Monday, July 30, 2007

So fuming mad

We've just returned from the pool and I am so fuming mad.

To begin - at the begining. The apartment hotel that we stay in - has one main pool and one kids pool. Since there isint much space for sonny to burn off his excess energy - I take him to the pool every evening. A few weeks ago - he'd slipped and fallen in the pool at Riyadh. Since then he's been really scared of the waters (expectedly). But since we've gotten here, he seems to love the pool.

Usually there are a lot of kids playing in the pool. Since the kids pool has only 2 feet of water its really the tiniest of tots that play here. Which is good for me - coz sonny feels really threatened with the bigger kids.

This evening a family with 4 kids (good lord!!) got into the pool. Mom in abaya sat on the side and watched the maid help the kids into their swimming paraphernalia. I have not seen a more boisterous bunch than them - no really I havent. They whooped and screamed and dived ...into a 2 feet pool, hurting themselves and whooping some more. I know, I know, kids should enjoy themselves, as they please. But I am so mad - so bear with me.

All this banshee behaviour and sonny was clinging onto me like a creeper. With great difficulty I'd get him in the pool and the boys would begin jumping, splashing waster onto him and sonny would run like crazy and I'd get major heart attacks, expecting him to slip any moment. Something caught my eye and turned to look at the girl a lil closely. What do you know - she has a runny nose and the snot is running freely. She wipes it off with her hand...and...holy baloney washes her hand the frickin pool. The same damn pool in which there are other kids swimming. Not once but thrice.

I didnt know what to do. Should I speak to her mom and remind her that we do wish to share her daughter's viruses? Or should I be really bitchy and tell her - that if kids are sick, they should not be with other kids. Or show her how to wipe her daughter's nose with a tissue.
Nevertheless, I hauled sonny out of the pool and took him home.Fuming all the way home.

I've cooled down a bit now, but I wonder. What is the PC behavior for this? Of course, I made all sorts of inane comments to hubby about 'paisa but no manners'.

Should it happen again - whats the best way to deal with it?

Edited to Add:
Looks like I am not the only mom to think of pool etiquette. CNN yesterday carried a news article about how 'responsible' parents should behave at the pool. Hygiene experts recommend asking your kids every half hour if they need to use the washroom (because kids can forget while playing). MOthers with kids in swim diapers should check their diapers regularly in case the child has had a bowel movement. Kids with illnesses should not use the general pool area (for fear of passing infections). No changing clothes in the open - even for the smallest of kids. And more.
Of course there were the usual parents (like me) who complained about others not maintaining hygiene at the pool. And the recommendation was the speak to the parent of the child concerned.


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Change - the only constant

It all began innocuously enough. With Archie Comics – a Double Digest at that. As kids this was one piece of reading that was seriously frowned upon. My mother called it ‘trash’. As we grew older, we discovered more stuff that was soon classified as trash too – like Cosmo and Mills & Boon. But I digress. The compound library is fairly well stocked with fiction and as I later discovered with magazines and comics too. I felt a familiar wave of teenage nostalgia and I grabbed 2 comics.

That evening I put sonny to bed and curled up with the first of my comic books. As I flipped page after page, I just wasnt getting hooked onto Archie’s antics. As a matter of fact I found him shallow and ridiculous. Even Jughead, my fav character just didn’t whet my appetite for further reading. Betty, seemed less like the simple girl next door and more like a doormat and Ronnie who I’d always disliked was the only character who showed some – well – character.

With a lot of effort I managed to finish the first comic. I put my lack of appreciation to tiredness, fatigue, distraction – after all it was the end of the day. Maybe if I read it another time – the old magic would re-work itself.

I next picked up – John Grisham’s King of Torts. Grisham was one author, that I liked to read. Although his novels usually centered on courts and lawyers (except perhaps for The Painted House), I found him pretty good. I hadn’t read a Grisham in the last 3 years. I hadn’t read beyond ‘Da Vinci Code’ in the last 2 years (sad, I know). The King of Torts is in the Grisham genre of lawyers, yet it just didn’t hold me – I found it moralizing, sermonizing, at times just unbelievable. Yes, Grisham always has victory of good – over the corporates (read evil) yet this one was confused. Maybe I was confused. It took me a full week to finish this one – and even then I skipped a lot of pages and speed read the end (which really means I read every alternate para).

