Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Mistletoe Market

Jingle bells,jingle bells,jingle all the way!
We are going for the Mistletoe Market today,heh!

This was the refrain on our lips as we headed towards the children's school early last Saturday morning.The write up from the school had promised lots of funfilled Thanksgiving and pre Christmas shopping and had boasted that there would be around sixty five stalls!As this was the first time we would be experiencing something like this,I ensured that my purse was full and I was determined to keep an eye out for good bargains!
As we turned into the school lane,we were surprised to see a long queue stretching out as far as the eye could see.Now this, in itself, is an unusual sight in Kenya where we rarely encounter queues of any type, barring the times we are stuck in a jam on Nairobi roads.But,having finally managed to find parking for the car,we joined the tail end of the line of people waiting to get into the school compound.We felt absolutely at home standing there because,after all,we come from India,the country with a population problem.In fact,I was even in a queque outside the labour room in the very exclusive(and expensive) nursing home in Pune where my children were born!And I am not joking!
We flashed our free tickets,(guests had to pay),had our wrists stamped and we were in!The first thing we spotted was a stall selling books and my daughter and I made a beeline for it while my husband and son wandered on.I managed to lay my hands on quite a few books by a number of  famous(now out of print authors) at delightful prices and I was over the moon!
We moved on and came to the African handicrafts stall where my son was thrilled to find a beaded wrist band in the colours of the India national flag,with even a blue  beaded dot to represent the Ashoka Chakra.He patriotically snapped it on and then proceeded to show it to every single teacher of his that we subsequently met!Saare jahaan se accha......
I was astonished to see young teenage girls selling neatly packed Barbie dolls,stuffed toys and exquisite dolls house furniture all of which was obviously not new.Then it dawned on me that these young American girls had found a good way to do away with toys they no longer needed and earn some spending money at the same time!Most surprising of all was the lack of parental interference!A lesson for us Indian parents!The tiny furniture was so well made that despite my aversion for used things, I was tempted to buy it!Then I remembered that my own daughter had outgrown her dolls and  they were now neatly lined up on a shelf in her pretty pink room back home!Yes,we Indians do tend to hoard stuff!Another lesson?!
I participated in a silent auction where themed baskets were being auctioned.I bid for a basket chok full of Indian savouries like Chakli,farsaan,tiny,crisp samosas,banana chips and spicy chevda.It was aptly named 'Snack Attack'!I won that basket at  a price lower than its value and it was a steal!I lost out on the tea basket,the other one that I had bid for!I had thought 'chai and chakli', what more does one need,but it was not to be!The other baskets had chocolates,junk food,cofffee with coffee mugs and even an innovative Fourth of July(American Independance Day)picnic basket.
We took a walk around all the other stalls.They were selling clothes,more books,bone china crockery,someone was selling her old sarees and there were many food stalls.My daughter tried her hand at marble art and painted a pottery vase.I bought some gifts to take back home and some lovely knitted caps,one of which was for a four month old orphan baby that my son's teacher fosters on week ends(that is another story).She was so happy when I gave it to her.The others were for my mother's cause in India through which she and a friend of hers ensure that tribal babies in a certain part of Maharashtra have sufficient clothes the minute they are born!
My daughter bought a bright red T shirt to support the school's Christmas cause.It said 'I made a difference'!They are collecting money to gift cows to a school in a slum so that the children have milk to drink plus they can sell the surplus to support themselves.Some of the money will also go towards growing vegetable gardens with the same aim in mind-to make these less fortunate children self sufficient and simultaneously ensure that they have enough to eat.
We headed home,our pockets lighter,but our hearts happier!
After all,Christmas is the season of giving and not just shopping!Joy in giving!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Paradise Lost

