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Round Peg

Location: Muscat, Oman/ Bangalore, India

Round Peg....in a square hole. That describes me! All my life I have never quite fit in ... now I have just given up trying to live up to the expectations of the square hole or trying to find a round one!

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Learning languages

Although I speak 4 languages fluently and can get by in another 2, English is the only language I read in.


Which is a shame really because there is so much out there that I am obviously missing.


At school, at one point, I was studying 4 languages –

1. English the medium of instruction.

2. Hindi as a second language

3. Gujarati as a third language and finally

4. Sanskrit as a special language.


I also had a mother that subscribed to the Hindi edition of ‘Chandamama’  just so that I would develop a love for the language.


In spite of all this, the only language I read in is English. I think there are plenty like me.


Apart from labeling me dumb or as some would, a snob (a KaalaaGoraa !), I think its because of the way we were taught the languages.


Instead of forcing us to pass exams in them, maybe we could have had fun with them – maybe put up plays in the language or collect songs…...


I still get the jitters when I think of the ISC Hindi exams – we had to go thru some real obscure, heavy stuff, it was so boring and out of context with our lives, it put us off completely and in doing so put us off Hindi.


Instead, I wish the curriculum required a study of the  movies of Bimal Roy or Gurudutt (both y favorites!). We would have watched all the movies (very enjoyable) then, discussed them and in doing that got a better insight in the traditions and thinking of India, been exposed to a variety of subjects which would have broadened our horizons  and in the bargain we would all have been fluent in Hindi..

Thank you Al Fair (Sasi)

Today was the last day of play school for my son. With this, I think the ‘baby phase’ of my son’s life is truly over and I must start thinking of the brat as a small boy.


There was a party at his school – Al Shumus and we were asked to provide for some 20 odd pieces of cake.


I took the easy way out and picked the chocolate cake in Al Fair. Fresh from reading ‘The Aladdin Factor’  (by the Chicken Soup people), I asked the ever smiling baker at Al Fair’s Sarooj outlet if he could, instead of the usual icing pattern, draw a smiley on each of the cakes. To my delight he agreed, took my name and phone number down and I was to collect the cakes the next day.


The husband collected the cakes yesterday and there they were some 20 odd pieces with a cheerful face on every single one of them!


My son was charmed to see the cakes and I hope it made some 20 other toddlers happy too.


This is just to say thank you to Sasi for having gone the extra mile to make a farewell party just a little nicer for a group of kids. May his tribe increase!

Sunday, May 29, 2005

In praise of the Portulaca

Take a somewhat inept gardener and add to that the harsh desert summer. Sounds like a sure fire recipe for failure? Nope. Not if you have the Portulaca!!

I discovered the Portulaca during my first summer in Qatar. To give an idea of how bad summers can be - I could wash my pair of jeans and hang them outside to dry, come in to take a shower by which time my jeans would be totally dry - ready to wear!

As we were wilting in the near 50 C heat, the round abouts' (traffic circles) and the flower beds along the Doha Corniche would be resplendent with the happiest flowers I ever saw! In vibrant shades of yellow, red, white & orange.They were the Portulaca.

Inspired, I planted Potulacas along a barren flowerbed and in less than a month they were flowering. The leaves are a shiny succulent green and the small 1-inch flowers come in many colours.

Soon we had a flower bed that was all yellow and red and white interspersed by a little green. It edged our lawn and the effect was truly stunning. As the weather cooled, the Portulacas had a steady stream of admirer - the sparrows came and so did the bees and the butterflies.

Also known as the Moss Rose or Purslane, the Portulaca is a low growing perennial that grows sideward rather than upwards. It therefore makes for an ideal ground cover. Use it to frame a lawn. Or hide a rocky part of your garden. Anywhere.

All you need to start off is a few cuttings of the plant. The plant is not too fussy about soil, but adding some manure to the soil if you live in the Gulf is a good idea. Choose a sunny spot.

