The 18th March Project – Post 16

To a number of people I currently interact with regularly, my excitement leading up to my birthday was hard for them to understand.

It’s childish or childlike, depending on who you’re speaking to, and possibly also on how much they want to protect my feelings.

It’s not even a question of age – some of these people are younger than I am. Their apathy isn’t justified.

I just don’t understand why people don’t want to celebrate their birthdays.

Maybe they just aren’t doing it right.

A good birthday celebration to me has:

  • People: ones I like. I’ll take a sprinkling of the ones I don’t like, only because their remembering to wish me is a form of validation. It upsets me when people I love forget to wish me (but I’m getting better at dealing with that as I get older)
  • Cake: the more cake, the merrier I am. Chocolate, carrot, fresh fruit – any kind. Candles, a knife, and the perfect combination of cake and icing = bliss (and, possibly, a sugar high). I’ve sung for myself too, though it’s obviously nicer when you have other people to sing for you
  • Presents: If you’re getting me something, it doesn’t need to be expensive or large. It does need to be heartfelt and useful.
  • Peace: I will not entertain arguments on my birthday. It’s a day that is all mine – if you want to fight, let’s reschedule that to another day. Don’t even try to make the day about you, because it’s anything but.
  • Activity: I don’t think any of the birthdays I classify as good had me sitting at home by myself all day. I need some social interaction, I need the stimuli of different environments. Maybe this will change as I get older, though I doubt it.

Happy birthday, khuxall zolmdis, joyeux anniversaire, janamdin pe shubhkamnayein, parabens, tillykke med fodselsdagen, eid mawlid saeed to all those who share the 17th of November with me, especially Second-Cousin-Once-Removed, K.

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The 18th March Project – Post 15

A train of thought that keeps stopping in the station of my mind:

We think that if we don’t fight for our side, nobody else will. And we’re not wrong. But fighting for ourselves doesn’t have to mean destroying someone else, does it?

Brexiters, White Rights believers, Hindu nationalists in India – they are trying to protect themselves from an Other that exists, fully-formed with distinct characteristics, in their own minds.

No enemy is ever as bad as we think, no ally ever as good.

Everyone has a back story, a justification for the actions they’ve taken, for the course they’re upon and the cause they champion.

But some causes are unjust.

Some causes are cruel.

Some causes should be allowed to die, and those who champion them should be forced to watch them writhe with death pangs, and shudder into oblivion.

No one has the right to lynch someone. No one has the right to rape in retaliation. No one has the right to force their religion down someone else’s throat.

I can’t understand how we’ve reached the 21st century, and this isn’t common practice yet. How is it not par for the course that people treat each other like human beings?

How is it that I can steal your land because I have better allies, or bigger guns, or more money than you? How can I make you feel unsafe because of the colour of my skin or what’s between my legs?

We don’t need the dystopias presented to us by so many young-adult fiction authors today – we’re living in them already.

The 18th March Project – Post 14

I come from a country where begging is a business. Yes, you do have the odd person who is genuinely down on his/her luck. That person doesn’t follow you around, or pester you till you give him/her something. That’s the genteel beggar. The norm, however, is the career beggar. Often it’s the woman swatting flies away from a sleeping baby, looking at you with eyes so sorrowful you could drown in them. She could possibly find work (most likely manual), but she’s trapped in a network that keeps her at the mercy of others. That baby is probably not hers, and has probably been drugged so that it won’t be nuisance instead of a prop. There are horrible stories of children being maimed so that they can use their tortured bodies to gain the sympathy of passers-by. I have an aunt who recommends that if you see a child begging, give it biscuits, not money.

In the country I live in, begging is illegal. You can report someone to the police for begging. You’re not even supposed to ask for contributions unless you have the necessary authorization. And yet, there are people who approach you of an evening towards the end of the month, asking for help to pay their rent or cover their expenses so they can go home after an unsuccessful job search. Perhaps they have sick parents. Perhaps they don’t know that they can get in trouble. Perhaps strangers don’t report them because they understand their struggles, having also survived them. I have a friend who’s paid for a meal for someone who looked down on his luck, but wouldn’t give him money for his ‘rent’.

In a country I recently visited, in the Caucasus, there were a number of beggars. Many were old people, some bent over so far they couldn’t see the money that was being put in their bowl. There was a war veteran, an older lady walking around the airport tugging at people’s shirts, and a few women with young children. People passed by many of them, hardly registering their presence. A couple of beggars were young, defiant, like it was their right to expect from strangers some token of generosity- and they were given food, a whole plate.

It all comes down to putting something in our bellies. We do what we can, some of us by ‘honest’ labour, some by playing on other people’s religious beliefs, morals or ethics.

Some of us are just luckier.

