Best India trip ever

While I love the idea of the kids going to India, meeting family and friends and partaking of all the crazy, it has hitherto always been an experience ranging on painful to tolerable with bouts of illness thrown in. Hence the term India Boot Camp, whereby I usually lose about 5 kg from the running around and serious illness post the trip every year. Last year was the exception – we found that the kids were able to do stuff independently and were actually enjoying themselves, leaving us time to breathe if not exactly smell the roses.

So we had positive expectations of this year, which I tried hard to temper because there’s nothing like an India trip proving to be a disaster (as I should well know). To add to the chaos fun, I had a cousin each on either side of my family getting married in Goa, so we had a third destination to the usual Bombay-Bangalore extravaganza.

***

We flew in on Cathay Pacific after ages, instead of the usual Jet Airways. Usually the Cathay tickets are uber expensive, but we booked well in advance plus V was able to get his ticket on miles thereby offsetting the additional cost. The huge bonus of this flight is that it lands in Mumbai at 10 pm, which is easier on everyone all around. Plus, the flight was really good – the food, the entertainment, and even the service (Cathay air hostesses are notable for their hauteur on the India sector, but I found them fine this time).


The experience was especially remarkable compared to Jet Airways which used to be my favourite airline, but has degenerated so badly. Not to mention that they completely screwed us on our domestic flight, by cancelling the direct flight from Bangalore to Goa, rebooking us on one that flies through Bombay (!) thereby ensuring that we would have missed the wedding we were going to Goa for, then refusing to book us on an earlier day unless we bought the tickets at full price (we had got all four tickets on miles, thanks to our advance planning), and finally trying to suggest that we pay a cancellation fee for getting out miles refunded (!).

***

My parents had a 40th wedding anniversary celebration in Bombay. I had been quite a grinch about the whole thing initially because I didn’t see the point of a party. We would have rather taken our parents on a nice holiday instead, but that couldn’t happen owing to the two weddings, plus for some reason my dad who is usually antisocial was in the mood to host his friends. In the end, it was rather sweet.The day started with mass, where we were sitting on the front row and Nene loudly asked: “When’s the party starting?” While I am no longer a church-goer, I used to enjoy the occasional service when I did attend, but not anymore. I felt like a sober person at a party where everyone else was drunk.

My parents had booked a room at a restaurant for the party, which turned out to be great. Initially, we had decided to do it at home simply because my mum thought there was too much work involved in organising an event. In this case though, nothing had to be organised except the cake for them to cut. It was a gathering of about 40 people, and I think everyone had a good time – well, at least my parents did. Maybe one day I will post the speech I wrote for my parents here, as a tribute to them.

***

I must concede that the Bangalore leg is easier on us than Bombay, because my in-laws have a yard. Also, my FIL has splurged on these little motorized vehicles for the kids that they entertain themselves by driving around endlessly. Our niece who is the same age as Nene practically stayed over the entire time, plus there is another older cousin living next door so we were basically around to remind them to eat, sleep and take the occasional toilet break. Which is how India trips with kids are supposed to be, according to me.


We stayed over at both SIL’s houses this time. One had a huge party for over a 100 guests or “just our first circle of friends” as she put it (my own first circle of friends is about 5 people). Christmas was at the in law’s place and while drama ensued over the work to be done, I was not involved (in the drama, not the work. Since my kids are older, I have self-appointed myself chief washer-upper at the in-laws place, seeing as I am kind of unfit for other traditional duties). One day we went to this indoor science-themed play area called Explorium on the outskirts of Indiranagar. It was pretty cool, though the kids discovered the upper level on 15 minutes before we were ready to leave (as always happens).


I did not eat an Andhra meal, partly because I was traumatized from the last time we went to Nagarjuna and I had to fend off Mimi’s meltdown. But I ate a superb breakfast every day (idli, dosa, appam and stew, iddi appam, neer dosa) cooked by a cousin’s wife. We visited the FIL’s farm, which I’ve decided is lovely what with the acres of trees, cows, geese, emus, and sundry animals, except the family as decided it’s probably best to sell it. I feel like the husband would do well as a farmer.


The only off note was that V got into this weird phase where he would refuse to help me when I asked him to help out with the kids and basically was on a mysterious and extended sulk for four days which lasted through Christmas. Apparently, I was speaking rudely to him, but you’d think he might just raise that issue instead of like going on the silent treatment, which I then reciprocated in kind. Unproductive and sad. The problem is that we aren’t used to working together I guess and have effed up communication strategies. It got better in the second half of the trip.

