Definition of downsizing…

'There's another business that's downsizing.'

Recently a dear friend posted on FaceBook about this man who downsized to basic 111, yes one hundred and eleven only possessions that he needed, really needed to live and it all fitted into a normal sized backpack, just as he desired, traveling indefinitely, with nothing stored anywhere, no home to go back to, is barely thirty years of age and making a huge difference in every way. He lives off the grid, has no bills to pay, doesn’t own a car, has recently got rid of his computer, has minimum environmental impact and dependency on money. 90% of his media income is reserved for environmental and social causes. He seems a very happy and content man! (

Is this doable? Is it practical? Does it make sense? Can you and I follow his footsteps? A few of my friends are on the threshold of being empty nesters and are in the process of downsizing. What is downsizing really? A friend went to Texas for the housewarming of a relative who was downsizing to a smaller home since the last of their kids had left for college. The downsized home turned out to be a 4000 plus square feet, 4 bedroom house with a separate game room, high cathedral ceiling, sprawling yard to name just some of the features. A Bay Area resident through and through she went expecting to share a room with few others and was surprised by the size and space in the smaller so called downsized home. Research shows that an average American home in the 1960s was roughly 1500 square feet with 3 plus residents while today the average sizes of homes have grown to 2400 square feet with the number of residents down to 2. Another friend in Melbourne read the book by Marie Kondo called the ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up- The Japanese Art of Decluttering’ to inculcate the wisdom shared as she contemplated downsizing. I believe there are numerous books in print and online, journals, youtube clips giving guidance and showing how to downsize, starting from getting rid of furniture to the art of folding clothes in drawers for optimal use of space. And I thought that was a no brainer!

'My job was replaced by an app. What's more humiliating, it was a free app.'

Despite statistics showing massive increase in creation of jobs and surge in employment, incidences of hugely accomplished, highly deserving personnels being overlooked for promotion or laid off are becoming more common. Technology  has advanced beyond imagination and is replacing humans in all sectors though some businesses do manage to remain recession and technology proof.

Hearing all that going on around us I realize that downsizing a home or company is quite relative. What is downsizing to one may be unimaginable living/work conditions to another. Yes, I can’t imagine living in a backpack with no place to call a home. This, from a person who has lived in four continents in as many years! A complete contrast is a dear friend, a lovely lady of about sixty years, who still lives in the home she was born and raised in and can’t contemplate downsizing away from the only home she has known. She does not need the space of four bedrooms but she can’t imagine leaving the familiarity and security that her surroundings provide for a newer, modern or more convenient place.

Indifference to a life with security, stability and comfort are not necessarily signs of gracious minimalistic living or contentment nor is owning a home, paying bills or having a regular life with job a vulgar display of materialism. It is all relative, my dear Watson should I say!

What are your views on downsizing? How much downsizing is right? Can there be too much or too little in it? Do share your views…

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An ode to the help…

1e1502f5f399fb7d1dd3444e5d2bcd27I am quite brutally honest! Not a nice trait I am told. The first time I returned home, back to India in 1995 after living overseas for a year, my sister looked at me with much love and wondered aloud who I must have missed the most while abroad. I realized much later that she had expected a prompt no brainer reply containing, of course mum, dad, you!

I, on the other hand seriously pondered over and contemplated aloud – hmmmm is it the person who ironed our clothes or could it be the lady who came to cook or was it the comfort of picking up the phone and dialing the grocer’s number saying, hey brother can you send me a kilo of onion and half kilo of potatoes? No, probably it was the lady who came every morning to clean the house, cut the veggies, wash the pots and pans that didn’t go into the dishwasher, hand wash and air dry the delicates and fold all the clothes, while treating me to tea amidst the chores! Gosh! It was a difficult question to answer, who did I miss the most!

I saw my sister’s crestfallen expression and tried to make amends of course. But, when born and raised an Indian, getting accustomed to living without the comforts which one so takes for granted requires a bit of time. While living in India, the husband and I were among the minorities who didn’t employ a live in maid, a 24/7 baby sitter, a cook or even a driver. Between us we were adept and happy to handle the chores with one help, just one maid who came for a few hours everyday, something unheard of amongst our family and friends.

imgresI have always had some basic help be it daily, weekly or fortnightly wherever we lived, whether Asia, Africa, Australia or America. In fact the house we lived in Zambia came with not one or two but four helps! I enjoyed teaching one of them some Indian cuisine and in no time she mastered the art of making the most amazing rotis and paranthas (Indian breads) with her baby tied on her hip, happily singing in Bemba (the local language). The help in Tokyo came once a week and was so courteous that my little boy, then just a few months old would bow deep when she arrived and bowed equally deep when she left. When he (un)intentionally dropped a perfume bottle into the pot he crawled up to her to own up. She giggled happily saying kawai kawai (sweet, sweet in Japanese) as she pulled on the longest gloves I have seen or used, to dig out of the pot and hand over to me with flourish and of course another deep bow, the dripping wet prized perfume.

