Monday, November 01, 2010

Half Term Hurrah!!

Those of you who know us well, know that My Darling flies off all over the place and leaves the kids and me to get on with it.  This time, he had to go in the middle of their mid term school holidays.  This was not good news for anyone - Nikh was playing in a tennis tournament and was not happy that Dad would be missing (Mum is not good enough to coach and cheer!); The Ray was unimpressed and showed him with the expressions on her face that she would not forgive this absence easily (we were all shaking in our shoes!) and I was dreading having to occupy two grouchy kids for nearly a week before school reopened.

In charges my sister, The Angel, in a black Audi and scoops us up from the jaws of despondency.  She whisks us off to Kensington and Chelsea in a flurry of Chanel and Donna Karan!  There followed a jam packed, event filled few days.  The Royal Philharmonic playing the Beatles with Dame Shirley Bassey making a stunning, awe-inspiring appearance; dinner out, breakfast out at chic croissanteries, Kensington Church Kitchens quickly became the breakfast hang out!  Westfield mall became the local high street - shops, restaurants and a multiplex cinema a scant five minutes from The Angel's cloud.  We took advantage of this and walked for miles in it's climate controlled hallways.  We danced with a new game that was being demonstrated, got free samples of Coke Zero, bought a spectacular Diwali gift for our Mum, the children's Nani, and ate our way around the World - Lebanese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Indian, Fish and Chips, French Crepes and Italian gelato.  We headed up to the Vue cinema and booked VIP seats for the 3D Alpha and Omega (a little dodgy on the subject matter - all about mating wolves!!) and indulged in very American sweet popcorn.

A few whirlwind, celebrity spotting, days later, we repacked the black steed and galloped back to the suburbs to rejoin our daily grind.  School bags at the ready, lunch boxes, water bottles, blazers and ties.  We are now in the season of Duffel Coats and woollen hats - more stuff for the kids to lose!

The daily grind hit hard today!  We got stuck in traffic this morning after trying to Skype My Darling before school, I almost crashed the new car, forgot to lock it when I walked The Ray into school and narrowly missed a lamp post as I went home.  Insult to injury, I slipped on the wet step of the car and almost landed on my face in front of the gardeners!

Have decided that after the Hurrahs of the half term holiday, time for some green tea, curl up on the sofa and only go out when absolutely necessary today!  Can't wait for My Darling to come home!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ciao for now, Chennai

I know - this one has been a long time coming, but I had to wait until it REALLY hit me!  We have left Chennai!  We arrived there over nine years ago with a three year old, three suitcases and a three month visit planned for Nikh and myself.  My Darling was to stay for a year.  We left several weeks ago with a twenty foot sea freight container, twelve suitcases, six carry on baggage, a twelve and a half year old, a five and a half year old and many regrets that we had not seen and done everything we should have! 

My Darling was finding that he was travelling abroad for more time than he was with us in Chennai.  He would try to cram as many meetings into each trip as (in)humanly possible, often landing in London, racing home to change and for example,heading to Oxford by mid morning.  This is not good.  It is not safe and it is not healthy.  The up side for us was a new shopping list for him to fill each trip, but the downside was a lot of time without him, a lot of 'coping' and a lot of relying on good friends to fill the gap, help out, ferry the kids, and even have us move in when the cockroaches invaded!

AISC - as you may have read in previous posts - the school in Chennai was practically the centre of our universe.  We were thoroughly invested as a family.  I volunteered and helped in any way possible, ran the Food Committee, a Multicultural Committee, was President of the PTA, worked as a coordinator in the Elementary School before taking on a class of my own; ran Madras Kids, worked on the After School Activities programme, helped with SAISA, organised Bake Sales, Yard Sales and Charity Fairs. And this was not the half of it!  Nikh trained for different teams, raised money for the Tsunami Appeal and Habitat for Humanity, took an active role on the Student Council and was even planning to be a Student Ambassador had we stayed on.  The Ray had only just started at the school shortly before we left, but she made her mark too - Friday after school picnics were her contribution!

We were very sorry to leave, but we are starting to get bogged down - the Elementary Principal was a complete waste of space - in my opinion.  She agreed with the loudest voice, barely attended meetings, treated the competent staff poorly and promoted the incompetent ones.  She is gone now!  The Middle School Principal was truly the bees knees.  She was fantastic - the school's saving grace! The Security Manager was too busy 'entertaining' nannies and toddlers in his office to bother securing the school.  The  secretaries and other admin staff were wonderful.  The custodial staff - the lowest rung of the ladder were incredible!  They worked hard, they worked long and like the admin staff, they supported every single event organised by the PTA and parent body, even when the majority of the faculty did not feel they should.  We noticed that teachers in the Middle School were beginning to treat kids as favourites and others as not so favourite.  Senior teachers would show full length movies over the course of two or three lessons to make a point that could have been made in a 5 minute clip.  Some teachers were shown to be less and less accountable.  Some teachers were beginning to take advantage of the fact that children move on regularly as an excuse to NOT do their best. Some teachers need to be forced to retire - NOW!  Others need to be made to work forever!  On the other hand, there are teachers who do not feel they are teaching enough hours each week, who would love to work harder and who openly state that they would leave this school because of the lack of process, protocol and accountability.  In may view those are the ones we need to KEEP!

So as a result, we made the decision to take Nikh away from the school he has been to since he was tiny and bring him home to London to experience the British Curriculum.  He got a place in one of the best state schools in Harrow.  He is now enjoying, in addition to English, Maths and three sciences, Design and Technology, ICT, French, German, Classics, Religious Education and Philosophy, Drama, Music, Art, PE, Citizenship, Geography, History and he is pulled out of class for Keyboard lessons and vocal coaching.  He is also part of the choir which meets at lunchtime and attends Badminton Club which is run by a national champion after school.  I feel that AISC needs to broaden it's horizons.  It needs to expand the curriculum, to make teachers accountable for what they do and do not teach.  To make the pastoral care a priority.  The Principals and Head of School need to be more mobile - moving around the school, the classes and 'popping' in all over the place.  Don't get me wrong - I love that school.... I just want it to be sooooo much better!