Then I wondered, what the hell was going on? It couldn’t be – that I was bored of reading. I still read the papers, a few magazines and a whole lot of blogs.

“You’ve grown up! Finally! Things change, people change” said hubby. That’s what I was worried about. Do people change so much that a lot of things which they take for granted or take as basic don’t hold true anymore? I mean your interest in reading is pretty strong, right? That cant change.

Then came this post by Tamil Punkster which The Mad Momma followed up with her version. TP talks about why marriage is so out for her and TMM talks about why marriage works for her. While reading and commenting on both, I realized that things that we hold as sacrosanct as youngsters (and now that I’m across 30 – I’m not one) probably start losing relevance as you grow up. Because other things start taking precedence and holding more importance to you.

I’ve always planned that I would have a child before I hit 30 and that within a year, I would be back at my job. The baby would be taken care of by a good nanny and I’d have my mom over to supervise the nanny. My mom is supervising a nanny – except the kid is not mine. Its my brother’s child. And here I am hundreds of miles away, being a housewife and taking care of sonny myself. What about my job? I chucked it 3 years ago. We’d been married for 6 months – hubby in Canada and me in Mumbai both holding our jobs and both being extremely unhappy. So I said good-bye to a job I loved and moved to Canada to be with hubby, with a man I loved and to start a family of my own. But then the choice was mine – and the choice really was – what made me happier? Sure I loved the job, but I guess I loved the man more.

A similar dilemma presented itself again – when I got the ‘I want a job’ pangs. I received an offer from an ad agency. Except that they were based in Dubai. Which meant I would have to split the family again. And this time – there was sonny to take care of too. Would I want the job and keep the father and son away? Probably seeing each other – once in 2 months with hubby missing out on all his daily antics. Was I ready to be a single parent for all practical purposes? Was I ready to be away from hubby – for a second time in our 3 years of married life? Sure I wanted the job, but I wanted the family even more so.

So yes, as a working woman there were things that I wanted – that I thought were non-negotiable, Yet time and circumstances made them the less ‘wanted’ objects. And all these transitions, decisions, choices, were made without too much angst. You instinctively knew what was the right thing to do.

So coming back to the original question. Does a person change so much over time, that things he/she holds sacrosanct looses relevance? Do circumstances play such a big role that valued objects lose their value? And then when you sit down and think about it – you don’t even think its such a big deal that you’ve made such a huge change in your thinking or plans?

Does that make you easily adaptable (which is a plus)? Or does it mean that you weren’t pretty strong in your original intent anyways (Uh-huh)?

Or does it mean – that finally you’ve become an adult, in its true sense. That you have the clarity of vision to see what you have and what you want in the long run. To put your ego aside and say “I may have wanted this but this is what I will need in the long run”. And yes, it means foregoing what was held as dear. To stand steadfast to the decisions even when others doubt you. To take what you’ve been served – even if its not to plan and devise a new plan around it.

Perhaps it does.

And who knows a few years down the line, even this will seem part of a bigger better plan/picture. I’m going to end this post with Ruyard Kipling’s If. Its apiece I have always loved. Everytime I read it – it fills me with fresh vigor and intent. I used to have it pinned up on my soft board at work. Must take a printout and put it on my fridge.

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

To School or Not to School?

I know all moms of 2 year olds go through this phase of thinking. Mad momma wrote a post on it. So did kodi’s mom. Rohini wrote about how Ayaan was taking well to her decision. And itchy was waiting to have a word with art about it. Tharini the veteran has already had a successful run with Winkie.

I’m talking about sending your pre-schooler to well – pre-school. Its just that time when you realize that your li un has to move out of your protective shadow and make his first foray into the world outside. Will he adjust to it? Will he like it? How will it impact you?

I was happy when I was told that the compound that we live in has a professionally managed preschool, literally 6houses away from mine. That solved a lot of transportation related problems for me.

Before I even visited the pre-school, I knew why I wanted to send him to one:

  1. Sonny is socially reticent. To an extreme. The word wall flower falls short. He sticks to his Ma till he soaks in the environment and then he walks away with his stroller to an isolated corner – and will keep running around, pushing his stroller till he is tired to bits. No child, no adult, no game and certainly no food is of any interest. I wanted him to get some social skills, be with other kids.
  2. I hoped that the time he was away, I would get a couple of hours to be with myself. My time.