I could write volumes about our help in Melbourne. The mother-daughter-sister-sister in law group were Bosnians settled in Australia. They came in driving a Mercedes and wearing the most fashionable clothes with the latest gadgets hanging out of their pockets. They would regale me with stories of the house one of them was building, often flying to China to shop, for everything from the window frame, floor tiles to the screws used in installing the hob/chimney. I thought that was taking ‘Made in China’ a bit too seriously. The help in California is a lovely Hispanic lady and our home buzzes with some peppy songs from across the border every two weeks as she climbs on ladders to clean every high nook and disappears under the bed for every hidden corner. I had once asked our help in Jamaica to clean the  fan and was taken aback to find the fan unscrewed and soaking in soapy water in the bath tub.

The help in Mumbai needs a separate paragraph dedicated to her, not only because she came everyday but also because of the way she came. She would turn up all decked up in a gorgeous saree, wearing at least 3 necklaces of multiple lengths, four earrings in each of her earlobe, a nose pin on her sharp nose, multiple green glass bangles jangling alongside the gold on her tattooed arms, she would regally swing in saying ‘Bhabi‘ (sister-in-law). In India the help doesn’t address the employer by their given name or sir/ Madam as in many other countries. They are always addressed as sister, sister in law or brother while the elderly in the family are referred to respectfully as mother and father. My son had just begun his baby babbles when we moved to Mumbai. One day as I saw him run to me with unadulterated love shining from his eyes, his face gleaming with excitement, I knew that the moment had dawned when I would hear the first word of mummy.  With my heart thumping, I waited with eager anticipation to hear the golden words and he called out….‘Bhabiiii!!!’ 

Yes I know, I know…the influence of the help is far reaching, mind blowing and substantial! Is it a wonder that I am writing “An ode to the help? “

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Welcome to college tourism…

And it is April. High school seniors know the result of their hard work of last several years and are wanting to test waters. Spring break is utilized for this purpose by most to visit colleges to aid in making that very important decision. Will it be a good fit? Good education, safe environment, access to good medical facility, healthy competition, great friendships, ample opportunities, variety of sports, internship possibilities, job prospects, campus interviews, dining hall and of course cost are just some of the factors that the student and parents look into deeply at this time of the year having done the preliminary round of the same prior to and at the time of application. I am told that there was a time when students applied to fewer colleges as compared to students today and rarely indulged in campus tours until the day they reached as freshmen, lock stock and barrel.

The scenario is very different now. The student is not just competing with the fellow classmates but with the whole wide world. The race is tougher with students from known and unknown, big cities to small villages staking everything to dream bigger and better. Be it Mexico or Morocco, Saudi Arabia or Singapore, Iceland or India, Cambodia or China, students flock from everywhere with aspirations in their heart and spring in their step to begin the fall semester.

Tour companies have been in existence for years now, organizing holidays with attractions like white sand beach, snow capped mountains, skiing slopes, green meadows, historical appeal, adventure tourism and similar visual extravaganza. They evolved over a period of time and added spiritualism with self discovery tourism, yoga by the Himalayas, Monastery tourism, spa vacation and so on. Now the diversification has reached new heights with a new line of tourism added – college tourism which has huge following year after year at the same time every year.  Now travel to Europe has a little add on like discover UK universities. Traveling to the East coast? For a few thousand dollars include tour to engineering colleges or liberal art colleges or the dream college of your child.  The latest issue of The Economist has a story titled ‘The long march from China to the Ivies’ which explores the fact that students are groomed, tutored and tested from the age of 9 to 15 to get into the Big Eight. The bigger, wider and deeper the pockets are the more there is to tour, see, evaluate, tutor, mentor, prepare and apply.

We indulged in college visits too, and vouch by the ability of that student guided tour to give inklings to life on that campus providing a pathway in decision making to figure out the best fit with respect to feel of campus, dorm, dining, students, surroundings etc. I delighted in the similarities amidst the vast differences between the few campuses we visited that had nothing directly to do with the university itself but everything indirectly. Each of our student guides, male or female, facing us while walking backwards confidently as if they had eyes behind their heads talked of their college and campus life with much love. That love, enthusiasm, excitement and gratitude evident for their college were the remarkable similarities between all the tours. The most impressive features were not the grand buildings or the beautiful sprawling grounds or even the well equipped classrooms but the confidence, knowledge and attitude of the student tour guides for which each of the colleges were responsible.

cg49cb6ca4e18f00The daughter giggled as she read my draft about college tourism and thought that mom was very naive. Her take was that it is all a big marketing scheme which fools some while others gain important perspectives. I wondered if she too had turned into the cynical college student while I continue to look at the world with rose tinted glasses. But my concerns were wiped away by one phone call as I drove the son and hubby. The car speakers carried her voice loud and clear- ‘Hey mommy, what was the one thing I wished I had brought with me to college?’ and three of us answered together ‘your little red pillow!’

