Lessons I learnt from Durga

reposting this from a couple of years back – happy Navaratri! Source: Lessons I learnt from Durga

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Mumbai Public Transport (yes again!), being on the radio & why trains are a metaphor for the world.

 

local-train-_-from-burrp-com_.jpgAny of you who have followed my blog for a while will know I like talking about public transport – maybe because I spend so much of my time on it – maybe I’m just weird.

Yes I know, I hear you, why not take OLA share? However, trains get you places faster, are considerably cheaper for the daily commute, plus I get car sick, hate AC set to Arctic and am socially awkward (not to mention the time OLA share took two hours for a twenty minute journey). So happily each day I plug my headphones in, bury my head in a book if there’s space, another person’s armpit if not, and chalo on the train.

See how I refrained from calling not one single OLA driver a moron in that paragraph? The other day however, I did not have the same self restraint when it came to the Mumbai local. After yet another irritating experience on the train I let rant on social media, requesting some good retorts I can give back in perfect Hindi to the aunty train mafia. The response was overwhelming. Many people gave their sympathy, offered support, were shocked, angry, etc. I even had a friend who works in radio ask if I would come and do an interview on the subject!

I was taken aback as really the experience, whilst annoying, hadn’t left me especially deeply traumatised. Then a thought struck me -others, less thick skinned than myself might have been.

What if you were a young girl going to college for the first time and you found yourself having to do daily death defying leaps onto the approaching train (necessary  if you want any chance of not being trodden on, elbowed and having your slippers kicked off as you try to enter)? What if you were just starting in a job and taking your first train and dared to take a seat ‘reserved’ for another lady by her friends in ‘their’ carriage?

 

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Image pilfered from Pallavi Jain – check out her brilliant art and give her some paise here

What if you were so very, very ill you couldn’t fight your way onto the train to get a seat that day, so asked, very politely mind, to take the ‘fourth seat’ and got brazenly ignored, then shouted at, for trying not to fall off the zero cm of space that no one had bothered to shift even a tiny bit to give you? And then got gossiped about in front of your face by the ladies you have to see every day on your morning commute, while they all pass cake around thinking it is all very funny like the time they trod on you while you were on your hands and knees in the train doorway trying to retrieve your shoe from the edge of the platform (again). Hilarious.

Ok well that last bit was me. I’m over it now. So far all sounds a bit like a school bus with a bully problem? Over lunch at work I heard much worse stories – a friend who had her glasses broken, yet more shoe losses, purse thefts, cat fights, people not being allowed by others to board trains or get off trains, people being pushed off moving trains, people screaming for tmumbai-local-759.jpgheir lives as they hang out of moving carriages whilst others refuse to go inside further, old ladies being dragged along the platform by their dupattas and one lady of 55 died in Borivali jumping off a moving train, being dragged underneath it. The very worst story by far was of a lady who sadly passed away. She was beaten up by a (female) train gang after refusing to give up her seat – she had given birth only a few days previous. No one was caught.

So every rush hour traveler knows as a rule, the ladies carriage is worse than the mens, never to take the Virar train (unless you are going to Virar) and where to stand if you want to have any chance in hell of getting off at your stop. Most commuters, including myself generally know how to fight through the whole experience. But what ****SHOCK**** if we stopped fighting for a minute and decided to help each other through this daily assault course? Fighting to get on a train happens even when there is plenty of space and plenty of time before a train leaves. Why? Is it really the highlight of these people’s days that they got a morning seat on the local train, risking their own and other’s lives to do so? Why do civilised ladies suddenly become animals, all over 30 square cm of plastic seat?

It struck me that the local train is like a microcosm for the world. People claim their territory and try to keep it from newcomers by forming gangs. In 2008 the state of Maharastra saw violent attacks on migrants from North India. We all know about the ongoing clashes in Kashmir. I look at my country of origin and see the anti-migrant aftermath of the Brexit vote- and lets not even start on what is happening in America! There is a lot of talk internationally about ‘the greaI5fqZaH.jpgt evil’ of economic migrants and how we need armies and walls to keep them out (along with the refugees). This talk makes me both angry and befuddled. If you travel a great distance and suffer a great hardship to be able to work, then you are likely to do just that when you get there. More hard working people in the community + more money in the local economy = better infrastructure and welfare, all with the added bonus of cultural diversity, which can lead to the better understanding of each other so we can all live in blissful harmony. In theory. Of course it depends on the honesty and competence of who is in charge and the influence of the media on popular opinion. I think though it is safe to say that in most cases, if these migrants get wherever they are headed and find nothing, they are more than likely to go somewhere else – because they want to work! Anyone who argues they are here to take your job – I second the guy above (replace English with whatever applicable language). Conclusion, territorial behaviour and isolationism = bad, migration and diversity = good. Anyone in charge who tells you otherwise is more than likely blaming migrants for their own shortcomings in governance and/or trying to control using fear.