That’s it. No great expectations in the learning department or memorizing department. All that would come later.

With some trepidation, I made an appointment with the pre-school. And checked against each of the criteria I had.

  1. Big open, tree covered play area. Good
  2. Mid –morning snack taken in the open play area, supervised by the teachers and the helpers. Good
  3. Smaller class rooms – with 15 odd kids per class. Iffy.
  4. Children seem happy. Good. One kid actually kept interrupting our conversation because he wanted to kiss his teacher. Thrice. He sure must be happy there.

And then they began telling me the rules and regulations for the school.
  1. School begins at 8am upto 1pm. That’s 5 hours, for a 2 year old. Sounded a bit too much.
  2. The preschool has a uniform. A uniform – for a 2 year old. Holy Christ – whats next??
  3. The child must carry a sandwich, a box of cut fruits/veggies, a pack of milk/juice and a can of water everyday. He will be made to finish this during the mid-morning break. Hurray! Finally someone can get food into sonny.
  4. The child will have to self-feed. By this time I was laughing. Sonny? Prince sonny? Self-feeding? O this will be one long school day, if they wait for sonny to eat on his own.
  5. The child must be toilet trained. Uh-huh! Lazy mommy get off your butt and toilet train your 2 year old!!
  6. No child with a sickness is allowed in school – if you send your sick child, you will be called and asked to pick him/her up. That’s a relief to know.
I started telling the director that sonny spoke very little. Certainly none of it was English. We have been very particular about speaking our mother tongue with him. English he was bound to pick up sooner or later. Oh, she said thoughtfully, that’s going to be a problem. Problem? Here I was waiting for a pat on my back for sticking to my roots, instilling love for the mother-tongue, etc. Why is it a problem? She suggests I stop speaking in my mother-tongue and start speaking in English with sonny at home. I look at her, as if she’s lost her head. She says, if you want your child to learn English faster you should be willing to help. If speaking in the mother tongue is so important, speak the same thing twice over – once in the native tongue and once in English. By this time, I have lost my patience, with the lady. I want to point out to her that the Chinese, the Japanese, the Spaniards, the French, the Germans and more than half the goddamn world studies in their native tongue and learns English only after they go to high school. And it’s not like I’m anti-English, I just more pro-Urdu! I thank her and leave.

Over the next few weeks, I meet a lot of other moms who are sending their kids to the same pre-school. Turns out one of the kids doesn’t speak English too. His mom, is as crazy as I am about retaining the mother tongue. But the child has managed to pick up English just by going to school. And no one asked her to speak bi-lingual at home. Another mom, says her kid is not toilet trained. And yet the school has accepted the kid without a comment. A third mother agrees, her son is also “in Pampers” as she calls it.

So now I’m wondering - if the rules mean nothing at all to them. If so, why have them? And now I’m filled with all sorts of doubts about the school. What kind of place makes rules and breaks them selectively? What other rules will they make and break at will? Am I ok with sending sonny here? Hell, whats the alternative? I cant send him outside the compound we live in. So what choice does that leave me with?

So as of this week, sonny’s not going to any pre-school, at least this autumn semester. I believe I have sufficient reason, to keep the apple of my eye, close to me, for the next 4 months. Logical, rational reasons. Nothing to do, with me having big time separation anxieties. Or me being such a sucker for sonny’s tears that the thought of them – makes me melt. Or the fact that I cannot bear the thought of not having a chirpy babbler following me around. Or the fact, that I hate to admit that my lil baby has grown up and now needs people other than his mom. The fact that my life totally revolves around sonny’s activities. And if he’s going to be away for 5 hours each day….what am I going to do? Or am I?

This decision has been pushed until Oct. After that lets see if mom and son have the stomach to stay away from each other.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Judgment Day

Getting there now tagged me to do a post on the things or people or attitudes that I judge. Here's my take on it.

