Theory of adaptability…

The bitter sweet meeting of perception and reality: 'Yay! I'm saved!!'

Will the boatman adapt to a life on the island or vice versa? How do we perceive change? The winter we left Australia our daughter was in year ten and son in year six in school. We moved to California and not only did we encounter summer overnight but also our daughter became something called a sophomore in high school and son a grade six-middle schooler. Suddenly she was to write tests and more tests called the SATs (Scholastic Aptitude Test) for college admission , CAHSEE- the California High School Exit Examination and working on her GPA. Before I realized the son’s cricket bat was in the garage replaced by a baseball bat, in my eyes- a club instead of a paddle! The Aussie rule foot(ie) ball too was replaced by the American football which by the way, didn’t seem at all like football.

In Australia we saw a few cricket matches in the Melbourne Cricket Ground and I recall the son jumping with excitement as the Aussies slammed runs after runs against the visiting Kiwis. Then for a game between Australia and India, he clapped and jumped for both the teams, sharing each one’s victory and losses. He was an Indian at heart but home was Australia then and both the teams had his loving loyalty. I recall meeting the daughter’s teacher at a Parent-Teacher meet and listening to his enthusiasm and words of praise for her writing as he wondered which school in Melbourne had instilled the love for English language and literature. He couldn’t believe that she was not a native Australian but that her early schooling and foundation of the English language and literature was laid in two non English speaking countries- Japan and India.

The husband’s brother married a lovely British girl so I have an English co-sister who moved to Mumbai and adapted the Mumbai way of life literally like fish to water. A few times cab drivers tried to take her on a merry ride assuming she was a foreigner but she set them right much to their astonishment as well as amusement giving them a piece of her mind with a string of local Hindi abuses. When it was time to get her Permanent Residence Card for India my brother in law as per the undocumented but prevalent law added a ‘suitable’ bribe with her papers which she snatched back right from under the agent’s nose and reduced the amount by half. She had learnt the Indian way of bargaining far better than her Indian husband and accomplished the task with a big disarming smile combined with a reproachful look, almost reprimanding the agent’s exorbitant price.

When we bought our home in California we employed small businesses to do some work before moving in. The business fitting the closets was owned by a Native American with the Comanche background. We drew the plan for the master bedroom walk- in- closet and I explained that I wished to have a place for my prayers. I have a collection of idols, pictures, holy water, holy soil, holy oil from all over the world so my place of worship has the Holy Cross, Bhagwad Gita, holy oil, water and soil from Jerusalem, Rosary, sacred cloth from a Mosque, Buddha alongside multiple idols of Ganesha and other Gods from Hinduism. My place of worship is like the United Nations of  multiple Gods from different religions/nations. Some have been procured by us as blessings during our travels while others are presents from friends from their pilgrimage. So, I went to great lengths to make him understand that I wished to have them together in one place and he cut me short with, so you want a place for your Pooja (Hindi word for prayer/worship) and it was my turn to be taken aback at the knowledge of the gentleman without any Indian background. His take of- ‘I have lived and worked long enough in the Bay Area to know Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese and many other cultures.’

Last week I was away at Washington DC and prior to renting a car commuted by using the lyft app. In the two instances that I traveled by cab, the first driver was an Indian who told me stories of his daughter going to medical school and how he and his wife were managing with her aspirations, while the second driver was a retired government employee, an African American and he regaled me with stories from the Bible, his son’s wedding and by the time we drove up to Dulles International Airport Terminal we had animated book discussions on a couple of biographies we both had read.

I recall saying Jambo (greetings) while in Kenya, ohaiyo gazaimasta (good morning) in Japan and the other day when I was walking by a store at a local shopping strip a young Chinese strum his guitar singing in heavily accented Hindi, a Bollywood song and ending with aplomb, hands folded in salutations saying Namaste. While I laughed and commended his efforts he asked if I knew Shah Rukh Khan, the King of Bollywood. I tried to be funny and replied, ‘of course he is my neighbor’ only to hear the repartee, ‘oh really, he is my brother from an Indian mother.’

cartoon-wine-literature-library-saThe random incidents that I shared above are ordinary though unique, recurrent yet special showcasing our inherent tendency, ability, preference and wish to adapt. Unconsciously and continuously we evolve to encompass our environment, people, beliefs and customs. My faith that the world is a beautiful place despite the acts of terrorism by a select few gets reiterated by these little incidents. I smiled to myself as I read the newspaper that the United States Postal Service (USPS) is commemorating the Indian festival of lights Diwali by releasing a forever stamp  on Oct 5th 2016. While we adapt to our adopted country, our adopted country adapts to us!

