Thursday, November 20, 2008

Diwali Drama

I know I have been an absolute slug for the past few weeks and have not posted anything at all - but there are good reasons for that.

It all started the week before Diwali when I went out for lunch and dinner on the Monday, I had a ladies lunch at my house on the Tuesday (potluck) and then proceeded to go out to lunch or dinner every single day for the rest of the week. By Thursday night (1am) my stomach was in full blown revolt - cramps that were worse than contractions (I kid you not!!) were just the start. I thought I was having a heart attack - the pain from below my waist, such as it is, that shot up to my chest and radiated to my arms, neck and back. I was totally doubled over. Then came the next wave of misery - dash, dash, dash every few minutes to the bathroom. I thought I should just spend the night sitting up on the loo, but the cramps threatened to knock me off in a most undignified manner!
Now not to put too fine a point on it, I thought this was the worst of my agony - boy was I mistaken. I remember morning sickness (actually all day sickness for 7 out of 9 months, in both pregnancies) and I do not remember it fondly. Let me say that this was a million billion times worse. My whole being was retching and wretched! I do not recall EVER being this sick. Finally - My Darling, who was lying in bed observing my chronic behaviour but unable to do a damn thing asks if he should call a doctor, or take me to the hospital!
I refuse on both counts as it is now nearly 4am and I am hoping that as all my insides are now outside, there is nothing left but peace and calm. Wrong again! Incredible what the body can dredge up to chuck out when it knows you can't stop it!

My Darling watches me collapse onto the sofa (which is curiously more comfortable than my bed) and sits with his laptop to cancel our flights to Bangalore. We were going there for the Diwali break, and to see M-in-law who is pretty poorly in her own right. Also, my parents and The Angel (my sister) were flying in from London for 5-6 days to spend Diwali together as an entire family for the first time in 17 years. However - they were all in Bangalore and the four of us were in Chennai.

Nikh was furious and frustrated at having to wait and The Ray just thought we had the days mixed up. The Doctor (Rhea's paediatrician) is a Godsend. She prescribed stuff over the phone, told me what else to buy in case of various eventualities coming to fruition while in Bangalore and generally made it possible for me to fly after 48 hours. I can honestly say that I have never taken so much Imodium for such a length of time, in my life. I resented the fact that I was with my parents and The Angel, and could eat nothing but curd rice (bletch!!) and drink nothing but soda water. Plain water made me gag - my best mate left me some Propel before she went to the other side of the World, and I think this helped but it is all gone now! It took another two weeks before my ribs (yes they do exist) stopped aching every time I coughed or laughed. It was even longer before I ate anything but curd rice (bletch!) and I lost nearly 3kg. So there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!

So after going through hell and barely making it out the other side, we came back to Chennai to find that PYT has been knocked down by an auto as she went to visit her sister in the hospital. She was damaged quite badly but still struggled into work knowing we were coming back. The Cook had barely made it to work. "Rain makes road bad, madam" was the reason for trudging in at 11.45 or 2.30pm day after day. More than that, she fell asleep on the bus on the way home one night and some kindly soul lifted her cell phone from her fingers! So late everyday and incommunicado - when she walked in (IF she walked in) it was a happy surprise!!! Everyday a new excuse for not coming on time - a lorry broke down in front of the bus, a man fell out of the bus, there was a riot and she threw up in fear and had to go to the nearest hospital for an IV, there was traffic, road bad madam .... need I go on?

She cooks delicious food, or she would be long gone! Both the Cook and PYT want to move in with us, but my servants' quarters are sparse and used as my junk store. Their bathroom consists of a commode and a large tap. They manage, but I am not sure I want them here 24hrs a day. So PYT has not come to work since the 3rd week of October and the Cook comes for a couple of hours every afternoon.

This means I clean, launder, iron, shop and cook - yes I know I used to do this all day everyday back when I lived in the real world, but you would be shocked at how much time is taken with purifying and preparing fruit and veg here. Even the eggs have to be purified in their shells. Anything that comes into the house from the shops needs to be rinsed with dettol/water so that if anyone drinks straight from a bottle or a can they don't get some deadly disease from rat/cat/dog/cow/cockroach etc urine or droppings which may have been deposited in the open 'go-downs' (equivalent of a warehouse - but an open air sort of a basement).

Cooking is not a joy - I have 3 gas rings that work, sort of. One electric ring that doesn't work at all. One electric oven that is defunct. I have a table top oven that holds one cookie tray or one lasagna pan at a time, but only heats in one back corner, so I spend my time rotating the food every 7 minutes! I have a microwave that chooses when it works and when it rests. Mostly it rests!! So Nigella, if you can smile and gush about the 'intense earthiness of the turmeric' while cooking and purifying in my kitchen ... I'll eat my hat!!

