Tuesday, August 17, 2010
We were on a sight seeing tour of North India after my XII board exams. At this age i.e in the second half of your teens, girls tend to be a little attention crazy. This sometimes causes the ohhhhhhhhhh-chooooooooo-cuuuuuuuuuuuuute expressions for puppies and kittens and babies and piglets. Well, may be not the piglets I guess!! I was no exception. We were touring the town of Pushkar in Rajasthan. It has the only temple for Brahma in India plus a few other temples. Ever since we landed in Rajasthan I expressed this strong desire to ride on a camel. This was half becauseof the attention craziness – blame that on my hormones. Half was because of my so-called interest in doing different things or experiencing different things. My cousin who accompanied us found a camel and its caretaker (I know its mahout for elephants. No idea what you call a camel-care-taker) taking rest in a shady area in oneof the quiet streets of Pushkar. He coaxed the camel guy (Lets call him that! Easier!) to let me take a ride on his animal. He agreed for a small sum. (Things never happen in India outside of business!!)
The camel was in a very bad mood or at least appeared to be. It was munching something and making weird noises. “Goddamn you! Can’t you let me enjoy my siesta in peace? Who is giving you such stupid ideas?” I did not need to be a camel to translate that.
I was anyways pretty excited. The camel guy made the camel sit or rather kneel and I climbed on top. The camel was on its feet and started getting up. I seemed to be rising and rising and rising. Now there are times in life when you realize that your decision is too stupid. But self dignity and ego prevent you from revealing this realization. I was in a similar state. I was totally scared and freaked out. I guess you can’t call it fear of heights because it was just a few feet above the ground. May be you can call it fear of heights when mounted on a camel?
Soon my fear and tension won the battle over my ego and dignity. This victory emerged in the form of huge screams from me. Screaming on a roller coaster ride is acceptable. Screaming on a camel??? Well, I did not care! I was terrified.The camel guy said something like ‘Ut’. Then only it dawned to me that my darling mount had not gotten up fully. Like the dinosaur in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, with all possible grace that it could muster, it rose again and stood in its full height.
Its moments like these when your picture gets taken. I still have that picture. My expression is like I have just bitten onto a green chilly when watching a horror movie. Of course there was a little smile that I tried for special effects. Very artistic photograph!
Then the camel started moving and I was shouting “Enough! Enough! Put me down! Put me down” Finally I was down. Once the fear subsided it was now time to face loads of embarrassment. I took it with honor! Believe me, I did. My family had a nice laugh. Somebody had fun anyways.
I was to have another rendezvous with this creature during my college days. We had gone on a bike ride to a nearby temple. There was this camel ride getting offered there. Oh No! Not the one like before. This was a cart pulled by a camel and all of us boarded it. Now we were engineering students and our duty is to do some showing off by being inquisitive and asking intelligent questions. Like what it ate, what it drank etc.
When we were about to get down I asked “Iska naam kya hai?” (What is its name?). I know you call dogs Timmy, Jimmy, Tuffy etc. I was wondering what they named camels.
For an instant the camel guy gave me a look that was a perfect combination of pity and wonder. He had assumed that I was a terribly-weak-at-zoology girl. He smiled and said ‘oont’. I did not hear it properly and I guess my look was quizzical. ‘Oont-oont’ he repeated and then added ‘kaemel’ and went off.
I still did not get it and was standing when I heard a whole lot of laughter. Friends never lose opportunities to pull your legs and opportunities like these which you serve them on a silver platter? No way!!! Okay!!! A camel-guy from Rajasthan had just told me that the four legged animal with a hump was called oont in Hindi and kaemel in English. Embarassment is a small word to depict my plight that moment!
Once again the camel and I had succeeded in bringing great momentary happiness to those that surrounded us. What a team we were!
My friends laughed over this quite a number of times and narrated this to their friends for a hearty laugh again. Things became so bad that sometimes the introductions were based on this incident. “Hey remember the kaemel girl? This is her” followed by ha ha s and hi hi s. Hmmm!!!!!