  1. Those mothers who are otherwise fit and able and yet have a maid to look after their babies – I judge you (again nothing to do with SAHMs or WOHMs)
  2. If you are an Indian immigrant – and if I see you smooching in full public view in the Western Hemisphere – I judge you.
  3. All those women whose conversation skills do not extend beyond what they cooked, can cook, look forward to cook – I judge you.
  4. Those men – who incessantly talk about how well their moms cook, could cook – I judge you.
  5. People who bitch behind other’s back – I judge you. I reckon if you can bitch behind other’s backs, the moment I turn my back, you’ll be bitching about me too.
  6. If you talk about always wearing/using branded stuff, I judge you. To me – you need a brand’s personality to prop up your lack of one.
  7. When you are called to someone’s place and you fail to show appreciation to the hostess – I judge you. If you don’t like the food, appreciate the décor, or the kids or the home – surely you will find something to appreciate.
  8. You dont manage a basic thank you, sorry, please to those below you/lesser than you – I judge you, especially if you are all manners and kindness in front of your peers.
  9. If you keep putting down or insulting your spouse, your child, your MIL/DIL in front of others – I judge you big time.
  10. If I see you make no efforts towards ensuring that your child is not a general nuisance – I judge you.
  11. If you’re a Bachchan – I will judge you. I know this one is ridiculous – but no one said I was perfectly rational.
  12. If as a man you’ve walked out of a marriage, leaving behind kids – I judge you. If a woman walks out of a marriage – I say probably the reason was big enough for her to take this drastic step.
Go ahead, judge me!!


Sunday, July 22, 2007


That, ladies and the few gentlemen who frequent this blog, is how one breathes in the air of openness, of freedom and of relief.

Hubby was deputed to help out a fellow project manager in Bahrain, and sonny and I have tagged along. I shall bore you with my observations of this place for the next couple of weeks.

We drove from Riyadh to Manama (which is the capital of the Kingdom of Bahrain). It’s a 4 hour drive, cutting through the desert and finally reaching the port city of Dammam and then onto the magnificent twin bridges that link Saudi Arabia to this island state.

While we have made many, many drives across the US, the drive here was – well different. For one, we had a driver, who knew the routes. A far cry, from me trying to interpret hubby’s GPS and ‘trying’ to navigate while hubby yelled and drove at the same time. I am directionally challenged and instructions such as ‘after 100 feet turn sharply right’ make no sense to me – for I have look down at my hands to know that the one with the mole is the right hand – and so oh!! we have to turn this way – and by the time I know what to do – the turn has passed. So this time – we drove in peace.

The roads surprisingly were in excellent shape – 3 lanes each way – there was ample space to let the lunatics race away while we kept a steady 140kmph. The official speed limit for the highways is 120kmph, though it was not hard to spot the ones who did 180 or even 200. Not surprisingly, as usual, one saw a lot of accidents. And a lot of deserted vehicles.

The roads cut through the desert and the beauty of the surroundings would be far greater if the sides were not littered with worn out tires. Speed and heat had caused an untimely death for literally thousands of tires scattered all through the length of the highway. And yet, the sand dunes, the harshness of the environs, the lack of trees the relentless sun beating down all created a strangely romantic ambience.

And if you thought sand was well – after all – sand, you couldn’t have been more wrong. I saw alteast 6 shades of sand. From the ivory white sand, to the ash blond, the dirty blond, muddy brown, the maroonish red to the grey-ish sand – the landscape just kept changing colors – and yet nothing changed beyond that. I have yet to see the famed blue sands of the Farakka Desert in Egypt (where the song Suraj Hua Madham from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was shot).

My visions of seeing camels stroll past us leisurely - were all put to rest, since most of them were taking their siesta then. I barely saw a dozen camels and they too were merrily munching on the few available leaves. And I definitely didnt see any Bedouins. So much for my romantic illusions. We were hit momentarily by a bank of sand - but no sand storms - thank God!

It took an hour to clear customs at Bahrain. I later found out that while hubby and sonny had been issued a 2 week visa, me being poor Indian was issued only a 7 day visa. And while their visa cost us 5 Dinars each, mine cost 12. WTF!!!!

That aside, Bahrain seems to be nice place. No abaya – so I’m quite glad. I routinely see abaya clad women drive around and its such a welcome change to see female receptionists and waitresses. Lots of Indians and Sri Lankans here – so Indian stuff seems to be readily available.

The only minus – is that – inspite of being born and brought up in humid Mumbai – now whenever I reach a place with high humidity my hair just frizzes out. While the image of Monica from Friends keeps looming before my eyes (in the episode where they all go to this resort where Ross and Charlie have a conference and Mike proposes to Phoebe) - I hope keeping it tied down till it gets used to the place will be a better alternative than getting Monica-like braids :)


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Whatever happened to...