The 18th March Project – Post 13

Being a younger sibling means

  • Learning when you should fight back – it’s all about picking your battles
  • Retaliating every time your elder sibling tries to tell you what to do
  • Wearing hand-me-downs
  • Being compared to your older sibling
  • Being known as so-and-so’s little sister
  • Having people forget your name and use your sibling’s name instead
  • Feeling underappreciated
  • Being born knowing how to share- we never had a time when anything was all ours and ours alone
  • Being the smaller one in a physical fight (sadly, some of us never outgrow that)
  • Being expected to respect the elder sibling, even by people who are not part of your inner circle
  • Trying, and failing, to explain why it’s such a pain in the ass to be the younger one

The 18th March Project – Post 12

The only times it’s okay for an Indian to look for an Indian restaurant to eat at when s/he is outside India:

  • If you are vegetarian and are visiting a country where the staple food is meat. At least an Indian restaurant will offer you more options than two kinds of salad
  • If you need comfort food – nothing like hot tea and a masala dosa or onion bhajias or chole to make you feel better
  • If you’ve had a stomach upset eating something exotic and need curd rice or khichdi to calm your system
  • If you need to prove to the people you are travelling/working with that there’s more to Indian food than chicken tikka masala (because that’s not even proper Indian to begin with), butter chicken, biryani and naan. There’s so much more!

Happy birthday to W, who hates when food mixes on his plate, and advance wishes to AMD, who can cook anything.

The 18th March Project – Post 11

I recently visited Singapore for the third time in 4 years. I love that city-state!

I wasn’t inclined to post while I was there, which is why this one is late.

People ask what I like about Singapore. Here’s part of my list:

  • The food is amazing – the options are endless, the taste is phenomenal, you are (almost 100%) sure of hygiene, and the lower-end of the budget is easily catered to
  • Public transport is great – connectivity between modes of transport is almost seamless, the price is relatively low, the modes of transport and the stops/stations are quite clean, many are air-conditioned, the bus stops have signs telling you which one you’re approaching, signs that are visible from the top-deck of the bus
  • People are happy to offer help to tourists. And they give correct directions
  • The museums are amazing
  • So are the parks
  • Entrance fees to most museums and parks do not cost the earth. In fact, if you are a citizen or Permanent Resident, I believe they’re free.
  • It’s green outside! You can see birds and trees and flowers in the city, breathe air that is washed by rain and caressed by sun.
  • It’s easy to find something to drink when you need to re-hydrate
  • The airport is big, but not too big.
  • You can go from east to west in approximately two hours, riding the east-west MRT line. Next time, I’ll go north.
  • There is no little respect for rules and laws
  • They cleaned up a river! It took them 10 years, but they did it.
  • It rains regularly there. It’s the kind of rain that cools the day down. It can be torrential, I’m sure. Luckily, all I’ve experienced so far has been the mild sort. The biggest worry after a shower is what to do with your damp umbrella. But of course, they have little baggies you can put it in so you don’t drip everywhere
  • Seniors are actively involved in public life, volunteering or in paid roles.
  • They have their own brand of English, lah
  • The people are ingenious and innovative. Buying a cup of coffee, but want your hands free for your phone and bags, etc.? No worries – please use this special sling to carry your cup in
  • The taxi drivers use GPS/Google Maps to find their way
  • At the zebra crossing, there’s a countdown and a flashing green man to let you know how quickly you need to get across. Some crossings allow those with special needs/seniors to use their concession cards to tap for additional time.
  • Restaurants don’t close their kitchens at 8 pm.
  • Daiso’s cheaper in Singapore (when compared with Dubai)!
  • There’s kaya. And laksa.

Do I really need more reasons?

The 18th March Project – Post 10

There are probably 5 kinds of people who come for Zumba, or the other dance workout classes:

  • The dancer

This person is there to pick up new choreography. S/he moves really well, is graceful, fluid, and a wonder to behold. S/he makes you wish you could move like him/her, pick up steps so easily, put your own spin on a step and really OWN it. This person can usually be found at the front of the class. S/he is usually dressed to impress, with the appropriate branding on his/her clothing and is aware of his/her superiority on the dance floor. Some dancers will move around the class following the instructor. They like to be at the front of the class with an unobstructed view of the instructor.

  • The poser

This person wants to watch him/herself for the duration of the class. S/he thrusts, pouts, gyrates, sashays, and shimmies, with eyes for only one person –him/herself. There’s no one quite so sexy (in his/her eyes). The poser may or may not, in actual fact, be a good dancer. The split seems to be about even. S/he will always be found facing the mirror. If the class isn’t also looking at the mirror, the poser may be caught frequently checking him/herself out, even when the song/step does not call for a sexy, over-the-shoulder look.

  • The hopelessly left-footed

This person just wants to dance and have fun, even though his/her muscle  coordination is quite poor. S/he doesn’t care, quite confidently grooving along to the song, unintentionally creating new routines. Her/his enthusiasm is infectious, and you can’t help smiling broadly as s/he attempts popping and locking, or a twirl. When dancing next to this person, it’s best to give her/him a wide berth to avoid any accidental collisions.

  • The mediocre mover

This person tries, but not too hard. We know we’ll never be as good as the dancer, and we know we’re nowhere near as bad as the left-footed. Can be found at the back or sides of the class. We don’t want to be watched, and we care what people think about our dancing skills.

