Thursday, February 28, 2013

Young lives wasted

My location: a verandah on the first floor of a small apartment building. My view: directly on the compound gate and the waste bins next to it. My observation: a young boy and girl, maybe around 10 years old. They walk on the road. They talk to our watchman. The outcome of the conversation makes them smile, cheer and jump, just like children do when they get chocolates or a toy. These two are so excited because they were allowed to take away from our WASTE! I could clearly make out that they also took one garbage bag I had disposed off just a short while ago. I can't describe what exactly I felt, but this stirred my emotions. These two poor kids full of enthusiasm and in anticipation of good findings in the waste walked of with the heavy load of a full bag of used nappies.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Alien meet up

Whenever I go to town I can count on numerous stares and comments. Though globalisation with tourism, tv, and internet should have made the encounter with (white skinned) foreigners less exotic and strange, there are still enough people who have to show that I am not like any one else they are meeting on the streets. I got used to it and by and large can deal with it quite well, but still, it alienates.

Whenever I go to town it is also most likely to meet another alien. He is a man, maybe in his forties, a victim of polio I assume. His body is crippled and he cannot walk upright. Instead he keeps knee-caps and rather crawls on all fours through the streets. He has his usual location where he will be on all fours, lifting his head and hand up and begging for money. Some people give him money, but surely all people give him a stare.

There is actually an instance where I met this person, in which we both had left our alien position. We were both invited for a baptism, I as a relative, he as I assume a sort of fellow businessman since his begging location is right in front of the shop of the child’s father. I and he were dressed in presentable garments according to the occasion and took part in the function.

Ever since, when I see him in town I greet him or give him a smile and he will return it. I never ever give him any money. For one, because I feel I made his acquaintance now like I make the acquaintance of many other people during such functions and he is no longer any beggar on the road. Secondly, because of this invisible bond that brings him and me in a similar category against the rest of people walking around in town staring at people who don’t fit into their perception of how the world is supposed to look like. A bond of aliens meeting up at the road side.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

“Swallowing the wrong way” – Relief the right way is not so easy

Family visits are great! When the part of our family with small children comes for vacation from the Gulf, the house turns into a lively chaos. Everyone takes turns to get a chance to take care of the little ones, much to the delight of their parents. Especially the one year old is a real attraction.

One day it was my turn. I had fed the small one pieces of chapatti and was completing his breakfast by giving him water to drink from a small steel cup. He had just started to learn drinking from a cup. After a few sips it happened. He swallowed the water the wrong way and started coughing.

Within a split second several thoughts went through my mind: How should I react? My culturally learnt approach would be to slap with my hand on his back. The expected reaction in India, I knew from my observations, is to tap with the hand onto the head of the person. Scientifically, I once saw on tv, neither approach does have much of a realistic effect. The head tap I know only in theory, but I am not very experienced to tap onto the head the right way.

When I had taken my decision and was slapping the back of the poor one coughing, my mom-in-law appeared. While I was slapping on the back, she started tapping on the head to do the right thing to give relief to the baby.

Even after we both stopped our attempts the small boy was coughing for a little longer before everything was finally alright again. Hopefully till date he is ignorant of different cultural concepts of giving relief to people who swallow the wrong way and he at least felt cared for when we both tried our different concepts on him.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Clash of 'Cultures'

A passing note on a recent incident in the supermarket:
I had finished my purchase, had paid my bill and gathered my plastic covers (should discuss about the environmental concern another time). Now, I was on my way to leave the shop.
There were two doors, both glass doors with two wings each. Through one I had entered the shop. Therefore, I was heading straight towards the other door. On the left wing was written ‘push’. So, I pushed. The door didn’t open, instead it clashed against something. I realized the black plastic box on the other side of that wing and thought, ok, this seems blocked, I will try the other wing. Again energetically I pushed now the right wing of the door; unfortunately with the same clashing result. In the same moment I realized the real cause for the clash -the huge shutter in front of the door was actually lowered just enough not to allow the door to open-; I also realized the commotion of watchmen outside the glass door, who were very concerned the door might break. A friendly staff opened the door by pulling and let me out. But she let me only out to a confrontation with the watchman who was accusing me of intentionally trying to break the door. I felt very annoyed about this and left the place cursing the watchman.
While walking home the incident stuck to my mind? How did this happen? Why was I so determined to use this door, why was the watchman so reproachful about my attempt?
I reached a conclusion at this: different systems! In Germany, if a shop has two doors, one is the entrance, one is the exit. And if on top of that, it’s written ‘push’ on the door, there is only one approach to this situation - push; a system that works on simple rules. In India, maybe the system as such is more complex, no simple rules apply. And please, don’t think I am trying to make fun of this, I am serious. German road traffic works on the ground of a complicated system of rules. Just like in India traffic functions according to a much more complex playing together of different factors, and it works, leaving a shop also requires not only to apply rules but to take the overall context into consideration before acting.
I guess it’s not easy to switch ‘systems’, but maybe keeping this thought on mind, I might be able to avoid a few further ‘cultural’ clashes.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Oldie oder Evergreen?