I digress. So back to the radio. Initially I dismissed the request as rather funny and no thanks, not a chance, no way in hell basically. Whilst a lot of people would jump at the chance to be live on the airwaves, I work behind the scenes in production for a reason – I’m actually pretty shy. Then I learnt about the motives for asking me on the show – noble ones of generally getting people to be nicer to each other and making the train a safer place for all, so I agreed. Especially after I had read the inspirational article of this lady who stood up to train bullies and recalled once being brave enough to go on BBC Radio 2 to speak up in defence of squatters.

However, the night before I got cold feet when I heard it was to do with a film release Atithi in London (Guest iin London). There is a saying in India ‘atithi devo bhava‘ which translates as ‘guest is god.’ It rings well as Indian culture is renowned for its wonderful hospitality (and tendency to feed guests as many biscuits and cups of chai as possible). I didn’t want to give the impression that I felt that as a foreigner, I was a guest and should be treated as such, as god – after all I live here, work here, have family here, pay tax here and consider Mumbai my home (as much as any other migrant). The producer assured me this would not be the case and I took the plunge.

The interview was with the very sweet and down-to earth RJ Archana, someone who is genuinely trying to make a difference in the world. In amongst sharing train stories we talked about how we are all equal on the train- and not in a ‘some are more equal than others’ kind of way! Everyone should look out for each other and bullying should not be tolerated – especially in the case of grown men and women who should know better! We should extend the ‘guest is god’ mentality outside of our homes and to all the strangers we meet every day, on every train, from every state, from every country. Being nice to each other on the local train maybe a far cry from achieving universal equality and world peace, but it’s a good start.

You can watch a video which includes some of  the edited interview here.

You can see RJ Archana preparing for her very own trip on a Mumbai local train here.

And you can listen to her show Mon-Sat 7am-11am on Radio City.

http://www.newscrunch.in/2017/03/mumbai-man-bullied-local-train-fights-back-facebook-video.html

http://afternoondc.in/city-news/women-bullies-on-radar/article_189512

http://www.arre.co.in/people/the-seat-mafia-of-mumbai-locals/

http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report-rough-times-for-train-bullies-1055727

http://www.asianage.com/mumbai/rpf-brings-train-bullies-right-track-357

http://www.mid-day.com/articles/cops-must-come-down-hard-on-train-bullies/15532186

http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/news/Virar-train-gang-beats-up-short-distance-passenger/article14512188.ece

http://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/mumbai/other/woman-falls-from-crowded-local-train-dies/articleshow/56011122.cms

http://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/deaths-due-to-fall-from-overcrowded-mumbai-local-trains-go-up-reveals-rti/

https://www.nyoooz.com/news/mumbai/563233/govt-to-explore-options-for-maratha-reservation/

 

Posted in Bombay, Culture, Ex Pat, expat, immigration, India, migrant, migrants, Mumbai, Public Transport, travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Animal Rescue

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Meet Pie the kitten. My daughter rescued her from a pile of rubbish outside a hospital. The vet said she was only about ten days old. Our beautiful Russian friend had spotted her hanging around with a mama cat and litter of kittens who were several months older and rescued her out of the traffic a few times, where disorientated she had wandered into a busy road.

Pie’s rescue was her not-so-evil plan; she already has so many rescued animals in her house that her husband has basically banned her from getting any more. She was babysitting my daughter while I was at Hindi class and happened to ‘show’ her the kittens. When I picked up my daughter we went for ice-cream which inevitably led us past the pile of rubbish and kittens. Looking down at the little lost kitten and my daughter’s trembling lip, pleading ‘we can’t just leave him here – he will die’ I knew there was only one thing to do. Thus kitten had the rickshaw journey of his life and my partner had a phone call that started ‘please don’t be cross but…..’

After a long night picking around fifty fleas off the poor kitten and trying to get some milk in via a kid’s medicine syringe, the next day was a rollercoaster. We took Pie to the vet who confirmed he was in fact a she and needed kitten formula milk. We dropped her home and set off on the scooter to buy some. By the time we returned the kitten was limp and floppy, her tongue hanging out and eyes rolled back. We rushed her back to the vet’s and there followed a feline version of a scene from Casualty. Pie was put on a drip and given oxygen whilst being injected with all kinds of medicines and warmed up with a hair dryer.

Several hours later the head vet came in and was told “chances bahut come.’ I understood the hindi (chances are very less) and tried to prepare my daughter for the worst. I think the severity of the situation was somewhat lost on my four year old who was apparently ‘getting bored.’ Still, I thought I would spare her the trauma of seeing her new pet die and took her out for chaat and ice-cream. When we came back we were very pleasantly surprised – Pie was awake and staggering around like a tiny furry drunk. We took her home and I spent the night giving her rehydration salts every two hours and refilling the hot water bottle she was sleeping on.

