Category Archives: Expat

‘Help!!” Moving to India – have a read!

Pune Expat Advice

I am not an expert at being an expat. This is my first assignment after all and I have now been an expat for just under 18 months. In a way, this is forever and gives me the ability to claim myself as an expert on expat Pune but on the other hand it means I know nothing at all!

On arriving in India however I very quickly began to think – ‘oh why didn’t someone tell me this before I came!? Why didn’t I pack this? Why did no one know that I needed it!?’ So this is my attempt at helping you to find yourself in a better position when you arrive. It is long and extremely detailed – you don’t have to read it all -read what you need. 

Although, I hope much can be gained from this information for the working partner, it is primarily aimed at the ‘trailing’ spouse. Why? It seems little if any time, money or enthusiasm is shown by many companies / relocation companies in ensuring that the non-working partner settles in OK.

Why not? It seems crazy for these people to ignore the very person who to an extent the whole success of the move depends on. While life changes greatly for the working partner, there are some remanants of life as they know it. For the non-working partner, everything changes over night but yet somehow they are expected to maintain the house, cook food and ensuring the stability of the kids all while not loosing the will to live! If they become miserable therefore and cannot cope, it is will surely but the whole endeavour in danger.

Emotional Practicalities

  1. You are going to have some of the best times of your life in the next few years.
  2. You are also categorically going to have some of the most miserable times of your life! Be prepared for it! The sooner you come to terms with that, the easier you will find living in India. I always say, ‘I love India but I don’t know why I’m not in prison for bashing someone’s head in!’
  3. Try to laugh off the negatives (so, so hard at times!) and embrace the positives.
  4. You will have an easier life than your spouse who works but at times it will not feel that way at all and at times you will be right. Try and remember that you are both facing challenges and that you probably don’t recognise the extent of their challenges at times and neither do they recognise your challenges. This is natural enough.
  5. Talk about your problems and frustrations but don’t continually dwell on them. Get your irritation out and then move on.
  6. Most importantly, don’t forget to pack probably the only thing you really need – an open mind. Don’t pre-judge people / places. Don’t be quick to jump to conclusions about situations you may have little cultural understanding of. You may grow to understand a siutation and hate it but you won’t really understand it if you reach that standpoint immediately.

Women’s Safety

I am no expert and please take the advice here and mix it with everything else you get. I hadn’t initially included this information but recently a group of women asked to meet with me to advice them on their move. It was their very first question – therefore I deemed it to be too important to leave out. Everything I say here of course will be cultural stereotyping – which of course is not right but I’m not sure how to tackle this issue in another way.

  1. Indian is fundamentally different in its approach to women / sexuality than any more westernised culture.
  2. Single Indian men / women as a whole culturally are not allowed to have sex before marriage etc. It does of course happen but in a very closeted way. This leads to men who are more sexually frustrated and naive then you may be used to. It is also a male dominated society. Women are not expected to question their husbands, fathers, brothers and this creates a certain degree of entitlement amongst men.
  3. As I will detail below when I talk about clothes. To a certain extent as a western women you may be considered easy. They watch Hollywood movies and think we all jump into bed with each other on first sight!
  4. To argue therefore that there is no increase danger for a woman in India would be wrong!

HOWEVER!

  1. As far as I am aware, I know nobody who has had any significant issues with their safety as a woman here.
  2. One lady did have her breast groped in a busy market. Not good and I’m sure that was difficult for her but that could also have happened anywhere. You wouldn’t question living in London for your safety but such groping happens daily on the tube. Someone (I believe but will never know as I shouted a loud obsencity at the top of my voice which frightened them off) attempted to potentially molest me when I was in Poland.
  3. Be sensible – just like you would be sensible elsewhere. Consider where you are going and therefore your clothing. It is wrong but some may see your clothing as you saying you are happy for them to have sex with you!
  4. If you are out at night alone then try and have your driver collect you from the door of where you are. Don’t go wandering down the road in the middle of the night to find him – would you do that by yourself elsewhere?
  5. If you are in an Uber / Ola by yourself (during the day probably not so much) then set it up (from the app) so that you can inform somebody you are in the taxi. They can then track you and then it informs them when you get to your destination. My husband can track my phone as well that provides double the information. We don’t panic about such things too much though!
  6. Consider potential groping situations. If you are in a very busy market that is largely full of men (like Juna Bazaar which I love) then keep your wits about you. If a group of men suddenly want a photo with you (sometimes they will do this without permission) then just be aware of their hands – I have had no issues with this really.
  7. Remember you have in your favour that you are a foreigner. a) men may feel a little less confident around you then they would be with an Indian woman b) if a man does something to you, the police will take it more seriously because you can bring in the media and your embassy who can then get police commissioners involved etc. Being a foreigner dramatically increases the chance that the perpetrator will be arrested and found guilty!

In 18 months in India, I have had only one instance which made me feel uncomfortable (as a sexual being!). I ended up in a brass band warehouse in Jaipur (don’t ask!). My friend was jamming with some of the guys which was incredible. One of the younger band members wanted a photo with me and when he put his arm around me to do it because it was such a tight space I was aware of the potential opportunity I was affording him so said no.

Before I could say anything else an older member of the band, told him off and told him to move away from me! That was very reassuring! You could argue ending up in a warehouse off a narrow street in a city I didn’t know was unsafe especially as there was a bunch of guys. I would not have done this with a group of young men but these guys ranged from 20 to 70! Guys under 17 and over 40 are generally very respectful and will actively prevent the younger guys from being idiots! If I hadn’t had that experience because of a fear of the unknown then I wouldn’t have had an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life!

Clothes

An obvious concern is what you should wear and what is appropriate.

  1. Men can effectively where what they like – within reason.
  2. Women have to be a lot more careful. Why – many men are sexual frustrated and innocent and can’t quite distinguish between a strong confident woman and someone they perceive to be easy! It is not uncommon for women to be considered responsible for controlling a man’s sexual arousal! The implication therefore being that it is a woman’s fault if a man can’t control himself. This is clearly ridiculous but a fact that cannot be ignored.
  3. ‘Western’ places such as 5 star hotels, fancy restaurants etc – wear what you like – you will be shocked at some of the outfits the women wear!
  4. Local places – try and wear loose fitting clothes that cover your shoulders (a capped sleeve is no problem); something that covers your bum if you are wearing tight trousers; loose trousers; skirt / dress that is not above the knee; nothing too low on the back; don’t show your belly and absolutely no cleavage!
  5. Showing your belly in a sari is no problem at all – otherwise however absolutely not!
  6. There are areas however that are a between point between being completely westernised and being ‘local’ – Koregaon Park, Kaylani Nagar and Magarpatta being just three examples. Your clothing therefore can be somewhere in between.
  7. Not only is it totally acceptable to wear Indian clothing – especially kurta / leggings etc and indeed even a sari on suitable occasions – people absolutely love it! I probably wear a kurta once or twice a week and frankly they are so comfortable and cool. You can also do a half way house and wear a kurta with jeans – no problem even in local areas.
  8. Super high heels are not only impractical but may also be looked at slightly scandalously in some parts of town.
  9. In western style pools at hotels etc – go for the skimpy bikini – in pools frequented by mainly non-super wealthy Indians – be a little more conservative.
  10. My suggestion is to play things a little bit more conservatively until you get the lay of the land and understand how things work a little better.
  11. Forget conservative when it comes to colour and glitter – go for it! Nothing is too bling for India – ever!!

Friendship

  1. You are not alone – every single expat has come here with no friends or perhaps just one or two people they know slightly. Everyone has been in your situation in the last 3 / 4 years! They understand. You will find all expats welcome you with open arms – if you make yourself available. Remember you need them but they also need you – people come and go here and when your friendship group begins to dwindle you have to be pro-active about growing it again!
  2. You will have to be proactive – colleagues who have been out here longer than you may be very welcoming but not all are or you mightn’t have any colleagues or their spouses you can turn to. So, go on the expat forums and say – ‘anyone want a coffee?’ or go to an event that somebody has organised via the forums. Doing that is hard but also a great way to make friends! Make sure you post on the expat forums that you are coming – even if it is just a ‘hi, I’m moving in a few weeks and wanted to say hello!’ I have good friends I met that way.
  3. Rather than going straight into your apartment when you move here, try staying in a serviced apartment for at least a week or two (most end up doing this anyhow) and every morning say hi to the regulars. Go and sit by the pool or the coffee shop and say hi to people. People will inevitably say hi back and they can be your way into friendships.
  4. Throw yourself into as many things as you can initially, don’t say no unless you have to and then slowly decide what it is you want to do.
  5. You will not have the type of friends that you would probably have at home. Your friends here will be a mix of ages and backgrounds – it’s great. You get a chance to discover that age and background isn’t really all that important in friendship. Remember everyone you meet here has made the decision to do something great with their life – they are happy to take risks!
  6. Saying that! Try and ignore the negative ones – they hate India, hate the food, hate the people, hate the schools, hate, hate, hate! They will bring you down. Remember, at home these people would probably hate their lives anyhow – which is probably how they ended up out here in the first place.
  7. Embrace those who embrace life here! It will be hard at times to live here but embracing it will make it so so much easier! Some are happy to lunch and shop everyday – if that makes you happy go for it. On the other hand, you will probably get so much more from your time in India if you go out and explore and learn more about the city / country you are living in.
  8. Try not to get involved in the squabbles and the falling out amongst friends. The expat community is a small one, therefore it is like a pressure cooker. Remember, how in school because you had only a small group of friends to choose from, sometimes everything would just explode into a massive argument. It can happen.
  9. Do keep in mind that the expat community is transient. If you stick to only one or two good friends at the price of ignoring others – what will you do when they leave? How will the others feel if now suddenly you want back in with them? So, yes make some good friends but try not to focus on just one group of people – meet lots of different people and sustain lots of different types of friendships. It is more effective long-term and much more interesting!

