Tag Archives: The NRI

Talking points from India v Bangladesh

I have written before about being tired of too much cricket, but this World Cup is in India, and I’m beginnning to care more the national team’s fortunes. I think that just happens to everyone who stays here long enough, because India is completely cricket mad. It’s not that every last person is in a cricket thrall, but even if only half the population cared – and I’m guessing the percentage is a little higher than that – you’ve got 500 million plus flag-waving, tv-shooting supporters.

In the first match of the tournament yesterday, India thrashed their co-hosts Bangladesh with a fantastic batting performance. Follow the link below for my talking points from the match, including why Virat Kohli is the most dangerous player in India’s batting lineup, but for now here’s why the Kerala connection – wild and wacky fast bowler Sreesanth – was my favourite thing about the day:

Personally, the best moments of the day came when Sreesanth was bowling. He’s the one wild card in India’s pack: utterly unplayable one ball, overstepping and shipping wides the next. To me, he looks perpetually in need of a cigarette. Even if he goes for ten an over, I hope he keeps his place purely for the entertainment value he brings.

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My First Meditation

A couple of years ago, a friend recommended that I try meditation. I had a lot of barriers up and found it hard to focus on anything, let alone what I wanted to do with my life, and she thought meditation might help.

Well, it took me three whole years, but I finally tried it. Gavin, a guy I met via CouchSurfing, turned out to have experience with Vipassana meditation and offered to lead us in a short session. In times past I would’ve said something like, “Yeah, we should totally do that sometime, that’d be awesome,” and then never actually done it. This time, I jumped at the chance.

The experience was full of unexpected lessons, ideas and delights. Above all, it brought home how quickly and far the mind can wander:

Start with the breath, the air crossing my upper lip. My… moustachioed upper lip. The air’s only coming out of my right nostril. The left one must still be blocked from that strange illness I had last week. The vitamin B complex tablets seem to have fixed me up, though.

Come back to the breath. In… and out, my chest expanding and contracting. The guests in the next room are talking in French. I should study French again. God, I studied it for five years in high school, and it would be so great to be able to speak it properly. Maybe I should ask Franҫoise to teach me.

Come back to the breath. In. Out. I like that name. Franҫoise. What was the name of that Spanish woman in my second year German class? Ah, Florencia. Beautiful name, Florencia. The way it rolls off the tongue is so pleasing. Florrrrrrencia. If I have a daughter someday, I might call her that. Florencia.

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White People Have Money & Sex

Without getting into too much detail – I’ll leave that for the academics slaving away in universities – I had a look at the perception of white/light skin in India, and how I feel about it. In short, white skin is beautiful, and foreigners who have it are rich and debauched. That’s the general consensus over here, but my own self-image?

I am very light-skinned. Pasty, even. My body is covered in spots of pigment, called moles, which prevent me from spending long amounts of time in the sun, and thus I cannot get a natural suntan. If I were so inclined, I could slather my skin with tanning creams on a daily basis and perhaps give off some orange illusion that I’m not almost translucent, but I’ve come to accept that this is just the way I am. My skin is not beautiful. There’s not much I can do about it, so I might as well learn to live with it.

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Laptopless and Listless

I decided not to take my laptop to Mumbai last month, hoping its absence would help me to enjoy my stay more. And I really think it did. But when I came back home to Varkala and it didn’t work, it was the start of an important lesson for me.

Oh no. Anything but this. My laptop, dead? The cornerstone of (my) life, suddenly as lifeless as the desk on which it sits? But I was only gone a week!

Wait a moment. Now,

remove and replace battery / doesn’t work / remove battery press power button 32 times replace battery / doesn’t work / remove battery connect to adapter plug into wall / doesn’t work / grit teeth mash keyboard with palms of both hands / doesn’t work

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You Have -7- New Messages

On Indian trains, vendors often come around and dump a pile of booklets on the empty seat next to you. They’ll leave you to riffle through them for a bit before returning five minutes later, ready to accept a few rupees from you if you’re going to keep one. Without fail, every pile will contain a few publications devoted solely to text messages for every occasion. Jokes, loving sentiments, declarations of friendship, quizzes, and all sorts of other little 160-character bundles of joy.

I know that people buy these booklets, or at least pass them around at school. Why? Because I receive the damned messages every day.

Two weeks ago, a friend of mine switched to a new mobile service. As far as my quite limited cellphone needs are concerned – although the atrocious call centre service of my current option makes me wonder if it’s time for a change – I see most providers as more or less the same. For my friend, however, this new company was a hot ticket. They were offering 666 free text messages, or SMS, per day.

he sed “666 s so mny, can snd lts to frnds ”. i sed “666 s th nmbr of th dvl, dnt u no???”

