Thursday, July 22, 2010

TWO OPPOSITES

Today is my sister's birthday and I am suddenly transported back to my days spend with her. She is just an year older than me and I have spent twenty one years of my life with her. How time files, she got married in the year 1989 and life changed for me after that. We were only two of us, so it was but natural that we were very close to each other. Me and my sister went to the same school, same college and shared the same room. So it took me quite some time to adjust a life once she got married.

My parents till today fondly recollect her childhood than mine for obvious reasons. She was the most hassle-free kid ever known. She never had any health problems in her childhood, she mingled very well with everyone and was very playful. She never fussed for anything. All my aunts, uncles till date fondly quote her as one of the best kids ever born. They simply adored her.My parents often wondered why parents complain about raising kids, because she was the perfect one.

I was born and all their dreams of blissful parenting got shattered. I had loads of health problems, would never stop crying, never ate properly. There was no hospital in town which they did not visit for me. Doctors could not figure out my failing health and never ending crying. In fact my dad vexed with my incessant crying even had asked my mum to throw me in the drain. I had ruined their happy days.  After endless visits and numerous tests, one doctor finally diagnosed and gave the correct medication. It was only after that my health improved.

She was loved by everyone at the school also for she was the obedient child. I used to envy her at times, specially because I always had to follow her used text books. The only time I had a new text book was in English literature. She studied "Midsummer night's dream' and our batch had 'Merchant of Venice'. I just cherished my new text book and wouldn't even let her touch.

Though she was quiet, but she was very boisterous by nature. She loved playing a lot. She would play with any kid in the neighbourhood. Age, looks nothing mattered to her. So her clothes and  shoes would wear and tear fast. I was the prim and proper kid. Personal appearance mattered to me a lot, but she cared the least about herself. She would come back playing and her clothes would be dirty and torn. She would play with anyone and everyone. I had lots of reservations when choosing friends. Hence I would hate when my parents would buy three to four pairs of clothes for her and just one for me. My wardrobe would be full, because I never soiled my clothes.

We were two poles apart in every aspect. But I just enjoyed every moment with her. This year we both complete twenty one years away from each other.  Writing my childhood memories, I still feel as if all this happened just yesterday. She is the mother of a college growing daughter, but for me she is my dear sister who has always cared for me and been there whenever I needed her. She stays miles apart from me today. Busy in our own world of commitments, we hardly meet once in a year. But  even today if I had the option, I would love to spend  as much time as possible with her.  I wish her all the best on her birthday and wish her a very very happy future.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

FACEBOOK FASCINATION


I recently  had a heated discussion with my eleven year old daughter, who was persistent in joining face book. Face book occupies the top priority along with hair straightening in her 'I want it now list'. She named many of her under aged friends in defence, but I put my foot down and firmly said 'no'.  She is  just counting days for her thirteenth birthday. Such is the magnetic charm of face book that every kid wants to be a part of it. But the amazing bit  is that it has succeeded in drawing even old people to its fold. I have few relatives who have grown up grandchildren. They are so active on face book. It has definitely succeeded  in building the generation gap. It's a place where both grand parents and grand children scrap with each other and chat.


The social chatting sites such as orkut, hi-fi, face book  have successfully caught the attention of everyone. Special mention needs to be made of face book in particular, which seem to be attracting everyone in droves. Though the minimum age to join face book is thirteen years, I find kids as young as six featured in the face book. They have no problem adding years and increasing their age just to join face book. The parents do not seem to be bothered either about it.

The most baffling aspect for me is the huge number of friends some of people exhibit on face book. Some of them have crossed the thousand mark. I have around one fifty and I find it difficult to remember who is in my list.There are some die-hard fans of face book. They use every application offered by the site, building farms, selling and buying gifts, sending chocolates, hearts, joining forums, posting pictures and videos, commenting on them. The list is endless. Some of them are always online on face book. They keep updating every few minutes what they feel. I wonder when do they get time to do their other chores or work. It's a new hobby for many of them.

There are mixed reactions on face book. Some feel it's a waste of useful time and intruding too much into one's personal space, while for some it's a way to connect and increase their social standing. But the sad part of face book is  people prefer slouching before the computer trying to find friends online, rather than taking the effort to get out of the house and make real friends in the outside world. Half of the people in today's world do not have the time to talk to a neighbour, but have all the time to chat online or search for still more friends on the net. I was recently surprised when I went to visit one of my friends and saw her daughter engrossed the entire time chatting with her friends on face book.

But face book does have its own advantages also. It has helped me connect with many of old school and college mates, whom I had never even imagined I would ever keep in touch again. It is also a very good reminder for birthdays. Each friend's birthday generates a new mail in the inbox. So my brain has less exercise now.

Though my daughter is keen on approaching her thirteenth birthday, I am more keen on enjoying her time with me before she touches thirteen. I am sure that day is not far when she would not even get time to talk to me or anyone once she has her face book id. I wish I had half of facebooks' charm, specially needed to keep a growing kid happy.



Tuesday, July 20, 2010

THE BOOK SELLER OF KABUL

I have just completed a beautiful book 'The Bookseller of Kabul', written by Asne Seirstad, a Norwegian author. She worked as a war correspondent and has reported on various wars all over the world. This book has been written in Norwegian and has been translated into various languages.

This book is a true story of Sultan Khan who resisted all the authorities and sold books in Kabul for more than twenty years. He was tortured and imprisoned and many of his books were set on fire, but nothings could deter his passion for books. The author Asna decided to stay with Sultan's family to understand life in Afghanistan. Sultan welcomed her and she spent four months with the family. She beautifully narrates Sultan's passion for books amidst political turmoil and gives us a wonderful insight in life of the people of Afghanistan.

The language is simple and appealing. As a reader, I felt one among the characters undergoing those experiences. Sultan's family like many other Afghans have faced years of political unrest, with their lives oscillating between warlords, local chiefs etc. Sultan himself was born in  a poor family, but his parents ensured that he attended school. This is where his love for books started. He used to collect old manuscripts, hide them lest his books might be burnt. He bought crates and crates of books on Persian history, poetry, art, literature etc. He had a rare collection of manuscripts and he published literature of every regime. even in prison, he bribed officials to get books on history, poetry etc.

Sultan's has a large family, and this book parallely describes  members of his family and how they are affected by the changes in Afghanistan. This book provides an insight into changing lives of women under different regimes. I thouroughtly enjoyed reading, specially the way the author desribes wearing the burkha and how she feels the experience of wearing it. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

THE FLOW

A few months ago. when I had decided to make changes in my way of living, I strictly made timetables, religiously jotted them in a book, ticked them daily an at the end of the week to check if I was on the right track. If due to any reason, I could not stick , I would end up feeling guilty, though on occasions, the guilt has forced me to stick to my schedules more religiously.

I was walking religiously, then slowly added blogging and cooking new dishes to my schedule. Cooking has never been my forte. I stuck to my walking schedule for many months , but for the past one month tried to add variety to it. I still do an hour of physical activity every day during weekdays but do different ones each day. Coupled with this, I am trying to write few lines at least three to four times a week. Initially when I started my blog, I was more rigid in my approach to it and would constantly remind myself that I have to write. But now  having attempted to write few articles, I am no more fixed in my attitude to write. I had started blogging to keep myself occupied, so now I write whenever feasible. I do get up early to write, but now I do not feel the pressurised by it.

Similarly for doing my physical activity, earlier I had to constantly remind myself that I had to do an hour of physical activity everyday. I would think over it , remind myself each day, but now I just get up and go for the activity. I have stopped  thinking about these things, writing, exercising, cooking etc. I just go with the flow and I feel I am able to push myself now. In fact, since I am constantly doing one thing after another, I feel I am able to fit in more activities in my schedule.

For the past one month, I have been able to juggle myself well. Earlier, if I did an hour of physical activity, I would end up eating out. because my knee would ache a lot after the exercise. Even now my knee hurts, but I have still decided to go ahead with it and not stop my life. It still hurts like hell on some days, I cannot sleep some nights, but when I get up the next day morning and keep myself occupied in the kitchen, I completely forget about the pain. So previously if my knee hurt, I would avoid standing long hours in the kitchen to cook. We would just go out and eat. But now, I look forward to cook. It helps me to divert myself from the pain and I have realised that I do not think about the pain an more. Secondly, pushing myself definitely helps me feel good at the end of the day.