Anu Agarwal – Remember her? The Aashiqui girl? She did a series of forgettable movies like Khalnayika and just vanished. I hear she had a really bad accident and has since retired from public view.

Rahul Roy – And where is he? He too hung onto the coat tails of the Bhatt camp and did a few movies like Phir Teri Kahani Yaad Aayi. I heard he was turning director. But I guess out of sight is out of mind.

Ayesha Dharker – She last did Terrorist and hasn’t been seen since. I miss her on the silver screen.

Antara Mali – Her I do not miss. Last seen in a forgettable movie called Naanch with Abhishek Bachchan. The only thing I remember about this movie – is that he boob size changed with every shot.

Mamik – Aamir Khan’s bhaiyya(big bro) in Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikandar and Preity Zinta’s bhaiyya in Kya Kehna. Looks like no one wants a good looking bhaiyya anymore.

Aziz Mirza – He’s made some really good films like Yes Boss. He was a partner with SRK and Juhi Chawla to form Dreamz Unlimited – they made Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani. I wonder whats happened to him.

Minu, Sonia Singh, Rini Khanna nee Simon – Does anyone remember these English newsreaders for Doordarshan? They were so good. Sometimes I think I watched the news just to see and hear them read government propaganda.

Siddharth Basu – How can you forget the quiz master of Quiz Time? Charming, such good diction, always in control…..o I could go on. I saw him do a few Quiz Time spin-offs, but with the advent of satellite TV, e just faded away somewhere.

Ayesha Jhulka – She was such a fine actress. Hopes of marriage with Armaan Kohli led her to give up her film career – and he never married her. I last saw her do 2 bit bhabhi roles in movies.

Meenakshi Sheshadri – Do you remember this icemaiden of the 80s. Such a fine actress. I’m told she got married and wants to have nothing to do with the public eye now.

Madhu – Or Roja as we knew her – another fine actress. I don’t know if she’s still doing anything down South.

Jugal Hansraj – This Masoom kid was last seen in family friend Yash Chopra’s Mohabbatein. Wonder what he’s up to now?

Mamta Kulkarni, Sonu Walia, Somy Ali – and scores of other bimbettes blown in by the wind… scattered who knows where.

Farooque Shaikh – O I had such a huge crush on this guy – in all those funnies with Deepti Naval. Last seen doing ‘Jeena Isi ka Naam hai’ on Zee TV – and that was last year, I think. Where is he now?

If anyone has more public/media personalities to add – feel free…. These are all I could think of.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Maid in Riyadh

The first time I took sonny to the indoor play area, I was hoping to meet a few moms & get sonny introduced to a few kids his age. The sight that met my eyes left me baffled. Sure there were scores of kids running around, but no moms. There were scores of nannies. Nannies of all kinds. One group of South East Asians huddled in this corner, another group of sub-Saharan Africans chatting in the other, a few Indian sub-continent ones sprinkled for good measure. Where are all the moms, I wondered.

A couple of moms I did manage to see, were just dropping off kids to one practice or the other and rushing off to meet their ‘girl friends’ for coffee or at the gym. Super, I thought. This is life.

As a child of a working woman, my experience with nannies or ayahs or bais as we called them wasn’t pleasant. We’d seen our share of good nannies and bad ones, more bad ones than good. Ones that caned us kids, ones who ate up food meant for us, ones who couldn’t care less whether we lived or died. To my prejudiced eye, nannies could do nothing right.

I saw a nanny push relentlessly in the swing, the 11 month old in her care, till he cried nonstop. Or the time I saw a nanny escort a child out of the play area. She stopped to chat with another of her fellows. As I passed them, I saw the child was bleeding from his nose (a common occurrence in this part of the world, I’m told). Hey, I yelled, he’s bleeding. Yeah she replied nonchalantly, I have to take him home and get some ice. I better go. As I watched agape, she hugged and kissed her fellow mate and slowly sauntered off with the child in tow. I was even more pissed when I saw the mother of the child sitting with her younger child, at one of the birthday parties organized there. Obviously, while I was getting all hyped off, the 2 care takers had other important things on their plates.

Was it my imagination or were the kids generally more badly behaved when the nanny was around? Maybe their mothers wouldn’t take their shitty behavior and poor nanny had no option. Then again, wouldn’t a mother want to supervise her child at play? I believe sonny and I have the best of times when we saunter around in the compound picking up stones and dried leaves and pointing out at flowers or birds. If the mommy was working, I could still understand, but hey, most women here don’t work.