So my dramas finally subside. The Ray picks up the baton and sprints with it. Temperatures nearing 105, a burning body, a throat so sore, tonsils so swollen she could not utter a single word (let alone swallow water or meds) and had to simply suffer in silence. A terrifying croupy, hacky cough which led to a continual vomit, and a listlessness so unlike my little determined, hot tempered dynamo that I considered taking her to the Emergency room. Believe me - here where IV's are as common as having a drink of water, where operations happen for the most inane conditions and where the children are not particularly treated as equal beings - the situation had to be pretty dire for me to even consider going to the hospital.

A good week later, her temps came down to 102 / 103. But this was a vast improvement so we thanked whichever God was watching over her and prayed for more help. A few days later, she started to recover, but she has lost a lot of weight and her appetite. I am trying to cajole her to eat ice cream, apples, bananas, watermelon, papaya etc - anything just so she eats!

Finally today we are all healthy and eating well. PYT comes back to work tomorrow and the Cook has been getting here at 10.30. I am still ironing, but not as much. I am still shopping but not as much! I am trying to clean the house - again ... but am not really inspired!

Oh well, need to check my Facebook page, check my email and write to a few good friends!

Life goes on!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A couple of weeks ago ...

I had one of the busiest weeks in ages! We had to 'puja' the cars (all three!), the oven, the microwave, the fridges (both), the cooker, the TVs (all but My Darling's pride and joy - woe betide anyone who tries to puja - or anything else - that piece of equipment!!!) etc etc. You get the picture. Any piece of equipment (big or small) that is used as a tool in our lives needed to be blessed in order for it to work efficiently in the future and to take away any bad vibes of the past and present. This involves buying puffed rice, Indian sweets, banana leaves, small, pale green watermelony pumpkins, more Indian sweets, a lemon to place under each tyre of each car, some white pieces from a larger block of a substance that catches light easily and burns in a big bright flame! we also needed flower garlands for each car, leaves etc for the front of the house and tonnes of turmeric, sandal paste and kumkum (the red powder).

We successfully finished the puja, then came Madras Kids (all the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey....). Finished singing and dancing, raced home, quick lunch and back to a friends house to start the Double Decker Club - a small pilot prog for a club for Brit kids in order to help them learn about British history, geog, culture and way of life. It went fairly well, but the age range is 2-12 and the kids all did their best but The Ray and her little friend disappeared to play princess dress up as soon as they could! Traditional jam sarnies and lemon squash were the snack of the day and went down extremely well!

Home again for a quick shower and change and off to the Apparao Galleries in Nungambakkam for the launch of a book that Nikh, The Ray and I were a part of by recording voices for the characters. It turned out to be one of this company's other books (a spectacular Very Hungry Caterpillar with the most incredible tactile illustrations and braille lettering). We did get the CD of our recording and are still waiting for the book. What a great experience - a blog for another day!!

then race home, another shower, new clothes and My Darling and I are off to the Park for the General Manager's pre-Diwali party. The ambience was amazing. All the downstairs banquet rooms had been draped with white shimmery fabric and lit up to look like we were in the ice hotel in Sweden. There was a big bar in the middle of the reception room with tonnes of crushed ice and bottles staked into the ice. The next room had three serving bars, one with olives and other nibbles, one with Japanese food, one with Italian food and the other side of the olive buffet was the dessert display. Home made truffles, chocolate horns of plenty, cakes, mousses and all manner of exotic, enticing sweet stuff.

My issue was with all the guests who showed up late, acted as though all the people who came relatively on time were the ones at fault and then they proceeded to dig into the dessert before some of us had managed to even try one olive!

the music was loud but good and the service as always was excellent.

All in all a lovely day, but as soon as we came home, I fell asleep in the chair! Zzzzzzzz!

Roll on Halloween, Diwali and all the craziness that goes with both of these!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

catching up

I have been so very busy that I do not even have time to sit down and write! On the one hand that is definitely a good thing as too much time on my hands turns me into a really moany, graony old woman!! My Darling really, really does not want that!! Neither does anyone else who comes into contact with me...

On the other hand it is not such a good thing as I spend less and less time in the house - things very quickly go to pot and then stress/tension ensues as My Darling (not so much at these times!!) yells at me because the house is a tip, and then I in turn yell louder at the staff for slacking off for days at a time and turning the house into a pit!!