Emotionally Dealing with Locals

  1. It sounds arrogant to say that you need to learn to deal with the locals. If you don’t learn, you may well lose your mind!
  2. Always keep in your mind that Indians are wonderful, wonderful people whose only real intention is not to disappoint you. Rather, not to disappoint you in the here and now.
  3. Indians will lie to you, placate you with mistruths, not tell you the whole story! Why? They don’t want to disappoint you!
  4. It is incredibly frustrating! There have been times where I have wanted to hit my head against the wall or slap someone I have been so annoyed!
  5. Remember! You are not alone! Speak to anyone (Indian or not) and they will tell you, they feel the same way!
  6. Working out how to play the system will help (see below).

Physical Practicalities

Dealing with locals

  1. Recognise that there is a group of Indians who firmly believe in being honest and sticking to the rules. They are unlikely to be flexible in this.
  2. My feeling is that they understand that in India if you are going to try and be honest, you have to be honest in everything otherwise the border between honesty and dishonesty is too vague.
  3. For example: do not expect a driver who is incredibly honest to be happy to park in a no parking area even for a minute. They might do it because they don’t want to inconvenience you but they will be panicking – it is better if you tell them to leave and come back in 5 minutes.
  4. Embrace these people even if at times they are tricky to deal with. India needs more people like them!
  5. If you are looking for precise answers – don’t ask an open question!  Get them to reiterate (several times) the answer. Inform them that you are expecting them to do what they said. Get them to reiterate once again that it will happen! Confirm with them (and get them to repeat it) what they will do if they will not be able to complete a task – i.e. call and inform you, tell you exactly when they will be there. Do not just assume ‘professionalism’ as we know it in the west!
  6. Where possible, don’t pay up front for things until they are delivered and correctly installed. This is not always possible but where possible avoid it. That way you have something companies want – your money!!
  7. If you get annoyed by someone not turning up read the situation – do you need to shout at them or do you need to be more diplomatic. Humiliating someone by shouting in front of their colleagues may mean they react even more negatively so you’re less likely to have something happen. On the other hand, sometimes being a bolshy foreigner shocks them into doing the right thing.
  8. If someone is due to come to the house, ring in the morning to confirm they are coming, ring an hour before hand and then ring 10 minutes before to check they are coming! The reality is though you will still end up waiting for hours or they still may not turn up! The contact does help  – most of the time!
  9. If someone says it will take a week, assume it will take 2 and then be pleased when it takes 10 days!
  10. Very often, you will have to pay a deposit and often that deposit is up to you. Keep the deposit to a minimum – that way if they want their money then they will have to complete the job to an acceptable standard!
  11. Don’t assume that because someone is better dressed than someone else that they are more reliable etc – often there is no way of knowing! Social status and education level are no real reflection of reliability! Not wanting to lose face goes across all stratas of society!
  12. Indians are less reserved about asking personal questions than most Westerners! This can at times be a little disconcerting. Someone will ask you how much something cost and you are left thinking ‘oh god, that is way more expensive than they could ever afford, how can I tell them!!’ or they will ask something like, ‘why don’t you have any children?’ The answer, ‘we don’t want any’ rarely being acceptable!  I have learnt either to be direct in my responses or if I feel too uncomfortable fudging the answer or answering what could have been a tangental question!
  13. Equally, as a consequence of Indians openness to asking questions, it is difficult to really insult them by your questions. As long as you don’t cause them to lose face, you are normally quite safe!
  14. Don’t allow yourself to get too het up about reliability etc – try and take the time to recognise in individuals and Indians as a whole just how nice and welcoming they are. Notice how they will always take a moment to smile at you if you smile at them!
  15. The extent that you will get stared at by locals (especially those not used to seeing foreigners) can at times be overwhelming. I, however, consider the way Indians stare to be far politer than in the west where we pretend not to be staring but actually are!
    • 99% of the time the staring is not intended to be intimidating (it is our western training that makes it feel intimidating).
    • Try smiling at people who are staring at you. If they mean well, they will smile back. If it is a man staring at a woman, he may look a little startled and look away – eye contact with women in some parts of society is frowned upon.
    • Don’t however smile at big groups of men if you are alone (or probably ever).
    • Some men will stare in a rather intense way when they pull up beside you in traffic – from the safety of my car, I give them a huge stare if I feel they are staring inappropriately. They panic and don’t quite know what to do! I am in the safety of my car however so there is nothing these guys can do if they don’t like my reaction! Sometimes it is just nice to demonstrate how the staring can make you feel – yes, I know childish!
  16. Photographs. Just accept that you will be photographed a lot!! There are however several ways that I find useful to deal with it.
    • You will begin to learn where people are most likely to take your photo – normally where they are not busy – shopping malls, tourist locations etc. In the busy streets of Pune you would think you would stand out more so more photos, I think however people are just too busy to worry too much about you there.
    • If asked politely, then look around – are there lots of young men who will pounce on what they see as permission being granted for a photo opportunity? If this is so and will make you uncomfortable – say no and explain why if you wish. If no one is there, then what is the harm.
    • If (usually young guys or people with young kids) suddenly come up to you and take a photo ‘with you’ without your permission then I normally say no – bas, bas (enough – no). That is quite simply rude.
    • If someone is just quietly taking your photo and you spot it, who cares! I take photos of Indians all the time – sometimes with their permission but if it is from a distance or they won’t notice without permission, so how can I complain. It is very rare here for anyone to say no to having their photo taken – usually people see my camera and ask me to take their photo – even though they can have no expectation of ever seeing the photo!
    • It is not unusual for a lovely polite photo session to become a free for all especially if you are a woman and look very un-Indian – I am blonde and blue eyed! Sometimes just saying bas, bas is enough but sometimes you simply have to walk away.
    • Why do people want to take your photo? Who knows? Some say because they want to show to their friends / families this foreigner they know – especially the guys this is a bit of a status symbol! Crazy right?!

Accommodation

Your relocation agency’s quality is key to this! Are they operating really as an estate agent or are they genuinely trying to make sure your relocation process is as seemless as possible?

  1. House v apartment is truly up to you! If a central location is more important then it is more likely that you end up in an apartment. If location isn’t key and you really want a garden etc then there are plenty of houses available.
  2. Do not expect to find a 1/2 bedroom accommodation that is of acceptable standard even if you are by yourself! You will end up with at least a 3 / 4 bedroom accommodation – 4,000 sqf plus! Smaller properties will be of such poor quality that there is no point even looking at them. As a consequence irrespective of whether you are single or with a family, you will end up finding similiar properities at a similar cost! Most companies don’t seem to understand that.
  3. Think really carefully about how far your accommodation is from work / school. Traffic can suddenly get very bad here so being as close as possible but in an area you are happy to live in is really important!
  4. Do not put any pressure on yourself to choose an apartment from what the agency show you. If you don’t like any, then you don’t take any!
  5. If your agency is failing to show you decent accommodation then you can use another agency – your company may disagree but it is common practice here. Your contracted agency is responsible for all the legal work etc but the new agency once they find your apartment are responsible for negotating with landlord and the move in. The contracted agency must then pay a fee to this second agency. Almost every single family out of the 15 or so that moved here with our company did this!

