In defence of laziness

We bought a reading lamp yesterday and the Bean grabbed the oddly shaped carton before we threw it away. She fashioned it into some sort of stringed instrument that she calls the – Loopzalalika. She’s even scrawled Limited Edition on it and has been ‘playing’ it for the last 24 hours.

When we moved here we realised that all the cartoon channels were in the local language. In true MM-OA spirit, neither the father nor I bothered to do anything about it. As it is we limit their screen time. Plus we’re lazy.
The kids made the best of a bad situation (and heartless parenting) by trying to guess what was going on. At one point the Bean began to create a dictionary, trying to work out what each word meant, depending on how/where it was used.

Today, almost 10 months after we’ve moved, we’re still stuck with cartoons in the local language. Slightly ashamed of ourselves we’re trying to connect a laptop to the TV, to play them some cartoons in a language they *do* understand. Once again, we display our inefficiency as we can’t find any of the wires and have a million cartons to trawl through.

As we do this, the kids sit watching a cartoon playing on the laptop with no audio, and are making up dialogues again. With an added twist. They’re using the cursor to do unmentionable things to the characters, and rolling with laughter – “Here, dig your nose. Now wipe it on XYZ’s head.”

This isn’t a humble brag about the kids. It’s reinforcement that neglect and boredom will do them good. I’m getting back to my book now. A little more boredom won’t kill them. Clearly we aren’t ashamed enough! 😀

Oh so bloody random

I’m sorry I haven’t answered your questions. I don’t feel ready for them yet – some of us just don’t deal well with our cheese being moved, eh? 😀

I thought I’d shut down this blog that I’ve neglected so long, but I just couldn’t. A moment’s hesitation, a little procrastination and it’s still here. I have nothing earth shaking to say other than that I am back in India for the kids’ summer break. I’ve been working from home but barring that I’ve had a lot of spare time to think. I shall share my earthshaking thoughts with you and you shall be deeply enriched by my wisdom.

1. Wear your own oxygen mask before you help others put theirs on.

I feel like a fool because I come back to this one time and time again. I put others first, I choose others’ enrichment over my own. And then there comes a day when I wonder what I’ve done for me. Very little indeed. So wear your own gas mask incase you haven’t done so yet.

2. The most interesting people have mediocre professional success.

Of course we can get into deep discussions about the definition of success etc, but I think we all know what I mean. The most interesting people I know, seem not to be at the top of the game. I don’t mean nice people, happy people, intelligent people or any of those. I only mean people who interest me. They might not interest you. But the reason, I notice, that they’re unsuccessful, is that they don’t have the single minded focus success calls for. They’re too engaged with too many things. Too many pies. Too many projects. Too many people. An ailing mother in law, a little nephew whose love won’t allow them to move beyond a 40 km radius, the dhobi’s daughter who was raped and left for dead and had no voice to fight for her. And so on. I sit here waiting for them to write books, set up big businesses and so on and I realise they can’t. They’re deeply engaged with a lot of things. And that is what draws me to them. Their ability to juggle two jobs, family, friends, community and so on. That’s what makes them real, interesting, observant, aware and multifaceted, and as a result, attractive to me. This also leads back to point 1. They’ve not worn their own oxygen mask to get to the top of the career ladder – the air up there is rarefied.

3. Be the missing piece.

Explain yourself. As often as you can. This goes against all conventional wisdom. There’s a famous saying that you should never have to explain yourself, because those who love you don’t need an explanation. And those who don’t, won’t care for your explanation. But this is not about what makes you comfortable. This is again one of those larger good arguments. If you’ve had a misunderstanding with someone, explain yourself, even if it is 10 years later. Our lives are not just our lives. I like to think of them as heaps of mixed up jigsaw puzzles. My pile might have a piece that belongs to you. A memory that you need to make sense of your life. To explain why he thought you were not good enough for him. Why she thought she’d been betrayed. All of us have a little something that fits into another’s life and helps them make sense of it. A missing piece. Your reason might be someone’s missing piece. Please help them find it. Even if it hurts for you to do so.

Exposed. Now what?

I’m here to rant. To rant about everyone, who when they heard we were moving out of the country, came up with the cliche – ‘It’s so much better for the kids – they’ll get such exposure.’ [May I toss in a wee rant about that word exposure? It’s an over-exposed word. Used for cameras, starlets and kids being displaced.] There’s always been that little bit of attitude when desis and their kids come back on vacation. A little arrogance that they’re somehow better for having moved away from home. (The biggest challenge is to ensure that they don’t go home too big for their boots, picking fault with everything, praising clean roads but unable to appreciate the glorious, chaotic, warm mess that their home country is.) They’ve been exposed. So? We’re exposed to malaria and measles back home. There’s something to be said for that too, you know!