Questions to the two young women, who are supposed to clean the house, make the shopping lists, cook the meals, squeeze some fresh juice, cut some fresh fruit, play with The Ray (a bit) and do the ironing month on month, result in odd smiles, awkward silences and sideways looks at each other. When I ask what they have done for a whole day when The Ray was out with me they have no answer, but the fact that one of them has coconut oil and cucumber pulp in her hair and the other one has a new complicated, intricate mehendhi design on both hands almost up to the elbow speaks volumes!! It speaks to me of people NOT doing what they are supposed to, but doing what they want to do on MY time!! Their cell phones are always ringing, and they seem unable to ignore a ringing phone. Whenever I go looking for them, one or both are always on the phone or in the bathroom - how many times can a person go to the loo in a day - I ask you????!!!!

Well, after a bout of yelling the house is always really gleaming for about a week and then we start the whole cycle again! Do you think this is part of the expat cycle?!!

over the next few blogs, I am going to attempt to catch up with my last couple of weeks. Wish me luck!

However, last weekend was one of those increbible ones where almost every minute of everyday was .... see next post!!

Monday, September 22, 2008

An Expat Centre - a life-saver!

I know I said I was going to take some time off after the hectic stresses and activities of the past year, but clearly the saying about old dogs and new tricks is true! I clearly have no self control and am a slave to my imagination!

I am helping to set up and organise an expat centre here in Chennai. It will have events, activities, workshops and sessions based on Indian dance, cuisine, art, craft etc etc etc. It is like a blank canvass and I get to help write on it! Exciting!!

I think the expats living here in Chennai, whether they took a relocation package or not, love to find out more about the culture, religion, festivals and way of life of the host nation. This centre (the Indian Immersion Centre - IIC) is going to be so central to this. Any expat that wants to find out more about the gods and goddesses, or myths and legends of India can sign on to an event or activity that covers that. If there is someone who wants to find out where to buy their netlon, the best broadband supplier etc or just where to get multi grain bread can simply call or email the IIC and get the answer relatively quickly!

Wow! When I think of the days and weeks I spent simply asking everyone I knew about things or driving around to find what I needed. this IIC will be the one stop shop for everything an expat in Chennai could possibly want!

One of the nicest things about helping set up such a stimulating new venture is working with people who are full of inspiration, who like to brainstorm and that feeling of mutual respect just cannot be beaten!!

I am off to try and talk to as many people as I know to get them to join the IIC as it will be one of the best things they ever do!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

And another one gone....

Yep - another driver bites the dust!

The Slug (as he shall be known) started on Monday and lasted until yesterday evening.

Slug took the job knowing where we live, the times, the expectations and the salary. He started on Monday morning, struck me as a bit slow in moving etc and drove with only one had on the wheel - the other was on his leg. He objected to wearing a seat belt and clearly was not impressed with the music we played!

He obviously did not understand more than seven words of English. Unfortunately the seven words he did understand were nothing to do with driving and directions! However I must say that when the guys from the office brought another driver over for test-driving, the Slug found enough words to interrogate me about the man - who he was, if he was a good driver, was he getting a job, when was he going to work, which car would he drive, oh and by the way, can he have Rs 500 as his daughter has conveniently ended up in hospital at the same time as he asked for Rs100 for the bus each day and was refused. I think he thought the sympathy card may work ... little does he know that once you have learnt the hard way about being taken for the loan ride, you have a heart of stone! Also - most bus rides here are between Rs2 and Rs4 per journey. This does not equate to Rs 100 per day ... max Rs8. but once they start trying to get cash out of you it is never -ending!

The final straw for me was watching him constantly sticking his pinky up one or other nostril and digging away for goodness only knows what. I shudder as I write! Revolting!

Since his departure, I have disinfected every surface of the car and all door handles! Luckily he was too much of a slug to bring any of the kids' paraphernalia up from the car so we are saved a ceremonial burning!

Uncle Sam is the new guy. So far so good .... but it has only been 3 hours! Who knows?!!

Old Habits ...

I swear, I need a keeper!! Just as I think I have come to my senses and dropped every responsibility I have, I jump in with both feet to several MEGA activities and all without the blink of an eyelid!

Read Around the World for the elementary kids at AISC - I have visions of massive maps and facts and rewards and t-shirts and tote bags or book bags etc etc. I have NO idea how I am going to manage all this, but I am on the slippery slope and have to slalom down as slowly as possible!

There's the Double Decker Club - gung ho with planning for that as the first meeting is planned for Sept 27th ... not far away at all! Again - t-shirts, folders, totes, badges etc.