Es ist an der Zeit über ein Kochutensil zu schreiben, das in den meisten deutschen Haushalten völlig in Vergessenheit geraten ist, vielleicht noch im einen oder anderen verstaubten Keller aufbewahrt wird: der Schnellkochtopf. In meiner Erinnerung findet der Schnellkochtopf seinen Platz gleich neben der Kartoffelschälmaschine (eine Maschine, die eine ganze Anzahl von Kartoffeln binnen kurzer Zeit in ebenmäßige runde Kugeln verwandelt, böse Zungen sagen murmelgroße - aber das ist ein ganz anderes Thema.).

Einst revolutionierte die Erfindung des Schnellkochtopfs die Küche. Auf einmal konnten Garzeiten von Gemüse, Fleisch etc. beträchtlich reduziert werden. Allerdings haben Tiefkühlpizza, -gemüse und die Mikrowelle schon die nächste Revolution hinterher geschoben, die den Schnellkochtopf ins Vergessen geraten ließ.

Umso erstaunter war ich, als ich nach und nach in allen indischen Küchen, die ich zu Gesicht bekam, eben jenen Schnellkochtopf fand. Und hier war er gar nicht verstaubt, sondern in ständiger Benutzung. Jeder Haushalt in Indien hat mindestens einen Schnellkochtopf. Es gibt sie in verschiedenen Größen, Preisklassen, von verschiedenen Herstellern, mit verschiedenen Systemen. Jedes gute Haushaltswarengeschäft führt sie und hat dazu noch einen Reparatur-
Service, der ohne Probleme, Ventile, Dichtungsringe, Griffe etc. austauscht.

Meine Schwiegermutter verwendet in ihrer Küche zwei Schnellkochtöpfe, die sie -wie sie nicht ohne Stolz berichtet- schon von ihrer Mutter geerbt habe und die mittlerweile 40 Jahre alt seien. Das besondere am indischen Schnellkochtopf ist das kleine Gewicht, das auf das Ventil im Deckel aufgesetzt wird. Wenn der Dampfdruck im Innern hoch genug ist, zeigt sich das, indem sich das Gewicht hebt und mit einem pfeifenden Geräusch überflüssigen Dampf ablässt.

Selbst in indischen Kochbüchern hat der Schnellkochtopf seinen festen Platz (für interessante Einblicke in die indische Schnellkochtopfküche: Will man ein Curry mit Lamm oder Rind zubereiten, findet man oft als Hinweis auf die Garzeit die Anzahl der „Whistles“, die man das Fleisch kochen lassen sollte, oder dass man nach zwei „Whistles“ auf niedriger Flamme weiterkochen sollte. Diese „Whistle“ – Pfeife ist eben jenes Geräusch, wenn dem Ventil der Dampf entweicht.

Nach anfänglicher Skepsis ist auch bei mir der Schnellkochtopf in der Küche mittlerweile nicht mehr wegzudenken. Im Schnellkochtopf kann man einfach alles zubereiten, nicht nur Fleisch, sondern auch Reis, Linsen und Gemüse. Der letzte Schritt, um mich vollends zu beeindrucken und zu überzeugen war allerdings getan, als ich erfuhr, dass man im Schnellkochtopf sogar Kuchen backen kann (ein echtes Schnellkochtopfkuchenrezept:!!! Zunächst konnte ich es nicht glauben, aber da ich ohne Backofen einen frischen Marmorkuchen doch zu sehr vermisst habe, musste ich es einfach ausprobieren. Es hat geklappt! Und geschmeckt!