Why would you leave your child with the hired help? Especially since there is no effort required on your part, but to stand and supervise your child running around or playing on the swing or the slide. This is what I would call ‘quality time’. Why pay someone else to do it for you? I guess I would never understand their mind-set.

Meanwhile, as I saw these women every day, I began to see the persons behind the uniforms. Like B, our first household help. Charming, forever smiling and full of energy. In her mid 40s she works for atleast 10 hours each day, sometimes 12. She has 3 kids between the ages of 21 and 16 and right now, she’s willing to move heaven and earth to get her eldest son a visa to come and work here. As a driver. She works 4 hours each in 2 houses, then cooks for another lady and sometimes baby sits for another lady. And then goes home and cooks and cleans for her husband. I don’t know, when she has last seen her children, for she hasn’t gone back home for at least 2 years.

Or K, our current help. She already has one full day job, but free lances for me – just to earn the additional few riyals. In her mid 20s she hasn’t seen her 5 year old since a year. She was married for 2 weeks when she got her visa to Kuwait. To work as a household help. She worked for 2 years, went back to Sri Lanka and had a baby. When her son was 2 she got her next visa. So she left her son with husband and mother in law and winged it to KSA. When I asked her, if she would like to be paid monthly or weekly, she laughingly replied, “o monthly mam. If you pay me daily, I’ll just go and buy phone cards to call my son in Sri Lanka”. Her answer just tore my heart.

Its no wonder that she just showers so much love on sonny, hugging him and kissing him, whenever she can. Hard hearted boy that he is, he just brushes her off. I often wonder if she sees he son – when she sees sonny.

And these aren’t stray cases. Every maid, nanny here has a similar story. Of children left behind, in families’ care while they strive to earn a few bucks. To get their kids a better life. Of husbands and wives being apart for years on end. Working, chasing a dream.

And if you thought, these women have a tough life, consider this. One of the drivers here, was returning home, late at night, when he got a flat tire. So he put on his flashers and stopped to change the tire. A trailer coming that way, didn’t see him and ran him over. He didn’t even make it to the hospital. He hadn’t been home in 4 years. This summer, which is vacation time here, he’d gotten permission to go home. There were 2 weeks to his vacation. His ticket was ready, he’d bought gifts for his 4 young ones and was getting set to head home. Destiny willed otherwise.

And then I thank God for his blessings. For making sure my family is together. For making sure we don’t undergo such hardships. Minor irritants, like abaya, female segregation, etc somehow doesn’t seem all that bad after all.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Sonny's Antics

I’ve realized I’ve ended up passing around my depression – by writing a bit too much about life here. For a change I’m going to write about sonny :)

My own Shabri:
The Ramayan tells of the story of Shabri. Shri Ram was to visit her ashram in the jungle and she wanted to serve only the choicest, ripest, sweetest fruits and berries to him. So she bit into each one of them to ensure only the sweetest ones were served to him. Of course, Shri Ram realized the extent of her ‘bhakti’. My own lil Shabri here is sonny – he takes a bite of the chicken and/or veggies then removes it from his mouth and promptly offers it to me. My vehement nos are disregarded and it is stuffed into my mouth. If I am far away and he cant reach my mouth – he simply tosses it onto the floor – from where I have to rescue the poor food.
Hubby’s take, of course, is – its either your mouth or the bin.

Aye Taa:
That’s what passes off in sonny land for “yeh kya?” or whats this? Every lil thing – is questioned. Especially cars – each time a car passes I have to offer some comment on it ‘grey car’ or ‘chevrolet tahoe’ or ‘white pick-up’. And you can well imagine the speed with which I have to speak on highways – trying to keep up the descriptions as cars whiz by us. Each stationary car is touched and I have to name each part – headlights, tail lights, number plates, the works.

Sonny has fallen for books on the rebound. I just have to say ‘lets read’ and he just races across the room into my lap – ready to read anything that has pictures in it – including the newsletter that the compound sends us. Everyday, n number of times a day – and sonny is still not tired. Every time he does that – I send up a silent prayer for his renewed love for books.