I do not know if it is too early to say that I will be motivated daily this way to manage my life this way, but one thing is for sure , I do feel much better if I go with the flow and not think about it. So my life is much simpler now, I get up write few lines on my blog, organise my morning cooking, do some physical activity, come back home, finish my writing, cook for the evening, try reading a book and my day is over. I feel more relaxed now with the present flow of my life.

I still have a long road ahead to travel, but I will take one step at a time and enjoy it now.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

WHAT DO YOU WANT ?

'What do you want' is a simple question. Any kid if questioned will have a prompt answer. But do adults have an answer to that ? Do we have an answer at all ? I have my own reservations, because my answer varies daily. The latest trendy answer, I often keep reading or listening is  'I want happiness'. Don't they have happiness right now? Are not they happy in whatever they are doing or whatever they have ? The usual tendency is, a person craves for something that he or she does not have. The happiness answer sets me thinking. Everyone is craving for something else than what he has. Does that mean that they are curently unhappy. Now the focus shifts from 'what do you want' to 'what is happiness' ?  Some say happiness is a state of mind, some say it varies from person to person. Some view happiness as the journey of life and not the goal. So even here there are no easy  answers to the question.

Trying to find answers, people  try reading books of motivational authors, surf the net, read motivating forwards, attend seminars on life, assuming that one of them will provide an answer to attain happiness. We think some one else will teach  us how to live our lives. I think its pretty weird, though I myself have fallen prey to that. Reading Dale Carnegie, Steven Covey, Robin Sharma, hungrily devouring sites such as zen habits, storing and reading some motivating forwards again and again. Does all this sound familiar. We  all  do it one time or the other. They do provide us a momentary high and we feel satisfied. We feel we have got answers to some questions and feel satisfied. But that euphoria does not last long. We become  disillusioned again and start searching for answers to the  questions of life -"What do I want?", "How to be happy?"

Some people do say that they are very happy in their lives and content, because being content is happiness to them. So does that mean that they do not want anything more in their lives. I am not sure what does contentment mean. Is it contentment in the job they are doing, contentment in the relationships they have, contentment in every aspect of life they are leading ?  I have no answers, because when probed more, they again have a list of things they are unhappy with. I have not come across anyone who has ever said "I do not want anything."  I wish to meet someone like that one day.

Some say  'Well, I don't know what I want". I place myself in this category. I have no idea of what I want in my life, because it keeps changing each day. As regards what gives me happiness, if I had figured it out, I would have been happy always, which is not true. I feel sad at times, cannot figure out how things are shaping in my life, why my life is shaping in such a way. Some motivators say that we are responsible for our destiny. We shape our lives. In that case, there wouldn't be so much of pain and suffering around. No one wants to suffer or  have problems. Does that mean that people who are suffering have shaped thier lives to suffer. Who would do that ?Some argue and say suffering, hardships are destiny. We cannot control our destiny is what  some opine, but we can control our lives by our actions . Are life and destiny different, I have no idea. We all have to give our best shot at everything we do, and yet if the consequences are bad, it is simply blamed on destiny. The other school of thought says, God is testing us by throwing challenges, hardships. He wants us to be more strong. Why do we need to be more strong ? The answer is so that we become more tough when destiny throws more difficult challenges at us. Why do we need to be tested time and again  by God? I have always been told that we are Gods' creation and he knows us better. I am confused.
I am still trying to figure out answers to the above questions, hoping they will help me answer my basic question 'What do I want' ? Does that mean that I am unhappy because I do not know what I want. I am not unhappy, but that does not imply that I am happy always.  But I know one thing for sure that even if I do not know what I want in my life, I am a normal human being, because I feel and react to both pleasure and pain.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

RUSTIC HOLIDAY

The bullock cart was giving us our growing bones all the required shakes trudging on the uneven road. But me and my sister were least perturbed as, we and our mom were the privileged ones. My dad along with my cousin were walking behind us. We were travelling to my aunt's house which is located in an interior village. This village is located in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India. There were no bus routes laid in those days. I was ten years old then. The nearest big village was few kilometres away. So a bullock cart came and picked us from the bus stop. This is one of the trips I have always enjoyed in my childhood.

The village had very few houses. The house where my aunt lived, is a unique house. My aunt still lives there. There is a courtyard in the middle of the house, and there is a well in the courtyard. The courtyard is surrounded on all sides by four houses and each house has a veranda before it. The well is quite deep. There were no bathrooms in those days. The women folk would get up very early before sunrise and finish their ablutions.  Men would just jump into the well, at the drop of a hat. They did not require any swimming training. There were no buckets and mugs in those days. They would use baskets made up of leaves and use them as mugs instead. We as kids loved the concept of bathing with fresh well water. We would splash baskets of water all around.

A typical day would start with people waking up to the cock's crowing. No alarm clocks were needed for waking up. Everybody slept on the veranda. In fact the veranda was the most exciting place for all activities till sunset. The women folk would be chop their vegetables, men would sit, drink coffee and discuss village politics. The cooked lunch would be eaten there only. We relished eating  food cooked slowly over charcoal fire by my aunt. There was no concept of dining tables. It was the ideal place for chitchat. People would step in their houses only to change clothes or store any groceries. All houses would remain open always. I do not recollect anyone locking doors. Only at night they would close the main door to drive away animals.

Kids would jump and hop from one house to the other, play hide and seek .Since there were four houses, everyones' veranda would always be bustling with activity. Since those days there was no concept of nuclear families, each family had children of all ages. In fact there were people of every age group. So we were never short of any companionship. If we ever wanted to get out, our cousins would walk us around the village. We loved walking through the fields plucking berries, groundnuts, mangoes straight from the tree. It was sheer fun. My cousins would just climb trees, dive into ponds and we would rave about their extra-ordinary talents. We as kids just loved being a part of it. The day would just pass by.

Sunrise to sunset was the most busy time in the village. The most amazing bit was the stillness after sunset as there was no power in those days.. The entire day, the womenfolk would be on their toes, busy with their daily tasks. Once the sun set, people would eat their dinner. Immediately, the entire veranda would be washed and thoroughly cleaned to make preparations for sleeping. They would lie down once it became dark. All these was very amusing to us, since we never slept so early back at our homes.

The entire area would look like one huge bedroom. Everyone would  lie down and chat till their eyes drooped off. We kids lying under the open sky would count the stars, enjoy the moonlit nights and sleep with the cool night breeze fanning us. None bothered about mosquitoes in those days. I do not recall having ever bitten in those days. Only during rainy season, people would sleep indoors. We usually went during summer holidays and never had to sleep indoors. We visited my aunt's village regularly during our school  holidays.

I took my ten year old daughter to the village an year back. I was surprised to see the way things have changed.  Televisions, mobile phones, gas stoves, refrigerators etc have invaded the village. People have no time for chatting. Very few people are left in my aunt's house, as all kids have grown up and migrated to cities for education or better prospects. Only a handful are interested in farming. The verandas look empty.My aunt still stays in the village clinging to old memories. She does not want to join her kids who have moved to cities. She remains the only link to my childhood holiday memories.

MY COOKING DISASTER

Being a member of the female species, it was but natural that , during my growing years, we two sisters would be seen in the kitchen helping my mother doing small errands. Since my mother did all the sweating, we took pride in the one odd dish we prepared or the cleaning we did. All that seemed so easy then, never realising that my mother would immediately rescue in case of failed missions.

I was lucky after my marriage too, since we had many helping hands at my in-laws place. So an odd job here or there, a helping hand was maximum that I did. Only in the year 2004, when I moved to Assam,a state in the north eastern part of India, I tried to do cooking in the real sense. My husband got transferred to a lovely place set amidst tea plantations.Since my husband isn't a fussy eater, I was managing the cooking experiments. Both my daughter and husband had no choice and learnt to survive  through my culinary mishaps.

