Learning… In my 40s

My daughter is having her first term exams. She is in Grade 5, and she is studying in a school that follows the ICSE system (a crazy tough Indian system). This basically means that she has a lot to study. [Translation: This means I have a lot to study before I can pretend to be all-knowing and help her study.]

My strong point is English and even with regards to English I have my limitations – there is just this much grammar that I truly understand. I can write a sentence correctly, but if you were to ask me about the predicate, I would be in a predicament. That is until the recent English 2 paper which is devoted to all things grammatical. Now I can wax eloquent about subjects and predicates… and nouns that go beyond the simple proper nouns. I know a thing or two about abstract and concrete nouns too now. In fact I have strong feelings for those little fellas.

The wonderful thing about teaching my girl these things is that I am able to revisit these old acquaintances and actually develop a deeper friendship with them. All of this could be because as an adult I have the unfair advantage of a fully developed brain… but in my defense I have recently started forgetting names of actors (If you know me, you will know that this is serious), so my brain is obviously not in tip-top shape.

Once my kid and I were done with some Indian history and English grammar, we moved on to what is the bane of our educational lives – Math. DNA is all powerful. The things about math that flummox me manage to perplex her too. But her math teacher this year is a sweetheart and my daughter has begun to enjoy math a lot more. However, like I said, you can’t fight your genes beyond a point. And in our life that point is HCF and LCM.

Her teacher kindly pointed out in her notebook that my daughter has not understood the concept fully. That is nice. Now what do I do? I am in my 40s and I have still not understood the concept. So like a true blue procrastinator that I am, I decided to deal with this problem later.

Life however plods on and before you could say HCF the exams were on our heads. So there we were – a 9 year old girl and I – on a weekend, wondering why anyone wants to know the highest common factor and lowest common multiple of any number. What do you do once you find out the answer? What do you do with that bit of information?

Anyways, I got down to business – told her to do some word problems based on addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, while I studied her textbook. And guess what! Yup! This time round I understood the concept. I got it! All these years spent in fear of the goddamn highest common factor and lowest common multiple! And now it was all crystal clear. Of course I still don’t know how it is useful in one’s daily life… but… I am willing to let that slide.

Then I sat down with my girl and explained it to her. The way that lovely book explained it to me. Step-by-step… slowly. And double yippee! She got it too!

Of course none of this is of earth-shattering importance. However, I cannot begin to explain to you how on-top-of-the-world I felt after I managed to understand something that had defeated me as a child.

We all know that learning is a life-long process, but I am beginning to believe that it is a process that we truly enjoy only as we grow older and, when we are not shackled by exams or competition, but are learning things for the sheer challenge and pleasure of it.

Tomorrow I am going to study about plant life cycle and germination. Those seeds better watch out.

10 Reasons Why An NRI Misses India

I am a bit stuck today. Not a writer’s block, but I don’t feel like posting anything that I have written. Not good enough… too personal… not ready to share blah blah. Then as I was sitting in front of the TV and trying hard to not watch the IPL match between Delhi and Mumbai, I realized that I am dying for my daughter’s summer vacation to start. The two month long holidays meant that we spent a month to a month and half in India. Something that we look forward to as it allows us the chance to spend time with our families, and also to reconnect with a country that we call home.

Before long I was making this list.

10 Reasons Why An NRI Misses India… I am not mentioning family and friends – that is a given.

  1. The black ink on the index finger. I am an expat in a foreign land and cannot vote. So the act of exercising your right to vote holds special meaning for me.
  2. The cheerful, frantic buzz of the perfect amalgamation of at least 10 Indian languages that hit you as soon as you land in any Indian airport. You can be assured that you will hear some Hindi, Malayalam, Punjabi, Gujarati and Tamil for sure. Guaranteed.
  3. Monsoon clouds… especially if you spend 11 months of the year in the Middle East, where if you are lucky it will drizzle twice for about 10 minutes maximum. And then you come to India in July and look up and see those thick, luscious clouds.
  4. Roadside dhabbas and chaat sellers. Sure if you are the owner of a sissy tummy you may end up in the hospital with a drip in your arm, but that is a risk most of us are willing to take.
  5. Secondhand book shops on the pavement, with a Mills&Boons steamy romance rubbing shoulders proudly with Jawahar Lal Nehru’s Discovery of India. Not to forget the ubiquitous tutorial and exam guide books.
  6. Movie posters! (I learnt to read Tamil thanks to all those posters I saw while travelling by bus.) And they are so colourful and over the top! The actor’s dramatic expression captured for posterity and for every passerby to gawk at. Some of them are hilarious and some are lewd.
  7. Freedom to criticize the powers that be – loudly and openly. Freedom to display religious icons – no matter what God you believe in. No one is going to persecute them for saying or thinking what they want to. Yes there have been occasions when these rights have been trampled upon. But most times, Indians exercise these rights without any sense of fear.
  8. A sense of belonging that I have not experienced anywhere else. I have travelled to a few countries – all of which were beautiful and well planned (or better planned than India) and seemed to function better. But my soul fires up and I am buzzing with energy when in India.
  9. Holi and Diwali on the streets. If you have not experienced it, you have missed out on something. It is not Mardi Gras. It is more visceral – a heady combination of religion, suspension of rules and masti (a Hindi word that could be translated to mean joy and fun).
  10. Signboards that promise way more than they will ever deliver or ever meant to deliver. “Potty’s Restaurant – Pure Vegetarian” anyone! It should have been Pothy’s. Or how about Anus Coaching Centre. That should have been Anu’s. I love these signboards. They make me laugh out and remind me again and again about what a colourfully eccentric I belong to. Another one was a garage in Goa that advertised its manual car wash services with – The Best Hand Job in Town.