Then the President of the OWC managed to collar me and asked if I would just help a bit. I agreed and then she told me that it was with sponsorship for the Ball, ticket sales, helping organise Halloween arts and crafts, sorting out the Trick or Treat and starting off the planning for the Santa Brunch. Did the fool in the pink tank say NO.... duh!! I am now eyeball deep in trying to plan and coordinate all the above and the main point here is that my Darling comes back to Chennai early Sunday morning. Then he needs full on attention for a few days!

I guess the old habits of volunteering and not being able to say no die hard!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

So a couple of days of freedom have passed. I am coming to the conclusion that I am a workaholic! Okay, so I don't get paid, I don't have an office and actually I don't even have a job! But I obviously NEED to keep myself occupied.

I have bitten my nails, eaten chocolate, baked cookies, brownies and cakes, invited a couple of people over and gone out more this week than in the last month! Clearly I cannot just sit still and do nothing! I watched the television for about an hour and then gave up the fight and switched the boring noise off! I went for a walk, cleared out my cupboard, sorted old shoes out, read books with Rhea, wrote a letter and made umpteen lists about nothing!

So when a friend called me and said come over for a cuppa - I went hours earlier than she had said and caught her making pom-poms with her girls! she tolerated my interruption and we talked about a new club for kids. We talked about teaching our kids about British culture, history and life. We brainstormed, googled, searched and smiled. We talked, watched a James Bond clip and smiled wider! Eventually I left her and went to finish errands, but I was stimulated, smiling and starting to make the Double Decker's a success.

I had a brief flash of inspiration months ago that we should get the kids in the elementary school Read Around the World. I dreamt of a massive map of the world and kids pictures on thumb tacks moving across this flat globe! I imagined passports, visa stamps, factoid sheets, quiz questions and little treasure prizes. A Forever Friend got as excited as I was and offered to help. She left. I am still going to do this - it just seems a little much at the moment.

I think I will start with making the map and see how far I get!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Ladies Who Lunch

I found out today that handing over the baton of voluntary PTA leadership comes with a massive amount of relief, reluctance and rejoicing!

Relief because a massive amount of time suddenly becomes free and not tied up with meetings, minutes, newsletters and a couple of nightmare people.
Relief because I don't need to meet deadlines anymore, I don't need to feel frustrated at the nightmares (during the day and the night!) that I could not eject, reject or suppress.

Reluctance because it was a pleasure organising and creating and working with such wonderful teachers and parents (except for the couple of nightmares!!) and students.
Reluctance because I have pride in the position and know I can do more with it (without the nightmares involved) and would have perhaps, maybe, possibly liked to do another year and continue with the plan.

Rejoicing because I had made it my mission to try and involve as many people as I could and to try and make the PTA seem more like a massive fun factory (than a clique-y group of snotty women out to exclude the rest), and I think I managed that as every position on the new committee had a volunteer stepping up who thought they can easily do the job - many of them new parents. I was so happy.
Rejoicing also because my days are my own, the thought of constantly bearing the responsibility of selling stuff, planning stuff, organising stuff, posting stuff, saying stuff, buffering against stuff, is exhausting and now it is lifted.

So instead, a select group took me out for lunch to celebrate my liberation and to share in all the emotions that come along with watching a friend who has suffered and succeeded and suffered and succeeded. Thank God for good friends.

We decided today that being Ladies who Lunch was clearly the way to go. It may end up being the weight that doesn't go, and the cash that flows, but it would be so much fun!

I told my Darling that he should be careful what he wished for - he wanted me to quit being anywhere near the nightmares (both kinds) and to think more of myself and no-one else. I told him that now I was FREE, I could go out all the time and sit in his office with him the rest of the time. Even from Chicago (on skype) his face drained of colour as the reality of what he has insisted I do hit him HARD!!!

Nikh and The Ray have suffered over the past year - neglect, absence, impatience, irritation ... each time I was knee deep in yet another project or newsletter they were brushed aside. Each time the nightmares grew more vitriolic and virulent they suffered the fallout of my frustration.


My family comes first - the nightmares can no longer reach me (I am sorry I ever let them) and my friends are still supportive.

A wise woman told me not to listen to the two unfounded critical, malicious voices full of spite, but instead to absorb and surround myself with the compliments and caring, the boost and the enthusiasm of the many positive voices around me. I have finally taken note and begun to practice this preaching.

So let a new day begin .... I am a blank canvass ready to take on new and exciting projects, to create and nurture, to educate and learn.

I am also free for lunch!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch!

When you get invited by the Head (Gorgeous) Chef of a fantastic 5 star hotel to sample their new menu and have a Thai buffet lunch on the house, you don't say no! You assume that the only catch is that you will have to give some feedback after you knock a lot of food back and I guess that is okay!