Looking at apartments

  1. Key to understanding how house hunting here works is that most landlords will do absolutely no work to your prospective apartment until you have signed the contract. A good relocation will verbally / via email state you will take the house but will not make you sign until they are satisfied with the quality of what the landlord has done.
  2. If an apartment has not been lived in for 2 years, you may have 2 years of dirt when you walk through the door. There is no natural attempt to make the acccommodation look as good as possible before showing a prospective tenant.
  3. If the place is new, do not necessarily expect the walls to have been painted or floors to have been laid. Certainly, don’t expect any storage outside of the kitchen.
  4. The state of accommodation can be quite off-putting and upsetting. You can’t help but think that your company are having a joke expecting you to move into such places! The reality – most will be lovely once done up!
  5. A good relocation agency will do their best to show you completed (minus storage) accommodation that is clean and presentable. To do this however, they need to ensure that there are enough landlords willing to do the work prior to showing a client!

Key Questions to Ask

Water

  1. Is water 24 hours? – due to water rationing some societies (housing groups) have limited water. You are unlikely to see these but it is always worth asking.
  2. Is water only PMC (city council) or is it also private? If also private, less likely to have water shortages as the water is bought in.
  3. Is there any water restrictions? i.e. is there no water for certain times or the day or has there been a history of restrictions. If you move here after monsoon, it is unlikely to have any restrictions but that doesn’t mean in the height of the summer there wasn’t! Look for notices in communal areas that suggest water rationing – often it takes months and months for such notices to be removed! One agency swore to me that there were none and had been no historical water restrictions – right next to a poster explaining the water rationing!
  4. Is there an electronic water filtration system? Is it built in? i.e. is it plumbed in. If not, is there a dispenser? If not, will the landlord be willing to install one. If there is, ensure that the water filter is serviced before you move in. Who is responsible for the maintenance of the water filtration system?
  5. Some buy in additional water and don’t drink the filtered water – I always drink the filtered water and I have had no problems at all. It is a matter of choice. Use the filtered water for washing vegetables, water for kettle etc. Some also use it to brush their teeth.

Electricity

  1. You will have lots and lots of power cuts, that you can’t avoid so it is a question of how your society is set up to deal with them.
  2. Does the society have a generator? If so, does it provide a complete supply? i.e. every plug etc. If not, what will the generator power? Does the generator operate 24 / 7 (most do)
  3. Try and find out the average cost of electricty for that society. Some societies (such as One North in Magarpatta) are horrendously expensive – as in fall over in shock when you get the bill expensive. Others are more ‘acceptable’. The fancier the accommodation / the bigger the accommodation the less ‘acceptable’ your electricity bill will be.
  4. If a house – does it have solar panels? How much electricity will they provide? Is there a back up system for example when it is monsoon and the sun doesn’t shine through the clouds for months!
  5. Make sure your agency provides you with your account details including the admin number for your area. You need this to pay your bill online. Electricity Bill Payment

Gas

  1. Gas is extremely cheap! My biggest bill was 300 ruppees (of which about 275 ruppees was admin charges!).
  2. Gas is largely only used for the cooker.
  3. Does the society have piped gas?
  4. Does the accommodation have bottled gas? Will the landlord provide two bottles? How do you change them? What are the contact details for the person to change the bottles?

Internet

  1. You should try not to move into a property until the internet is installed – you need it for whatsapp (must have communication method!) amongst many other reasons.
  2. Is there a fixed provider for internet – most Panaschil properties for example use a company called Lunatec (otherwise known as the lunatics!). They are awful and very very expensive but Panaschil provide nice socities! We paid about 80,000 ruppees for 6 months when we lived in One North – effectively unlimited.
  3. If there is no fixed interent provider who do the agency recommend – look at all the deals they suggest and deals you find online carefully.
  4. We use YouBroadband now we have moved – they are a pain to be installed but very good once installed. We have 800 GB of data for 90 days at a total cost of 5,000 rupees so an incredible saving for a far better system!
  5. Airtel also have 4G internet. We used it for about 2 months but ran through the 100GB of data in a week every time! It was also quite expensive.

Your first few weeks

My first few weeks in Pune were at times horrendous! I was so frustrated and so physically and emotionally drained that I found it really hard work!

This was particularly the case after we moved into our apartment. Every single person I have spoken to about my situation said they had the same experience – so will you and you are not alone!

  1. Priority when you move into your apartment (clearly your children but after that!) is making sure you have enough food and water so that you can stay home all day! You will spend a lot of time hanging around without the ability to go out and get food. If you don’t eat, all of what you will have to deal with will be so much harder!
  2. You will have lots and lots of people coming to deliver things – washing machines, dishwashers, water purifiers etc! They will all come late or not at all! You will not be able to go out though just in case they come!
  3. Try and make sure the internet is installed before you move in, this can take time. Having the internet means you can do things while you are waiting / hanging around even if it is just watching a movie.
  4. Do not move in until everything the landlord said would be done is done. Once you are in, they have no incentive to do anything!
  5. You may have a big fight on your hands to make sure the apartment is actually clean when you move in. Refuse to do so until you are happy with the cleanliness. Here, landlords will only clean and fix up the apartment often once the contract has been signed. It is your relocation agents job to fight your corner for you. If they are refusing to do this, go above them to their boss or to your company who employs them. Remember, your move is paying their salary.
  6. Before you move in try and ‘break’ everything in your apartment. Some things may have been made to look not broken but…
  7. You may have a number of days when you first move in where the landlord / developer will fix things for free – after that you will have to pay unless you are prepared to fight for it!
  8. This will probably be the most stressful time you have here. You will get through it. Don’t think that you will get away with it, you won’t – nobody does! You are better being prepared for it (as is your spouse for the stress they will return to!).
  9. Until your air freight arrives, you may well have to ‘camp’ at home – beg and borrow from people. My things are always in new people’s house. My way of repaying those people who lent me things when I first got here. If you can’t – who cares if you buy a few plates and glasses its not the end of the world and it won’t break the bank.
  10. Try and do something nice every day / week during these first few weeks even if it is just to go out for a coffee one evening / morning. It will help you deal with things and remind you why you came here.

Staff

Maids

  1. It is not a luxury (well not a huge one) to have a maid. It is so dusty all year round that your floors will need to be brushed / hoovered and washed every day as will tables need dusting etc.
  2. You will go mad if you stay at home all day and clean! You need to get out everyday and do something and meet people. If you are working, then a maid is definitely not a luxury!
  3. It is hard getting used to having a maid but it is also so nice!
  4. How often they come is up to your needs and your family’s needs. Our maid comes four days  a week for three hours a day. We have no family and I don’t need her to cook and I like one day a week where nobody is in the house other than me! Others do 8am to 4. So that they can help get kids up for school and then help when they get home. Others do longer hours again. Some even live in.
  5. What to consider when deciding your maid’s hours. Do you want your maid to:
    • Clean
    • Cook
    • Shop for food
    • Get children up for school
    • Take children to school and collect them
    • Water plants / garden
    • Play with children
    • Iron
    • Put clothes away
    • Wash clothes (be careful many don’t have washing machines and so most don’t get their maids to do this)
  6. Go on to expat forums on Facebook and ask what a good salary / hourly rate is. Again depending on the hours they do, you may pay them a salary or an hourly rate.
  7. My rate Oct ’16 – 120 rupees / hour including bus fare bus fare (some will ask for it in addition to their hourly rate – payment is up to you)
  8. Facebook forums and talking to expats is the best way to get a maid. Get a maid who is recommended by someone who understands western needs. Your driver may recommend someone good but if they have never worked for a western family they may need training. My maid hadn’t but after a few months was doing a great job!
  9. Be very clear in your mind, what you want them to do and express this clearly from day one. This gives them a chance to say that it isn’t something they want to do.
  10. Also be clear on what level of English is acceptable to you. Do you want them to be able to read and write English? I find having a maid who can read English is useful – I have a whiteboard where I write every days’ tasks and so if I am out it doesn’t matter.
  11. Be friendly but remember you are their boss not their friend. You need to be able to switch from, ‘How are you?’ to ‘How you did this was not acceptable’ without confusion.
  12. Be really accurate in how you explain what you want done. If you want a window sill cleaned – show them how to do it and then say – ‘you need to do this to all of the window sills.’ If you want them to clean the floor – explain that they need to move furniture out of the way etc etc. It is not that you are trying to say they are stupid but some won’t take responsibility for things you haven’t told them to do! Frustrating? Yes!
  13. Don’t assume they will know how to use household equipment like hoovers, clothes horses, dishwashers etc. If you want them to use them then show them how to plug them in, turn them on – physically how you use it and what you use it for. I showed my maid how to hoover the marble floor but then she didn’t hoover rugs because she didn’t know you could use it on rugs!
  14. It may take more than one training session for them to get confident enough to use the tool. Watch whether it is being moved (if you are out and can’t see it being used) – if not, revisit the training.
  15. Toilets. Toilet cleaning is consider a task for the very lowest caste. Some won’t want to do it. Ask them if they are willing to. If not, it is your decision – it takes 2 minutes to clean a toilet yourself or is that a deal breaker? If you want them and they refuse to clean toilets – try going into the bathroom when they are cleaning it and clean the toilet yourself. Some will be horrified that ‘mam’ is cleaning so will do it themselves. Caste is wrong but its impact does still exist.
  16. Explain that they can pick up things and dust underneath them. Explain that you expect them to be very careful of your things but if something is accidentally broken it is not the end of them world but they must tell you it happened. Otherwise you may look and look for something and wonder what you have done with it!
  17. You can leave your maid alone once you trust them and how long this takes will also be dependent on where they have been before and how trusted they were. (clearly you don’t take a maid where there is any question of trustworthiness!). Leaving them alone may take a few days or a few weeks.
  18. Some will give their maid a spare key, others wait for them to arrive and then go out. We used to have biometric locks so my maid used a code to get in when she first worked for us. Remember that if you have a big problem with a maid, you may not be able to get a key back so where possible give a code. On the other hand, most expats have given a key to their maid.
  19. I like to assume I can trust my maid but at the same time I don’t want to provide temptations that she may not be able to resist. Remember she will see things in your house that she could never afford in a million years. She may well see more money that she can earn in a few months or even years. 
  20. Lock away all cash and jewellery – most apartments have at least drawers with locks until you trust them. You may also want to lock away anything that is easy to pick up and put in your pocket e.g. iPad. I did in the beginning but very quickly stopped. If you are going away on holiday and your maid will be in your house then do lock away all valuables.