Of course there is the other side to it too. So…

10 things about India that an NRI doesn’t miss…

  1. Nosy neighbours… I swear you don’t have them in the Middle East. And if you do, chances are they are originally from India.
  2. Road work that halts traffic for years.
  3. Flyovers to nowhere that are never completed.
  4. Crazy flooding. Monsoon in India is magical. It can also be scary and disruptive. If like me you like the rains, then you will be a lot more tolerant of all the hassles… but everyone cracks under the pressure – sooner or later.
  5. Inflation! I could buy the shop for Rs500 when I left… now I am lucky if I can get a bottle of milk and a tissue box.
  6. And those tiny four road junctions, where no one will let anyone else have the right of way. The motto is – Let’s all be stuck together!
  7. Your cousin’s husband’s aunt who is mad at you for missing her baby’s wedding. Doesn’t matter that you don’t remember the aunt or the baby.
  8. Lack of queues. I know! It is an Indian thing. We are sorry. I don’t know why we can’t stand in queues. It is a mystery or maybe it is in our DNA. Of course we behave when we are in a foreign land, but the minute we are back in India…
  9. Roadside Romeos – they sound romantic and cute don’t they? They are not. They are irritating idiots who think it is ok to heap unwanted attention on a female, just because she is a woman and he is a… well, man. And no – all women in India do not get raped!
  10. The humidity!!! Heat is one thing. Humidity is another. The icky sticky feeling – it may be good for your skin and it may flush out all the toxins, but a little less of the sweaty feeling would have been nice.

Do write in and tell me what you miss and don’t miss (or wouldn’t miss) about your country.

My Glasses Don’t Break

Image courtesy http://www.teapotsnmore.com

Not sure how many folks out there have this problem. But in my household, my glasses don’t break. The other day I was looking at our collection of glasses – tea cups, coffee mugs, Japanese tea cups, Arabic tea cups, wine glasses, champagne glasses, assorted water and juice glasses, martini glasses… you get the idea. Some we bought. The others were gifted to us by well-meaning friends. Others are from our travels abroad – cups with the Spanish Steps embossed on them, cups with pictures of the Indonesian countryside, and a beautiful dark blue one that was sold to us by a sister at the Sistine Chapel merchandise centre. They are over-running my cutlery cupboard and bar space. We have had these with us for anything from 3 to 8 years and in all these years these glasses have not broken.



Much loved pieces and much used too but none of them will ever sell at an auction. None of them will secure our future. No chance of a grandchild coming across my tea cups and saying, “Wow! Look at grandma’s tea cups. They will fetch us a few cool bucks at the auction.” So I have no good reason to hang on to these glasses. But I do. You see I am the frugal kind – south Indian. I can’t bring myself to throw away nearly perfect glasses and invest in a set of bone china Heirloom set that would at the least make a beautiful display.

Of course there is no way I can buy another set unless I make space in the cupboard for the new set. I even went as far as giving my daughter her evening milk drink in a ‘big people’ cup. Four months on, she is still using it. Apparently she is even better with cups and glasses than I am! I did try ‘accidentally’ knocking one of the dining table the other day! My husband (who used to play cricket in the good old days) proved to all and sundry that his reflexes are as good as ever as he managed to catch the cup before it hit the ground.

I am desperate. I am also sick and tired of my old tea cups. And I really don’t see strangers queuing up to buy one at bargain at the Saturday flea market. So for the time being I tolerate my cups while I dream of the beautiful Summertime Rose Bone China tea set by Heirloom.