Saturday, April 09, 2011

This New Country - Part 2: An Indian in the UK

And Falmouth is one of the most beautiful corners of this island. I arrived at night so I didn't really get to see much. But in the morning, I was bowled over. A lush green hilly countryside town, urban in some spots and serenely rural in others. And of course, there is no comparison between rural here and rural in India. I don't think I should expect anything else of course. This is a first world country after all.

But such peace, such quiet, such a stunning town. Walking past the harbour and quays, looking at the belled masts of a hundred boats tinkling in the breeze, staring up at a sky more blue than I had seen in a while, I felt I had finally made it. My life stretched ahead of me and I could almost picture myself owning a house in Falmouth, drinking coffee on the balcony while watching seagulls fight over fish 'n' chips wrappers.

Then the classes started and the gruelling MA dragged me back to reality. Homework again. What was I thinking!

But it was a dream come true after all. And slogging is the one thing dreams require. So I did. But by the time the Christmas holidays came along, I certainly needed a break.

So off I went with Shabad across the countryside, making a beeline for Scotland with little stop offs in Snowdonia and the Lake District. Niti, a fellow writer doing her MA from Trinity University, Carmarthen, was supposed to come along for our epic journey but unfortunately opted out for a very good reason, which I won't go into now. So our first stop was Carmarthen, to have a drink and a laugh with Niti. Rage Against the Machine had just won top spot on the Christmas No. 1 and there was another drink to be had for that. And another. And another.

Snowdonia is in the North of Wales and we headed off there as soon as we could the next morning, after a hearty Full English Breakfast, the one thing that makes me love and hate this country at the same time. But it certainly is good energy food.

We bid Niti and Carmarthen goodbye and wandered into the Welsh Hills. Through an astoundingly beautiful, almost Alpine town of Betws-y-Coed (where we stayed at the Swn-y-Dwr B&B. You guessed it, It means Sunny Door. :)), on to Liverpool for a wild night out and finally to Keswick, where our trip came to an unfortunate end.

Shabad and I climbed up a mountain (it really was just a hill) the next day, Christmas Day 2009, and on our way down Shabad skipped ahead with the agility of a mountain goat, while I gingerly tiptoed my way across the ice. The gingerness was apparently unnecessary as I slipped on the ice and broke my ankle in two places while simultaneously dislocating it. My first thought was something like, "Bye bye Scotland". But, in a way, as I slowly went into shock, it gave me an opportunity to look around the spectacular vista of the lake district's beauty. An astounding vision, like the snowbound Himalayas in miniature.

As we hobbled our way back to London, I learned how to crutch it the hard way while Shabad and Romit pampered me.

And once I got back to Falmouth, it wasn't long before the lift broke in my building and I started getting a regular workout going up and down five floors every day. This was when my fear of ice really took root.

I still love winter, especially snow. But solid ice gives me the shivers. I avoid it as much as I can.

My long days home-bound, stoned on painkillers and lugging around my concrete leg finally ended in March and the sun finally came out in May. I must say, after living in Indian heat my whole life, this was the first time I actually appreciated sitting in the sun...for short periods of time.

I also stumbled upon a successful recipe for butter chicken using cream of tomato soup, which has become quite popular if I do say so myself. I wouldn't have imagined in a million years that I would be able to make butter chicken by myself. But here I was, dishing it out for the locals. But I still miss the real thing with butter naan, malai kebabs and real hari chuntey.

By now I had started hanging out with my classmates more, making new friends and hanging out with the locals. I was also quite flattered to be told that my English was better than most the Britons'.

But no matter how much I spoke in English, I was still everyone's ' friend from India who speaks better English than I do'.

I ceased to be the 'angrez' and became the 'Indian'. How chuffed was I! I've spent my whole life being taunted by being called an 'angrez', an Englishman, because, it seemed, my love for the English language had killed my Hindi and Bengali speaking skills. I can still speak Hindi but, according to my friends in Delhi, it's with a bit of an accent – an accent I've never been able to perceive.

I am finally an Indian! And I had to travel out of my own country and across continents to be one.

An Indian in the UK. One among many.

Monday, March 14, 2011

This New Country - Part 1

It's been quite a journey, these last couple of years. So many wonders, new friends, so many sacrifices, so many guilt-ridden moments, so much pain and joy and meh-ness and so much joy rolled into one magnificent voyage.

To find myself in a completely new country after living my whole life in India was an exhilarating experience. I never thought I wanted to leave India, but here I was, in a first world country, where people don't worry about electricity or water or heat or air-conditioning. There was barely any dust in the air and there are blue skies in the middle of London. I could barely remember the last time I had seen skies that blue. I'm sure it must have been Himachal Pradesh, at the foothills of the Himalayas, or even in Ladakh itself.

No littered the streets here. Well, at least not as much as on the streets of Delhi. It seemed like they had been thoroughly washed. And of course, they were. By rain. It was more rain than I've seen in a long time too. And by golly, I loved it. (Don't you just love the British tongue?) It was like the monsoons were here to stay. Still, it wasn't the violent storms that lashed Delhi only too seldom, this was a gentle continuous drizzle most of the time. I don't even think I've seen any lightening here, which seems odd. I must admit, the charm of the rain still hasn't worn off. I don't think of rainy days as cold, damp and depressing. I quite like them. But I do appreciate sunny days a bit more now. Amazing how perspectives can change.

