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 &

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 , &


Food for Thought…

imagesI proudly looked at my handiwork of cutting the avocado into two perfect halves and lifting the seed out with the whack of the knife. No big deal for most but for a woman to whom avocado was a stranger for the first thirty years of her life it my friend, is an accomplishment par excellence. Drum roll!!

Leaving home adapting to new places, people, culture, traditions and FOOD has been a constant in our lives. Growing up in a small town in India we thought we were adventurous with food as we ate culinary delights from all over our vast country where the simple potato, beans, peas, carrots are cooked differently in every corner of the country. The north makes drinks with carrots, mix it with peas, beans, potatoes for curry or even dessert in the form of carrot pudding. A part of south uses it in lentils while another part  uses it with coconut milk to make stew. The people in east believe in eating fish with everything, carrot, peas, meat, rice or dessert while the west spices up everything with a tinge of sweet. In the 1970s and 1980s many Indian restaurants proudly offered ‘continental food’ in their menu and if you dig deeper there is nothing called continental food really. Precisely, there is nothing continental in food. It may constitute a variety of food served under one roof, pasta, noodles, fried chicken or even a sandwich which by the way was a big deal when we were kids. Of course we also ate Chinese- the Indian Chinese which would make a Chinese dive off a cliff in indignation and shock.

The first time we lived overseas was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I thought we were mighty adventurous to try the Queen of Fruits Durian. Durian looks like jackfruit but it wins hands down to be the stinkiest thing ever to be eaten, grown, seen or avoided. Kuala Lumpur introduced us to roti canai (a kind of Indian bread served with gravy), nasi goreng (fried rice popular in South East Asia), Mi Goreng (fried noodles), Ice kachang (shaved ice with beans and anything under the sun).  Every thing was a discovery! I would read about a certain dish expecting it to be sweet and it would turn out to be a savory. At work I was surprised to find people gorging on boiled eggs, fried eggs, chicken and rice garnished with shallots and dried fish for breakfast. That was their go to food, comfort food comparable to the baked potato in the United States. In Zambia we were introduced to the meali meal basically maize flour and the locals used it for a variety to cuisine. When I expressed my wish to cook chicken and also teach it to our Zambian help he nodded wisely and said of course maaadaaam! Hearing a cacophony in the kitchen I rushed down to see two huge, really gigantic, well fed chicken fluttering in his hands while he delightedly looked on to me showing off his prize products ready for cooking! I didn’t have the heart to cook those two thereafter and they made a happy cosy home in our backyard often chasing the help’s kids or getting chased by them. I felt both the kids and the chickens were having a good time and that is the only time I came close to seeing chicken smiling.

7343d52d5d0637a88290007408569663In Japan our home was near a blowfish restaurant and I would hear about the expertise needed to cook that deadly fish, as in if gourmet food could kill this one was it! We became adept at using chopsticks and eating sushi and sashimi while introducing our Japanese friends to tandoori chicken, paneer tikka from North India and dosa, idli, uttapam from the South. Surprisingly, they loved my tea and I fell in love with theirs though I am told that both are acquired tastes. In Australia, the son’s class had an international cuisine day and with lot of expat children in the class we saw cuisine from everywhere, Sudan to Singapore. A local  family proudly presented vegemite and toast as they felt that was true Aussie cuisine. The Indians had turned up with the whole nine yards and I got the impression that most were overwhelmed by the variety presented between the mere four Indian families. We do love our food and we are not shy about it, are we now?

Fresh off the boat America  hit us, shocked, amused and overwhelmed us with its gigantic serving sizes in food and drinks. Small, medium, large are known all over the world but grande, venti and trenta? Hello, who wants to dive into a coffee and drown? I believe trenta is a whole thirty fluid ounce and people do drink it! Then there is this Italian restaurant near our home which gives one free pasta/ spaghetti or whatever you order to take home for every pasta you eat in. Buy one and get one free taken to another level surely and the soft drinks just keep flowing. There is no end to refills until explicitly requested to stop and I feel the poor wine does get a step motherly treatment, no refills unless explicitly requested.

