Saturday, September 28, 2013

Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share.......

Last night we were at the five star Leela Palace celebrating the re-opening of their Citrus restaurant - a by invite only, real champagne and smoked salmon do with the who's who of Bangers. Then this morning we were rubbing shoulders with construction workers (some of the poorest folks) painting and clearing the lane outside the western entrance of Ozone.

Such are the wild contrasts of life in Bangers!!!

Sadly, Bangers is the home of dirt and trash - apparently where people see dirt and mess they are more likely to leave their own. On the converse where there is no litter, people are less likely to drop their own. Hence the solution to our messy lane was to transform it into something neat and tidy in order that it would stay that way and drive off the undesirables who apparently hang out there with drink or drugs.

I was too late to get the 'before' picture. Project clear up began at 6.30am. Towers family did not manage to join the effort until 9.30am by which time 3 hours of frantic chopping and clearing was completed. Prior to the early start in the dewey dawn, the strip of grass on the right was a few feet high, few feet wide jungle of plants, trash and who knows what. By 9.30 it was relatively clear.

Lots of Ozonites were doing their bit, helped along by some of the construction workers from a near by building site - there are no shortage of these in Bangers!

Construction workers are some of the poorest folks. Both parents work (see the ladies below). They move from building site to building site where they live in slums and eek out a living. The kids roam freely in amongst the rubble and piles of dirt. Safety is not a consideration - food and shelter are their priorities. Education is basic if at all - as they are essentially of no fixed abode/no school/no-ones...... However, despite their seemingly miserable lives, these women are by necessity strong and good at their jobs, and they couldn't hide their giggles at our pathetic attempts to use their tools. For them aiding with the Ozone clean up work, earned them a little much needed cash in pocket.

That my kids have the chance to work side by side with the less fortunate, can see such extreme poverty first hand and that people living in such dire circumstances can still laugh and be bothered to try and talk with them surely puts their own little problems and issues into perspective.

 As this is India there were a couple of snake scares - and this being India said snakes were removed with little fuss and the business of Ozone clear up continued.!

The transformation was pretty quick. See below how clean and tidy the sidewalk and surrounds.

 To be part of such a project, to see what a difference a few volunteers and a few basic tools can make is truly inspirational. To be involved as a family to feel we are helping our community and of course to help India find her Incredible - priceless!! 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

India Night 2013........the before.....

India Night 2013 – The before…………

Someone said to me during India Night this year that the whole process had been a bit like a pregnancy and they weren’t far off!! We first started talking with, our hosts,  the Marriott back in February –so timing wise the analogy is pretty close. There was plenty of morning sickness and some pretty hefty contractions before India Night 2013 was pushed kicking and screaming into the world - well maybe not kicking and screaming more like drumming, dancing, laughing and the noise of 360 folks have a blast!!

As OWC, VP Fundraising Events, India Night is a big one.  It has been a huge learning process – however hard you plan and organize in advance there will still be the late additions to the silent auction (by late – I mean day of), the donations that weren’t quite as previously described and those that don't materialize at all! The meetings with “would be sponsors” who never quite manage to say yes or no, or if they are “in or out’!! The seemingly endless communications with potential donors who never actually donated…….. the stories I could tell ! Key attributes for this job – patience and a sense of humor!!!

We actually had 70 silent auction items, over 70 lucky dip winning vouchers, over 20 raffle prizes and over 10 goody bag items for each of 360 bags, all generously donated. As some items were grouped and amalgamated, that's nearly 200 prizes to be requested, received, reviewed………..One helluva lot of stuff!!!!

So I have to say a mega huge thanks to those who helped….those who fetched and carried, those who collated, cut, stuck and glued, those who offered common sense, creativity and their artistic talents, those who supported, listened and laughed, those amazing people I have met or got to know better, those who took time away from the party on the night, those I had neglected over the last few weeks (once the real labor pains kicked in!!)…………you all know who you are and I thank you all big time –without you guys there would have been no party and way more importantly no 12 lakh plus for our charities………..

When I left the scene early on the afternoon of the big day to go glam up I was reminded of that magical moment on Christmas Eve when everyone is in bed, except me and a glass of Baileys, the house is decked out, the gifts perfectly wrapped under the tree, stockings hung, time to remember the reasons for and the blessings which have enabled us to be where we are. Its the calm before the ………………….PARTY!!!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The FRRO - why does it strike such dread in the heart of ex-pats in Bangers?

The FRRO - foreign residents registration office - is an annual day of anguish for most ex-pats in Bangalore.

 On arrival in Bangers one has 30 days to register at said office where one is, hopefully given permission to reside in the city for twelve months and therefore every twelve months one needs to extend one's residency permit.

The 'new'FRRO building is pretty innocuous looking  - its that yellow and red building. On this picture it looks very clam and quite. However by opening time there is a queue of 'foreigners' and their agents amassing in something which could almost by called a queue. The road is currently half fallen away due to heavy monsoons and the remainder is a sea of mud.