Driver

  1. Some drivers come with the car and you have no choice who you get but even if so, try and influence things as much as you can.
  2. Again, word of mouth is the best way to get a driver but be careful. As a driver told me, anyone can drive for you but they won’t necessarily be a driver!
  3. Interview and trial drivers – get them to take you out for a drive around. Give them a variety of places to go and see how do they deal with it. Like with your maid, thing about your priorities – what do you want from them.
  4. A good driver will once given an address (in advance) work out where it is before you leave. If you give them an address they’ve never been to and expect them to leave immediately – good ones will ask you for more detail, call someone who might know or ask you to call someone who might know. The bad ones just drive in the general direction and hope someone will be able to tell you where to go! The rickshaw drivers (who they normally ask) usually don’t know but it will lead to a huge conversation about the foreigner in the back of the car!
  5. If you can’t give your driver the exact address of for example a shop try and give them a contact number.
  6. Try and get a driver who speaks enough English that you can communicate relatively easily. They need to be able to write in understandable English as WhatsApp / text messages will be your main means of communication. Level of English will also be affected by how much you want them to be able to show you around, explain about Pune and generally just chat to you – or not – dependent on what you want.
  7. Ideally they should have a smart phone so they can use whatsapp and can look up maps etc. Cars do not have GPS here (think maps aren’t good enough!). Remember that if your driver uses WhatsApp it costs them money. My mobile bill here is laughably small but it may constitute 5% of my driver’s monthly income if he uses data. You may want to add a some extra money for data if this proves to be an issue.
  8. Your driver once appointed needs to sign a contract so that somewhere they have agreed officially to what your expectations are. Mention hours, salary, cleanliness and presentation, car cleaning, alcohol, mobile phone use, what happens if they are ill, what happens in an accident, over-time, being away overnight etc.
  9. Give your driver a month’s trial before you tell him he is permanent.
  10. Watch your driver’s speed, lane discipline (within reason), mobile phone use, time-keeping, how well he notices hazards ahead, use of gears, relying on breaks etc.
  11. As said about maid, you are not their friend but their employee so be friendly but not their buddy. It is quite likely that you will have a problem with them and a firm word is often effective! Inadvertently however when we had decided our current driver was so bad we were going to replace him, we solved our problem with him completely! We had a driver come for a trial – we never told our driver. From the next day however he was brilliant and has remained so. Why? We think our security guards warned him off and he knew he had to sort himself out!
  12. Save other people’s drivers’ numbers so that your driver can call them if you need to go somewhere that they know. Your driver should also accept phone calls from your friends wanting the same.
  13. You will need to pay for petrol (probably). Depending on how well you trust your driver, you can give them the money and they can just do it and give you a receipt. Be aware though that some drivers have a deal with petrol station managers where less petrol is put in but a receipt is provided for more money!
  14. Your driver will also need a kitty to pay for car parks. Some provide a kitty but some just give money every time it is needed. This can be receipted or not dependent on what you feel about your driver. I find it easier just to leave them with 200 ruppees or so – that way you don’t always have to have cash!
  15. Drivers can go away over night. You are meant to pay them 500 rupees but we pay more – some disagree with us completely!
  16. I feel very guilty about getting my driver to work over time or spend too much time away from his family, on the other hand overtime means more money and more money means for some their children get a better chance in life – have opportunities. Drivers are usually very pleased to  work long hours and even 7 days a week. For me it is a question of trying to balance my needs / their desire for more income / their need for a family life.

Lending money

At some point all maids / drivers / gardeners will ask you to lend them some money. Everyone you speak to has different opinions about it and there is probably no right or wrong answer. If someone asks you and you aren’t sure, just talk to your friends and ideally locals with their own staff and see what they think. Do however consider the following factors (amongst others more specific to your member of staff):

  1. Why are they asking? Is it really a necessity? Remember, providing good wedding presents etc is a social necessity and about maintaining face. Education is a way out of poverty so paying the costs of a child going to an English medium school will be so important to people. My maid recently borrowed money off me just in case her pregnant sister had problems after she gave birth (for cultural reasons my maid would have been expected to pay the bill). I agreed. In the end, there were huge problems and so my money meant the sister could get good quality medical care quickly.
  2. If they want to buy school books or school equipment, are you better going with them to buy it rather than just handing over the cash. Remember it is also a question of maintaining face – if you insist on going to the school to pay the fees, that will be saying to their community that they can’t afford the fees and they will therefore lose face.
  3. Do you trust that they will spend the money on what they say it is for? if not, do you mind if they don’t?
  4. Can they really afford to pay you back? If they don’t pay it back, how concerned are you?
  5. How much will they have to pay out of their salary every month?
  6. Are you and they both happy to have some form of payment card where you and they sign to say how much is owed and how much has been paid?

Ultimately, the decision to lend money is yours.

Bonus and Holidays

  1. It is traditional for you to pay your members of staff a months salary at some point in the year, usually Diwali (November). If they are non-Hindu ask them when they would like their bonus or do they want it split between two different periods (e.g. Diwali and Christmas).
  2. You may ask your maid to work a few more hours during the lead up to Diwali doing for example a spring clean.
  3. Your driver’s holiday time is relatively easy – when you are not there, they get a holiday. They should however have an additional week’s holiday during their most important religious holiday so Hindus – Diwali and Christians – Christmas.
  4. Your driver may also need specific religious days off. I try and find out what are the important days during religious festivals and either minimise the hours he works that day or if possible tell him I don’t need him e.g. if he goes to temple in the evening, I try and make sure I don’t need him in the evening. It can get frustrating however between September and November – it feels every second day is an important religious festival they must have time off for! I recently made my driver work on Dussehra (Oct) and regret it – it wasn’t right. Other days, other than diwali, I think are completely acceptable to work.
  5. Maids are more complicated. If you are away for three weeks then your house will still need cleaning so she will still need to come in. If I am away for a long period, I suggest she takes a week off during this time or perhaps doesn’t work every day but 2 out of 4 days.
  6. If you are away, then your staff members should be paid – it is not their fault you don’t need them. Payment for when they take time off is up to you and them and what you have agreed. As long as it is not ridiculous holidays, I have no problem paying them, they have the right to a holiday too!
  7. Once you have an Indian bank account, it is worth asking your staff whether they want to be paid straight into their bank accounts. I hadn’t consider it until my maid asked me to pay her into her account – with no money coming into her account regularly she wasn’t able to set up any payment systems to enable her to get a fridge or a freezer. She needed proof of an income.