A few months later I felt confident to invite people for dinner, not knowing what was in store. My husband was not very keen on the idea. Maybe he did not want to loose face before his friends. But he did not want to disappoint me either. So I went ahead confident of myself. I still vividly remember the day. I had invited two families for lunch. I did my needed shopping the previous evening. I got up early to ensure that the house was clean. As I had planned the menu, so I went around doing the preparations. I finally had prepared a couple of starters, cooked two varieties of vegetables, set chilled yogurt, made a chutney, cooked a lentil etc. I prepared the dessert and chilled in the refrigerator. I felt quite satisfied with my work. The only dish left was the cumin rice which was my main item. I had invited them around 12 in the afternoon, so wanted to prepare the rice an hour before for  it to be hot. I freshened myself up as I had time so went ahead and  laid the table.

Around 11, I went to prepare the rice. I has specially bought basmathi rice the previous evening. Basmathi is a variety of rice which enhances the flavour of fried rice, biryani or any other  rice preparation. It is usually used during occasions. The most important criteria for cooking rice is to ensure that the water proportion has to be correct. Usually when ordinary rice at cooked at home,  the standard proportion followed is two portions of water to one portion of rice. But for basmathi rice, the water quantity is reduced at least by half a cup. There are varieties of basmathi rice available in the market. Experienced hands can gauge the approximate water suitable to different varieties of basmathi rice.

I applied the standard rule and added one and half cup of water.   Each aromatic grain of basmathi rice when cooked, actually appears separate and look beautiful.  But my cumin rice, when opened looked an absolute disaster. It looked like a semi -paste. I had miscalculated the water portion and I had cooked quite a large quantity. My guests were due any moment.  I was at an absolute loss how to handle it. Even if I throw the paste away and recook, I only had the same basmathi rice with me. I practically had tears in my eyes. I was cursing myself thinking that I should not have been so confident and invited people.

One of the couples whom I had invited was my immediate neighbour. She is quite a good friend. She just walked in, seeing me in this state, immediately came to my rescue. She suggested some immediate damage control measures. I could not believe it. She took a large plate and poured out my semi rice paste. She took a jug of chilled water from the fridge. She dipped  her hand every time in chilled water and started separating small lumps of rice. She arranged the seperated rice grains on a different plate.Viola, they got separated. I too followed suit. Since the rice was steaming hot, our hands by the end of it grew red. We were both sweating, but it was disaster averted at the last minute. We just finished our task and I profusely thanked her for her timely intervention.

The guests arrived and I was really worried when the guests were serving rice. But everything went on peacefully. It was a success, nobody noticed anything unusual about the rice. Had it not been for my friend, I would have had the first culinary mishap. She saved me  a lot of embarrassment in my life.

I have had many such culinary mishaps in the kitchen, but not when I have invited people for lunch or dinner. The culinary mishaps have definitely improved my cooking over the years, and I can rate myself to be an average cook at the end of the day. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

THE AQUA-AEROBIC HUG

Every Monday and Friday mornings, I go for the aqua-aerobic class which lasts one hour. We are a group of ten to twelve ladies who receive training from a  wonderful lady from New Zealand. Unlike many others in my group, I am not a swimmer. In fact I struggle to swim across the pool. The best part of aqua-aerobics is though swimming is an advantage, it definitely is not a pre-requisite.

The trainer does various muscle-strengthening exercises in water using noodle, swim board, plastic balls, weights etc.  Since I have this opportunity of learning aqua- aerobics, I thought of making the best use of it. The best part is the coach offers lot of variety each time. That's where lies the fun bit for me, since I am a person who needs a lot of variety in everything I do. Secondly the charm to exercise in a group has its own share of enjoyment as insular activities do not sustain my excitement for long.

I did try monotonous and insular activities before, like walking. I was earlier walking regularly and I did find it enjoyable. But if I have a choice, I would opt for variety. Walking indeed helped me a lot, since I got into the mood of doing physical exercise. I did try my hand at swimming before, but swimming daily seemed monotonous for me. I could not sustain long.

At the aqua-aerobics class, most of the exercises are done at the lower or middle end of the pool. Since  I am a short person, I am happy exercising at my comfortable level. Some exercises even involve doing with partner which is really pleasurable. Exercising in water has lot of benefits. One does not feel the heat of sweating out, even though one is exercising. Secondly, limbs get a very good work out since one does not feel the weight in water. The same exercise if performed in land definitely would seem strenuous. The splashing, the giggles, running across the pool, the twists all are great entertainment. One hour just flies by.

I also enjoy the way the coach keeps enquiring 'Are we all still smiling", when we are all sweating out in water. She is a very good motivator who always has a smile on her lips. She charges 5 ringgit from each person and the money is utilised for educating two orphan girls.

The lesson always ends with a self -hug. I at least never knew one could hug oneself and give  a good pat for having done a good job. I am sure many of us have heard giving oneself a good pat at the end of a task, but how many of us actually do that in real life. A good hug seems more motivating to me than good pat. I just adore the way our coach says "So isn't it time we give ourselves a good hug ? ". The first time she asked, I was not even aware how to do it. How does one hug one self, I thought ? But it is so easy, one just has to cross arms. It is so easy, but it feels so good after the exercise. We all get out of the pool beaming after our self -hug.

I am slowly learning to apply this concept of self- hug in other aspects of life. It will take a lot of time, since I have never learnt to appreciate myself. It's always not possible for others around us to appreciate us. In fact we ourselves do not appreciate others always. At least we can learn the art of appreciating ourselves each day. All of us keep doing lots of good jobs each day. So each of us need to give ourselves a good hug many times in a day to keep our enthusiasm going. Now I realise its importance, it definitely is tremendous booster. I seriously want to make an effort to implement it whenever I have accomplished or even tried doing a good job.

THE BOOK CLUB

I have been planning to write something about my reading habits today. Like any kid, I used to read the "The famous five', Tin tins, Archies, and some Agatha Christie's in my childhood. Being raised in India, I took pleasure in reading 'The Panchatantra', 'The Chandama', Pai's comics when I was young.

 It gives me lot of reassurance that I was a normal teen, as Mills and Boon romances were prized possessions then. The 'tall, dark handsome' guy swooning the lady would be the main topic of discussion for girls during school breaks. I still remember the desperation to hunt for more of these romances those days.


Slowly, Irving Wallace, Sidney Sheldon, Grisham, Robin Cook etc; got added to my repertoire. I infact got stuck to some of these authors for long time. I loved reading Grisham's and Wallace's a lot, Robin Cook was never a favourtie though. I would sometimes read reviews of  some new authors and read their books. I did read books of Indian authors as, R.K. Narayan, Kushwanth Singh, Vikram Seth, V.S.Naipaul etc. Even then, I was not reading a wide range of books, specially non-fiction. The first biography I read was of Dalai Lama three years back. It was an absorbing read.

When I moved to Malaysia, I got this wonderful opportunity to join a book club. It was a totally new experience for me, since we do not have any such concepts back home. I have at least never heard of existence of any such clubs at least.

The book club meets here on the first Monday of every month and discusses a book.  The range of books is varied. The book club has an in-charge, who makes a list of all suggested readings for the coming months. Sometimes it is an award -winning book, sometimes a biography, sometimes its a book suggested by members. Members take turns every month to lead a book. Generally the lady who takes the lead, prepares a questionnaire on the specific book, which is then discussed.The person who takes the lead also brings along something to nibble for the rest, which I do look forward to.

The past one and half year association with the book club has definitely impacted my reading habits. I have read authors whom I have never ever read or would have had the chance to read otherwise. Belinda Starling, Christopher Tsiolkas, Raimond Gaita to name a few. Some biographies will forever remain cherished in my memory specially the latest read 'Romulus, my father'. My favourite books have been 'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society' and 'The Book Thief'. Both provide a beautiful insight into some people strongly resorting to books for strength in times of war and hardship. Some books such as ' The last Chinese Chef, 'The Poisionwood Bible' etc have increased my knowledge on various cultures and life styles of countries such as Chine, Congo etc.

