Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Family’s day out!

We were out all day on Sunday. We left home early and spent the morning at the Mughal Gardens. This was my second trip to the gardens and my third to the President’s Estate. The Mughal Gardens are open only for a month or so between February and March and going there is almost like a ritual for most people here.

I enjoyed the walk in the gardens. It was a visual treat. Being able to see so many flowers in such different colours, made the long wait in the queue worthwhile. I also liked the fact that arrangements had been made for rest rooms and drinking water. What I didn’t like was the indiscipline of my fellow country beings. And people would take a plastic cup, fill it Bisleri, and wash their faces with it. Where a path had been blocked by flower pots, people thought they were at the Olympics and jumped over. What can one security guard do when there are 20 people unwilling to listen? When there were clear instructions to not step on the lawn, despite the fact that a security guard kept telling people otherwise, a whole bunch of people walked across a patch of brahmi. Shame on us!

We also went to meet a family friend who took us to Akshardham. It is a huge temple complex and I am amazed at the amount of money that has gone into building and maintaining this place. The carvings on marble are beautiful. Each pillar, each door, each ceiling is a piece of art in itself. And when they are all put together, the end result is simply out of this world. I was told this temple was built in record time in this day and age. I couldn’t help comparing this to the temples of Palitana, Gujarat. I have been there twice already and they continue to fascinate me. 1000 temples or so, built somewhere in the 11th century, on a hill. It took me almost 2 hours just to ascend… imagine what it would have taken for the people who built it. I, at least, didn’t have to carry rocks or tools, and I definitely didn’t have to build the steps to get there.

While at Akshardham, I asked my mother if the money that went into building this temple could have been put to better use. She felt that spending in the name of religion is not necessarily wasteful. A religion could die if its followers did little. There are so many things that we do which others would find wasteful, so I couldn’t say much. We talked about Palitana and about how Akshardham was made in the 21st century with so many tools, with motorized vehicles to transport materials. How did they manage it back then? Why did people build temples then? Why was it important? Was it because of their interest in the arts or their appreciation for all things beautiful? I figured that it was probably one way to leave their legacies… one way for the world to remember them, long after they left the world.

Both these places did not charge us for admission. So, it didn’t matter that we were Indians and the gentleman with us was German. But I’ve always wondered about this dual pricing in India. When you visit France, even if you traveled across the seven seas to see the Eiffel Tower, you pay the same amount to get to the top of the tower as you would if you lived right down the road from there. I wonder how I might have reacted if I had to pay 260 francs to see the Louvre instead of the 26 francs that I actually paid. I am sure that is how all foreigners would feel in India, when they find they have to pay ten times of what locals pay to see a monument.

A fun weekend in all, but one from which I emerged confused about my country. I am proud of my country, but I wish I could say the same about my fellow citizens.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Strange Encounters of the Arranged Kind - 1

Oru paattu paadu maa (Please sing a song)

A lot of people have said that to me, but I am fortunate that I didn’t have to go through this routine when it came to meeting prospective grooms. An earlier post talks of my single life and presents a mixed bag of my experiences. A woman’s life is not complete in this land until she has tied the knot… until she becomes the wife of someone. (Something tells me this completion exercise won’t stop here either… she has to be the means to let the family name go on… then get her children married… endless)

Over the years, I’ve had my share of fun with the arranged marriage set up. I must admit that I was never really against the idea, nor do I feel that one type of marriage is better than the other. And when I met these guys, I was not wasting anyone’s time… definitely not my own. But despite being practical and reasonably serious in my approach, I met every kind of man.

Mr. I’m-so-rich-I-can’t-help-it: I forget how I met this guy. Through a mutual friend I think. He asked to be introduced to me and we met. From the time we met till we said good-bye, he kept bragging about his income. About how he makes so much money that a middle class family can comfortably live on the amount he pays as tax. He asked me what perfume I was wearing. I told him it was Chanel No. 5. He brought out a package containing Davidoff Cool Water and said, “This is perfume. Not some stupid thing which you are using. At the start of the conversation, he told me about how he would be fully supportive of his wife’s career and all that. Then, towards the end of the conversation, he said, “I’d love for my wife to greet me with a cup of steaming hot coffee when I get back after a hectic day at work.” Innocent me looked at him and said, “What about her hectic day at work?” to which he replied, “That’s why I want you to stay at home… I make enough for the two of us put together.” I promptly gifted the Cool Water to a colleague the next day. I never quite liked it. Now, I’m not sure if that was only because of who gave it to me and how he said Chanel, my precious Chanel No. 5, was not perfume.