It has not been easy.  The Ray is in a private co-ed prep school. Nikh is in a State school.  Luckily both are on the same road, about a mile apart!  Their holidays are different.  Their timings are different.  Neither child finds wearing a blazer and tie easy.  Neither child is enjoying the constant drizzle of the last month and the frosty mornings of the last week.  Both children (and their mother) long for the blazing hot humidity of Chennai.

But for now, I think we are doing the right thing.  We still have a long way to go - we need a new house. We have a new car and new cell phones.   I need to find a job.  We have to work our way through The Ray's first ever winter, and our first real winter in nearly ten years.  We have to get over missing our friends every single day.  We are finding that notes from friends, texts popping into the phone and skype calls are as essential now that we are 'home' as when we were away.

The worst part for me is feeling like a stranger in my own home town,  I spent so much time trying to make people feel comfortable, secure and like they knew Chennai, I am eternally grateful to the old friends and new friends from The Ray's class who are literally taking me under their wing!

Leaving Chennai was really, really tough.  It had become home.  It had become the centre of our world. It had become everything to us.

So we sai 'Ciao for now, Chennai' you will always be a fond memory, but not a stranger - we will visit and we will stay close!  Thanks for the memories and the friends!


I am sure there are people who live there who think that Chennai is simply the pits of the Earth!  They find the environment dirty, polluted and dank.  They hate the people urinating and spitting anywhere and everywhere.  They find the traffic is simply too chaotic to bear and they hate that you can't buy a good bottle of wine, or a beer, with your meal at every restaurant.

Well, speaking as the grandma in the corner, clutching a stiff drink and sucking on my false teeth, let me tell you about the good old days!!

When we came to Chennai, ALL those years ago, there were many things not available or not built that the ex-pats who choose Chennai now take for granted.  
The long life sterilised milk, for example, both the full fat and the skimmed version did not exist.  Many of us spent time boiling and straining milk to make it palatable for us and our children.  
Eggs came in one variety - warm, covered in feathers and bird poo, and in a plastic bag, so mostly broken by the time you got home!

Yoghurt - set yoghurt was not available, again, I would warm milk, add a starter and leave over night to make the plain curd for the next day's meals and buttermilk. Rinse and repeat!

Imported vegetables and fruit - very, very scarce, few and far between and you only got them if the shop keeper knew and liked you, so saved them for you; or if you were in the right place at the right time!

Restaurants and hotels - there was the Park Sheraton, the GRT Grand, Fish Cove, the Connemara and the Coromandel available to us as 'safe' places to eat and drink - no Marriott, no Hilton, no Park, no Taj Mount Road and certainly no Azulhia, Tuscana, Italia, Anokhi, Sandy's, Cream Centre, Mocha, etc etc etc - no nightclubs except for one in the Park Sheraton which was mostly a dive!  Now there are new places opening daily offering food, drink and variety galore - whoopee!!

Schools - AISC was there, but based in an office building and a cultural centre in the middle of a busy street - no facilities to speak of and small, small classes.  I think there were 150 or so kids when we first arrived.  So we chose an Indian pre-school and followed up with LKG/UKG at the KFI (The School - Krishnamurti Foundation).  A lovely philosophy, a nurturing, caring place except that the toilets were holes in the floor - eeeeuw!!  Nikh got used to it, but I could not cope!  eventually under the idea that we would soon be leaving Chennai, we moved Nikh to the American International School.  The school was compact and more like an extended family - we instantly made fast friends and fell in love with the whole shebang!  The PTA was involved and active, the parent body joined in almost everything, the teachers and faculty leaders were enthusiastic and energetic (on the whole!!) and we fitted right in!  I was offered a job, Nikh settled down perfectly - utterly brilliant class teachers for the first three years - KG, Grade 1, skip Grade 2 as a write off and a simply incredible Grade 3.  By now we were invested as a family and we had The Ray - our Chennai-born addition to our family!

As Nikh moved up the school, other establishments opened up, offered expat curriculi (is that a word?!) and tried to match the facilities.  They called themselves 'international', 'American' 'British', 'German' etc.  Truth was - none of them was really real!  We were in the best choice for our child.

Now - pre-schools are expanding and calling themselves full blown schools, new schools and pre-schools open regularly, children's centres offer play areas, coffee and classes - the main issue is that there is no regulatory body for all these operations - AISC is fully accredited and can be held accountable.  To whom do the others answer?  

Shopping in general - department stores have opened (Ebony, Lifestyle, Westside) and some have closed too.  They were not what we were used to - no service, people pushing and shoving because they found the orderly layout too difficult! Many of the items on sale could be found cheaper at Parry's Corner or in T-Nagar.  But they had a few items that you couldn't find anywhere else - I once found an ice pack for bumped heads in the shape of Spiderman's head - it is brilliant - I still have it after nine years!
Parry's corner is an experience.  I seem to recall having to go at least once a year to ensure that I had enough stuff for Halloween, Christmas and birthday parties.  T-Nagar, Pondy bazaar, the fish market etc - all great adventures!

But you know - in all the time we lived there - a few things never changed - the friends we made, both local people who will still be there when we go back to Chennai in 10 years time, and the expat friends who have passed through the city like a breath of fresh air - both sets of friends are good, strong and loved.  Another thing that remained the same in all our years was the phenomenal way we were treated in the hotels, restaurants and most of the shops.  People are friendly, welcoming and mostly want to help you.

