Thursday, 23 June 2016

How Mumbai Welcomes Me

I've realized one thing a while ago though I have never said it out loud. When I'm shaken to my core by a particular event I end up writing a poem about it or if I'm really pressed for time, I land up doing the same! Weird but true...This one came to mind while exiting the international airport at Mumbai, while making the transition from air conditioned calm to complete chaos and cacophony. And essentially a transition from Africa to Asia, to the Indian sub continent to be very precise! (I've already stolen a line from the poem to caption a picture I had posted on FaceBook yesterday).
My husband was travelling when we left Nairobi so I had to actually figure out suitcase keys and lock each one myself, to say nothing of ensuring both the kids were in the Taxi I had ordered at the terrible hour of 4:00 am and then locking up the house too, after triple checking that the gas and electricity both were switched off. All on a couple of hours of sleep. So if you think this poem is boring or bad, feel free to say so, but do not blame me, blame travel lag or soppy sentiments that arise while setting foot on native soil after ten long months. Also I'm getting time to post it after two weeks in India but better late never.

How Mumbai Welcomes Me

We step out of the international airport T 2,
Straight into a hot, muggy day,
The smell itself tells you,
You are in Bombay! (Mumbai)

The last remnants of a fiery Summer
Red blossoms still bloom on the Gul Mohar tree,
Stretching out their boughs like arms, to welcome me,
To the city of my birth, my wedding and my first degree.
Red stands out against a bright blue sky,
'No sign of rain yet', the trees seem to sigh.

A whiff of the Arabian Sea,
Is enough to awaken a jet lagged me.
The minute I'm off the plane, I dissolve into the crowd,
I agree, the people and the car horns are too loud.
But like the rays of the setting sun merge into the sea,
I blend into Mumbai city, achieving anonymity...

The city is home to India's poorest and her richest people,
They worship in temples, mosques and under a steeple.
With each other their shoulders rub,
Some eat Five Star food, others pavement grub.
But together they make this city run,
You can't visit Mumbai and say,"It's not fun!"

Mumbai caters to not only the young and the old,
But also to the beautiful and the bold.
The City of mighty industrialists Tata, Birla, Ambani and Bollywood's Bachchan too,
Still has people who cannot afford even half a shoe.
And yet crushing blows their souls survive,
The 'Mumbai Spirit', somehow, they always revive.

Just walking along Marine Drive
Makes one feel glad to be alive.
The world is reeling from too much change,
I'm so glad some parts of Mumbai are still the same!

                                               Gateway to Mesmerizing Mumbai
                                              A typical Mumbai beach

                                                 The Arabian Sea

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

'Who Misses Matatus?' And Other Tales Leading To Graduation 2016!

When I came back with the children from India in August 2015, I knew in my mind that I would definitely write a blog post about my daughter's departure for college from Kenya, detailing the events and the accompanying emotions. I had thought then that the tone of my post would be completely tearful and writing it would be a painful experience. Two tragic events that occurred in the last ten months have made me completely change my tune and today I am just thankful that though my daughter will be far away in another continent, God willing, I can at least pick up the phone and speak to my child anytime I wish, provided, of course, that she deigns to take my call!
I had brought a robust four year old to Africa in 2002, carrying her in my arms at Mumbai Airport, at the unearthly hour of 3:00 am, as she was fast asleep when it was time to board our Kenya Airways flight to Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam. We ended up missing the connection to Dar and spent a gruelling day stranded at Nairobi airport, as every subsequent flight was cancelled, even as my anxious husband made four trips to Dar airport to check if we had arrived! Little did we know then that my daughter's entire teens would be spent in Nairobi...Today a slim, confident young girl, just twenty days short of eighteen and adulthood, gets ready to leave Kenya. Even those twenty days seem too many to her because, as she puts it, she's wanted to be eighteen since she was five!
The last couple of months have whizzed by in a flurry of events. My mother arrived almost three months before graduation so that she, too, could experience all the different events and traditions that are such an inherent part of the American system but are so new to those of us who come from India.
The first one was the Mother Daughter Tea for which I had volunteered last year and had written about too.(Of Mothers And Daughters, Of Tea And Tears). This year I was on the organizing committee with three other mothers and we had a record attendance of Moms and Girls for the tea! I read out my poem 'Stepping Into Your Teen's Jeans', which I had written in August 2015 while unpacking for my daughter for what I hoped would be the last time (since I am assuming she will put away her own clothes when she comes home for the holidays!) and which is published here as well. All the other mothers just loved it! My mother had brought thirty tea towels from India for every girl as a gift and those were appreciated by everyone too. Along with an Indian embroidered shawl as a blessing for my daughter, I also wrote her a letter and I'll bore you all with just a short part of it. Here goes...
"When you turned one, you were able to stand steadily without support and so I knew you were ready to walk without support too. I sat down on the couch, after making you stand a couple of steps away from me. And then I asked you to come to me, as I knew you would."
"Even as you took your first independent step towards me, I actually knew I had set you on the path of eventually moving away from me. Now that day is almost here..."

                                                              Tea Towels From India!

                                          Tea tables are set on a sunny Nairobi afternoon.

The next HUGE event was the Senior Seminar Presentation. My daughter had chosen the topic 'Making Misogynistic Monsters' where she made mince meat of the typical Indian male, the appalling attitudes towards women in our society, the hankering for a male progeny prevalent in every part and socio economic group in India and how this has all led to the current "Rape Culture" back home.
For this we had thirty minutes to transform a classroom into India and three of my KenIndian friends rose gallantly to the occasion, bringing rolling pins, diyas, rangoli, candles, etc from their own homes, while a fourth one organized the much needed statues of three of our Godddesses, through a friend of hers. My mother spent the morning frying ONE HUNDRED bhajiyas (pakodas) because the thesis was presented via the medium of food to an audience of almost fifty people. We had organized twenty roti making stations and my daughter challenged people from the audience to roll out the perfect, round roti, pointing out when they failed to do so, how new brides in India are often judged on the basis of their roti making skills!