Yes, she was giving a tour to prospective students with parents and answering their endless queries including the above, happy and content where she was….just as they all become over a period of time. Parents, give them time and….rest assured!

Picture courtesy: Tom Falco Cartoons & Signe Wilkinson.

The joys of communication…

If we were having coffee, you will find me looking happy, eager to share the joys of last couple of weeks. It all began six months ago when a dear friend from high school days texted to inform that she and her family were planning a holiday in San Francisco and would spend time with us. Happiness quotient number one!

A few weeks back, another friend from the same era of high school texted to check what we were up to during the spring break as she wished to swing by with her middle schoolers. Happiness quotient number two.

And finally another high school friend texted to check if we were available since she was using the spring break to look at California colleges for her son. Happiness quotient number three. One traveled 8000 plus miles and others about 3000 and the meets were much looked forward to until they happened and were over in fraction of moments. Or so they seemed. One of them had taught us a song when we were in grade 5 and we remembered the same twenty five plus years on now and could still sing and giggle over it. We talked about our introduction to Mills & Boon and similar novels and laughed as well as shuddered on recollection of the nonsense we could read. We spoke about bike rides to school and back and how one of us always walked her bike at intersections until she was told she could ride it too. Lovely girls that I grew up with in a small town of India, now accomplished women with beautiful families, all settled in different parts of the globe planning holidays in a way that involved meeting a friend and her family living in California. Simply to catch up. 

I find that those born in 1960s/70s are more comfortable with facebook rather than instagram or twitter and are able to stay connected with general happenings in each other’s lives. Whatsapp messaging groups have hugely caught on and now I find that I mute my phone before going to bed as friends and family in both Australia and Asia become active at the time with jokes, events and news flying across the globe. I often get more news from them when I wake up rather than the Walls Street Journal that is yet to be picked up from the driveway. One morning last week I woke with innumerable messages, topping them was one from my brother-in -law in Kolkata saying he was fine. I smiled and said to the husband, well am glad he is fine until I read the other messages from friends who wished to know that he was well which got my antenna alert and I realized that a bridge that was under construction had fallen, killing many and injuring lot more in the city he lives in.

lifebuzz-6153041d1376ea55927a08583cf4c5ce-limit_2000Texting is more prevalent than talking and I realize those who wish to stay connected manage to do so despite their busy schedules. I love that my nephews share jokes and what they are up to, including pictures of their newly acquired cooking skills on the family whatsapp group. Though I admit that the new abbreviated text language is slowly, surely, painfully killing my understanding. Despite some of my friends living in Australia, Singapore and India, the huge distance or time difference is hardly a deterrent to our virtual conversations that are not bound by any time or place.

The world is changing, shrinking, coming closer, looking farther as well as further, with distances becoming quite irrelevant. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had an article about the world’s longest flights and the new records as of last month with the immense dip in fuel prices. Emirates now flies non stop from Auckland, New Zealand to Dubai for 17 plus hours beating the record of Quantas’s Dallas-Sydney route of 16 hours plus. I find it quite intriguing as I realize the sheer size of the United States when I think that the flying time between Singapore and Mumbai is the same as between the East coast and the West coast!

It is 7:26 pm on my computer and I see that my whatsapp is full of messages from the buddies waking up or going to work in countries where the sun has risen and they think of sharing something with their friend across the world where the sun is setting….



Lost but not lonesome…

I am a woman enough to laugh at my navigation skills that are allied with the presence of the sun. The moment it disappears, my navigational skills become alien to me and unfortunately am yet to read the stars to perceive a sense of direction after sunset.

So, this is in the previous millennium when we lived in Tokyo and more importantly Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were yet to come up with the I phone, requiring people like me to ask strangers for  direction when lost, which was often enough for me to write a diary.  An Indian woman does not hesitate to ask for direction, though one could write volumes on the resistance of the men in doing the same.

When lost in Tokyo, I would excuse myself and stop a passer by to ask for direction and the response was always the same. The stranger would come to full stop in a world which hurried around us. He or she would look at me and the kids to say- ‘you follow me’ and the person would slowly navigate the busy street around people returning from work, rushing home and every few minutes would stop to look back to check if I was following with my two children in tow. Yes, I would be walked home, bowed deep at and bid a respectful adieu.