Last week we got a notice from my son's class teacher informing us that the second grade would be going on a field trip to have a closer look at nature since that was the topic they were pursuing in social studies.She also asked parents to volunteer as chaperones to help with the kids during the picnic.This,in itself,was astonishing as we come from a culture where the parents interact with the teacher only during the bi-annual parent teacher meeting!And who can blame the schools for enforcing this policy when I personally know parents who,on the first day of the new academic year,shout across the gate to the teacher as they pick up their kids,'How is my child doing?'
I was first off the block to volunteer and last Friday saw us hurtling towards our destination with two buses full of second graders.The picnic spot,called'Paradise Lost' was on the outskirts of Nairobi,just a twenty minute bus ride away from the school.It is a fifty four acre private property with a lovely river flowing through it.It is ,indeed,a veritable 'Garden Of  Eden' with just the apple tree missing!As we entered the main gate,we saw that the road,on both sides,was lined with coffee bushes which were laden with coffee berries.The teacher pointed this out to the children and they were thrilled to see coffee actually growing on bushes,as upto now, they had only seen it in a bottle at home and,of course,in the Nescafe advertisement on television!
As we jumped off the bus,I was struck by how peaceful the place was.No kiosks selling 'Biseleri' and 'Cadbury'(yes,sadly,in India,the brand name has become synonymous with the noun!),no hawkers chasing us,as is common back home these days in so called picnic spots and no 'Lays' packets littering the ground....
I was reminded of the many picnics we have had in different parts of India when we were kids.Those were the days when picnics were really picnics,not just an excuse for eating out!I remembered 'Chandubi' near Guwahati in Assam,a mustard field near Amritsar in Punjab,a spot near Jodhpur in Rajasthan whose name I cannot recall as I was in kindergarten,another near Mhow in Madhya Pradesh.Our mothers woke up at the crack of dawn,actually cooked and packed food in steel tiffin carriers and filled 'campers' with water(as bottled water was unheard of in the India of those days) ready for a whole day of picniking!Just as I had done for my son and myself that morning!
The children had a boat ride on the serene river and then we went off to explore the caves which are said to be 2.5 million years old.The entrance to the caves was behind an enchanting waterfall bringing to mind an Enid Blyton book which describes exactly this scenario.We had to bend double to go through the passage until we reached the main cave.Our guide told us this was where the Mau Mau revolutionaries hid when they were fighting the enemy.The kids immidiately wanted to know who the enemy was.Now,since most of the children were white,the guide had no way of knowing their nationality and so was hesitant to say the word.As he was fumbling for a suitable word,a tiny tot helped him out by saying'England'!He was palpably relieved and said yes the nationalists used these caves till Kenya finally became independant in 1963.
Then we had our lunch in rustic,wooden picnic sheds on the banks of the river,followed by horse and camel rides for our enthusiastic second graders.Feeding an ostrich was also on the agenda,but the poor ostrich was indisposed that day!It had probably been overfed by the previous day's merry makers!On the bus ride back home,I mulled over our day and felt this was 'Paradise Gained' while our poor polluted Pune was 'Paradise Lost'.Where have we gone wrong?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

All About An Accent

Before we relocated to Nairobi,I had discussed the issue of accents with the children.I had helpfully explained to them how most of their new friends would have an 'American Accent',since the school is an American international school.I was reasonably confident that while my son's style of speaking might change soon,my daughter being older, would continue to speak the way she had always done.
Imagine my surprise when one day, after the first few days of school, the minute my son came home,he blurted out that his friends said that he had a British accent!My daughter chimed in to repeat that her friends had been saying the very same thing!
Excuse me?We had an accent?That too a British one?As far as I knew the only people who had an accent in India were usually people who had studied in vernacular schools!And who should know that better than me as I earn my livelihood in India coaching just such people and polishing up their accents!In fact I have set up my own academy for mainly this purpose!
I agree we have studied in the best schools across India which,of course,were set up by the British during the Kolonial raj to educate us poor natives so that we could become efficient clerks for them.We were taught by excellent Anglo Indian teachers who could barely pronounce our very Indian names!My children come from the best school in Pune which,till 1977,was run by Irish nuns.But does all this boil down to a propah British accent?No way!
The minute one lands at Heathrow airport in London one sees 'Indians' everywhere,right from the person mopping the floor to the person suspiciously scrutinizing your visa at the immigration desk.But as soon as they open their mouths,you know they are not Indian at all,but British,as the way they speak is not even remotely the way we Indians,born and brought up in India,do!So why was the children's accent(yes,by this time I had accepted that we had an accent)being mistaken for a British one?
Finally I came to the conclusion that try as we might,we cannot distance ourselves from our Kolonial past!It is inextricably woven in our speech,our system of education,our desserts(bread pudding,caramel custard!)and being an army brat,I have to mention,into the customs and traditions of the Indian army!It took little American kids who had not met too many Indians to date,to point this out.Somewhere,in the way we spoke,lay the ghost of the legacy of the Raj!
Then,when our debate about who has what kind of accent had gone on long enough,I reminded the children about an old Chinese proverb.It says you can crush a person with the weight of your tongue.So I told them that what matters in the final analysis is what you say and how you say it,not which accent you use!I hope they got the message!

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