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.

It takes a lot of planning to get a manicure ….

I am writing here after several months , being provoked by finely manicured feet with nice nail paint.  Goes without saying that the feet in question don’t belong to me. Now that would have been unusual enough as well actually, to qualify for a blog post. Sadly, that unusual event is yet to occur.  Though, I hope that someday, living in such a grooming – obsessed country as Indonesia, I will begin to really try at least, the things such as hairdo/hairstyles other than bun, various styled earrings other than the studs and formal wear other than trousers and shirts.  Well, I don’t really want to write about my lack of fashion – sense in this post, though of course, that has been giving me inferiority complex in this country where all the women I come across seem to be the walking examples of runway models,  women that have been gifted with naturally lithe yet slim bodies and smaller frames (Especially, my female colleagues who are 20 years older to me, are much better groomed and stylish than I ever could be in my life and take a 15 minute loo-break daily in the afternoon to touch-up their make – up and curl their eyebrows. By the way, I saw eye-brow curler for the first time in my life here…again, I am digressing …   )

So, coming to my point – yesterday, I met a bunch of Indian women my age (though have kids in class 1/2  now! , makes me feel super old, I know,  though they got married super early and shifted here…again, I am digressing)  – we had all gathered to discuss what to showcase at the upcoming expat ‘Diwali Mela’. Last year, we had performed a group dance, complete with traditional costumes, stage property and so on.

At one point, they started discussing their schedules.  Some of them are housewives with kids and others are working women with kids. All of their lives outside of office / house work revolve around kids – their homework, school projects, their performances, activities, various hobby classes. The kind of burden that 6-7 year old kids have on themselves is unimaginable actually. My generation I guess was one of the last few generations that could play at the ‘age of playing’. Sounds funny to say –  but that’s true. These expat 6-7 year old kids seem to be just moving – out of school into some activity class, out of that class into a hobby class and so on. From what I’ve been reading about India, I guess similar things are happening back home too…

Anyhow, I noticed the shining red nail-paint on the feet of one of these 4.30 am waking – numerous lunches- packing, numerous home-made -things- making working Mum. And I took a deep breath. Slowly, I took in the feet of all the other women at the venue. Only colour changed. Light pink, maroon, magenta, brown… whatever the colour, but the feet were well manicured (or pedicured – not sure what to call it), looked smooth, soft with a shining coat of nail paint. And I sighed. For myself. I didn’t have to look down at my feet – I knew exactly how ugly, rough, hideous mine would look. Then I spent few moments wondering how on the earth they could manage all their work AND getting their manicure??? That 4.30 am club looked to me as if they were totally in control of their time… what have I been doing with MY time??

When was the last time I really applied anything to my feet? Cream even? Almost 2 years back. At my wedding.  When was the last time I did anything to my face?  – that was in January 2013, when I was in India. When was the last time I styled my hair – in India again. In January 2012!! It’s not like I HAVE to do or HAVE to confirm to this standard of expat Indian woman in Indonesia. It’s just that I WANT to improve my grooming and nobody’s really been stopping me. Just that I NEVER FOUND THE TIME to do it!  TILL NOW. More so, after I began working here. It is so weird. Actually it is not. I am tardy.  Never taking the trouble really and just wanting to change things about myself….

Planning meals, organizing house, keeping things in order etc have never been my forte, but I had never imagined before marrying, how much of the married life means only this – especially if you don’t live with in-laws and have to entertain guests from time to time. Though, even if you don’t have anyone over at your place, living with a second person, the significant other, means that several things have to be acceptable to the both – including food. I never had imagined that thinking about laundry, meals, cleaning etc will be an important part of my daily thought process and so having not been much interested in all the domestic management before marriage, I find my hands full just with the two of us, short of containers to stock groceries with, all the times, overstuffed fridge and short of place to put clothes.  I am guessing (Correctly) that life will get even more dramatic whenever we plan to start a family!!  I can imagine how our life would have been in Mumbai currently, had we not quit our jobs there and continued to work wherever we were working. We probably wouldn’t have had any time together – what’s with the super long working  hours, commuting and family obligations. Since both of us belong to extremely traditional and large families, the obligations would have taken precedence over everything. Here, while we are away from these aspects, we still are in short of time  –  we always have unfinished chores at hand. I guess, we need to learn a lot. It takes a lot of planning I suppose to have your feet manicured….

Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen…

Someone has said that….and how truthful is that statement! Having decided to pursue  this creativity project, my mind is on overdrive these days and everything that I see first subconsciously passes through a ‘can this be useful for creativity project’ scanner….

Yesterday, I was low and just to divert myself, I went for a stroll+ window-shopping trip to a mall near the house. My eyes got drawn to a shop with trinkets . These days, I have noticed, I seem to be subconsciously looking for DIY inspirations everywhere. At home, when I see even smallest throw-able things such as shiny silver chocolate wrappers, I start thinking whether they can be used in any way….I’m not sure that’s entirely good because hoarding trash cannot always be a good idea and there is a reason why people throw away trash… anyhow.

So I came across this trinkets shop and just went in there without consciously thinking anything – just to look at those colourful things. Maybe I expected to feel better. This shop was inside out (including its Neon Banner) pink, targeted mostly at teenage girls of course, and selling overpriced items. I took it in with a very critical eye (Than I ordinarily would have). Eventually, I decided to leave. Just as I was leaving, I saw this beautiful paper bag made out of a batik gift wrapping paper. Indonesia has a beautiful batik motif tradition and even gift wrapping papers come in a variety of batik designs, some of which are very beautiful. I just couldn’t resist checking its price tag. I was flabbergasted to know it was being sold at some 30,000 IDR. In Indian Rupees that would roughly translate into Rs. 150. My experience so far is, having converted into INR, everything is twice as costly here. Eg: Onions are IDR. 24000 a Kg, which is Rs.120 in INR and twice the cost of onions in India, viz Rs. 60 per Kg. Probably onions are selling at less than that currently, but I have seen this calculation work in many other instances. Therefore, if anything is costing more than twice the Indian price (when converted into INRs) is really a costly item for me. Anyhow, this logic apart, even if that bag would be sold for INR 75 in India, I would never have paid that much for it. Looking at the bag, I thought I could easily try to replicate it at home.

I came across a gift wrapping shop – yes, there are even gift wrapping shops here, something that probably doesn’t exist in India in  middle class or upper middle class areas and probably will take another 5-10 years to come up… Anyhow, I went to Carrefour  from there and bought supplies – namely a gift wrapping paper with batik design. This one is cheap at IDR 2300 viz Rs. 11.5 in INR terms. I wanted this to be a trial and hence I bought a very basic paper. The papers with better designs are obviously costly  – probably ranging between IDR. 5000 – IDR 10000 here – (in INR 25-50).

The only things that I used are – gift wrapping paper, 3 newspaper pages to add thickness to the paper, a little card paper at the bottom, and strings made out of white thick ‘nada’ thread. I even dipped the ‘nada’ into turmeric to make it yellow. The end result is the picture below. Probably angle is not right, but the bag doesn’t look broad at the top and tapering at the bottom as this picture shows. It is uniformly rectangular. My camera started showing write error so all the other shots I took cannot be read.

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Supplies: A gift wrapping paper, glue, small card-paper, two ‘nada’ threads, newspaper (I took 3 pages for the thickness)

In conclusion – A paper bag. Not bad when I consider how much of a big Z I am when it comes to all such things. If this project is improving my eye for all such things then I’d say it would be great….Also, total cost of this would be just IDR 2300+ whatever those two threads and 3 papers from newspaper would cost. So all inclusive,the price would be at most IDR 5000, which is one – sixth of the sale price that I saw… *happy* 🙂

Bis bald, Gute Nacht…

I just made a new….

Remember that every good friend was once a str...

Remember that every good friend was once a stranger☺☻ (Photo credit: Vijay Bandari)

Friend. …yes, a new friend..

Before I delve into the details, a back story is in order:

2 nights earlier….

