Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Nostalgia....Life before we got facebooked

Today morning I was just sifting through all the files on my laptop when I came across some of the old pics of our family. Needless to say, nostalgia struck and I was left missing them. It’s been a few months since I saw my parents and almost half a year since I saw my brothers, we talk on the phone, skype, chat and stuff but still…something seems to be missing. I miss the times when my dad was in Airforce and all of us would move from one city to another, literally living out of boxes. Three years in each city. By the time we got used to a place and made friends, it was time to leave. Even then, we had each other. As a kid all I could think about was how much I hate my brothers for being two annoying pests, but now, I can only remember the fun times. Like when the three of us would feast on mangoes which our gardener would pluck for us, or when Shereef and I took it on ourself to teach 3 yr old Bilal the alphabet, on an imaginary black board (But must say, for a 3 yr old he was pretty patient with us :D),or when the three of us waited for guests to leave so that we could pounce on the snacks mom served for them (usually bourbon biscuits which were oh-so-exotic back then)
Umma, Uppa, Baby shereef and me. Before Bilal was born. (Don't cry Bilal!)

Then I remember the family trips we used to have. We had this ugly green van, (which now people can mistake for a kidnapper’s van) in which all of us used to bundle in to set out to explore the places around us. We kids loved the van, especially during the trips. We would fight in it, play games, sleep, feast on some of the stuff mom would cook for the trip….the van was a part of so many of our happy times.
We also used to have trips with other families (Mostly the Malayalee families in the campus). There would be kids of all age groups and you are bound to find a companion for the trip. The mommies on the trip would group together and chat(read-gossip), the men would start with their jokes and the kids would run around the entire place screaming.

Shereef and I. Before we started plans to murder each other

Some of the most memorable trips were when we were staying in West Bengal. Our favourite destination was Kurseeong, Darjeeling’s lesser known cousin. I still remember us driving through the fog and looking at the top to down houses built on the slopes. We would spend 2 days in the Air Force guest house there, all huddled in warm sweaters and shawls...and how can I forget the infamous 'monkey caps'! (It must be the single most detested piece of clothing by defence kids) Sometimes we would go higher up and go to ‘Tsanko lake’. Once when we were there, there was snow all around and the lake was completely frozen! I remember how excited we were on our drive up as we saw trucks covered in snow coming down. Once we reached there seeing all the snow around, I went a little crazy and jumped out of the car as soon as we stopped and for some reason I thought it was a good idea to start running around. I ended up fainting and spent the rest of the time there inside the car while my brothers and friends had snow fights outside. I remember when the pictures were developed, there was one pic in which everyone posed near the car with snowballs in their hands and you could see my lonely silhouette in the car. *sniff*
Oh yes, I was one cool kid
As kids what we used to look forward to the most was the summer vacations (Like duh!). This was the time for trips to kerala! Even though we didn’t like Kerala much back then, the prospect of being pampered by grandmothers and aunts was very tempting. I remember our train rides which would take 2 or 3 days and were usually quite eventful. Now that I think of it, I really can’t imagine how my mom must have managed two days stuck in a train with 3 unruly and hyper kids. I was still tame compared to my brothers, who would run the length of the compartment and would demand for every single food item that passed our way, Loudly. As a small kid Bilal used to love tea, so much that once in the train when our co passenger, a grumpy old man, started drinking tea from his flask Bilal went ‘Mujhe chaay peenay ka mann lag raha hai’ ( I feel like drinking tea) to no one in particular. The old man caught on and instead of graciously offering him some tea said ‘Lekin isme cheeni kam hai’ (But it’s not really sweet) again to no one in particular. My diplomatic brother then says ‘Kuch nahi hota’ (that’s alright!). Finally the man had to give in and poured out a cup of tea for him. For the rest of the trip my mother and I pretended that we didn’t know this annoying kid. If I were my mom during these train rides, I would have pushed my kids out of the running train. Like seriously.

