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Showing posts from November, 2010

Study Leave

Neil takes a day off every so often when things are quiet in school..He is fifteen and doing his Board exams next year.  He does this especially when the teachers are busy with the annual function and not coming to the class.  Like nowadays.  He uses the time to catch up on his studies (the irony!).

The trouble is, Neil's little brother Nitin refuses to go to school without his big brother.  The only way he'll get into the school van is if I promise to collect him.  Going to collect Nitin takes two hours out of my day.  Travel there and back and the rest afterwards.  Messes up my day no end.

Neil will have to give this habit up!

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Always Believe Your Kids - Until Proven Otherwise

One day, when Neil was little, I was lying on my bed with my new baby, Mel, dozing off to sleep.  Neil was standing by the open door, looking out into the garden.

"Mummy!  There's a monkey over there!" he said.

"Oh, stop telling lies Neil," I said.

"Mummy, there IS a monkey," he said.

Something in his voice made me pay attention.  I got up, went to the door and looked out.  Sitting on the wall opposite my room were six monkeys staring at us solemnly.

It made me remember.  Always believe your kids until their words are proven otherwise.

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Winter Vegetables

One of the things I love most about winter is the vegetables available.  All the vegetables I love are available.  Peas and cauliflower especially.  Of course potatoes which are available all year round and which I cannot live without, being Irish to the core and practically reared on them.

I never ate radishes in Ireland but I like them now.  They are lovely when you grate them and cook them in potato curry.  You can make a great variety of stuffed parathas - my favourite food - in the winter.  Stuff them with potato (of course), cauliflower, radishes - the list is endless.

What on earth am I talking about?  I won't be going anywhere near a paratha anytime soon.  At 47, I have been attacked by a severe case of middle aged spread.  In order to return to my former svelte avatar, I must learn to eschew fried foods (like parathas) and embrace salads.  No problem.  Winter salads are just as delicious as summer salads. We may not have so many cucumbers, but yes, we have radish.  Those …

Rummuser Immobilized

I'm sad right now.  My dear rakhi brother and fellow Indian blogger Rummuser is helpless and unable to blog at the moment.  He is suffering from a slipped disc in his neck.  I miss him terribly. Apparently, it will take some time for him to make a full recovery. Why oh why did this have to happen when I'm doing National Blog Posting Month?  He's my greatest commenter.  Posting on a blog seven days a week can be tedious.  No-one's going to come and comment seven days a week no matter how much they love your writing.  But Rummuser does.  He comments on every post I write.  Naturally, he can't do that now.  I'm missing him terribly.

Rummuser has great faith in God.  His personal vision of God is the Hindu elephant headed deity, Ganesha.  Ganesha is loved by one and all as he is a cheerful and happy version of God.  I telephoned Rummuser the other day like a good sister, to check up on his progess.

"How are you?" I asked him.

"Oh, fine! Don't wor…

New Names

We just had a visit from Ansh, the son of Yash's 'cousin brother' Krishna.  We attended his wedding along with our children in a town called Jhansi in our state of Uttar Pradesh just last year.  Ansh's wife has recently given birth to their first child, a son.


In India, particularly in the north, the name of a new baby is sometimes given by the paternal grandmother of the infant and sometimes by the paternal aunt.  I'm not sure who has chosen this baby's name, but he as a most unusual name.  It is Nehansh.  Pronounced 'nay-hansh'.  The name is actually a combination of the mother's name (Neha) and the father's name (Ansh).  This makes it a unique name.


A few years ago, when I was teaching in a nursery school, I had a student called Medhanjai.  I had never heard of that name before and wondered from where his parents had sourced it.  When I met his parents, the mystery was solved.  The mother's name was Sumedha.  The father's name was Jai P…

Twilight

"Twilight" is the name of a movie that's very popular with the younger crowd these days.    All Gothic, vampire stuff.  Not my cup of tea.

