English Vinglish

mommygolightly

 In a recent turn of events, I traded an over-cluttered life in Bombay for a school on a hill to teach English to grade seven and eight students. I was as untrained as they come, but I knew one thing. I had always been thrilled about words coming alive on paper. I figured teaching would involve spreading a bit of that disease.

On day one, in an attempt to “know my audience”, I asked the students to share their favourite word and say why they liked it. They quickly came up with words like music, joy, peace, love, happy and others. My heart sank. It felt frugal. This is not going to be fun, I thought. Was this what they meant by the economy of language, I wondered.

Then I told them I was making word soup and needed something chunkier – words with more gravitas, more texture…

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Bucketlist – Things I’d love to do on a day off.

Today, I took an off. Was tired of routine. Was unwell too. So just thought of pausing for a moment. It wasn’t an ideal day though – nevertheless, I felt much better for it. I thought of listing things I’d do on an ideal day off 🙂

  1. I’d wake up to cool morning breeze and lightening sky. Would love to take in the calmness of early morning. Peace and quiet. Just be. Take in lovely pink and orange hues of the skies.
  2. Make myself a cup of steaming ginger-flavored tea, listening to the early morning classical raagas. Just absorbing every taan, aalap, every nuance of a bandish… experiencing its mood, sentiment, just dissolving my existence, going to faraway places within that song – that raag. Its been ages that I have done this…. I guess these days, early mornings are all about getting breakfast ready / lunch boxes ready.
  3. Would then go for a walk on the podium. It is lovely around 7 here. Much brighter than I would like, but on an off day, I am hardly going to wake up too early 🙂 . What I love about Jakarta most is its green surroundings. At least compared to Mumbai, where I lived most of my life, this city is several times greener. Evergreen trees laden in their full glory all the time. 🙂 No fall here … The facility management of this apartment complex has done lovely landscaping work and maintained well all these years. Its a pleasure to walk on the podium – especially when it is less crowded. Mild morning weather, chirpy birds, green grass, evergreen trees, flowers… would just take in everything. The hibiscus near swimming pool with bright pink blossoms, frangipanis  just about everywhere, dotted with yellow flowers, at times which are scattered on the lawns below, making a beautiful picture. I would stop to notice the toddlers over at the kiddie-swimming pool. Their laughter and bright faces will be sure to set my mood. Maybe, I will just sit on one of the benches for a while, all by myself  – just observing. Just being. Doing nothing.
  4. I would return home to be served delicious breakfast. On a day off, I wouldn’t have had to bother about deciding the menu or even cooking it. I’d just get it ready in my hands. I would eat it while scanning through the morning papers. I’d find just the right news to debate with my husband and chat leisurely. Or just to talk about nothing and everything. No rush to get to the work – no rush to be on time anywhere. No meetings, no deadlines, no notes to be written, no follow – ups.
  5. I’d then tidy up and just lounge about with a favourite book to read. I think I haven’t read a book end to end for quite a while now. It would be fun to just read for 3-4 hours at a stretch.
  6. It would then be lunch time and miraculously home made lunch would be ready waiting for me 🙂 On weekdays, I cook only a part of my morning meals, and on a day off, I’d shirk from even that. It would be awesome to eat my favourite meal – varan-bhat-batata bhaji – poli – tup and limboo. Simple Maharashtrian fare. It would taste like my mum’s cooking.
  7. After lunch I’d probably watch some movie or tele-series, out of the collection of CDs that has been accumulating here over the last 2.5 years, but really never accessed yet….
  8. Or I’d go to a spa and pamper myself – especially my feet, I feel too worn out these days.
  9. Tea-time I’d just make some nice snacks. Try something new – and quick 😉
  10. I’d then make an hour – long call to some friend . Catch up. Laugh, cry and be happy. Maybe even gossip a bit.
  11. Husband would be back early from work. Or he too has stayed in and just lounged about with me. Maybe, we will go out for a nice dinner or just stay in. We will cook dinner together. I will cook and he will be with me in the kitchen, chatting about his day, maybe he will lend a hand. Would play some nice music – maybe consorto music? maybe Vivaldi’s four seasons while we cook. We’d have risotto, some bread and some salad. 🙂 Numero uno of comfort food.
  12. We’d then walk up to the terrace and just watch the city go to sleep. Try to catch some stars in the clouded skies of Jakarta. Or we’d take our sleeping bags and just lie down, listen to radio, playing old classics.

🙂 thinking up all these things in itself made me giddy with joy. Now I can’t wait for a real day off to arrive.