It was 10.0 pm and we were sitting in our drawing-room watching some TV program. There was a knock at the door. Half expecting to be the watchman and unable to guess why he would knock at such a late hour, I opened the door.  There stood a young Indian woman with a child of around 3 tagging behind her. As soon as I looked at her, she said in fluent Marathi, “मी तुमच्या वर राहते. माझ्या मुलाची pant तुमच्या gallery च्या कठड्यावर अडकली आहे. मला ती देता का?” – translated into English this means – “I live in the flat above yours. My son’s pair of pants is stuck in the railing of your balcony. Can you please retrieve it?”. I said, “Oh”, and went to check for the said item – barely registering the fact that she was speaking in Marathi, my mother tongue. It was there, the garment, nestled between the grill and the AC’s compressor. I handed it over to her. Before anything else could be said, she said thank you and turned back. I stood at the door, certain odd things about this encounter started registering:

  1. How in the world this lady knew we spoke Marathi?  – India has 26 national languages and we could have belonged to any of the other language groups.
  2. From her looks, she did not seem Maharashtrian (a Marathi speaking person). She looked more like a north Indian to me and in that case her request in Marathi would be extraordinary.
  3. She did not introduce herself at all apart from telling us that she lived on the next floor, in a flat above ours. She did not ask us our name either.
  4. So did we – we did not ask her name or tell ours. We did not invite her in.

We were perplexed for few moments but soon decided to kill the suspense. Being short of time (probably last time this fortnight), I chose to do it today. Those who know me would also know that I am not exactly an outgoing person and I don’t go out and make friends, my friendships happen gradually. So going out and knocking on a stanger’s door and introducing myself would be totally anti-me. But I decided to do exactly that today. Yes, I hesitated a bit earlier. But then I convinced myself that the maximum that can happen is the lady shutting the door on my face and that was okay because she did not know me personally or I, her and it should not matter. I wasnt exactly sure if she was staying in the flat above me or above my neighbor, because in either cases the garment could get stuck in my balcony…

With some curiosity I knocked the door. At first there was no answer. I knocked again second time, louder this time. There she was. I introduced myself. I said, I was sorry I forgot to introduce myself the other day and that is why I came. She called me in and the rest was history 🙂 We chatted. For almost two hours. Turns out, she knew we existed because of a common friend. That is how she also knew our mother tongue. She is not a Maharashtrian, as I correctly guessed, she is a Gujarati, born and brought up in Pune, a city in Maharashtra. She thanked me for having taken this chance to come, because she herself would have felt quite awkward doing such a thing and we never would have gotten to know each other. As I left, I invited her over for a smallish function that I am holding for my new friends soon.

It was fun getting out of comfort zone. It was bit awkward for sure, but definitely enjoyable, especially, because S, my new friend too responded in the manner that I wanted. All in all, happy outcome.

Anyhow, does this qualify as a creative project activity? I think it does. I got out of my comfort zone and made an attempt to make friends with a stranger. How many times do we do that regularly?

The idea behind creative challenge was to get out of my daily rut, my comfort zone and experience something new. Do some new things, create, think – different from my usual way. There was creative writing (and some more will come along), Objects..(DIY, banner) and I felt why should human relationships be left alone? What all these activities also do is create a unique experience every time. That’s what was my objective – to make my own life interesting. So today, I set out to make a new friend….and new friend, I did make!!

Gute Nacht, bis bald.

Khas Bali – Day #2

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“Who’s that?” – I asked the driver.

We were in a car, Ubud – bound. It was the second day of our Bali trip and we would come across such installations now and then, instead of the usual triangles / circles or statues of leaders / other monuments, that mark the traffic management at any random place on earth.

“That IS Krishna”. Said the driver. When I made a face, he added – “Umm… I think…”.

