Cultural Acceptance

April 2019

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Where do you draw the line between appreciation, inspiration and appropriation? Somebody left a comment on my blog asking if it was okay for her, a white American woman, to wear a dress with cherry blossom print. I guess, she was afraid it would come across as cultural appropriation. I did not respond because I am in no way connected with the culture she was trying to show sensitivity towards. However, it got me thinking, ‘can my children never wear anything except traditional Indian clothes with traditional Indian prints and motifs?’.  Should I carry the burden of “white guilt” if I am not white? Should we take the white out and pass on just the guilt? I am certainly not advocating culturally insensitivity, I am talking about cultural acceptance; about opening our hearts, taking down those perfectly trimmed hedges and letting wildflowers grow on carefully manicured lawns.

 

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On that note, have you ever incorporated practices from other cultures into your own and over the years tuned them into a harmony, or set them as counterpoints? Is it wrong to mix and match? Over the years, I have peppered my life with words, gestures, foods, accents.. adopted or derived from cultures that I have passed through or have touched my life fleetingly. Isn’t that how culture evolves? And evolve it must, or it is condemned. A follow up question that has always bothered me in this context is, can you appropriate your own culture? I cherry pick the aspects I like and interpret them to suit my sensibilities all the time. What I believe, I retain, the rest I modify or outright reject. It is my culture, I have as much right to it as the people I share it with. 

 

Coming back to where we started, a good maxim is – appreciate the culture, embrace the traditions but don’t try to appropriate the heritage. Open your hearts, take down those perfectly trimmed hedges and let wildflowers grow on those carefully manicured lawns.

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San Diego Love

November 2018

I have everything to give thanks for, but above all I am thankful for the love that I have been blessed with. From family and friends, from people I don’t meet anymore and those whom I’ve barely met. The universe has been kind and I am grateful.

We are in San Diego for Thanksgiving. It’s still November and we’ve already had our first snow storm, and California is coming out of one of their biggest forest fires in recent times so in addition to everything else, I am thankful for the sun on my face, on my back, legs and all over, and for the clear blue skies above. The flights to India and back had lulled us into a false zone of comfort. The flight to San Diego was a nightmare in comparison. The LO was sick and restless. The flight was full. We were bumped up to Economy Plus and it was so bad that I didn’t even know it. Additional security meant we barely made it inside our flight and then the flight was delayed due to technical issues. We had not packed any food for us because we thought we would eat at the airport. That didn’t happen. We took food only for the LO and she wouldn’t eat. We had to wait at the gate till everyone got out because the LO had only one sock on. She had thrown one somewhere in the plane. In short – DISASTER.

Once out we were met with food and love. The LO was still cranky. Big Sis L offered her a bunch of things to calm down, including her own inseparable ‘blanky’. The LO settled in for a nap. She woke up recovered and in time for the party. The sister had put together a mini mostly vegan feast. How much more can you love someone! Have you ever had a cocktail from a can? I met the cocktail answer to beer. It was so good. I am going to find it and stock up.

It’s been four days for love and laughter, tantrums and tears. The LO has been spoilt for attention. We need to teach her how to handle it. It’s odd, since she did so well in India. The newest addition to our family – Flash, slept through it all. I was really looking forward to meeting him, but he’s a tortoise and has gone into hibernation.

Thirteen Tips for Flying with a Toddler

We flew with our little one (LO) right around her first birthday and then again, a few months later. The difference was vast. The first time, the flights were long international flights, with very little movement in the cabin and lights switched off. She slept like an angel through most of each flight and was content to sit on our laps for the rest of the time. The next time, the flights were domestic. The cabin lights were switched off, but there was enough daylight sneaking in through a few open windows to tell a toddler that it wasn’t sleepy time. The cabin crew were constantly moving up and down the cabin and oh… the LO was learning to walk. It was a nightmare.