Try this plant out folks. It asks very little of you. Plant it in the most inhospitable spot of your garden or balcony. One that receives lots and lots of sun. Colour co-ordinate it or go in for a riot of colours or choose just one colour. Water it every now and then and wait for the magic. You will soon be greeted by a cascade of flowers and your mornings will never be the same again.

The regular variety tends to shut shop by noon but the hybrids remain open all day long.

An Aside:

Please direct me to a nursery in Muscat. We live in Al Khuwair.

My neighbour tells me I need to go to Seeb which is some 40 kms away because that's where the nurseries are. Isn't there anything closer by?

Friday, May 27, 2005

Sunil Dutt

Its rare for a politician to be known for his integrity and honesty. But that's what everybody said of Sunil Dutt.

I cannot think of a better way to be remembered than as a honest, caring, sincere person who made peace a lifelong mission.

To me, Sunil Dutt will forever be the sensitive Adheer Babu of Sujata, who fell in love with the low-caste Sujata, stuck to his conviction that love knows no caste and what's more married her in the end.

In a way perhaps he did just that in real life. Nargis was the daughter of JaddanBai, a famous tawaif (courtesan) of Benaras who acted in movies also. I do not think, it was ever established who Nargis's father was. And that, I am sure never mattered to Sunil Dutt.

I wonder why we do not highlight the goodness of people whilst they are alive. It would make such a welcome change from what the newspapers are usually full of -people getting killed, scandals, hypocrisy.. It's all so depressing.

It would be so inspiring to read of people whose lives were destroyed more than once yet picked themselves up and went on to scale higher heights.

The trauma of partition, the struggle for recognition, loss of a dearly beloved wife to cancer, a son's drug addiction, worse the same son's alleged involvement in the Bombay bomb blasts and subsequent imprisonment, the isolation that followed could have broken the man yet Sunil Dutt bounced back each time.

Rest in peace Sunil Dutt. You have earned it. On a lighter vein, today's Economic Times has an obituary which wishes the deceased 'Bon Voyage & Eternal Peace'. Amen to that!

The Middle East Diaries: Creation of Wealth

If Xerox is synonymous with photocopiers, Jeep with 4-wheel drives, the oil rich Gulf countries are synonymous with lavish lifestyles of people with more money than they can count.

True, not all the Gulf countries are created equal. Some are richer than the others, but poverty as we know of it in India is absent.

No one goes hungry. Everybody has access to education, medical aid and everybody can hope to build a house in their life times.

This is remarkable considering even just 50 years ago this was wasteland. For instance, Qatar does not have any large potable water source nor is it located near any potable water body. One can only imagine how hard life must have been in the times before oil.

The paradox is Nigeria, Venezuela, Iraq, Russia.. countries that have oil and much more. But their development is nowhere near the scale of what you see in the Middle East.

Not that the Middle East regimes are utopian. They are autocratic and even repressive.

Like the erstwhile caste system in India where one group of people were more equal than others, a similar structure exists here also. For instance, in Qatar the members of the ruling Al-Thani tribe are very definitely the Brahmins.

Woes begone if you are not a member of that tribe or the other important tribes like the Al Attiyah, or Al Misnad ... You can forget about landing any major contract or assignment or of ever occupying centre stage in the country.

I am told its similar in other countries. In Oman they call it 'Wasta' roughly translated to mean influence or power.

But that said, no body ever goes hungry here and by and large every parent can buy his child a new dress for Eid. The infrastructure is in place and the monies from oil has tangibly benefited the last person.

Some have benefited more, much more than the others. But even then its saying quite a lot for the regimes of the Middle East. Just look at the mess in Nigeria or Iraq.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Middle East Diaries - What's it with them?

The Middle East is teeming with Indians.

Meet another Indian, especially the female of the kind, and chances are, big chances, in fact 98% chances are the conversation will go something like this.

'Are you working?'

If the answer is yes, you are bombarded with 'Where'', ''For how long'' and even ''As what''.

In my case, I don't work so the cross examination proceeds directly to 'Is your husband working?' .