From the moment I first gave my number to someone in India, I disliked those forwarded SMS. I saw the phone as a communication tool, something with which you can speak to someone in another place or send them a quick personal message when you really need to (i.e. sporadically). Young India sees it quite differently: your mobile is a status symbol and a means of keeping in constant touch with friends. And it is preferable, even encouraged, to use txtspeak for every SMS.

ther wr sm msgs i had 2 read 2 or 3 tyms 2 gt der tru mng n it ws v anoyin

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A Mall Away From Home

Way back in 07, a few months into Japan, I wrote a bit about missing the familiarity of a New Zealand supermarket while getting used to the ones in Japan, which obviously contained completely different products. Something somewhat similar happened when I visited Mumbai at Palladium Mall, a ather opulent (at least by Indian standards) edifice in the CBD. I had expected something quite different, and found myself comparing the experience both to my (glorious?) past experience of malls in NZ and my preconceptions of an ‘Indian Mall’.

Upon arrival, my charming host needed to do some toy shopping for a children’s birthday party, so she suggested I go for a wander in the main mall while she waded into the crush of Hamley’s opposite. Off I went, into“Mumbai’s most luxurious retail destination centre”, and what greeted me was a cavernous space rising up three floors, ringed with exclusive outlets on each level. Everything sparkled and looked very expensive, all brand names and price tags, and the biggest impression of all came from the fact that it was nearly empty at lunchtime on a weekday.

I instinctively whipped out my cameraphone and started taking a few pictures. A security guard came hurrying over. “Sir. No photography.” I apologised and put my phone back in my pocket, then started to meander up the escalators and into the abyss. I wasn’t allowed to capture the moment, for whatever reason, but in a way there was nothing to capture – it was this bizarre, static world of exclusivity and nobody actually buying anything.

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Pali Hill at Noon and Night

When I went to Mumbai last month, I was lucky enough to be able to stay in a huge 17th floor apartment in one of its richest suburbs. The neighbourhood turned out to be one of the most interesting aspects of my stay there – and the way it changed after sundown was striking.

The market is closed, obviously, and almost all signs of its existence have disappeared. No more brightly coloured vegetables, nor even the large wooden trays they were presented in. The swiftness with which structures can be erected and dismantled in India always surprises me. Looking a little closer, we see that the poles, tables and carts may have been dragged away, but each shopkeeper (and often his family) is still there, lying on bedrolls on the concrete, trying to get some sleep before doing it all again tomorrow.

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The Spirit of Giving

If you’re gonna choose one charity donation site at which to throw down your hard-earned, choose GiveIndia. This was hastily posted so that American donors could get tax breaks by donating before the end of 2010; nevertheless, it’s the most impressive charity site I’ve come across.

I injected myself into the story by recounting my meeting with a friendly, unassuming Texan in Subway.

Don Iverson was tall, bearded and topped by an impressive wide-brimmed hat, but from the moment he introduced himself, ‘cowboy’ was the last word on my mind. He told me that he was a businessman and artist, visiting India from Tennessee, and listened intently to my story of what I was doing in Kerala.

After some time, he somewhat bashfully revealed that he and his wife have established orphanages in south India, and that is his main purpose for being here – and what keeps him coming back.

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A Muslim Marriage in Kerala

I’ve been to more weddings in Kerala than I can count, but probably the most memorable was the single Muslim marriage I attended. Apart from the fact that it was of a faith that I have had little contact with, there were a few other things that made it stand out to me personally.

All the preparation was done with an overriding calmness and lack of fuss, even by Shibu as he flitted from station to station checking on progress and performing all unfilled tasks. This carried through to the next day, when I was asked to join the men of the family as they travelled to the groom’s house and formally invited them to come for the ceremony. Before that, however, came an important prayer to remind everyone that we owe all of this to Allah and hope that he will bless the occasion. A priest led our select group, sitting in a rough circle on plastic chairs in Shibu’s yard, his voice deep and barely above a whisper. As he gently intoned his words of praise, the other men quietly responded with ‘Insh’Allah’ and other phrases where appropriate. These were a few moments of near stillness and utter peace; all sounds in the neighbourhood seemed to cease.

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Do You Understand Malayalam?

My efforts to learn Malayalam have been pretty minimal. In two years, I know maybe 100 words and about three points of grammar. This isn’t because it’s one of the hardest languages in the world to learn, as I am often told; it’s because everyone speaks English. Thinking about my (lack of) Malayalam ability led me to consider its wider value, and also to think about how there is one language I have picked up since being here: Kerala English.

If I speak with my normal accent – Kiwi with flat vowels and mumbling at a mile a minute – very few are likely to understand. Instead, I’ve adopted a kind of attempted Malayali accent, and often seek assistance from my colleagues in perfecting it. For example, the number ‘twelve’ more closely resembles ‘toll’, while ‘po-TAY-to’ becomes ‘PO-te-to’ (needless to say, these are very rough approximations). It’s a source of great amusement for the others at work, and a genuinely valuable communication tool when speaking to a stranger or asking for something in a shop.

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