Tuesday, March 25, 2008

theory of relativity ...

So what would you do for $100? I mean in the work-for-a-living sense. I suspect it seriously depends on who you are and where you are reading this from. If you're one of the fortunate few sitting behind a computer in LA working on visual effects shots for the next blockbuster - you'll probably say you'd work for 2-3 hours. If you're working one of two jobs washing dishes and busing tables in Kentucky... it might take you 17 hours of hard labour. And chances are you're not reading this coz you can't afford a computer or the internet....

But let's get relative here. How about in India? Now the tables have turned a little... and my western mentality (and western pay packet) find it a little harder to wrap the synapses around these things. I mean, I know people have to scrimp and scrape over rupees on the mean streets... but there is an example where it pops into my living room and I know my pals and I see this very differently.

OK... lets cut to the chase. We have a maid. Firstly, this is NOT something normal for me coming from the west. It didn't sit right for quite a while... but I've gotten used to it - largely because she is an awesome, lovely, unique, wise, caring, funny woman who is easy to spend time with. She comes 6 days a week, for a couple of hours. She cleans the bathrooms, makes the bed, washes the dishes, hangs out and folds away clothes, cleans all the floors, tidies and cleans up everything.... and cooks! Can you imagine? she cooks! I remember my friends and I in LA dreaming about what it would be like to have someone cook for you ... big smoking pipe ain't-no-chance-in-hell-*that*'ll-ever-happen dreams! Not a chance unless we suddenly found ourselves in possession of a LOT of dough! But here I am suddenly, living a truly charmed life.. being cooked for, cleaned up after and fussed over. And for this... we pay her $100 a month (depending on the exchange rate, that's pretty much what it is give or take some change).

My friends here also have maids... maids that do all the same things, or various versions of them. They live in parts of the city close to our old office... not this fancy 'burb of Bandra - all hip and happening and exclusive. Their hard working women charge a lot less than those working in this area... one month of labour comes to significantly less than a 1/4 what we pay. So you can see my friends perspective... 'you're being totally ripped off' 'WE'LL come and clean for that much'... it goes on.

I'm always reminded of someone wonderful in LA. Not too many of my friends there had a cleaning lady... but I did. The same one as several others from work. She was remarkable... 61 years old, bringing up her *great* grandson single-handedly with no help from the State, cleaning houses and always hoping to find new clients to make ends meet. She would come to me once every two weeks... and after two hours my messy apartment would sparkle. And for these four hours... I paid $120 and felt I got every penny's worth.

I think you can see where my conflict comes from. To me I am getting a bargain and still feeling like I am taking advantage of someone. So much work for so little money in this expensive city. But I am thinking like a firang and that internal conflict will always rage. I don't think my friends can ever make me change how I see it... it's all a matter of relativity. And being thankful at what I have and have come from. And meanwhile I'll keep on enjoying my cherished time with Augusta for however long this dream goes on....

Saturday, March 22, 2008

millions of colours

Today is Holi. One year ago I spent it on the 17th floor of my apartment looking down wistfully.. feeling very alone and left out while it seemed a whole country was having an enormous 3 Stooges slapstick doped-up fall-about mess in a watercolour paint box. 'Take *that* Grandma!' A free-for-all - a giant laying on of the hands - or slapping on of the hands.. on everything, no holds barred, bodies that were off limits have one happy day where the craving for touch is more than satisfied I would say!

OK.. a lot has changed.. but still I can't really play Holi. My new family is protective and keeping me away from the cancerous colours and rash causing powders and dirty water... so I still feel like I am locked in my ivory fish smelling tower wishing I could let down my hair and clamber free. We'll see what happens as the morning progresses.

We have had Gagan's father staying with us from Delhi. As my Mum puts it - my 'father out-of-law'. Now I have always had a confidence about parents... or rather my ability to 'charm' them shall we say. Perhaps our moving away from relatives and my missing being around people of other generations always made me rather enjoy those interactions. I speak that language! It comforts me and sends me back to childhood evenings where my parent's friends would come for dinner and I would sit and listen to their conversation for hours - much preferring that to hanging out with any other kids that were around. Fitting in was *not* my strong suit.

