Blessing a car

Our friend got a brand new car a few weeks ago. Yipee for our friend! It’s a big gold Toyota Innova, also known as an expat car. Most expats ride in big SUVs, we liked Sathya’s little white car, the Maruti Suzuki Swift. We got to follow the entire process, from choosing the car color to experiencing a flat tire in the middle of the night! A puncture it’s called here, usually written “puncher”.

First, Toyota lost the money. The full payment. It was wired from one bank to another and “magically” disappeared. I have a few ideas as to where the funds sat for a few days. Since a foreigner had been present during the purchasing, a lot of brouhaha ensued. What still baffles me is how hierarchy works in India: the poor saleswoman, who had nothing to do with funds transfer, almost lost her job. They needed a scapegoat and she was it. In this case, I don’t think it was because of gender, but because of “totem pole position”. After much yelling and pressuring from my white attorney husband who came to the defense of our friend, the funds miraculously reappeared after a serious threat to cancel the sale.

Then came the delivery of the car, at the doorsteps. That was cool! Seven people came to deliver one car. Seven stooges (including the saleslady) apologizing profusely, bringing chocolates and flowers. I didn’t care for the hypocrisy of it all, but was delighted for our friend. His wife had tears of happiness down her cheeks, and the kids wanted to sit in their new chariot.  

The next day, or maybe two days later, my memory fails me, it was time for the car puja, the car blessing. And hop in the car we go and head for the Ganesh temple. Mala, our friend’s wife is very religious and these rituals are important to her. To us, it’s one more fun experience, and we like Ganesh.

We had driven past this temple a zillion times, right on Whitefield Main and never paid much attention to it. Mala had a bag with flower garlands and fruits, probably money also. The priest, a rather young man, dressed in orange cloth performed the ceremony. While chanting, he threw drops of water on the car, painted Hindu symbols on the windshield, went back and forth to the back of the temple where the elephant god statue is, while she was praying, ringing the bell (with the right hand only) and twirling on herself at the end. The priest did something with a coconut too.  My favorite part was the lemon crushing: you place lemons in front of each wheel, and drive the car 10 inches. The lemons go “pop”, it’s so fun!

If we had stayed in Bangalore longer, I would have been more curious about the Hindu faith.  All houses we have entered have a puja room, or if the house is small, a corner or a shelf is dedicated to a particular god.  I was starting to be more comfortable asking questions about religious rituals.  For now, we bought a little Ganesh statue at our new favorite Indian store in the Woodlands and stuck in on the dashboard of our car!

And in the city of a 170-feet tall Christian cross, I wear my Om pendant.

 

 

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Cultural amnesia

I don’t remember how to be American! I don’t remember how my house works! After almost 2 years in India, I am staring at the appliances and checking which button I have to press to get coffee. It took me a few seconds to get reacquainted with the washing machine. I looked at the 4 bottles of cleaning products around the toilet and wondered which was the right one for the job. Then I wondered why we need so many different products. I was however pleased to wash my dupatta with Oxyclean and get rid of the coffee stain that remained after the last wash by the dhobi walla.

We went to Walmart. A rite of passage. I stared at people (politely I hope). There is just as much people watching than in the streets of Bangalore, but I am much more judgmental here. Come on people, you’re in public! I have to stop that kind of thinking. India made me a better person and I need to transfer my new mindset to my new life here.

The kittens are fine. They remember the house, the good hiding spots, the softest chairs. They miss their big scratching post and have started using the furniture for their manicures. Not cool!

Talking about cool, the AC is not working properly. The weather in Houston right now is similar to that of Chennai: hot and humid. We had to call the repair companies, and had to deal with a bunch of idiots. We were told, almost verbatim: “You don’t pay enough to get first rate service”. Classy. And I thought that customer service was one of America’s strong points. Next time I complain about maintenance service in India, I will remind myself that at least there they are polite and apologize profusely. The services are not performed, but they are pleasant. Here, you get no service and an attitude to boost. Whatever dude, I just came back from India, I have no problem with the heat, bring it on, and see your Yelp ratings sink even lower.

I miss my Indian family. I hung all kinds of pictures on the wall. I love Whatsapp, which is my main connection to my friends. I have to teach the teenagers about time differences, as I get messages in the middle of the night! I am not complaining, I will do anything to keep in touch. One sent me a picture of the new puppy they found around his house and told me one momma dog just delivered 9 pups. Nine! I send them pictures of Kitchens Of India food packages that I just found at HEB. They have Dal Bukhara in the suburbs of Houston, I always said Texas and Punjab are sister states!