How do you percept change? Do you react with optimistic positive thoughts or do you enjoy nitpicking? Do you adapt or do you attempt to change your new environment or maybe you manage to reach that perfect fine balance? Share your stories so we all know the speciality of ordinary random things…

Picture courtesy: http://www.cartoonstock.com & George Aldridge
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The theory of connectivity…

b8f476489a91234379f2630ce3b5fb80The other day I wondered what I could write about next and sent out messages on whatsapp to a few of my friends in Australia, Singapore, India and here in the United States trying to get some fresh ideas. One topic turned out to be common between Mumbai and Melbourne and that is what I am writing about today.

When moving from Mumbai, my friends warned me that Melbourne would not be as warm, open and friendly as Mumbai. They felt that no other place could have a neighborhood like ours in Mumbai where we walked in and out of each other’s home even in our pjs sometimes borrowing a cup of sugar or a bunch of cilantro. And when we moved from Melbourne to California our Melbourne neighbors had exactly similar thoughts as those of our Mumbai neighbors. They couldn’t imagine that a neighborhood in America could be as great as theirs in Australia. When we moved homes within the same city in California my old neighborhood had concerns about the warmth of our new neighbors. I realize now that there was one  common aspect between all the  places that helped us and that is connectivity. And by that I don’t just mean the ways and means of connectivity but also the wish to remain connected.

I realize that one can be as connected as one liked to be or as disconnected as one wished. Distance, time difference, language, culture, religion, race and color are absolutely irrelevant in being in touch. With the advent of mobile phones followed by free calls with face time on I phone, free messaging on Whatsapp, viber, skype and the likes, today I am more connected than ever before with my neighbors, friends and family whether they are in Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe or America. The world has shrunk many times over and beautifully so. The street where our first home was in California had its own neighborhood google group where neighbors stayed connected for any messages/information that couldn’t be reached in person. Then there is a next door neighborhood website where one registers with one’s address and gets information on all that is going in the extended neighborhood, right from town planning, theft, lost pets, babysitter,  homework help/yard work help, sale of old furniture to tickets to concerts.  Living in the Silicon Valley our neighborhood comprises of employees of Apple, Google, Facebook, Cisco, Microsoft, Oracle and many more and it is fun to watch the great minds from different countries put up the annual July 4th party with universal appeal to the multi cultural, multi lingual residents of various age group with a taste for diverse cuisine. The beauty of the party is that not even one meeting precedes the event since the whole planning is done over email right down to the menu to avoid duplicating. This year one very inventive mind ironed his shower curtain, duct taped the corners and hung it over his garage so we experienced our own  open air theater as we sat watching, eating amidst kids shooting hoops while the sun went down. Internet is such an amazing tool that it connects not only the neighborhood but also brings the world faraway within reach.

I can never forget the times the daughter was in hospital for long durations and was throughly bored confined to a room with limited visitors. I thank God for the same connectivity as our family and friends around the globe made efforts to keep the teen entertained. When a friend from Mumbai wondered what she wanted, she thought that she was asking for the impossible as she giggled, “I want to see Mumbai rain”, “I wish to see Mumbai traffic and auto rikshaw too (a three wheel contraption which is a blessing in Mumbai to commute short distances).” The next day the friend forwent driving to work but rode in that three wheel helpful contraption-the auto rikshaw in pouring Mumbai monsoon rain and called her on facetime. Her wish was granted, simply! With a lump in my throat I watched my girl enjoy something as simple as Mumbai rain  with glee all over her face while confined to a hospital room in California. I sent a silent thank you to this friend and many others who gave their time, used technology to give themselves in ways one wouldn’t have imagined possible a few years ago. Technology has indeed revolutionized connectivity but it is actually people’s thoughts and endeavors that give fuel to that revolution, otherwise it stays a rebel without a cause. 

tumblr_lrpkrzvAYZ1qdwck5o1_500.pngThe heights of connectivity that I have witnessed in our own home was the kids watching tv shows together with their friends. Now say, what is so special about that? It is unique because the friends were in different continents and time zones so each one was either waking up at an obnoxiously early hour or staying up dreadfully late. They were happy to skip sleep to watch tv shows together for the joy of discussing it over extended time while and after watching it. Twenty years ago overseas phone calls were so prohibitively expensive that they were not only infrequent but also short. And today all one needs is the wish and the wifi. I am amused at myself when I make quick calls to friends overseas while cooking some of their specialities for instruction and tips.  At times Face Time is used as visual aid.

Where has your wish and wifi taken you?  How about sharing how wi fi has changed your life, perception of people and relationship?

Picture courtesy: Andy Singer & http://www.comicstory.tumblr.com

Mumbai…Meri Jaan (my life)

6229056564477d66d04bbc68b5d79641Having lived in multiple cities, countries, continents the one question that we get most often is which city was our favorite? Where did we like living the most?  The daughter is noncommittal, the husband smiles but doesn’t divulge anything and the son rambles for a while with commas, stops and exclamations… I love it here, no but I love Melbourne too. And then he gives a disarming smile to exclaim and Oh I love Mumbai!!!