I baked sweet potatoes today and smiled to myself reminiscing  of the time we ate baked/boiled potatoes in India. They were cut into pieces, liberally mixed with chopped raw red onions, green chillies, cilantro, lemon juice, red chilli powder, crushed black pepper mixed with garbanzo beans and with a nice little whack of the hand mixed well in a little pouch made with leaves. The Aussies baked their potatoes by throwing spices, mixing flavors, splashing herbs to present quite an exotic yet simple dish of baked potato while the Japanese took it to another extreme with wasabi, miso, scallions and thousand other ingredients all of course very finely chopped, intricately decorated, delicately presented so much so that I hated to spoil the effect by digging into it. Then we came to America and discovered the version here- the baked potato was wrapped in a aluminum foil and was just that- a potato wrapped in foil and baked! A small container of sour cream sat neglected in the corner of the plate and trust me, the family and I burst out laughing. There is so much fun and joy to be found in our differences.

Why all this talk about food when the world is on a perpetual diet? Just to remind us that food is not just something to get rid of hunger. The scope of food is beyond that. It binds people just as it unites them. It is a discovery- of people, culture, regions, countries, geography, history, chemistry and even physics. The Italian cuisine in Italy tastes vastly different from the one cooked elsewhere and it is not just the tomatoes. Closer home the Italian cuisine in California is grossly different from the one in New York as is the Indian, Japanese or any other cuisine. The reactions of food- the chemistry, the ways and means of cooking – the physics are all intriguing. If my mum were alive today she would be tickled pink to find me switching on my gas stove without a gas lighter or a matchbox but with a simple turn of the knob that worked as ignition.

Food- Yes, there is a lot to it, far more than it will ever get credit for. What have your experiences with different cuisine been? Do you feel that it forms a connection? Does it make you stare at your plate in awe or gasp with wonder or at times proceed with caution or maybe eat at own risk…..


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A world full of heart…

'Stocks rose on the news that random acts of kindness today outnumbered random acts of violence.'

I truly believe people are inherently good, sometimes we just have to pause a moment, breathe in and wait to savor it because more often than not that goodness just happens, unfolds and passes by taking us unaware just like sunrise each morning. Today’s post is dedicated to all those unknown people, perfect strangers actually who knowingly or unknowingly touch a life, making random incident memorable, turning  traumatic events bearable, to be talked about, reminiscing over a cup of coffee, glass of wine or simply…

I recall the time the son was a baby, a mere 4 month old happy cuddly little fellow with the widest gummy smile and eyes glowing with happiness. He was born with a congenital kidney problem and needed multiple surgeries. That was in Mumbai and after painstaking efforts from the nurse, wails from the son and silent tears from me an IV line was set up on his podgy little arms. After the first surgery he was discharged from the hospital with the IV line on for the next few surgeries as no one wished to put the baby through another trauma probably saving the doctors, nurses, mum and dad too from the same. So there we were headed home with the husband driving, trying to reach the four year old daughter waiting for us, while I sat behind with our boy who happily grinned at me from his basinet as though sensing that we were going away from the place where he was poked and prodded. Suddenly  we were flagged down by a cop. The husband ‘apparently’ had driven through an amber light turning red. Unlike the United States, one doesn’t hand over license/registration while sitting in the car when stopped in India, but gets off to stand by the sidewalk with the cop with  an explanation/license/registration/cash-bribe, and not exactly in that order. I viewed the two talking in the side view mirror and was surprised to see them walking towards the car and next the cop peeped inside to see me and our boy whose big toothless smile was still in place probably only getting wider. The cop and the baby exchanged toothy/gummy grins as if sharing their own little joke.  He saw the IV and looked again at the two of us, dropped his notebook back into his pocket, gave me a little salute and bid the husband adieu with a big hug and instructions to take good care of the baby and drive safe. Yes that is Mumbai…a city full of heart.