I find this question strange. Most husbands work. Even if they did not, it's really nobody's business. But what foxes me even more is the absurdity of the question - if I don't work and my husband does not work, how come we live in the Gulf ?

The good lady, like the Ancient Mariner, proceeds unperturbed. Where? As What? For how long? One even asked me his qualifications.

What's up with these people? Note none of them ever asked my name.

Last week I was at this Indian School, considered to be the best in Muscat.

The teacher that was assigned to show us around began in the same way. I told her its my son applying for admission not my husband but the sarcasm was lost on her.

When she continued, I told her it did not matter where my husband works, but I would be happy to answer questions about my son. She got very uptight and afterwards I had to leave since it became apparent it was not a meeting of the minds.

I don't know how to counter this phenomenon. It happens to me all the time. Lately by Pakistanis as well - they assume I am one of them.

I am normally too polite to cut people off and say it does not matter, like I did with the school teacher. ( Must be the Tom and Jerry effect ;) ! )

Any suggestions? In the meantime, I think I will tell people, in a hushed, my husband.. he works for the CIA...

On second thoughts, that might land me in jail if a suicide bomber has not got to me first!

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Life Imprisonment only 14 years?

Even if it took 11 long years, its good to hear that justice prevailed and Murli Manohar Mishra (the self styled Swami Shradananda) has been handed the death sentence. I hope he hangs.

For those that do not know, Misra murdered his wife Shakereh, a very wealthy lady, grand-daughter of Dewan Mirza Ismail who did Bangalore so much good.

It appears Misra first drugged Shakereh and then put her in a box and buried the box in the garden / courtyeard. Shakereh was not dead at the time and it appears she struggled to get out of her impossible situation and she must have had a frightening, horrible, slow death.

Misra maintained his wife had disappeared but the crime came to light about two years after it was committed when one of those that helped to bury the box shot his mouth off and Misra was arrested and jailed.

His time in jail has been pleasant from what we hear and he apparently wielded a lot of power and influence. I remember reading about him conducting meditation classes!!

NDTV said Misra has confessed to the guilt but will appeal for a commutation of his sentence to life imprisonment.

His line of reasoning? "I'm over 60 years old. I've suffered from hernia and a cardiac arrest. I have arthritis, blood pressure and diabetes. I have a 96-year-old father to take care of. I won the Best Prisoner of the Year award."

Shakereh was still in her prime with two young daughters to look after but Misra went ahead and murdered her anyway.

The higher courts need to ratify the death sentence and Misra is appealing. Given the track record of Indian Courts, it will be a long time before this case is settled.

And if he is given the life sentence, he will walk free in another 3 years. If I am not mistaken, life term in the Indian judicial system means 14 years. Misra has already been in jail as a under trial for 11 years so he has just another 3 years to go before he can walk out a free man. That's gross injustice.

I think life term should be just that - till death not a measly 14 years.

And in this particular case, I hope the Indian Courts act swiftly and confirm the death sentence.

Not sure, but this will probably be Karnataka's first instance of capital punishment since Independence.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Tom, Jerry and their ilk.

I am appalled by what I see on Cartoon Network.

And even more appalled that a leading school in Muscat, as a treat, allows their kindergarteners to watch "Tom and Jerry, mostly. Also other cartoons like Cinderella''.

I spoke with the Vice-Principal of the school today and he laughed at my concern saying even he watches Tom and Jerry.

That's precisely the point. He is an adult, he can absorb the antics of Tom and Jerry. Can a 3 year old? And in any case it's a silly argument - toddlers do not need to watch what the Vice-Principal watches.

The entire Tom and Jerry show revolves around who bashes up whom. Cinderella is about a wicked step mother.

How do you explain to a three year old that it's funny when Jerry bashes up Tom but its absolutely not ok to beat, push or frighten a friend? How do you explain wicked step-mothers to kids that age?

I think cartoons these days have just too much violence. I am generalizing here, but Cartoon Network is full of odd, turbo-powered characters some of which are not even pleasant to look at. Very often the characters are mean, menacing even frenzied.