Bilal, 'posing' for a picture

On visits back home we enjoyed being the centre of attention. What used to amuse us kids the most was when we went out people would stop us and ask us if we were from Bombay after they hear us speak in Hindi. We never failed to get a kick out of that. Of course, there were some relatives (of the older variety) who used to hate us speaking in hindi. My grand dad especially, he made it his mission in life to get us back to speaking in Malayalam, our ‘mathrabhasha’. He didn’t succeed.

Family with grand dad. (Sans the pests)
What was amazing was how close we were to our cousins and the other family members despite the fact that we met them only once a year. And this was before facebook and skype and stuff where you can stay in touch with them every single day. When all the cousins got together, especially during the weddings, it was one crazy house! Now that we are all ‘grown up’ we are expected to behave and not run around chasing each other. *shakes head sadly*
With our cousin

What I realize now is that we had really fulfilling childhoods. We didn’t have cell phones, ipods or facebook accounts. We had fixed tv times which would be spent changing channels between WWF and Tom and Jerry. But we were happy with our lives. We had real friends with whom we would play out in the sun till we got so tanned that grandma would ask us ‘Ninte colour enth aayi’ (‘What happened to your colour’ which means you have tanned…it’s weird, in kerala ‘colour’ means ‘fair’, so ‘more colour’ means fairer skinned hence better…yeah doesn’t make sense).Without all the stuff that kids have today ( I have seen three yr olds with Ipads, I swear!) we had our share of fun. We climbed trees, broke bones, broke teeth, fought with friends, made up, fought again, got scolded for coming home late, sneaked into the store room to steal mom’s 'guest-food supplies', ran to our school buses with breakfast in one hand and shoes in the other, pretended to fall sick on the day a home work was due....looking back, we couldn’t have asked for better childhood. All praise is to god for blessing us with it!

Now my entire family, cousins, aunts, uncles (even some grandmothers) included, is on facebook. We even have our own family website. But sometimes I can’t help feeling that there is something missing. I miss imagining how my cousin would have changed in the one year I haven’t seen her. I miss seeing the new born kids in the family, for real instead of on facebook. I have to admit I am hooked to facebook and sometimes spend more hours than I'd like to admit on it. But there are times when I wish I could go back and not know anything about facebook or gmail chat and just be that girl with a chipped tooth chasing her brothers around the house for a piece of coffee bite.

Friday, 6 January 2012


One of my many pet peeves is talkative taxi drivers. You know the ones who start talking once you enter the taxi and won’t stop even when you try to get rid of them with the fare. In Malaysia I have had to put up with so many of such rides that I have borderline taxiphobia. One more ‘teksi’ ride with a human radio and I will give up on this endeavor all together.

Here the conversations they start follow, more or less, a predictable pattern.. ‘Miss, where you from?’, ‘You Arab miss?’, ‘Miss you Pakistani?’. None of them so far have guessed it right. And once they get the answer that I am from India they start churning out a list of Bollywood actors and movies. ‘ Aaah…Indiaa! Amita bacha!’, ‘Sharoook!’. And then they ask me how India is. To avoid much conversation I try to keep my answers as short as possible, so I say it’s like Malaysia. Are there any mountains one of them asked me. I said yes. Then he started listing out the benefits of living near a mountainous region and I spent the rest of the trip kicking myself for answering with a yes.
One of them was more daring and called me ‘girlfriend’. Of course he didn’t mean it in that sense. He just figured that since I am a girl he might as well call me that. Another one spent the whole trip telling me about his life and his plans for future. He told me about his kids who are studying outside Malaysia and how he is working for them. This guy really moved me because he was working so hard so that they could have a comfortable future. Charlie a 60 something portly man proudly said halfway through the trip, ‘Anyway you vann go, just call me lah !’. Then he went on to assure me that I can trust him blindly and helpfully quoted testaments from parents of other students extoling him for his knight like qualities when it comes to taking naive and innocent university students from A to B.