Friday, August 13, 2010
This becomes most problematic when you travel, or go shopping, and in case of vegetarians like me when you hunt for food. During my initial few days in Kuala Lumpur, there were instances when I would walk into a restaurant and ask if there was something veggie. Malaysian food is full of fish, meat and if nothing else anchovies for the flavor. People like me asking for vegetarian were a totally rare sight for them. The lady servicing this mad customer would give a blank look.
Okay! You did not understand, is it? Fine! Here I go again! Do-you-have-anything-veggie? I would stress each word to try to make her understand. She would give me a “Where-on-earth-have-you-come-from?” look and say “Don’t-have” with a wave of her hand. “I have better customers to attend to. Good riddance” I can almost hear the words in her mind.
Now the above belong to the “I know some English” cadre. The experience is best when you have someone for whom English sounds the way a tribal language in the deep jungles of Africa would sound to you and me. One such fellow was sent to do some general repairs in my home by the landlord.
I was alone at home with my three month old son. This guy rings the bell and comes inside and says Hi.
“Obang?” he says.
Now it was my turn to give a blank look.
“I am sorry I don’t know Malay”
Well, repeating it twice will not make me a Nobel Laureate in Malay Literature.
“Ladder?” I ask trying to help.
“Obang! Obang!” and he starts walking around the house and exploring
“Bathroom? Yes the heater is not working” I say slowly and firmly trying to make the best imitation of the lady who used to come on Doordarshan at 1:15 on Sundays. News for the hearing impaired.
“Obang” and he shows me his hands with three fingers open and the thumb and index finger closed.
“Yes there are three fixes to be done”
“O-baaa-nnn-ggg” now putting so much stress on each syllable is not going to drill any amount of Malay vocabulary into my head.
He puts his hands on his hips and looks to the left and then to the right.
I stand like a school student whose teacher has just asked her “now what is fourteen times twenty-three”. Not those prodigies who have the answers stored somewhere or the other in their brain.
There is a minute of awkward silence.
Now he looks at me with a “Lets try it again” expression and says “Obang” moving his hands backwards and forwards showing three again and again.
Is he telling me that the interiors are superb? I wonder. Naaaah.Why would he repeat it so many times?
“Obang Obang” and he peruses the walls.
Luckily my neighbor is at home and I rush to seek their help.
“There is a guy out there speaking only Malay and I can’t make heads or tails out of it.”
My neighbor’s son, a fifteen year old comes with me.
“Obang!” our man in question repeats with a relieved tone.
“Obang means hole. Is there a hole on the wall to be sealed?” the boy asks me.
Oh dear! All this while he was showing a hole with his thumb and finger and I was looking at the three shown by the other fingers.
Now that was a fix that was not there in our initial list and I had not remembered it. Even if I did remember, it would not have made any difference. I would have still been the non-Malay-speaking-idiot-who-has-landed-from-God-knows-Where.
With the help of my fifteen year old translator I managed to get things done.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Thanks to my toddler I have started watching cartoon channels more than anything else on television. I never knew they were so good and entertaining. I was of the belief that only kids would enjoy these animated series. To my surprise I found that I was enjoying them even more than my son.
I am not talking about cartoons where you have evil forces and super warriors like Animax channel. I am referring to simple cartoons and our favorite channel is Playhouse Disney. Groups of friends, lots of joy, teeny-weeny problems that they solve and happy endings guaranteed.
These days the producers are making great attempts to make them educative as well. There is Mickey Mouse Club House where Mickey and Friends achieve some feat using Mouse-ka-tools. It portrays how simple things that we have can be put to efficient use. Every now and then Mickey would do some counting and numbers. There is Higgly Town Heroes where every episode concentrates on some profession and the people in those portrayed as heroes. It explains what bakers, doctors, firemen, policemen and even marine biologists do. There is Handy Manny where tools talk and its explained how simple repairs are done.
There is no violence and no vulgarity. It’s an ideal world where everyone is sweet, kind and nice and there is no poverty, crime, grief, war, difference in ideologies, etc.