However, the nightmare started when we were onto Thai lamb chops on a raw mango spicy salad with the most incredible attack on my taste buds for a long long time! Mr Gorgeous Head Chef was sitting with us as we ate to gauge our reactions. I took the opportunity to gobble a fair amount of food while he was talking to My Darling and shovelled a huge forkful of (what I thought was) mango salad into my mouth in an attempt to finish my food while they were gabbing! Imagine the shock around the table as I bit down HARD and then squealed loudly in PAIN! I heard and felt a crack and realised that I had bitten into something definitely not soft and tender mango! All eyes are firmly on me as I delicately fish around to try and find the offensive hard bit of something in my mouth! It turns out to be a piece of lamb chop bone and goodness it was like a stone! Popping to the ladies room to investigate the extent of the damage revealed that I had cracked the tooth and it was now wobbling alarmingly!

I chose to eat nothing more, Mr Head Chef was now mortified and hugely apologetic and My Darling just had a smug smirk on his face as he ate what looked like an incredible pudding!!!

We went home, but the pain was so intense I had to go to the dentist for emergency treatment. Imagine how much confidence you have in a dentist (supposedly the best in Chennai - certainly the most expensive!) who removes the cracked part of the tooth sans anaesthesia, tells you it is a rooted tooth, and when you scream in pain tells you that perhaps an x-ray might be in order. The x-ray reveals it is a live tooth - no root canal, but she can't save it NOW - already pulled part of it off. So my options are - root canal and crown or ... root canal and crown.

This means 4 appointments minimum, count how many injections and mind numbing that is and 25000 (yep 25 thousand - not a couple of extra zeroes in there by mistake!) rupees.

So I am almost permanently with a swollen rubber lip, my ear and one nostril are also numb so every meeting I have had with the Head of School or the Principals to try and close out my year as PTA President have involved holding a Kleenex up against one side of my mouth in case I am drooling down my feeling-less chin and don't realise it! Not funny!

okay one last thing and I will try to stop going on about this - during the last appointment when I insisted that I could still feel stuff in the tooth that was supposed to be dead, she stuck what felt like a 10 foot iron pole down into the tooth after drilling the temporary filling off (again with no local) and when I practically jumped out of my seat, thought about the magic of x-ray vision again. On closer inspection of the black and white picture, she realised that she had left a part of the nerve intact. "It is only 2-3mm" she said. "Not much at all".

I beg to differ. 2-3mm on a lamp-post is not much at all. on an 8mm tooth it is flippin' equivalent to a mile and a half!!!

Now we come to the good bit - she finishes finally completing the root canal and then fills the tooth having inserted some sort of metal posts to help hold the crown in place later. In the process, she snips my lip with her secateurs and explains that she was too busy giving all her concentration to the tooth to see where she rested the scissors and that is why she clipped me. I feel MUCH better now!!

Okay - wait for it ... none of that was the best bit! Once the filling and posts etc are all done, I noticed a peculiar smell in the room - out of the corner of my eye I spotted a small tin oil lamp with a big wick sticking out of the top. Curious now I openly stare at the nurse frantically searching for something - yep, you guessed it ... matches. Still sinking into a semi shocked coma, I barely managed to ask what they were doing (also I had a suction tube, her mirror, 259 soggy cotton balls and another metal instrument in my mouth as well as 14 or 15 fingers belonging to various dental personnel!). She blithely tells me they are sterilising and heating a tool that will help set the filling material and remove air pockets. I told her in my no uncertain slurred tone that she was not putting anything in my mouth that has been resting in a fire - red hot pokers sprang to mind and the branding of cattle on the old westerns was the immediate image!!

When I asked her what they do in every other country in the World as I have never ever ever ever seen a red hot poker being used in ANY dental surgery before, she laughed and said that she would have to do some research on that. "Open wide!"

Well, I'm back there again next week for a two and a half hour appointment and then a final (hopefully) appointment for the crown fitting.

Moral of the story, my friend, is that I now know there is truly no such thing as a free lunch!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Another One Bites the Dust

Living in Chennai brings its share of the good and the bad!

Today was a definite showing of the 'bad'!

It wasn't enough that I chipped a tooth at a free lunch on Saturday - ended up at the dentist (shriek with horror!) for emergency treatment on Sat evening and have four further lengthy appointments for a subsequent root canal and crown. Clearly there is no such thing as a free lunch as this one is costing in the region of 25K rupees!

It wasn't enough that The Ray woke up with a hacking cough and could not go to school - (please God not another long winded cold!).

It wasn't enough that one of the household maids, PYT didn't show until I tracked, no make that hunted, her down and then I had to drop The Ray off to the dad's office!