So it's something I'm not normally concerned about.... in Firangistan**. Here it's a little more intimidating. I must preface though by saying how truly out of character this has been. Now any normal Indian family would have a conniption fit if I showed up with their handsome eligible son. Who wants their eldest child in their mid-20's to arrive at the door hand in hand with a white girl 13 years older! It's a stretch - even where I come from. But this family has been atypically phenomenal. It started with the attitude of the patriarch of the family who has completely trusted Gagan's judgement - whatever misgivings he may have had himself - and then the other's have just fallen in to that same welcoming warm excited way of being.

I know how lucky I am. This could have been really difficult.. if not a deal breaker, though knowing Gagan I think not. But I feel very lucky and embraced. It's quite overwhelming at times. I'm not used to getting calls from relatives I don't know being so sweet and kind and interested on the phone. I can feel how genuine it all is. And gifts were brought to me, jewelry and clothes... special things.

As Gagan has been working we have been sharing quite a bit of time together - time to learn about each other and our families and backgrounds. It's been nice. We talk about movies and food and the past. Good things to think about... especially food. He makes an awesome cup of tea ... and with the homemade cake all the way from family in Delhi it feels like we could be anywhere - sharing nice tastes and conversation.

I'm always aware how strange and foreign I must seem. At times it's like I'm the kid on the special bus, the ancient decrepit geriatric with infinite special needs and different routines. My stomach issues mean I still can't eat spicy or fried food - something that didn't cause a problem back in my old life in LA - but here it causes, not amazement, but great pity. I want to remind everyone that spicy food was only a rare thing in my regular diet anyway. I would eat from a wide and varied palette - foods from around the globe. Continental, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Mexican, Cuban, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Korean, Spanish, French and my favourite - Japanese.... a vast array of seasonings and flavours - that my friends would tease as I ooh and ahh over. To many Indians however, there are only two kinds of foods - indian and 'bland'.

I liken it to our computer monitors in a way. When you first get your new computer home and excitedly pull it out of its packing, pushing away the annoying polystyrene chips that stubbornly stick to the hairs on your arm.. and you place it on the desk, plug in the monitor and get the thing humming happily, it's not long before you want to make sure your picture is looking as good as it can. The options you can choose offer you anywhere from the old redundant 256 colours (um.. WHO uses that?) to the magical sounding 'millions of colours'... so you don't hesitate to click on that one. This is where I think we are alike with taste. Somewhere in those millions of colours... right at the very top end of the spectrum... in the brightest whites.. are all the hot spices. The curries and chillies from around the world that make your nose run, your mouth and throat burn, your eyes water and your skin break out into a sweat as you panic and notice that the water you just drank is making it worse as it laughingly cascades down your throat carrying all the spices with it to dance their merry Day of the Dead dance along your tender tissues.

Those who live up in the world of the whites.. for them the experience is different. All ingredients are enhanced by the holy Chili and they are atune to its subtleties.. perhaps seeing so many hues of white it is like a rainbow of shimmering crystals - a technicolor dreamplate. But the sacrifice they make is that it's harder for them to taste all those myriads of other colours bursting along the culinary rainbow. Tastebuds are tweaked to "superhot" and everything else just rolls onto the tongue, knocks hopefully at the door, sees the disapproving look and turns sadly to throw itself suicidaly into the sacrificial unsatisfied gullet. Or worse... just be left alone on the plate never to partake of the great game.

So I sit in my colourful world, enviably staring at the sun on occasion. Blinded and wishing I had strong sunglasses and a stronger stomach. And every so often I am forced to defend my rather culture-less culture (but it's mine no less) and suggest that perhaps the food isn't bland - but that maybe we all have different senses of taste.

Hmm... I rather digressed.. in a Ronnie Corbett sort of way! This post went all over the place. I had in mind some other things. Oh well.. they will have to wait. I'm overdue for some bland breakfast and it's Holi after all. I want to look down 6 floors and see what's happening!

**Firangistan is a term I love Gagan using to describe the west. Us outsiders are all firangs here - a term that means foreigners, but mostly used for those of us of the pale variety - its a bit like gaijin.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

bombay kiss

Love isn't easy in India. Hell... it isn't easy anywhere is it, but here the odds are firmly stacked against these incredibly beautiful young people. Trapped between their constrictive and conservative culture, and the explosion of western culture that is rapidly taking over... added with raging hormones. It's really difficult.

