Skip to main content


Showing posts from July, 2010

The Election of Mrs. Bajpeyi

A few years ago, one of our neighbours, Mrs. Meira Bajpeyi, a veritable neighbourhood matriarch (I've never actually SEEN Mr. Bajpeyi - strange - but he's alive that's for sure.  She flaunts her marriage symbols with pride) decided to fight the local elections.  We were all quite pleased.  It would be nice to have someone we know in a position of power.  Contacts are so important. It was quite exciting when the leaflets came around with the venerable Mrs. Bajpeyi's face smiling benignly.  None of our family got involved with the campaigning but we wished her well of course.  I heard Neil, my son, who was very small at the time going around chanting 'Meira Bajpeyi Patang!  Meira Bajpeyi Patang!'  'Patang' means 'kite' and it was Mrs. Bajpeyi's election symbol.  In India, politicians use elections symbols so that when the voting is going on, the illiterate people who are unable to read will know by the symbol, for whom they should vote. One

Did You Brush Your Teeth?

I grew up with the idea that it is better to brush your teeth after eating meals, so I always brushed my teeth after breakfast.  Before coming out to India I happened to read a book of travel memoirs about India - the name of the book and the author escape me right now - that Indians think it is disgusting to drink tea or eat anything without brushing your teeth in the morning. My husband is one of those people who thinks exactly like that.  So after thirty years of brushing my teeth after breakfast I had to change the habit to before. The children all do the same. Now I'm beginning to find it repulsive if they try to eat their breakfast before brushing their teeth. What has happened to me?

The Inner Child

I read somewhere once that everyone has an inner child, who is around three years old.  The child has a capacity to feel delight and love, and loves to play.  Maybe it is true.  I find the inner child comes out a lot when you play with kids.  Yash, my husband, is a serious man who doesn't have much time to play with his children.  Yet I have seen him, when the pressure is off, bonding with them far better than I do.  His bond with our youngest, Nitin, is especially close.  I think his inner child comes alive when he plays with Nitin. When I was expecting Nitin just over seven years ago, Yash was very depressed.  He grew a large black beard and wore a morose expression most of the time.  Most people around, especially hearing that I was expecting my fourth child, were shocked and were offering us condolences rather than congratulations.  No doubt, raising children is an extremely expensive business in India today.  Most people have two children at most.   Many have just one.  That

Domestic Help

One of the big changes I came across when I moved out here was the fact that we had domestic help.  The domestic help consists of a cleaning lady who comes in the morning and helps to sweep and wash the floor and  wash the dishes.  It is nice to get this work done early so if you have someone coming in to give you a hand it means you have to be ready to get it done.  Like, you can't just go back to bed when the kids go off to school, for example.  These people have to come quickly and have to leave quickly to go and work in another house. Just because someone comes in to give you a hand with the housework, it doesn't mean that you can sit around all day.  There is always plenty to do at home.  But I suppose  you could say it helps you to get organised.  Even after all these years though, I still don't really like the idea of leaving dinner dishes for a servant to clean the next morning. The trouble is, once you become dependent on someone coming in to help, you can find

Three Bowls of Porridge

A few years ago, I was persuaded to join the local nursery school as a teacher.  I was not qualified to teach, but to  the school principal Ms. Agarwal  my proficiency in the English language was the greatest asset.  She was very particular that I should teach the students to speak correct English.  She also wanted that I should point out any English mistakes going on and correct them. There were three other teachers.  Two stick thin twin sisters called Usha and Uma, and a rotund, bubbly woman called Veena, who had taught my daughters in pre-nursery.  I'd always found them friendly, but then I was a school parent.  The moment I joined as a teacher, I could feel a chill emanating from them.  The reason was, I later found out, they resented Mrs. Agarwal telling them that a teacher with a better standard of English was required in the school.  The other reason was that I was earning about two hundred rupees more than they were.  I'd told Ms. Agarwal that my husband would not all