The final straw was that we decided to terminate the driver. He was in a foul mood on the way back from Nikh's school and the clincher was that he deliberately spun our car sideways into an autorick that was not moving fast enough for him.

Okay - I understand the frustration of driving here - it is an activity you only undertake if you can zone out and go with the flow. The minute you are in a hurry, think about the rules of the road or rights of way ... you are doomed to disaster and potential wreckage. I find that the main thing that bothers me when I drive is that people tend to drift sideways. The lines and markings on the road are merely decorations (not even polite requests!) and disregarded by everyone - bikes, scooters, bullock carts, buses, autos and cars, vans, coaches etc etc etc. If it is a remotely plausible mode of transport, it will be on the Chennai roads and it is your job to watch out not ANY of theirs!!

The driver is supposed to be used to this. The last one, Snake in the Grass, was verbally abusive (in Tamil, thank the Lord!) to anyone who dared cross his path. He was however half psycho, so had to be deleted! The present (sorry ex) driver, Abs, appeared amenable, honest and relatively calm. Unlike Snake in the Grass, Abs was not interested in making small talk with Madam, partly because the common language was Hindi and Madam is not the hottest Hindi speaker! My Hindi is passable (very easily passable!) and clearly Abs passed on speaking with me. But this morning showed a whole other side to the man. My darling husband, asked him to visit him at work HQ on his bike, not our now auto-yellow stained car, and removed him from our environment. I must say he seemed genuinely apologetic and regretful, and the past 8 months have been relatively stress free, but this crazy attack on the snoozy auto driver does not bode well.

On top of this (there is more? - you may ask!) the new cook (2 weeks old) is driving Madam nuts. the pace of a snail and the intellect of a flea. The attention and memory of an ant and the will to learn of ...well... nothing. She has no will to learn. As a teacher and a relatively intelligent human, this lack of wanting to do my best and get something out of every experince is simply unfathomable to me. PYT is getting English lessons (at her request and my finance), she has asked for cooking lessons and remembers watching me make a dish and can virtually recreate it. Downside - I need her for The Ray. Kitchen duty is not her main priority - but it may become such!

Callous though it sounds, Madam had decided to keep her on while interviewing and scouting out a replacement. Terrible! But necessary! I am sick of spending my day, first shopping - no Tesco, M & S and Walmart here, 5 different shops just for the basics of milk, bread, fruit, veg and store cupboard or pantry items. Secondly coming home, purifying all the fruit and veg, cleaning and disinfecting all the other items and storing them and only then (a good half a day later), being able to cook anything. Add in drop off for Nikh and The Ray, pick up mid morning for The Ray, trying to actually meet people and stimulate a modicum of brain activity at OWC, IWA or some other such situation, and you find another entire day has whizzed by and you didn't even make the dinner!

Well, ever onward - all enquiries for a position in Madam's household can be forwarded forthwith!

Moving to Chennai

Chennai Help (may 2008)
I thought I would start blogging about my life in Chennai. I came here for 3 months, to settle my husband into an apartment, before returning to my 'normal' life in London.That was 7 years ago!We have experienced an earthquake, numerous power cuts, a tsunami, cyclones, monsoon rains, heatwaves and much much more.Over the next few blogs I am planning to talk a little about surviving in a city that has a culture, a language, a daily routine, a lifestyle and a climate completely alien to me.My three year old son (7 years ago) has been to 4 different schools in that time and I have had a baby here in Chennai.
It is do-able!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Long Goodbyes

I guess it is fair to say that I am a pretty sensitive, emotions-on-the-surface kind of girl! I have been dreading today for the last couple of weeks, but until yesterday I could pretend it wasn't going to happen. I have however managed to keep the tears to myself!

One of my Forever Friends left Chennai today. I can safely say that as much as I say I am not going to go all out and become close to people anymore - there is always someone who slips past the resolution and becomes special.

I would have loved to throw a massive farewell for her - but I know how very much she would have hated that! So a small select ladies lunch was the way to go! It eased the separation anxiety a little - distracted me as I thought of little gifts and little things that would be easy to carry on the plane and at the same time remind her of me, her other good friends and Chennai (in a positive light) every time she saw or wore these things.

On the whole, I think she had a good time - at least the table was not full of weeping women!

She and I spent time together at the salon today and even managed to get a tattoo done before she left!

I hate the way other people think that they can talk about us, hurt us and malign us and expect none of this to snake its way back to us. I hate that she left feeling betrayed and I wish there was more I could do for her. She stayed strong for me over the past year when I have had some pretty trying times, even when she had stones cast at her for being my friend. I guess right now I am sort of, in a tiny way, there to support her through the trauma of taking her family and moving onto a new horizon.