I have benefitted immensely as I have started reading books written by authors from various countries, such as Australia, Germany, Canada etc. Secondly each member views the same book from a completely different perspective. So  my outlook has improved. Many a time,some books are just loved by one member while all the other members dislike the book, which is again an interesting aspect. Being a member of book club also has increased my visits to the library, hence exposing me to a beautiful world of a new range of books. I stumbled on some very good biographies. 'Three cups of tea', 'The Desert flower'  ' 'Mao's last dancer' etc.

 I am curently reading 'Written on the body', the next suggested book for discussion. I just look forward for the first Monday of every month to discuss a new book.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

CHINESE BRIDAL PICTURES

Moving to a different country, everything seems to interest me. However, the most amusing one was watching a photographer clicking lovely pictures of a newly wedded Chinese couple. They seemed so, at least. They were young and beautiful.The guy wore a beautiful suit and the girl, a beautiful white shimmering gown.  A make-up guy also accompanied them. I was What amazed me was that the couple were not getting themselves clicked at any  exquisite locale or any designer photo studio. Neither was I attending any Chinese wedding. All this clicking was happening on the road opposite my house. After a couple of minutes, they moved to an another area and it was time for few more pictures. I found this entire incident pretty interesting. Often while driving, young Chinese couples posing for camera would attract my attention.
I was one day fortunate enough to be invited to a Chinese wedding reception a few months ago. Me, along with an American, a French and a Russian friend went together to the reception.  We arrived to be welcomed by the bride and the bridegroom's parents. The guests were waiting for the bride and bridegroom. There were many Chinese among the guests. I expected to see latest Chinese costumes, but no one was wearing a Chinese dress. Everyone was wearing western outfits. My French friend was the only one dressed in a nice Chinese dress for the occasion.

Two giant screens were erected and before I could wonder, I saw lovely pictures of the couple, dressed in wedding attire being screened. But these weren't wedding pictures. These were pictures of the couple at various outdoor locales of the city. The couple looked so beautiful in different wedding dresses. Each picture had the girl wearing a new colourful western gown and the groom matching in different suits.This seemed familiar to me.

My friends were equally surprised to watch these pictures. They had never seen anything like this before. My reaction was "They seem a very rich couple". One of my Chinese friends seated at the table alter told that all the dresses are available on hire. The entire photo shoot comes in a package. I had seen many shops exclusively displaying wedding gowns on display. I could now relate myself to these shops. It then dawned on us that the pictures had been shot before the wedding.

While, all guests were busy watching the slide show, there was an announcement in Chinese. The doors opened and the couple walked in dressed in breath taking Western outfits. They cut the cake, uncorked a bottle of champagne and food followed. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

We later came to know that this is a Chinese custom. It seemed a nice cost- saving idea hiring dresses and preparing an entire new wedding album. But the idea appealed to me a lot.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A KILLER DISEASE

A couple of weeks ago, I lost my maid. She died of cancer. She joined me for work, when I first moved into Miri. She was already working for another Indian guy and she was looking for more work. A young Malaysian lady, who stayed in the nearby kampung(village). She was a very nice lady who dedicatedly did her work. She was blessed with three beautiful daughters. In fact, during the entire month of Ramadan, she came to work though she was fasting. I had requested her to take a break, since she was fasting, but she insisted on doing every chore. I vividly remember her baking beautiful cakes for my daughter. She was a healthy person and never complained of any illness.

Barely a couple of months passed, when she first complained of tiredness. We advised her to show to the doctor. A visit to the doctor followed a series of tests, which changed her destiny forever. She was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was unbelieveable. She was so hale and hearty till the previous day. She never felt her body giving any warning signals. The doctors immediately advised chemotherapy, as the cancer had already spread to the rest of the body. Chemotherapy was not available in Miri. She had to travel to Kuching, the state capital for her sessions. She had to quit her job at both places. I felt so helpless seeing her suffer. I always wonder, why the poor have to suffer more. She was such a nice soul. Of all the people, why does God punish such nice people. She was a poor lady who worked in two houses to support her family. We  helped in ways possible.

Cancer slowly started taking a toll on her. She lost her hair, started looking shrivelled and old. She lost weight. Though her husband was working, family expenses, coupled with her medical expenses became a financial burden on them.  So she decided to resume work.  She joined back for work at the Indian guy's house. I was surprised. She knew she was dying, but still wanted to work till the last day. Cancer, could not break her spirit. She continued working for few months. I could see her daily becoming thinner and thinner. Yet she always had a smile on her lips. But she could not sustain long.  Her legs hurt everyday. She had to quit finally as her body needed rest. She suffered immensely her last few days. One night the pain became unbearable. She was admitted to the hospital. Next day morning, she died. 

I visited her house and felt very sad. Her youngest daughter is just five years old. It's an irreparable loss for the family. She worked with me only for few months, but everyone in our flats misses her smiling face. She was liked by all. The other day I heard about the famous tennis player Martina Navratilova too has been diagnosed with cancer. She is in her fifties. Despite her cancer she continues playing her game between her hospital stays. She has all the wealth in the world, but cancer has not spared her either.

It's amazing to see two women from two different strata of society battling cancer. One had to succumb to it and the other is still trying to fight it. It's a killer disease which does not spare anyone. Medical science is still trying to find out more about this disease and save lives. One day hopefully, science will have answers and help save lives of many nice souls.

Monday, July 5, 2010

OPEN HOUSE

September 28th, 2008. We had moved a month back to Malaysia. Many of my husband's colleagues had invited us for an 'open house'. Since we were still new to the place, one of my husband's colleague had volunteered to drive us around. An 'open house' invitation, none of us had heard the term before. We all got dressed, curious to find out how an open house would look like. Letting our imaginations running wild, we arrived at the first 'open house'.

My husband's colleague was searching for a parking. The lane was full of cars. A huge tent was erected, loads of tables filled with food had been laid out. Guests were enjoying the food, some  were leaving and many more like us were entering. The host and hostess were welcoming all the guests and leading them to savour the vast buffet spread of local Malay cuisine. We could only recognise the varieties of cakes, desserts, fruits and fruit juices. We never had seen such huge spread of food. Food was being cooked in large quantities. We were surprised to see such large scale celebrations.
The guests greeted all of us warmly and invited us to enjoy food. So much food being offered so early in the morning. We had eaten our breakfast before we left our house. We just nibbled few and bid bye to our hosts, as still people were pouring in large numbers. About to thank my husband's colleague for driving us, we were in store for other surprise. She took us to another house few yards away and it was a similar scene there. Loads of guests arriving, greeting and chatting with everyone, enjoying the local food spread. This scene was to repeated many times during the day.

Since my husband was new, his colleague felt attending an 'open house' would be a great opportunity to meet more people. It was indeed true, by the time we came back home, it was 4 pm in the evening. We had visited more than ten houses and our stomachs were bursting. The colleague then explained the concept of 'open house' to us.

'Open house' is a typical Malaysian concept, whereby during festive season, the host selects one particular day as an 'open house' day. 'Open houses' are conducted at the end of the month of Ramadan. The house is literally thrown open from morning till evening for all relatives and friends to come and join in the festivities. Everyone is welcomed with open arms. Even strangers are invited to be a part of festivities.
This is not specific to a particular race. Since Malaysia is a melting pot of all cultures, this tradition is followed by all communities. The Chinese during 'Chinese new year', the Muslims during 'Hari Raya', the Hindus during 'Diwali' and the ethnic tribes during 'Gawai', all of them conduct open houses. The Chinese new year is celebrated during February, Gawai in June and Diwali is usually celebrated in October.  The concept is similar and during each festival, one gets to taste local food of the community.

It's an unique Malaysian concept and truly deserves a special mention. Every community invites all the other communities to take part in their celebrations. It promotes the bond among various communities and strengthens brotherly relations. A beautiful reminder to all Malaysians to promote unity and communal harmony. I sincerely wish many nations torn by ethnic strife should take a cue and adopt this practice religiously. It would reduce escalating tensions, bring fighting races under one roof. 'Open house' has all benefits to offer for nations interested in championing unity and peace.