The culture of respect ?

“Ibu, aku terlambat , pesawat belum datang.” I heard a part of what my colleague was saying on phone. We were in Lombok, on an assignment and stuck at the airport. The plane taking us back to Jakarta had gotten delayed by 4 hours.  I had already called up my husband to inform and was waiting for my colleague to finish his call, before we went back to work related discussion again. “Ibu, nanti aku telepon ketika pesawat mendarat”. …

I was sort of surprised + impressed that he still calls his Ibu (Mum) first, even in his mid thirties. Indonesians are very close to their family – mostly like Indians, I had heard, but this was little out of ordinary for me.  I wouldn’t call my parents immediately under such circumstances, they need not know that I’m getting delayed and then worry about me. Maybe, he lives in a joint family. ‘The analyst’ started making her assumptions. Anyhow, after he hung up, I asked him how came he called his mother because she might worry unnecessarily. Indonesians do tend to ask even more personal questions and even to casual acquaintances or even strangers. Though I knew he wouldn’t have minded – he’s a friend.  Anyway, he did a double take – “Mother??, no, I called my wife”.  Then it was my turn to do a double take – “you  address your wife with ‘Ibu’?”. Till then, to me, Ibu meant only following things:

  1. Ibu is your own mother
  2. In formal situations, it is a title of respect – similar to ‘Madam’ – for someone senior in age / designation – mostly aged 30s and above.

So I was even more impressed with this colleague, who was addressing his wife ‘Madam’. Not jokingly, I could tell from his expressions. He added, “Of course, that’s what I always call her”.Having returned home, I mentioned this to a local friend and he set me correct. “We always call our spouses with the relevant title”. This was a shock and relief to me. After hearing the Bahasa Indonesia word for the word ‘husband’ – Suami, which has been derived from Sanskrit ‘Swami’ (master), I had been flabbergasted. So this new information was a happy shock.

 This means, husbands will call their wives – ‘Ibu’ (Madam) or Mbak (Miss) while addressing and wives will call their husbands  – Bapak/Pak (Sir), Mas (young sir I guess?) while addressing them. This to me initially seemed too formal, until I recollected that in many parts of India there still is culture of addressing significant other ‘aap’ (respect) irrespective of gender. Even kids . India always has culture of addressing husband as ‘aap’ – being the patriarchal society that it is. But in some areas even the wives are addressed in kind. In Maharashtrian culture too probably till last century I guess, the culture of calling significant other “tumhi” (respect) existed. However, I don’t think adding a title for those considered ‘junior’ was ever a part of our culture. Fortunately, today we have again gravitated to an era where genders are on equal footing when it comes to addressing each other (genders to come on equal footing in India in real sense will take probably couple of centuries more… but that is besides the point).

So, coming to the point, so far in my interactions, I haven’t come across anybody in this country, irrespective of his/her age, situation,  social status, profession etc, being addressed without title. Titles – Pak/Bapak, Mas, Mbak, Ibu, Nona (for young miss) etc are used in formal as well as casual situations. I guess, in situations with extreme familiarity, sometimes, you could be addressed only with your first name, parents calling their children etc.  I call some of my friends on first name basis, but I think their acceptance of it could be more to do with the fact that they understand differences in cultures.

To me it is amusing how the use of titles does not really impact the level of intimacy in this culture. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Indonesians are very genial? – that they always have given respect to anyone irrespective of their status / situation by addressing them with titles?  I can only make guesses.

Shoes that don’t fit (in my drawing room)

Why do some people wear their shoes indoors?

Or let me rephrase it – why do some people continue to wear the shoes that they wore outside, indoors as well? -in  their friend’s, or even their own house?

Till recently, I never really had to think about this question and likewise, I never really thought that I would one day explore in detail about its causes etc. I have been brought up in ‘No shoes at home’ manner –  and believed that this was Indian custom. A possibility that there existed any other way to behave  – than leaving shoes at the door when entering own/another’s house, didn’t even enter my mind for a long long time. However, times have changed and brought me into contact with people who wear shoes into the house.

Our Indonesian acquaintances have never done this. So no question of this being attributable to the diverse culture. They have always removed their shoes. The people who wore shoes indoors were in fact Indians. Belonging to a particular part of India. I do not want to pinpoint it – So let me leave it at that.