***

Then began our Goa leg. On the one hand I was looking forward to it. On the other, we had the whole extended clan down and I was wondering how we would balance meeting up and spending enough time with parents and the sister who I see only once every two years. In terms of actually bonding with immediate family, I had figured renting a house in Goa in which we could all stay would be easier (though crazy expensive at the time we had to be there) than squeezing into our parents flat in Bombay.

In that regard, it was a success. The house had some issues, but by the end of it, sister was musing about us investing in a holiday home in Goa. We had enough space, though we still managed to wake each other, because every sound carried in that house, plus there was a rooster that started crowing at 5 am and never stopped thereafter.

The beach was a short drive away – we had hired a car and my dad drove down so we had one handy – and we went every single day. After day 2, V was like “are you planning to go to the beach again?” and I was incredulous because what else do you do, especially when you have kids? I pointed out that when we had kids we went twice a day, only breaking to eat and nap, but he was not impressed and threatened to go to Margao (which is the opposite side of Goa) in pursuit of some sausage bun which he had eaten around 15 years ago. I thwarted that plan, and got him choriz buns from Infantaria and he ended up eating all three (well, he enjoyed them so much that I let him have the last one and then discovered Infantaria had packed three instead of four so there was none for me boo!). We were also at the beach by 10 am while other cousins would only traipse out of bed at 12 pm, so we missed a lot of shack bonding but we got enough time to mingle because there was a party every.single.night. Not complaining though maybe it got a bit much for V.

The weddings themselves were fun. The first one was unexpectedly more fun than the second maybe because the kids were well rested, and there was confetti and I believe that confetti must be a mandatory component for weddings with kids because even though confetti is just balls of thermocol, it provides so.much.entertainment. Also the band was great and the kids danced non stop. And by extension so did we. It’s been a while since I danced with V, which is a shocker considering we pretty much met and cemented our relationship on the dance floor.


The second wedding, the kids ended up getting sleepy one hour into it and though the saving grace was that we were staying at the resort itself, we weren’t entirely comfortable leaving them in the room by themselves, so we had to traipse up there every 20 minutes or so, until V got fed up and went to sleep. Unfortunately, I missed the whole masala section which is the thing I love dancing to at weddings.

It was nice catching up with cousins but I also think I’m not as connected to them as I used to be. Or maybe I’m older and other people’s foibles irk me more than it used to. It still was nice though. Cuter still was to see the second (or third) generation of cousins making a connection and using the three days with each other to roam around in gangs of various ages making mayhem. Goa was where my sister’s daughter Sisi and my kids really bonded, though it did mean Mimi was a bit left out or cast in the role of monster again.

***

And then it was back to Bombay. Although I had only two days, it was quite action packed. We did a family lunch at Saltwater Cafe. I had heard so much about it, and was ready for a break from the Indian food. However, I thought the food was good, but not amazing, though the ambience is nice and the service friendly (considering we had three quite raucous kids, though they were outshouted by the gang of ladies behind us).

In the evening, all the ladies and Nene ended up getting mehndi done. Sisi had been promised a henna tattoo in India, after my BIL came to collect her from school just as she was to get one there in San Fransisco. But in Goa, the ideal place for the henna tattoo, my sister realized Sisi was to be the flower girl for the weddings and so best not to have a henna tattoo. They have literally one day in Bombay to find someone, and a friend’s mum came through with a contact of a lady who would do it. Since she specialized in mehndi we suggested Sisi get that instead of a ‘tattoo’, and when we saw how intricate and beautiful the work was, all of us wanted one.


That evening my sister left with much pressure to visit her in the US.

The next day was dedicated to last minute shopping. V convinced me to go with him to Bandra market, and I have to say I enjoyed it. There are so many old school shops there. I ended up picking up activity books for the kids, hair clips for me, and sports bras from a lingerie shop run by men. Then, I spent an hour (or more) in Cotton World challenging myself to put down some items. I really should venture beyond just that one shop. Also, this meant that I didn’t have to time to buy gifts for anyone, and the spicy banana chips I love.

The thing is that our flight was scheduled for a 11 pm departure, which meant we left for the airport around 7.30 pm, which I am fine with because at least the kids walk through the airport awake instead of being channeled along groggily.

I must say I am more and more impressed by Bombay airport. First of all, it looks lovely on approach. Then the shops are great, and not crazy expensive luxury brands only. They have a kids play area, and even two golden retrievers for children (or people?) to pat! The food choices are good. The toilets are clean. The drinking water fountains work. On arrival into the airport, the corridors are lined with amazing art. This is the first world in India, and it starts at the approach road to the airport which auto rickshaws are not allowed to ply on. It is unreal, but I appreciate it’s execution because money is spent on many things in India, but the result often falls short.