Anny Akka, or Big Sister Anny, in Kannada.  My new temporary tattoo.

Anny Akka, or Big Sister Anny, in Kannada. My new temporary tattoo.

I miss the smells, I miss the colors, I miss the spices. I miss the energy. But I enjoy the selection of fruits at the store, I enjoy driving my car, and I love being back with my old friends.

I am ok being here. I am not deliriously happy but ok. I eat American foods but I am reading a book on Partition. I wear shorts (not short shorts!) without fear of being ogled. I have American television but read the Times of India first thing in the morning. RIP Dr. Abdul Kalam. It was an honor seeing you talk.

And just to make things a bit more interesting, or a bit more confusing, E. quit his job and joined a British law firm. We are moving to China in a few weeks. Yes! KittiesVindaloo will become KungPaoKitties!

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Can I have some things?

I am alone in the house, with our little kitten who is sleeping in my carry-on. Little does she know she will be in her carrier for 20 some odd hours, on her way back to Texas. My checked luggage is all packed. I need to take a shower, grab the few knick-knacks laying around and head to the airport.

  

I am heartbroken. Leaving India is breaking me.   I will be back soon, as a tourist this time. I cannot leave this country without a game plan for coming back. I will surrender my residency permit tonight, and soon apply for a tourist visa.

Saying goodbye is never fun. We have spent the last week visiting friends, having lots of Vodka and salt soda, ate more South Indian food in great company. I have swallowed back my tears as much as possible. Our maid broke down this afternoon, touching my feet, sobbing. It’s hard to explain that although there will be distance between us, the connection will remain unbroken. That’s what WhatsApp is for. I went to give her some of our food and stuff at her house tonight, and her son was proudly showing me the brochure of the college he will be attending starting August 3rd. I was starting to tear up and she told me “No cry Madam, no cry, give tension”, which is our little inside joke.

How much can two people accumulate over the course of 20 months? A lot. Too much, way too much. Most expats try and sell what they have. We were too lazy, and also didn’t want to have to socialize with people who whine about the spicy food and the disgusting behaviors of certain men who use the town walls as a private latrine. I was not in the mood to hear others talk about repatriation as bitter sweet.  It’s not sweet.  It’s bitter bitter bitter.  I only wanted to hang out with Indians (with the exception of a few close friends), soak up all the “Indianness” I could, until the last minute.

My husband left last night. Lufthansa changed its pet policy and there is now one pet per cabin only. See, I just wrote in Indian English, with “only” at the end of the sentence! Anyway, I will be flying in a few hours, with our little kitten. A lot of people have asked about the puppies. They are staying here. They are happy. They have 5 acres of land to run around, and Radha takes good care of them. Sathya is in possession of their health passport. All will be fine.

We have sorted through our clothes. E. has lost 50 kgs, so there are a lot of big shirts that don’t fit anymore. I have too many kurtas/tunics that will not be wearable back home. I gave a lot to our maid and our cook. We packed boxes and were ready to give them to a hospice or other charitable organization. They can use the clothes, or use the fabric. Three boxes have been on our front porch for a couple of days. This afternoon, Sathya was helping me with the overflow of food in the kitchen and suggested we should give it to the gardeners. He said one of them approached him this morning and asked him “Can I have some things in the boxes?” Bam, right when I am starting again to get a grip on my emotions and find a place where I can manage my feelings towards poverty, I get smacked again. We have given a lot to the people around us, but the other “invisible people”, those who don’t work for a family but for a company such as our compound’s maintenance crew, we had honestly not considered them. How can I not think about this old guy who every morning would ring the bell when pushing his garbage cart around the property, making sure we would give him our trash? How can I forget about the ladies in their saree and men’s shirt, scarf over their head, who sweep the grass and street every day? Yes, you read that right, they sweep the grass. They also cut the grass around the houses with scissors, the lawn mower being used for the large common areas only.

The owner of the house came to do the move-out inspection. That was unpleasant and left a rather bitter taste in my mouth. Switching to Kannada or Telugu to talk about me in my presence is rude. I stayed mad for a few minutes, then we went to the little school around the corner, with the pink walls, to deliver a few notebooks and crayons I had left. Sathya and I were instantly surrounded by a dozen kids, smiling, teeth as white as snow, dressed in their red checkered uniforms. “Mam, what is your name Mam?”. That’s all I needed to remind me of where my priorities lay in life.