Well, it could be Krishna for all I know, because ‘he’ was tackling some huge snake variety in the middle of waves and all of us in India have grown up listening to ‘Kalia mardan’ – the deadly dance of Krishna on the hood of Kalia – the huge serpent – and its eventual destruction. But Krishna in a typical Indian’s mind would always be handsome I guess. Maybe, this is Balinese Krishna, I thought, and they do not have such image hang – ups, I concluded.Though I was not at all convinced that this was Krishna. Anyways, en route, we came across so many such statues of various mythological characters, and even roads named after these characters. In Bali, people openly seemed to flaunt their culture – and more than that , their religion. So much that I am convinced they are more devout Hindus than myself or any other random common Indian Hindu person. I am digressing. As usual.

Well, we were Ubud – bound finally. We had landed at Denpasar, with no specific plan, but visiting Ubud was always on MY agenda, thanks to the book. Its lovely description about greenery, art, rice fields and peace and quiet totally seemed to by my thing. Based on his experience at Jogja (Yogyakarta) Swapnil had googled up terms such as ‘Bali driver’ etc previous evening and had landed on a website of a driver who offered to drive for some 10 hours for a sum of 400,000 IDRs. Considering the fact that 25 minute drive to Nusa Dua from Denpasar was being charged 120,000 IDR, this was totally a bargain. So we engaged a private car.

So far, our experience in Indonesia tells us to engage private cars – despite the fact that they might seem like a luxury. This is because of the super cheap fuel prices in Indonesia (half as much as in Mumbai at the moment). The only reason for astronomical taxi fares is the fact that there is complete privatisation and cartelisation of these taxi companies such as Blue Bird, Express and such other networks. So for one day trip, instead of taking taxis at various points, it is more economical to engage a private car. Anyhow, at Bali, public transport doesn’t seem very accessible and most of the high-end Hotels have some or other form of shuttle service to a pick – up and drop point. The only taxi network that we saw in Bali was Blue Bird, which billed us around IDR 65000 up to the airport while returning. So we had paid only 10000 IDR more (INR 50) and enjoyed a spacious car on day #1. Anyways.

We were supposed to visit several places in and around Ubud. However, due to the fact that we started off a bit late and then chose to spend more time at each individual place we saw, we could see only a few places.

Ubud and surrounding

As we went further from shores, the rainy weather soon lead to coolish airs around us and by the time we reached Kintamani, we were freezing and wet from the rains. We stepped out for lunch at Kintamani, which seems to be full of hotels on cliff allowing a magnificent view of the opposite hill. At the hotel, we got asked whether we were Hindus, for probably some fiftieth time and then ushered into a dining hall that seemed to be some surreal fusion of Indian and Chinese concepts. Anyhow, we chose to first go to the terrace and take a view of the opposite hill.DSCN0469-001

and this is what we saw. The opposite hill and the smallish valley in between was fully covered with mist. It was raining and breezy. The people who had chosen to eat on the counters facing this view were now sour faced. We went inside to check the menu. Having decided on the menu, we returned. It would have definitely been under 10 minutes. All we had to do was check for vegetarian dishes on the buffet menu, which as usual were just a couple or three. This is what we saw from the same vantage point. DSCN0471-001The weather had changed within minutes. Of course, in actual, this looked lovelier. We were at cloud level :). We spent quite some time taking in the view and had our post lunch (post – salad really) coffees at the terrace counters. This is another view of this hotel.

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We then proceeded to the next thing on our agenda – Coffee walk.Within this area, many small farmers have their orchards cum plantation and grow and package organic stuff. Mostly tea, coffee, coco, spices, honey, aroma oils, wax, soap – all home-made. And many drivers have tie – up with particular owner where they take you for a walk. We couldn’t complain, the walk felt good. Weather was awesome, it having drizzled just minutes before.DSCN0484

We started at this archway and proceeded to walk through this narrow pathway – the owner’s son was pointing out various plant / tree varieties to us. The coffee beans, coca tree. Various medicinal herbs and the likes. It was lovely small orchard and we were informed that it was just one acre of land. Where the whole extended family worked grew so many things. We were taken to a cage and an animal was sleeping. We were informed, its luwak, a rare animal that eats coffee beans and excretes them intact. Just as we were about to conclude that luwak is a menace for coffee, we were informed that it’s not. In fact its an asset. Apparently, while Luwak’s stomach is not capable of processing coffee, the enzymes from its stomach change the taste of beans altogether and when ground, it is considered one of the finest coffee varieties – the luwak coffee. I remember reading ‘Kopi Luwak’ in large neon signs outside many a coffee shops in Jakarta, but always concluded that it was the name of the outlet, possibly a chain or something. But no, it had to be the advertisement for THIS.