The half-light between night and day has always fascinated me.  When my kids are out playing and I see it descending, I go and call them in immediately.  I always feel that things are a little scary in half-light.  You know where you are with night and day.  But half-light is deceiving.  I always like to know where I am with everything.

We don't have much twilight in India.  Things tend to happen very fast here at times.  One minute it's day, the next it's night.  You're out walking in daylight and by the time you reach home, it's night.  Yes, very strange.And not at all what I was accustomed to .  But I've got used to it by now.

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Roadworks Still Going On!

It seems like I've been writing about the roadworks outside my house for months.  It took them months to dig up the road, and equal amount of time to lay a new sewer line.  This has been going on since like September, and OMG we still have the bulldozers roaring outside the house, day and night.  What is going on?

To make matters worse - some of my readers may remember that there is an open drain outside my house which was left uncovered because the local authority had knocked down our wall and we didn't know what to do.  Well the local construction workers think its a public property.  They are poor people who have no place to stay.  They constructed a tap beside our drain.  They all have baths there and - horror of horrors - wash their dishes their morning, noon and night.  I feel sorry for them, but it's a bit much, really.

The road outside our house is like a dirt track and walking to the local shops is like a nightmare.  You have to ask yourself : 'do I really nee…

Death Anniversary

On the 1st January 2010, my father-in-law passed away, leaving us all in grief.  I still love and miss him.  Customs are different in every religion and the religious ceremony to mark the death one year later is actually being held today, the 23rd November in the same year.  Apparently in his community, the eleventh month is the time for special observances.

Just less than a month ago it was All Soul's Day.  As I am a Catholic, I approached my pastor and requested him to say Mass for all my deceased relatives and friends.  He did this for me during the month of November.  So these days, it seems to be the season for remembering my loved ones who have moved into eternity ahead of me.  I don't believe in death and look forward to meeting all  of the in due course and what a wonderful, joyful  occasion that will be.  Meanwhile, I want to live every moment to the full and not waste a second.

But today, I'm missing my Papaji and remembering what a wonderful person he was, his gr…

School Uniform Changeover

Usually, in or around October, right after the Diwali festival, the children start wearing their winter school uniforms.  It's so different!  When I went to a school where I had to wear  a uniform in Ireland, there was no change of uniform to match the seasons.  But there is here!

The summer uniform is lighter and made of cotton.  The winter uniform is heavier and made of wool.  There is such an extremity between the summer and the winter season in north India - from biting cold to white-hot heat, that a uniform change is necessary.

The weeks the changeover happens, there's a lot of work.  First, I can never remember where among the clothes I've packed the uniforms.  Where are the blazers and the long sleeved shirts?  And the ties?  Don't forget them!

They've got to be washed, pressed, aired, hung out.  And very often repaired too!

There is some confusion this year.  The boys have been back in the winter uniform for the last month.  However, because the girls have …

Kites

In the time of the year when it's not too hot and there's plenty of wind, flying kites is a favourite pastime.  Kites are so flimsy - made of delicate sticks and paper.  But it's amazing to see how high they can go in the sky.  Fascinating.

Once, when the weather was kite-friendly, my son Nitin was going mad for a kite.  He drove my husband mad and Yash ended up going out with him to look for a kite.  The trouble was that in that season, kites were not easily available.  There's a village beside our housing estate and Yash eventually found a small shop in a back lane.  One kite was available.  One.

Yes, there's something magical about the pleasure a kite can give you.  Even if they are miles away up in the sky and look just like a tiny dot.  The magic is all the more precious when you had to hunt to procure the kite too.

One thing I'm sure about.  Next time kites are available, I'm going to stock up on a few.  There's nothing worse than a child going ma…

Fare Increase

I have to use public transport a lot.  There are public buses (nice but rather infrequent), private buses (always packed - I try to avoid them), autorickshaws (cheap if you share with others and fast too) and tempos (like autos - but more people can fit in).  I know the fares for the journeys I have to travel.  I always like pay my fare as soon as possible.