  • The gym buff

The athletic person, usually male, who swaggers into class with a derisive smile, because he thinks it’s going to be a cakewalk for someone as fit as him. Usually the gym buff cannot keep up. Proof that there are different kinds of fitness. The gym buff may be found wearing figure-hugging athletic wear and might have ankle weights on.

The 18th March Project – Post 9

Reasons I’m glad I moved to Dubai:

  1. I got to travel to four different countries for work – Malaysia, Singapore, Portugal, and Denmark
  2. I’ve been able to travel to one other country (so far – more to come) on a holiday, with relative ease
  3. I’ve made more money here than I might have made in India (‘more’ is relative. It’s the exchange rate that makes it seem like more.)
  4. I have some family and friends here
  5. When I don’t want to see any of them, I can withdraw almost completely from society (‘almost’ because I can never be on my own for long periods of time. I live with my sister)
  6. This is a safe emirate in a safe country.
  7. This is a tolerant country in a region that has many extremists.
  8. I get to sample different cuisines ( in preparation for when I go to the countries to which those cuisines belong)
  9. Labour law in the UAE is more employee friendly than it is in several other countries (including Singapore, if their sick leave policy is anything to go by.)
  10. Public transport is better here than it is in Goa

The 18th March Project – Post 8

Plastic Free July part 2

Medicine comes in plastic. I don’t only mean pills, I mean the ingredients for ‘natural’ remedies too.

Maybe not if you have your own kitchen garden, or frequent a grocery store where the grocer funnels your purchases into a little paper cone that he ties up with string.

I’m recovering from an allergic reaction to something – I don’t know what the trigger is yet – and I chose not to go to the doctor unless I really felt terrible.

Why? Because I pop a lot of Panadol, for my rather frequent headaches. I figure, at least once in a while, I owe my body a chance to eliminate the problem without the aid of something synthetic.

So I drank kokum juice, a remedy people from the Konkan coast recommend. The syrup came in a plastic can.

I made a decoction of jeera aka cumin. Again, the ingredients came in plastic.

I slathered Lacto Calamine on the bumps. Guess what kind of bottle that comes in? (Alright, hardly a ‘natural’ remedy… )

The good thing about using these ingredients is none of them will go to waste even if I never again need them to calm my skin. And I suppose I can recycle the bags, etc. that they came in.

Please don’t misunderstand me- I’m not saying one should put oneself in harm’s way just to cut down on the amount of plastic one brings home.

I’m an adult who monitored her state closely for the duration of the reaction, and one who is lucky enough to live in a place with good emergency services.

It does make me think, though. If I’d been ill enough or scared enough to go to the doctor, would I have verified with the doctor if I actually needed all the medicines prescribed? Would I have considered asking the pharmacist to give me only as much medicine as I needed instead of the whole box? Would we have discussed what I could do with the ‘extras’, how to dispose of them properly?

Probably not. Maybe I should. Next time.

The 18th March Project – Post 7

July is Plastic Free Month.

Is it even possible to live without plastic? The keys I’m tapping on, the gallon tank my drinking water comes in, the cover of my lunch tiffin, the card I use to pay for (almost) all these things – these are all plastic.

I look around my house, and it’s filled with things I can’t reuse, many of which I’m not even sure can be recycled.

Plastic has been a boon to humanity – it’s made hygiene easier to achieve, or at least sold us all on the belief in hygiene and sterilisation. It’s made everything available in a package that is convenient to carry around. It’s disposable, and we don’t need to worry too much about cleaning it.

Or so we believe.

The thing about advertising is, if done right, it can make you believe anything.

And we’ve been made to believe that nothing can replace plastic, that we have no alternatives.

Hold on, you say to me, you want us to go back to a time before Plastic, when we couldn’t sample Triscuits from the US or a flavor of Kitkat that is sold only in Singapore? Let me just take a look in your fridge and see how many different sauces and spreads you have that are definitely not local produce, and maybe don’t even come in glass jars.

And I would have to fold in upon myself in shame. Of course, I’m as bad a consumer of plastic and the non-renewable as most people. I reuse when I can, and I segregate my plastic waste (and cardboard and glass, from time to time) from my landfill-bound rubbish. But I don’t make as many conscious decisions as I’d like to, or as I believe a steward of the Earth should.

There are people in the UAE, where it is very easy to live a consumerist lifestyle, who are actually making Zero Waste and Permaculture work.

How are they doing that?!

This month, I’m going to buy less, and buy better.

The highest spend for me, after rent, is groceries. So what can I do to reduce the amount of plastic I bring home? First of all, I should buy only what I need. No point in adding food waste to the cocktail that makes up my carbon emissions. Second, reuse packaging if it can’t be done without: got cheese in a container that could be used again? Why not use it again?

Third, look for places that are willing to put items in containers that belong to me and don’t look like the generic clear plastic cuboid. I feel ashamed/shy to ask the staff if they can/will put the 100 grams of olives or mozzarella in my little Tupperware or metal tiffin. I don’t think most grocery stores in the UAE have reached that level of consciousness yet.

Well, one must begin somewhere. And at some time. So why not here and now?