I see it everywhere... people desperately trying to be with each other. They have no way to just spend time together, as they all live with their families and a lot of the time their relationships are not necessarily approved of or even known about, so you see these couples huddled together on their motorbikes on the side of the freeway... arms embracing. Each moment is precious. You know how much those minutes mean. The place could be anywhere... they don't care. The looks are loving... their eyes twinkle. They look so so happy. I wish I could slow down time for them.

But they are the lucky ones it seems. Our way of life in the west.. frequently dating and having a boyfriend or girlfriend, is unheard of here. Most of my friends, stunningly handsome everyone of them, don't have girlfriends and I can't understand why the girls don't see how wonderful they are. I always hear the girls say that there are no decent guys around... a statement that makes me want to shake them. I feel I am surrounded by diamonds. These guys are incredibly kind, sensitive, caring, attentive, funny... able to have a laugh at anything and find the fun in everything. Just people you'd wanna be stuck in a lift with! They are handsome and charming to boot... so what's not to like? I guess they don't fit the difficult criteria that the parent's set perhaps. Like I said, love is hard. Many young guys are afraid to even approach girls.

With all of this it's not surprising that arranged marriage is still thriving. My social circle is in their mid-20's... when the expectations are that you will be getting married. And we usually ask was it a love marriage or an arranged? I'm secretly thrilled that more and more I see the love marriage creeping in. Not judging... there are a lot of arranged marriages that have worked out fine for my friends' parents.. but these are new times and I hope for new things for this generation.

Meanwhile... the couples huddle away on the freeway... longing for the time they can meet somewhere a little more comfy and romantic than the smog-filled air of the Bombay highways. Should I think about renting out our spare room?

pied piper of loveville

Be glad you are not a common House Gecko in India. For any of you who are odd enough to have actually been reading this tome for a long time.. you might remember Pepe?.. the lil guy who visited my kitchen at the Royal Empire apartment. Well... we have been visited by his Bandra cousin Jose (hey don't ask me why they have Spanish names!!).. a lovely green friend that I really enjoy. He's a bit more lively than Pepe was.. doesn't like us to get so close. It makes him pitter patter round the ceiling and across the cupboard doors with his gloopy feet. I love him :) Gagan thinks I'm off my rocker, I'm sure of it... yelling at Jose 'no, no - not that way - THAT way' as I make wild gestures to ward him towards the open window and away from the far-too-interested cats!

So anyway... I digress from what I wanted to share with you. Be glad you're not Jose or any of his gloopy toed cousins. You see... in India and it turns out throughout a lot of Asia and the middle east.. it turns out there are some old folk lores and beliefs that these harmless and charming little creatures are deadly poisonous. I'm not talking just make-you-puke here.. I'm talking kick-the-bucket d-e-a-d! What I've heard is their skin has toxins on it, and if they fall in your cooking pot and you eat any of it... dead as a dodo, baby! Remember we're not talking Gila Monsters or Beaded Lizards here... those puppies are genuinely poisonous - the only two lizards who are.. but just your common ordinary home terrarium variety house gecko. The ones you all held in your hands as a kid.. marvelling at their wide toes and their translucent skin.

Now... perhaps this is my first encounter here, firsthand, with something that I know is wrong, but that the people who are telling me, believe is the truth. This brings all sorts of things to my mind. I remember my wonderful art history lecturer in Perth teaching us about the Australian aboriginals and their stories of the Dreamtime. How individuals and creatures created land structures with song and story and that this is just as real to them as scientific explanation is to us. Who am I to judge or discount those ideas? But faced with something like this... when old folktales that pass around through the ages and cause crazy notions.. it messes my head all around. It's where my 'New World' sensibilities trip and fall down the 'Old World' staircase... to land in a muddle at the bottom not knowing whether I like where I've landed. One thing I have learned with my advancing years.. is that you can't change people's minds though. It's what Darwin faced... and what scientists still face all the time. The world is still flat in some places... but it doesn't mean that the people who think it's flat aren't good people and mean well. We all think our truth is *the* truth, don't we ;)

Most of the time I so enjoy everything around me, but perhaps that's as an enchanted 'tourist' in this world... always passing through. Ultimately, I'm from the west and an animal lover, and I'm the one patting the street dogs and noticing the skinny cats and stray rats. Most of those around me are filled with a mixture of dislike, mistrust and disgust.. mostly from just a lack of knowledge. No wonder the dogs rush to me like I am the Pied Piper of Loveville... their tails wagging, their eyes entreating me desperately for a sign of anything... they rub their faces on my leg, they pull their lips back in wolf smiles, they jump up gently hoping I will pat them.. and upon invitation are so very very proud to walk alongside me. I'll have 3 or 4 at a time with me... happy as larry. They're such lovely moments I feel giddy and wish I had a video camera.