There have been instances, of people from this particular part of India walking in, either alone /in a group and walking in with their shoes, noticing that the hosts (us) are barefoot and yet continuing to move about the house wearing their shoes / chappals/ sandals. When they came in as a part of a group, they still kept their shoes on while the others removed their footwear. As hosts, so far we have said nothing, but I was shocked to see this repeatedly ever since I moved here. And only by people from one specific part of India.

To me, shoes worn outside are dirty and unhygienic. They must be carrying not only dirt and dust but who knows , even bacteria/fungi and what not from various public places that they’ve been worn to. Removing them means avoiding infesting the host’s house with that dirt. I guess, this is how I was brought up. Both India and Indonesia are countries where hygiene at public places can be an issue and people staying in either of these countries should be mindful of this. Further, noticing that the hosts (As well as other guests when they remove shoes,) are barefoot, and still continuing to wear shoes despite of that, is sort of arrogant and disrespectful.

I try and request those who are friends, and they do listen. However, this doesn’t guarantee that they’d remember next time. The job of reminding is quite embarrassing then. That apart, usually as a host it is a dilemma whether requesting the guests to remove shoes will give offence, some of them being my husband’s business associates. I guess, I never really imagined that Indians would do this. Most of the non – Indians ASK you – if they need to remove the shoes. They are very mindful about differences in the culture. Desi guests however neither ask nor are they expected to be unaware. Following rules at the host’s place is not culture specific I think. It is universal.

Anyway, after one more such experience yesterday, when some of my husband’s Indian associates came over for dinner and a couple of them promptly ignored that both the hosts and some of their colleagues had removed footwear, I was forced to think about the possible reasons for this practice of wearing shoes indoors. I came up with –

  1. Weather – People from this community in India belong to a region which can get too hot or too cold. Maybe the floor heats up or gets stark cold and you need to protect the feet. In this case well – this is Jakarta. Perennially stuck at 32 degrees celsius and definitely neither too hot nor too cold.
  2. Some people have ‘house slippers’ or house footwear.  – Basically they constantly wear something in their feet till they go to sleep. Yes, many people in my family too do this. However, the house footwear is not same as outdoor footwear and if they go to someone’s place for couple of hours, they probably can survive without footwear. Some families I know keep spare house footwear for guests. I haven’t done it so far and I don’t think it is practical especially when you are hosting a number of people at the same time.
  3. Some people have health issues or some injury – in which case it is understandable. However I guess this would be exception and even the hygiene-OCD affected people will accommodate such guests.

I could not think about a ‘culture’ specific reason  – none of the above is specific to that culture. Many people live in areas in India which have extreme climates. Not just this particular part of India. Anyway, I found a thread on metafilter discussing exactly this – but in the western countries. This was new to me. I had imagined that US and UK have colder climes and hence probably they must be wearing shoes inside the house. But I had no idea that in many parts, its the same pair of shoes that is worn outside the house. I find it amusing (because its not in my own house of course 😉  ) that some even wear shoes on their beds. But this thread gave many reasons why a person might be wearing same pair of shoes inside the house, what they wore outside.

Anyhoo, my rant is done. Time to sign off. In case anyone knows any cultural reasons why some INDIANS might be wearing their outdoor shoes indoors, please let me know.

Thoughts that distracted me today morning at work

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Thoughts that distracted me today morning at work

I just decided to dump them into a cloud for later consideration. After I wrote each of these things, my mind felt much lighter and now I hope I can better concentrate on work

My Mum (Always) Never….

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My Mum (Always) Never....

Story of my life

Mythology and some really random musings

My MBA-group is a set of folks I hang out with, that is probably the furthest along the geek-nerd continuum. And thank God for them, because sometimes only they can understand the kind of crackpot thoughts that enter my mind. Thank God for them. The other day, we were casually chatting on Whatsapp (Also, thank God for whatsapp 😉 ). We began to discuss why Gudi Padwa is celebrated in Maharashtra. I told them that it is to commemorate Ram’s arrival back to Ayodhya after defeating and killing Ravan. I had remembered that Gudhi is actually a kind of festoon – to indicate the happiness and celebrations that Ram had returned. To this one of the friends suddenly countered that he was ‘100% sure’ (in his own words) that it was Diwali that was celebrated to commemorate the return of Ram and not Gudhi Padwa. Ram killed Ravan on Dusshehra which is why Ravan idol is burnt on Dusshehra. He returned to Ayodhya by Diwali. Which is approximately 20 days later. We each agreed about there being various possibilities since the mythology might change from region to region. Nobody knows how and why it happened, but suddenly we got to discussing logistical possibilities of making it to Ayodhya from Lanka within 20 days! Besides given the thousands of years old story, the whole area was most likely covered with forest. We actually wondered if it was possible – some of us leaning towards Gudhi Padwa theory now…. and eventually realised that we just had nothing better to do than discuss the logistics of a journey (supposedly) taken thousands of years ago. How irrational to spend time in this manner… and then we each got back to more pressing real life duties… 🙂

