Cost and Value of Education…

Born and raised in India May 1st was like any other day. That it was a holiday (International Labour day/Workers Day) was a bonus. Not that as kids we understood the reason or importance or paid any heed to it! We were just happy that it was a holiday in the sweltering heat of summer, also marking the beginning of long summer holidays. That blissful May 1st holiday continued through all our moves in various countries/continents until we reached the United States where May 1st, while not Labor Day or a holiday has an unusual importance of its own and is actually anything but an ordinary day.

May 1st gained a haloed prominence in my world as recently as 2015 when the daughter had to accept an offer from a college she thought would be best for her- academically, socially, monetarily giving her a safe, secure, grounded, valuable, far reaching, all encompassing, life enriching college education and experience, preparing her to face the world, all at the age of seventeen! I have not studied in the United States but I do not believe that the whole college application  experience even ten years back was as huge a business or lengthy stressful process as it is now. Right from childhood through, middle school and high school the children and parents seem to be preparing for that big day when the kids go off to college. 'We've decided to support you for the rest of your life. It's cheaper than sending you to college.'Parents I hear, start saving at birth or even when expecting a baby to pay those big bucks which may entail additional exorbitant college counselor fees. Like a friend said, “I told my son that after he gets into the college of his dream, he can frame the offer letter because we will be broke after paying the counselor!”

May 1st came and went but the stories continue… The son, a rising senior at high school regales us with who is headed where this fall, the happy surprises and the unexpected disappointments. We hear of the hits and we hear of the misses. We listen with acute interest and increasing alarm at the GPA cut offs in some of the California colleges, the University of California and Cal Poly have crossed a 4.0 GPA (un) officially.  We marvel at the kids getting sports scholarship or a full ride for academic excellence and are equally impressed with those who are foregoing a 70,000 per annum private education to head to community college thereby saving their parents and themselves huge amounts in debts. We are super impressed with the resume of the high school seniors, their grades, club activities, volunteer work, sports, music, oh they have to be such all rounders! Striving to accomplish a balanced portfolio I fear they are heading towards more confusion than solution, fitting their already packed schedule with more.  I so feel for them and despite being a woman, am outraged that competent male candidates may be overlooked with an encouragement and focus on women in STEM. A disgruntled parent wondered what more could her son have done beyond AP Calculus, AP Physics and more AP subjects, extra curricular activities to get into his dream college. I heard a parent talking about the loan they would need to fund their child’s education in a renowned east coast college and I heard about the kid who dropped out after all the application processes, just to take a break from the never ending rat race and back pack before heading to college next year. So long one has willing ears, the stories are never ending, scary, encouraging, horrifying, touching, inspiring, discouraging and more. I wonder at the aim, cost, outcome and the value of college education today. I confess that at times I am disheartened but at others I am left in awe listening to the kids sharing their experiences.


Having said that, my thoughts went to a village near Mumbai, India where yours truly has a little mango orchard taken care of by a couple with three children. I recall when the oldest daughter wished to study nursing, the dad, our caretaker threw a fit at the exorbitant cost and suggested she get married. We were delighted with her wishes and supported her education. A few months back when we heard that she had graduated  and begun her career as  a certified nurse I thought, now this is a valuable outcome of education without the lengthy performance of college prep to reach the grand finale of a dream job.  Her aim fulfilled, she the daughter of an uneducated farmer is working as a nurse at the age of 22. She aims to go further and our farmer is now looking out for his two other kids to follow her footsteps.

The next generation looks brighter already…

What are your thoughts on the current education scenario? Be it India, Singapore, the UAE or the USA, does the story change? How do countries like Canada, Australia have colleges accepting students based on high school scores only, without standardized tests? What in your thoughts would be the best scenario?


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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 , &


Living on the edge…

So there was a time many aeons ago when the husband and I lived in Lusaka, Zambia. Previous to that our only overseas living had been in Malaysia. In the early 1990s, coming from India, Kuala Lumpur was a discovery and the transfer from KL to Lusaka was um hmmm a change, or lets call it another discovery

On arrival in Lusaka, we were driven by a person sporting skills of Indiana Jones to our new residence, the first sight of which left me gaping and speechless. I almost picked up my jaw from the floor!  We had swung to a halt in front of a huge intimidating gate with spikes, walls that had broken glass on top and a cute kind of moat surrounding it, only the crocs were missing! The Zambian counterpart probably had a misconception about the Indians he was expecting because he had provided us with a house  with 7 bedrooms, 2 living rooms, 2 dining rooms ( mind you, one for the vegetarians, one for non vegetarians). The little kitchen would have fit most of my Mumbai home and the fridge room, yes we had one of that too-   a room with four refrigerators- one for the vegetarians, one for the non vegetarians, one for drinks and one huge deep freezer normally found in super markets. I guess it was assumed that great wars between my husband and me were being prevented, truly we wouldn’t fight over space or cross contamination between the veggies and meat! And did I say that the house was set amidst a rose garden with an olympic size swimming pool?

Mugging was a normal everyday occurrence as was shortage of necessities making me understand and appreciate the supermarket sized deep freezer. The muggers were a friendly lot, not harmful unless defied though a  mugger I tried to resist doubled over with laughter and left me alone. I guess being defied by  woman who barely reached his waist line, on a street swarming with people in broad day light didn’t hurt his ego. The expats community was extensive and I learned cuisine from Portugal, South Africa, Kenya, the United Kingdom while sharing Indian culinary skills of making samosa, vada etc. Food and culture are two of the strongest factors bringing communities together and we bonded over multiple cuisine, music and movies.
tumblr_inline_n6uzzkkmhL1qcyr71The Indian dessert of kheer, a kind of milk pudding made with rice/vermicelli was a huge hit in the local community and they wished to learn. My explanation of – reduce a liter of milk  on the stove until halved was heard with great appreciation making me feel that I was the next Gordon Ramsey. They looked at me in awe and  murmured, ‘and how and when did you know it had halved’. Uh er um…

Despite the safety issues we have beautiful memories from Zambia. The close bond that we formed with the locals was evident when we heard the husband’s name over the public address system as we waited to board our flight, calling out to him so they could bid him one last goodbye before he flew back home…

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