 

Tip 1:

Prepare yourself mentally – for the worst.  Flights get delayed. Toddlers get cranky. Your co-passengers may not be baby-friendly. You forgot the baby’s medicines or checked them in. You “forgot” the baby. Crazy airline regulations. Your baby hates the cabin crew. The cabin crew hates you. It is near impossible to drink with a baby in your arms and almost as hard to eat or watch in-flight entertainment. The list is long, but you get it, don’t you. Prepare for the worst. Be flexible and have backups to backups.

Tip 2:

Book a bassinet. Confirm it a day prior to travel. The leg room and extra bag space you get with it is well worth the trouble.Do not for even an instant believe that your baby will sleep blissfully through the flight in that contraption. Just about when the child is sound asleep enough for you to put them down in the bassinet and stretch your arms out, the plane will hit some turbulence and a steward will ask you to please take the baby out of the bassinet. The bassinet is meant for storage.

Tip 3:

Arrange for transport to the airport and back in advance. There are taxi services that provide car seats or let you bring your car seat and store it for either free or a small fee. Confirm pick up times with them the day before you are scheduled to fly.

Tip 4:

Dress in layers. Remember you are taking a flight, not moving to the Antarctic. One layer more than you should be sufficient. Opt for clothes that are easy to change and convenient for diaper change. Opt for a t-shirt and pants or a two piece pajama set over a full onsie. Avoid snap ties. Socks will keep those little toes warm. Remember to carry extras in the diaper bag.

Tip 5:

Reach the airport early. You may not be the only ones with an infant on board. If there is more demand than supply, bassinets are allocated on a first come first serve basis. Letting the baby crawl around the gate area is way better than being cramped in the middle of a back row. Bonus – it might tire them enough to not want to crawl around the airplane. Also assume that TSA will view your precious angel as a decoy and test every bottle of water, milk and baby food. They will also inspect each one of those ten boxes of chocolates in each of the three bags that the two passengers ahead of you are carrying. They do that. Make time for it.

Tip 6:

Ever questioned the sanity of letting children board first and get off last? Take advantage of this if you are flying with another adult. One of you can go in, stow away your hand luggage and get things set up, while the other waits in the passenger boarding bridge with the child and boards last. Ideally you want them cooped up on the plane for as little time as possible. Dealing with a toddler exploring the boarding bridge is easier than dealing with one squirming in their seat.  Reverse the technique while getting out. Every minute counts.

Tip 7:

Invest in a light weight stroller. Buy something you won’t mind getting manhandled by the airlines. Gate check it. Airports are large busy places that you sometimes need to navigate really fast. Running with a baby in your arms may not be the best idea.  Additionally, baby wearing saved my life. I used a baby carrier to secure the little one to myself while sitting and to walk her around the cabin when she was awake. Baby wearing is also the most reliable way to keep babies off the baggage carousel.

Tip 8:

Keep all diapering items, meals + snacks, water, medication, extra clothes and a toy or two in the diaper bag. As soon as the seat belt sign is switched off after takeoff, take the bag from the overhead compartment and stow it under your seat. You are going to need it often. You cannot access the overhead compartments during takeoff and landing.  Prior to take off, keep the bottle or whatever you intend to give the baby to suck on to help with the ear popping handy. If you intend to breastfeed and are modest about it,keep your cover-up handy. Do not show the bottle to the child on the taxiway. They will demand it be given, will finish up before the plane even reaches the runway and you won’t know what to do. Give it just when you feel the plane start to lift off. Same goes for landing.

Tip 9:

Be mindful of what food/snacks you pack and how much. You don’t want to deal with a sticky mess on an airplane. Plus, it takes bag space. Most airlines have some toddler friendly food. Flights always have milk for tea and coffee.My toddler happily munched on free airline snacks all the way back from San Diego to New York, preferring it over the healthy food her aunt had so lovingly packed.

Tip 10:

Pull up diapers. Much easier to use in tight spaces.