In my view this far out weighs the cheating maids, the staff who rob you blind, the constant asking for money from beggars on the street to your employees who earn substantial salaries.  The people who have become interwoven in the rich tapestry of our lives totally make up for the Madras Eye, the mosquito bites, the stream of viruses that seemed to be a continual drone!  These friends cum extended family - many of whom we travel great distances to see and be near are for life.  Things in Chennai continue to change!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Jump back in time - part two!

So now that Priya is ancient history, we can move on to her replacement.  I have an inkling by now that we may not be staying on in India for too much longer and I have started to lose interest in the whole thing!  Bad news!  I hired a maid apathetically.  I ignored my gut instinct and took her on in spite of the fact I suspected she was arrogant, unafraid and bolshy.  I turned out to be right, unfortunately.

she started working the day of The Ray's party and simply carried on from there.  Her cooking was not great - in fact it was not even good!  Her cleaning, although fast as lightening, was not thorough or hygienic.  Her ironing, although fast as lightening, was not crease free or smooth - are you seeing a pattern here?  Yes she worked like the clappers, but the work was slap-dash and sub standard.  I started getting her to clean and prepare ingredients and then I cooked them to make them edible.  A waste of time and money having her around if I am doing the majority of the work myself.

She had a couple of warnings, she tried to change.  What is that old saying about leopards and spots??!!

I tolerated and endured for a another few months, gladly running off on holiday just to avoid having to see this woman in my house all day.  the reason for not throwing her out - I have six weeks left in Chennai at this point - I need to grin and bear it.... or at least just bear it!

In the end even that was not possible.  I had a spate of health issues - I broke my toe, I needed a biopsy done and I fractured a couple of ribs (long stories all of them!).  You would think that having a maid in the house would make life a little easier right?  Wrong!  The woman chooses this time (hottest time in Chennai, traditionally used for visiting the 'native place') to abscond and absent herself from work.  She asked for a day or two as her daughter (14yrs) has kidney stones and needs surgery.  Liar! She returned on the third day after ignoring or cutting calls from the driver and me repeatedly.  Surprise!  She popped in to show what a good worker she is - I came home from school at 9am to find the house almost completely spotless!  She was racing around like a headless chicken to clean, clear and iron.  Then came the stinger - she wanted a 'loan' of Rs50,000 - just like that!  I refused, she said the office guys told her that if I said yes - they would authorise the load,  Liar!  She told me she needed it for laser surgery for the girl.  Liar!  She told me she would take the girl to her mother or her mother in law and come right back.  Liar!  She was gone for three weeks, and my friends (thank God for them) looked after my family and me.  They made meals, sat with me, took me to the hospitals, helped me dress and undress and made sure my kids were taken to school and brought back each day, we were fed and watered and that I followed instructions to the letter.  Good Friends - in fact - THE BEST!

The best part of the story is the outlandish list of excuses we were presented with both during and after she chose to return to work.  Here is a meaty selection - she had heart bypass surgery - Liar!  She had heart surgery and the stitches in her heart have become loose - Liar!  She had heart surgery but she will come back to work tomorrow.  she is fine - Liar!  She had a baby but the baby had to be taken out of her - Liar!  She eventually came back to work, found out she had missed a vital newsflash of our imminent departure and then tried to make me thing that PYT (who came to visit with her baby etc) was robbing me blind - Liar!

What makes me mad as hell was the fact that she thought that if we are leaving - she has the RIGHT to anything and everything in my house, whether I want her to have it or not.  She tried hard to make me give everything to her - but in the end, her greed and stupidity  and her deceitfulness were her downfall.  Good riddance!!

Jump back in time - part one!

 January 31st - As of 6.20 this morning - Priya is NO MORE!!  Priya is/was the cook, ironing lady and The Ray person in this house.  She babysat when I needed and generally ran the house when I am out.  She took in gas deliveries, water deliveries, dealt with the a/c man, electrian and plumber, ordered and paid for the meat etc etc.

She also cleaned the fruit and veg for me and cooked some food for the kids.  The food tasted quite good and the kids were getting used to her.

But - and here is the BIG problem - why do maids feel the need to bring their outside work problems to work? She has problems at home - all which involve her either leaving work early (usually on a day when the ironing is stacked to the ceiling) or not coming in at all - again on a day when I have plans!!  She calls in sick with alarming frequency - but she is not sick at all - her mother is a demanding harridan.  And this final thing - fighting and brawling in the street with another maid like a pair of wild animals.

On the day of the Charity Fair - again a day when I actually NEED the woman, she chooses to stop and have a cat fight with a maid from down the road.  They are separated by some drivers who witnessed the incident and then encouraged to go to the Police.  I would not care what is happening, except that I had left the house at 6.30am for school to set up the fair (with Nikh in tow) and have moved into PTA mode with a vengeance.  I had left clear instructions with both the driver and the maid about the schedule for the day - starting with Priya bringing The Ray to the school and supervising her until My Darling managed to leave his office (yes he works on a Saturday too!) and then enjoying the rest of the day with the family and hopefully spotting other maids that she knows and having a fun day.

Nah - too bloody simple - revised plan - fight on the way to work, spend the rest of the day at the Police station and pay over Rs1000 for wasting police time,come and pester me (with her crazy mother in tow)  at 6pm when I was trying to leave for a Mexican Fiesta party and try to get some money and sympathy out of me.  Me - I slog at the charity fair all day, My Darling has The Ray until good friends snap her up and My Darling can go back to work!

She thought she held the winning hand - The Ray has her birthday party coming up - 70 or so people in the garden - catered and entertained by your truly.  So she thinks I need her for all the work to come in the next couple of days.  Boy, is she WRONG!!