The Street Dogs

There are a lot of dogs living on the streets in our colony.  Every dog has its own territory.  I was reading some information recently that said that if you know a street  dog and want to feed it, it is better to give it food anonymously by leaving it somewhere that they will find it.  Dogs get emotionally attached to people who give them food.  The point was that if you want to have a relationship with a street dog, take it home and make it your pet, don't just give it a half commitment. The Singh's next door to us found a lost puppy outside their gate one day a few years ago.  They took him in and looked after him.  He grew into a beautiful dog.  He was half German Shepherd, it seems.  Most of the street dogs around our area are very thin and weak looking.  The Singhs loved their dog and called him Buddhi.  Apparently that means 'wise one'.  The trouble is, when Buddhi grew up, he totally refused to be constrained in the house.  He went mad to go out and one day ra

The Cobbler

I remember when I lived in Dublin it was quite expensive to get broken shoes repaired.  Not so in India.  If you look around, you can find cobblers easily enough.  They fix the broken shoes very inexpensively, for mere pennies. Sometimes a cobbler comes down the road and stops at the house of one of our neighbours.  They bring out all their old shoes to get repaired and sometimes they knock on our gate and tell us to come out and do the same.  So we have a shoe-mending fest. My children, especially the girls, are nearly always damaging their shoes jumping in and out of the tempo going to and coming from school.  The cobbler has come to our rescue on many an occasion. I've seen several cobblers around our area, but for some reason, they all look the same.  They are all old, bald and wear traditional Indian dress like the dhoti (a sort of kilt).  They usually carry their instruments around with them in a box.  Prices have increased in India over the years, but the cobbler's

Beware of Snakes!

I've mentioned before that there is an open drain right beside my house.  This gives us an extra problem during the rainy season.  There are snakes in the drain and they sometimes come out. Not full grown snakes.  They stay in the drain.  But tiny little newly born snakes come out of the nullah and inch towards the house.  There are a lot of harmless worms around too.  The worms are quite large.  At first I couldn't tell the difference between the worms and snakes.  I began to notice that the head of the snakes dart around a lot more.  If they open their tiny mouths it is quite unmistakable that they are snakes.  There is a very famous image of Mary the mother of Jesus which is often found as a statue in Catholic schools, hospitals an churches.  In that image, the mother is standing on the head of a snake.  An open mouthed snake.  One day, I saw a tiny snake open it's mouth and I noticed that it looked like a small version of that statue snake with its red mouth.  So I ne

Attacked By A Crow

I was walking along the road near my home, going to  the presswala, when I received a blow to the side of my head that nearly knocked me over.  Almost stunned, I was aware of a large bird flying away from me. "What the heck is wrong with that crow?" I asked no-one in particular.  "It must be on the way out.  It's motor co-ordination is a little off, methinks...."  I was a little bewildered by the blow, but nothing too serious.  So I carried on walking towards the presswala's place.  I handed over the clothes which I wanted to have ironed.  Then I turned around and walked back home in the same direction. Another thump, this time on the opposite side of the head, took me by surprise. "Again?  What's going on?"  I asked out loud.  The bird flew off steadily.  There didn't seem to be a thing wrong with it's motor co-ordination.  Very odd indeed. About ten steps from my home, I was again hit by the bird.  Now I was furious.   I let l

Back to Work

A few years ago, when Nitin, my youngest, joined the nursery school, I was looking forward to having a few hours to myself during the day.  It's not that I want my kids out of the house, but I had this urge to do something interesting with my time.  Something that would give me a little space and an identity of my own.  It's lovely being a wife and a mother, but it is as if your real self goes underground.  Where I live people know me as someone's wife, mother or daughter-in-law.  They don't know me.... Ms. Agarwal, the principal of the nursery school (if you could call her that - there was a maximum of forty students in the school) was delighted to see me.  She'd already had some of my children  in her school.  As Nitin was my youngest and there were no more kids in at home, she asked me if I would like to  join the school as a teacher.  I thought about it.  The money was very low.  The hours were rather long.  But I hadn't worked in years.  I decided to try

Guest Post - Over to Akanksha

For the first time, I'm having a guest post on 'gaelikaa's diary'.  Akanksha is a young friend of mine, a university student in the city of Patna in north India.  She is studying commerce.  She has a lot she wants to say, but doesn't quite feel ready to commit herself to regular blogging just yet.  So I've offered her some space on my blog to write.  I would love if some of my regular readers could read her post and be sure to leave a comment for her too. Recently I joined Facebook and they asked me about my home town and I didn't know what to write. A very simple question but I had no answer.   Let me tell you why. I am an Indian girl aged 19,studying commerce at  graduate level and I aspire to work in the corporate sector. I live in Patna, which is the capital of Bihar.   I was born in Jammu, which is the capital of the state Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).  My parents had a love marriage and I am their only child.  My mother hails from Punjab, and my

Where Are The Books?