After seeing these channels I am unable to watch any news channel. What a marked difference exists. The former is full of fun, frolic, happiness and joy; the latter full of violence, hatred, atrocities and crime. I’d rather watch Timmy the lamb go to school rather than listen to reports of terrorists, snipers, corrupt men and politics.
If only by magic we could enter into that world of cartoons how nice it would it be, I wonder. The world of kids has no complexities that we human beings have created on this planet. It’s simple and beautiful.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Generally when it comes to love for the nation it is always portrayed in a highly emotional, melodramatic manner – like soldiers losing their lives or movie heroes like Sunny Deol bashing up all anti-Indian elements.
I happened to meet one of my husband’s colleagues from the West and like all conversations between people of different nationalities, our discussions revolved around comparing various aspects of the two countries. Only when we discuss such things with others do we realize the enormity of the diversity in our country. Starting from food! Every state has so many delicacies to boast of. Take TamilNadu and I would say idly, dosa, sambar, vada , Chettinad items and the list would go on. We explained to our friend that we speak Tamil but our national language is Hindi. A different language is spoken in every state and each language has a unique script. Wow!!! We were watching TV and there was a movie showing Holi celebration. We explained that this is a festival of colors celebrated in the Northern parts of India and that we from the south don’t have it in our list of festivals though we belong to the same religion. I added that we do join the celebrations for the fun part of it. We were talking about weather and I realized that India experiences all kinds of weather, though in different parts of the country. Hot,Warm, Pleasant, Rainy, Cold, Snowy - name it and you can find a matching place. Any aspect that we took, I could not give a simple answer.
Since childhood I have done a fair amount of traveling and have visited quite a few places in India. Our country is a tourist’s haven. Each and every one of these tours has instilled an awe and amazement in me – Brahadeeswara temple of Tanjore, backwaters of Aleppey, Beas running near Manali, palaces of Jaipur to name a few .
Our cinema and television industries are huge and produce some of the greatest shows and movies in the world – in a unique our own way.
We are one of the very few countries to have had women Chief Ministers and women Prime Ministers. We have women in all walks of life. There is suppression and oppression in some places. Agreed! But we are moving at a fast pace towards the positive side. Some of the biggest entrepreneurs in India are women. Do we need anything else to prove this?
The average Indian is much shrewder and has a much higher IQ compared to his counterparts in other parts of the world. No wonder that there is an Indian behind most of the complex computer systems in the world today.
The medical expertise of doctors in India is on par with the best doctors of the globe. We often hear of patients coming from other parts of the world to get their treatments done at the much affordable prices here.
We have not been entirely swallowed by the influences of the West. India is sort of an archipelago of cultures and so many of us strive to safeguard what we have inherited and imbibed. Our festivals, celebrations, weddings etc hold testimony to that.
Indians are one of the most adaptable and adjustable people on earth. We have lived in harmony amidst long hours of power cuts, water scarcity, pollution, overcrowded public transportation systems. This explains the presence of a small coterie of our country men in almost every other nation in the world irrespective of climatic conditions and cultural barriers.
We are technologically savvy. Menial laborers would have cell phones. Even a small thatched hut would have a television with cable connection.
We keep criticizing the political system. We have sects and sub sects and so many differences – religion, language, traditions, and customs. Running a country with such a complex set up is not a joke. We definitely need to praise our ruling parties for the same and we have to remember that in spite of the corruption we have produced some of the best administrators in the past 63 years.
We have a zillion things to be proud of and boast about. The sad thing is majority of the Indians spend their time criticizing the system. They boast about the absence of pollution and the perfect road systems in other parts of the world. Ask them to name one good thing they have given back to the Indian society and they would have to shut themselves in a room and think for hours together to give a response.
The constant complaints about the problems we have and the over-done appreciation of the systems in other countries is our worst enemy. If you really love your country you would not throw garbage on the streets. You would follow traffic rules. You would help fellow Indians, given an opportunity. Above all you would show pride whenever you speak of the country.
Patriotism is not saluting the national flag or honoring freedom fighters and army men. It is a feeling that has to emanate from the heart; A pride about our customs, culture, ideologies, beliefs, traditions. Instead of constantly cribbing about the negatives around us we should try praising the positives.
