Blending In or Standing Out

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Just because I feel like a local in Udaipur, India, doesn’t mean the locals think I’m one!

I’m at ease here, relaxed and bouncy as I walk the alleyways and say Namaste to shopkeepers. I smile and they return the grin. My head wobbles in reply to theirs, a conversation in itself. But I know I stand out. They’re looking, watching to see what I do, hoping I’ll stop to buy or give them a chance to talk about the cricket or tennis. They love us Aussies! They’ve all got a relative or an Australian story.

When I sight-see like a tourist, I mingle with the Indian tourists. They’re having a good time, always: couples, young families, extended families. Their language is soft. They chatter and laugh. We admire each other, for once again, I stand out. Sometimes I ask, may I take your photo? The girls pose, just like in any other part of the world. The men proudly hold their children – and the kids are so cute! But they often approach me first: can we have a selfie? I always oblige and grin at the camera. I’ve even been passed their toddlers for a special photo, as if I’m royalty.

I’ve been to two pujas, Hindu prayer ceremonies. I like to integrate and immerse myself in the culture and I’m rewarded for my efforts. I buy a garland for 50 rupees ($1), a tiny price for such an intricate floral work. I take it up the stairs, leaving earth behind, and barefoot, enter the temple. I sit on the floor, cross legged and try to get comfortable. I return the looks of worshippers and smile. They smile back. I copy their actions and stand when they do. I clap and line up to give my offering and accept the holy rosewater in my hand. I act like I sip it but I don’t. I do pour it over my head and run it through my hair. I enjoy the bells, the chanting, the drum and the finger-cymbals. And the people love that I’m there. I can see it on their curious faces. When I go outside, I get the rock-star treatment. Grown men are the most bold: can we have a selfie? What can I say but, of course!

Cows are sacred here and roam the streets. In some areas, there’s too many and I feel sorry for them. They’re thin and eat rubbish – literally; I saw a calf eating a cardboard box. People throw out food scraps for them but it can’t be enough. Here in Udaipur, though, they look okay. Today I saw a pile of chapatis in a feeding spot. I touch my fingers to my lips and pass the kiss to the cow, as I’ve seen locals do. I wish it well! It doesn’t look too sure!

It’s harder for me to cope with the dogs. There’s so many street dogs and hierarchy is everything. The tough ones, the intimidators, get the little food that there is. Small fights can be heard too often. Last night I was watching a dog from the steps of the temple. He was pressing forward onto the street, clearly terrified, with his tail wrapped firmly under his bottom. He started to bark at nothing in particular, but facing the traffic. I so wanted to comfort him but didn’t dare.

This morning I took the toast from my breakfast in the hope that he’d still be there and I could offer some kindness. He was curled up in the sun on a platform at the temple. I broke the toast and handed him a piece, moving and speaking as gently as I could. He was looking at me dubiously when a beggar-child approached. She looked at the toast and pointed, then touched her mouth. I understood this language and asked, do you want this? She looked back to her mother who was sitting on the steps. The mother nodded at me. I handed it over. A man came over and softly said to her, thank you. She turned to me and said it with a smile. I was glad to give her some coloured pencils and notepaper I carry for this purpose, as well. The vast difference between me and that child’s mother does not escape me.

Fortunately, beggars are greatly reduced in this country. The prime minister, Mr Modi, is doing a fine job. Education, including the removal of false teachers, health, including free care for those on the poverty line, jobs, including bringing in villagers to clean up the roadside rubbish, and free food from vans parked around the hospitals, are all a part of his programme. Let’s hope he gets voted in again, despite the corrupt forces gathering strength to get him out and renew their own power. See, I’m even interested in the politics! I really do feel like a local!

But my time here is temporary. I’m an observer and I’m observed. I’ll never know what effect I might have on someone’s day or path, just by the interaction. And vice versa!

Namaste.

Christmas Cheer or Cheerless

‘I have a love-hate relationship with Christmas,’ one friend says at the wise-old-birds meeting we hold once a month. While we feast on sponge cake with cream, strawberries dipped in chocolate, rocky road and fruit mince pies, we discuss such important matters of the world – our world. Looking at this indulgent spread, I couldn’t agree more!

Each one of us takes turns in re-living our best and worst memories of Christmas. When we get half-way through the group, someone declares, ‘No one really likes Christmas. It’s always a debacle.’

This is countered enthusiastically by another who says, ‘That’s not true. There are people that like Christmas and have normal Christmas gatherings. We’re just from dysfunctional backgrounds.’

I look sideways at my friend, you know the way you do when you don’t turn your head? We’re all getting a bit red-faced. Someone else pipes up, ‘What’s normal?’ Maybe the meeting is getting out of hand. It must be all that sugar. Or pink champagne.

The question remains; what’s normal? I don’t know many people like that. Or Christmases. (Even that word looks abnormal.)

Maybe, it’s just Christmas in Australia isn’t normal. We’re all too hot and we’d rather be swimming. The flies, swarming in through open windows, litter the prawns and potato salad, looking like tasty currants until swatted away, to be swatted away again every three seconds. We’re too irritable to be joyful.