Abstract: In Indian kitchens I rediscovered the pressure cooker, after it had been an almost forgotten childhood memory in my German experience. I give some information and anecdotes about pressure cooking in India. Included is my all time favorite, the pressure cooker cake, which I couldn't believe to be reality till I baked and tasted it myself!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Don't loose your color!

“Be careful, you will loose your color”, was the well meant advice of quite a few fellow Indian students during my first time in India. This cautioning I had to listen to whenever I set out for some sun bathing. Coming from a country where the concept of summer holidays is basically that of setting out to the beach for sun bathing and being born into a generation of people for many of whom getting a maximum tan is the ultimate completion of beauty this sounded rather alien to me.

Mostly, I would jokingly reply that I won’t be losing my color but was rather trying to gain some. But with the number of times I had to listen to this concern, the seriousness of the matter started to dawn on me and I rather became concerned. Slowly but surely I understood that the question of color and complexion was a predominant topic in Indian society.

After this initiation into the topic, I slowly started noticing the impact of color-obsession. Next to usual cosmetic and skin care products in the shelf I came across ‘Fair and Lovely’. I was rather shocked to learn that products to bleach the skin were readily available and widely used by different kinds of people. Since those initial discoveries the market has changed rapidly. Next to ordinary ‘Fair and Lovely’ there is now ‘Fair and Handsome’ (the product aiming at the male customer) and ‘Fair and Lovely Ayurvedic Balance’ (to give it a more natural connotation), and numerous other companies have come up with their own brands in plenty.

The brands seem uncountable, and unfortunately there also does not seem to be a shortage of actors ready to be their brand ambassadors. Initially, I was disappointed to see John Abraham, the hero with Kerala roots who made it big in Bollywood, giving his face for a product like this. But by now, there is hardly an actor who does not have a tie up, Shah Rukh Khan himself, next to Deepika Padukone or Katrina Kaif, to name just the real big ones. And I don’t think they even ever thought of any ethical aspects involved in tying up with a fairness cream. It just seems to be so much part of everyday life.

As long as the matrimonials are still trying to euphemistically call the darker complexion of a girl wheatish, as long as the delegation who comes to negotiate a marriage proposal claims that the girl is “very, very fair”, this will not change. And the recent trend to sell fairness under the cover of sun protection and healthy skin is just another strategy to perpetuate this beauty concept. I wish obsession with skin protection would take the place of obsession with skin complexion. And the sales of cosmetic products would rise due to concern about skin cancer and other related diseases for people of all skin colors and tones.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Anti-aging remedy

There are those days when I start thinking. I am still far away from becoming a senior citizen, but also can’t deny that the sweet sixteen are gone by days. Though I would say by and large passport photographs of mine don’t look much different from what they looked 10 years ago, when I take a closer look in the bathroom mirror, I have to admit that the wrinkles have become more. Having crossed a certain age, there are those days when I can’t help contemplating and also complaining about getting older.

Living in a surrounding where talks about one’s cholesterol, pressure, sugar (diabetes) are common topics starting from young age groups, I am maybe also exposed to constant reminders. Self-evaluation has to come to conclusions which are not too flattering. Those extra kilos because of my weakness for food can’t be shed as easily as it used to be. The six-pack is something I know from the glitz and glamor world, but when I look down my body my concern is rather confining the number of flabby belly rolls. The horror of becoming old, fat, and shape-less is haunting me in my dreams.

Recently, I started watching video clips of latest Tamil movie songs as a pass time. I couldn’t help but notice that especially the male act has to master quite acrobatic dance performances. I slowly narrowed in on an actor called Vijay as my favorite. I found him a very good and young looking actor, whose dance sequences were impressive. Sulking and with a good portion of envy, while thinking again of the problems of getting older, I thought he is performing so well in his dance numbers only because he is still young. Intrigued, I started searching the net for my new cinema hero. Soon I found the official fan site and an entry in wikipedia To my shock and disbelief I had to learn that Vijay is older than me!

This justification for sulking and self-pity burst like a soap bubble. I guess I had to rather acknowledge him as a source of inspiration. Physical fitness is not only a gift of youth but a matter of discipline and work out. There is no excuse. The sport shoes in the corner are not a subject for meditation but need to be used. Unless and until then weary thoughts of getting old are no longer permitted.