Inspired by Life

Monday, August 20, 2007

A week of firsts...

This week was filled with many firsts and a" hope-I never-see-this-again" experience...

A first - Pregnant Moms are not allowed to know the sex of the baby. For that matter, no one in the family is allowed to know the sex of the baby. It is considered bad luck. The parents have to sign a form that says they agree to the fact that the doctor will not reveal the sex of the baby when they go to get their first ultrasound. This has to do with preventing female infanticide - the killing of girl babies or the aborting of female fetuses because of the social stigma it places on the family if they do not have a son. Future blog entry.

A first - There are NO baby showers. I have a cute story about this. I was at a friend's child's birthday party where there were way too many adults and not enough children. But the children made up for the lack of their kind by screaming out their nursery rhymes and repeatedly reciting their ABC's that I will never forget the alphabet ever again. So I was telling a pregnant friend and another friend that back home (America), once the sex of the baby was revealed, the parents would start to buy things needed for the baby to be comfortable. And the girlfriends of the pregnant mom would have a baby shower.

The not-pregnant friend promptly replies that it would be so cute and that she had seen it once. I was very encouraged by this and she continued to say, all the babies looked so cute lined up and ready to be given a shower and the maids were the ones who would bathe the babies and not the mothers....I was so surprised to hear that they actually did that in India and then realized that they had never seen a baby shower (the one where the bathing of the baby is not involved) or knew what it was... After recovering from that statement (very quickly and non-visibly, I might add), I proceeded to tell them what a baby shower was all about. They thought it was a grand idea!!

A first - There are NO bridal showers. After I heard that there were no baby showers, I asked if they had bridal showers. Thank goodness I had waited to explain what a baby shower was before I asked them this question...or they most certainly would have had all their doubts about America being a liberal country confirmed...imagine having all the brides lined up to be given a shower!!!!

I then realized they didn't need one - they had dowry - A gift of money or valuables that the family of the bride gives to the family of the bridegroom at the time of marriage. This seriously includes everything that a couple would need to start out their lives together and several things that only the bridegroom will use like a new motorcycle or a car, sometimes a new job, etc... (all this is provided by the bride who should be thankful that the man had married her when his options were so many). Another future blog entry.

A first - Citibank in India will charge you 100 Rupees to withdraw cash from your own account inside a Branch. You are supposed to withdraw money from an ATM instead to avoid paying a fee for service. I rarely carried cash in the US and here you get a special discount if you pay in cash, so I have to carry it around all the time. :(

A hope-I-never-see this-again experience: Brace yourselves....

I was traveling in an auto rickshaw along a very busy :) and traffic-filled :) road...when I happened to glance at some movement on the sidewalk just as I reached the intersection. There on the sidewalk was an ancient-looking, weather-beaten old man who was naked from his waist down squatting and relieving himself in full view of the traffic!!!!

What made me glance at him was him swinging his hands in front of himself trying to swat the flies that pestered him while he publicly defecated the sidewalk. I was aghast at the sudden visual of prehistoric privates facing the public in broad daylight at an intersection in the city!!!!

I quickly turned away, my mind flooded with questions - Did he forget where his bathroom was? Where were his pants? How would he wash himself since there was not one water- holding container to be found around him? Was he more frustrated with the flies than he was about embarrassing himself in public? What was most curious is that NO ONE WAS BOTHERED BY IT!!!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A PAINTER'S TALE

...picture this...a crowded street in India (ok, who are we kidding, if you could picture a street in India that isn't crowded, you would get the Creative Genius Award of the century!), me in an autorickshaw with a name and directions of a "paint showroom" - okay, some clarifications on a couple of things in that sentence - you cannot find a place with just an address - mapquest is a fiction of the imagination here and the "paint showroom" was no larger than 300 sq feet with cans of paint by a local dealer lining the walls.

Now you might think, what in the world was she doing there?? Well, you are not the only one - all the men who were there when I got out of the autorickshaw, had the same mixture of curiosity and questioning and "is she nuts" look on their faces. A thing to note, that I only noted after being there for 30 minutes was that there were ONLY men in the paint shop. Well, it was simple - women just did not paint their own walls!!!! Therefore, me being there armed with the knowledge of what kind of paint I wanted (emulsion) and what colors I wanted ( signal red, rusty orange and sunrise yellow) and how many rollers ( 2) and brushes and paint trays I wanted was a thing unheard of!!!! The fact that I could tell them how much I wanted for each wall after I had measured the area to be painted was even more mind-boggling for them. These men refused to sell me paint unless the workers whom they thought I had employed to paint my walls, were present.