Health

  1. Some people panic about health when moving to India. Pune has a population of 6 million and growing – it has all the modern amenities if you know where to go!
  2. Hospitals – you will probably be shown Ruby Hall and panic! Relocation agents always bring you there and expats can never work out why although many do still use it! There are more ‘private’ sections of the hospital that are fine though (usually!) My recommendation is Columbia Asia. My friend even had her baby there! You can just call up and see a GP or even a consultant without any waiting time – sometimes even the same day. They also have an emergency department (at the back of the hospital building) where you can go with a broken leg etc.
  3. Bring enough prescription drugs with you to do you for a few months. If you need to see a doctor regularly make sure your relocation agent arranges this and be sure you are happy with the doctor / hospital. Insist on seeing others if you are not. Remember the relocation agent works for you!!
  4. You can get prescription medicines over the counter here without a prescription (and they are seriously cheap)- this can be good but they may not always be what they seem. If you are getting prescription drugs over the counter, try and get ones recommended by others and from a chemist that is recommended. You are better to go to a doctor first. I recommend Khrishna Medical, North Main Road, Koregaon Park. I have used them repeatedly with no problems at all!
  5. You will get diarrhoea here and you may get it from what looks like a dodgy restaurant or a five star hotel – you cannot control it really! Make sure you bring dioralyte (you can get local equivalent) with you – you can get it but if you are sick, you don’t want to be searching for it! Oddly, Ibuprofen works brilliantly for some people in stopping diarrhoea.
  6. If you think you may have eaten something dodgy – try a probiotic drink (can get them in most supermarkets but especially ones aimed at expats).
  7. Mosquito bites – you will have lots of bites in the beginning (lots) – we are in the mountains so your blood will thin over time – thicker blood is tastier so they love newbies!! Bring bite treatment roll-on (usually has ammonia in it).  Also a good tip is Vicks – VapoRub! You can get tiny little tubs here that you can easily keep in bags.
  8. You can buy anti-mosquito cream very easily and incredibly cheaply here. Keep a tube in all your bags! Worth also investing in a mosquito bat. Most shops on the side of the road sell them. You can always ask your driver.
  9. Should you have no bite treatment creams a good solution is the back of a metal spoon as hot as you can bare to have it on your skin and for as long as possible. This kills the nerve endings that makes it itchy. Another option is to use your finger nail to make a cross in the bite mark – be careful though open wounds could potentially get infected – not something you really want to happen.
  10. You need to be aware of malaria. Pune is a very low risk malaria area but if you are travelling outside of it, it is worth just checking.
  11. Dengue Fever is also prevalent in areas with water such as by lakes and rivers. There is nothing you can take to stop you getting dengue other than using mosquito creams. Make sure your house has mosquito nets installed! This should be a deal your relocation agents negotiates with your landlord.
  12. Hydration – everyone suffers from dehydration when they first get here. Drink lots of water but also soda water (better than water for hydration purposes). Fresh lime soda mix / salty – you can order it in any restaurant and is easy to make at home with sweet limes).Watch your salt consumption. A craving for salty crisps / chips is ok if it stops your headaches until you get used to the heat.

Taxis and Rickshaws

Taxis

  1. Use a taxi service such as Uber or Ola or one recommended to you by a friend.
  2. Taxis are extremely cheap. I took a taxi all the way across town (about 40 minutes) and it came to 500 rupees (10 dollars / 5 pounds)
  3. Uber and Ola are paid online so you don’t have to worry about carrying cash or your driver cheating you.
  4. Both companies are fairly reliable but probably not advisable to travel alone in at night especially if you are a women.
  5. You order your taxi online and can use a pin to say exactly where you are and then online say where you are going – this helps if the taxi driver doesn’t speak English.
  6. You are unlikely however to be able to use the apps until you have an Indian bank card and Indian mobile phone – some international bank cards work but it is worth checking.

Rickshaws

  1. They are quick and easy to organise although a little bit of haggling is sometimes required.
  2. Rickshaw drivers try and exploit anyone not clearly a local (including other Indians) and charge them stupid prices for short journeys just because they think you won’t know any better.
  3. Go prepared with a rough estimate of the cost of going to your destination (you can download an app (Pune Rickshaw) that allows you to do this. This will mean you can haggle  without trying to be too cheap.
  4. I usually negotiate a cost but you can go by meter but remember if they think you don’t know where you are going, they may take the long route! I prefer to negotiate.
  5. Rickshaw drivers tend to be very poor so them getting an extra 10 – 20 rupees off you is not the end of the world.
  6. Try and make sure you have the exact money in cash otherwise some rickshaw drivers will claim they have no change. I tend to save all my 10 and 20 rupees notes for this reason.
  7. You can order a rickshaw through Ola.
  8. Rickshaw drivers often don’t know locations so you will have to tell them where something is near. Addresses usually include this. If they don’t know somewhere far away, they may refuse to take you.
  9. Usuallly better to ask for a hotel by putting hotel first so not JW Marriott Hotel but Hotel JW Marriott! If you do it the first way they don’t always get what you mean! Don’t understand why. Doesn’t seem to be an issue with taxis in Pune although I have had that issue in Mumbai.

Useful phrases:

    • Hotel X kaylee-A – Hotel X please
    • Season’s Mall kay pass – near Season’s Mall
    • kay lee-A kitna – how much?
    • bahut / zyad – too much!
    • 70 rupees hay – it should be 70 rupees
    • meter say chalo – go by meter
    • left and right – they must know these in English to pass their driving test!
    • Seedha – straight on

9. Try using humour to get the right price! I find these phrases once they give me a stupid price      incredibly effective!

    • majak mat karoo! – You must be joking!
    • metre say 60 rupees hotta hay / may 70 rupees bol raha hay – if we go by metre it will be 60 rupees, I’m saying 70 rupees.

10. Sometimes, it is cheaper and easier to use an Uber / Ola car rather than a rickshaw especially for longer distances.

11. A great option is to have a friendly rickshaw driver you can call up! I feel safer traveling in a rickshaw in the dark by myself (feel I can easily hop out if there is a problem) and with a driver you know and trust – it feels safer again!

Free Time

  1. The extent of your free time will vary dependent on whether you have children and what age they are.
  2. Very quickly you can fill your time with all sorts of activities – some practical like food shopping and some more frivolous, the extent that you feel comfortable with simply ‘filling your time’ is up to you.
  3. Many, many spouses however are very talented people with great professional backgrounds – there is no shortage of organisations needing your assistance. You can volunteer your time full time, one day a week or on a completely casual basis. The poverty that confronts you everywhere however compels me to want to at least do something to combat it – as little difference as my contribution may make. What’s the best way to eat an elephant though? One bite at a time.
  4. To get in touch with charities ask on the Facebook forums or ask anyone you meet.
  5. Many expats also learn a new sport especially golf. Lessons are relatively cheap here in comparison to most western countries and it is also easy and cheap to have someone like a personal trainer. So if you are going to have more free time, why not better yourself physically too?! Again contacts can be made through your own contacts or through Facebook.
  6. Use any holiday time you have to travel – around India and around Asia.
    • Depending on what part of the world you are from – Australia / New Zealand and Europe may be a lot closer too. America is just nightmarishly far away – sorry Americans!
    • Internal flights tend to be cheap and easily available. Flights to Singapore / Colombo etc also tend to be really good value.
    • Talk to friends about where they have been and get recommendations on tour companies /hotels etc
    • Don’t be afraid of the train – I was! Now that I have even been on a train journey by myself I don’t know what I was concerned about – you might want a strong bladder though. Not sure I would recommend an overnight train journey on the other hand. Tickets are available from train stations – just come armed with your date of travel, train number and seat class – these are available through Indain Railways website but more understandably through Makemytrip or Cleartrip. You can book your train tickets online but it requires an ID number which I have failed to be able to get – some have though – not sure how!

What to buy when you get here (non-perishable)

  1. Lots and lots of passport pictures – you can do it in most malls or your driver should tell you where. Get 20+ that might be enough! They are very cheap but you will need them for everything you can possibly imagine!
  2. Big American style fridge / freezer so you can buy lots of meat at the same time and freeze it – reduces the time spent doing it.
  3. Mosquito cream and patches – chemists and most supermarkets
  4. Mosquito plugs – all supermarkets
  5. If you have a garden / balcony – citronella sticks – supermarkets, garden centres
  6. Furniture etc will be needed – will give suggestions later
  7. Cleaning materials (order from Big Basket – they are heavy so they may as well deliver it! You will have to pay in cash until you get an Indian bank card.)
  8. Basic non-perishable groceries – again Big Basket is easier.

Perishable

Fruit and vegetables – supermarket quality is normally not great (Spar in Koregaon Plaza is better). International supermarkets can be slightly better.

  1. most fruit and veg will be seasonal and things out of season will not always be great quality.
  2. buy from markets (or does someone come to your society – ask security guards) – Tulsi Baug Market (next to Mandai market) in Tulsi Baug is the best that I’ve discovered. You can also try Shivaji Market in Camp. Get someone to take you there ideally but equally get your driver to take you to the best entrance and have a look! They haven’t tried to cheat me but keep your wits about you – if it seems silly prices – joke whether it is Indian or tourist prices and simply walk away if you think it is still too much.
  3. Fruit is much, much more expensive than vegetables especially apples.
  4. Weekly veg for two in Shivaji (mainly Indian veg) around 200 rupees. Fruit for two around 300- 500 rupees depending on what we have.
  5. Green Tokri are a farm (near organic) outside of Pune. They deliver to certain parts of the city every week. Good quality (although I still think Shivaji is better) but often do more English style veg as it is called here. They also do lettuce. Order online. There are more and more of these companies in town – you will need to ask around and look online.
  6. Big Basket are good for fruit and veg too but watch quantities – easy to accidentally order 500g of dill or a kilo of chillies!!
  7. Zipmeals.in do good groceries and some cheese – quality is generally good. Best place for cheese is probably Nature’s Basket.
  8. Dorabjees – sell Green Tokri products. Fruit and veg is ok.
  9. Nature’s Basket – do very good buffalo mozzarella – only place that taste likes home! Fruit and veg are only ok – although they often do white onions (can usually only get red onions).
  10. Stalls on the side of the road can be good – just watch quality and pricing! If you think prices are too high – ask your driver to check for you.