So she shows up to work the next day - after the mother has screamed and yelled at people on the way to work, outside our gate etc.  She says she cannot possibly allow her pure, innocent girl to come to work alone when clearly our driver is a menace to her and I am not caring for her.  In fact she accused me of keeping her at work till all hours every single day.  Those who know me also know that I send the staff on their merry way well before closing time on many, many days.  To be sent home mid afternoon is not unusual.  The million dollar question is - where was sweet, innocent Priya going between 2pm and 12 midnight, and then claiming that I kept her late at work and would not pay her overtime!!???  again - not my problem.  I told Priya that her mother would not be allowed inside my house even if she insisted on following her to work.  They also came four hours late because the old bat could not walk very fast.  She stood at my gate hurling abuse at anyone and everyone until I had to tell her to stand outside the gate or I would call the Police!

Things were not looking so pretty!  Ultimatum time - either come to work sans harridan mother or don't come to work anymore.  Priya called and said she would come to work and live with us (not an option!!) and her brother called and said she would not be coming to work anymore because I do not protect her well enough!! I said goodbye! HUGE SIGH of RELIEF!

The next couple of days passed in Bliss, bliss bliss!  Until I realised that we have a party to put on!!  At last count I have 49 kids, 6 babies/toddlers and unknown numbers of adults. all very welcome, but all are gonna have to take it as it comes. the cakes are in the oven as we speak. the cookies will be baked tomorrow, sandwiches made on Saturday morning; jelly pots made tomorrow and pasta, samosas, hummus etc on Saturday. I have no trouble doing it all myself.  I just wish I had had some notice of all the impending doom and gloom - I may have made slightly different plans - but probably not!

I called my old maid Amudha, I called my friends maid, Sarah, I brought in Amu's friend Eswari (who was Priya's potential replacement) and I had two maids from My Darling's office to generally clean and check the bathrooms all day.  A veritable army of help! Amu has always been diligent, and works hard though not always with good initiative!  But she was an able, trustworthy body in my kitchen while I was down in the garden.  There was a plethora of activities for the kids to enjoy - cutting, sticking, Bollywood dancing, gluing, colouring etc.  My many friends stepped int o run activities for me; My Darling was in charge of photos and food distribution and I managed the whole shebang!

Upshot - thank goodness it all worked out.  I had my driver supervise the million maids and make sure all right stuff came down at the right time, make sure the samosas were picked up, the safe ice was in plentiful supp;y and that all the drivers of our guests had tea and snacks through the party time.  He did a damn good job!  the kids seemed to have a blast, The Ray loved her shark cake, though some faint hearted souls were scared stiff!  The photos turned out well, thanks to another friend running around with my camera.  And I collapsed in a heap at the end of the day unable to budge for 48 hours!

Team Birthday Party in Action - job well done!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Bowled Over!

Last evening, My Darling persuaded (nay ordered) me to get dinner, homework etc sorted out early as we were going to 'the cricket'.  Anyone who has been in India more than five minutes knows that Cricket is one of the most important parts (or 'time pass' if you are in Chennai - used in a sentence: "cricket is a good time pass for children"!) of daily life.  In fact it is significantly more important than daily life as all activities come to a virtual standstill if India is playing... or worse still, with the advent of the IPL Twenty20, if the Chennai SuperKings team is playing.

I need to get something very straight here - my idea of a good time is definitely NOT being touched, pushed and shoved around in a crowd of the local people.  I do not want to queue outside a stadium, only to find that the 'queue' never moves because of the number of people cutting in at the front.  I do not want to raise my blood pressure or my hand because complete strangers feel it is their right to touch my daughter's face.  I do not want to go somewhere in order to have a fight (hopefully only verbal), to get angry and to (God forbid) lose one or both of my children in the teeming crowds. Not my idea of a good time. No No No!  I even hate going to the malls here for the same reasons.  I go alone, or with My Darling on a weekday morning when we know that most of the rest of the city is at work, school or home.  Much easier on everyone!

My idea of a good time is either to stay home, go to a friend's house, go to a restaurant or hotel where I know we will be treated well and in a clean and hygeinic environment and above all - the toilets are user friendly!  So Madras Cricket Stadium does not make the list of my top million favourite things to do in Chennai, never mind the top ten in my Chennai Champion list!

I begged, cajoled, pleaded and demanded to be let off this one very, very onerous and odious excursion.  To no avail.  My Darling was determined to make sure that the kids and  I got to at least one cricket match before we exit stage left.  Eventually I gave in very ungracefully and got myself organised to go - hand sanitizer, wet wipes, tissues, phone, camera and some money in my pocket.  Oh and another bottle of hand wash in case we used up the first one!

We had tickets on the Madras Cricket Club Terrace seats.  These were the better seats and instead of the hard bleacher style seating, we had individual plastic chairs.  We were seated about a dozen or so rows back from the pitch and I have to say that from the moment we got there, I was in awe.  I was struck by sights, sounds, few smells and just every sense went on high alert and sensory overload.  The crowd around us was well behaved, well mannered, seated (except when everyone jumped up - EVERYtime Chennai Superkings hit the ball!) and for the most part totally engrossed in the action on the field and only there to support the home side.

I was shocked at quite how many people were crammed into the stadium and spent the first five minutes trying to find our nearest fire-emergency exit and realised it was the one that absolutely everyone there would have to use (shock/horror) and ran through several gruesome scenarios in my mind to prepare myself for all eventualities!  After that, I forgot about everything except the cricket, the crowd and the cricketeers (as the players are now being addressed!!). 

The match was wonderful.  Fast paced, full of fumbles, finger-cracking catches and phenomenal bowling.  The crowd - well, how do you describe a humungous number of people, showing their love, adulation, admiration and loyalty for 22 men who have proved themselves on the cricket battlefield to be some of the best in the world.  Sachin Tendulkar - god of the cricket players, Dhoni - the King, Hayden - the gentle giant, Harbhajan - the long legged bowler, Malinga - incredible!  Just to be watching these guys strut their stuff was enough of a thrill.  Once they got into the game and started hammering fours and sixes towards our seating area - the intensity and excitement just got bigger and louder!  The people in the crowd, both Indian and non, were there for a common purpose - to see the teams in action in real life.  They did not disappoint.  These guys sweated their guts out - literally.  Sachin had to retire for a spell to the dressing rooms to recover from over heating and cramps.   He still came back out to support his team in their efforts and to try to finish the game.  The Chennai Lions were just on fire, and won by 24 runs. Wahoooo!