Even the neighbourhood of Hounslow, where my friend Shabad's sister, Simran, and brother-in-law, Romit live, a place universally regarded as a 'shithole' seemed charming and quaint to the most part.

London itself, even with such a wonderfully colourful scape of red busses, famous black cabs and the mileu of people from every corner of the planet, still had enough space to boast peaceful parks and grand old buildings whose stones speak of the Britain's powerful past and promise to stand long into the future. The people I've met here, though, seem less optimistic about the country's future – understandably, I must admit, considering these are the hardest times the UK has seen for ages. But there is still so much glory, so much strength, so much beauty in this tiny little island.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Is Sex Education for Primary School Kids a Bad Thing?

I started out thinking this would be a music blog but I’m thinking of turning it into one where I can express my thoughts on pretty much any subject. Hope it works.

This is a response I gave to a Facebook post by a close friend of mine, Mr Simon Bellord-Bull, who objected to a Christian organisation coming out with a document objecting to sex education for primary school kids ( ). There followed a rather ugly religious discussion involving another friend of mine. Here is my response.

I've skimmed through the article and find the content a conservative point of view – a valid one too for people like my parents who, though liberal in most things, tend to avoid all matters concerning sex. Also, if a child is too young (and I'm sure there have been research studies done regarding proper ages to begin education about sex) then the point gets lost and a child would probably resort to feeling a bit queasy about imaging mom and dad doing the wild thing.

Personally, I was brought up without almost any knowledge of sex or even that girls didn't have wee-wees like us boys. Most of my education came from when I read The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris at age 11. This book studies the similarities and dissimilarities in various aspects of ape vs. human life. This was also one of my first forays into the subject of evolution.

Also, being in India, there is no such thing as sex education. Even when we were learning about the reproductive system in biology class we were asked to omit large portions of text and were forbidden to read them. I still went ahead and did so and managed to learn quite a bit, which I'm happy for. I think this helped me in understanding women, and myself, better and made me a more sexually conscious person and feel it also made me a more responsible one.

Any woman in India, or who has been to India, will tell you about the lechers and eve-teasers that fill every corner of the country. Most men will not think twice about staring at a woman, licking his lips and whistling. We have ridiculously high rates of sexual crime as well as the second largest population in the world. Does that say something about us 'conservative' Indians? I prefer to use the words 'sexually oppressed'. Ironic that this is a word I would use for the country that produced the Kama Sutra- the ultimate Joy of Sex book for the ancients.

I worked in a rural marketing agency whose clients were non-governmental organisations trying to educate the rural masses about sex and contraception. One of them ran 'sex camps' which took children in for a weekend and educated them about many aspects of sex and gender issues. But before you jump to any conclusions, let me clarify the effects of such a thing.

I had the opportunity to talk to these youngsters who were a part of these camps and had a discussion about what they learned and how they could teach the same things to their parents. (Let me remind you, these are families living below the poverty line who have limited, if any, access to an education you or I would consider adequate.)

These children left me reeling with shock and awe. I would be hard pressed to find a person of my level in society, or higher, who was as sensible, responsible and respectful of the opposite gender. These kids not only knew about themselves better but also could respect each other's sexuality more than most adults. They knew the reproductive process, menstrual cycles and understood what STDs were and how to prevent them! And these are kids ranging from age 5 to 18. Amazing!

From a religious point of view, I also found that Hindu families were far more open to birth control than Muslim families. Muslims think a child is a gift from God and no contraception should be used (Much like the Catholic philosophy). Yet they hump like rabbits till the cows come home (pardon the clich├ęs. They felt appropriate) and end up with 15 kids and no food or money to feed them, clothe them or educate them. What sense does that make? (In addition, the Catholic aversion to sex, contraception and sex-education is very similar to the Islamic philosophy. In contrast, Hinduism and most other religious denominations have no problems with any of it.)

I think most girls coming into puberty who have no idea what to expect are traumatised when they have their first period. The same goes for a boy's first hard-on (though I’m not comparing the physical experience of either, just the embarrassment). And if it's in school, they're teased about it and the trauma is far worse. Also, teenagers would giggle and snigger and get horny at the first mention of sex education and, understandably, wouldn't pay much attention to the facts and how serious the matter is. The key is to find the right age to teach kids the important things so that when they enter puberty they know how to deal with it better endure fewer traumas and teasing. They would also know about penises and vaginas and how babies are made so they know about safety, STD's and sexual crimes.

Therefore sex education is a must for children as long as it is taught at the right age, responsibly and covers every aspect to help children understand their, and each other’s, bodies better. Trust me, it won't turn them into pervs and rapists. I have seen evidence of that.

To add to this, teen pregnancy is also a major problem in the western world. It is also surprising to note that there are a lot of sexually irresponsible teenagers out there who like to have a bonk after getting trashed on a saturday night and usually this ends up without protection. Such a blatant disregard to any consequences is dangerous. All the more reason to start sex education earlier before any damage is done.