flesh. Promoted as an intimate session with Sri Sri. Yep, me and 1999 other folks!!! I got to the venue early and was seated in the first row behind  the VIPs. Hi-tech world we live in, on the screen was an email address and mobile number to email/text questions for Guruji to answer.

The guy twinkles big time! He is funny and fun, not serious and solemn. He is wise beyond belief but humble, warm and absolutely adorable, almost childlike in his sincerity, and apparently innocent charm! Not intimidating at all and yes it did feel intimate, even with 1999 other folks.  

"Life is nothing to be very serious about. Life is a ball in your hands to play with. Don’t hold on to the ball" 

Having soaked up his words (hopefully - I did take notes), having sat through a meditation - felt like 3 minutes but was apparently 18, and no I didn't nod off, it was over.

Nearly everyone else was pushing and shoving Indian Style to get near the man. I meanwhile had no urge or expectation to actually meet him so I headed to the exit. The exit though was firmly shut to allow Sri Sri to leave un-disturbed and make a quick getaway through a different escape hatch. Some folks were by now anxious to leave post haste and pushed and shoved and tried to persuade the poor volunteers on the door why they were so important they needed priority treatment to get to their next engagement. I just stood and waited, British style. There was then a flurry of activity as it transpired Guruji was coming out through THIS door after all.   Marshalls pushed people aside to make a pathway for him to walk. As he reached me he looked right at me and offered his hand through the human barricade and we held hands and chatted.

Looking into those  sparkling brown eyes was like looking into a reflection of myself, a connection so profound. It was like talking to those old friends in the motherland who almost know me better than I know myself. It was an intimate conversation of the banal which struck deep and which will always be remembered. 

That such a powerful wise man can be so unassuming, so unprepossessing and so much fun is a lesson for our times!

Off with his hair...........

Mundan or Choulkarma is the Hindu custom of shaving a baby's head completely bald around the first birthday. Indian kids seem to be born with a shock of dark hair which seems to grow think and fast. Well, so it seems to the western eye, where we tie bows on the wispiest, few straggly blond hairs our babies manage to squeeze out and put head bands with flowers and ribbons on the heads of those whose crowning beauty is a tad delayed.

In Indian eyes even this thick swatch of baby hair is not considered strong enough and is shaven off so it can grow back even thicker and stronger than before. The bald head also gets a big dose of vitamin D while exposed which apparently has it's own medicinal qualities. The shaving is called 'ayush karma' which means prolonging of life.

I was lucky enough to witness this several times yesterday. The shaving part is a little scary. Howling, squirming, wriggling babies and cut throat open razors. An apparent recipe for disaster....but these barbers obviously have had years of experience and do a painless, clean job.

This beautiful family let me follow throughout this Hindu tradition. I was blessed that they let me share in this intimate moment in their son's life.

First, like son, like father.... Dad gets his head shaved.

 Newly shaved son gets washed in the holy waters.  Look how smooth and perfectly shaved his head is. It was amazing to watch how incredibly gentle the father was as he poured the waters over his son,

The baby then rejoined his mom to dry. His anklet bracelets and tummy chain sparkling.

 Its was then Dad's turn to submerge into the waters of the tank.

 Baby is then dressed in his best  - and is still smiling. This is one of the few tots we saw who remained happy throughout the proceedings.

Mom also managed to discretely swap saris, from the subtle olive green above to something a little more festive and fix flowers in her hair on route for, I'm guessing, either more pooja or food or both!!

This was a part of a photography workshop to one of Bangers oldest temples ........ more will follow!!!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Indus - make your mind up!!!

In some of my blogs and when chatting to prospective parents about Indus I have always said that Indus is great I think for MY kids, has given them both the support and opportunities they have needed over the last couple of years. My two niggles have been Ads and the hair issues and the communication with parents, which frustrates me and not the kids, so I try and ignore them both.

The communication with parents was taken to new levels yesterday. Yesterday was Indian Independence day (blog to follow!!) and also a Korean festival so 4th grade and up were bused into school to mark the dual events. Third grade and below had a holiday.

For Ads, Habba day seemed to involve raiding my wallet, hanging out with his friends listening to music and getting a touch of sunburn. Anyway once he was home and at about 5.00pm the school decided.........

In view of  all the hard work and dedication to make Habba a grand success by students / teachers and as tomorrow is Varamahalakshmi the south Indian and important festival of  Karnataka. The school has declared a holiday tomorrow 16th Aug 2013.

Rather late notice, kids are happy, not sure about the Moms - kids have been back less than 2 weeks.... time to make plans/change plans.

However within the hour the position had changed...........

In the last two hours we have received a number of mails and messages, expressing the inconvenience that the declaration of a holiday at such short notice has caused. We regret the same and we have decided to inform you that the decision has been revoked. We will work tomorrow and buses will ply as usual.

We thank each one of you for your response and we understand what each one of you has expressed. 

What!!!!!!!!...........time to make plans/ change plans again........