WRITING FOR FUN

When I started blogging a fortnight ago, the only constraint, I could foresee was lack of fresh ideas. I would always think that one day sooner or later in a week's time, I would end up staring at the computer, wondering what to write on. My initial thought was how do people get new ideas every time they sit to write? I was definite that my writing attempt might sustain maximum for a week.
All my earlier attempts to write have always been unsuccessful. I had always assumed that, one needs to have the calibre of great prolific writers to even attempt scribbling. Writing requires excellent command of language, a freshness of approach and a brilliant writing style. I was not confident whether I possessed any of these skills. Hence I would always begin and give up, because giving up was the easiest way out. I would feel diffident, if I came across some nice blogs or met someone who wrote with effortless charm. So I thought one needs to be very knowledgeable to do good writing. So I did not write. It was a forbidden territory for me. I only analysed every time I thought about it and felt insecure.

But in the heart of hearts, I would always wonder when others can, why can't I ? I am also blessed with a brain that can imagine. Thanks to my parents who provided me education, I can speak and write grammatically correct English sentences without difficulty. I can read and comprehend any written literature with ease. I do stumble upon new words once a while, but I suppose that's all right.
Then searching for more information on writing at various libraries, I came across couple of interesting books. These were collections of short stories. They were easy reads as they were written in simple language. I do not have any idea of their circulation, but those books definitely appealed to me. Some stories were  ust half a page. These books had been published and were adorning the local libraries. I was absolutely delighted having read those short stories. Realisation dawned on me that to start with, one can write short stories in simple language. I could see hope at the end of the tunnel. I had only read huge novels of famous authors till then and hence believed that writing is a mammoth task.

One thing was certain that I definitely wanted to write.

So I made my first genuine attempt to jot down my ideas. This is twentieth posting on my blog. I am happy that it was not as difficult as I conceived it to be. It has indeed lasted more than a week. I am thoroughly enjoying doing it. Early mornings set the perfect mood.  The structure, the layout of my blog, at the moment all seem unimportant to me. At this juncture, my only aim is to get up early and write. The top most priority is the immense pleasure I derive while writing. I do not have any pre-conceived thoughts. I write what comes to my mind. It is a nice journey of self discovery. It took me quite some time to arrive at this decision, but as the saying goes 'it's better late than never'.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

MY FIRST WALK

I had been raised in a very small town in eastern India. My mum worked as a teacher in the same school we studied. Hence my dad, had hired a rickshaw for all of us to be dropped to school. The company he worked had provided him a car and driver. The driver would take us around if we had to go to a restaurant, a movie theatre etc. My dad also had couple of guys under him who would do all household errands. On weekends my dad would ride us on his Yezdi motorbike. So we two sisters were thoroughly pampered in our childhood.


However, all these pampering changed in my twenty third year when I got married. I had an arranged marriage as is the norm in India and hence did not knew anything about the guy. I was in store for the biggest surprise of my life. He did not even learn how to drive a two-wheeler or car as walking is his passion. The sweltering heat, dust nothing could prevent him from his long walks. He just loved it. The place where we lived had a beautiful beach.


So one evening, he suggested that we visit the beach. I excitedly got ready and joined him. We had an auto stand few yards away from our house. I was very confidently walking towards towards the auto stand, when I observed my husband walking past it. Since I had just been married, I was too hesitant to ask for anything and joined him. The next thought that stuck me was that the beach might be very near. So I walked along. We were sweating as the place is very humid. But he was happily explaining with pride the lanes and by lanes. He had spent most part of his life there and just loved the place.


We walked and walked. I had started feeling that this walk would never ever end. I was seething with anger from within, displaying an artificial smile on my lips. I had never even walked a kilometre. After an hour of walking, I finally saw the waves. I was thrilled to bits. My husband mistook it for my love for the sea and the beautiful beach. But I was desperate to plonk myself somewhere. My legs were hurting, my clothes were drenched in sweat. I was thirsty. The cool drink he bought just vanished down my throat. We sat there for quite some time appreciating the beautiful sunset. Though the sweat had cooled off, my feet were still hurting.

My husband told that the beach is approximately four kilometres from our house. I wondered if I heard something wrong. Four kilometres. I had never even walked a kilometre. My legs had for the first time in my life had done their job walking a full four kilometres.

It was slowly getting darker. We lived with my in-laws. My mother-in-law loves cooking and I was dying to get back home. I was ravenous. I was desperate to hop into the nearest auto and rush home. But I had the most unpleasant surprise awaiting for me. He was walking past all empty autos. We were going back home 'walking'. I just could not digest my husband's walking enthusiasm. I felt he was crossing all limits. Still I tagged along dragging myself the return journey.

I was feeling too embarrassed to tell that I had never utilised my legs. He was merrily explaining the joys of walking, exploring surroundings. I did not want to dampen his enthusiasm and walked along. I was maintaining a calm composure, but I was completely exhausted. So we walked four kilometres back again and finally reached home. My clothes, my hair were stuck to me like a glue. The weather was so damp and sticky. My legs had developed cramps. I was so exhausted that the moment I entered my room and saw the bed, I just knocked off.

Next day morning, when I woke up, I was all sore. I was surprised that he wasn't even a bit tired. But this became our daily routine later. Since walking was his passion, we would always walk. If we had to pay bills, we walked, if we had to visit someone we walked. Slowly, my limbs got accustomed to walking. In fact over the years, I started looking forward to go for long walks. I started appreciating him more for developing this habit in me.

Eighteen years have passed by, since my first memorable beach walk and my legs have walked a long way since then.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

SATU MALAYSIA

Driving back home one evening, I heard a new song 'Satu Malaysia' aired on one FM channel. This is the only channel which we enjoy listening in the car. Other channels either air Chinese or Malay songs which I am afraid; I have not yet developed an ear for. The basic problem lies in that I do not understand these two languages. So I stick to my usual channel which airs English songs, English news.


Hence the other day, when I listened to the song 'Satu Malaysia', I tried changing the channel, but later realised that it's my usual channel broadcasting a Malay song. So I continued to drive listening to the song. The channel would air this song regularly in the days to follow. I found myself humming this song often. It has got a very catchy tune, though I did not understand the lyrics when I first heard it.

Grocery shopping for the past two years has helped me pick few Malay words, numbers being one of them. So I was aware that Satu means one. 'Satu Malaysia' campaign is a part of effort by the current Malaysian Prime Minister, Dato Seri Najib Tun Rajak to create a sense of belongingness among the country's multi-racial citizens.

The Malays, numerous ethnic tribes, the Chinese, the Indians all together have lived together for generations and Malaysian culture is a result of assimilation of various cultures. The Malays or the Bumi Putras comprise 50% of the total population, followed by 25% Chinese and 10% Indians approximately. The Chinese who initially came for trading hundreds of years ago settled down here and made Malaysia their home. The Indians were brought by Britishers to work in rubber plantations here many years ago. They later settled down here.

The various indigenous tribes in the region of Sarawak and Sabah make for the rest of the population. The Ibans, Bidayuhs etc form the major ethnic group in the state of Sarawak, while the state of Sabah consists of tribes such as the Kadazans, Muruts, Melanaus etc.
Here in lies the uniqueness of Malaysia which sets itself apart from many other countries. It is the spirit of harmonious co-existence of variety of cultures and races over generations. And the one common praiseworthy trait found in every Malaysian is the acceptance level to welcome every one into its fold. Hence the cuisine, the language, the dress all presents a fusion of all cultures.

This song was selected out of the 341 entries in a competition organised by the Information, Communications and Culture Ministry of Malaysia. This song was composed by group of international students of the Limkokwing Sound and Music Design Academy.

One of my Malaysian friends explained the meaning of the song. It broadly translates as follows. 'No matter what ever the challenge be, we will all face it together. Together we are strong, united we stand forever and that's the way it's going to be'. The song 'Satu Malaysia' expresses the spirit of every Malaysian. Malaysia is a melting pot of all cultures and hence the song 'Satu Malaysia' beautifully conveys this message.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

THE 'INDIAN CHAI' MORNING

Last week just flew by. I and two of my Indian friends had been very busy with preparations for the "Indian Chai morning". Living amidst expats, I had attended couple of coffee mornings, such as Omani coffee morning, Nigerian coffee morning etc. We get to taste the respective country's food and try wearing their national costume. Many of my expat friends wanted us to host an Indian coffee morning too. So three of us decided to organise one, but we changed the name to 'Indian Chai' as tea infused with spices is very famous in India.