***

At the end of our trip, we had heavy bags. Among them was the bag of medication I took for the kids that was relatively untouched. I am sitting on the couch eating the one packet of spicy banana chips my dad managed to find in the house and I had a lunch of Goa sausage. I am – touch wood – healthy, if tired and afflicted by a painful tonsil.

It has been our best holiday to India ever.

Save

The Crown

Tags

 

thecrown_101_1507rI first came across mention of this series on my fave fashion blog Tom and Lorenzo, and yeah, basically it was the costume porn and general spectacle that called out to me.

Because otherwise, the current Queen Elizabeth doesn’t seem to have had a very storied life right?

Well, having watched the series, I can say wrong.

Of course, the series has likely added it’s own masala, but many of the conflicts are believable given the circumstances:

  1. Elizabeth is the daughter of King George (he of the stammer described in the movie, The King’s Speech) who was the brother of Edward who Abdicated. The scandal of Edward looms over the monarchy and is something to keep in mind in terms of the paranoia with which everyone reacts.
  2. The voice of questioning the role of the monarchy is attributed to Prince Philip, Elizabeth’s husband who is an outsider to the pomp and ceremony, in the sense that his own father lost his kingdom and he grew up outside the fabled castle environment. Though he was the nephew of Lord Mountbatten, last Viceroy of India and generally influential person, so he was not quite a nobody.
  3. I always thought of Philip as generally a person without any colour. But apparently, he was quite the catch and playboy even. And Elizabeth had a bit of a ruckus of her own insisting that he wanted to marry him.
  4. The series sets up a contrast between Elizabeth and her sister Margaret – the former is the goody-two-shoes, the latter, the rebel. While initially the two are very close, Margaret has a scandal of her own and Elizabeth’s choices during that time drive a wedge between them (or so the series tells it). That was rather sad, because the unity between the sisters was something I loved watching.
  5. The most interesting thing for me was the dynamic between Elizabeth and Philip. Their marriage threw up many of the gender conflicts at a time of transition that many of us face at a less grandiose level. For example, once crowned queen, Philip was technically his wife’s subject. He had to bow to her at her coronation, a requirement he tried to get around but which she insisted on. He had to give up his career, and follow her around on boring official duties where she was the main act. His children would even take her name. Each of these moments provides drama in the series that is very relatable. For her part, Elizabeth tries to balance her roles as queen and wife, softening her stance around her husband.
  6. Finally, this was the end of the British empire and as a postcolonial subject, my viewing position is different than say a Britisher or an American viewing it. Winston Churchill was a firm believer in colonialism and while he is the loudest expressor of the colonial viewpoint, one can only assume the monarchs agreed with him, though Prince Philip expressed concern over how long they could hang on, while fully enjoying the benefits of such hanging on. However, I also think that the series opens up spaces to show how ridiculous the whole colonialism thing is, like when Elizabeth goes on tour of the (remaining) colonies and there are all these black and brown people fawning and Prince Philip is basically racist and the tribal chiefs are not amused etc.

Anyway the whole thing is very well done, visually beautiful and I can’t wait to watch the sequel.

Academia

Tags

Attended a lecture in our department by a staff member of our department. Should be cozy and nice right. Well, not quite.

Looking around the room, I wondered at how things have changed. A couple of years back, I’d have been agog with interest and enthusiasm, gearing up to contribute to an exciting discussion. Now I find myself scanning the room and struggling to keep a poker face and not to roll my eyes because I can see all the posturing.

First we are urged to come sit in the front row, but the minute some senior person walks in there’s this silent pressure to move. Or to pull out more chairs for everybody. Apparently, this is the duty of the junior people in the department. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised given the part of the world I’m in, where hierarchy still prevails, but given the discipline I’m in, I thought the point was the smash these systems. Bah.

Then, the way questions are asked to the speaker and the politics of it. If the speaker is well-liked, the questions are less acerbic. The expressions around the room less smirky. Also who gets to speak. Two years down the line I realised, there really is an order in which people should speak and students are not high up in that order.

There are a couple of people in the department I really admired when I started. I still admire them as intellectuals. But as people, not anymore. I realised they are scary fake. Realizing that gave me a shock, even though I’m quite a cynic. I didn’t realise people could pretend to be that nice and end up being the opposite. It made me take a hard look at other people and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s hard to find nice people at the professor grade or thereabouts. Maybe because academia is so cut-throat these days that they are constantly embattled. I think it was easier to find nice people in the corporate sector ironically. Or maybe I never expected much in the first place.