My over-riding thought all evening was that if there was some way to harness the sheer energy emmitted by the crowd, the electric atmosphere and the noise of the roars of approval and encouragement, I am certain we could power the city for days on end!  Move over solar and wind energy - here comes some wicket wattage!!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Fourteen and counting!

Here we are - fourteen years on.  It is our wedding anniversary again!  I think I said it all last year in 'unlucky for some' and I can't really add much to it!

We are still in Chennai but My Darling is travelling far more than he used to.  Most times he whips round the globe and tries to be back within a couple of weeks.  More recently it is taking a little longer!  I find that I still don't like to be without him.  Yes, the kids go to bed earlier.  Yes, I don't have to cook full meals for him.  Yes, we are a lot more relaxed about what time we come home from school and tend to linger longer and longer each day!  Yes, there is no-one mucking up the entire bed, turning over with Richter Scale rumpling and no- one snoring on my right!  But there is also no-one for me to tangle my legs with, no one to talk to in the quiet of the night, no-one to share my thoguhts and feelings with and no-one to depend upon when I hear funny noises (and in India, trust me there are many, many funny noises) in the rest of the house in the dead of night!

I find I sleep with my senses on alert, my cell phone on silent and the land line by my bed.  It is at times like this I think about how much he changed me and changed my life by sharing it with me.  Will I ever be the same again! 

There we were, he born in Bombay, India, me born in Kampala, Unganda.  He moving from city to city, me moving from country to country (Uganda to Kenya to England).  We spent time together in his summer holidays, as kids, in London. His family came there in May.  We tolerated each other, endured enforced time spent together (our parents were/are good friends).  We were defintiely not too keen on each other!

Years later, he returned to England as a grown man, took me out once (at my Dad's request for an escort to an event in the centre of town!); brought me home late at night, firing questions all the way back.  Proposed to me over the phone the next day (on my Dad's phone bill, I might add!!) and scared me to death!  Persisted and pestered by showing up at my classroom, helping out with the PE lessons, turning up unexpectedly to take me out to lunch or dinner, showing up on the doorstep at 6am on my birthday with an entire brand new outfit for me to wear and  the car boot full of red roses and lots of birthday cards!  Constantly surprising me and keeping me off balance!  Eventually, I gave in!!

Here we are nineteen years (add in a five year engagement!), two kids, five houses, too many cars to count and two countries and umpteen flights to many destinations later - still enjoying each other's company.  Still choosing to be with one another.  Still writing the intricate story that is our life together.  Still giggling together till we cry (much to Nikh's embarrassed disgust!!).  Still rough and tumbling with and without the kids.  Still looking forward and backward at our lives together.  He still teases me mercilessly. Still keeps me in the dark about everything until he is ready to spill the news!  Still tries to make most of the decisions (operative word there is 'tries'!!)  Still walks slowly when I am in a rush and speeds along when I am meandering!  Still holds my hand in public and in private, no matter which country, which city, which day, which hour!

Goodness knows why we fit the way we do... so very different! He is a neat freak, I don't really notice the mess till I trip up on it!  He knows exactly what he wants and will not settle for less, I am pretty easy going and will compromise!  He is all about getting the best - equipment, tv, music system, car etc.  I am all about getting what we can afford and getting a good deal!  He sees the massive, globally big picture with the details already added, I see a vision and try to make it a reality!  He reads one book at a time until it is finished, I have between four and eight books on the go (in the car, in the bathroom, in my handbag, in the bedroom etc) and dip in and out of each one until I finish them all at once.  He is pragmatic, I am romantic.  He is a realist, I am an idealist. he is a do-er, I am a dreamer!  And yet our principles, our beliefs, our ideals, so much the same!  Our fierce,touchpaper tempers, our intense love for our children, our love of music, theatre, good bargains, great deals and memorable trips, so much the same!  Our love and loyalty for our friends, old, new and the forever kind, our need to do what we can to help someone, our attempts to maintain and nurture friendships in spite of time zones and geography, so much the same.

I am just waiting for Friday to start writing a new chapter.... together!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Superwoman I am not!

I seem to have been a bit off kilter for the last few weeks.  These things happen!  Maybe Jupiter was in line with Saturn in Pisces or something!  But either way I feel as though I have been a bit grumpy at the World!  I have been taking things a bit too personally and thinking I could leap tall buildings with a single bound and fix all the wrongs to make them right.

Small epiphany in the middle of the night (those who know me well know that I don't often sleep through a whole night!): everything is not mine to solve!  All the problems at school, at home, in committees, at work, global warming, world peace, poverty and starvation among under developed countries - not mine to fix.  Of course I can do my bit.  I can raise awareness.  I can state my view.  I can even offer small steps towards simple solutions to some of the above.  But I cannot fix it all!

As a result of this self realisation - the load from my shoulders lifted.  I am walking taller and smiling again!  The problems of the entire world are no longer entirely mine.  I think having parents (other than me) actually showing up to a recent Board meeting and stating their case, having parents write in with their issues and seeing other people as disgruntled as I (with committees, with the traffic, with the rubbish on the streets) made me realise I am not alone.