Earlier in the week the school had had an impromptu assembly to celebrate the fact that Indus has for the second year running been given the status of number one school in India. Not sure what the criteria were or who the presiding organization is, but don't think this late decision making, about turning and bending to the will of the loudest parents can be part of what makes a school number 1 in its country. So Indus if you want to stay top dog I think a little more professionalism is required!

Anyway the holiday given, the holiday taken away didn't seem to bother the kids who set off quite happily as usual.  So I am really back to where I started. Indus, Indus, you keep my kids happy and give them a good, full education, but please can you now try and keep me happy as well. The school year is yet young, plenty of time for improvement!!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

It's confusing!!!

One day last week I had two visitors from San Jose, California which was absolutely wonderful. Both dear dear friends. One the Mom of Will's first best friend, the first friend he found for himself at pre-school. The other the Mom of one of Ad's best elementary school buddies.

Doesn't sound confusing....... but they are both Indian, tho long time US reisdents and to be visiting me in India seems a bit upside down! Bit like Ads going back to California and visiting with the Chopras and the Shankars. The world is definitely shrinking or at least the bit we move in!!

Anu and Beena it was soooooo wonderful to see you both. Thanks so much for coming by!!

I sometimes wonder if this "to"ing and "fro"ing, people in one place then the other, me dragging the kids to my homeland and expecting them to feel some affiliation to a country they have never lived in etc etc is  not totally confusing and bewildering. When I put this question to Ads he said "when I'm in England I feel at home, when I'm in US I feel at home, when I'm in India I feel at home" - long may that last. Wherever he lays his hat (in his case his fedora) it's his home!!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Making it fit...the ex-pat life!

I have read a couple of articles recently from other expats directed at this years new intake. It's that time of year when the newbies arrive, just in time for the new school year. I was thinking what my advice would be, especially to those on their first overseas assignment, arriving here in Bangers.

I think that yes listen to all the advice you can get but then, you need to factor yourself into that equation.You need to make the expat life fit you. To go several years in the wrong size shoes is not comfortable! The later part is something I definitely didn't do when it came to domestic help.

My Grandma and my mother both at different stages in their lives had 'a lady that did'. My Grandma had Annie (I can still picture her) who came in from the local village a couple of mornings a week. Although my Grandma did have a few mod. cons. there were still the silver tea pots to polish! My mother worked full-time, so over the years a variety of home helps popped in for a few hours when no-one was home and vacuumed and dusted. This was definitely not a Downton Abbey or Upstairs/Downstairs sort of scenario as these home helps thought nothing of being pretty firm with my sister and me, and were not slow in telling tales to the parents. We would also rub shoulders with their kids at school.

I'd never experienced a full time maid, so this whole concept of someone in the house all day was new to me. But as it was something you do in India, I did it. Although my mod.cons are somewhat behind that of even some fellow ex-pats who have dishwashers, tumble driers and proper ovens, I do have some gadgets that make the maids job less labour intensive and not as time consuming as it once would have been. However, labour in India is cheap, so a full time maid it was.

Sweetie was with us for two years plus in our Vista house and I realize now that over time I sort of lost control of the house, especially the kitchen. When our shipment of stuff arrived from the US, Sweetie unpacked the kitchen. And from then on in, I never really felt it was my kitchen. She didn't cook all the time and obviously was not in the kitchen all the time but I think I sort of felt she was. Cleaning our three bed house, even in the dust of India, doing the laundry (not the ironing), and cooking one dish a couple of days a week is not a full time job but as she was paid to do a full time job she hung about, mainly on her phone all day. With hindsight she was far too bright and her English far too good to be a maid. As the two years went by the 'malingering maid' syndrome probably kicked into overdrive. She knew my weeks pattern and regular appointments and played it and I guess I let her.

From outside it sounds like a full time maid must be bliss - and it is for some people but not for everyone. It's a different relationship from any most of us have had before and if you can define that and make it work for you without feeling you are losing your independence, control or privacy then go for it.

The kids are obviously growing older and less needy, exiting the 'hood on the bus at 7.45, returning at 4.45 and then pretty independent until dusk. So not in control of the kids or the domain was shrinking!!

So when we were moving on to Ozone, Sweetie did not come with us. She lives in completely the opposite direction, so it was a good opportunity for a break. We gave her a good payoff and she found a new job very quickly.

Now I do have a maid but results based, Theresa. She comes in for a couple of hours a day during the week and whips round the house like a bat out of hell. If her phone rings she holds it under her chin and abruptly deals with the caller as she scrubs and dusts. She's basically a dust demon.

I have control of my small kitchen and I have cooked and baked way more in our shorter time in Ozone than I did in Vista. I know where everything is and what we have. I do the laundry - so we all end up with the right clothes in the right places.

I know some expats do really well with a full domestic staff and settle into that routine very well. But, it didn't work for me and took me two years to figure that out. So my message to this years newbies is as you launch into your new overseas assignment, listen to all the advice everyone has - it's truly priceless but then make sure your life in India fits you. We are all different shapes and sizes. There are plenty of tailors and adjustments can be made!!