In every house in Ireland that I remember being in, there's a place where books are kept.  I would'nt say that people in Ireland are better educated or more learned than others, but I just took it for granted that there is always a place for books in a house.  In fact one of my first questions on going to a friend's house for the first time would be 'where are the books?'  I always think that you can tell a lot about people by the kind of books they read. Yash's house was very different.  When I first came here for a visit in 1993, the year before we were married, my first question was the usual.  The answer was 'nowhere'.  I couldn't find a book anywhere.  I mean, here was this highly educated family.  Yash and his elder brother are Doctors of Philosophy.  None of his siblings has studied at less than Master's degree level.  I eventually found thin volumes in Hindi, stuffed in drawers.  Some of them were old school textbooks.  That was it! W

Boondi Ladoos

Every region of India has its own type of sweets.  My late father-in-law was particularly fond of  the boondi laddoo, which is a round sweet made of fried flour and sugar.  Sounds awful, doesn't it?  I am more partial to the milk cake of western Uttar Pradesh, the region where my in-laws originated. A few years ago my father-in-law went to western U.P. to look up his old friends and relatives who still live in that region.  He grew up there and I suspect he returned to say his last goodbyes although we couldn't have known it at the time.  He returned carrying several large boxes of sweets.   I eagerly examined the boxes and was most disappointed to find that they contained nothing but boondi laddoos, boondi laddoos and boondi laddoos.  I was very disappointed. "Papaji!" I said.  "You have brought nothing but boondi laddoos which are easily available in Lucknow.  Why did you bring these?"  He muttered something about the quality of these sweets being much

Kabariwalas & Ragpickers

The kabariwala is an intrinsic part of Indian life.  He is the original recycler.  He will take away your old rubbish like newspapers, schoolbags and bottles.  He gets new things made from old things and that is how he earns his daily bread. We often buy products from local shops in paper bags made from recycled newspapers.  The kabariwala is the originator of these paper bags.  I have a cleanout every so often and leave lots of rubbish outside the house .  It is gone within hours.  If the kabariwala doesn't take it, the ragpickers probably will.  The ragpickers are easy to spot.  Small children and sometimes women, going around with a sack which they fill with whatever rubbish they are collecting.  Some collect only polythene and some only paper.  This helps them to eke out a living. I personally would never like to take money from a kabariwala.  They seem to be very poor.  My mother-in-law, however,  would never give something away to a kabariwala if she can help it.  Now a r

My Protector!

One day last winter, I had to go to the bank.  I had no cash left in my purse and my husband was spending his days and nights in the hospital, attending to his terminally ill father.  I told my nephew I was going to the bank.  I asked him to tell my children I would be home shortly and that they should change their clothes on returning from school and take their lunch which was ready.  I didn't expect to be gone for more than forty five minutes.  It takes twenty minutes to walk there.  Twenty minutes back.  Only five minutes to do the work.  I was going to use the ATM machine, not go to the counter. I walked as quickly as I could.  I keep a fair distance from other walkers on the road.  I don't walk too close to anyone unless I know them.  If someone, particularly a mail pedestrian comes too close, I put as much space between myself and that person as soon as possible.  A young man passed by.  I slackened my pace to allow him to move ahead.  He slackened his pace too.  I cros

The Rhythm of the Tabla

A few months ago, my son Neil had a problem.  He is in eighth class (the year BEFORE the O level/Junior Certificate/High School Certificate year).  He was faced with the  dilemma of having to drop a subject.  My sons attend an English language public school.  It is a very commercial institution and in fact prepares the children for the business world very well.   He wasn't sure whether to drop Art or not.  I wasn't sure myself.  I advised him to listen to his heart.  Like me, he wasn't great in art - he usually got pass marks, nothing more. The other choice was music.  This is what he ultimately chose.  Now he is learning an Indian  musical instrument called the tabla. I am so glad.  I always had a good ear for music and participated in church choirs throughout my school life, as all convent girls do (at least those who can carry a tune!).  But the extent of my musicianship has always been singing, nothing more.  I never really learnt how to play a musical instrument.  