So I hung up my cape and bullet proof wrist bands and I am on a hiatus!  The result - I am back to being me!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Life Lessons Served and Volleyed

Nikh played in the SAISA Tennis Tournament this weekend.  He was picked from a bunch of kids to make up two teams of four boys and there were two teams of girls too.  He was pleased as Punch to be chosen and practised extra hard, got his kit ready a week in advance, tried to make sure his grades did not slip (otherwise you get cut from the team!).  He set his own alarm clock (a most irritating loud, singing clock from my sister!).  He made sure all his bags, his breakfast and anything he needed for the day was at the front door the night before and for the first four weeks of the season, he was right on track!  The fifth week saw a slump - he had been on his Week Without Walls trip by then, had been to a friend's party and sleepover and was now on his last legs!

I think the late nights, early mornings and constant energy drain had caught up.  Nikh was already seeing what life as a college student could be like ... exhausting!  Burning the candle at both ends is not a good idea!  So we tried to slow down on other parts of life to allow a little regeneration.

It worked, sort of!  Unfortunately the Coach did not see fit to let the team rest the day before SAISA began and Nikh was up at 5am on Thursday for squad training and really lagging in the energy department!  

The tournament began with a 7.30am  start for uniform pick up at school and team photos!  The excitement was palpable. Nikh was beside himself with being a part of a team and loved having a couple of friends picked too.  Off to the Krishnan Tennis Centre and let the games begin!

Nikh had a bit of a slow start and his first match began at 12.45 after waiting in a state of high anxiety all morning.  Once he hit that first ball - you could see the glow of enjoyment light him up.  He played pretty well, a little distracted here and there, but with a love of tennis that was clear.  He may have won and lost matches - most of the kids were much bigger physically and stronger; also older than him.  This did not faze him as he kept on hitting the ball back.

The Ray visited to spectate and said, "Watch the ball, Buddi" (words straight out of her father's mouth!).  My Darling, currently in New York sent frequent text messages along the lines of  - don't give in, don't let a point go and run for every ball!  Good friends popped in to see him play - luckily at just the right time, and I know Nikh was proud that people he loves cared enough to take time from their weekend to make the trek!  I would have stayed rooted to my Pavilion spot but  Nikh begged a girlfriend to remove me from the scene!

Anyway - wins and losses - humility in victory and grace in defeat - all good life lessons.  Also learning to win a point with humble gratitude and to lose a point with dignity and credit where it is due are all good life skills.  I liked that other coaches mentioned him to me for his optimistic attitude, his cheerfulness and sportsmanship both on and off the court.  Other more experienced players complimented him and he glowed! He was not the best player there, nor the worst, but he tried his best and he should be proud of himself.  I know that My Darling and I are proud of him.

Me, me, me!

I have noticed recently that people think what they read on a blog entitles them to think they know a person and entitles them to comment, complain and pass judgement.

 A girlfriend has been subject to all kinds of comments and conjecture because people read her blog. Her blog is downright straight forward.  No beating around the bush and a welcome change from all the political correctness that invades our World.  This is why I read every post she puts up and why I tell her what I think of her posts directly to her face. 

I think I would like to put a couple of things straight here - blogs (in my eyes) are a kind of diary.  As a child, I used to write what I thought and what I felt about things happening in my life in a book and then hide it under my mattress.  I found that while I had mulled over the events in the process of jotting it down, I still had the jubilation, the anger, the anxiety, the joy and the humiliations inside me.  Now that I post blogs, I do the same things as I did in my journal - I just tamp it down a little because I know that I am not the only one seeing my words!  It does make one feel a little open and vulnerable!

I use my blog as a way of venting, sharing, celebrating and updating my family and friends who may be thousands of miles away.  I use it as a means of communication - I do not ask anyone to actually read it, but the fact that I have shared how I feel,  what we have done or the way I look at something satisfies an urge within me.  I use it as a log of the journey of my life - sharing how we grow and change as a family.

This is the crux of the matter - it is MINE.  it is how I feel and it is what affects, bothers, excites or angers ME.  My views, My forum. What I write is of little interest to the vast majority of the world.  I know that!

I am happy when people read and comment - and it has been interesting to see that people I don't even know comment when they have read about a concert or a play and they happened to be in the same auditorium.  It was also a little scary to think people who know nothing about me, who are strangers are reading about my thoughts and actions.  I am less happy when people who claim to have some sort of knowledge about me try to post anonymous comments that are negative and derogatory.  No-one asks them to come onto my personal space and share.  They are welcome to vanish into the larger abyss of unknown, unwanted opinion. They do not have to read what I write. They have not the courage of their convictions to allow a response to their malice, but feel mighty behind their cowardly anonymity.  Obviously this is how they deal with their life. Not my problem.  I know who and what I am.  I know that sometimes what I say and do comes across in a way I didn't mean it to or expect it to.  I am strong enough to apologise when I am wrong, and I am humble enough to know that I am not the bees knees.  Just a cog in a giant, giant wheel.

Today's post was going to be a sharing of my views on how some people always step up and offer to help.  How they more than offer... they follow through and DO whatever it takes, however long it takes to get the job done. I have been witnessing a couple of friends over the last couple of weeks, and their dedication to get things done.  Their kids may not even be involved, except that they go to our school, but they show their commitment and their community spirit by volunteering, by taking on tasks that everyone is happy to criticise or comment upon, but not willing to put their money where their mouth is - in other words, when push comes to shove they vanish into the woodwork! (Sorry too many cliches in one sentence!) Where are the people with the huge great opinions on other peoples' lives when the chips are down and their help or contribution is needed....?  We can but wonder!

But I got side-tracked!!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Arrogant Asses

Yeah, Yeah.  I know.  Not nice to start with such a tone!  But you know, some people are small minded, arrogant, xenophobic, racist bums.

I have always been of the opinion that  Nikh's school is one of the few schools I have seen where bullying (not a big issue anyway) did not focus on race or ethnicity.  The Head of School has succeeded in creating a community feeling, where everyone feels they belong.  Our PTA has been a major contributor to the 'inclusion' policy and I have seen for myself that Nikh does not see people int erms of colour, language, race or country of origin - he sees friends.  I love that about his school.  Truly creating Global Citizens of the future.