The junior staff are much nicer. But I realise they are on the make too. They have to be to progress. So they choose who they give their attention to, and us being students, they don’t want to be seen interacting too much with us. There are I think exactly two people who fall into this category among the many quite nice ones.

Maybe the only people one can get on with are one’s peers, if at all. Even they, I guess, one will have to watch out for because we are all competing for such a small slice of the pie? Though there seems to be some genuine camaraderie among peers.

When I look at the new students in the department, I’m reminded of myself. How naive I was in some ways. How I wanted to read everything and do everything and be everything. There is one guy who keeps citing theory after theory and babbling about how he wants to “use” this and “use” that. And I was the same. Until I realised – two years down the line – that the boring things some people were telling me was true. You can’t apply everything and many of those big names are irrelevant to a work grounded in Asia. Then another girl wants to read everything. That was me too. Until I realised there isn’t time. You need to know what you want to do and read only what is directly useful. Such is a three-year PhD. Maybe it’s different if you have the luxury of time.

I feel so jaded, similar to when I was at the end of my MA, but not as fed up with the work itself. I still love what I do, even if noone else does.

 

6

Tags


Tall enough so that your head touches my boobs if you try to butt me with it. Skinny as a rake. So much energy. We can’t keep up. Roamer. You never want to stay at home. Lover of stories and superheroes. Still fascinated by anything on wheels. Put you in a car, train, tram, boat and you’re set for about an hour. Shy, but you always seem to have friends. Peepee and poopoo and penis and butt, these are now your vocabulary. Like the scooter, you mastered the cycle in the blink of an eye. You learned the password to our computer, and every time we don’t hear you, we know there’s a screen somewhere and you’re on it. Cookie monster, Halloween will be your undoing. So much sickness this year, it broke my heart, but you kept smiling. Handsome, even if it’s I your mother saying so. I despaired over your ever learning to read, but you have exceeded my expectations. You hate homework, you can’t sit still, artwork is a hastily scribbled something presented to me with pride. But woe betide we try to dislodge you when you’re into something. Compliant, but on those few occasions stubborn as hell. As you spend more time away from us, I have to keep reinforcing kindness. You decide you’d rather be five, if six means eating and dressing yourself. Still, you curl your long body onto mine, you burrow your head into blankets, you’re scared of the dark and sleeping alone. Early rise. Dreamer. Impatient and patient with your sister. You tire of being her everything, but you’re bored without her.

May this world give you the rainbows you deserve.

These kids

Mimi had to do a thanksgiving project where she decorates a cardboard leaf provided by the school and says what she’s grateful for. When I asked her what she wanted to put on the leaf, she went: “Mummy” and hugged me. I checked with her again whether what she wanted to put on the leaf was “mummy” and she said yes. This girl. I don’t know how I am going to live up to her expectations. Or rather, my expectations of what her expectations should be, because according to her, I have met her expectations.

Rather ironically, or predictably, I ended up getting impatient and yelling at her while we were doing the leaf, because she refused to focus and ended up ruining the nice picture of us she had drawn, and then I ended up having to basically finish the decoration while she allowed herself to be distracted by her brother’s foolish game. On second thought, maybe her expectations are both higher (i.e. completing her project) and lower (okay if I yell) than I think and  I do meet them after all. Hmph.

***


I volunteered to be the class rep for Nene’s class in school, basically because noone else was volunteering and I’m a sucker like that. I immediately regretted it because right after signing up having been told we’d have only minimal responsibilities (i.e. mainly coordinating for the PTA), the PTA rep sends us a whatsapp with a list of ‘guidelines’ that we ‘must’ and ‘should’ do (I’m hoping that the writer was not a native English speaker and did not realise how obnoxious pushy they came across as). I wrote back and said no way I could do all that and pointed out that this was not what we had been told before we signed up. It was suggested that I could get someone else on board to help me which I knew was not going to happen seeing as the reason I signed up was because noone else did. Anyway, another parent told me to ignore the ‘guideline’ because noone does that much. So I carried on.

So far it’s not been too bad,except I got into an thing with another class rep on the whatsapp group and she was incredibly rude. While she continues to be her obnoxious self on the group, I have withdrawn and find myself muttering everytime I see a post from her.

Then the weekend gone by was a so-called picnic planned in the park, where we were encouraged to organise games/activities for our class. Now, I’m all for participating, but not organizing. Especially when you have such an unresponsive group to work with. I’m not one of those cheerleader types who sees the value in coaxing people to do what they don’t want to do. But I also felt obliged to be present and ‘do something’, but I didn’t want to invest a lot of energy seeing as noone was committing to even showing up.