The vets were wonderful – they were so shocked that our little street urchin Pie had survived that they treated her for free. It is wonderful to see such genuine compassion and dedication and now they are our vets for life!

A few months later we have a naughty, mischievous and very cute new member in the family. She has even stolen the heart of my cat-hating partner and the rest of his family and spends most of the time wrestling with her my little pony fluffy toy and viciously attacking shoes or flat on her back on my lap.

Pie is the second animal we rescued, the first was a dog I found half dead outside Matunga Road station. As I sat with his head in my lap, waiting for the animal ambulance to come and take him to the animal hospital in Dadar I had some varied reactions from the public. Many stopped to ask me what on earth I was doing and when I explained ‘animal rescue’ many commended me, but more than half thought it was hilarious and some even tutted and gave me disgusted looks. The heroes of the hour were some school kids who helped guide the ambulance men who couldn’t understand my accent and terrible Hindi.

I named the dog Matunga after the station and paid for his treatment and went back to visit him and take him for walks with my family. Sadly my partner was a little more realistic about adoption (we both work full time and live on the 8th floor) and I vowed to find him a home. I was then struck down with fever and illness (so much for karma!) and missed the call from the hospital saying he was fit and they were releasing him back in the same spot I found him. He’s still there outside the station – I see him often and always bring him food and water, always getting the same bemused looks from passers by. Sometimes he follows me to the train and it breaks my heart. Now his fur has grown back and he is fussy about what brand of biscuits he eats so I guess he is not doing too bad.

Pie is soon to get neutered – she had her first heat and spent the nights howling out the window ‘come and get me boys!’ During this episode new neighbours moved into the flat next door. They left the very same night claiming the house was haunted! I did wonder if it was Pie’s cries for a mate that they mistook for a ghoul!

Everyday I see so many stray animals. It seems the people who are most kind to them are the humans who are also sleeping on the streets and the building watchmen – in return the cats chase away the rats and the dogs stand guard at night.

However, there are also some wonderful organisations in Mumbai who are making a difference. If you are still unpersuaded by my cute ball of feline fluff to adopt a stray then take a look at some of the links below – you can always donate or even go walk a dog or two at a weekend (be warned though – I bear no responsibility if you fall in love!)

http://www.bombayspca.org

https://www.facebook.com/groups/yoda.mumbai/

http://www.amtmindia.org

http://www.karunaforanimals.org

http://www.idaindia.org

plus a great list of helpline numbers in this blog: http://www.headsupfortails.com/blog/emergency-contact-numbers-for-animals-birds-mumbai/

 

Posted in animal welfare, blog, Bombay, Ex Pat, expat, fundraising, good news, India, medical aid, Mumbai | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cheese and Wine Whine (Review)

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I was reading a thread about favorite home traditions of people who have married into Indian culture. Very fast the posts turned into nostalgia about various types of food. I wanted to expand on my thoughts about this, plus I have never ventured into the world of food and drink blogging so here goes….

I’m English and I love cheese. Indians have no idea how to do cheese. Sorry, but it is true. And selling imported cheddar and parmesan in Hypercity or Nature’s Basket for some ridiculous extortionate price is not the solution and paneer doesn’t bloody count! Cheese is important as is red wine. I am currently drinking indian red wine which is genuinely nice – if the Indians can learn red wine surely cheese will follow? We can only live in hope….

Now please forgive me and correct me if I am wrong here, but Indian wine used to taste like a mix of vinegar and piss. Now however, they have totally hit the nail on the head and are producing some damn fine wines! Below are a few of my favorites, all for under 1000 rupees (because let’s face it I am not as rich or as classy as I would like to be!) Any Indian wine makers out there please feel free to send me some expensive wine (for free) to review….

Sula Madera

This is my trusted favorite wine. At a reasonably priced (read cheap) 290 rs a bottle you can’t go wrong (unless you are thinking Blue Nun) with something that is this drinkable. I can’t say I agree with their advised serving temperature of ‘slightly chilled 14-16 degrees.’ Come on! Red wine should NOT be served cold! Yes we live in a hot country but seriously! It’s fruity but not sweet. Best drank after children’s tantrums and arguments with rickshaw drivers. Goes nicely with heavy oily high calorie tikka masala (mutton or paneer) and pizza.

Choco Vino

According to the label this wine is ‘to be enjoyed anytime during the day’ which basically legitimizes my daytime drinking if I so wish. The marketing is clearly praying on 30 something women like myself who love chocolate and wine and the idea of a combination of the two is too hard to resist. It doesn’t really fast anything like chocolate but it is rather nice and has a good body (unlike mine if I drink too much or indeed eat too much chocolate! Note to self!) I found another review which begs to differ on the chocolate taste front and is also rather funny, which you can read here. (I stole the photo from here – sorry!)