You can imagine my shock last week to hear a parent stand up and claim that the host culture was less than hers, that she was so arrogant as to assume she was better than everyone else, and to top it off, in her ignorance she insulted a major Hindu God.  The woman is a danger and a menace.  She is full of herself.   Her attitude is one of intolerance and clearly she is not a happy person.  But she does like to share her misery.

I find I am alternating between sadness that one woman can create a rift between several communities, that one person (not a nice person) has the power to segregate and cause division, and absolute frustration and fury that she gets to continue on her merry way.

Painful Parenting

Sometimes, especially when My Darling is not around to talk with, I simply do not know what to do!  For those who know me pretty well, you know that I usually say exactly what I think - usually as soon as I think it!  I do try not to hurt people, but being direct or straight forward is the easiest way to deal with the number of people I come into contact with every single day.  I like when others do the same for me.

This is where I hit a stumbling block.  I like to speak my mind.  I like it when my friends and people I know all speak their minds.  I don't like going round in circles (which I am at the moment ... you see I am still thinking about whether Ishould post this or not!  doubt, doubt, nagging doubt!).

Okay, let me spill it - I am in a quandary.  Nikh went to his best friend's birthday party, and loved it.  He loved it so much, that when offered a sleepover with some of the other party goers, he jumped at the chance.  Also bearing in mind that he has a slight air of panic that if he doesn't do everything right now, he will miss out and then we will be gone from Chennai.  So he stayed.  Don't get me wrong, his friend's mum is my kinda mum.  Gently spoken, clear and more than able to hand a bunch of tween boys.  I had no worries on that score.

My problems began when he came home.  Something was not quite right.  It took till 8pm to come clean. A few of the other boys were pretty malicious all evening and into the night.  He barely got a couple of hours sleep, and is now full of anger, upset and hurt.  These boys, one of whom I personally would prefer Nikh stayed away from and the other two - well, this is news to me. and not good news, have really done a number on him.

So my dilemma - do I call the boys' mothers and let them have it?  Do I tell my friend that all this happened at her house (not my fave option - it was not her fault!),or do I leave Nikh to stew and suffer until his dad gets home to deal with it  My instinct is to call the two boys' mothers and tell them what their boys have been up to.  If it were me - I would want to know and want to deal with my son ... but would they?

Saturday, January 23, 2010


So I have been off the blog radar for a while again!  Sometimes I feel I have nothing to say so better to keep quiet!  Other times, life is slow and uneventful, and finally, sometimes I want to say stuff out loud that I know damn well will land me right in it - so again, I write, save draft and walk away.  Sometimes I can come back to the posts later and edit out the acrimony and post!  Other times - delete is the key!!

Well - since last posting, we have been to Dubai a few times, (look for Dad in Dubai - separate post coming soon!) and spent Christmas and New Year in London.  Dubai has become a favourite haunting ground for several reasons - Emirates is a pretty fantastic airline.  They treat the kids well, they treat My Darling like royalty and I found out on the last flight that even The Ray is on their preferred passengers list ie - treat her damn well! I like it!  Another reason is the second home we have there and this makes hotels almost redundant.  the highlight for me is the washing machine and the view!  Oh and did I mention the Dubai Mall is across the driveway - literally...15 steps away!!  Waitrose, Carrefour, Boots, Starbucks and umpteen other stores are conveniently either in the mall or a bus ride away.  The air smells clean.  The public toilets are immaculate and people do not pee and poo everywhere you look.  I love a place that has toilets in the airport and the shopping centres that do not make you retch and that The Ray can sit on the seat without fear!  Ugh!

Christmas in London was spectacular.  The Ray is convinced that her daddy is the one who ordered the snowfalls just for her.  Nikh simply stared at the big fat flakes drifting past the window and did not quite believe his eyes until I openedthe window (4th floor!), shoved my hand out there, grabbed some flakes and melted them on his face!!  Whoops of  glee turned to sheer joy as he scraped off our neighbours cars each morning.  They love him now!  They offered to pay, but I didn't let them much to his disgust and My Darling's!  The compacted ice under the snow was not so much fun, neither was driving in the slushy ice up a hill.  The Ray pointed out from the back seat that Mummy was using bad words, lots and lots and lots of bad words!  OOOPS!!

It was My Darling's 40th a few days before Christmas, so we had a small mulled wine and canapes evening at the Riverside.  His mint choc chip tennis court ice-cream cake with '40-LOVE, Biren' written on the side was a big hit!  Photo on friday!  We still owe our chennai friends a birthday bash!  The watch he bought for himself (from us) made him a Happy Hubby!!  The e-reader from his in-laws has been used non-stop by three out of the four Wasanis!

Santa visited - we all made it onto the nice list - some by the skins of our teeth due to adolescent hormones I think!  Hama beads were the big hit with The Ray, Nikh got a watch too - one where there is a code you decipher to tell the time - way cool!!  My Darling got alcohol and a mulled wine kit and I got a couple of books and a few odds and ends!

We came back to Chennai and The Ray is now at AISC with her big brother and she is settled and happy.  She absolutely loves her new teacher and her teacher adores her - win-win!!

Our school PTA committee is a little thin on the ground at the moment so I am helping them organise the Charity Fair on the 30th.  I have also been drafted to help organise the PTA Ball on the 17th April as a last hurrah!  Mostly for my contacts though.  Glad to be of help!

Finally -I am helping the US CLO organise an Easter event with the Madras Mums - on the 13th March.  This is also well under way and going smooth as silk!!

So now we are all up to date - let's hope I post a little more regularly to keep things moving!!

By the way - wishing you and yours a happy new year and a healthy one at that!

Zakir Rocks Chennai!

This is what makes living in Chennai so utterly worth it!