Meat / Fish

  1. don’t usually get from supermarkets.
  2. Lamb is actually goat (don’t ask me why!!) Goat can be very nice if cooked properly.
  3. Beef until recently was illegal. It is now only legal if it is imported from outside of the state. It is still therefore hard to get your hands on! I don’t have a source but I’m working on one or two leads!
  4. Buffalo – is denser than beef but nice if cooked slowly with lots of flavouring
  5. Chicken – has less flavour
  6. Pork – again tends to be less flavoursome.
  7. To buy fish and meat you will need to speak to the people who live in your area. Aundh and Baner have lots of good places. Magarpatta not so much etc.
  8. I cheat with meat and order it from the Hyatt Regency in Viman Nagar – if you go to their coffee shop (middle entrance) then you can order and get within 48 hours – is more expensive than the markets but you don’t have to go to the markets! You can do the same from the Marriott from the Italian restaurant.
  9. Nature’s Basket do a good pork loin.
  10. Fish is good in Shivaji market if you go to stall at the very end at right angles to all the other stalls.
  11. Meat and fish is very much a local knowledge thing so ask those who live around you.

Food Shopping

(as I know it – again speak to people who live near you for more precise locations)

  1. Important to remember that most shops don’t open until 10.30 / 11. Cafes are an exception to this.
  2. Spar (In Koregaon Plaza / Nitesh shopping mall) – best of the supermarkets. People come from all over Pune for it.
  3. Nature’s Basket – one in Koregaon Plaza and one in Aundh
  4. Shivaji Market, Camp
  5. Tulsi Baug Mandir (market) and the market next to it (better than the Mandai market)
  6. L’Bouche D’Or (known as French Bakery!) in Gera Plaza on Boat Club Road – does great bread and yummy cakes, run by a French man!!
  7. Hyatt Regency and JW Marriott Hotel
  8. Mahalaxmi Stores on North Main Road – seems tiny, sells everything and will order things for you if you show them a picture and they can find it! They have a great electronics stores on the 1st floor.
  9. There are lots of shops on the side of the road that sell everything you can imagine! Your driver is a good source of knowledge for this.
  10. Milk – people use a variety of delivery services – Nature’s Basket (just call them), Pride of cows to name just two. Local shops will also see UHT milk.
  11. You can buy fresh milk but usually this needs to be boiled and consumed quickly.

Alcohol

  1. Supermarkets do not sell alcohol except for the international ones but in separate sections.
  2. Look out for Beer Shopee signs next to little shops at the side of the road. Your driver should also be able to bring you to a local shop. Women can definitely go into these shops (really just counters facing the street) but you will probably be the only woman there.
  3. Get the number of a local shop and they can usually deliver within 30 minutes. Cash on delivery.
  4. Watch out for ‘dry days’ these are days where nowhere is allowed to sell alcohol (well not officially! International hotels are sometimes allowed to sell it). Dry days fall on big festivals. Your driver should know when these will be. If there is a calendar of them, I have yet to see it!

Furniture / Household

  1. RA Lifestyle  – Kalyani Nagar
  2. Sanskriti – Koregaon Park
  3. Lifestyle – Bund Garden Road
  4. Vasati – Mundhwa
  5. Inorbit Mall
  6. Ishnaya Mall (furniture place – bit weird but give it a go)
  7. Shoppers Stop – Seasons Mall
  8. Picture framers – Mohsinali’s Frames, Clover Centre on first floor, left hand wing. Top Art – Viman Nagar – framing is so much cheaper here!
  9. Hardware stores – are everywhere ask your driver, they sell almost everything that you could get in a DIY type store. DIY stores you wander around – do not exist!

There are places everywhere they are just a few! Again ask your neighbours and friends.

School / Stationary Supplies

Lots of options these are just three.

  1. AB Chowk – this is a whole street of school book sellers. Here you can get anything you can imagine in terms of stationary. Probably easier places to go but here is cheaper and more fun!
  2. Guarav – art shop in Koregaon Park (Lane D). Is really good but expensive.
  3. Artist Katta – fab art shop really near Shaniwari Wada. Much cheaper than more famous places and they people who run it are amazing!

Side of the Road

  1. Fruit and vegetables. If you aren’t sure about the pricing tell your driver what you paid and they will deal with it, if you have been done!
  2. Shoe repair / polishing – they usual sit on the side of the road, again ask your driver – they sell shoes laces too!
  3. Newspapers (although you can arrange for these to be delivered too – ask your neighbours)
  4. Matches / lighters – sometimes get in supermarkets but can’t guarantee. Again ask your driver.

Brunch

Brunch is a big deal in Pune on Saturdays and Sundays.

  1. Personal favourite – Hyatt Regency
  2. Oakwood Premier – go there during the week for breakfast sometimes – yum!
  3. JW Marriott – really popular – you need to book in advance
  4. Westin – the Italian is great but not for someone gluten free like me!
  5. Conrad hotel – new hotel, brunch is expensive and only OK.

Traditional Indian Food

There are great places everywhere in Pune! These are just a few of my favourites! All veg restaurants.

  1. Ram Krishna opposite the Clover Centre, Camp. Old traditional veg restaurant.
  2. Wada Pav, JJ Gardens (every driver knows this place so famous!) Wada Pav is a yummy deep fried potato patti served in a bun – delicious! You pay 20 rupees per plate at one stall and then hand a token to the place where they serve them. Always manically busy but so, so yummy!
  3. Vaishali, Ferguson College Road, also really famous.
  4. Ganraj near Tulsi Baug – so yummy!
  5. Archana right next to Tulsi Baug Mandir (market) – some of the best food I’ve had in India!
  6. Shiv Sagar – in Baner
  7. Kalyani in Kalyani Nagar
  8. Copper Chimeny -Lane 7, Koregaon Park (will deliver) – doesn’t look traditional
  9. Carnival – Mundhwa (near Marriott Suites) – very contemporary

Forums

Facebook – Pune Expat Forum, Everything Expats, Pune Parents Group – great sources of information and friendship!!

WhatsApp – while not a forum in itself – it is crucial for any communication in Pune. The mobile phone system isn’t exactly reliable so people use this instead. You will find there are lots of groups that share information and friendship although unfortunately you can’t search for them but ask people.

Places to visit

Pune isn’t a major tourist destination but it can be very interesting. Just throw yourself into the city centre. Go in with open eyes and more importantly and open mind.

You will be stared at almost everywhere you go but especially where locals have time to stop and stare. If you go to where they are busy and working, then they will see you and look a little but they don’t have time to want to take pictures of you etc.

Pune is relatively safe, as safe as any big city is. As a woman I have no problems walking around anywhere. If I go somewhere new however I tend to go with a friend largely so we can have an adventure together and having company always makes you braver.

Early days do a Chalowalks.in walking tour of Kasba Peth (an old area in Pune). This gave me the confidence that I could walk around what seems like chaos but isn’t really.  Jan (an Irish woman) and her husband Rashid Ali run the walks. They have lived in Pune for many years.

  1. Kasba Peth – just love to walk around there – really interesting
  2. Tulsi Baug / Laxmi Road – a market area (mainly household and clothes / jewellery) with a separate old Victorian market (fruit and veg)
  3. MG Road / Camp – more expensive than other areas but lots of interesting shops.
  4. Shaniwar wada – old fort in centre of town
  5. Ganesh temple (near Shaniwar wada)
  6. Alandi – about 40 minutes from centre of Pune – a lovely ghat – check out the new temple being built to the left of the ghat – you can’t miss it. Your chance to have a walk around an unfinished temple – they think they have 8 more years of building left!
  7. Pavrati Temple – temple on top of a very steep hill!
  8. Juno Bazaar – only on Wednesday / Saturday mornings – all sorts of things – go for the sights and buy something if you see it. From ornaments to canvas (this is where the military shop) and every single thing you could every imagine in between!
  9. Each area will have a specialism – keep an eye out as you drive around – these areas will provide you with everything you need!