One thing I found common in all these drivers is their love for Malaysia. Almost all the taxis I got into I have heard this question ‘You like Malaysia?’. I say yes so that they don’t have to feel obliged to make me like it. (I do like Malaysia ). But my plan fails as they continue and give me reasons why Malaysia is the super awesomest country in the world. ‘Man man equal here’. ‘No fighting here’. ‘So many culture everyone same’. Looks like the government’s latest ‘1 Malaysia’ propaganda is working after all. 

While in practice this might not be true yet (Malays are ‘more equal’ than Chinese and Indians…go figure) it is still a novel idea. Especially when compared to what’s happening in Europe now. Yes, I am referring to the recent niqab-o-phobia that seems to be doing rounds in some European countries. I don’t want to dwell much on the reasons here as it upsets me. As some one said…for decades women fought for their right to bare and now they have to fight for their right to cover…*shakes head sadly*

One of the main arguments that comes up for this ban is that the burkha (I totally hate the way they pronounce it.. Brrrr-ka..sounds like shivering crows) is against the ‘culture and values which the French cherish’. Of course what it means is be like us or get out of this country. Some people seem to be under the impression that if you dress differently your values must also be different. They have decided that the French citizen should look a certain way, believe in certain things and by extension live a certain way. I can understand if you want to ban the burkha because everyone who is wearing it is forcing it upon others (Imagine veiled ladies walking with bags full of ‘niqabs’ jumping on unsuspecting bystanders and forcefully covering their faces with it – COVER YOUR FACE YOU INFIDEL!!!). The world we live in now is really strange. You burn the bra and ban the burkha. Honestly, sometimes I feel like some of these people are not really humans, but aliens who want to take over earth and turn everyone into robots. Robots who study through their youth, work through their prime years and then are ignored the for rest of their lives. If the ‘wiring’ of one of the robots ‘goes wrong’ and it decides to ask questions and decides that it doesn’t want to be like everyone in everything, that it wants to show it's individuality the aliens brand it as ‘traitor’ or ‘eyesore’.
Apparently you can’t be religious and patriotic at the same time…Really? Since when do we have to choose what we can be? ‘So mam, what do you want to be? Indian or Muslim?’ ‘Errmm..both?’ ‘No mam, you cannot be both!’ ‘ Um…why?’ ‘Because I said so.’

I grew up in different parts of India. I began crawling in Delhi and walking in Pune. I started kindergarten in Bangalore, moved to West Bengal in 1st grade, was in Pune again by 4th grade, then back to Bangalore and there till 10th grade, this was followed by an international move to Saudi Arabia where  I did my 11th grade and then finally to my home state of Kerala to finish my school education. By 18 I had studied in 10 different schools in 4 states and another country. What this drilled into my mind was an appreciation for other cultures. I grew up speaking a language which was not my own but eventually became a part of me. Till this day, after 7 yrs away from the ‘defense life’, my siblings and I converse in hindi (despite numerous efforts by my parents and relatives to revert us to our ‘default’ language), we’d have roti and daal any day over rice and sambar. At the same time we love our Malayalam movies (We laugh shamelessly at Salim Kumar’s lame jokes :D) and dig grandma’s special pathiri and chicken curry. I am like the Aviyal which keralites make for Onam. Aviyal is a kerala speciality. More than 10 vegetables go into the preparation of this and make it every mom's favourite dish for her child.

It’s one crazy mixture! But each of this contributes to the unique flavor that only aviyal can have. I do not want to be told by anyone that I need to lose any of these bits of India in me and retain only one. Similarly, I do not want to be told that just because I have a piece of cloth on my head or maybe in future if I decide to cover my face that the rest of the bits in me get nullified. I am an Indian by nationality, Muslim by faith. These two DO NOT have to be mutually exclusive. I guess this is why I balk at the idea of flattening out these ‘differences’. I feel we should celebrate our differences along with our similarities as it’s only because of these differences that we learn to appreciate the similarities.

If you still feel that your identity cannot be plural then...don't worry I won't kill you, I will just invite you over to my house. Maybe we can talk over a cup of coffee? Or better still you can stay for lunch and have some aviyal and rice :)