Luwak SHIT
Luwak SHIT

‘Luwak shit’ apparently sells at a substantial premium for its taste. Human beings! they will go at any length for great food / taste. (or depths in this case) – tasting the luwak shit!! No offence to anyone who loves Kopi Luwak. I am sure it must be tasting great. While we obviously werent served luwak coffee (its at premium remember? – not that i was particularly interested in tasting it), we were allowed free sampling of other organic products – Cinnamon coffee, grDSCN0500een tea, lemon grass tea, ginger tea, coca and so on…

 It was quite flavorful  (and not just because was free). Eventually we got ourselves a  honey lemon tea pack which was substantially overpriced, but then we thought it was okay considering the organic farming gyaan that the orchard’s owner gave us.

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Coffee walk

 Anyhow, after a leisurely walk through the orchard again,

we left for Tegalalang rice terraces. Now the weather was quite pleasant and it was absolute joy to pass through the greenery on both sides. This has been a feature throughout our travels so far within Indonesia. Also reminded us of Konkan, Maharashtra, India – where my family hails from. Konkan is lush green during monsoon days exactly like this.P1020187

We passed through these routes at leisurely pace, taking in the surroundings and living in the moment. It was one of the most pleasurable parts of our trip. Suddenly our driver stopped the car and informed us that we’d reached. We looked outside. Nothing indicative. Got off and began walking. There was a lot of foreign crowd. But all we could see were some art shops lined on both the sides. We were past the last shop on our left and suddenly came in view of rice terrace. There was a railing and many people were leaning on it with their heavy cameras to take in the greenery on the opposite side. Rice terraces. Green and pleasant. But I realised, not a big deal. Not a big enough deal at all.DSCN0506

I have seen rice terraces even at Yogyakarta and surroundings, I think even while going to Bandung and perhaps even at Bogor. Such structures ARE mainstay of Indonesian rice farming. Perhaps we could have taken a walk through these. Though we were close enough. We had tea at a hotel on the opposite side, with a small shack peeping into these terraces. We chose that very shack to sit, and just lounged around for a while. Nice weather, lush greenery, pleasant time of the day, the setting of this small pretty shack and peace and quiet – all of that was an amazing experience together. Though by now it was quite late. Bali is already an hour ahead of Jakarta and it was close to almost four thirty – five I think; we left for the Sacred Monkey Forest. Now, I have to admit, we should have done our homework. Especially since we had Lonely Planet with us. We should have simply read why is this so important a venue. We didn’t. Our driver for the day was probably 20 – 21 or even younger. His English was totally ‘functional’ and after several attempts we had given up on engaging him to know more of the area. So we just entered the place – without much idea of how and why, bought entry passes and started walking. This forest hosts macaques which seemed quite brave and were approaching tourists boldly. It began raining suddenly – so I don’t have many pictures of monkeys – though I managed to capture an impressive moment.P1020161

The forest is not really that. It probably was a forest at one point. Now all that remains is probably an acre or two of dense trees and shrubbery. There is a sacred temple and entry inside was not allowed. P1020166 A natural stream of some significance flows through the forest and the artists from past created a reservoir for the water in such a manner. I know my Mum would be smiling now, seeing Ganapati statue there…P1020164

The adjoining path led me to this giant sculpture of komodo dragon. Anyhow, it wouldn’t stop raining and that was our cue to leave the park/forest.P1020181