Again, you can find lots of things in the malls but (I hate malls) it is more interesting if you look for them where real Indians actually shop. Ask friends / forums or your driver / maid. It will be harder but more real and cheaper.

What to Bring

Some people will have only air freight and others only a sea shipment – some will have both! I have assumed you have both.

What you will need is also dependent on what your situation is. Will you be in a serviced apartment until your sea shipment comes or will you have rental furniture and be in your apartment?

Some of the things I said in the air freight clearly need to be brought in larger quantities in the sea freight.

Clearly, if you have children then there will be additional items that you will need to prioritise dependent on what you need to bring!

Luggage

  1. Use full alcohol allowance for a spirit (lasts longer) or wine if you don’t drink spirits! Buy for me if you don’t want it!!
  2. Any solvents from home you need but can’t send in air or sea shipment e.g. hair spray etc. Don’t worry about cleaning products or shoe polish!
  3. Medicines – can get most things here but it is about not having to worry for the first couple of weeks.
  4. Small mosquito cream. When you get here buy Odomos creams and Odomos patches for children (although I use them all the time!). It is cheaper and more effective.
  5. Anti-mosquito bite roll on – more effective than cream.
  6. Tampons – you can’t get them here easily! They are available in a very limited selection in Spar but they are the really old-fashioned type that I don’t like but good to remember in an emergency! You can get sanitary towels. I brought hundreds of tampons when I moved – I do wonder what the movers thought!
  7. Enough clothes to do you until your sea shipment arrives. Nowhere is very formal so just bring something nice to wear just in case – everything else can be quite casual.
  8. High heels are not going to be worn unless you are getting out of your car and going straight in somewhere! The footpaths make high heels dangerous!! So bring one or two pairs only. Remember there is no such thing as too glittery here so if you want bring your fanciest pair just in case a sari party or the like happens before your sea shipment gets here!
  9. Sandals – if you have size 7+ feet get a couple of pairs of flip-flops / sandals before you come.  You can get larger sizes just not easily. If you are coming near to monsoon try and have at least one pair of shoes you can get very wet and muddy!
  10. Things to entertain children (and yourself) in the car – you will spend hours in it everyday! My husband invested in sound cancelling headphones for his commute and it is has made it much more restful a journey!
  11. Adaptor plugs (check if your apartment has multinational plugs, many aimed at expats do – especially the more modern ones). Extension leads are also a good idea. Although it isn’t hard to get extension leads that take multinational plugs – they are probably UK prices.
  12. Diarrhoea tablets and Dioralyte sachets. Ibuprofen – can work for diarrhoea!! Can get here but you don’t want to have to worry about such things in your first few weeks!

Sea Freight

  1. Things that will make your house a home are more important than practical things! Pictures, a rug, your favourite ornament, cushions.
  2. Clothes – don’t worry too much – you should be fine with what you brought with you when you arrived. I brought all my work suits in air freight!!!! Why?? No idea! They took up valuable space.
  3. Your luxury items that just makes life more pleasant! Ours was our Nespresso machine and 200 coffee pods!
  4. Plug in cooler box for the car. This will be something you are so grateful you brought! Make sure you bring a cigarette lighter adaptor. It means you can buy meat / veg whenever you want  and don’t have to think about how long it will be in a hot car for! Do not forget!! Even if you think you won’t need it – bring it anyhow!
  5. Fitted sheets (can get but extremely expensive)
  6. Things to make meat tastier – e.g. stock cubes (can’t get beef. Can get others but extremely expensive!), gravy granules, marinating powders (liquids not allowed in your air freight). Dried herbs (can get but expensive). Any non-Indian spices that you use. You can probably get them here but you don’t want to have to worry about them in the first few weeks. Don’t worry about bringing in beef based products – it is no longer illegal and when it was – nobody cared!
  7. Clothes horse (very expensive here)
  8. Iron / ironing board
  9. Dishwasher tablets and dishwasher salt (horrendously expensive if you want a known brand). Indian brands are fine just not as good.
  10. Anti-perspirant for men – cannot get here at all!! Can only get deodorants. Can get one brand of anti-perspirant for women but it is whitening. I don’t mind but if you do, bring loads!
  11. Decent pillows – can get here but expensive.
  12. Tinned tomatoes / kidney beans / butter beans / baked beans etc – can get but about 140 rupees a tin!
  13. Lasagne sheets
  14. Any specialist grains like quinoa or even couscous are very expensive here.
  15. Rock salt (at least I can’t find some!)
  16. Condiments – mayonnaise / ketchup / mustard – can get them just expensive
  17. Tin foil, baking parchment, cling film – can get and cheap but quality isn’t reliable
  18. Resealable plastic boxes – everything needs to be put in resealable boxes once you buy them especially flour. Little insects can be attracted to open containers unless you are very careful. You can buy boxes easily here but not always cheap. You can get them cheaper in the UK.
  19. Resealable bags – quality isn’t great.
  20. Big rubbish bags
  21. Potato masher
  22. Decent floor brush and mop (remember you will have huge floors!!)
  23. Hoover and any bits that will need replacing such as bags.
  24. Steam floor cleaner – floors are so dusty that to clean them with it once a week or so will help hugely!

Sea Shipment

  1. Everything above but in vast quantities!! You should have lots of storage space in your kitchen!
  2. Barbecue (gas cylinders can be difficult to get. Coal you can get but worth bringing lots with you!)
  3. If you drink, use every single litre of your alcohol allowance (if you don’t want to, bring some for me!). Domestic wine isn’t expensive here but isn’t great quality. Imported wine is very expensive. Spirits are more expensive than in the UK.
  4. Salt and pepper cellars (unless you are happy with boring ones)
  5. Herb containers unless happy in just small plastic boxes
  6. Picture hanging strips (you can use nails but they are so much easier!)
  7. DIY equipment – can get but if you have at home, you may as well bring.

Learning Hindi

If possible try and learn Hindi, even just the basics. Don’t be afraid to learn the script, it is easier to get your head around than you think.

Why learn?

  1. It will help you to read some of the signs around town, this will help you work out what each shop does a little easier. There is English but not always on the more local shops.
  2. If you learn the basics of how Hindi works you will be able to understand more why people use the particular Indian syntax that people use while speaking English. This makes what they say more easily understandable!
  3. People will be so surprised and impressed if they see you can speak Hindi – it will make them more inclined to help you out.
  4. Once you can begin to understand a little, you will be able to start working out what people are saying when they are speaking to each other and that will make it less likely that you will be cheated because even if it is just in English you can react to what they say!!
  5. Less educated people will speak little or no English, being able to speak to the fruit stall holder or the cobbler in Hindi makes you less dependent on your driver.
  6. People will really appreciate that you have gone to the trouble of trying to learn their language. You will seriously impress them! I now have conversations with people that I wouldn’t have been able to if I hadn’t learnt Hindi – what a great way to learn more about this country and its people!
  7. Learning languages is great and what a skill to leave with at the end of your assignment!

The difficulty in learning Hindi is that people don’t expect you to speak it so either just reply in English or go into panic mode and are unable to understand you! You therefore have to try and find excuses to speak the language in order to improve.

Finally

I have not been in India forever, there are probably lots of things in this document that long-termers (5 years plus) would disagree with it and there is probably lots of advice that they would give you that I haven’t! On the other hand, I started to put this together while I was still new enough to remember what challenged me and what excited me when I first got here.

You will undoubtably come across experiences that I haven’t referred to here and you may well think – ‘what did she know?! If only she had told me about this!’ That, however, is the great thing about living abroad – there are so many things that challenge us all individually and that are unique to our own needs and character that it is next to impossible to cover everything in one short document.

The final words of this document were written in a floating cottage by the sea in Kerala after a week spent on a houseboat and in the mountains. All the hard challenges about living in India to me are worth it when you can so easily experience what in your home country are probably impossible or prohibitively expensive. The time will come when I return to the UK and will never have such an extended adventure again. When this time comes, I know I will have a wealth of experiences to take with me and to remember but also my experiences will have made me a more rounded and more open person.

Final ‘final word’ – try and ‘surrender yourself to India’ as Karla in the brilliant book, Shantaram, a must read, said! Don’t try and change it and don’t try and fight it. Just accept what it is as best as you can and relax into it. Easier said than done but it does make a world of difference.

What have I left out? Please leave a comment and I will include it!

Do you have questions that you hope I can answer? Leave a comment and I’ll try!

Also do email me at kironside78@gmail.com if you would prefer a more personal response to your questions. 

The Wanton Women of Indian

Normally, my blogs are filled with inspiring pictures from my travels or that I believe represent my opinions. Today, however, I don’t want to. I just want the words to do the talking. After a year in India, I am angry and for me only words can express this feeling. 