Sula Dia

Red wine that is COLD and FIZZY! AND CHEAP!!! Sounds minging? Actually it’s not – it’s delicious! The dryness counters the sweetness and it’s more like a sparkling rose more than a red. It has a rather classy Art Deco label design so you can feel classy drinking it, even out of a coffee mug. I think I have found India’s answer to Prosecco and I am a happy lady!

Fratelli Classic Shiraz

Sounds Italian, actually Indian, actually easily as good as the Italian it wants to be. Rich and ruby red and smooth on the palate. Had this in a restaurant in Lonavala so bit more pricey than the rest of the wines reviewed. Looking at their own description which describes it as having ‘hints of leather’ and suggesting it goes well with ‘Thai beef stir fry,’ I’m not sure they have thought their marketing strategy through well for an Indian audience.

Sula Samara

Bought this because they had run out of Madera in the weird local wine shop that only men seem to go to. It’s cheaper and actually maybe nicer! Maybe I just really craved wine this evening but this is totally hitting the spot. It’s a bit weak at 11% but as it is cheaper you can buy two bottles guilt free and therefore drink more. Best drunk while watching sci-fi serials on netflix while your man is away and you miss him a bit. I’m sure it would go well with chocolate but sadly there is none and no one to send to the shops (small violin playing in the background while I eat Indian ‘cream cheese’ on toast)….

I would give you some reviews of Indian cheeses, but let’s face it (and again please correct me if I am wrong) but there is no bloody point!

Please do share with me you suggestions and recommendations for Indian domestic wine and cheese…..

 

Posted in Cheese, Culture, england, Ex Pat, expat, Food, Humor, Humour, India, Review, Tradition, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Mumbai (un)Public Transport part 3

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my Sunny Scootoni as modeled by a random man

I’ve written previously about my experiences on the Mumbai public transport system. Now I would like to share with you my newfound love, my daily joy in sunny yellow, my savior from traffic jams, chore rickshaw drivers and being pretty much beaten up getting on and off local trains – introducing Sunny Scootoni – my sexy, Italian and rather stylish scooter.

She’s daring, a fast woman in bike form with matching retro yellow helmet. She doesn’t care how loud you beep your horn or if you are on a noisy massive Enfield because you can just eat her goddamn dust at 5mph stuck in a queue of two-wheelers on the side of the highway. No you are not jumping ahead in front of this lady – where are your manners? What happened to chivalry?!

I know she is a little dangerous and my mother does not entirely approve of her but I love her and I hope we will never part. I look forward to waking up to her each morning and coming home from work on her each evening. All the family love riding on her.

I’ve ridden scooters before when I stayed in Goa but always been a little terrified of the Mumbai infamous crazy traffic. Most ex-pats I know have cars with drivers to ferry them safely through the chaos (nothing wrong with this – living the dream!) Not having the option of this luxury coupled with depressing journeys in OLA cabs watching the two wheelers zip around me stationary in the traffic jam there was nothing for it but to take a deep breath and ride on regardless! My journey time has halved and I’ve not only become accustomed to but adept at weaving my way through the gridlock.

For others brave or crazy enough to drive/ride in this city here are the unofficial rules of the Indian roads:

  1. Lane discipline is not really a concept and undertaking is totally OK.
  2. Mirrors are also not really a concept. I saw a lady the other day who had chosen to gaffer tape carrier bags over hers because it was raining or because she was a lunatic, I’m not entirely sure. Instead of relying on your fellow drivers to see you in their mirrors, it is customary to beep the shit out of your horn when overtaking and take responsibility for your own life by making it’s presence heard.
  3. Many places in town have no horn beeping signs. These are largely ignored.
  4. Horn beeping is not considered rude or something done in anger as it is in many other places in the world. However it is often rude and done in anger. It is also really annoying if you live anywhere near a road until your brain creates a natural filter to ignore it.
  5. Right of way is who pulls out first in front of the other, unless you are a bus.
  6. At busy times traffic cops will direct traffic at various junctions. They are largely ignored just as traffic lights are.
  7. Helmets must be worn by law but only if you are the driver – your wife, sister, four children and goat that are also traveling on your bike need not wear one.
  8. Paise gets you everywhere in matters involving traffic cops.
  9. Pot holes, pot holes everywhere. And cows. And pedestrians with death wishes.
  10. The existence of the pavement is another thing that is not really a concept, certainly not as an area for walking on anyway. Setting up a shop selling pani puri, corn specialist treatment, place to tie up your goat/cow, or housing four generations of a family under a single piece of tarpaulin on the other hand….
  11. Men dressed as women clapping at traffic lights is a common sight, as are people selling all sorts of plastic crap and hot nuts, people with no legs on skateboards and small skinny children with big pleading eyes. They all want your money and they all break my heart when I see them.
Posted in Bikes, Bombay, Culture, Driving, expat, India, Mumbai, Public Transport, Traffic, travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sick as a Street Dog