Tbh, I was quite stressed out even though I refused to act on it or even voice it (much). It helped that a couple of days before the event, the start time was pushed back, which meant I could tell myself it was only a couple of hours not the whole afternoon.

In the end, it turned out to a rather nice day out. A few people showed up, I prepared a parcel to be passed for ‘pass-the-parcel’ and the kids ran around with each other. At one point, V told me to sit down and relax but I pointed out that a) I feel like I need to ‘do something’ being class rep (more on that later) b) but also that the point of the occasion was not just for the kids to interact but for the parents too. And both did work out.

This is one of those instances where I am conscious of how having kids has pushed my boundaries. I am forced to step out my comfort zone (for their benefit) and although I do it with a fair amount of grumbling and latent stress, it often works out well for me as well.

***

Oh and I remembered the third thing I wanted to post here. In order to keep the kids stationary so that they didn’t get too tired for the picnic, we plonked them in front of the TV and watched Finding Dory (#sorrynotsorry). And I really liked it. I found Finding Nemo too emotional (I famously shouted ‘Nemo!” on my honeymoon when Nemo was captured during that film. Thankfully we were watching the film in our own private theatre, but V has never let me live it down. Hmph). The last time we tried to watch Finding Dory, Mimi made us shut it down because she was scared but this time I realized she was not “scared” , she was “sad” and I had to explain the difference to her and then she was better.

But also, I later realized she was a little scared… of the octoupus. Which makes no sense, because the octopus was the best part of the film! Octopi are awesome (PSA: octopi is not a word, but totally should be. Octopuses does not do justice to the greatness of that creature). I dearly want to get an octopus tattooed on my shoulder or hip, but I feel unworthy because I am neither as cerebral or as efficient, and V suggested I get a sloth or a slug instead. Hmph. I’m thinking I’ll compromise on a snail instead because that best describes me plus was the one creature I could draw decently and amuse Nene with when he was a kid.

I leave you with a photo of my soul animal.

Earth mothers*

Tags

*For want of a better term

Recently, two posts on a Facebook mum’s group I’m part of caught my eye. In one, a mother asked when other mums in the (very large) Facebook group had stopped breastfeeding their child and started formula. Another described her ordeal as her six-week-old baby cannot be put down for a minute, wants to suck her breast constantly but does not ever get satisfied and go to sleep.

The first post on breastfeeding received a deluge of answers from people who exclusively breastfed, some stopping at 2 years. Among 50 answers, I saw about 3 that said that they used formula. Amazing right? If you read that post, you’d think the majority of mums in Hong Kong breastfeed. In fact, the number that continue breastfeeding beyond 3 months if at all is quite small. Of course, the number among expat, especially Western mums, would be higher. But even in Western countries the continued breastfeeding rate is not high.

We all know that breastfeeding is great and all. But the fact is that many women struggle with it (I do not know a single woman who did not struggle with breastfeeding, despite the fact that it is touted as the most natural thing in the world). Moreover, in Hong Kong where the participation of women in the workforce is high but the maternity leave is restricted to 10 weeks (and you can add a couple more weeks annual leave if you save it all up the whole year and your boss agrees), it’s even more challenging to keep up breastfeeding. So yeah, a lot of women top up with formula or switch exclusively to formula for a variety of reasons, not necessarily because they are duped by formula manufacturers.

My problem with the skew in answers to the post was why the formula-givers were so reluctant to out themselves. It was almost as if they were ashamed. And I feel this is counter-productive. It does no service to other mums, struggling to make a decision and keep the guilt in check.

The response to the second post on the clingy baby was even more surprising. The mother asked for solutions that may have worked for people who had faced similar issues. I did go through the same thing with Nene, and to some extent with Mimi (although she was better than Nene, she had colic and I spent a lot of time just slinging and carrying her). The majority of responses, however, were people telling her to read about the “fourth trimester” and to just accept it and go with what the baby demanded.

First, I was surprised at how many people have gone through the same thing. As one woman ( a tad insensitively I think) wrote in response: “So, good news, your baby is normal.” It did seem that a huge number of women had experienced unputdownable babies (and not in a good way). I think this is something that needs to be shared with expecting and new mothers, and anyone planning a baby. The expectation that your baby will feed and sleep and you can sleep with it in this calm cocoon of mother-baby bonding is … wrong, delusional unlikely to be fulfilled. If you indeed give birth to such a angel, thank your stars and make a big donation to charity to pay your good luck forward. Because this rarely happens.