I believe we can love any place we live in if we wish to. It can be the glitziest city with the most hi tech unimaginable convenient amenities or a tiny village with frequent power outage and water shortage. We have lived in both the extremes  and the in betweens too.  I joke with the husband that he is stuck with me for life and much more because our marriage will survive anything since it survived six months in a small town of Ghana where we were challenged everyday with power outage, water shortage, mal- functioning phone lines, no neighbors and long hours at work. There were more birds and animals around us than people. The daughter had her first birthday there and spoke her first word too- gooaaattt! Yes, I kid you not, goat came before mum! Wonders don’t cease, do they?

Prior to this during our stint in Lusaka, Zambia many of the husband’s colleagues and our friends had mercilessly pulled our legs guffawing at multiple  imaginary scenarios of us running away, back to Mumbai on the first flight from there. I must share that this was the only country that we lived in where safety/security was a huge issue, political scenario unsettled, medical facilities questionable and one in four locals were said to suffer from HIV. I had the ‘privilege’ of being mugged in broad daylight and the husband’s colleague lost all that he had on him to a ‘sweet friendly’ 7 feet tall guy with a swagger who put his arm around him as they walked on a busy street as though best friends for life while relieving him of his wallet, watch, rings, belt leaving with a loving parting shot of, “if my friends down the road trouble you, just tell them Simba took it all.” Simba indeed turned out to be the king of day light robbers.  As I said before, wonders do not cease because we thrived there, loved it and made amazing friends right from the CEO of multi national companies to the neighborhood cab driver.

imgresIn Malaysia for the longest time I took the bus to go to work with the husband dropping me and picking me on his way to and fro from work. Every time I got onto the bus the driver changed the music to Hindi/Bollywood songs with a nod to me. Our neighbors introduced us to Malaysian delicacies and customs and soon we could gorge on ice kachang and nasi goreng while nodding sagely to agree on the goodness of everything by saying good lah very good lah! Twenty years plus since we left Kuala Lumpur but I don’t bat an eyelid to switch to yes lah while talking to Malaysians/Singaporeans.

Japan, what can one say about a country where respect, reverence, humility, consideration, courtesy come from birth and go on literally till death does them apart. Right from the Japanese baby to the octogenarian next door were always super courteous saying their Ohaiyo Gozaimashita (good morning) bright and early as I pushed my baby boy’s stroller, walking my little girl to school.  The same neighbors were super excited to see their Indian neighbor, read yours truly pregnant when the baby in the stroller was expected so much so I would be taken aback when they would pat my baby bump with love and excitement wondering whether it was going to be a boy or a girl and even when he or she was due. Their excited chatter was contagious enough for me to smile and nod despite lack of clear comprehension. I knew that they meant well and they knew that I had full awareness of their feelings.

Melbourne endeared itself to us with its chic, casual, laid back yet go getter charm. Just last week the son and hubby were on a California golf course trailing a couple of Aussies and got talking to them. While one  was from Brisbane, the other was from Sydney and on hearing my boys connection to Melbourne, they very somberly said, Oh Melbourne, so sorry mate! Nothing and nobody really can top the Aussie sense of humor- it is unique because of its subtle yet conspicuous nature.

mumbai-slangMumbai, my one time home! I think the only city in the world which has ‘meri jaan’ suffixed to it is Mumbai. Meri jaan literally translated means my life. Songs have been written on places like New York, California, Denver, Chicago, London and lot more. Movies too have been made on plenty of cities. Similarly, countless movies have depicted the spirit of Mumbai, songs have been written on the unique yet multiple specialities of this city- the city that has a heart, the city that never sleeps, the city where you are one in a crowd but still don’t lose your privacy. A city which is as casual as you need it to be or and as sophisticated as you want it to be. It embraces those who make it their home adapting to the multi cultural, multi lingual, organized chaotic crowd.

Now we are in California and I am reminded of the time I first heard the song ‘California Dreaming’, never knowing then that it would be home one day. The hubby was jumping off the bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe over the Zambezi river – The highest natural Bungee in the world off Victoria Falls- with a rope tied to his ankle- they called it Bungee Jumping. Now very popular but a couple of decades back it was relatively uncommon. The song the organizers were playing as the jumpers jumped was California Dreaming. I do not see any relevance of the lyrics to bungee jumping off Victoria Falls but today as a resident of California I do identify with the song…”All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey, I have been for a walk on a winter’s day, I would be safe and warm if I was in L.A, California dreaming on such a winter’s day…..”

Do you have a favorite city or a town dear to you?  It is memories that make a place special, that carves a place for it in your heart and mind. Is there a place that warms your heart on a winter day? Share your favorite city story and why it is so….and I bet it would be because of the people.

Picture courtesy: Jeff Stahler , http://www.missosology.info & http://www.sutrahr.com