I now have to disturb the kitten and finish packing. I am leaving India. India is not leaving me.

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Village politics in action

21: we beat our record of the number of strangers posing into one picture, with five more in the background running towards us! Our previous record was in Pura, with 15 people in one shot. Whenever we go to a remote area, we become the object of curiosity and attract kids like magnets. I love it. This time I played a game of trying to grab them, kiss them on the nose if they were toddlers, and laugh as they ran away screaming happily. I am the Big Blonde White Monster!

 

For a long time, our maid had wanted to take us to her village and introduce us to her mother. It took three long hours to get there, and even longer to come back. It got boring and we took turns sleeping.

The day was wonderful. If often felt surreal. I loved everything, and we started fantasizing, again, about retiring in a remote Indian village, as long as our house has a toilet! Notwithstanding the realities, it is a nice dream. The colors are so breathtaking. People smile at us all the time. Kids come running to us. Every hostess offers us food. If we hadn’t insisted (it’s rude, I know) we would have had lunch four or five times. We drank enough chai (tea) to fill in the Grand Canyon. We exchanged gifts. I met a little girl I can’t wait to meet again. While we were watching a popular dance competition on TV, she showed me her dance moves, so proud, so gracious, yet so shy! She followed me around, sat next to me, held my hand, observed everything I was doing. I don’t even know her name.  I was given so many strands of jasmine for my hair that my pillow still smells of flowers.  

All the traditional village houses we visited are very dark. The windows are tiny. There are no glass panes to protect against the elements, only wood shutters, and all windows are protected by iron bars, to protect against monkeys coming inside, I assume. The walls are painted bright colors, yellow, blue, green. All the houses we visited had electricity, though one cannot rely on the power supply. Fans were switched on for us. Thank you!

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I was having a grand time. So many things were familiar to me, so similar to my grand mother’s village in France: the smells, the old school, the cows, the mother hen and chicks, the lazy Sunday afternoons.  But it turned grim in an instant when we witnessed a nasty family dispute over land rights. We were standing in a coconut grove when the shouting match started. Of course we understood zilch of it, but since we knew the background story, and had our trusted translator with us, we know it was about whether someone had the right to pluck one miserable tender coconut. It got nasty. Loud. It was pure hatred. At no point did we feel personally threatened but I was quickly reminded of everything I had read about village politics.

Our nice little dream quickly turned into an ethnographic study and the mood got somber. Some people were in tears, some people were shouting, and we stood there like two stooges. We went into a house and got some more nibbles and tea while the victims were calmed down and the situation discussed. As we were about to leave, we were invited into an old man’s house. He was very nice to us, very welcoming, inquiring in English about our home country and our impressions of India. Our maid proudly said we like everything, especially the food (I know the Kannada word for food!). We were offered more tea, more lunch, and sat on the couch listening to a conversation we didn’t understand. However, we could gather that the old man was a village elder, full of wisdom, full of power. It was a mediation session, women sitting on the floor (except me), men on chairs and sofas, a grand council of sort. We were later told that he instructed the parties to gather their legal documents before going any further.

The trip back was rather silent. What was supposed to be a celebration turned into a slap in the face for one family. E. and I felt powerless. We can be emotional support but cannot change centuries of women being abused by inebriated jealous grumpy men in villages. But we will do what we can with what we have, while we are here. That means mainly emotional support. And going to see a dance recital of the teenager who will not inherit any land.

Because she’s a girl.

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Meditation in the Nilgiris

I have never been really good at meditation. The minute I am told to “let go”, “don’t think”, my mind starts making laundry lists of things to do. A few decades ago I bought guiding tapes and recently downloaded apps, but I have never been carefully taught nor guided. I have always been intrigued but never able to “disconnect”.

A few months ago, when our life got turned upside down and my depression kicked into high gear, I decided to do put all the chances on my side to beat it. I had a few noteworthy appointments with several psychiatrists and religiously take my pill every day. But I knew it wouldn’t be enough this time, so I ventured into non-Western medicine. My “Reiki Sister” gave me the name of her therapist, who had recently moved from the bustling city of New Delhi into a village half way between Ooty and Coonoor in Tamil Nadu. It is hidden in the beautiful hills that produce Nilgiri tea.  I spoke to her on the phone and liked her voice, liked the questions she asked, liked the way she was approaching my “problem”. After a 30-minute conversation with her, I already felt calmer. I booked a three-day intensive therapy retreat.