Recently, my eldest son Neil had to attend school on a holiday.  Neil is in 9th Class - he'll be doing a big public examination in 10th.  Sometimes it is necessary for him to attend school when his little brother doesn't.  Because it was a holiday his regular van driver didn't come.

My husband told me that I should walk Neil to the local bus stop, make sure he was  in an autorickshaw, pay the fare and send him

"He knows where to get out," Yash said.  "Don't worry, he'll be fine."

Call me an overprotective mother, but I just couldn't send Neil in the auto on his own.  Perhaps if he had bee…

The Guards on the Gate

I remember years ago when I lived in Dublin, a friend of mine had a bedsit flat in an area called Rathmines.  Sometimes I use to go to her place to have a cup of tea after work if I had time, because my house was on the other side of the city. On the way, we used to pass the house of the current Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach).  I remember there was a booth right at the gate with the policeman in it.

I live in an area in Lucknow where a number of VIPs live.  One of them is a judge. At the gate, there is a tent.  A fairly large one.  There seems to be a posse of policemen there day and night.  I try not to look here and there as I'm not nosy, nor would I like to be seen to be.  But sometimes you catch a glimpse of policemen asleep in that tent.  There are even clotheslines beside the tent and washing on the line and everything.

I can't help wondering at times how interesting it would be to be a VIP and have policemen camping at my gate.  I think it would make me feel very impo…

Email to a Newspaper

Below is a copy of an email which I sent on Monday to the editor of the Lucknow edition  of "Hindustan Times" which is a national newspaper.  I think the email is self-explanatory.

QUOTE

Dear Editor,

I wish to draw your attention to the HT City feature on Sunday, the 14th November regarding the full attendance record of Poorva Joshi, a Class 7 Student of St. Joseph's School, who has received the full attendance award for eight consecutive years.

In the feature, Poorva is quoted as saying: "Even when I am unwell, I take medicines and attend school as I don't want my studies to suffer."  The child's father, CJ Joshi, a teacher, is quoted as saying "I feel proud that my only daughter has set an example for  other students who make excuses for not going to school."

No doubt, Poorva's performance is praiseworthy, but these quotes are a little disturbing for a conscientious student or parent.  Is it necessary to remind a teacher and his…

The Servants' Children

I remember reading once somewhere that if you live in India you either have a servant or you are a servant.  I'm not sure if that's true, but we have a cleaning woman who comes in to help us with our housework every morning.  She usually sweeps the house, washes the floor and washes the dishes.  Over the years, we have had many different women working in our house.

Poor people have to do this job.  No one else will.  It is not well paid and generally they don't get holidays either.  They just come every day and take days off because of necessity.  For these poor women, the problem of childcare is ever present.  Many of them have an elderly relative living with them who takes care of the children when they are out.  Otherwise the kids are left to play in the park.

One of our many past cleaning ladies, Chunni, had a terrible mishap a few years ago when she was working for us.  She left her (then) four year old son, Kalu, playing in the park with some children when she came t…

Two Hungry Kids

They saw me before I saw them.

"Namaste auntie," they called.  "Pehchaan, na?" (Do you recognize us?)

Of course I did.  Kalu and Chalu.  They two youngest children of Chunni, the woman who used to work as a servant in my house.

Chunni has worked in our house at two jobs for the last dozen years or so, off and on.  She used to wash our dishes morning and evening and sweep and wash the floor.  She knows me well and my children too.  She's currently out of our house because she overstepped the mark with my mother-in-law.  An understandable mistake, but fatal if one happens to be an employee.

Kalu was her seventh child.  Chalu was an afterthought.  When she found out he was on the way, she got a bit of a shock but soon took it in her stride.

Kalu and Chalu don't go to school.  They can often be observed, eight and ten years old, roaming the streets and playing.

I was happy to see them that they as they were to see me.  Kalu in particular, has a lovely w…

The Magazinewala

The 'magazinewala' is a man who comes to my house several days a week.  He delivers one of the latest magazines.  He does this several times a week, taking the previous one back.  The magazines should be returned in the condition in which they were given as he sells them after a while to secondhand magazine sellers.