Instead of talking about bad roads talk about the new roads that get built;
Instead of talking about over crowded railway systems express awe and admiration for the way such a huge populace is being managed by the largest railway network in the world;
Instead of cribbing about pollution develop the habit of throwing waste in dustbins and planting trees;
Instead of acting as if you can eat only at Mc Donalds and Starbucks spread the wonders of our pani puri and masala chai to your non-Indian friends;
Instead of cribbing about inefficient governance take initiatives for the betterment of society; Pay for a child’s education; Help someone suffering at a hospital; Donate blood!
The picture some westerners have about India is that it is a poor uneducated country with snake charmers and beggars. This is evident from the books they write and the movies they make.
When you talk to Westerners don’t try to win their favor by trying to imitate their ways or feeling inferior about ours. Take pride in our customs and methods.
No developed country of today’s world received freedom just half a century ago.
We are an intelligent smart shrewd lot with an amazing cultural heritage. No other nation in the world has so much of variety to offer as ours.
We do have ills in the name of corruption, a selfish money-minded political system, poverty, unemployment, dowry, casteism, pollution etc. But change is inevitable. If time has changed us from the prosperous rich nation that we were to a developing suffering nation that we are today the reversal can happen and it will. To start the process the love for the nation in the minds and hearts of us Indians is what is needed. You don’t have to join the army or the police force for that. Cherish our ways and take pride in our pluses. The rest will follow suit.
Friday, August 6, 2010
Statues, garlands and posters top the list of means to show ones respect. Every other day it’s the birthday of some leader – freedom fighter, or political leader or a literary genius. We would have politicians thronging the places where their statues are kept. Huge garlands would be put around the statue and there would be big news coverage. Party followers would be shouting slogans in favor the person garlanding. I don’t think statues are given this much hype in any other part of the world. If you really respect the person do something to spread his ideology, start some program to create some awareness about him.
Even Raja Raja Chozhan would not have had so many ‘respectful’ terms behind his name. The posters we see struck everywhere in the city carry so many honorary titles for our ministers. The lower ranked members of the party try to get themselves in the good books of the ministers and in turn a seat in the Assembly by uttering these titles at every possible opportunity and adding a few if possible.
We have the culture of the ministers falling at other minister’s feet. Ask them to give one reason why they are doing it and they would reply that he is a great man. Are we living in a democracy or not? They are just elected members of the community. Why make Gods out of them?
Even doctorate degrees have fallen prey to this game of giving respect. Universities try to get funds and popularity by giving honorary doctorate titles to the most underserved of the lot.
Actors are no exception. In Tamil film industry, an actor who has completed three movies expects a ‘sir’ after his name whenever somebody refers to him. In the Western world actors are treated just as actors and referred to by their first name. I have not seen any actress being referred to as ‘madam’ here. These actors are also crazy after titles. I think we have contenders for almost all the titles in an infantry in our Tamil film industry.
Respect problems start from the family. There are parts of Tamilnadu where the way the banana leaf is folded after a meal indicates respect or the lack of it.
There are families where a marriage invitation carries a thousand names on the ‘With Best Compliments’ list and family feuds result when some name of an nth relative gets missed out. Of all things on earth coffee can be told to cause lack of respect. So often we hear ‘The girl’s side did not even offer proper coffee. They had no respect for the guy’s side.’
In this mad rush for respect so many people who actually deserve respect are forgotten. But they neither ask for it or feel having been denied it. Aged people deserve respect. They are called as ‘perusu’(literally translates to big). People in buses don’t offer them seats. Their age is not given any importance in government offices where they go for something or the other and are still made to undergo torturous hours of waiting and begging. People who do social service without any political motives need respect. The labourers who toil day and night to provide us with all our luxuries need respect. Recently in Singapore in one of the papers I saw that the Govt inspected public toilets and gave away awards to the workers for the best kept public rest rooms.
I feel that we need to respect every individual who ignores society’s ways and gives respect to the deserved in a deserving manner.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010