When we were preparing the flyer, sending out mails, none of us had the slightest iota of the massive turn out in reality. Like other coffee mornings, we anticipated approximately twenty to thirty ladies. We were confident of handling that number since we were only three of us. All of us were bursting with ideas. Many brain storming sessions were held amidst us. We finalised an agenda for the day. Guests would be welcomed the traditional 'Indian way'. This would be followed by a talk about India. The itenary further had many exciting events such Bollywood dances, sampling the Indian cuisine etc to offer.

With only a week left, I realised that my inbox was getting crammed with responses. The number quickly touched fifty. We got a bit anxious. We were really unsure whether we three could manage cooking in such a large magnitude. Besides there were other aspects to be taken care of, such as organising, decorating, shopping, rehearsing for our song and dance etc. Song and dance rehearsals got intensified. During one of our meetings we increased the cooking quantities.



We had decided to share the cooking and prepare eleven items in total . The items we had zeroed in were, jaljeera nimbu pani (lime water served with dash of cumin), two starters, masala chai (spiced tea), dal( lentils), mixed vegetable, murg musulam (spicy chicken), pulao (saffron rice) and kesari (semolina sweet). We three had mixed feelings. Though excited with mails pouring in, the tension within was also increasing. Arrangements on such a large scale had never been attempted by any one of us.

The idea was to host at the same venue where other coffee mornings were held. But that particular venue could accommodate only fifty for safety purposes. We had touched the fifty mark. Increasing numbers concerned us. We wanted all invitees to come and have fun and did not want to disappoint any one. Luckily a good friend suggested another venue close by. So just couple of days before, we decided to change the venue. This demanded more paper work. New flyers had to be printed and pasted at prominent locations. The numbers swelled further. So we reworked again the cooking quantities.



Two days before, an Indian lady and an American friend volunteered to help us with decorations. Any sort of assistance was most welcome as we were short of helping hands. On the night before, we all gathered our Indian chunnis (drapes), some Indian hangings and decorated the venue. It was a big hall. My husband and daughter lend a helping hand . The other Indian lady also roped in her husband to assist in decorations.




That night neither of us slept properly. Tossing and turning, we passed the night. Waking up early, completing all the cooking, dressed in our traditional attire, sari we arrived at the venue an hour early. The food table with labels for each item had to be set. The sound system had to be rechecked, the flower decoration had to be done, the lamps had to be lit and we had to ensure everything was in order. We decided to set two food tables to avoid crowding.



The guests started walking in. We had set a register at the reception to know the exact numbers. Once the guests were seated, we started the programme singing an Indian prayer which was accompanied by lighting of the lamp. Three of us spoke in turns about Indian culture, music and dance and the cuisine. Next the guests were invited to savour Indian food and enjoy a bollywood dance. We later invited the guests to join the dance. Many came forward and enjoyed swaying to Bollywood music. The dance went on for quite some time. Later we encouraged the ladies to try draping the Indian sari. One lady volunteered and we demonstrated various ways of tying the sari.



The programme concluded with a group picture. Many were clicking pictures during the entire event. The event was a big success and the total turnout was seventy two. It was way beyond our expectations. All the sweat, the nervousness, the hard work paid off. Everything went perfectly. We had planned for a two hour programme and successfully completed in the stipulated time.

At the end of it, though completely exhausted, we were beaming. All three of us were profusely happy the way, the day unfolded and concluded. We had guests asking for another similar one morning to be conducted again.

Monday, June 21, 2010

STRIKING THE RIGHT BALANCE

Living the mad pace of life, meeting deadlines seems to be the norm of today's working class. Rushing between meetings, delegating tasks, answering mails etc consume the entire day. Can all this be true in case of a normal housewife. Seems true in my case, at least. The last two months seems to have just flown without my realisation. The coming days are also equally hectic.
I am joining the group of 'just two of us'. My eleven year old daughter is leaving for a residential boarding school from August. It is not an easy task leading life without children. Hence I decided to brace myself to face this new challenge in my life. I am clueless if I am going on the right track. The only option available in Miri is to keep myself occupied with all activities available for an expat. So I decided to take the plunge.
There are a wide range of activities to choose from for an expat's spouse in Miri. Hornbill club located in the Shell camp conducts various activities for expat spouses. A golf club equipped with a swimming pool is another venue for outdoor physical exercise. Luckily, my house lies close to both the clubs.
There are two parallel activities organised on many days of the week at both clubs. Mondays has cooking demos at Hornbill and aqua aerobics at the Golf club. The Book Club also meets on the first Monday of every month at Hornbill. Tuesdays is craft day at Hornbill. On Wednesdays, there is yoga class in the morning, followed by dance classes at Hornbill. Wednesday afternoons is Mahjong time at the Boatclub, which is another club situated nearby. Wednesdays is also a busy day for library members as library at the Hornbill opens on Wednesday evenings. There are Coffee mornings held once a month on a Thursday at Hornbill. Some expats do bowling on Thursdays. Friday is again time for aqua-aerobics.
In addition to all these, living in an expat community involves lots of hi's and bye's. So there are leaving pages to be filled up, farewell gifts and parties to be organised. When I first moved to Miri two years back, I was part of some activities only. Since I decided to keep myself busy, I got myself involved with every possible activity.
In addition to the list, a couple of months ago, I started doing my 5 km walk. I have been walking every single day of the week, excluding weekends. Since I was disciplined in my walking schedule, I added another activity to my routine, blogging. Early mornings seem to set my mood for writing. So I wake up early to write my thoughts. I have maintained a steady pace in my flow of writing till date since I started.
In addition to all these, I also have got involved in organising an Indian coffee morning next week. The invitees have crossed fifty already. Days and nights seem to have lost count for me. I am just rushing from one task to another.
Gearing myself to handle future emptiness, I resolved to keep myself engrossed with all available options. But of late, striking the right balance in life seems the most difficult thing for me. Since last week, I am finding it difficult to maintain the continuity in walking. I am trying to juggle for the ultimate goal to keep myself happy and drive away emptiness, but that now seems an euphoria. I feel exhausted at the end of it.
So what started as an option to fill my days seem to have sapped my energy. I had always thought that office -goers found it difficult to relax with theri hectic schedules. I never realised that even a house-wife needs to learn to slow down. I am still naive and need to learn to strike the perfect balance in my life.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

MIRI IN MAY

Every Miri-an's calendar is chock-a- block with numerous events to attend in the month on May every year. The month of May is special for every Miri citizen as Miri got elevated to the status of a city on 20th May, 2005. Hence every year 20th May is celebrated as the Miri City Day. Miri is the ninth city in Malaysia and second largest city in the state of Sarawak. The entire city holds a festive look.
This is my second year in Malaysia and I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the festivities this May, when Miri celebrated its fifth anniversary. The celebration kicked off with a very noble campaign on 1st May- " Say no to Plastic bags everyday". It was initially launched on weekends but has now been extended to all days of the week effective, 1st of May. The same day was also declared as 'Tree Planting Day'. Blood donations were also carried out on that day at one of the shopping malls.

The following days had activities for every member of every Miri family. Kids participated in lovely colouring competitions and story telling competitions. The chess competitions, table-tennis tournaments, basketball tournaments and participating in the 'anniversary run' provided the perfect mental and physical stimulus for the teens and adults. The art lovers had the art exhibitions. The women were at their best demonstrating their skills participating in baking competition and international pot-luck recipe exchange program. Ever competition saw Miri-ans participating with full enthusiasm.

15th May saw different ethnic groups participating in Miri City Day Parade. Miri is a pot of melting cultures and this was truly on display with the Chinese, Malays, Indians, Ibans, Dayaks etc dressed in traditional costumes walking the parade. The downpour that day could not dampen the zeal of either the participants or the gazing onlookers who stood in the rain to cheer them.

The best festivities were still to follow. The grand final of Miss Tourism International , a beauty pageant was held in the Indoor Stadium here. Beautiful ladies from various countries across the globe participated and Miss Venezuela was crowned Miss Tourism International 2010. The entire stadium was full and indeed it was a pleasure to watch the event.