Before I had the internet, the magazinewala's visits were probably among the highlights of my week.  Contact with the outside world, so to speak.  I still get magazines but they're probably not as important as they once were.  The internet is like a big magazine which is constantly updating.

My magazinewala left me over a year ago but he came back and I took him on again.  In fact, I needed him because my house has no English newspaper delivered.  Hindi is a wonderful language.  The trouble with Hindi, though, is I'm not very good at it, so English newspapers are necessary.  We can't always find the time to switch on the computer and read the web ve…

Our Saturday Evening Fun

My husband is out every day of the week, at least Monday to Saturday.  He doesn't reach home till late at night.  On Sundays he generally takes things very easy and has a lazy day.  The kids and I get bored with this `routine and like to break out every so often.

One Saturday evening recently, I was preparing to go to Church.  The kids said that they'd come too.  So we got ready and went.  The five of us piled into an auto and had to get out at the place along the route nearest the Church, which really wasn't very near.  I paid for three seats.  Three of us were sitting.  The two little ones were sitting on laps.

We walked down to Mass and afterwards said hello to our friends from the Church.  The parish priest has quite a sense of humour and usually teases me if he hasn't seen me at mass the previous week.

"I went to the Cathedral," I replied, laughing.

There's a lovely African family attending our Church nowadays.  They are Catholics from Kenya.  My chi…

The Cow Belt

I live in the area of India which is popularly known as 'the Cow Belt'.

It is not difficult to see why.  We have cows roaming everywhere.  They are not strays but many of their owners turn them loose so that they can graze on whatever grass they can find.  There probably are strays here and there, but it is hard to tell the difference.

We often have cows coming to the gate and waiting expectantly to be given something to eat.  If we have leftover food we give it to them.  Here they have competition from the street dogs, though.

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The Photo I Wish I'd Taken....

There are some beautiful blogs in the blogoverse and the pictorial ones are so interesting.  Blogs which are a combination of good writing and good photography are the best.

I recently purchased a cameraphone and sometimes add a picture to my posts here and there to give an idea about my life to my readers and friends and relatives who read my blogs.  I've gone a bit lazy in that respect lately; having taken up posting every day for a month (NaBloPoMo challenge) and writing a novel this month (NaNoWriMo), I'm madly busy writing and have time for little else.  I'm mentally promising myself I'll do more picture posts in the month of December, when the two writing challenges are behind me.

My friend Elizabeth Harper reminded me recently that there are so many photo opportunities in the country I live in that I should invest in a good camera.  I can see her point.

I saw a fantastic photo opportunity once.  I was on my way to Church.  My Church is situated besid…

Did I See a Ghost?

I remember hearing once that ghosts are walking around everywhere, but we see them and don't know that they are ghosts.  Could that be true, I wonder?

There are people we see every day of our lives and don't know their names.  There was a sweeper man who used to cycle down our road every day.  He was a tall, thin man with  a big, friendly smile.  He had no hair on the top of his head.  He was a familiar face cycling down my road every morning and always said 'namaste' to me.  If he wasn't cycling, he always folded his hands to me. I knew he was a sweeper, although he didn't sweep on our road.  He had a big broom on his bicycle, that's how I knew.   I also saw his wife.  She was a plump, friendly woman who used to ride on the back of his bicycle.  She seemed to be working in local houses nearby where I live.  She also said hello to me regularly.

For a long time I noticed that I hadn't seen his wife around in ages.  When I'd see him cycl…

The Cosmetic Seller

Every so often the cosmetic seller comes down our road, pushing his barrow along.  I always come out if I see him coming.  He brings a bit of excitement into a housewife's life.