It is not surprising to encounter these warm incidents in Mumbai. The city indeed is full of heart. It gets battered with bomb blasts and rises up the very next moment with everyone walking an hour or more to reach work with public transport suspended. It gets flooded and the city that was supposed to grind to a halt continues to move, with neighbors helping each other, picking up a child, reaching food or even sharing groceries with supermarkets closed or sold out.

London is famous for being cold, weather and otherwise, no offense intended but I feel it has the most amazing heart. Another time the husband had flown to London on work and on landing at Heathrow airport saw my text message that the daughter was admitted in hospital. At immigration when asked the purpose and duration of his visit, he told  that he was supposed to be in London on work for 3 days but was going to take the first flight out as his child was in hospital. The immigration personnel picked up the phone and murmured a few words and an airport ground staff appeared to escort him through the quickest shortest way to baggage claim and customs, reaching him back to the United Airlines Global desk in a few minutes skipping all lines and waits. And United Airlines, not exactly famous for its great service on grounds or inflight wasted no time having him back on the same flight that reached him to London and soon he was flying home having touched down in London, cleared immigration, taken baggage, gone through customs, back in with new ticket, check in, security check in less than two hours!

In Tokyo our friends visiting us forgot their backpack containing a high end camera with multiple lenses and a $ 1000 in cash in the overhead compartment of a train. On lodging a complaint with the Station Office we were directed to wait at the exact place we had disembarked and check in the train when it returned in 43 minutes to be precise as it had a circular route. He was convinced that it would be found exactly where it was left since it had not been deposited at the Lost and Found department. Robbery was not an option even considered. We never really  expected to find the lost bag but there it was exactly where forgotten, waiting for its rightly owner having escaped both theft and bomb disposal squad.

During one of my walks in the neighborhood park, I was getting to a point of discomfort since another walker, a young man kept looking at me very blatantly every time we passed one another. I didn’t believe that I was unsafe but nevertheless felt hesitant until he stopped in front of me with a big smile and said, “you are wearing Kathmandu, you must be from Australia.” For those unfamiliar to the down under, Kathmandu is like the Nike of Australia- everyone does it!


'Beauty is on the inside.'

Last few weeks my brother-in- law was visiting from India and we had been hiking pretty often as I showed him the sights and sounds of bay area. He couldn’t get over the fact that strangers walking past each other either said hello, how’s it going? or remarked on the good old weather or simply nodded. There was always a courteous, respectful acknowledgment. In a world rocked by terror these simple etiquettes go a long way in building better communities.

Do you recall the moments when perfect strangers made your day? Or does an incident with an unknown make you break into a smile or feel grateful and blessed? Reminisce those  and share,  let the world know yet again how wonderful it is….


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Highway to hell…


'I bet there was a story behind this.'

It was my 18th birthday. Many aeons ago of course! And my father gifted me something that was on top of my wish list. I am not aware if things have changed now in India but when I was a teenager, one could appear for a behind the wheel driving test after the age of 18 and I was gifted enrollment in one of the few ‘Driving Schools’ owned and managed by a dad and his two sons in our small city. It entailed the ‘uncle’ driving to our home at a specific time five days a week for a month to pick me up and teach me about clutch, brake, acceleration amidst rules and regulations. We drove only manual transmissions those days. Some days the ‘big brother’ would come and if the younger one came he was addressed by his name by all the learner drivers. He was still in his twenties you see. In India anyone who is or looks over the age of 30 unfortunately for him/her is addressed as aunty/uncle and anyone under is either the big brother/big sister. Names were used only for the pals/buddies.