Today as I had logged into Quora, I came upon a page by sheer coincidence and concluded that we’re not the only odd ones. That there was a thread which was actually discussing this and that a guy actually put the coordinates into Google maps and got an estimation that walking distance from Lanka to Ayodhya was approximately 21 and half days!! It was really crazy to land up on this exact discussion. Also humbling and amusing that actual time even with modern roads and all is very close to the mythology! The fact that an epic written more than 5000 years ago (Supposedly) actually was pretty much spot on. As soon as I shared with my group, everyone cracked up!! 🙂 🙂

Yes, there are theories about Pushpak, the aerial chariot or possibility of Gudhi Padwa theory being the original intended arrival (by the poet) – but then mythologies will remain stories or mysteries, depending on how we look at them. However, this one small chat will remain a source of amusement for some time now… 

Selfie-talk

The weekend before the last, I had attended a photography workshop. One of the trainers mentioned that he felt compelled to capture the beautiful nature whenever he would travel. That, the photography (and the photograph) was intended to capture special, beautiful and unforgettable moments. I have possibly heard this (or lines with the similar meaning) innumerable times. I heartily agreed with this statement yet again. What is there not to agree? It’s the whole and absolute truth I felt. As soon as the session got over, I logged on to my instagram account, as if on autopilot. These days, I am wont to check instagram now and then – during those in-between periods, when I am waiting for the next task / activity/thing and tend to fidget with my phone.  What I came across however instead of the unforgettable moments were selfies of all sorts. People posting photos of themselves at every location they went. This suddenly put things in perspective for me. Nowadays, the world at large seems to be capturing only themselves in the photos. Should I conclude that they no longer feel anything else/anyone else to be special / beautiful/ unforgettable enough? This story of modern day Narcissus and this made me even more convinced that slowly, the megalomania seems to be creeping in 🙂 . Selfie got inserted in the Oxford English Dictionary – but possibly that’s not exactly a reason to applaud.

Happy 7th anniversary!

Two days ago, I happened to log into the wordpress for commenting on someone else’s blog that I had landed on, while researching on a work-related subject.

And suddenly, a message flashed on my dashboard! Happy Anniversary with wordpress.com. You registered on wordpress 7 years ago!

Wow! has it been so long? I guess the number of my posts don’t indicate so. I have been a sporadic writer here. Before my marriage, I was writing at Sense and Nonsense. For some personal reasons I quit writing there as I moved to Indonesia, and ever since have been writing here.

The occasional nature of my writing and the time and again public declarations of aim to write more regularly seem to have remained same over last 7 years. Nevertheless, I continue to update this blog whimsically. Its not that I have nothing to write about, its just that I am simultaneously active on multiple forms of social media including twitter, linked in, Quora, pinterest, youtube and so on. Apart from this, more personal versions of the social media – including whatsapp, viber, google hangouts and so on keep me active throughout the day -sometimes in measures that border on the lines of ‘over exposure’ to these media. Well, since I usually say a lot at these sites, I have not bothered to update this blog in a long time. At times however there is a need for introspection / thinking / self – time/ sharing something in long winded manner, which none of the other media can fulfill in this era of microblogging…..and so, I am thankful for this blog. 🙂

Again, with the never dampening aim of updating this blog more often,

Adios….

Harbour, docks & lighthouses: Re-discovering Mumbai

My Favourite Things

It is only 9.30 am, but the sun is quite intense and if not for the sea breeze would have been quite unbearable. I am on the upper deck of a launch berthed at the Gateway of India in Mumbai trying to peer through a haze that has dulled the shimmer and sparkles of  sunlight on water. In front of me, and as far as the haze-driven visibility allows, are ferries, fishing boats, luxury yachts, launches, security vessels… The place looks like one big parking lot in the sea 🙂

Mumbai Port and Harbour Tour, KGAF, Mumbai Harbour The parking lot in the sea.

On board the launch, my co-passengers indulge in some gentle jostling for prime spots to photograph, discuss whether the haze would play spoil sport for photography, and generally chat about what is it that we are likely to see in the ext couple of hours. As we wait for the launch to leave the…

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