The car took us through Ubud market place – a melange of various art shops. Paintings, craft work, metal work, jewellery, fabrics. Souvenirs… all sorts. I wish we could have stayed one night at Ubud to explore all that – but we were short of time (on driver’s account) and short of patience (on Swapnil’s account) to visit these. We decided to window shop through car windows instead of actual window shopping. Nevertheless, it was quite entertaining. We would pass by shops, and then more shops – each with varying art work. Later we passed sculptors houses, which also had their studios in their own courtyard. So numerous rows of sculptures stood outside and we passed lanes after lanes of such houses. We spent time wondering who would be buying such huge statues nowadays and what was being done to survive by these artists. Anyhow, it gets dark quite early in Bali and by six fifteen, when we reached Kuta beach, the sun had already set. Though we were treated to a medley of colours, cool ocean breeze and tidal waves making it to the shore ‘wholeheartedly’ 🙂

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P1020211We spent some time walking on the beach and taking in surroundings and then headed for dinner. Kuta beach is quite popular due to the aggressive ocean waves here. For lack of better words, it could be called cleaner and upmarket cousin of Kalangut beach in Goa. Surrounded by eateries, pubs and hotels, it is a popular tourist spot where options are available for all wallet – sizes. We even found an Indian eatery of non – fine dining variety and post our dinner there, we went to check out a souvenir Shop – Rama-Krishna ‘Oleh oleh Khas Bali’ store that offers only local things for souvenirs. We didn’t buy anything significant. But here’s where I found a statue of Krishna, which supported my view that Krishna is always handsome, even in Bali. On that note, we ended our day…

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Back to my home away from home

Berharap anda selamat tahun baru. Not very timely huh… though better late than never I say. Been travelling this last month. Spent new year with parents and in – laws in India, and now ‘back to the future’ – rumah baru saya – Jakarta. The whole month was a whirlwind. For the lack of ability to be more articulate – I would like to conclude – I am ‘not sad’ to be back here.

Talking about living away from parents – both mine and his, has been a loaded conversation always, with anyone. Yes, all my blood ties are in India and my husband’s too. Yes, we love them, miss them. No, it doesn’t mean that Jakarta is not worth living in. It definitely is. Visiting home last month made me realise that. The ease of day to day life, cleanliness and the discipline in Jakarta seems substantial when compared to Mumbai and if I claim to like such a way of living, I should not be judged.

The attitude of people is probably the product of your surroundings and in immensely resource scant country such as India if people push around, jump the queue, interrupt conversations so that they would be given priority over others , litter on the streets because the dustbin is far away and they are in a hurry to catch a train/bus/flight – it could be attributed to lack of space, time, money and other such resources – if at all it could be justified. I am not saying that this might not happen anywhere else in the world. Its just that I don’t see this happening much in Jakarta, despite Indonesia too being a third world country like India. Personally, I haven’t changed much – I have always NOT littered, followed rules and queues, been polite and hence in general have not offended anyone ever on these accounts.

I am sure this kind of claim (the facts about crowd, discipline and cleanliness in India) could raise many voices. In general I would be giving offence to so many including my own family (My Mum for sure. Anything that I praise about Indonesia results into she concluding time and again that I wont be coming back to India). That said, I of course am proud of India and her culture  – in fact its influence on the Indonesian culture. There are so many words, customs and traditions that remind me of my homeland time and again. Being proud of my country doesn’t mean disowning any areas of improvement. It  would be like failing to own my faults as a person since I believe I am the best. Putting this here in as many words is necessary. I feel it is. How can praising Indonesia for its positives mean that I hate my country or that I am a condescending NRI now?

Despite the great infrastructure or the discipline and cleanliness in public places, no place on this earth would feel like home. I realised this immediately when I arrived in Mumbai.

Its the myriad smells and sounds that first pull your heart’s strings – chime of a temple bell,  a call of some street hawker, chirping sparrows (and even crows!! yes!! – I haven’t seen any birds in Jakarta) smell of jasmine gajras, a wafting smell of jalebis, and spicy vada pav from the stall in the corner. Then the colours usurp your attention – colourful flowers showing off through immense and fresh garlands, colourful bright dresses on women, wacky colourful boards just about everywhere…..then of course comes the taste buds – food – vegetarian food – available just about everywhere – and in varieties – makes you dance with joy. Lastly, the touch – of your loved ones. Hugs from parents when you surprised them by arriving at 1 in the morning – sensation of tears falling on your shoulders, when your mother hugged you having met after 10 months – sounds of laughter floating in the air and welcoming smiles when you met your family – all of that is too overpowering for you to feel more comfortable at any other place than this – your home. It imprisons all five of your senses. Please know this – mother!! Though I must maintain – I love Jakarta!