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In times of late I have not been well at all. Having suffered (and survived!) in the past from the infamous Indian ‘Delhi belly’ I have developed, quite proudly, guts of steel. During my last stint living in India I got sick once- not a bad record for two years! I definitely found myself suffering basically never from the seasonal colds and flu viruses that the UK is plagued with. I found the extra sunshine and healthy diet (due to abundance of cheap fruit and veg) and addition of health giving spices was eliminating the experience of being bed-ridden from my life.

This time around however the story has been very different. It started with a stomach infection or sorts. My partner took me to the doctors. I relayed my symptoms to him and he immediately thrust two pills into my hand. ‘Take these now.’ he commanded. My refusal to take the random medicine and daring to question what it was and what it was for dented his ego somewhat. ‘Doctors are like gods here,’ explained my partner, ‘this guy is respected all around the area and people queue to see him because he is the best.’ I begged to disagree as the doctor had promptly prescribed me some random medicine, which upon looking up was not only completely unrelated to my ailment but I was also allergic to!

One week later I was still sick and sought the help of a gastroenterologist. He went on to prescribe no less than five different types of medicine, some of which made me feel high as a kite but totally did cure me… Until I got some other horrific tonsillitis/flu/fever/sinus infection. Thanks antibiotics, my immune system has totally gone to pot! A week after recovering from that delight I once again have tonsils the size of laddoos.

India, for all its culture of Ayurveda and holistic health seems to very happy to put blind faith in allopathic doctors. There seems to be a culture of taking antibiotics for everything and anything and rushing to the doctor at the appearance of the smallest sniffle. However, maybe it’s a wise thing to seek medical help with the threat of Dengue and Malaria ever lurking (I’m half convinced maybe I had mild Dengue). However, I do worry that the knowledge we now have about the overuse of antibiotics and the development of antibiotic resistant ‘super-bugs’ has not quite filtered down to the Indian GP or indeed the common man.

My Indian family are totally caring and wonderful when it comes to looking after each other (and me!) when they are ill. I’m perhaps not as big a fan of seeing doctors and taking medicine as them but I know they have the best of intentions to help and looking after one’s health is considered very important in our family. I hope maybe I have learnt a little from them to take care of my health as a priority as well as some good home remedies. As always I hope I can give something back to them with a few of my home remedies.

Below are some useful links for home remedies to keep at bay the necessity to take antibiotics, as well as some articles on why we need to curb their use, in India especially ASAP. I’ve also put a link to a good site & project about Dengue prevention.

http://www.huffingtonpost.in/open-magazine/how-india-became-the-antibiotics-capital-of-the-world-and-wasted/

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/health-fitness/health-news/Overuse-of-antibiotics-harming-Indias-fight-against-TB-Lancet/articleshow/53858713.cms

http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-a-race-to-the-bottom-with-antibiotic-overuse/

http://www.ayurvedichomeremedies.net

http://easyayurveda.com/ayurvedic-home-remedies-2/

https://www.breakdengue.org/toolkits/dont-get-dengue/

 

Posted in Alternative medicine, Antibiotics overuse, Culture, Dengue, Ex Pat, expat, Health, Illness, India, Mumbai | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Gods That Ate Everything

29c4d9e09843f487bd1edd10e8e94ef0The last week or two in Mumbai we have seen a lot of celebrations (and a lot of chaos!) in the streets. Ganesh Chaturthi has filled the streets with processions of drummers and dancers as bappas were paraded towards their final destinations to be immersed in water. Eid has filled the streets with proud men with plump goats on strings decorated with tinsel.

The whole affair is driving my partner crazy. He is a firm believer that religion should be celebrated in private, kept off the streets and out of people’s faces. He feels that the whole show and pomp put on by the competing revelers is dissolving the meaning behind the festivals, rendering them a pointless, noisy menace.

Me on the other hand, I love a good street party. I love the colour, music, atmosphere and community spirit. I think it is important to keep cultures and traditions alive plus I always welcome the prompt to explore the deeper meanings and lessons to be learnt from these traditions.

However, several weeks in, suffering from a fever bed bound, the cacophony of the endless festivities outside was too much even for me. Poor Ganesh with his large elephant ears must have himself been half deafened.

A particular highlight of Ganpati celebration is the troops of drummers that are accompanied by a keyboard player. The keyboard is often amplified through tinny-screechy sounding tannoy speakers strapped to the top of a rickshaw or car. You can be certain that whatever they keyboard player is playing (seemingly random notes that occasionally bear some resemblance to popular Bollywood songs from the 1970s) will have absolutely no correlation with the accompanying drummers. The dancing public seem to be blissfully unaware/ indifferent to this dissonance and continue to whirl around, let off crackers and shout ‘Morya!’ with great enthusiasm. My head felt like it was going to explode.