It appears from the responses that a baby that never sleeps, except in its mother’s arms, that wants to suck constantly, is extremely common. This may or may not be so. Awareness that this could happen to you is good.

However, I also think that the glib answers of ‘accept and move on’ are not entirely helpful. It is extremely hard, after going through labour or surgery, to settle in smiling for three months or more of basically never sleeping longer than half an hour stretches, of carrying a 6 kilo weight on you at all times (it’s easier to carry the weight when it’s inside you frankly), of dealing with the crying and the constant worry when there’s no crying, of the psychological stress that you’re not producing enough milk. Most of us aren’t used to hard physical labour, and being woken rudely from sleep just when you’re getting into the deep end of the sleep cycle is a form of torture used by secret police the world over. There is a high rate of Post-natal depression among new mums and it’s not because we are wusses. It’s because this shit is hard, possibly the hardest thing you’ve ever done and frankly you didn’t know this when you signed up for it.

It is natural to seek solutions and relief, even if you accept the fourth trimester theory. And there are some things you can do to make your life easier. Surround yourself with help who are willing to do shifts with you, for example. Check if the baby is latching on right, consult a lactation specialist (if you can afford one). Try using a pacifier. Co-sleep if it comes to that (while doing what you can to ensure the safety of the baby). Invest in the Fisherprice rocking chair. Check if your baby has issues like reflux. See if massage works. Switch around the baby’s bath time. Try Infacol or gripe water.Take it one day and at time and keep thinking “this too shall pass” (and no, you don’t have to “treasure this time because you’ll miss it when they grow up”. I don’t miss it at all. It is quite hard to treasure not sleeping properly for days on end.)

Talking to other mums to get ideas of how to cope with a newborn can be helpful if those other mums, while commiserating can also share the little things they did that helped them instead of hitching up their halos and going “just deal with it.”

I know a few women whose approach to motherhood has been to roll with it beautifully and beatifically, proclaiming everything magical and miraculous and generally putting on a very brave front. Well and good. But most mums slog and suffer through this period and for me at least, getting some sympathy and practical tips did help. It may be normal and natural to go through this, but it is also normal and natural to think  it sucks.

 

 

 

Apocalypse

Or as MinCat put it, “turning and turning in the widening gyre.”

On Monday, we woke up to the news that National People’s Congress Standing Committee had taken it upon itself to interpret a provision in Hong Kong’s Basic Law (the mini constitution that preserves Hong Kong’s autonomy as a special administrative region of China, and basically guards the freedoms we enjoy here) to bar a couple of newly elected legislators from retaking their oaths of office. The two youngsters had to retake their oaths because the first time around they used the derogatory word Chee-na (used by the Japanese to denigrate China during the Japanese occupation) among other shenanigans. They also somewhat openly advocate independence for Hong Kong, which is a big no-no for China obviously. Their oaths were declared illegal by the Legislative (Legco) President and they were supposed to retake them, when the Government of Hong Kong swooped in and launched a judicial review to determine whether it was legal for them to retake their oaths. The Legco President then caved and decided they can’t take their oaths after all. Before the courts could decide, however, the NPC Standing Committee held a meeting, and basically interpreted the law, as a guide to the courts.

Their interpretation went beyond mere ‘interpretation’ and included granting the official who administers the oaths the right to disqualify candidates who would not be allowed to retake their oaths, even though they have been democratically elected by a huge number of Hongkongers. Mysteriously, this interpretations is supposed to apply retrospectively to the concerned lawmakers and now the net has widened to disqualify more people, but not pro-establishment lawmakers who also fumbled their oaths.

The chilling thing about this is the ‘guideline’ to the courts while the matter is subjudice. It displays a disregard for the authority for the courts, which would not be surprising in Mainland China but we have always believed that in Hong Kong things are different. The NPC has reserved the rights to interpret laws but in the past it has done so at the behest of the chief executive and the courts (the latter is actually supposed to be requester according to the law, but obviously the NPC would be happy to intervene wherever possible). This article lists the five times the NPC has interpreted the law and frankly, I’d have been terrified the very first time (but Hongkongers were happy with the outcome that time, the problem is you can’t have it both ways.).

This time, though, the suo moto manner in which it was done is chilling. It was also done in a climate in which people are already rattled about the abduction of five booksellers across the border. The provocation was the thinly veiled pro-independence views of the lawmakers, but now the writing on the wall is clear, and sure enough we are hearing that moves that Article 23, an anti-subversion law that will bar protests, needs to be implemented soon (something that no politician dared raise because of the ire among the public it elicited the last time such a proposal was made).