This evening, we went to see Zakir Hussain(playing the tabla) and Shivakumar Sharma (playing the santoor) at the Music Academy.

A little background - Chennai is full of cultural, musical, art and drama festivals between November and the end of January - I suspect because the weather is so fantastic (some of us even resort to thermal vests!).   Tickets are relatively easy to get, in fact you can buy season tickets.  Except for this show - tickets went on sale at a couple of local bookshop chains, and within a very short space of time - sold out!

I know how much My Darling loves this kind of music, so I did something I try hard not to do - I called round trying to call in favours!  But to no avail - no-one could help, nobody had any tickets and no-one would let me have their's out of the goodness of their hearts (understandably)!  Add to the confusion one very good friend who knows I can usually come up with the goods, calling and asking for FOUR tickets, if I can get them for her! 

I broke the sad news to her and to My Darling that it was a no go.  No tickets anywhere!

Fancy my shock and delight when My Darling called me this morning to say we were going to the concert... in VIP seats!  The bank called and invited him.  They offered 2 seats, he tried and got 4! 

The two men are so incredible at what they do - the first Raga lasted an hour and 35 minutes, and no one noticed!  I looked at my watch and realised Zakir Hussain had been playing the tabla for an hour straight and Shivakumar Sharma had been playing the santoor for and hour and a half without stopping.  So unbelievable!

Zakir Hussain (an old fave!) has 35 fingers - at least that is how it looks from the audience.  His fingers fly so fast across the surface of the tabla that the sounds become a melody.  The depth of the bass notes become part of your heartbeat and the whole experience makes you hold your breath and only let it go when he stops!

Shivakumar Sharma is a guy with a shocking white 'fro!  He wore a fuschia kurta tonight with glod embroidery - difficult to take a guy seriously looking like that!  But when he began to play - the kids, My Darling and I were completely mesmerised.  He plays the instrument with a couple of metallic sticks.  The instrument looks like a cross between a harpsichord, a harmonium, a harp and thumb piano!  but the sounds that emerge from this thing sounded like a full orchestra in his two very capable hands.  Simply stunning!

This is one of those nights that I will remember long after we leave Chennai!  This is what I will miss - these kinds of experiences... oh and the VIP treatment!!

Committee Chaos!

I have been meaning to write this post for some time, but because of the committee chaos in my life, time got away from me.

I realised a while ago that I am not capable of saying 'no' without sounding aggressive, petulant and angry.  It is not a skill I have learnt and I would love someone to teach me the way and the words to be able to say this tiny little word which holds so much power without offending and alienating everyone!

I have found since I came to Chennai that people look at me as someone with 'nothing better to do'.  I am a teacher.  I got an honours degree in Education and English, I got my teaching certificate and I taught ... quite well, judging by the fact my colleagues, students and some of their parents are still in touch with me.  I have always been slightly over enthusiatic about anything I get involved in - just ask my kids!  I jump in with both feet and am very quickly up to my ears in whatever project I am on.

This does not mean I flounder half way - although that has been known!  I do try and see things through to the end.  I try to have a goal or product in mind and get things done.  Like the Chennai Chapter, like the New Parent Book, like the various t-shirt projects and like all the Double Decker paraphernalia.  I do work hard. 

That is not to say that I am the only one.  There are many many people working far harder than I and far more effectively.  These people are on committees.  This brings me to my thought for today.  I find my mental and physical being is in total chaos.  Committee Chaos.

Since coming to Chennai I have worked in various capacities on the BCA, the BBSC (committee member and secretary, OWC (chair of Entertainments, Childrens', Book Club, Tiffin, Playgroup, Bookstall, Halloween events, Santa Brunch, Welcome Back lunch etc etc etc), PTA (room parent, committee member, new parent coordinator, elementary coordinator, President, coordinator of many events, general helper!), Double Deckers, Logistics committee, Multicultural Comm, Chennai Chapter, Madras Kids, and many other bits and pieces that I don't even remember now!  I have proof read hundred of different documents, for AISC, GA, SPS etc.,and finally I am now Vice President of the IWA just to add one more straw to this particular camel's back.

I suddenly found that I did not have enough time or energy to even get up in the morning.  I was tired when I woke up and tired all through the day.  My friends being as supportive as they wonderfully are  - put up with my constant mantra of "Gosh, I feel tired".  how much patience and tolerance they must have!  My Darling, who has no trouble saying the 'N' word was less tolerant and far more impatient with the whole scenario! 

As a result, for the first time, I dropped out of a committee.  I stepped down from the Logistics Committee and suddenly felt a bit better.  yesterday, I finally realised how draining some people are.  One friend categorises the people in her life as 'life enhancers'  and I would say the opposite are 'drainers'.  The former help you, lift your spirits and your energy levels, perk up your day, it is not a burden to call them or take their call, to spend time together is not a mutual depression fest. 

The drainers on the other hand are doing just what it says on the box.  they suck out your soul.  They wither away what little positive flow you have and you are left wan and dry.  I have made a concsious decision to stay away from these sorts of people.  It is hard to keep your distance - I think they spot the glow of good health or good energy from a distance and come to seek you out!!  Almost like vampires sense fresh blood in the dead of night! (overly dramatic, I know - but I couldn't help myself!)

well, this all sounds very dramatic - but this is how I feel.

Since starting this post I have resigned from The Overseas Womens Club and stopped running the Tiffin Club (my baby!).  It was a wrench as I have been a part of this organisation since my second or third day in Chennai.  But - I am not here to be used or abused.  I don't know if it is acultural or moral or ethical difference, but some people think they can say or do anything just because they are on a committee somewhere - well let me put that daft notion straight - they can't.  I have to say that I feel lighter and less wound up - and I guess between now and my final departure from Chennai - I will drop a lot more burdens off my shoulders and let someone else take up the slack.