Tip 11:

Do not be afraid to ask the cabin crew for help.They have dealt with more infants on more flights than you ever want to. While they won’t walk your baby up and down the aisle or change them in that tiny toilet, they can provide you with warm milk, baby food and medications. They can assist you with getting what you need from the overhead compartments, even when the seat belt signs are on. I secretly suspect, they might even be able to provide some crayons and paper to keep the child entertained.

Tip 12:

If your toddler walks or is learning to walk, put shoes on. Given a choice, everyone prefers them running quietly up and down the aisle to them shouting in their seats.

Tip 13:

Carry a towel (broad wink at Douglas Adams). A towel is about the most massively useful thing a person travelling with a toddler can carry. Partly because it has great practical value. You can wrap it around your toddler as a backup blanket; you can use it as a sheet to put them down on airport floors and airplane bassinets; you can use  it to wipe little hands and faces; you can use it to cover up while breastfeeding; you can use it to block light and help your little one up  sleep better; you can use it to play peek-a-boo; you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough. More importantly though, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, any person who can travel with a toddler, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where their towel is, is clearly a person to be reckoned with.

 

Mumbai – Culture Shock and Immersion

September-October 2018

Can your own culture give you a culture shock?

Does it count as cultural immersion if it is your own culture?

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It was the little one’s (LO) first ever visit to India. The day we landed in Bombay (Mumbai), we took our year-old daughter to see a Ganpati idol immersion procession. It is Hindu belief that once year, every year, the elephant headed god Ganesh or Ganpati visits earth for a period of eleven days. On the eleventh day he is sent off with great pomp. Ganpati idols worshiped over the past eleven days are immersed in water bodies. I grew up with this festivity. I have been a happy part of it, yet my first thought was that the noise and chaos might overwhelm our daughter. I thought the noise and general chaos might overwhelm our daughter, but she pushed my hands off her ears and danced. I thought I would be swept away, and she would be overwhelmed, but she was swept away, and I was a pleasently surprised. A couple of days later, we had a traditional Hindu prayer service to mark our daughter’s first birthday as per the Hindu calendar. The priest and the baby both did much better than expected. In fact, they were both champs. Not only did the priest actively include me in all the proceedings, he even pacified well-meaning relatives who tried to stop me. Our daughter dealt with the heat, smoke and attention overload like it was just another day.

The LO dealt with the sensory overload that is Mumbai like a pro. Her favourite pages in her little book on Mumbai are Ganpati Bappa (always gets a moriya out of her), Cricket (enthusiast clapping for Sachin cheers) and bad Bollywood songs (she even got her cousin hooked on to one of her favourites). Noisy toys that would have scared her back home were inspected with curiosity and accepted with equanimity. Our daughter dealt with the sensory overload that is Mumbai like a pro, but for me it was somewhat of a shock. I always thought it would be the other way around. Afterall, even after all these years, this was still home.  But coming back is never the same as not going. It’s not just everything around you, it is also about how much you have changed. That’s the real shock. Suddenly the streets look smaller, traffic seems worse, familiar faces look older, fewer people recognize you instantly, you recognize fewer people, you clutch your baby close and hope the auto rickshaw won’t overturn… There are good changes too – no more plastic bags. Change is natural, but what hurts is that the change has happened without you. I was stuck in a time warp. It was not exactly where I left. Sometimes it was a little ahead, sometimes way back in time. It took me an entire day to process everything. India can be overwhelming. Coming back, even more.

 

 

An Averted Greek Tragedy

May 2018

We had the greatest scare of our lives a couple of days back. We were nicely holidaying in one of the islands in greece – Naxos..spent the afternoon at the beach and then swam in the hotel pool and then while we were relaxing in the evening, Reyansh (age 4) inadvertently swallowed a 10 cent coin. As a pro coin-swallower in my own childhood, I promptly fed him bananas. But when he threw up, I panicked. We rushed to a local hospital where after taking some 4 xrays they located the coin in this throat, dangerously perched at the oesophagus’ entrance. They flew us down (reya and me) to Athens and got us admitted at one of the children’s hospital here. Sam (his mother) had to come the following day by boat. Reya had the most troubled sleep that night. He had to sit upright the entire night. I, on the other hand was trying to converse with the nurses who didnt understsnd a word of English.. but they were all very kind. The doctors were great and they removed the coin yesterday and have now discharged us. We have resumed our holiday now and getting ferried to Mykonos (another island). Reyansh as usual his naughty self and behaving as if nothing happened.

– Rahul Chaudhary

Flashback 2016

December 31, 2016

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This year has been very eventful in many ways.So eventful that travel had to take somewhat of a backseat. The first half of the year feels like it happened in another lifetime, but we did go enjoy cherry blossoms locally and camping in summer. We saw a snow leopard at the Binghamton zoo. We even saw bald eagles and flocks of migratory waterfowl at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. This was the trip of spectacular sunsets. This was actual the year of gorgeous sunsets, we were blessed with some soul stirring sunset vistas this year.  There was the trip to Montreal. So many people – so much fun! Sometime in between, we spent a week in India, flight tickets courtesy Etihad. Yours truly won those tickets in a contest last year. Soon after, life caught up with us and a million things happened, including a new house and a new job.  We spent almost all our spring weekends looking at houses. Most of our flower viewing this year was checked off outside prospective homes. Between jobs, I spent a few days with the family at San Diego. I didn’t go to Tijuana, instead I took the kids to the park where we rode a train, went on a carousel and splashed in the fountain. Best time off ever. The husband’s parents visited and we took them on a disastrous bus tour of the West Coast. I call it disastrous, but I think they had a good time. I got highlights – first time ever. Mum visited us for a few weeks and made our first Navratri and Diwali in our new house truly special. I completed my Masters (in Sustainability Management) this year. Working around the school calendar and both our work schedules left us with very little travel time, but it is not so easy to beat us. We still managed to squeeze in a trip to Death Valley and Zion. We even threw a couple of (oh wth!) fabulous house parties, made it to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and shopped over Thanksgiving. We set up our first full size Christmas tree and had a blast decorating it. We browsed the Christmas markets and bought ourselves one of the many/few things I have been eyeing for the past three (3) years. I never got around to baking that cake, but we did fire up the oven and make lasagna.  I tried my hand at making apple cider (non-fermented).I discovered Buddha’s Hand and made Buddha-Cello.  I finally pulled an all-nighter – we stayed up playing board games till 5 a.m. I made it to the ice rink. I am by no means a great skater, but just being on the ice makes me so happy. We will ring the old year out and the new year in, surrounded by friends in our own home, in this far away land.

So much more was supposed to happen in 2016, but that year is gone.

January 1, 2017

For 2017,

I want make a trip to London, Scotland, and continental Europe

I want to go to the Yellowstone National Park

I want to go back to Kashmir, our first post-wedding destination to celebrate five (5) years of togetherness

I want to go to South America

I want to see gorillas in the wild

I want to ride a camel in the Sahara Desert

I want to invest in a telescope and a good book on astronomy, and stargaze

 

2017, be kind!

Sunny San Diego

August 2016

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At Balboa Park, where we rode the train, saw ducklings, tried to get touch the fish, saw some art, admired some plants, dipped our feet in the fountain, went on the carousel and in all had fun

I’m spending my break between jobs at our holiday home in San Diego. People often ask me, if I’m not weary of the east coast winters and would I not like to move to California? My answer is, that’s where I go to holiday. Everyone needs a getaway spot. A place where you can bury yourself under the covers and pretend the rest of the world does not exist. My is sunny San Diego. Could it get better? Under the covers there, there exists a world inhabited by giants and jedi; lorikeets are our friends, eating from our hands and carrying messages. A world that’s constantly changing as the years go by, but magical nonetheless.

This visit was supposed to be a surprise for the kids and for amma.The surprise was broken, but the thrill and joy was intact.