When I read the new of the NPC ruling, it was like a death knell sounded in my head. The bookseller saga already told us that if we got on the wrong side of China, thugs could actually sneak us across the border and no consulate in the world could rescue us. Now, Beijing has made clear that even Hong Kong law and Hong Kong courts are subject to its whims and fancies, when earlier its stance was non-interference.

In the face of all this, one can only feel helpless because even as young people take to the streets to protest, they are nothing before the might of the Chinese government, whose authority in the world is now unchecked.

***

Then our dear Prime Minister Modi decided to ban Rs500 and Rs1000 notes. Well, I must admit it did some like a bold move, that would anger some of Modi’s support base. But overall, it was a stroke of genius because the middle class is lauding Modi. Instead of bringing the money from Swiss banks accounts as he promised, he has done abracadabra and turned black to white. Except it’s not going to work, as past experience has shown (interestingly none of the media outlets put this move in context – that is has been done in the past and did not work.). Now, of course, the poor are bearing the brunt as usual. You’d think that even if the PM was determined to push forth with it and give some middle wealthy people a big surprise, he’d make more of an effort to provide relief to the very many poor people who trade only in cash. Here’s just one example of how this abrupt change has affect the less privileged.

***

And then as the final blow, Trump got elected. I can’t say I was surprised, because the dear husband watched Fox News non-stop during this election (for entertained me claimed, but it did put a strain on our marital relations). So I did not, despite my best efforts, live in a bubble in which reason would prevail. Nevertheless, I thought Hillary would win and I wanted her to win, and although I had checked out of the noise of the election a long time ago, I was surprised at how sad I was when I realised she had lost.

I wanted Hillary to win because yes, just as Obama becoming the first black president of the US thrilled me, I like the idea of a woman in highest office. I think the role of President  is symbolic and I saw the powerful symbolic work of Obama’s presidency (despite his failings in some areas). And I thought Hillary was a good woman for the job. Yes, she was establishment, but I didn’t mind that too much. Seeing how hard Obama struggled to get anything done, maybe it was time for someone who knew the drill and had the connections.

I admire Hillary for the sheer hard work she put in, and for how she had risen from the ashes of her husband’s indiscretion (even though I do not like how Monica Lewinsky was treated during that episode). Hillary is the geek who kept putting her hand up no matter how many times people sneered at her, and finally, she got her seat at the highest table. She faced misogyny the first time around, and the full force of it this time. I like how she accepted defeat the last time around and did her best as Secretary of State. I like how in her previous avatar as First Lady, she spoke truth to power about women’s rights in Beijing, and how she did it again when the Feminist Five were detained. Whenever I watched her handle questions on the campaign, it was clear she knew her stuff and she had real ideas and proposals. A few weeks before the election, I heard a clip of her pledging her support for women’s right to have an abortion, even though this is a hot potato, and I silently thanked her for that. She is not perfect, but she was held up to higher standards of ‘cleanliness’ than a man would have been (considering her opponent refused to even release his tax records) .The accusation that she is not ‘likeable’, which so many women in power face. She acknowledged she struggles with that part of politics, but she faced the backlash so much stronger.

It is hard not to take this somewhat personally as a woman, although I know that her being seeing as ‘establishment’ has something to do with it. I don’t grudge the strugglign masses their vote for Donald Trump, but its the educated and elite fence-sitters who gloated after Hillary lost that I have no respect for.

I belatedly came across this article yesterday as I tried to stabilize my mood. I wish more people could have seen it before the election.

 

 

Electra 

Tags

I have to record this because it’s one of those things that you think happens to other people but not to you. Until it does.

My daughter has decided she wants to marry her father.

No wait. First she decided she wanted to marry her brother but he rejected her on grounds of being her brother.

Blows may have been exchanged (which does not bode well for any nuptials),  there was definitely shouting, I’m not sure what else went down as I was in the bathroom. Of course I was.

When I finally unlocked the door, Mimi burst in sniffling and teary-eyed accusing Nene of saying she can’t marry Daddy. When I burst out laughing she clarified “when I grow up.”

First I tried explaining that she can’t marry Daddy because I’m married to him. That didn’t go down well. I’m not against bigamy, but I thought this might shut down the discussion pronto because Mimi is not a sharer. She pondered, then said, then I’ll marry you. Basically she just wants to be married to someone in the family.