This happened not once but many a times and I truly doff my hat to the Japanese hospitality, helpfulness and willingness to go out of the way to help a lost soul. I have walked with or followed perfect strangers, both men and women, often engaging in conversation in some English on their part, bit of broken  Japanese on my part and lot of sign language from both. I sure set a poor example for my children in a world which tells them to not talk to strangers!

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 6.38.53 PMIn India when one gets lost one usually asks a passerby, ‘hey brother/sister can you tell me how to get to so and so’ only to hear the direction combined with vigorous hand movements showing the road, directing a left or a right with the hand turning either ways while two more passerby might join to add their inputs. All kinds of landmarks including big trees, tall buildings, short buildings, colorful houses would be mentioned. ‘Yes, you go straight like this, turn right (with the palm showing the direction of course) at the big brown building, walk for five minutes and you will see a big tree, walk further etc etc. In Australia I have had a very exasperated GPS repeating over and over again, almost as if admonishing, ‘make a legal right turn when possible’ and that too in a city where one turns right from the left most lane!!! Yes, in Melbourne CBD in a right hand drive car, one has to be in the extreme left lane to turn right when the signal changed colour! To the Americans when the light changed color

Now I live in the United States where directions are quite scientific with replies like go north about two miles and turn east on Sunset Boulevard and so on. For a woman who has spent majority of her life in common wealth nations, I take a while to figure the two miles into kilometers and of course with the sun down, north? What north? Where is north? Oh where is my phone! But then nothing comes close to the time when yours truly asked the driver in Accra, Ghana if we were lost and if he knew where we were, only to see him ponder deeply, think a while more, look around, turn back and confirm delightedly, “madaaam, yesss, we are er here”!!! And then I knew I was truly lost!

Have you ever been lost? Come now, we all get lost, sometimes without the phone on person! Did your experience humor you or exasperate you? Share here to get some laughs and few sympathies….

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A Tale of Two Beverages…

If we were having coffee…

It would be made by the hubby as I amongst many others vouch by its aroma, taste and what it does to you and your senses since he makes it with the concentration of an artist painting a picture or a sculpture moulding his new work or even a scientist engaged in an intriguing experiment.

I am a novice blogger,  just a fortnight old actually and it was a pleasure, generating much excitement when I came across weekend coffee share hosted by Diana from Part Time Monster. A fantastic idea and place to read many thoughts, point of views and broaden one’s horizon be it on gardening, poetry, education, cooking, current affairs or coffee, it covers all.  A big thank you to Diana and all contributors.

How-do-you-take-your-coffee-cartoonFor my first weekend coffee share, lets talk about, just that- coffee. I must admit that I love my tea, am an Indian after all and I also admit that I am not a nice person to be around if my morning cuppa or the 4.00 pm yellow label lovingly brewed with Darjeeling has been missed and this stayed so for the first thirty odd years of my life until we moved to Melbourne, Australia and I discovered coffee. I realized this rich brown or black liquid is really an art, a prayer, something sacred to the Australians and they took it very seriously. The phrase when in Rome be a Roman was not difficult to inculcate as the adults in the family fell in love with the coffee there. Apart from the usual latte, cappuccino, espresso we were introduced to some new entities called long black, short black, flat white, macchiato, short macchiato, long macchiato, double shot, skinny latte and most prefer it hot and strong.

India is very diverse where most of South India prefers coffee over tea and are comparable to the coffee snobs of Australia just how the British and most of north India are connoisseurs of tea. South Indians vouch by their filter coffee where the coffee drips down from the top container to the bottom and most homes keep a decoction ready to go. Years ago on a trip to Italy we were surprised to find stove top coffee maker where the decoction rose up from down, just the opposite of the South Indian filter coffee. I don’t think I ever drank coffee during our years in Tokyo, always drinking tea very daintily from delicate looking beautiful cups. I did say, when in Rome….

And then we moved to America and encountered Starbucks! Meaning no offense and with due apologies to Starbucks lovers, the less said the better. It took us months to get accustomed to the fact that the tall is short, grande is medium and venti is a bucket full of coffee. I believe there is something bigger than the bucket called trenta, lets call it simply the coffee pond. Coffee in Starbucks is as different from Melbourne coffee as chalk is from cheese and I laugh every time a visiting Aussie murmurs a tad embarrassedly, trying not to sound rude, er where can I find coffee, a good cup of coffee!

Tea or coffee, I would say majority of humans are addicted to them in different colors, forms, types, sugared, plain, hot, cold whatever, they like it. But when I think back to my childhood and my grandma’s pet parrot whose body clock told her it was 3 pm precisely at 3 pm and she banged her little steel bowl screeching loudly Maaaaa Teaaaaa….I know no beverage whether coffee or tea is to be taken lightly…

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