“So now you understand?” says my better half, “the whole affair is about show-off; who has the biggest Bappa covered in the most glitter, spent the most money, hired the biggest troop of drummers, put up a mobile soundsystem. Last year there were many complaints because the DJs were playing trashy songs like ‘I’m sexy and I know it’ and ‘Gangnam Style.’ What has that got to do with religion? And with Eid – it is about coming on the road and showing off who has the fattest goat. It used to be that the meat was given to the poor but that rarely happens anymore. They just shit everywhere and cause a nuisance all for ego not god. Why can’t people keep religion in their own homes?”

While, despite my headache I did not entirely agree with him, our conversation got me thinking about a story I had read our daughter about Ganesh and Kubera. Here is my retelling of it in my own words:

Kubera was the god of wealth and he was a massive show-off. He loved to put on the most lavish parties to prove his status as the richest (and therefore most important) god around. He had the finest wines, the most gourmet food and the most opulent décor. All that was lacking to complete the perfection was the caliber of the guests.

Kubera knew what he had to do – he had to persuade Shiva and Parvati, the heads of all the gods to be his guests. He would spend so much money on them that everyone in the whole world would admire him!

Off he went to Kailash with golden invitations and a heart full of pride at his genius idea. Shiva and Parvati were busy however, and in their place sent their son Ganesh, assuring Kubera that he would be a most fitting guest for the occasion.

Undeterred, Kubera pulled out all the stops and showered his guest with compliments and expensive canapes.

“I want the main course!” Demanded Ganesh.

Kubera presented an enormous spread on a mile long banquet table. Ganesh gobbled it up in ten seconds flat. “More!” the god demanded, “I’m still hungry! I will tell my parents what a stingy miser you are not feeding me enough!”

Kubera was starting to get worried. Ganesh had eaten all the food in the palace so he sent his men out to get all the food in the city and the surrounding villages. The village people cried as Kubera’s men took away their food. “What will we feed our children?” They cried.

ganesha_and_kuberaWhen all the food in all the land was presented at the palace once more Ganesh swallowed it all, without even chewing. “Still hungry!” shouted Ganesh, his belly filling half the hall.

“But Ganesh!” pleaded Kubera, “I have no food left!”

“You miser! You peasant! I thought you were rich!” Exclaimed Ganesh before starting to eat up all the guards and servants and anyone else who crossed his path. “Next Kubera I am going to eat you!” Shouted Ganesh.

Kubera ran away in fright. Outside he saw the starving people. “Oh great rich king!” they pleaded, “help us as you are so wealthy and generous!”

Kubera ran faster, he could not bear to admit he had nothing and was now as poor as them. There was only one place left to go – back to Kailash to ask for help.

When Shiva and Parvati saw Kubera’s panicked face they laughed. “How silly you are,” said Parvati kindly, “you made the mistake of thinking that people will respect and admire you more if you show off your wealth. Us enlightened gods know the truth however, if you want to impress and honor us then it does not matter how big or small your offering is – what matters is that it is done with humility and love. We have no use for these offerings of food and material riches so afterwards they should be given to the people who need them. Only then will we be satisfied.”

Kubera knew then what he had to do. He went back to Ganesh and knelt before him.

“Oh lord Ganesh! I have nothing left to offer you to demonstrate my wealth. I found these few grains of rice on the kitchen floor. It is not much but I offer them now to you to show my respect for you. They are merely a token. What I really offer to you is my heart and myself as your humble servant and my thanks for all that is good. I offer my prayers that everyone else can be rich in happiness and never go hungry.”

Ganesh smiled and took the rice. “Now I am full. In fact I am too full!” And with that Ganesh opened his mouth and out came all the people, all their food and everything Kubera had fed Ganesh. Kubera was so grateful he used to food to put on a feast for all the poorest citizens of his kingdom and made sure that in the future if he ever held a party that everyone was invited, regardless of how rich or poor they were!

The End

I think this story teaches a valuable lesson. With my partner being a Hindu we celebrated Ganesh Chaturthi at home for three days. On the third day we took all the sweets and fruits we had offered down along with our Bappa and distributed the food to all the fotorcreated-1children who live on our road. When I say live on our road I literally mean on our road – in small shacks built from tarpaulin or just on the pavement. Our daughter handed out the sweets and played with the children and finally understood why the sweets that had tempted her for days were not for her. Then we took our Bappa and immersed him in the purpose built pool at the end of the street where he could biodegrade and not cause any pollution. We bought him from a street-side craftsman as opposed to from a mall or supermarket and next year, inspired by a story I read last year we want to make a Bappa out of chocolate, immerse in milk and make chocolate milkshake for all the kids.