To be continued...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Race Against Time

The alarm goes off at 6.45; my hand reaches out to the snooze button (a wonderful addition to any alarm). I rush through the morning routine so that I can enjoy breakfast with S, and leave for work with him. Yup… leaving for work together is somehow so important.

Once we’re out of the house, it hits us in the face: the aggression in this part of the world. My parents expected me to excel at what I did… academics, dance, music, art. They taught me that it was important to do well. But there was no pressure. They definitely didn’t teach me that it was OK to get ahead at the cost of other people. That stepping on others doesn’t matter as long as I get what I want.

Whenever we get out on to the roads, I can hear a song playing in my head. It’s like a modification of Ralph McTell’s song which goes like this:

Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of Gurgaon
I'll show you something to make you change your mind

A pretty woman wrote in her blog about how people just say whatever comes to their minds. Out here, people don’t just say, they say and do exactly as they please. Nobody has bothered to learn the rules of traffic. If there is a roundabout, rather than go around it, they prefer cutting across. Standing in line or waiting in a queue is akin to murder! At a traffic signal, when there is nowhere to go and the signal shows red, it is not unusual to hear non-stop honking.

On some days, I take the elevator up. And that is an experience in itself. There is nothing called a queue. At times, I feel there is more order at a suburban train station in Bombay when the 8.23 fast to Churchgate rolls in. On several occasions I allowed those who came after me to get in first… even if that meant that I had to wait for the next one. When I think, “In Rome, do as the Romans do”, I also think, “If I behave the same way as these guys, what’s the difference between them and me?”

Chivalry is pretty much dead. I know that it is dying in other parts, but this is supposed to be the land of the chivalrous people. Chivalrous, my foot! If chivalry weren’t already dead in this part of the country, the people here would have stabbed it to death anyway. Forget holding a door open for you, men here will bang it shut right in your face. Come on… who has the time for this? We’re in a hurry.

Just last evening, we were at Big Bazaar finishing some grocery shopping. We had two cartloads of stuff and we’d just finished placing the last of the items on the counter. There were a couple of guys behind us in the “queue”. Big Bazaar’s billing system is such that it takes a little time to calculate the discounts after all the items have been entered. (It’s fun to watch the bill amount go down every second! Oops, I digress!) I was talking to S and my parents when I felt something very rough brush against my hand. I turned and found that Mr. In-a-hurry behind me had pushed his box of purchases all the way across because he decided he’d waited enough.

What is with the people here? Time is just as precious to me as it is to the next person. But did no one ever teach people in the north to be considerate? Or that it is not that important to get ahead in the race of life, especially if you’re doing it at the cost of others? I am not asking folks here to stop and smell the flowers, I’m only requesting that a little courtesy be extended to fellow beings.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Key learnings from the weekend

The weekend went by… and we didn’t do much. But I experienced my very first hailstorm. Fun at first, scary after a bit, but on the whole, a very unique experience.

Rains in January and February… something unheard of in this part of the country. I’d not seen rain even in the rainy season when I lived here earlier, so the sight of lightning a week ago did take me by surprise. The heavy rains over the weekend, including the hailstorm, were unexpected.

The guy in the Cadbury’s Bytes ad says, “I’ve learnt tow things today”. In quite the same way, I have learnt two things as well.

  1. We don’t have umbrellas or raincoats and as a result, we are totally unprepared for a shower.

  2. Gurgaon doesn’t have a drainage system. Maybe the town planners didn't expect rains at all... ever!

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Single Life

I have been meaning to blog about this for quite some time now. Someone else came out with a book.

I read about Radhika Jha’s “Chasing The Good Life: On Being Single” this morning. I came away from that article with mixed emotions. Am I to feel happy that I am not alone (or rather was not alone) or am I to feel sad that the plight of single Indian women in India has not changed one bit?