Sadhu Baba

The tall, thin, dark man stood at our gate.  He was wrapped in a single, saffron coloured cloth.  He wore an elaborate hair style, rather like the dreadlocks which I once noticed on the London streets.  His forehead was painted with an elaborate tika.  He  carried what seemed like a begging bowl and a picture of his god. I asked my mother-in-law what I should do. "Give him one rupee," she advised.  One rupee?  Was she crazy?  You couldn't offer that to anyone nowadays. It would have to be at least five.  So I found a fiver coin and gave it to him. He indicated that he needed food.  I checked the kitchen.  Yes!  There were a few fresh rotis(unleavened breads)  made earlier by my sister-in-law Tapasya for my parents-in-laws' meal.    I took one roti, found some dry curried vegetable (potatoes and spinach - again made by Tapasya), made a sort of sandwich out of it and gave it to him.  Then he signed he wanted water.  Again I obliged. Then he demanded a cloth, si

Yash Promoted!

Something good has happened to my husband, Yash.  He has recently been promoted to being Head of the Biochemistry Department at his university.  I am really very pleased for him.  But you'd never think to look at him that he's been promoted.  He takes it rather lightly.  As far as he is concerned, it came to him by virtue of his seniority as he last Head has just retired. Yash is tremendously committed to his job and to his profession.  He is a most sincere person who has no airs and graces.  I remember once at a school function for one of the children, another parent came over and introduced himself to Yash rather grandly as "Major So and So"  from "such and such" regiment.  With a smile, Yash replied "Pleased to meet you.  I'm Yash".  The situation could have turned embarrassing because Yash was so obviously avoiding standing on ceremony.  Thankfully, the function was about to start. He never refers to himself as 'Dr. Yash'.  My f

Vegetarian Children - Non-veg Mother!

Yash, my husband, is a vegetarian.  All my in-laws are vegetarians.  They takes milk, but not eggs, fish, fowl nor any other kind of flesh food.  My children follow the same pattern.  Me, well I do that too.  Up to a point.  The children and I eat eggs, but not on Tuesdays, because that is the day my in-laws' god Sri Hanuman is worshipped.  One has to respect the local customs.  As the saying goes, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." However, when I get a chance, I  like to eat a bit of meat.  I have some Christian friends from Church and they often let me know when they are cooking something nice and call me over.  Sometimes in weddings, depending on the community the hosts belong to, some non-vegetarian food might become available. Don't get me wrong.  I love vegetarian food.  But as I was brought up as a non-vegetarian, I like a bit of meat now and again.  But it has to be the kind of meat which I like.  No fat, bones or gristle, please.  Only lean meat is acc

Deaf and Dumb

I have all the sympathy in the world for people who live in poverty.  I have written before on how difficult it is to know which beggars are genuine and which are frauds.  There is one beggar who comes to my house and I find him extremely irritating.  I am ashamed to say it, but it's true. It is this deaf and dumb man who comes around once every fortnight.  Everyone calls him 'Gunga' which means dumb.  He takes food, money and is always asking for old clothes.  The man is inoffensive enough but there is one thing about him which freaks me out. He has this piece of stamp paper in Hindi.  This is obviously the certificate that he is deaf and dumb and unable to find suitable work.  If I have food ready, I give him some.  If I have clothes ready to go, I give them too.  Sometimes, if we have nothing else we give him five rupees.  But the thing that drives me more mad than anything is the way he waves that piece of paper about with an air of entitlement. Ironically, he may

The Iron Lady

One of the nicest things I have in my life is a very nice woman who does my ironing.  In Ireland we call it ironing, in India, it is generally called 'pressing.'  Meira is my 'presswali'.  Her husband is the 'presswala'.  They live in a tiny flat in a house nearby.  They raised four sons in that tiny flat and I have no idea how they did it. The front half of  the flat is completely open.  If you want to find Meira, the chances are you'll find her ironing clothes beside her husband.  She delivers the clothes as well.  She also visits people at home and washes their clothes if required.  This family belongs to the 'dhobi' caste or community and their traditional occupation is laundry.  They have a fan and recently purchased a desert cooler.  They have a tiny television set and you always see members of their family watching 'Mahuaa', the Bhojpuri (variation of Hindi) language channel.  Their kitchen is separated from the rest of the flat by a c

Unexpected Visitor.