The road from Combaitore to her village reminded me of the road from Salanches to Megève in France. Hairpin turns, a deep ravine on one side, and waterfalls on the other. Add to the geographical hazards some monkeys, and a bunch of nuts-suicidal-crazy-homicidal-dangerous drivers who have no notion nor intention of staying in their lane. Honking is used as a defense mechanism against your own stupidity, advertising to the world that you are doing something illegal and potentially lethal to you, or worse, others.

The first day of therapy used unconventional techniques that I mastered on the spot. On the second day of therapy, she used singing bowls. They looked beautiful, golden color, simple shapes, very exotic. Honestly, I was hoping for a miracle, I wanted those bowls to have some kind of magic that would transport me into the enchanted land of bliss. She instructed me to close my eyes, and walked around me while making the bowls sing.

Ommm.  Stop thinking. Don’t think. Concentrate on the sound. Let the sound go inside you. Ommmmm. Silence in my brain. Good. It works. I wonder where she got those bowls. Stop thinking. She has cool Tibetan art in her house. Maybe somebody famous gave them to her. Stop, it doesn’t matter, you’re here to meditate, not for an art class. Ommm. Ommm. Tibet. That would be a cool place to go to. Stop. Ommm. The Dalai Lama is a funny guy. Stop. And he’s friends with Richard Gere. Awwww Richard Gere. Meditation fail!

I felt bad. I had come all this way to learn to calm down and I was not able to. She was disappointed she couldn’t guide me to fully meditate and taught me walking meditation, a more suitable method for busy brains, or “monkey brain” as she calls it (when your mind jumps from one thought to the other, like a monkey jumping around in the forest). She taught me to be kind to myself if I couldn’t manage to channel my thoughts into a quiet place.

Ommm. I am walking behind her, she’s walking rhythmically. Her hair is so long and beautiful. Indian women have beautiful hair. Stop, you’re not here to think about hair. Ommmm. Feel the grass between your toes. The grass is so soft, not like Texas. I miss Texas. Stop. Omm. I feel little twigs breaking. If I am breaking twigs, I wonder how many bugs I am killing. Bugs. She mentioned snakes. I hope I don’t see a snake. Ayaaaa! Darn, another meditation fail.

I am still not good at meditation. I need to practice more. I have also become a Reiki practitioner and use all possible methods to get through the day.

Don’t worry, I have not joined a cult, I am not following a self-proclaimed guru, don’t intend to disappear into an ashram at the base of the Himalayas. What I have learned is to be more grounded, less frazzled, less worried.

But I have also learned about the power of energies, and Karma. And she’s a bitch.

 

 

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And then there were five

We temporarily added a kitten to our family, 280 grams of purring fur. We didn’t keep him, but I spent five wonderful sleepless nights, and days, being a Kitty Mommy and feeding the monster every two hours.

It all started with my twice-daily trip to visit the puppies next door. I was talking with Radha when I heard a blood curdling noise. I thought one of the black crows that roam around had gotten trapped in the barn. I don’t like crows, not since one viciously killed the baby bunnies we had in our backyard in Texas. But I was still curious and walked towards the noise. It wasn’t a crow but a ridiculously small cat, all covered in mud and screaming pathetically.  They had put in a metal saucer about 2 feet in diameter up on a table. I know it sounds mean but it was a good spot to protect it. Earlier that day, Radha had found three kittens probably waiting for the mother to come back, and unfortunately she had moved them away. She doesn’t know where the other two had gone.

I didn’t even ask. I grabbed The Thing and told Radha it was going home with me. I have two female cats at home and I knew they would take care of it for a few days, putting to work their unused motherly instincts. We found a small plastic bag and shoved The Beast in there.  I walked back home with a kitten in a bag!

Please note that I didn’t even ask my husband, nor really had a plan as to what to do it the furball. I knew we couldn’t keep it. Worst case scenario I thought, it would live with the puppies, which isn’t a bad life, trust me!

I bathed it, and looked for a sign of a gender. Nothing apparent! I know tiny kittens cannot always be identified, so it switched from being a “it” to being a “he”, simply because in French, the default gender for cat is masculine.  

After a bath.

Day one, after a bath.