I lived alone for most part of my adult life. It was the life I wanted to lead. Not that I worried about being answerable to anyone. I’ve found that I can do that when I have to. But I’m very picky when it comes to whom I’m answerable to. My parent: yes. Someone who is considering me as a tenant for his apartment: no.

The initial years away from home were spent at a hostel. The kind with rules. I doubt I ever broke them, but I know I bent them on more than one occasion. Not without reason of course. I was pursuing two post graduate programs and picking up two foreign languages side by side. There was no way I could return to the hostel before 9 p.m. My name was entered into the late comers’ register almost everyday and Prof would bail me out. I never got into trouble, just never meant to and never did.

My house hunt as a single working woman was a different experience altogether. Nobody wanted me. Not in their apartments at least. Why? Because an opinion of me had been formed. A negative one at that. I finally found a place. Very close to my work place but not the most liveable of abodes. It may not have been what I wanted, but it definitely served my purpose. There was the usual set of rules. No boys can stay over, no loud music, no this no that. Who cared? I wasn’t the type to break such rules, so it didn’t matter. I wanted to be able to cook my own food. And this place allowed me that luxury. I hit it off very well with my landlord and landlady and they treated me like their own daughter. Sent food up at times, nursed me when I was unwell, allowed my parents to call me on their phone… trivialities you might say. But step into the shoes of a 23 year old, living 2000 miles away from home and your perception is bound to change.

Later on, I was forced to find a different place to stay. I moved 6 times in a span of 16 months. I was chased out because a good family was willing to pay more for my apartment. And at times, I ran. There was this one apartment that I took up. It was neat and compact. It even had a few appliances, but half the things just didn’t work. There was a telephone as well. And I was told that I’d have to pay whatever the bill showed. The owner lived abroad and had a caretaker for the place. My parents were visiting and I took them on a weekend trip. I just decided to get extra protection and bought a nice Godrej Navtal for the main door. When we returned from the trip, I found the metal door open and the main door was unlocked… except for my Navtal! Someone had tried to enter the apartment. The caretaker was promptly at my door the next morning asking why I had added an extra lock. I told him that that was none of his business. I also made use of the opportunity to show him what was not working. The next night, well after 11 p.m., Mr. Caretaker was at my door, completely drunk. And he claimed he wanted to know if the appliances had been fixed. He kept trying to force his way in and I shut the door in his face and locked it. The next morning, I vacated the place.

After a few months, I moved back to the city where my parents lived and just moved back in with them. My problems from that point were on were far from over and just took a different turn. (Don’t get me wrong, I had absolutely no adjustment problems as all my friends thought I would.) Everyone I came across would ask me why I was single at 24, why I was not saying yes to the many guys whose proposals for alliance my father received, why I was wasting my life.

Indians are experts at asking personal questions. Where do you work? What does your father do? How much money do you make? How old are you? I have learnt that this is just part of who we are. At a friends wedding, there was this lady sitting next to me at lunch. She asked me, “Nee Vidyakku friend a? Kalyanam aayidutha? Aathula thedarala illaya?” (Are you Vidya’s friend? Are you married? Are your folks hunting for a groom or not?). When I replied, she almost choked on her food. “Ille mami. Aathula peche edukka maattengara. Neenga venumna thedi kudukkarela?” (No Aunty, my folks aren’t even broaching the subject. Why don’t you find me one? )

I also wanted to buy an apartment. A classmate suggested that I invest in property. I always wanted to have a place that I could call my own. So, I booked an apartment and went to a home loan fair. Everything was hunky-dory. My turn came and a gentleman called out my name. I went to his desk with all my documents. He looked up at me and said, “Where’s your husband?” I said, “I don’t have one.” He looked up at me and said, “Sorry, no loan for you.” I told him I’d take him to court for making such statements. I did finally get my loan sanctioned but not before I got lectured on how single women run away with a housing loan and the house. (How? How on earth?)

On the whole, I do know that my 9 years away from home, as an independent single woman have been eventful. I've made some wonderful friends... most of them being single women. I’ve intimidated a lot of single men… some married ones too. (I've even come across an army that thinks single means available.) I know I made a lot of women uncomfortable. Most people felt threatened by my existence. Why they felt that way, I will never know. It is probably because single is different. According to them, single is dangerous… single and successful is more dangerous, but the most dangerous of them all is the single, independent and successful.