Day one would entail driving a big bulky ungainly heap that was popular in the 1970s and 1980s though by the fourth and last week we would have proudly graduated to a very sleek new age sedan, basically covering four different types of vehicles over four weeks. On the day of my driving test at the RTO (Regional Transport Office) my boy friend came along with his friends to wish me luck as I went for a drive with my instructor and the person testing me. I knew I had a scope of failing if told  to stop on an incline managing the clutch and brake but luckily for me we didn’t drive to the hills. After a few question answer sessions came the trick question- ‘mam, can you change car tires?’ Huh! Seriously? No one, including the instructor had prepared me for that and with my heart dropping to my stomach I shook my head murmuring no. The instructor was asked, ‘you people don’t teach them tire changing ?’ This was the dude instructor, not the uncle or the big brother and he tried to make a joke while I interrupted saying, ‘I can’t change the tire but I sure can get it changed by the boyfriend.’ Surprises do not cease because I passed. Apparently my driving was perfect though I should watch the speed and marry the boyfriend. I took all the advices…and yes he changed a few tires too.

I might have mentioned in one of the previous blogs that when we plan, hope, anticipate, we should always look up to see if Gods are laughing. So you bet, they were in splits, laughing at what was coming next because you see we moved to a country where I couldn’t continue to drive on my International Driving Permit or Indian License after a certain time. So Vic Roads (RTO in India, DMV in the United States) in Melbourne Victoria, Australia, required that yours truly do a behind the wheel driving test to get an Aussie Driving License, after an online test and a hazard perception test and a ‘No Objection Certificate’ from my Indian Driving License Authority. Seriously! I was most indignant and while I did the needful I gently protested at the unfairness of it all. My friends with license from anywhere in the world USA, UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan and even tiny countries like Lesotho got an Aussie license across the table by presenting the license issued by their country and poor me, after years of competent driving on Indian roads of the 1990s amidst cars, trucks, buses, motorbikes, bicycles, rickshaws, cows, pedestrians, road side vendors and sometimes even people just standing and chatting was the one who needed to appear for a test. Highly amused at my disgruntled musings the Vic Road employee testing me laughed, ‘lady, where you come from even a blind person would get a license.’ Our reputation preceded us or so it seemed. So I zipped my mouth, did the test and needless to say, passed.

Had I taken a peek into heaven I would have seen the Gods ROFL because next we moved to America and  California didn’t recognize my Aussie or Indian license so off I went to do the written test followed by the behind the wheel test. No other song and dance about the hazard perception or No Objection Certificate. I wasn’t alone in my predicament as the husband too did the whole nine yards but his test became the American scene as seen in  movies and sometimes read in newspapers. Just as he was driving into the DMV premises his car got shot at. Yes, seriously and truly, unbelievable right? I, waiting by the curb heard a big bang and looked around to find the source wondering why, firstly the husband had stopped the car so suddenly with both the occupants looking shell shocked and secondly why were people ducking behind bins, trees or flat on the road? I was fresh off the boat you see and unfamiliar with sounds of gunshots in real life. So the DMV employees summoned the Highway Patrol and cops while I called the car service station to arrange for it to be picked up for replacing the shattered windscreen and get a loaner vehicle in the interim. After thorough investigation it was deduced that the shot was fired from ‘just a simple’ pellet gun and was probably a stray or meant to harm the new shiny car in the unsafe neighborhood. And I thought to myself, welcome to America mate!

Man to lady with hair straight out: 'Not easy being a driver's ed teacher, is it?'Why this sudden talk of driving and tests? Well, the daughter has to start her lessons soon and she thought she would  become familiar with the rules by clearing her doubts as we drove. Such were the queries- what are you doing now? I am pressing the accelerator. And now? Still pressing the accelerator. Hmmm okay, and now? Still the same. Then I heard her exclaiming what! You can’t just press the accelerator and leave it? What if there is an itch in  your toe, what if there is something stuck under your foot, what if you get a cramp, what if…..And I thought God help her driving instructor. Have you sat with your teens while they practiced and honed their driving skills? And er do you have any hair remaining?

Picture courtesy: &

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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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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