I didn’t understand what this concept of exposure meant when I was back home and now, six months down, it still seems like a lot of gibberish. One of those incomprehensible lines that you pull out of storage and offer to anyone who is leaving home, wrenched from the bosom of all that is comfortable and familiar. Torn from the arms of motherland and thrown into unfamiliar food and driving on the wrong side of the road. Yes, of course I like drama. Why do you ask?

Don’t get me wrong – it’s always great to shake things up a little. Keeps one from getting too complacent. But to imagine that getting ‘exposed’ is a better way of life than being, well, ‘unexposed’, is to my mind, a little bit of bullshit. And also, extremely patronising. Eventually it boils down to how open-minded you are. If you plan to carry your pressure cooker, your thepla or your dosa rice everywhere. If you seek out the local desi sanghs and committees. If you insist on speaking your own language at home instead of practicing the new ones around you. Then you’re really just struggling to keep your own culture alive. A few meals, a few concerts, a visit to the local library and three playdates do not give you more insight into a culture than regular travel would.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s your choice if you choose to close ranks against outside influence, and I don’t judge you for it. But eventually the amount of exposure you get is really limited. Limited to a wee bit more than the average tourist gets while sightseeing. Whether you are open minded or not depends on you. Not on whether you’ve moved six countries in the course of your career or died in the house you were born.

Hell, you want me to concede and say you’re getting huuuuge exposure to another culture, I’ll grant you that because I’m in a generous mood and don’t feel like quibbling. You might have learnt a language or an art – and that is great. But I draw the line at the implication that it is somehow preferable, or superior to the alternative (PS: many languages and arts to be learnt within India too!). It is, if anything, a different way of life. Like choosing not to have kids. Or to stay single. Do you know what it’s like to be a married woman and a mother of two at 27? Nope? Well, neither do I know what it’s like to be a single woman at 40. We’re even.

A few years ago, some friends moved back from South East Asia complaining that it was uncomfortable for them because they didn’t find enough Indian food, that there were too many strange animals being cooked, that it was too immoral a society, that it wasn’t as religious as India. They pointed out that the OA and I were good candidates for a move because we’ll try anything once, eat every type of food and not have to worry about kosher, don’t follow any religion and usually eschew religious gatherings, avoid get togethers that are based on community or caste, avoid speaking an Indian language if even one person around us doesn’t understand it, and so on. I didn’t know whether to be flattered or insulted by the picture they painted of us! But they were right of course. We’re fairly ideal candidates to be comfortable out of the country.

Except that unlike many, I really like being in my country – and if I get to choose, then I prefer Delhi over other Indian cities. It bothers me that a person who has lived in four countries is somehow considered to be ‘more’ than a farmer in Vidarbha or a middle class housewife in Calcutta. Richer, maybe. Better traveled, maybe. But better life experiences? I think not.That a little old lady who has seen hunger, or famine, or buried three children, or suffered through riots is somehow seen to have experienced less than our privileged kids in their fancy SUVs, shopping at the closest Indian store. It’s rather patronising to believe that one experience is somehow better.

A few stamps on a passport, learning a new language, trying a new food, seeing a different fort, are all great experiences, no doubt. But so is growing up in a certain locality, building lifelong relationships, seeing a sapling grow into a tree and shade you and so on. There is much to be said for stability, familiarity, and being one of those pillars of society that people can depend on.

Having lived away for a while now I can claim to speak with a little experience. And eventually it all boils down to the same damn daily lives. How we manage our relationships, what the kids are taking to school for tiffin, the bills to be paid, discord in the family, that nagging pain in my knee that casts a shadow on all that I do through the day and so on. The pain of death, the pang of death and loss, the joy of holding your child in your arm – these are things we all experience regardless of geography and they shape our lives far more than anything else.

Here we have cleaner streets, shinier buildings and better traffic. The kids have settled in as best as they can. The OA is busy with work. Fortunately my job moved with me and I am busy during the day. But at night, when the lights go down and we shut the outside world out and gather around the dining table, nothing much has changed. There are still worries at work, still bullies in school. Still bills to be paid. Still new places to visit. The more things seem to change. The less they really do.

PS: Since I can’t answer all the mails I got in response to this post, I’m editing it to add my responses here – Yes, we’re more or less settled and as the Bean would say if you asked her – it’s comme ci comme ca.

There are some positives to being here, infrastructure and order wise, and availability of a variety of things as well as the opportunity to travel to neighbouring countries. And there are the negatives such as homesickness and lack of a social support system. Most of all though, we’re unhappy about the kids having to attend a mainstream international school. They’ve just had their first report card and while the Bean is doing fairly well – the Brat is soaring high. We’ve never known how well they’re doing in India since their school didn’t do comparative marking. So we know that their education was good in India and that their fundamentals are strong. But most of all, the system was good and we’re not very happy with the competitive attitude being instilled in them in a mainstream school. And no, before you ask, we already did a thorough check – there are no alternative schools here.