The conversation of the group settles when one woman declares her Christmases have always been nice. Okay, there is hope! But I don’t remember what she said next. I only remember the bad stuff. Which was sometimes quite funny. But usually a bit sad.

Best and worst Christmas presents was a safer subject.

There was much laughter over the worst, but sadly, the worst was tainted by malice, lack of thought or ineptitude. (Ineptitude: haplessly incompetent – don’t you love that?) For example, a plain pair of socks to each child, every year, from an aunty. A bolt of cloth, also to a child, the colour of baby poo. Toe separators and Russian Matryoshka Nesting Dolls.

The best presents were delightful: a holiday organised by a husband including a babysitter to stay at home with the children, a doll’s dress made by mother but ordered by Santa, a bathing suit of aqua and pink, a home-made letterbox designed like a ladybird, and mine – a giant fur koala.

For me, there’s one definite highlight to Christmas. And that’s the pudding: fruity and rich with a dob of brandy butter and lashings of vanilla pouring custard.

The conversation left us with full heads of memories and hearts full of emotions. We decided that trees, decorations, pre-Christmas gatherings, families and friends getting together (despite the drawbacks) and Christmas food, made it all worthwhile.

Having eaten more than my share of special afternoon tea, my belly felt like it was getting a practise run in for the day when we don’t stop eating. That’s Christmas. It should be called Indulgence Day.

What three things couldn’t you live without?

What are three things you can’t live without? Not relationships, not children, not dogs – things! This was a recent conversation I had with friends and it proved to be far more than superficial. It was a window into each of us: childhood associations, memories, connections and what gives us joy.

Some of the answers were obvious, directly related to what we already knew of each other. And some were unexpected. But each contribution branched off into further conversation.

Mine were sunglasses, sea and strong, milky tea.

Why sunglasses? Because I have light-sensitive, blue eyes and I like to be outdoors for most of the day. Outdoors, especially amongst nature, is where I get my joy.

Why the sea? I love the smell of the sea: the saltiness and the seaweed. I love the sound of the sea: the thundering, the shooshing and the gentle lapping. I love the feeling of jumping into the ocean: the cold, salty water enveloping my face, my hair, my body. And its beauty: the glistening reflections on the surface, the aqua and deep blues, the clarity.

And the tea? The morning ritual, no matter how early, of boiling the kettle, warming the teapot, brewing the tea and sitting peacefully to enjoy the slow sipping. It’s a mindful start to the morning. I do this at the end of day too, to close off the business of the day. I was raised with tea: I’d drink it in bed as a child, lazily drinking while reading books on a Sunday morning. My grandmother introduced me to my brand – Lipton Quality Tips. It’s hard to get nowadays. People are trained to opt for the quicker teabag and many have forgotten what good tea tastes like.

My friends had some other things they couldn’t live without:

– Technology, mostly the iPhone and iPad, precious as a tool for taking and storing photos and for communication with loved ones by phone and Facebook.

– The car because of the pleasure of driving and for independent getting around.

–  the Thermomix!

– Music, a musical instrument

– Childhood teddy

– Pillow

– Photos in albums

– and unable to choose from so many!

As I said, all these led to further conversation as to why those things were so necessary to life. In all respects, the reasons related to lifestyle, comfort, sentimental connection or an innate need that was deep within us that gave us joy. It was well worth exploring.

What would be your choice?

Conversation and Music

Once a month, a bunch of wise old birds, girlfriends of mine, gather to talk philosophy! Sort of! There’s a lot of eating of cake, as well. And the philosophy is on a minor level – our own! We talk about things that interest 50+ women: issues that need a bit of thought over the month before the next meeting.

It’s intriguing to find out about our earlier lives, what we believe affected our values, paths and decisions. Once, we brought in a photo of our young-self and asked, What was your dream and how did that go? Another time, What did your parents try to teach you that you ignored? There’s often a lot of laughter.

We might talk about something more current like, How does Procrastination affect your life? We’ve also handled big issues as a group. One month, we discussed and filled in an Advanced Care Directive, helping each other think through our answers.

I’d highly recommend this kind of gathering to anybody with a group of friends. To me, it’s like a more personal kind of book club.

Sometimes we just have fun with it.

This month’s topic was, What music did you listen to and love in your youth that makes you feel young again now? It was the most animated meeting we’ve had. Everyone had a list of music and it gathered volume as we took turns around the room. In the end, we were throwing names into the space and they were bouncing off the walls. We had playlists and vinyl records to show. Ladies were telling stories of father’s taking them to rock concerts, dancing with first loves, crying over special opera moments and driving through Europe with three cassettes.

Commonalities had us breaking into song with music from the sixties to eighties winning in our hearts. However, it was the seventies that reigned supreme. Was it our age or was it the music?

I’ll share my list and then throw in some of the others. See what you think.

Mine: Carole King, Janis Ian, Fleetwood Mac, Bee Gees, The Jacksons, Michael Jackson, Leo Sayer, Bread, America, Melanie Safka, Roger Daltrey, Neil Young, Meatloaf

Others: Dire Straits, Split Enz, Maryanne Faithful, The Supremes, The Beatles

And so many more.

What was your most loved music from your youth?