Anyway, I explained that it wasn’t a matter of growing up so much as not being allowed to marry one’s family members. However she did not seem keen on the idea of anyone else. and I can see why. Why would you want to hitch your star to anyone other than those you love and trust the most?

Once I calmed down I told her:

A) it’s not necessary to get married

B) it’s a long time away so no need to worry about it now

C) why not focus on a fab ‘Mimi is awesome’ 21st birthday bash with amazing food, dancing, a lovely dress and all her friends.

She cheered up after that. It turns out she basically wanted a big party. And I had to tell her that no, my darling, you don’t need to get married to have an amazing time.

Festive grinching and bearing – 2


So Diwali. It’s a beautiful festival . And as an Indian abroad, I’m expected to celebrate it. Except I was raised Catholic, and in a Christian society to boot, and so Diwali basically meant lots of firecrackers and sweets from the one Hindu family in our colony. I knew very little of the religious aspects of it. Christmas and Easter were the big festivals in my universe growing up, though we participated in festivals like Diwali, Eid and Parsi New Year through exchange of sweets with friends. Again, at a superficial largely food-based level, not really understanding the myths and rituals behind them.

In the forens, one of the ways in which people demonstrate cosmopolitanism is by knowing about other nationalities’ festivals, and Diwali has become the representative Indian one. Or even the representative South Asian one. I’ve always felt a little odd being wished Happy Diwali because well I don’t actually celebrate Diwali. Though I have learned to smile and go with it instead of explaining cultural plurality etc.*

This year, I was asked by Mimi’s school to present about Diwali to the class. Now, I am uncomfortable with this, first, for the reason mentioned above. I am not a stranger to Diwali but neither do I feel qualified to represent it to others. I would feel, let’s say, inauthentic. But also because I resent how Diwali has become the hegemonic Indian festival. Even among Hindus, is Diwali the festival of the year? Please weigh in. For example, when I was younger, I was surprised to realize that kids in the Hyderabad and Bangalore got Dusshera holidays not Diwali.

Anyway, with regard to the school presentation, I wrestled with myself and caved.I gently suggested that maybe Hindu parents would like to take a stab at it, but if not, I was happy to do it. To her credit, the principal apologized for presuming I celebrate the festival, but still wanted me to do it.

It turned out the SIL was coming to Hong Kong and she being an enthu cutlet, I felt only minor guilt at asking her to cart the requisite paraphernalia – which ended up being 40 diyas (!), rangoli colour and stencils and a festive looking kurta for me. I ambitiously planned to do a rangoli with the kids even though I’ve never actually made a rangoli in my life. The trial round at home provided mixed results. Obviously I would only ever attempt this with stencils.

Flash forward to today. Mimi and I donned our finery, and I explained a little about the festival to the kids, including showing them photos of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Durga. Then I showed them new clothes that could be worn on Diwali.I also showed them a diya and they would get their own to paint in art class. Then I intended to show a short video of Ram’s triumph over Ravana, except the Internet stopped working, so I ended up telling the story from a book and then the Internet worked so the kids watched the video and hopefully have that particular myth ingrained in their consciousness (or at least the notion that Indian people have blue blood which was the takeaway of one of Mimi’s pals). Then the finale- rangoli making. I had put the rangoli powder into salt and pepper shakers, which worked well in terms of spreading and I had the kids come up and shake the powders over the stencils, and the results were hardly professional but pretty nice. Everyone oohed and aahed over them and I managed to not get any powder on my kurta which is a Diwali miracle in itself.

In the end, it was quite fun. The kids and the school loved it.And when I looked around the room there were no other Indian kids, so that’s probably why I was asked. I even inspired the sister to do a similar presentation for the kids at my niece’s school in the US.

I began thinking that maybe I should be celebrating Diwali at home, putting out diyas and a rangoli (unfortunately, in Hong Kong, the fireworks part is not allowed, which is probably why I’ve done nothing for ten years – fireworks were synonymous with Diwali for me). I pretty much know I’m not going to, however, because laziness. 

What I do know is that I’m probably going to be asked to represent India at the school international day. And I’m thinking that this might be an opportunity to talk about other Indian festivals. Like, I don’t know, Eid, and Christmas, and Holi, and what else? Do tell.

 

 

* One year, the husband was leaving work with his Muslim Pakistani colleague when a third colleague came up to them, grinning and wished them both Happy Diwali. They looked at each other and burst into laughter. The third colleague was confused and said mainly to the Pakistani chap, “What you don’t celebrate Diwali?” He laughed and said, “Well, we do send firecrackers across the border.” Then he offered the husband a ride home and they chortled about it some more.