I comfort myself with the knowledge that she will not let it all end here, neither will I. Sometime, somewhere, in the not too distant future, we will be having a pedicure together and disturbing all the other clients with our singing!!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Forever Friends

I can't help but feel a real sense of loss when a friend (especially the forever kind) chooses to, or has to, leave Chennai. I feel a part of me is going with her and leaving a gaping hole behind. I have been getting better at the whole 'goodbye' thing, but realised today that I am simply fooling myself. This 'goodbye' thing is damn hard. It does not get easier, it does not help to start distancing oneself from the person leaving and it does not help to think of life in Chennai without that friend.

The word 'friend' seems so pallid for what I feel for some of these girls and usually their kids. The depth of feeling that comes with making friends that will last a lifetime (forever friends) is more than merely friendship. It is kinship, shared views, thoughts and feelings, it is a shared sense of humour, a shared Cosmo on a low, low day and just someone to say - yep you did OK. My darling hubby is not always there for this - try as he might - working long hours, travelling long days and weeks, and finally reaching home to find a wife in need of emotional sustenance may just be too much to handle!

I am grateful that the few forever friends made in Chennai are still in close contact with me, are still trying to find ways for us to see each other and are still reciprocally tolerant of the rantings of a sometimes madly emotional woman! I thank God each day for the blessings I have - my husband and kids, my parents, my sister and these wonderful, wonderful forever friends. As long as these people are in my life - I can handle anything.

back to blogging!

So back into the full swing of thing! The holidays are a mere scent of a memory and my life here in Chennai is rushing headlong ahead.
The monsoon rains are pelting down, as I write, in a steady thrum and the constant flashes of lightning and crashes of thunder are vaguely threatening. I can't help but think of those so much less fortunate than I - sitting out in the cold, pouring water, drenched to the skin and shivering. I am here in the warmth, feeling dry and secure. Until you have got soaked to your skin, and felt the sheer power of a monsoon downpour, you can have no idea what this means. The first year I was in Chennai, I helped to organise a Trick or Treat for Halloween. Parents drove their kids from house to house in their cars, drivers waited, and the kids jumped out, collected treats and jumped back into the cars! I thought this was shocking, until at 6pm (start of the event) I was standing at the end of the road directing cars and handing out maps and felt the first of a million, gazillion huge raindrops start to fall on my head.
FJ (a then, newly-made forever friend), sent her driver to give me an umbrella and I had an old Wimbledon plastic poncho in my car. Nikh was safe in FJ's house with her and her kids, handing out treats. I was under attack - tipping down rain, thunder and lightning. Within minutes, I was soaked through to my underwear, couldn't see for the sheer curtain of rain streaming down past my face and I started shivering. Who knew that the water directly from the heavens would be flipping freezing! Temps 10 mins before had been about 34C and suddenly I felt as though I had stuck my body in a freezer for an hour! Unbelievable!

I was struck by Mother Nature's power - like a woman on PMT with a loaded gun, she was firing wildly! I recall thinking then that we need to appease her, we need to do something to change the way her fury is unleashed with ever more force, ever more aggression and with more frequency. She seems to be letting us know that whatever we try and do to her planet - she can do sooo much more!

Friday, May 30, 2008


I have come to the conclusion that there are the 'doers' and the 'talkers'. It has taken a lot of time and moaning and groaning about how no-one ever steps up to help and it is always the same people doing the work, to get to this realisation!

Let me explain a little more fully. Since I came to Chennai (way back when!!) I found the easiest way to meet people and to get information of a variety of things was to join different clubs and groups, get on the committees and help out where I could. I find organising things relatively easy, have tonnes of energy and am quite creative, so all of that helps when events or ideas are thrown in your lap, and you are expected to run with them. It is hard for someone like me to let things go without giving it a good try, but also not to do things to the best of my ability.

Take the Chennai Chapter for example. A few new parents at the school were asking about information on Chennai - not exciting, interesting information, but bog basic stuff like - where to wax your legs, where to buy good apples, where to get furniture that has been termite treated!! etc etc. Someone suggested adding a section to the New Parent Booklet that I wrote a few years ago and include a local directory of information - by or parents, for our parents. So I grab the ball and start jogging with it. I put out notices in the PTA newsletter and ask for volunteers. I set up a meeting and fully expect one or maybe two other people to show.

Instead - 7 mums show up, I get emails from people answering questions placed in the newsletter and people start leaving information with the school secretary for me. Amazing.

As the weeks progressed, a few new people joined the group and someone had to drop out. My point is, though, that each of these ladies is just as busy, if not busier with their own lives, but they have simply given of themselves. Over the last several weeks, we have tackled topics together and gone off and added information. Each person in this group has really pulled their weight and in some cases more than their fair share.