His wares are cheaper than in the market.  He sells items of great importance in an Indian wife's life.  He sells little boxes of sindoor - that's the red colour that Hindu married women wear in the hair parting.  Sindoor comes in three colours.  Orange, maroon and bright red.  According to him, the village women go for the bright red colour whereas their city sisters prefer the more sober maroon.  Orange sindoor (or is it saffron colour?) is preferred by women from the state of Bihar, another state in north India.  Orange sindoor is often seen around, but not very often.  To apply sindoor, we dip something like a pen or a stick into the powder and carefully apply it on the hair parting.  Nowadays, the cosmetic seller brings a lipstick type sindoor stick, which is very useful and more tidy.  Person…

The Milk Man

We can buy pasteurised milk in plastic packets from the local shops.  But there is an institute here called the 'doodhwala' (milkman).  He seems to be everywhere.

Where I live, the milkman usually arrives on a bicycle or a motor cycle.  He carries big, steel cartons of milk on his vehicle.  He brings milk which has to be strained and boiled.  We get several litres of milk a day via the milk man.  Most people claim his milk tastes better than the shop milk.  I'm not so sure about that.

There was a milkman coming to our house every day.  He used to send his son to bring the milk for us in the evenings.  Now, the boy probably had a lot of regard for the household across the road from us.  It is a big house and they have a lot of servants.  The ladies of that house never deal with the milkman.  I noticed he used to send the milk into that house in a steel carton. However, he used to come to me in my kitchen and ask me to bring a large pot outside to collect my milk.  I didn…

Making Rotis

Making rotis or chapatis, the unleavened bread served with curries in north India, is one of the most difficult things I had to learn when I moved out to India.  For the first couple of years I was here, my mother-in-law made the rotis for everyone.  But as my family size increased, we needed a lot of rotis and ultimately, it fell to me to make my own breads.  I was happy enough about it.

It took me ages to learn how to make rotis.  The dough wasn't a problem.  Just knead flour and water.  But rolling the circular breads to the right consistency and making sure they got just the right amount of heat and best of all, if they puffed up like a sort of bubble - that's a skill which takes time and patience.

I've certainly mastered the art of making nice rotis but I have to be careful not to make them when I'm sick or tired.  If there is one thing which draws abuse in my house from otherwise perfectly nice people, it is making burnt or flat rotis!

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Burnt Pots

It is so easy to burn pots.  You only have to turn your back for a moment when you are cooking something like rice and your pot is almost destroyed.

We have a woman who comes in to was the dishes.  Don't think for one moment that this solves your problem of cleaning burnt pots.  The servant in question is likely to cause a row with the boss of the house on account of it.  When you burn a pot, you have to solve the problem yourself.

I find that if you tackle the pot immediately, you clean it with far less problem.  If on the other hand you leave it until later, the problem will get worse and it will be far moe difficult to clean.

If you soak the burnt pot in water for a few minutes and then tackle it with an iron type scrub pad, it can be as good as new in minutes.  If on the other hand, you leave it for a while and this can happen if it is a busy time of day, it is better to soak the pot in solution of vinegar fo a couple of hours prior to washing.

One day the servant in our house…

Token Visit

I totally dislike duty visits, or 'token visits' as I call them.  The festival of Diwali is with us and token visits take place all the time during Diwali and the following days.

You know how it is.  You have to call on the neighbours to wish them the compliments of the season.   Certain members of the family (usually two!) are selected.  You are sent to a certain house.  You carry a box of sweets.  You smile your way through the conversation while you sip a glass of water and nibble on a sweet.  How boring!  I just hate it.  It is one of the most boring activities in which one could participate.

If there are ladies sitting together and no gents sitting in, it can be quite interesting.  We'll gossip a bit about who died/got married/is pregnant.  We'll speculate on why the Singhs' eldest son moved out of the family home with his children, leaving his elderly parents and younger brother's family.  We'll speculate on a possible rift and discuss every possibili…

Home to visit Mother!