To those of us acclimatized to India and Bangers the building itself is pretty average. Whether the bright colors are to give a facade of joy and happiness to disguise the potential frustrations within or just because these particulars colors were on sale I'm not sure. The poor newbies can be seen clutching bottles of hand sanitizer, extra strength, which is liberally applied as soon as any surface is touched, and if they need to use the pretty basic bathrooms you can see their faces go pale at the prospect. To be set down in India, probably in a pretty posh hotel while you house hunt, school hunt and generally get your bearings is one thing but to then have to register at the FRRO is quite another.

The system has got way more streamlined since we were the newbies nearly three years ago, when the brats were younger and less inclined to sit for long periods of time and this 'new' building is way more civilized than the previous one. But it is still a challenge. Even for us with an agent (who does as much form filling in triplicate as possible, ensures we bring/complete the right documents etc.etc) and as English speakers, this is not a pleasant day! The non english speaking students seem to have the hardest time.

This is bureaucracy gone bonkers. Whether this extreme need for multiple papers in triplicate to sign, initial or officially stamp is a hang over from the British need for order in the chaos during their period of rule here or not I don't know. I'm beginning to think the higher of stack of papers you arrive with the more the petty bureaucrats see you as a semi-kindred spirit and the more likely there are to move you along through the process a tad quicker.

The brats, obviously potential terrorists, anarchists or another type of undesirable have to prove they go to school, to an accredited school no less. This is a new stage in the process for 2013. Instead of a short one line "Adam Towers goes to Indus' on letter head with an official stamp, there is now a form which has to be logged on a website which generates a number, which has to be inserted on the hard copy, which needs a passport photo which all needs to be signed and stamped...... I was at Indus twice, second time for an hour to get this done and to pick up the couple of certificates to verify Indus credentials. Needless to say our man at the FRRO didn't even look at this.....but then if we hadn't had it, he would have!!

Once you have stood in the outside queue and the doors are finally open there are various checks and more lines to go through until one gets a token. Then more sitting and once your token number appears on the LCD (there is some hi-tech penetrating the process albeit slowly) you proceed upstairs - now in the serious business part of the building. By now you know the desk you will be going to when your number is up and can see the FRRO official and can try and calculate his mood and thoroughness. You hope the people in front are not 'problem cases' and have all the right documents for their sake, as well as yours!!

We saw one young African guy -maybe a student who was missing some mysterious form 16 and whose stay in India was about to be abruptly terminated and some poor girl who was working for a charity but because she didn't earn the requisite salary could not be allowed to be a resident - from what we heard if she didn't earn anything and was a volunteer that would have been OK but then of course she wouldn't be able to live......Anyway she was given until the end of the year arrange her departure.

Our fear is not that our Visa wont be extended but that we have to make multiple visits due to an "i" not dotted or a "t" not crossed. We did see our official at desk 'B' try to smile a couple of times so when our  number was called we were full of hope. And yes this time all was in order but sadly the process does not end there. Someone has to pay for this brightly colored building and its generally sour annal employees and that is the next stage. We are presented with a cost sheet for our time spent chez FRRO and the stamp in our passport. Our agent goes off to the bank to get a payment draft and we head off for coffee - a lot of successful coffee stops near the FRRO. An hour later we have the draft which Simon drops in and is then told the time to pick up our stamped passports -yeah we have time for lunch and time for Simon to drop us home before he returns for the last step to render us legal for another year. He only has to wait an hour and a half. All done by 6.00pm, after getting in line at 8.30am.......well at least all done in one day!!

Hence my FB status:

It's not fun to be at the FRRO
It's not fun to be at the FRRO

Expat, expat there's a need to feel down,
Expat, expat, throw yourself on the ground,

It's not fun to be at the FRRO

Ok, doesnt flow as well as the Village people at the YMCA - but you see my point!!!

How does my garden grow?

 I'm not sure exactly with what my garden grows and I don't help it along but with the gardener and the ongoing monsoon rains it is doing very well!

The flowers I have no idea what they are but they are very pretty. I can however identify my pomegranates and bananas!!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

My new toy!!!

It has been three weeks since I first took to the streets of Whitfield behind the wheel of my new toy - aka 'the old tin can'.

Its impossible to describe the freedom!! Me, the radio on, not having to explain to anyone where, why or when - I just go!!!!

I know it could all end in tears. The traffic is somewhat crazy but there is a sort of (lots of 'sort of' - nothing too definitive!) rhythm. Its like being in a sort of tribal dance - there are sort of unwritten rules of the road and a sort of code of behavior. A bit like the pirates code Captain Jack and his type sort of adhere too -  "Hang the code and hang the rules, they're just guidelines anyway." You just need to relax and go with the flow and expect turns, halts and the untoward. I actually think most people on the roads are extremely good drivers - for these roads and conditions. Their feel for the velocity and stopping speeds of other vehicles and their awareness of the width and turning prowess of their own vehicles is second to none. They wouldn't last long in the US or UK as road signs seem to go unheeded. The worst drivers I'd say are the expat gray Innova car drivers with their sense of entitlement and superiority a bit like the black cabs in London!

I won't be driving into town in rush hour, after dark, on the highway or long distances but for my normal everyday errands I am now on my own. For those other trips I will just hire a driver for a few hours. Wills and I were driving back from his cricket academy and one of our fav songs came on the radio as we got close to home so we drove round the complex a few times....couldn't do that with a driver!!