The entire month's celebration came to a close with the 'Satu Malaysia' mammoth dance and cultural performance' in the early hours at the Outdoor Stadium. It was a grand exhibit of colour and grandeur. School children dressed in their costumes, the Chinese drummers in colours of red and yellow along with each ethnic group dancing wearing their traditional dances provided a dazzling spectacle. The true spirit of 'Satu Malaysia' or 'One Malaysia' was clearly on display.

I as an expat derived great pleasure in being a part of some of the celebrations. It was a first time experience witnessing a city formation celebration and I am keenly looking forward for next May in Miri.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

MARRIAGES IN MALAYSIA

I am looking forward for Sunil's wedding in Kota Kinabalu in October. Sunil works in my husband's department and is a Malaysian Indian as his grandfather's roots trace back to India. His grandparents hail from the state of Andhra Pradesh in India and migrated many years ago. The people of the state speak Telugu, but Sunil's family speaks an entirely different Telugu now as it has influence of Tamil which is widely spoken by many Malaysian Indians here.

The interesting aspect is Sunil is getting married to a lovely lady who is half -Kadazan and half -Filipino in Sabah. The girl's parents also migrated years ago and settled in Malaysia. Sunil is one among the many Indians who is having a cross - country marriage. This is unimaginable even today in India.
India even today follows the custom of arranged marriages, where in elders of the family decide the groom and the girl. This is an accepted norm which has never been questioned till now. So a Punjabi marries a Punjabi, a Tamilian marries a Tamilian and so on. My initial reaction was that it could be one rare occurrence. I have rarely come across such a cross country married couple in India ever. So I was quite surprised when I first moved here.
But it is a very common trend here and I later met many such Indian couples. A Punjabi marrying a Chinese, a Tamilian marrying an Iban etc. Soon after, my horizon of understanding expanded further when I saw this trend commonly spread across expat communities. Now I have friends from various nationalities whose spouses belong to an entirely different country. An American married to an Iban, a Dutch married to a Chinese, a Britisher married to a Chinese, a German married to a Malay, a Nigerian married to a Chinese and so on. The list is endless.
I had read about cross cultural marriages only in history books in India. Emperor Akbar, a good Muslim ruler used this strategy to annex his kingdom without fighting with local kings. He married daughters of erstwhile Hindu kings and won over hearts of many Hindus. But this practice mysteriously disappeared after the Emperor's death. I felt overwhelmed to see this custom so prevalent here.
In an age where communal fighting is tearing nations apart, it is such a welcome relief to see individuals across nations coming closer and bonding in wedlock. Every other news channel and every other paper devotes so much space updating the world about communal bloodshed every day. Each day we are tragically reminded of colossal human losses inflicted by one community on the other, but not a single paper or channel broadcasts about the inter-cultural marriages uniting the human race.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

HOME AWAY FROM HOME



An expat travelling to different countries every few years has to build a new nest every time he visits a new country. It's a complete adjustment for the entire family. Though the nature of the work would be the same, every work place in each country is different from the other. The kids have to adjust to the new environs in their new school. The wife has to find out ways and means to keep her occupied, by making new friends in a new environment.

The first instinct is always to search for people from their home country, results of which might not always be positive. Because even though one might meet people from their home country, it often is the case that one cannot relate to them for various reasons. Either they have left the home country many years ago and hence identify themselves more as an expat or sometimes wavelengths do not match. Sometimes one even meets people who are so occupied in their own lives that they do not have the time or the energy to keep make new friendships.

It is the initial months in a new place that is the toughest to handle. As a new person, one is not aware of the things available in the market, how to figure out the routes to navigate in the area. Every road, every shop, every person seems unfamiliar. So one is always looking for one familiar or helping hand for comfort or assurance. The feeling of homesickness gets worsened when that assurance does not come from anyone. Telephoning back home seems to be the only happy time in the day. But that is a very short- term glory as, one has to find ways and means to learn to adjust in the new place.

Slowly one starts stepping out to find out avenues, activities available to keep the mind occupied. Basically it is an attempt to explore what suits the person best. All activities might not appeal or last long but one has to try it out for few months to see what suits best. One comes across new people every day from different countries. Talking and sharing gives the realisation that every other expat is sailing in the same boat. So it gives an assurance that there are many out there facing similar teething problems. Gradually pieces fall in place and one learns to accept this new way of life in the new country.

Over a period of time, relationships strengthen, bonds develop and it gives a nice feeling. Just then one comes to know that one of the expats getting transferred to another country and it's time to bid adieu to them. Filling up leaving pages, shopping for parting gifts, organising farewell lunches suddenly fill up daily itenary. But it is not an easy task to bid farewell to friends. If that expat become one of your good friends one really feels sad. It's more difficult phase for the leaving expat because they would have forged some life -long friendships. The kids cry on leaving their friends at school.

It's another new place, another new country and another new story again for that expat. Every expat is always building home away from home in various destinations and ends up leaving footprints in the hearts of many. However, it is beyond doubt that every expat expands his or her horizon as every posting teaches new lessons and develops some ever -lasting friendships in this journey of life.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

COMPUTER AND WATER





During one of the dining table conversations at our house as to what are the most important things in life, my daughter one day answered 'Computer and Water'. Water as an answer was understood, but computer as the most important element of life was unexpected. Then me and my husband realised that it is generation gap. But it is not the same generation gap that we felt with our parents.

The present generation according to me is growing under tremendous pressure, which I never felt in my childhood. The last ten years have seen a boom in the digital revolution and the ones most affected are the kids born in this decade. The market is flooded everyday with the latest model of mobiles, laptops, palmtops and digital cameras.Today's kids are very smartly coping with the pressure of adapting to every gizmo that enters the market, be it the latest i-pod or the latest i-phone. My daughter is one among them and I empathise with today's kids.

Gone are those days, when summer holidays meant just visiting nearby relatives or staying at home relaxing. I do not remember having seen so many places as my eleven year old daughter has today. Today every school vacation of hers means a new travel destination for us. And every holiday means clicking loads of pictures with digital cameras and sharing with everyone on social sites. I do not recollect whether I clicked so many pictures in my lifetime.

I and my sister who is a year elder to me would look forward for our vacation to do other activities. We would be very happy to stay at home to read our Archie's, Tin tins, Enid Blytons or some comic. We would look forward to play scrabble, snakes and ladders, carrom in holidays . And we were never bored. Today kids play all their games only on the computer. They aren't keen to visit friends staying nearby, but want to be a part of many social network sites as face book, orkut, hi-fi etc. My daughter always mentions as to which friend of hers has more friends on face book and how she needs to keep up momentum with them. Hence one sees present day teens at airports, shopping malls in their own world with some gizmo plugged to their ears or eyes strained on the laptop screen. Once they step inside the house, the first thing they do is switch on the computer to play a computer game or to catch up with friends on some chatting site.




Similarly shopping, eating out in restaurants were not a weekly affair as is now. My parents bought new clothes only for birthdays or festivals. We would eat out once a month when I was young. But we would be look forward to eat out and treasure our new clothes. But for present day kids, Starbucks, Bistros, pizza huts are normal affair . Similarly shopping for clothes, shoes, accessories is not an exciting trip as kids are shopping every other day. To shop for birthday gifts is so much of a nuisance today as all kids have everything today. Hence they do not have a smile when they open their presents. Watching a movie in a theater was a special treat in my childhood. Today my daughter downloads or watches every new movie or song thanks to you tube and other free downloading sites etc.

I remember treasuring my song book since I had written lyrics of all my favourite songs. Plus getting lyrics was not easy task. Today my daughter coolly stores all her latest downloads in her pen drive with least effort. With vast strides in storage space, life has presented a new definition for them. The present generation need not be bothered about storing anything in physical folders or writing in notebooks etc. One click and all information for their school project is available. Similarly, they need not buy albums to store all pictures clicked or buy tonnes of DVDs to watch movies. Any data they need can be downloaded and stored in the computer.
I thank my stars for my daughter at least mentioned water as an essential thing in life along with computer.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

PEER INFLUENCE AT SCHOOL


My daughter, Deeksha had just turned eleven a month ago. This was January 2010. My parents had come on a visit to Miri. They were enjoying her company. She studies at the ‘Piasau School' in the Shell Camp. One day she came back excitedly handing out leaflets of boarding school. We as parents were surprised to see her bubbling with enthusiasm. But in the heart of hearts we did not then give a serious thought that day.