My Muslim friend at work told me how he would go home for Eid the following week and his family would take their goat to a special community place where after sacrifice, one third of the meat would be donated for the poor and needy with the remaining two thirds going to family and friends. He also mentioned how each year his family gives alms as part of a Muslim festival.

We have a duty as both individuals and the community to celebrate festivals, both religious and secular for the right reasons and in a responsible way for the environment and our neighbors. The solution is not banning public displays of religion, much as it would please my partner, but to look at the lessons those religions are trying to teach us and do our best to understand and abide by them.

Wishing you all a (slightly belated) happy Ganesh Chaturthi and Eid. !

 

 

 

Posted in Culture, Eid, expat, Festivals, Ganesh, Ganpati Chaturthi, Hindu, Hinduism, India, Mumbai, Muslim, Religion, Religious festivals, Rituals, spirituality, Stories, Tradition | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Culture Clash: Boobies!

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This incident, rather ironically happened to me during World Breastfeeding Week, so wishing all the mamas out there doing it, trying to do it and supporting those that can’t a belated happy World Breastfeeding Week! Find out more in the link below:

http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org

The reason it is ironic for me is I had a debate (read argument) with my partner over a photo on social media of me breastfeeding. Now I’m British and he is Indian – I am totally happy to respect and adapt to his culture in regards to most things and take care to quiet my angry inner feminist to keep the peace in our family and wider immediate society (to a point whilst not-so-secretly fighting for social change obviously). However, this is something I feel rather strongly about and we have had to agree to disagree, both of us walking away with rather hurt feelings.

I won’t publish the offending picture here but what is shows is me in a hospital gown, moments after my daughter was born with the biggest smile on my face, gorgeous little newborn clasped to my breast and the tiniest bit of booby showing. This is the first picture taken of us together after she entered the world and it was taken by my dear friend Jo who was my birthing partner. It means a great deal to me and I should imagine her also.

Social media can be a minefield for intercultural and long distance relationships. It is certainly not the first time it has caused problems in my relationship. When my relationship became serious and inevitably I became cyber friends with my partner’s friends and family, I removed any pictures that might be deemed a bit ‘too sexy’ for an Indian audience. I was fine with this – I didn’t want to be giving any aunties a heart attack!

However in the UK I have been an activist for the right of women to breastfeed in public, to remove the stigma and sexualisation of it. I feel there should be no shame, no requirement to cover up, no embarrassment. I don’t feel it should be kept ‘private’ any more than feeding a baby with a bottle or adults eating their lunch.

I have been assured that I am fighting a losing battle if I ever imagined this ‘lactivist’ movement will ever take root in India, that I should not push my foreign views on a country and society that is not my own, that covering up is not ‘a big deal’ etc etc. When in India I do indeed cover up to breastfeed and respect the culture here and quite frankly, I don’t want the attention. Yet I still feel I am betraying my own beliefs.

Here are just a few of the things I have been told regarding public, uncovered breastfeeding in India:

 ‘You wouldn’t walk down the street naked! Why is it ok to get naked just because you have a baby?’

‘It should be done in private!’ (what like in a public toilet? Yuk!)

‘It is something only labour class women do.’

‘Aren’t you ashamed that men might see your boobs?’

‘You should cover up so men don’t feel uncomfortable.’

‘It is unhealthy for the baby, they could get sick because of germs in the air.’

‘Most women breastfeed in India and they all cover so why is it such a big deal? it’s not like anyone is stopping them from breastfeeding?’

So I’m putting it out there to my Indian family, friends and readers (and anyone else in the world for that matter) that maybe the problem is not with the act or the photograph but with the attitude towards women and their breasts.

Breastfeeding is for everyone regardless of class. Breastfeeding is not about sex. Women don’t do it to tease men and be sexy. It is about a baby eating. It is not sexual. If you find breastfeeding sexual then you have some serious issues! And if you were eating would you want your face to be covered up by a stuffy sweaty bit of cloth? Bottles feeding vs breastfeeding is cleaner and builds the immune system of the baby – this is a scientific fact. Breastfeeding is not a ‘dirty’ bodily function like going for a shit so why suggest women to do it in private in the same place where you shit?

Being told to do it in private means shame.

Covering by force means shame.

Objectification of women means shame.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting the women of India burn their dupattas and should all refuse to cover. I’m not under any impression that things will change here anytime fast and I know it is not my place to tell anyone what to do or what not to do. In the same way I support women who choose to wear a hijab or the famed burkini I support women who choose to cover. The point is it should be a choice and women should not be judged whatever their preference.

Anyway I will leave this all on a lighter note, with a very funny spoof film from India offering a solution to women who find tharki men constantly staring at their breasts. Enjoy!