A lot of Indian women - returning from overseas/on assignment from overseas, drive so I couldn't really see why I couldn't! Its definitely helped having driven with a gear/shift stick in a previous life and on the left side of the road. Taking my driving test in London and driving the first time by myself from central London out of the city probably helps also!!

It's also good feeling like part of the melee and the mass and not like royalty in the back of the Innova, a mere spectator. To feel like I can actually look after my family myself, going to the grocery store, taking to dental appointments etc.etc. rather than being able to just direct staff is a bonus, I wasnt designed to be lady of the manor!

However I do realize I am not helping the local job market - we have no driver and a part-time maid. One of India's main resources is its many, many people, a lot of whom are skilled domestics. However as the hi-tech and call workers move into Bangers the cost of housing goes up. A few call center singles living in a house can afford more rent than a family of four with one bread winner doing domestic work. The domestics therefore want/need higher wages. At some point they price themselves out of a job and I've no idea what happens then. There is an upper limit to what I will pay for a maid - it's not as tho' I couldn't do it myself, the same for ironing, gardening and YES DRIVING!!!!


The OWC arranges a monthly lunch but as I'm not really a luncher especially this close to my one sari wearing night of the year, I don't often attend. But this was not one to be missed - Keralan food and a bit culture thrown in!! 

Very briefly, Onam is essentially the Keralan Harvest Festival. It falls at the time of the rice harvest. To me, this festival is very special as it transcends caste, religion and community. All Keralities celebrate. 

To cut a long and beautiful story short, it marks the annual visit of King Mahabali, who ended up in exile in the underworld, back to earth to visit his loyal subjects.  To reassure their lost king and show him all is well in his kingdom Keralities feast, dance and dress in their best. As well as food, dance and music, without which as we know, no India celebration is complete, Onam is marked by cultural performances and sporting events. A true display of all that is great in ‘Gods own country’

OWC had a great turn out, maybe 40 ladies arrived at the Ente Keralam to join the celebration.  Along with our welcome drink, we watched the dancer perform “Mohiniattam” –dance of the enchantress. The graceful gentle movements of her body is to represent the meandering rivers, swaying palm leaves and paddy plants of Kerala. The dramatic movements of her hands and fingers and the intense expressions on her face tell a story – usually one of love and devotion to a god.

Her clothing and jewelry is also traditional, down to the thick gold belt, the ankle bands set with bells, her hair in a bun with jasmine on the left side.

After the sensuous movements and expressions of the dancer it was time to awaken our taste buds! To tell you the truth I’m not quite sure what exactly was in the many little silver bowls adorning our banana leaf lined plates but suffice to say it was incredibly delicious, bursting with flavor, color and texture.  A thali extravaganza!

Monday, September 9, 2013

It's that Ganesha time of year again!

Ganesha is somehow all that is Indian - his round cuddly belly, curly trunk, chubby fingers and little bright eyes are but a canvas for colors galore, bling on top of bling  - nothing subtle for our Ganesha! You gotta love him!

Previous years Ganesha blogs I have covered the history and background - so this is all about Ganesha today!!

This year we thought we'd experience Ganesha locally, within walking distance of Ozone. We forayed out in day light behind the local government school where Ads and I spend an hour on Saturday mornings with a handful of six 6th grade boys listening to them read. Just within stones throw of the busy Varthur road which heaves with traffic 24/7 is another world full of folks only too happy to share their festival with us.

Our initial lunch time foray set the scene, the little streets were lined with lights not yet turned on, in some of the pandels Ganesha was already sat resplendent, in others he was covered awaiting the initial pooja and others were empty, awaiting his arrival.

These people are very poor but so willing to smile and share - we had prasad (I always ponder the wisdom of accepting and consuming........but it is always so yummy), bindi's on our foreheads, were given a few bangles, a flower tied round my wrist, a banana and some paan leaves.

We saw some of 'our boys' as I think of them, the smiling faces of the kids from mine and Ads class, full of smiles and welcome.

Each small group of houses had it's own Ganesha placed in his temporary leaf shrined home, among garlands, lights and pooja offerings. Around which all gathered to share in prayer, food, music and chat. In an area of a few hundred meters full of numerous small houses (some smaller than my tiny indian kitchen) we must have paid homage to at least ten Ganesha.

When we returned in the evening, amongst the twinkling lights, the party was in full swing, the streets busier but the welcome just the same.

We were again invited up to the front to see each Ganesha, to be blessed, bindi'd and fed!!

For some Ganesha, life on earth is very short and the same day as they are brought out they are returned to the clay from which they were moulded. Other Ganesha stay in situ for 3, 5 7, or 9 days until they head to their watery graves.
Even next to the most polluted river you could imagine - smelly, green and stagnant, the official dunkers are on hand but someone is parked in amongst the trash at the side of the road watching you........
Such an experience, a different world, culture and religion all on our doorstep. To be made so welcome and invited to share - the kindness and generousity of the "have-nots in material terms" makes me feel quite humbled as we return through the security gates to the closed doors of Ozone.