From then on every evening at home, the only topic she loved discussing was boarding schools. The kids in her class seem to be only conversing about roomies, independence etc. She was enjoying every bit of it and had decided about it.


One day at the school, the teachers had explained pros and cons of joining a boarding school to the class. All the kids including my daughter seem to have paid attention only to the pros. At the end of the session, kids were asked to inform verbally if they had decided about it. Deeksha confirmed to her teachers the same moment and told me that evening about it. We were speechless.


We as parents had not even taken a final decision on it. On enquiring she replied that she is the one who has to decide and not us. It is she who is joining a boarding school. I was aghast at her answers. I tried explaining, but all my efforts were futile. She was so determined about it. My parents also made an attempt to reason it out with her. But nothing worked. Her only reasoning was she wants to be independent, take her own decisions.


Seeing her so determined, my husband thought of giving her a try. We realized that our daughter was growing up. We started surfing for good international residential schools in India. We decided on India since we had our people back home. I already started having motherly pangs. I had left my parents house when I was twenty three years old to get married. My husband left for boarding when he was seventeen. She is just eleven. But her positive spirit ruled over us.


We visited India in April along with her and finally decided on a school of her choice. It’s the first week of June now and she is leaving us in August. Deeksha, influenced by the school and her classmates, has persuaded us to take the biggest decision of our lives.


She is the first child in our entire family to leave home at such a young age. When I moved to Miri two years ago, I had never even once imagined once that she would leave us so soon. Her peers and the school had such a lasting impact on her.


MY MORNING TIME

It's been approximately ten days since I am writing daily. Not many pages, though, but few lines everyday. A few months before, this was an unimaginable thought. I have always wondered how authors churn out novels, using such apt expressions and such nice language. I couldn't even put down a few words in a proper order. It seemed the most difficult thing under the sky.

I turned down every one's suggestions to write. Writing for me was a forbidden territory. I tried writing a couple of years before at the insistence of my friends, but it never sustained. Similar attempts later, never saw the light of the day.


So I stopped trying and thought of probing for more information on writing. Thanks to googles, bings and amazons, life has become much easier at least for idlers like me. My mind needed no functioning. A click and loads of information opened up on 'How to write", 'Where to sit and write', 'When to write', 'What to write' etc. I was overwhelmed on seeing all the information and started devouring it. I was unnecessarily worrying all these days.

These sites gave me a lot of boost initially. However I realised later that everyone was offering the same ideas. Either way, at the end all the euphoria, did not motivate me to write even a few lines. So I comforted myself that writing is not my cup of tea and carried on my life.

But I wasn't feeling fully happy either. It was bugging me that I could not write at all. I wasn't thinking of tasks as climbing Mount Everest or swimming the British channel. Just penning down a few thoughts is all I wanted to do.

I was blessed that I have been gifted with a good pair of hands, perfect vision and a mind that works sometimes at least. I have a computer at home and even otherwise could afford to buy paper and pen. As far as my knowledge goes, this is all one requires to write. But I wasn't able to write still. Frustration started creeping within me.

Then on one so those days when my brain thought it needed some exercise, a simple thought stuck me. I had not set my heart at it. That was the basic reason for all my previous failures. I was just trying to ape others, unnecessarily doing the wrong things.

So I decided no more self -promises, no more searching for information for ideas and no more hard feelings. I just started writing whatever came to my mind and saw that I could write a page. Filling up a page felt so easy. There has been no looking back since then.


I know its early to say so, but I am enjoying every bit of my time when I sit down to write. I started writing early in the mornings when everyone is sleeping. The silence around me makes it easier to scribble down. I did not make any deliberate effort this time for this endeavour.

But every morning when I get up, I look forward to write, sipping my cup of tea and nibbling my oat crackers.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

COMMON LEXIS



I came across the first familiar word in Malay, asram. It’s a Sanskrit word which means accommodation for visitors. While driving toward Petronas office, I saw a board mentioning it. It means the same in Malay too. Later on I came across many such words here which sounded familiar.

Curious to know, I surfed the net. There is evidence of Indian traders travelling to Malaysia before 15th century and settling down. Since Sanskrit was the spoken language in those days in India, it has its influence on the Malay language. In fact the old Malay cannot be understood now by many as it was richly laced with Sanskrit. Sanskrit is no more spoken in India now and it has been replaced by Hindi now. But it is considered one of the classical languages and root of many Indian languages.

It was after the 15th century that the first Muslim rulers came to Malaysia and major changes too place, with Arabic replacing Sanskrit. Hence Malay later own adopted many Arabic words. The British occupation of Malaysia in the nineteenth and twentieth century’s influenced the script. Malay language later added many English words to its fold.

But influence of Sanskrit did not wean away completely and even today there is evidence of some Sanskrit which is found in everyday usage. I am citing few such common words which have originated from Sanskrit I have come across.

Malay Sanskrit Meaning

Bahasa Bhasa Language

Bumi Bhumi Earth

Duka Dhukha Sadness

Guru Guru Teacher

Hina Heen Inferior

Kepal Kapal Head

Roti Rutti Bread

Singa Sing Lion

Topi Tuppi Hat

Warna Varna Colour

Manusia Manushya Human

Nama Naam Name

Neraka Naraka Hell

Pahala Phala Reward

Putera Putra Prince

Puraba Purva Past

Maha Maha Great

Raja Raja King

Sengsara Sansara Suffering

Sukha Suka Happiness

Suria Surya Sun

Tali Talli String

Utara Uttar North

Dobi Dhobi Laundry

Monday, June 7, 2010

RECYCLING: LESSONS OF LIFE


One thousand people living in a small radius of few kilometers, close to the jungle, where whole community implements the principle of three ‘R’s (reduce, reuse and recycle) in their daily lives. Surprising, this is not a new policy that they are learning now like the city dwellers. It’s a way of life for them from ages.
This might seem a story of olden times, but it isn’t. This is what I saw on my recent trip to a real Bidayuh long house in Kuching. The Bidayuh are one of the indigenous tribes of the state of Sarawak in Malaysia and live in longhouses. I spent few hours there and was touched by their simplicity and their enormous respect for nature.
The entire longhouse is a series of houses attached to each other. These houses are built on raised bamboo poles to protect them against predators and from any natural calamities. Each house lies adjacent to the next house and consists of one big room. More than five –six members and is some cases ten members stay in one house. But they are not jostling for space and are all living in perfect harmony. Their houses are built of bamboo. Once the bamboo gets old it is not discarded by the people. It is used as a fuel for cooking.
Cooking is done outside in front of the house. The rice and meat are cooked in bamboo.I have clicked a picture of chicken and rice being cooked in bamboo. The other items are cooked in earthen pots. People here do not visit supermarkets to buy their groceries, but grow their rice, pepper, rubber and palm oil. They pluck fruits and vegetables from the jungle and cook. They make baskets of rattan grown in the jungles. These baskets are used for storage purposes and also to carry anything plucked from the jungles. So there are no plastic covers anywhere. Since the Bidayuh drink water from the flowing river, there are no plastic bottles anywhere. It was amazing for a city –dweller like me to see an entire community practicing these principles so easily.

Large dry leaves are tied and used as brooms to clean their houses. We saw women using large leaves to protect them against heat. They collected fish from the river and had their own chicken farms.

Electricity entered their lives only in early 2000. In the past when they had no power, they utilized the entire daylight to walk to the jungle, collect their daily food, fuel and keep themselves completely occupied. They would relax only after darkness set in. Even today many houses do not have a single fan. It was a hot and humid day when we had gone on our longhouse tour. But they were happily pounding rice, cooking in the hot sun or knitting baskets. They were too busy in their activities to be bothered about the heat.

It was then I realized how quickly we all have adapted to materialistic comforts in life but have forgotten to care for our own environment. Their simple lives taught me and my family the most important lesson of life, to respect our environment.