One day a few years ago, we had a most unexpected visitor to our home. Nitin, then quite tiny, had just come in from school.   I was in the drawing room, talking on the telephone to my husband.  My father-in-law was lying down asleep.  My mother-in-law was in her room.  Aunt Urmila, my husband's aunt who was visiting us at the time, was upstairs praying.  She prays for several hours a day. I heard Aunt Urmila shouting upstairs, but I didn't take too much notice of that.  She's always shouting about something.  Next thing, a large monkey, a langur, the type commonly found in our part of India, strolled into the drawing room.  He entered from within the house not without.  This was the reason for Aunt Urmila's burst of shouting.  The langur had a look around.  Nitin was fascinated.  In size, the two were about the same.  A little frightened, Nitin ran towards me. "You're not going to believe this," I told  Yash on the phone.  "But a monkey has j

More Lies!

Monica, a friend of mine, found out something lately which has almost devastated her.  Like me, she is married fifteen years and has several children. Monica and her husband had a 'love marriage' which means that they didn't have an arranged marriage, as has been the custom in India up to the present day.  Monica and her husband Anil were very much in love.  Although Monica wasn't enthusiastic initially, she agreed to live with her in-laws as Anil was the only son and she didn't want to upset the family. Over the years she has noticed Anil cooling off towards her considerably and he has let her know several times that he feels that she is 'irresponsible' and 'not to be trusted'.  She couldn't understand why and had been very disturbed by this.  She recently found out why this has been happening. Akanksha, her husband's sister's daughter, stayed with them for a while when she was pursuing a post-graduate course in Lucknow.  She got t


It feels awful when you find out someone has lied to you. Lies distort the truth and can cause at best inconvenience and at worst wreck your whole life. We have some distant relatives living in our city. We keep in regular touch with them. Recently, the mother in that family brought her parents to live with her and her husband. In India it is not common for elderly people to live with their daughters, but they couple have no son. So their daughter and son-in-law have taken on this couple in their old age. For a short while, some very disturbing calls were coming to our home. The old couple are related to my mother-in-law and they regularly called her up and wept and complained about their daughter's tyrannical behaviour. Once they complained that they were forced to stay in a room with no ceiling fan. It was beginning to get really hot at the time and we felt terrible for them. Another time they complained that they were not getting fresh fruits and vegetables to eat as per the

Empty Nest

My babies are all gone back to school.  I thought I would be rejoicng in my freedom for a few hours every day.    Am I?  The answer is no.  I miss them. I miss Neil, my teenage son who is so affectionate and makes lovely tea for me.    I miss my lovely daughter Mel who is such a support to me.  I miss my litte girl Trish who always brings me little gifts of handmade cards and flowers and always makes me smile and I miss my youngest boy, Nitin who throws a stubborn fit every time I take him to the shops if I don't buy him a treat, much to the disgust of the other children who cry 'unfair' every time they see him walking in carrying a new toy.  They fight long and loudly and sometimes I really have to sort them out.  But I miss them. We had a lovely 'staycation' summer.  We went to see some movies together and enjoyed home delivery pizza several times.  I had to buy them bats and balls to play in the park.  I also bought some games for them, as an alternative to t

Mustard Oil

Mustard oil is a cooking oil which is very pungent and sulphuric and yellow in colour.  It is used extensively by Bengalis in their cooking and by north Indians too.  In addition to cooking, it is used for massage of the skin and hair.  My husband Yash has used mustard oil on his hair all his life and he has hardly a grey hair.  Of course that might be for genetic reasons.  At 83, his mother still has black hair.  Well, she uses mustard oil too! For years after I came here, a Brahmin man (member of the Hindu priests community) used to come to our house every Saturday morning  carrying a jar  of mustard oil with a metallic deity (image of his god) inside.  My in-laws always gave him two rupees and a spoonful of mustard oil.  Apparently, because Saturday is the day of  the planet Saturn, giving this Brahmin the money and oil was to ward off evil.  My in-laws always claimed that they were giving this oil for the 'Shani devta'(Saturn god). There are a lot of stories around abou