Ashi is a woman who lives in our neighbourhood.  We don't know her as Mrs. Anything, only Ashi because she was a friend of my mother-in-law from long back.  About a year ago, she visited us with wedding invitations.  Her daughter Lalita was about to be married.  I knew that Asha had a daughter but I didn't know her very well as the family is not English speaking, so our opportunities for convesation are limited.  My Hindi is not very good, unfortunately, just limited to basics.  Unfortunately we were unable to take advantage of Ashi's kind invitation because on the very same day, a relative of ours was to be married and we had to attend that wedding.  So we gave our regrets.

Recently, Ashi returned again with invitations, this time a verbal one, not a card.  Lalita, she informed us, had recently given birth to a daughter and she had come home to visit her family.  The ladies of our house were invited to come around on Sunday evening.

My mother-in-law doesn't attend par…

Too Young To Be a Father?

Catholics  have a habit of addressing their priests as 'father'.  The habit is so ingrained that I never think about it.  I certainly don't think of priests as being anything like my father.  I never called my father 'father' anyway.  That would have made me think he was like a priest.  Which would have been quite weird.

My father didn't live beyond my childhood.  I always called him 'daddy', like most kids do in Ireland, becoming 'dad' as one gets older (or 'da', a Dublin variant, just 'dad' with the last 'd' missing).  I called my late father-in-law 'Papaji'.  Just the English word 'papa' with the respectful term 'ji' attached.  The English word 'father' doesn't mean a real father to me.

What is a priest?   A spiritual guide or leader?    According to the Bible, a priest is a holy person set apart from the community whose role is to offer sacrifices to God to expiate the sins of the c…

Libraries - or the Lack of Them

When I was in Ireland, I was a member of several public libraries.  There was the local Dublin Corporation library, which was excellent.  There was another Dublin Corporation Library, the Dublin Central Library.  That was fantastic.  I used to avail of their computer and language learning facilities.Those two libraries were a gift from heaven for a booklover like me.

I found a very nice library when I arrived in Lucknow.  In the city centre of Lucknow (Hazratganj) in a building from the British times, the Mayfair Building, I found the British Library.  I became a member of that library and went in there as often as I could.  After I gave birth to my first child, going to the library was nearly impossible.  Then to my horror, the British Library closed down.  Not only I, but book lovers all over Lucknow were deprived.  But then, why should the British Embassy pay for our library?  British libraries were available in metropolitan cities like Delhi etc. but it gave the people of Lucknow …

Out to Dinner

Yash and I went out to dinner recently - just the two of us, no kids.  But it was a sad rather than a happy occasion which led to this outing.

Like many couples in their middle years, we are not really getting enough time together.  Four kids in school with all their attendent needs not to mention Yash's elderly widowed mother take up enough of our time together.  There is a brother and sister in law living in the house with us, but they are both in full time jobs and have responsibilites of their own with relatives who live nearby etc.  So the result is that Yash and I don't have much time with each other at all.

One Sunday evening recently, I came in from being at the Sunday evening church service in Hazrat Ganj in Lucknow.  When I reached home, Yash was busy putting some finishing touches to a potato curry for the children.  He explained  to me that he had to go out for a while.  When I asked him where, he explained something that I hadn't known. Yet another of our neig…

In To Dinner

Sometimes we like to go out and eat, but unless the children are all on school holidays, there's often a problem going out.  Yash and I have one activity we love to do with the kids for a change - we often like to 'eat in.'  Meaning that yes, we eat at home as usual.  But instead of us (or me!) cooking the food, we buy it outside and bring it home and eat it.

There is a south Indian dish, dosa with samber, which we can buy very cheap.  It's very tasty and the kids love it.  The dosa is a kind of light south Indian bread and the samber, a spice lentil soup, is gorgeous.  The trouble is, I feel that the samber I make at home is far superior to the takeaway food.  I can't make dosas, though.  That is an acquired skill.  The tawa (pan) required to make dosas is a flat shape, whereas our tawa for making chapatis (the unleavened bread of north India) seems to be more convex.

The mughlai cuisine of north India is a very nice takeaway alternative.  We are a vegetarian fami…