These girls are the 'doers'.

People who criticise their efforts, never step up to help, but have lots of negative opinions and comments to pass on are clearly the 'talkers'. they talk a good game, but when it comes down to it, they will only DO something if they see something in it for themselves.

More power to girls like the Chennai Chapter Committee at the AISC!!! I love them - they are the greatest! And I am eternally grateful that I didn't have to do this on my own!!

Fri May 30th

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Fun Day

Today was what I would call another day in the life of an expat wife! We are having a few people over for dinner tomorrow night, and as we have no cook at the moment the Head Chef in the house is yours truly.

So menu set, shopping mostly done, schedule duly laid out - I decide to make Tiramisu as one of the desserts. Note to self - sponge fingers are not available in the shops here, Amma Naana had no marscapone and the Nilgiris fresh cream (single at best) seemed to have a distinct set of hard bits in the packet!!

Undeterred, I went home, baked a cake for the Tiramisu base, decided to use the last of the chef's supplied double cream in my freezer and set a couple of kilos of chicken out to defrost.

Now comes the good bit - I meet two good friends at the Salon for a little mani-pedi action and plan a lunch for straight after. In the meantime, a journalist for The times of India paper has called to say they are running a column about various clubs and groups in the city and would I answer some questions on The Tiffin Club.

The pedicure was divine - fabulous massage and my feet feel like the proverbial baby's bum! A warm chicken salad and the requisite french fries made for a lunch that hit the spot and then the journalist showed.

She had questions galore and as my friend Danie and I answered, I realised how much I have done with the Club over the last few years. We started listing off some of the Tiffin sessions including Chef Willi cooking at 601 in The Park, Chef Rajesh showing us Mediterranean food at Aqua, Chef Basu clearing up the mysteries of Chaat (Indian street food), the chefs at the Marriott - Chef Sunil and his pastries and then a Lebanese session, Chef Prakash with soups and salads and then an Italian session and a trip to the Taj Flight Kitchen where the meals are prepped for many different airlines.

On alternate months we have had Tiffin Club at each others' homes. For example, i did a baking session this year, last year I showed some Indian dishes and talked about the Indian spices used in cooking. We had a Valentine's Day Tiffin with a 'Red' theme and we all brought dishes with red ingredients! Each December the Tiffin is a cookie exchange and one comes away with 10 -12 dozen different cookies ... scrummy!!

The best part about the Tiffin Club is the every member and the Chefs all share their recipes with each other. Those closely guarded secrets suddenly become common property! I love it!

Well, after talking for a good 40 mins, our journalist disappears to cover another story and we go back to our now cold french fries!! Meena, my other mate in the mood for some salon, joins us looking ultra glam as her hair has been cut and styled to within an inch of it's life! She clearly looked and felt great - to a man the men in the Cappuccino could not take their eyes off the back of her head! I swear one nearly did himself an injury trying to stare at her!!

Then off to school in time for pick-up and finally taking Nikhil to an audition for the soundtrack for a story-tape on Karadi Tales! Yep - just an average day living in Chennai!!

Came home around 6pm, finished making the chicken curry, channa masala and prepped the raita and the rice for tomorrow's dinner.

went to bed as usual, but woke up just past midnight as a power cut has obviously tripped the A/C in our bedroom - no more shut-eye for tonight!

28th May 2008

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Chennai Heat

Saturday 24th May 2008
I love the sun. Don't get me wrong. My idea of a perfect holiday, no a perfect day, is a bright blue sky and a golden orb of fire blazing down upon everything, especially me.

Well, the Chennai Summer sun is something completely different - it is debilitatingly, unendingly, burningly hot. You take a breath, and you can feel the tiny airways in your lungs screaming for mercy from the firebreath you just took. On the first of May, the month of Fire begins. It does not end until the beginning of June. Even then, it is not really a respite, just more muggy humidity and more exhaustion and electricity overload. On that subject - power cuts are becoming more and more the norm rather than the exception. We have recently had a new a/c installed in the sitting room (B could not cope with the minute amounts of cool air from the old one!) However, no-one thought to tell us that the voltage coming into the house from the central Electricity Board was verging on 150 instead of 240 watts. Result - no a/c working, madam! this is even more frustrating as tempers run high in this sort of weather.

I think we should all take a lesson from the cows, bullocks and stray dogs in the Boat Club neighbourhood and simply plop down in the nearest bit of shade, and try a bit of shut-eye for the most part of the day. Moving, standing and even walking are left until the Big Ball of Fire in the Sky dips below the horizon!