What do you feed such a small kitten? I went online and read that cow milk isn’t ideal. Fine, however I don’t have a goat in the backyard, nor a car to get kitty formula at the vet’s office. I still had some of Puppy Girl’s vitamins. It was probably 2 weeks old. I tried to make him drink milk out of saucer but he didn’t know how to lick yet. I found an eye-dropper and used it as a tiny baby bottle. It was so cute to see him use his little paws push on my fingers as to get the milk out.

The first night, I wasn’t sure he was going to make it. He kept sneezing and I know that’s a bad sign. He started breathing with its mouth open. I readied myself for the worse and made sure that he would feel loved no matter what happened, and he pulled through!

I spent five nights feeding The Thing a few drops of milk every 2 to 3 hours. I played with him during the day, took naps with him on my shoulder, slept with him snuggled under the blankets next to me at night. I admit putting him in the bathroom for a few hours so I could sleep without fear of crushing him.  In five days, he put on about 30 grams (one ounce), became a very inquisitive kitty, and his eyes started changing from black to blue.

My girls, the two kittens we have moved to India? Nothing. Not an ounce of interest. You know all those cute videos of momma cats adopting kittens, or the momma tiger adopting piglets? That is false advertising. My girls wanted nothing to do with “it”. Our big one came to sniff its butt a couple of time, but then disappeared. I had to be the momma.

There is no way we could keep him, that’s why we didn’t name him. Luckily I quickly found a cat rescue that would take him in until they could find a forever family. However, when I sent the lady the picture, she decided the next day that he was so cute she would keep it. On a Saturday afternoon, we took the trip to an area of Bangalore we had never seen, and handed the kitten in towards the next chapter of his life.

His new family said it was a girl, and they called her NK, for Noisy Kitty. It is true The Thing could vocalize at high decibels! She’s now about a month and a half, and still quite loud.  We miss that furball but we cannot rescue everyone and everything in town. We did the best we could and have wonderful memories.

My husband, and Sathya, no longer allow me to approach puppies or kittens, in fear that we will transform into Noah’s Ark, which, to me, would not be a bad thing!

Have a good life little kitty.

kitten (2 of 2)

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Why is the foreigner here?

Sir, I wonder this myself. I have no idea why I am here. I was asked to come and since I am always looking for a new adventure, I agreed.

I am now sitting in the waiting room/consultation room of this beautifully decorated lawyer’s office in Central Bangalore. At first I though I had entered a Hindu temple, since there is a statue of a god, about 4 feet high, with fresh flowers, oil lamps and golden ornaments all around. Because I am here on something related to a marriage, I even assumed I was going to witness an Indian wedding. Yeah! But once again I was wrong, no wedding for me today.

I am here because the lady who works in the clubhouse behind our compound wants to get married. Or wants her marriage recognized. I am not sure. Her first husband committed suicide when she was 22, leaving her with three children. She’s now 28 years old, and in love. I have met the young man and he’s really sweet on her too. He works in North Bangalore and comes to visit her every weekend. They’re cute together. I have seen him with her children too, and they all seem to like and respect each other. An Indian love marriage, how cool is that!

She’s asked me for help getting the marriage recognized. She believes, erroneously, that as a foreigner, I know everything, or possess some kind of magic wand that can accomplish miracles. I went online, but the marriage process is extremely complicated, especially since she was married before. I read that she may need a “NOC” or No Objection Certificate from her dead husband’s family, who resents the heck out of her for refusing to be their slave any longer.

Last week, I was told to be ready to come with the love birds to your offices this Monday morning. She got dressed in a pretty yellow saree, with flowers in her hair and Mehendi on one hand. He was all decked out in neatly ironed pants and shirt. That’s why I thought there was going to be a wedding.

After you gave me a dirty look and proceeded to ignore me, which bothers me not one bit, I heard you tell them that some of their paperwork was incomplete. I may not speak Kannada, but I still understood the gist of the conversation. You told them you would check the law pertaining to their unusual situation and tell them in a few days.

She walked out of your office rather agitated. I was told that she didn’t understand why you couldn’t simply produce the missing form, as in, “hey, here’s a few hundred rupees, do the needful.” She may be on the lower rungs of the Indian social ladder but she understands how the country works. She doesn’t however understand your honesty and professional integrity.

To answer your question Sir, I was here for two reasons: to provide transportation with our beloved Sathya’s car, and to provide moral support.

A foreigner in your corner can only be a good omen.

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