The seventh – month speech

The number of trips I made to the apartment – management office today to resolve a trivial issue makes me want to avoid anything related to typing / computers altogether, but then two things happened:

– I realised that today I complete exactly 7 months here at my apartment – and technically, 7 months in Jakarta. Actually, 7 months abroad.

– While I was running some errands, I happened to stop in the middle of a road and notice how neat the avenue/ crossing looked from a distance. That I actually had a camera with me to click it.

I know, the above two realisations are not related. I mean, to a casual reader, they are not. But to me, it indicates how fond I have grown of this place, my home away from home.

The roads are much familiar now and I experience pleasure while passing through specific parts of this city. I remember the day I landed here. I didn’t expect much from Jakarta. After all, it was just the capital of a third world country – another third world country. Coming from one such country with second largest population in the world, I felt I had seen enough already – with Mumbai being one of the filthiest cities in the world. What I however saw was better infrastructure, something similar to ‘discipline’ and cleanliness. Of course, many people have eventually told me, not all parts of Jakarta are like that and my impression would change soon. Its been 7 months now. Yes, there are parts where Jakarta is not clean or that there is poor infrastructure; still, having lived in Mumbai all my life, this seems nothing in comparison.

We love the fact that weather all round the year is almost constant. Wet and dry seasons do exist – but no dramatic changes here. Sun rises around 6 am throughout the year, sets exactly around 6 pm. Dry season is hot, and occasional drizzle makes it warmish, while wet season is warm and the regular rains make it less warm.

We have worked around 2 of our greatest obstacles too. Food and language. Food – we learned how to order, not to think if unknowingly there are non-vegetarian ingredients on our plates. We’ve learned basic language, courtesy our maid, with who, atleast I have made a point to converse regularly and learn Bahasa Indonesia. At this point, I can claim to be able to speak it better than Swapnil – though thats because he has so far not shown much interest in learning. Our Bahasa though is workable, functional.

We’ve learned to ignore the astounding amounts of Indonesian Rupiahs that we have to shell out. Swapnil’s daily commute costing about 40,000 IDR (around 200 INR) , half a kilo of tuur daal costing about 18000 IDR (Around 90 INR) and so on. The moment you convert currency, you fall in that infinite loop of guilt which I have been victim of. At one point, I used to be miserable whenever I would buy anything, even travelling I’d try to avoid – because shelling out INR 200 for a 15 minute taxi ride wasnt something I could digest. But then I  realised, if I had to continue living here, I’d need to ignore the currency conversion part. I am not entirely there yet, but way better definitely.We have also learned to control the urge to shop that one gets after visiting numerous malls here, grander than ever. I was never an avid shopper. For me it was not very difficult – though for Swapnil it was somewhat. 😉

We have some Indonesian friends now – which is great. I have found Indonesians to be extremely friendly, polite, always smiling and ready with loads of jokes and anecdotes. We have listened to and loved some of the Bahasa Indonesia songs. Music is universal. You don’t need a language to appreciate it really. We have been to some nice places – of which we have good and bad memories. We’ve tried local fare as much as our vegetarian palette could allow us – and liked some of what we tried.

The house where I stay is now a home to me. We renewed the lease for one more year – despite the fact that there were cheaper AND prettier AND more furnished flats within this complex. Some even came with the promise of a lot of breeze, which I have been pining for some time now. Still, we renewed this flat. This flat has grown on us now. It smells like home here.

All in all, we’ve made ourselves at home here. This seven – month hitch has been fun all along. Thus may I conclude my seventh-month speech.

The avenue, as I noticed today!

The avenue, as I noticed today!