Of course I thought this whole thing was ridiculous and insisted that I get the paint and supplies that I came for and that I was ready to pay for it right then!!! The owner finally realized that I was serious about painting my own walls and came over and started asking me what colors I really wanted, still with a look of awe mixed with a look like I had committed a cardinal sin by entering a man's domain of paint and things of that nature.

After telling me several times that this was the first time a woman had entered his store, much less picked out her own paint - he finally mixed the three paints for me. Shaking his head in disbelief and sharing that feeling with his male employees, he wrote out my receipt for the materials. Here I was dressed in jeans capris and Armani sunglasses in a store where no woman had gone before (Starship Enterprise), telling them exactly what I was was going to do with the paint and how much I wanted...I know that no one in that store could forget me - I left an indelible mark in their brains, painted on the walls of their mind - pun fully intended!!!

I, on the other hand, thoroughly not flustered by the fact that I was breaking the norms ( which I do more regularly than exercise), proceeded to pay for the materials and paint and happily walked away from the store...complete with a smug look on my face for having done my part to educate the masses about freedom and democracy...and a few households exclaimed over their dinner, how inappropriate it was for a woman to buy her own paint and then paint her own walls...how dare she!!!

I could do nothing else but chuckle to myself....


The proud painter of her own walls!!!!






Saturday, August 4, 2007

COPS AND CHICKEN CURRY

The last blog I posted and emailed out to my friends had such minimal response that I could only draw three conclusions - everyone was busy at the same time or nobody understood it 0r it was too long. Come to think of it, it could be combination of all three!!!

Well, something very strange happened last night...but these things are so normal in India that I must be the strange one...we'll talk about that later.. Last night, I went over to a friend's house to help her settle into her tiny little cottage that she shares with her boyfriend and three dogs and it could not be more than 450 sq. ft. Well, it got pretty late and we had asked the others who were running some errands to pick up some food on the way back since we were all starving. They returned and promptly declared that they forgot to get the food. So, with an elevated headache and a desire to eat a horse due to the starvation, another friend and I went out at midnight to look for food...which miraculously you can always find somehow. Well, we found this "hotel" that claimed to have all kinds of non-veg food. We thought this was great and placed a large order of parathas and chicken curry to go. This all seemed normal up to this point. What happened later sort of shook me a little bit although my friend was completely relaxed about it....

A cop car (another means to make the cops even more lazier and corrupted) with lights blazing, drives down the street and one of them on the loudspeaker was asking the little shops including the seedy "hotel" joint that was preparing the food for us, to turn out the lights and shut down the place as it was past the closing time. He kept screaming this on the loudspeaker and I thought we were going to leave without any food. I found it bizarre that this would even happen but my friend says, "let's just wait, they will turn on the lights after the cop has driven past the street...the owner of the hotel is paying the cops anyway to allow him to stay open and the cops are just doing this to make the public believe that they are doing their job..." I was in shock and realized in a few minutes that my friend was absolutely right!!!!!

The cop had barely pulled out of that street and they were open for business again. So of course this gives rise to the conversation that even if the Western world and its customs are mimicked to a certain extent, Indians will be Indians no matter what...The place will always be filthy and overridden with beggars and homeless people and drunks, the flies will always make homes in the huge garbage piles found on different parts of each street, everyone will want to be paid for anything they do for you - there is no charity done here, stray cats and dogs and cows roam the overcrowded streets at all hours of the day, trains and buses are streaked with red stains from the beetle nut leaf that they chew and spit anywhere and everywhere, dirt and dust is caked on so thick in some homes that it almost forms an insulation layer making the house hotter than it is, the insects and rodents are fatter than the starving people, cell phones are more important than food, things will always fall apart, hardly anything is done on time and not even expected to be done on time, mosquitoes dictate your evening behavior - meaning that there is a certain time during the evening when you have to light these "mosquito coils" ...these foul smelling spirals that you pierce on a metal stand and these are supposed to drive away the mosquitoes. They also have the plug-in kinds which are much better.

So when all is said and done, we Americans have it real easy and very good compared to other parts of the world. You notice I said, we Americans...I still feel and always will feel very patriotic about the United States of America...I will talk about this patriotism and the lack of it here in India in my forthcoming blogs....