Social Evils Exposed in Television Serials

There's a Hindi television serial running right now, 'Balika Vadhu', which is bringing to public notice the evils of certain rural traditions here in India like child marriage.  I would say that it is doing a creditable job of  highlighting how certain customs, which aim to protect women, actually harm them.  Most people's reason for marrying their underage daughters would be for their own welfare and protection.  However, child marriage leaves young girls open to sexual abuse, not to mention the mental abuse of having to shoulder adult responsibilities at a tender age.  Early motherhood causes physical as well as psychological damage and the sad thing is that when these young girls grow up, they go on and inflict on their own little daughters-in-law the same abuse which was done to them.  Most people who abuse others do it unknowingly, perpetuating a destructive cycle. Child marriage happens mostly in rural villages, but eighty per cent of India lives in its villages

Where's the Weekend?

When I lived in Ireland both during my school life and working life, I was used to a five day week.  Schools were open Monday to Friday and Saturdays and Sundays made up the weekend. In India, it's different.  I'm not working outside the home but my husband is.  He only has one weekend a month off, the second Saturday of the month.  Otherwise, the weekend is over before it's begun.  The school week is a Monday to Saturday affair. Of course, the Indian calender is full of holidays.  India gives equal respect to all religions.  We have days off work(at least if you are in a government job)  and school for Christmas and Easter.  We also have a considerable amount of Hindu holidays.  The Hindus worship God in a multiplicity of forms, and there are various holidays in honour of Rama, Krishna, Hanumanji and many more.  We also get Muslim holidays, Jain holidays, Sikh holidays and Buddhist holidays.  There are national holidays on the 26th January (Republic Day) the 15th of Au

The Paan Shop

A paan shop is the Indian equivalent of a cigarette kiosk.  It is a small shop where you can buy cigarettes and something called a 'paan'.  What is a paan?  I suppose the western translation would be a mouth freshener.  It is something that is chewed after meals, or any time at all, to give a sort freshening up effect. Years ago, when my husband and I used to go for evening walks, before we had kids, we always used to stop at the paan shop so that he could buy his cigarettes and he sometimes bought paans for me.  I would take paan if I was in the mood.  People who chew paan habitually have red stains in the mouth.  I certainly didn't fancy that! About two years ago, when we were on a rare evening walk, we stopped by the paan shop just like we always do.  My husband said hello to Mr. Kapoor, a neighbour of ours.  Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Mr. Kapoor's wife Indu (who has since died - she died suddenly sixteen months ago) standing quite a long way off.  I

Postman's Blunder

In the part of India where I live, it is quite easy to send a letter by courier.  In fact, it is easier for me to send a letter by courier than by the post.  There are several courier offices within walking distance of my house.  The post office is miles away.  You have to take the bus to get there.  Yes, the post is cheaper, but if you want to send something to someone once in a while, you'll take the easier option, right?  The courier delivers the piece personally and won't hand it over without a signature.  That's very reassuring.  The postman does that only in the case of registered lette Our postman has the annoying habit of flinging letters over the gate.  Sometimes the letters land in the bushes.  Or depending on what's going in, they may land in a pool of water.  This happens particularly in the rainy season.  I subscribe to the 'Reader's Digest' magazine and recently, my monthly copy did not arrive.  I was wondering what had happened to my magazin

Back Tomorrow!

The boys are back to school tomorrow and I am so not ready.  Starting back on Friday should be ideal.  A short two day week, then the Sunday holiday.  But somehow, it doesn't feel right.  The rains are delayed this year and the heat is unbearable.  I am psychologically unable to face the idea of early starts in the morning.  The tension of fraught children coming in wrecked with the heat and the rush of lunchtime tension.  Then some of the children's projects are not yet completed owing to all sorts of reasons.  It sounds awful, doesn't it? I'd love just another week to get ready.  Just one more week. My husband is thinking along the same lines as me.  We've agreed to send the children back on Monday.  Then we'll face whatever has to be faced.  The girls are going back on Monday in any case.   The summer flew by way too fast.