The Student becomes the Teacher:
One good investment, we’ve made, is a black board, cum white board from Ikea. So I write alphabets and numbers – and he says ‘aye taa’ and I say them aloud for him. To check if he’s understood – I ask him ‘where’s B?’ and he points it out or ‘where’s F?’ and he’ll point out. So I presumed he was getting the alphabets. A few days ago – I made some drawings – and sat down to check my mail. I kept hearing ‘aye taa’ in the background – and would look up to answer. Laziness struck after a while and kept repeating house or sun. The ‘aye taa’ become sharper almost strict, I mumbled sun again – and an aye taa accompanied by the sound of chalk hitting the black board told me – he was asking about something else. So now he quizzes me about alphabets and numbers. If I’m wrong – the aye taa is repeated. Third time wrong the aye taa is sharp and strict and I hear the chalk hitting the board. Guess who is the student now.

My lil helper:
You can well imagine the amount of time sonny spends in the kitchen. For now if I say ‘get out mamma’s tea saucepan’ and in a flash – its taken out. Hubby of course believes I’m making a girl out of his lil man.

Out of sight:
As you can well imagine – sonny has a few toys here with him – we improvise with the ones he has here. His latest development is – once he’s finished playing with a toy he just slides it under the couch or under the TV table. Out of sight! So no toys littering the floor. Of course he also forgets that its there – and when the maid brings them out – he is most delighted. But I am impressed at his ability to ‘clean-up’ after his play. So now we’ve got him a toy basket from Ikea – it’s a tall mesh basket that stands up – and he can put his toys in there once he’s finished. Lets see if he uses this one – or still prefers sliding them under the couch.


Monday, July 09, 2007

Riyadh rules

Like with every place, KSA or Riyadh to be specific has its own list of dos and donts, accepted practices and what have you.

Here are some that I thought were interesting:
  1. You already know about the abaya rule – each woman has to wear an all-encompassing black gown and a head scarf. What I did find was that most expats, wear the gown and just leave the scarf on the shoulder. So should someone object (no one has to date) you can always wrap it around your head – else at least your head is free.
  2. Salat or prayer times are very strictly enforced – esp for the men-folk. So 5 times a day (4 actually – since the first morning prayer is at 3.45am or so) all shops down their shutters for about 20 mins giving the faithful time to say their prayers. Women are spared of this rule. All malls, shops, shopping complexes, restaurants, every lil bit of commercial enterprise will shut itself down. Can you imagine, if you were in a mall and the shop shut itself down, you just have to wait outside the shop – on the benches thoughtfully provided for you. Or you reach a restaurant – and find out – you have to wait outside coz its shut for salat. After a while you do get used to it – and check timings before you leave home – just so you aren’t stranded outside.
  3. There is a ministry here called ‘Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice’ or ‘Muttawwa’ – no really, this is true. The sole objective of this ministry is to ensure that women remain honorable (meaning abaya rule is enforced) and men-folk remain on the right path (meaning prayer time rules are enforced). So if the muttawwa should find a Muslim man loitering on the streets during the prayer times – he is hauled away and made to pray. Of course – non Muslims are spared. I have actually met people who have been picked off the street and taken to say their prayers.
  4. Executions do happen in this part of the world – and open air executions at that. However, did you know that China has more executions per year than the KSA? Even the USA has more executions per year than the KSA. Bet you didn’t expect that too.
  5. Most restaurants and/or take-out joints have 2 sections – the bachelor section and the family section. Even Starbucks has 2 separate queues to place orders. Ikea, Mc Donalds, KFC you name it – and they follow the 2 separate sections rule. And mind you these sections are strictly enforced.
  6. I’m not too sure about the ‘male to accompany every woman’ rule. I myself have been out by myself – sans hubby – at malls and so have many many other women. In fact, the compound where we stay has a shuttle bus, twice daily that takes women to the various malls and picks them back at the pre-appointed time. And all women on the bus – are by themselves – no males.
  7. The Ramadhan month rule – no matter what your faith – you cant eat or drink outside your house – during the fasting hours – which usually are from 4.30am to about 7pm. I don’t know what the repercussions are – should you be found eating or drinking – but I can imagine they will be rather strict. O the good thing is – offices work for just 6 hours – from 9am to 3pm all through Ramadhan , and shopping complexes are open all night.
  8. Human labor is cheap and very freely available. Maids, drivers, cleaners, cooks, maintenance staff, gardeners, you name it….are all there to spoil and pamper you rotten.
  9. Gas is cheap – 0.45 SR a liter. 1USD = 3.75 SR. So effectively its approx 46 cents a gallon……. Yes go ahead and shriek…..Is it any wonder that most people drive SUVs here? And most families have more than 2 cars.
  10. Did you know that according to the Islamic rule – the groom has to make all the arrangements for the wedding? The bride’s family is only responsible for bringing the Qazi – who will perform the rites – max 15 mins duration. And the bride’s father/brother/responsible male relative will demand a ‘meher’ on behalf of the girl – almost as an alimony for the marriage. This is dowry is reverse – and yet there are often complaints as to how the bride’s male relatives have gobbled up the alimony that is rightfully due to the bride. I wonder – when and how – female abuse will end.
  11. I am amazed at the number of lingerie shops I see in the malls – almost every 5th or 6th shop is a lingerie shop. I wonder with so much ‘cover up’ happening – who’s buying all those fur trimmed teddys and leopard print thongs and lace negligees. Don’t point towards the expats – we’re way too few to sustain such a thriving industry. Not to mention all those off shoulder evening gowns, and plunging necklines that I routinely see in the shop windows. I have seen more Vera Wang gowns here than in my entire stay in the US.
  12. Siesta – these guys seriously believe in it. Most shops – with shut for the mid-day salat (At approx 11.30am) and will re-open only after the evening salat (at about 4pm). After Goa, Calcutta and a lot of small towns in India – this is probably the only place outside of India where I have seen this happen.
  13. As an Indian – be prepared to be discriminated against. Since most of the blue collar workers are Indian or from the sub continent you are automatically assumed to be one. And as we say in India, ‘yahan paisa bolta hai’ (money talks). How to get around the discrimination? Spout an American or Brit accent or wear smart clothes or better still flash a non Indian passport or do something absolutely expat-ish.
  14. The speed limits here are 120km/hr (approx 75miles/hr) – way higher than permitted in the US. Cars are fitted with special beepers should you cross 120. And no body cares about the beeps. You routinely see cars literally whiz across. And you routinely see accidents. Especially since there are no rules about round-abouts or right of ways. If there is an accident involving 2 cars – how do you decide who is at fault. There is a pecking order for that too. Between a westerner and a local arab – the westerner is at fault, between an Asian and westerner the asian is at fault. Mind you, the local is never at fault.


