One: Halloween party at school today. I’m so happy for the boy. He gets to wear his Swamp Fire costume and bake pizzas at school. Sweet.
Two: As I leave said party, I hear the teacher say, children, its time for the school prayer. This I must see. I watch as the children gather around in a circle--witches, Spidermen and fairies, join their hands together and thank God, yes God for all good things from food to friends and family. How easy it is. And how nice. So few things are nice these days. I wonder then how sad it is that school prayer has been banned in the States. Why has God become a bad word? If one is concerned about religious freedom, let the child replace the word with Allah or Vishnu or Yaweh or nature or anything they like. Even atheists must believe in the power of nature and plain old Karma. Interesting thing…most kids in class are Hindu barring two kids, both of whom supposedly actually pray to the deity commonly known in the Western world as “God.” And yet all these children, Christian and not, with eyes tightly closed, all send thanks to this God. Hmm…
Three: We have hired a private taxi here, which is costing us an arm and half a leg but is a convenience. The driver they sent us is a Tamil ex army fellow who has a smoking habit that I can unfortunately smell on him. But he’s punctual and well behaved. A bit too feudal—good morning madam, salute…that sort of thing I never was very comfortable with and now having lived in the “free, classless world” for so long feel positively put off by. For all his feudal behavior though it’s strange how easily one can get familiar. In the States, one can meet someone chat even intimately for a few minutes, and walk away, no strings attached. But here it’s not so. No sooner than he finds that I am a Tamilian and my bad that I asked him many questions about himself, he starts giving me advice, making borderline inappropriate comments--for a hired underling, that is. “Let me show you where you should live. Don’t bother looking at these apartments. Why are you not checking these out.” Shaking his head every now and again. And so on and on and on. My solution. I don’t speak to him anymore. He opens the car door, salutes and says good morning. I wish him back. My son and I get in the car and we keep quiet. It’s such a handicap now not having a language no one understands. Quite a pain actually. We cannot make comments, remark rudely on anything without being understood. Dang it. And my husband doesn’t speak Tamil. Not that it would make any difference with the driver who speaks it. Checkmate. Time to start learning the French I always wanted to.
Four: Men don’t shake hands with me here. Real estate agents, contacts we need to cultivate in high places. I’m starting to feel offended. What is this? The 12th century? Just because I’m a woman, why don’t they—but hey, wait a minute, I think then. Heaven alone knows where your hand has been, stranger. Hmm. This could be a win-win situation. I fold my hands in the traditional Indian greeting and smile with no qualms any longer. This isn’t an issue about feminism people, just plain health.
Five: So I bullied my son for months before landing in India into doing sums and words of various levels of difficulty hoping he would not fall behind in the more trying Indian education system.
Now, they had this nice open house kind of thing in his class—transportation is the subject. Tables with various charts with kids talking about aspects of transportation. Somehow the teacher manages to involve my son too with about three minutes notice. I am impressed. After, the kids stand in two rows to sing some songs. They sing a couple. For the final one, a sort of tongue twister, the teacher stands a tiny cherub of a girl in front of the other kids and hands her a sheet of paper. The girl starts to recite, “The creepiest creep wears his shirt…”something…something. She is looking at the sheet intently. The coin drops. I ask the mother seated next to me. “Is she actually reading?” I say incredulously. “Oh yeah,” this mother says as if it’s the most ordinary thing.
Gosh, I hope these guys don’t grade on a curve with this girl at the top. My son may be a bright spark but he ain’t no match for this kind of superior skill set.
Six: Did I mention the traffic? Unbelievable. Erratic. Cars miss touching each other by inches, no one stays in a single lane. Positive of this anarchy? No one on Indian roads will ever sleep at the wheel.
Seven: Indians just cannot develop dementia. The brain has to always be working here. Or you’ll be parted with your money or worse, a leg or arm in traffic. Did I mention how horrid it is? Once or twice already? Ok I’ll stop. Anyway, lets say you take a rickshaw in the city I am in. The meter reads 3:10. Ok that isn’t the rate you pay. You could just trust your driver and pay what he says you should pay. Or you can multiply that number by 8 and add 3 to that result. And that is what his rate card should say. Some creative Johnnies have been known to print “special” rate cards for trusting naïve tourists.
Next, say you’re at a store. Be sure and check the MRP—or maximum retail price on every single product you buy or unscrupulous sellers in small stores might tag on one or two rupees here and there, rounding off as it pleases them thus lightening your load of cash by a few bucks, and you’re none the wiser. And while buying veggies from the bazaar make sure the brain is kept charged--you have bought one kilo tomatoes, two kilos carrots, half a kilo onions, the first at 50 rupees a kilo, the second at 100 rupees a kilo, the third is 65 rupees…are you keeping track? For at the end you will have a bag full of veg and the shop keeper will have a total for you. There will be others clamoring for his attention so make sure you have been totaling the amounts accurately and if you have bargained and been given a small discount (indicated by a bob of the head), make sure to account for that discount too in your calculations. No time to bring out your calculator, right? You are too busy holding bags of veggies as he hands them to you. Maybe you have a child pulling at your side.
See? No chance of dementia.