So Pepe, Jose .. and all your cousins... if you happen to read the internet... stay out of houses, it's best for your safety. Except a certain apartment in Bandra.. you're welcome there (just watch out for the cats!)

Saturday, March 8, 2008

hissy spitty....

It's Saturday morning and Gagan has just left for work... the first of many overtime weekends on Hulk. It reminds me of what I hate about this business. As I get older I feel less tolerant of the toll it takes on life and the various strange liberties it takes on the employees. I try to stand up for what I believe in... for what it's worth. Reminds me of the principal of my high school calling me a revolutionary.. he was so angry. At the time I was secretly honoured to be called that.. it's how I was brought up.. to always question and think for myself and never just accept what was happening . Eyes wide open and mind aware. But I don't want to be at the front of the pack.. on point... I'm much happier giving support and encouragement to the stronger ones. I think I get too emotionally caught up in it all... and end up not sleeping and worrying too much. I think I am like our cat Tufty and Gagan like Pippin. I hiss and spit and growl and mutter and grumble my way through the world... and he smiles and glides and watches with his eyes twinkling, never unhappy. Always ready to rub my head and say 'don't worry... everything is fine' .. the yin to my yang.

I am watching a tv show about a young guy in Mongolia learning the local throat singing and traveling around. He has one week to master this infinitly difficult skill and perform at a festival. The sounds are like something from a weird instrument and I never knew a human made them! It's the kind of fantastic tv we get here... makes me feel so connected to the world. Traveling from the living room couch. Nice big plasma tv helps!

Never enough hours in the non-working day to do all the things we'd like to. Watch all the movies, read all the books.. go all the places. Computer things to play with... unpacking the books... putting up pictures.... and just sitting around and generally contemplating your navel! Those moments when you're 10 years old and do nothing for hours... just sit and daydream :) Still - I am the one at home so I'm not complaining!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

no masala... but an Oscar will do!

It's been a wild week. Monday morning I turned on the TV to the live Oscar broadcast just in time to see my friend Bill Westenhofer win an Oscar! I think I was yelling loudly enough for him to hear me all the way from India. It was for R&H's visual effects on The Golden Compass. I felt so proud and excited and overwhelmed to have been part of it..in a small way. Through Gagan I heard all the celebrations at the Indian office... screaming and shouting... laughter. Such happy people. They worked really hard and deserved every bit of it. I was so happy for them... and sad to not be part of it. It's been an emotional week.

We have a really lovely maid Augusta who comes every day to clean and 'mother' us. If we are home she just loves to catch up and talk and talk (as Gagan would say 'she eats your head'!).... she has amazing tales of her life, living in Cyprus and her husband working in the UK. Her children are all studying hard and doing well.. and we talk a lot about the problems of the world, usually coming up with solutions in the hour or so we talk (just like a good tv show!). She is determined that I am going to eat well, and that I shouldn't eat 'outside' food so much. I dont have the energy, skill or interest to cook, so she has been so excited to do some for us. She'd been offering for so long, and I didn't want to trouble her. But as I've gotten to know her I realise she really *wants* to and feels better knowing I'm eating safely and that she's looking after me. My Indian mother :) How very lucky am I!

We buy fresh veges from a cart outside our building. I come home at night - peek in the fridge and - yippee - there are containers of tasty cooked sweet potato, carrots, string beans and artfully arranged slices of tomato and cucumber all awaiting my drooling taste buds! Nuke 'em and we're ready to eat! oh... well.. *I'm* ready to eat.. Gagan isn't a big fan of vegetables! ;)

Now we've added some simple Indian dishes to the list.. they're really breakfast things but I used to have them at R&H and loved them. Poha (pictured) and upma are made from rice and (to me) unidentifiable grains or pulses that I find in plastic bags on the kitchen counter and ogle over! Augusta is a great cook and she makes them without any spices so that it's safe for sickly old colitis-stomach me. All this healthy food has made my stomach so well... better than it's been in years! I miss Indian food very much... but I can see the pay off in how everything is 'working'... hehe. What I wouldn't give for a little chicken tikka masala though...