At home, we stick to videos, the brat does not know Cartoon Network exists. He mostly watches stuff like the lovable Pooh, Bob the Builder, Richard Scarry, Noddy..

The characters in these shows are gentle and kind, they say their please and thank-yous, the story-line is simple, action not too fast paced, no character throws anything at body and nobody gets hurt. And if anybody does get hurt the rest hurry to show compassion.

Muscati, in his blog (a great read folks, check it out) had deplored ''Warner Bros. has created angular, slightly menacing-looking versions of the classic Looney Tunes characters for its new series.''

Menacing-looking cartoons for little kids? Just does not make sense.

There I go being the Round Peg again. ..

An Aside

Lars the Polar Bear - A Wonderful Discovery.

We accidentally discovered Lars the Polar Bear when the husband picked up a DVD on a whim.

This utterly charming DVD consists of 13 episodes about adventures of a little polar bear Lars and his friend Lena the Artic Hare and Pieps the Snow Goose.

Created by Hans de Beer, this character is sure to be a favourite with your preschooler. There are plenty of books and 2 DVDs' available. I have not seen the books either in Muscat or Bangalore so I guess the only recourse is Amazon or piling on to relatives!

DVD available in Muscat at Carrefour and Toys'RUs.

Cartoon Network India

The Cartoon Network referred to is what I see in Muscat. The India programming is different - better. It has some good shows like Postman Pat, The Little Red Tractor... The POGO channel is good too.

What's more, these shows are available in 2 languages - the original English and dubbed in Hindi. I must say though, that the Hindi version sounds a bit contrived. Mercifully, our Cable operator switched back to English after killing us for a few days with the Hindi feed.

Monday, May 16, 2005

To birthday or not to birthday

Today we are celebrating the brat's birthday at his playschool Al Shumus, a place I cannot praise enough.

As he entered school, he was greeted with a chorus of happy birthdays and the teachers had decorated the room for him.

He began the day with phone calls - his grandparents called, his doting grand aunt called, cousins called.. and the brat has been wearing a big goofy wide-eyed grin ever since!!!

But today is not the brat's birthday today at all!

At school, he has been watching other children cut a fancy cake, blow out candles and the entire class sing the Happy Birthday song . For the past few months we have been having several pretend parties where I would be one of his beloved teachers and he would be the birthday boy!!

So the husband and I decided to indulge him and have a birthday party at school - his first ever birthday party!

Not that we did not mark his birthdays and other milestones but it was all done on a very low key with just the family being there. Lot of love, all his favorites (food and people!!), it's just that the elaborate cake cutting ceremony and candles were missing...much to the disgust of my cousin who took it upon himself to organize a small party when the brat turned one!

Traditionally, the first birthday is marked with a big celebration. That's when everybody has a great time.... except the baby!

A million strangers pinch the poor baby's cheeks and the baby usually falls asleep, exhausted by the noise, the people and the festivities about him.

We waited till the brat was a little more grown up when he could enjoy, plan and look forward to his party. Which is what happened.

The brat chose the cake himself - a 'digger' cake with construction equipment strewn about it, mango juice, chips and 'bikets'. He also chose the paper napkins - a real gaudy red that would put a fire engine to shame.

I now wait for the brat to come home and give me his account of the big day and to see pictures the teachers will hopefully have taken.

What did you guys do / plan to do for the little ones?

Do you think babies and toddlers enjoy big parties or should we wait till they are 3 to have a party with all their friends and favoritefoods and games thrown in?

An aside

Incidentally, the cake was from Al Bustan Bakery near Al Khamis Plaza. Personally, I was disappointed with the variety they had but my son loved the 'digger cake' and I guess that's what matters!!

And incidentally once again, Sultan Centre is the pits when it comes to choosing party items. Much to my surprise Lulu Hypermarket had a great selection. Of course, I did not even bother to check out any of the AlFairs.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The begining

I have enjoyed reading blogs and finally decided to take the plunge and start one. I hope I have the commitment and the matter (!) to be able to keep a steady stream of posts. This is a trial really, to get a hang of things.