Monday, July 02, 2007

To cut a long story short. - 1

In the past few months – every time something of interest happened – I’d think to myself this is one story I have to share. But as time went by – I think I have forgotten a great many of them. Here's one that I do remember.

Veil Wail.

The morning after we landed – we wanted to go to the lobby for breakfast. Hubby and I got into an argument – if the abaya ‘had’ to be worn in the hotel. Hubby insisted that the hotel was one from an international chain and it would be preposterous for them to ask their customers to wear an abaya. A quick call to the reception confirmed my fears – international or not – an abaya was a must. So down we went – me tripping in my gown – and sonny trying to tug at the scarf that I managed to wrap around my head.

Turns out families must be seated in a ‘family section’ only. We went in to see a couple of other families eating. One table caught my attention. 2 women sat and ate by themselves. Not wanting to stare I threw surreptitious glances in their direction. The woman’s head was of course covered by a black head scarf. Not just that she had an additional piece of cloth that extended from one ear to another, over her nose. Effectively you cud just see her eyes. And seeing hubby – she managed to produce another cloth that she dropped over her head – so now – look ma – no eyes to be seen as well. How is she going to eat, I thought. She demonstrated. She pierced a piece of fruit in her fork, brought the fork down, took it under the cloth covering her face, which she lifted ever so slightly and managed to put it in her mouth. Every single bite went through this elaborate procedure. Man, I thought, I would give up eating, if I had to do this.

I looked at her hands - whatever little were visible. Well taken care of, manicured, with a bright red nail polish to boot. Pretty rings adorned her fingers and she ate with great care.

And I wondered - what kind of a woman would would take so much care of herself - and then cover it all up? The feminist in me was befuddled - of course you dress for yourself - and not for outsider appreciation - so then is she the ultimate feminist? But what kind of feminist would put herself through this rigmarole at every meal? Is int feminism about liberation?

I dont know - but the more I see of these women, the more I wonder.