Posted in blog, Bombay, Breastfeeding, Censorship, Culture, Desi, Ex Pat, expat, Feminism, Feminist, Health, India, intercultural relationships, motherhood, Mumbai, Tharki, Tradition, women empowerment, Women's rights | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Healing Tree Network – our brand new initiative

Reblogging this to spread the word on behalf of the fantastic Mythri Speaks blog….

All of us know at least one woman suffering from menstrual pain or menstrual disorders. So much so, that we have come to think of it as normal. Some of us know those who suffer from the side-effect…

Source: Healing Tree Network – our brand new initiative

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Brexit, Visas and Immigration Ranting!

hand-holding-brexit-sign-eu-referendumThis post has been brewing for a while ,then today I read about my friend’s experience with ignorant racism getting on a bus today in London and I could take no more! RANT WARNING…..

So my beautiful, intelligent and talented young friend of Indian origin and her equally beautiful and talented mother were getting on a bus. My friend’s mother got on but before her daughter could get on the driver slammed the door shut in her face:

“When I knocked on the door, she opened the door and abused me calling me a c*nt and an immigrant who doesn’t know London bus rules and said if I get on the bus she won’t start the bus. Then I said I won’t leave the bus and she can call the police, she then came up violently to me and started hurling abuses again and asked every passenger to leave. Then she went up to the next bus and asked the driver to not take me and my mum on board. Then she left with her bus too.”

This is totally shocking! People like that bus driver should not be allowed to represent our beloved multicultural London and work on our public services. My friend and her mum are the sweetest people! The mother, a classical singer, travels to the UK often to perform her beautiful music and my friend, her daughter, after studying in the UK is already a successful (taxpaying) businesswoman and about to open a classy restaurant (not to mention an awesome cook!). She is a Londoner as much as me!

As a recent ex-Londoner and now an immigrant myself in Mumbai (well in a week or so when my visa arrives fingers crossed!) I love that city and feel it is home as much as I feel London, a city I lived in but didn’t grow up in is also my home. Home is where you work, love and live; where you are part of society and contribute to society- for a great many people on this planet home is not where you were born and our planet and its global society is a more diverse, rich, educated and evolved place for the greater movement and mixing of people and their respective cultures!  

She asked the question if Brexit could be to blame for such a public display of racism. Sadly I feel she is correct to a degree. Brexit has caused a huge rise in racism (and xenophobia) which was always there brewing under the surface. Now the media coverage and right wing campaigning surrounding Brexit has given confidence to idiots- like that bus driver. We must not stand for it!

While I voted ‘IN’ I acknowledge that there are numerous left wing arguments for the UK to have voted ‘OUT’. One of the reasons I voted ‘IN’ was because I foresaw this whole fiasco – immigration being used as a scapegoat for the economic and social problems of the UK. It can’t even be called a conspiracy as it is plain for most to see. These issues outweighed the arguments to vote ‘OUT’. Unity amongst nations beyond Europe is more important to me than trade, money etc and extends beyond Europe to a global sentiment. We are all human beings and that above all else beyond race, money, religion, gender, age etc.

Thankfully the racists are actually a minority – they come to our attention more because of their bizarre actions, like religious terrorists. You don’t see people running up the road shouting “welcome to London! We love Polish supermarkets and Indian restaurants and bagel shops and reggae music and all of the wonderful culture we can call ‘British’ but has come to our shores from overseas. I see multiculturalism as an important part of ‘Britishness’ and part of our identity as Brits – something to be proud of!

Screw the media and all that it pushes and represents – screw the selfish interests of the few, the privileged and the ignorant. Screw the way only negative news is pushed and anything positive is ignored unless it involves sport or puppies or celebrities!

Back to my own personal experience, I recently had a visa denied for my partner to come to the UK to visit. I was shocked as were my parents when the UK embassy denied my partner the right to come to the UK. He was coming to meet my parents pre our marriage (due to health problems it is challenging for them to travel and he has never visited my home country), based on the fact that ‘as he was Indian (!) he was likely to stay in the UK and work illegally’. I was even more shocked when my friend’s husband was denied a visa for  exactly the same reasons when he was invited to attend the birth of his first-born son. He was a mechanical engineer, married to a Brit with a stable, well paid job and home in India. He clearly has no need to stay in UK and wash pots in a restaurant kitchen for an illegal existence!

Institutional racism and xenophobia exists within the British government. How can we hope for a peaceful future when this is the case? Yet we must hope and educate our children as they are our future.

Posted in blog, brexit, Culture, england, equality, Ex Pat, expat, immigration, immigration law, India, Intolerance, London, migrant, migrants, Politics, racism, refugee, refugee crisis, Terrorism, uk immigration, visas, xenophobia | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments