Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Sleeping arrangements

South Indian nursery in an embroidery center (c)

I just came across this lovely picture of a South Indian nursery and I wish I'd seeen it 3 years ago.

You see, sleeping arrangements have been a subject of wonder and astonishment for both our families from the start of our relationship. In hubby's family, everyone sleeps in the same room, on the floor. This is a widespread situation in India in certain social groups. I remember vividly the first time I slept between my future MIL and future husband, I had been given an extra-pillow since I was a guest, but that was a terrible night. And so when hubby came to France for the first time, he assumed we would all be in the same room, him, my kids and myself. Meanwhile the kids kept asking where he would be sleeping, and I had to tell them he would be in my bedroom - with no more details. It ain't easy to explain to kids they're going to have a step-dad !

When I was pregnant with baby T, I tried to get hubby involved in baby stuff. What bed should we buy ? Hubby suggested to hang a sari from the ceiling and I flipped out. I searched internet and saw tutos of Asian guys in the USA building their baby's cribs. It didn't reassure me. I suggested a classic European bed and hubby got upset because he didn't want his child to be behind bars (funnily enough an American colleague told me the exact same thing about his baby), and what's more he claimed swings were good to calm down babies and help them digest. I did some research and found this was something that was accepted in the west. I quite fancied being a Natraj bed, since an antique Indian bed would be expensive and very difficult to find.

Antique Indian craddle. Isn't it sweet ?
A modern Indian craddle, made in China of course.

In the end, we settled for a UK made hammock for the first months, although I was a little bit worried because in France we have many safety rules and parents are told not to use hammocks for small babies, except for small naps under constant adult supervision. (I also found out at the time that the bed I used for my first two kids is now deemed to be dangerous because you could lower one side and now they think babies may trap their fingers in the mecanism !).

The hammock we chose (picture from the builder)

A few months later I installed a classical western bed with bars... but guess what hubby finally got his way after the baby had a bad cold ; we are now co-sleeping !

Sunday, June 26, 2016

A multicultural family

An extroardinary woman and her dog outside a Shakti temple

Last september I enrolled in Indian studies at university. As I quit my job to take care of the baby, I figured it would be good to spare a few hours per week to learn tamil language properly. After all we have a plan to relocate to Tamil Nadu within the next few years, and I think it is really important for our daughter to be bilingual.

In this aspect my plan worked out quite well as it encouraged my husband to speak tamil to his child. In the first months I was scared as she didn't talk at all. But now, at 27 months old, she knows many French words and a handful of Tamil words ; Appa (daddy), va (come), Akka (elder sister), Aya (grand-ma), yanei (elephant)... And she understands a lot. She probably knows more tamil than me already.

Tamil lessons have been really really hard for me. But I did really well in civilisation lessons. Then I somewhat lost interest in windian blogs. I realized that on my first trip to South India, I had very good intuitions but it took me 8 years to understand what they meant. Understanding India requires a lot of patience and dedication. Understanding comes in layers.
Madurai sari (c)
For instance, I left looking for monkeys, the colour red and shamans, but it was only this year I learnt about village gods vs forest gods in hinduism, and understood Tamil Nadu was a big centre for red dyes with Madurai being a religious centre as well as a centre for a special red tint. As for "shamans" they are everywhere, but since they are usually low-caste or untouchables, it's not so easy to meet them.

In turn it made me reflect on my identity and my family's identity. We are multicultural but what does it mean ? I don't go around in Indian clothes, I don't have a thali or a pothu.... This is the kind of multicultural people we are, mixing smelly cheese and pickes, kilos of rice and huge packets of strong tea... Nothing fancy or exotic. A down-to-earth, day to day balancing of various influences, tastes and yearnings.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The first time I wore a sari in India

Usually, I don't feel comfortable wearing a sari, so I don't. It makes me feel self-counscious and I am always afraid some disaster will happen while I'm wearing it. I did after all manage to tear a salwar kamiz on the way to the family temple, angering my MIL and having lots of strangers laugh a my face... until someone finally told me there was a slight problem... so imagine what could happen with a sari !

But last time we went to India, I took my plain cotton handloom sari with me, and I was overjoyed to find a matching stretchy blouse to go with it. Nodoby can tear a stretchy blouse, right ? I wanted to dress up for the family. As it happened we were there for an important family wedding and nobody took special interest in me (apart from telling me off for things my husband did or didn't do, and asking me to bless the bride and groom once the marriage hall was almost empty).... For the wedding I wore two salwar outfits I'd bought in France.

Then we went on a trip and I used the sari as a blanket for the baby in the car. Suddenly hubby decides to stop in Trichy. Usually foreigners are not allowed to see the god in that temple, but someone told hubby if I wore a saree and jasmin flowers and looked hindu, then they may let me in. So I had to struggle alone in the bathroom to wrap myself in a blanket-sari while hubby and his nephew were doing something... What an ordeal. But it gave me the right to queue 3 hours to have a glimpse of the god and give him lotus flowers and tulsi (and then have the tulsi shoved back in my face by a grudging priest)...

Anyways. Hubby took pictures of me outside the temple. My MIL said I had a village sari but she liked my stretchy blouse. My Tamil girlfriends later told me I wrapped the sari in grandmother style. No wonder they let me in as a local in the temple lol... and our last day in India, my MIL gave me a gorgeous purple sari.

Then recently someone told me in India if a woman doesn't look her best, people think she is unhappy in marriage. Oh dear.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What does your wedding say about you

There was a piece in the Hindu monday entitled "Forget-me-Knots" describing "second generation Indian-American weddings".

When I read blogs of other western women married to Indian men, most of the time there are colourful descriptions of the wedding and beautiful pictures of the bride looking gorgeous in a sari and the groom in an embroidered suit.

When we decided to live together, hubby was living in India and I was in Europe. My main preoccupation was figuring out if I could relocate to India or not. With two teenage kids from a previous marriage, it was going to be difficult. Everybody around me was insisting on negative issues, especially people who'd never set foot in India. I discovered unknown aspects of family, colleagues and friends. People I had always seen as open minded and sophisticated blurted out xenophobic comments. In the end it was my gynecologist who convinced me, saying "don't fling it all and traumatize your kids for a sexual pulsion". That was not exactly romantic, but I figured she knew what she was talking about.

So the next step was taking hubby to Europe. I started researching immigration rules, and found out it was going to be a tough journey. I read many stories of people getting married abroad and then the wedding transcription in French law taking months, preventing the spouse to ask for a visa. That's why we decided to get married in France. Our goal was to live together, not to get married.

We ended up having a simple registrar wedding at the town council, the white bride in a simple beige wollen dress and the black groom in a chocolate cotton suit. We exchanged gold rings and a kiss in front of a dozen people, and went on to a nextdoor bar for champagne and light snacks. Hubby was slightly upset, as I'd tried to choose an auspicious Hindu day, but it was a Friday, he is vegetarian on Fridays, and he believes everything you start on that day you will do again. Then we left for a honeymoon in the country where the hills are alive with the sound of music, and hubby was jealous of SRK - but that's another story. (I managed to book a Yash Raj enchanted journey honeymoon trip, on famous film locations !)

Sometimes I wish we had done a traditional wedding in India, but I don't think I could have coped. This was the wedding of a secular, shy and austere couple.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A list

So hubby left for India one week ago.

Baby is 4 months old.

I understand it was difficult for hubby, as he wished to spend more time with his Indian family, his mother is getting old, but at the same time he wanted to saty with the baby as long as possible. I couldn't go before August as I have children from a previous relationship and need to take care of various family issues.

Before he left, he wrote a very long list in Tamil, saying I need to ask these questions to his relatives and friends when I arrived in India. I know I should make efforts to learn Tamil. I used to be very good at languages, but Tamil is not sticking to my mind. Alarmed, I reminded him lots of people told me about him when we started going out together. I remember these Indian guys so excited about our story telling me "this guy is a good guy you know" as if I should trust unknown guys. So sweet really.

Once again, I was at a loss. So I used Google translate. Of course, these translating robots are annoying, rather like the Pythia of Delphes. But still, I sat there transfixed. Hubby spends hours writing on internet, and more hours reading the French dictionnary, ocasionnally using words that no one uses apart from scholars and poets. The questions were turned in a very poetic way, asking does he look at other faces etc... Once again I realized there is a huge communication gap between us and wondering can I ever understand the Tamil way of thinking, and his. Fortunately I understood one item : "I eat very badly". Food has been a bone of contention between us for a very long time. Not wanting to be caught in a sentimental moment, I told him sternly "yes dear, I told you before you eat very badly". He laughed. Phew.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Just an ordinary day

Charlie Chaplin battling with a tiger rug in One A.M. (1916)

She : -"Honey, I think we should buy a sheep skin for the baby's pram. It is warm in the winter and cool and the summer and very good for baby's nerves. I saw some people in the park who had one, it is very fashionable !..."

Him : - "Sheep skin ? Why not tiger skin ?"


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

"If you plant a tree you plant a hope"

Bead tree found here

Yesterday my daughter told me she is a forest kind of person, and I told her this is true for me too.

One thing I find especially moving about Indian people is their love for trees. And one thing I find astonishing is their courage and willingness to change things from grass root level.

Every now and again I read stories of simple people who dug roads with their own hands or planted forests one tree at a time. It really humbles me, and at the same time it gives me hope for the future. 

Here are a few.

A story about TIST Tree Planting India programme, an organisation started by 6 farmers in 2003 and has now more than 6.000 members. This private company has successfully raised more than a million trees on private lands in five districts in Tamil Nadu and recorded a survival rate of 90 per cent. They paid farmers for planting and taking care of trees, using carbon revenues.

* * *

A story about  R.Kannan, the man who for three decades has been teaching villagers and farmers across Tamil Nadu how to “hold the forests”. Having grown up in a coffee estate near Palani, he believes healthy forests in the hills mean healthy crops in the plains, as well as more drinking water for people. He is a founder of the Palani Hills Conservation Council and has gathered knowledge of plant species by working with local tribes and farmers and distributed more than 2 million trees to farmers.

* * *

A story about P.K Saru who went from door to door to prevent his neighbours from cutting down all the trees in their street. He convinced them that the trees would not damage telephone lines and sewage and would instead bring them many benefits. Here is how the neighbourhood is like today : 

"Today, there is absolute peace and quiet, occasionally interrupted by a bird call or a rustle of leaves. Residents who take an evening stroll gather under the canopy of trees to chat.

Hot pink bougainvillea, bright yellow flowers of the golden shower tree and red roses add a splash of colour to the houses. The mango trees here offer generous numbers of alphonsos, banganapallis and malgoas during the monsoon.
In the month of May, gulmohar flowers carpet the road. The layout has tamarind trees that shower you with ripe tamarind fruits. There are also the neem, amla, coconut, sapota and rose apple trees, date palms and teak.
Every day, residents wake up to the calls of swallows, mynahs and cuckoos. However, the sparrows have stopped coming to the neighbourhood for the past four to five years. “Their nests are now occupied by the squirrels,” says Dilip. If you are lucky, you can spot parrots with bright red beaks, perched on the branches of the mango trees. Fruit bats, kingfishers and crow pheasants are frequent visitors too."
Doesn't this sound like Paradise on earth to you ? It certainly does to me.