                                                 Rangoli on the floor: The Indian Touch!
                       Puppets and wall decorations from India from another dear friend!

                                    It's harder than it looks! Don't judge me by the shape of my rotis!

     Our Goddesses! Her point? You revere these and yet indulge in female foeticide? DISGUSTING!
   (The beautiful cloth and lamps were brought by the third dear friend! All contributed to the Indian decor)
                                                 Floating Rangoli done by a dear friend

                                                    Thesis with Bhajiyas and Chutney!

My mother was interviewed by my daughter on stage too. She asked her what it was like to be brought up in a household of three sisters with one younger brother.... And then what was it like to bring up two daughters in the India of the 70s and 80s where foolish people commiserated with you to your face because you did not have a son! The interview was a huge hit! She finally finished off by showing a part of the banned documentary by Leslie Unwin, where the rapist talks about how women should stay home and not wander on the streets after dark...
The upshot? BOTH her paper and her presentation made it to the TOP Ten lists for each! Only four out of fifty eight students achieved this particular distinction so it was a great moment and worth all the effort! Truly grateful to my friends who unselfishly and unstintingly helped with their time, effort and their things...
The next event was her High School Award ceremony. As someone who has been getting awards throughout her school life, this one being her last, made the occasion a bit sad for me. But her prizes cheered me up! Along with the awards for the Senior Seminar Paper and the Presentation, she also got a Merit award for Recognition Of Outstanding Achievement In Intellectual Virtues: Autonomy, Courage, Curiosity and Tenacity. The nominations for these awards begin in 9th grade, the first year of high school and they are finally given in 12th grade. So it is a culmination of four years of consistent work!
The fourth award she won was the Bloomsbury Group Award For Excellence In Discussion For AP English Literature. For privacy reasons, as I have no control over who reads my blog, (and mercifully for my readers), I am unable to share pictures of her certificates. So here's one of the information about what the Bloomsbury Group was all about, clicked from the back of her certificate.

Now the last and most important bit! No, really! I know people's patience must be stretched thin if they have made it this far!
Graduation! Such an amazing event which marks the end of four years of efforts by the High School teachers and endless years of hard work by the students and their parents!
We set out from home really early as there were warnings of traffic jams due a United Nations Summit in Nairobi. Once again a KenIndian friend came to the rescue. She picked up my son along with her own, so he would not waste time coming home, only to go back to school with us, since the entire school had a half day due to the graduation ceremony. My daughter's graduation dress was colour coordinated with my Mercedes! Trust her to manage even the unmanageable, since the dress was bought in India for this particular occasion, six months before the car was bought in Nairobi!! My husband came directly from office, taking a rare half day for this very  special event.
She was graduating with the Highest Honours (a super high Grade Point Average), so she had a special multi coloured sash, along with seventeen other kids from her class. ( I mention this because these things are so new to us! We discovered this when she came home with her gown a day before the big day!)

Now to come to the question in my title. The two super guidance counsellors had made a list of ten items that graduating students would miss the most about Kenya. The local public transport, over crowded, often wildly driven bus or the Matatu made it to the list! I was genuinely puzzled. Why would anyone miss these horrors? My daughter later explained that American and Kenyan kids, no matter how well off, do use Matatus, something that's unheard of in the KenIndian/ Indian community! When they leave Kenya and Africa, they won't find this particular breed of transport anywhere...and so they will actually miss being jostled around in one! Other items that made it to the list were Chappatti and Chai. These were attributed to Kenya but for the record, let me state they are Indian and I am so glad you like OUR strong, boiled, milky, spicy concoction and our harder to roll than the French R Rotis!!
'Missing my pet' also made it to the list and it was a delighful shock to see our own dog from back home, who passed away five years ago, staring down at us from the huge screen in the auditorium. The counsellor had picked that particular photo from my daughter's FaceBook page. Since it was our dog that set her on the path to studying Veterinary/ Human medicine, we looked upon it as a remarkable coincidence and a special blessing from above.
The icing on the cake was that our daughter was awarded the Isaac Newton Scholarship For Excellence In Maths And Sciences. She had truly broken barriers by taking the maximum number of Advanced Placement (College Level) courses possible in a year and also the maximum number of AP courses over the years, along with a couple of others in her batch. The school had to give her special permission to do so. She also had the maximum Science credits in four years and all the Maths credits as well. (The award is beautifully sculpted but I'm unable to share it here as it has her name on it). We felt blessed, proud and truly grateful to God almighty for making all this possible. Our happiness was made complete as a friend flew in from Uganda to attend the event and another old friend who has known my daughter since she was four years old in Dar Es Salaam, made it too. I will always be thankful for the effort they made to share our special day! This was also the first time that the school streamed the event live so many of our family members and friends could watch at least a part of this glorious ceremony from different corners of the world.
One by one, the students marched up to take their Diplomas and as their Graduation Speaker said in his speech, "This is the last time you will all be under one roof at the same time." After spending years together, it truly was the last time... The tassel on the cap was turned from one side to the other. They were no longer High School Students but were graduates and henceforth would be called Alumni of their dear school...May God bless them all as they travel to colleges in different countries and different parts of the world...

                                                          And the Tassel of 2016 turned....

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