A woman in India must be protected. She must be protected both from her low intellect and therefore her questionable morals that her inability to think results in and she must be protected from man that cannot be expected to corral his own behaviour when faced by the licentiousness of a woman’s easy virtue.

Foreign women visiting India were recently advised not to wear skirts. That this was un-Indian and didn’t represent the high ideals of Indian morals. That as a consequence of foreign women’s low moral standards in terms of dress that Indian men could not be held responsible for their actions. The very sight of a foreign leg having the ability to drive a man to such distraction that a woman would effectively be bringing on her own rape.

A women faced with verbal or physical abuse on the street, should not look to those around her for support. For if she gets it, it is only to be expected that the abuser would rally his ‘boys’ and attack the very person who was trying to protect the victim of their behaviour. Fear of retaliation then stops many who do genuinely object to such behaviour from standing up and defending a woman when she is in a vulnerable position. While the man’s ‘boys’ rather than turning on their friend for verbally or physically abusing a woman, instead choose to defend her.

Men seldomly look at me other than to stare. There is never eye contact or recognition of my existence. My husband is always deferred to even amongst those I consider educated. Any decisions are always for my husband to make not I. This is not politeness but rather with my husband I do not exist. Therefore I either don’t exist or I am an object that can be stared at no matter who intimidating this is.

I recently booked two flights to Goa for my husband and I. I was the primary traveller on the reservation. I still travel on my maiden name: Donaldson. After making the reservation I immediately received a text message thanking Mr Ironside for having made the reservation. Closer to the date of travel Mr Ironside also was reminded of his flight. I did not exist. All correspondence was in his name.

My maid’s sister recently had a baby. As the elder sister, the sister left her husband and moved in with her. When she became sick after giving birth, it was my maid who had to stay overnight in the hospital despite her holding down two jobs. When my maid’s dad became sick in the south of India, instead of leaving immediately to see him, she had to stay – the baby’s father was not responsible for looking after the baby and the mother was not well enough to do it alone.  Her other sister lives below her and her husband refused to allow her to help look after the baby and shouted at her that she wasn’t spending enough time at home cooking and cleaning for him.

Mind you, this comes from a man who rejected his wife’s daughter. A daughter who now lives upstairs with my maid and for whom no financial support is provided. A daughter whose birth father rejected her on birth and refused to allow the baby girl to stay in his house. Hence why my maid took her in. He eventually left his wife but she still went on to remarry a man who refused to recognise her daughter’s existence.

The Indian government is in the process of introducing revolutionary new maternity leave and child care provision. Indian women will go from being allowed 12 weeks maternity leave to 26. All companies with more than 50 employees will have to have a creche that the mother will be allowed to visit 4 times a day. This is to be applauded.

Paternity leave is being debated although the resounding political opinion is that this is not fair on the wife. The husband will just see it as a holiday and it will just increase the wife’s workload when she already as a newborn baby. Once again instead of making a man responsible for supporting his wife more than financially, it is being officially recognised that it isn’t a man’s job to bond with his child. While this may be culturally the case, the government instead of fighting it will instead prevent those modern Indian men desperate to help out at home and bond with their child from doing the very thing that surely is a human right.

Most charities operating in India focus on women and empowering women, finding them a way to increase their incomes. Why? On average every rupee extra a women makes will go to her house, her children. It is widely recognised that on average every rupee extra a man makes will go on himself – on drinking, on cigarettes, a new phone and not where it is needed. If you want to educate a chid, you first educate the mother and not the father.

A BBC documentary about the rape of Nirbhaya on a bus in Delhi in December 2012 that didn’t hold back in its criticism of the authorities and the general approach to rape politics / culture in India has been banned in India. Better to ban a controversial topic than provide yet another means of highlighting something that no one is comfortable with.

I, a strong independent woman who refuses to take any nonsense from anyone- good luck to them if they should try, find on a daily basis my rights as a human being being infringed. On a daily basis, India tries to reinforce with me that I am worth less than my husband and indeed worth less than men in general, including those who rape. Faced with this on a daily basis by someone without the education and life experience to know that it is wrong, to try and fight it requires a bravery that many Indian women just cannot afford to have. Their very survival depends upon them not recognising how they are being treated and if they do, not standing up and fighting for their rights.

India proports to be a global leader. One that has managed to balance the needs of modern capitalism with defending the rights of the family. Yet it is one that fails to recognise the power of women in society. It is one that continually degradates a women and reduces them to little more than a feeble being incapable of their own management or hypocritically a wanton being who can bring a man to such lust that he cannot be responsible for his actions.

As a side note, this blog is sedition. Any criticism of India of any description is illegal. Questioning the status quo and the Indian government’s role in the current situation is not allowed. I could be arrested and sentence to10 years plus in prison for this. I personally call it the United Nations Humanitarian Right to Freedom of Speech.

Not Drowning but Waving! I hope!

There is something really exciting and slightly nerve-wracking about showing a new person around what has become for me reasonably well known parts of Pune. It is exciting because you remember just how intrigued but also slightly nervous you were when you were first shown around.

However, you are also opening up a new side of India to somebody and somehow you feel the weight of responsibility that brings. I love India and I want everyone else to love it too. You worry that if you don’t show enough or show too much you can disappoint or over-whelm somebody. You want your friend to come out the other side not drowning but waving, the very opposite to Stevie Smith’s famous poem, ‘Not Waving but Drowning.’ You want people to come out the other end ready and able to go back by themselves and excited about the idea of bringing others too.

It was with these thoughts in my head that myself and my long-standing adventure partner, Anette, showed Anette (yes another one and she is also Swedish) Shivaji Market and Camp. Although the ‘new’ Anette (as we shall have to call her) has lived in Pune as long as me, she suffers from the well-known ‘no time to get to know India’ disease that all those who work here as expats experience. She also has the comorbidity illness: ‘I have to deal with India all week, on my day off I don’t want to experience India’. The outcome of such illnesses means that Saturday was the first time she actually went out and experienced real India. You know what, she enjoyed it! Slightly over-whelmed at times – yes, but still she enjoyed it.

AAlsterholt  edited-1-12I have a tendency to forget that I am perhaps slightly unusual in that I will do anything and go anywhere and very little shocks me. I tend to take new things, new ideas, new places more or less in my stride and rarely do I find myself over-whelmed by the unknown. Several times now however I have taken new people to Shivaji Market: the main fruit, vegetable, meat and fish market in the centre of the city in a area called Camp. It is a fascinating place. The sights, smells and textures (you will get it when you walk there – yes, textures under your feet) are exhilarating most of the time although sometimes slightly stomach churning! So it was to Shivaji Market that we took the ‘new’ Anette.

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As you enter the market, you are met by swirling brown kites! Swirling over the slaughter houses and butcheries!
AAlsterholt  edited-1A normally chatty woman, initially she was rather silent as she took in all that was to be seen. Silence however broken by laughter as my usual fruit seller upon seeing me and my camera, jumped to his feet, gathered his mates around and demanded a very posed picture with his mangoes. The spontaneous enthusiasm of these guys very much reflects the nature of this market. Yes, serious business is done but that doesn’t mean there isn’t time for a giggle!

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We are told over and over again about how many diseases there are in India – how to watch your fruit and vegetables! Wash them carefully etc etc. For many, the ‘safer’ option is to buy your vegetables and fruit from local supermarkets or the western stores. Anette however was amazed by the quality of the produce, so much better than you can get elsewhere. Was it safe though? No more unsafe than the ‘safer’ options that’s for sure and most definitely fresher!

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Look how fresh and beautiful all the vegetables look. This stall provides to most of the top international hotels in Pune. 
Not being a fish eater, the fish hall does at times put me off although it never smells – not at all. Definitely some flies hanging around and certainly not everyone uses ices
– which given the day we went it was 38 degrees – well that has got to be just a touch dodgy! For a newbie, other than the meat stalls, this is probably the most challenging place to find yourself. It is extremely busy and you have to push through people, trying all the time to watch where your feet are standing or rather on what you are feet are about to stand on. I find this place fascinating however. Fishmongers shout out their wares as you pass by – offering you Indian salmon, lobster, prawns, bass, king fish and many more.

 

IMG_0120Outside the fish hall for me is the most fascinating place. It is the ice stall! It just sells huge blocks of ice. Stall holder or just browsing customer goes and orders a certain weight of ice. The ice is then crushed put into a box or a bag and money is handed over. The ice stall seems a long, long way from the modern world. Indeed, it is not completely uncommon to see hand carts of blocks of ice being pushed through the city streets with various vendors stopping them to purchase off them. Another reason, indeed if you even needed one, not to eat ice or ice based drinks!

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My chicken does not come from Shivaji Market – I will repeat this until I believe it!
Next to this area is the chicken area and frankly – well I’m going to continue to pretend that the chicken I buy from my local 5 star hotel, does not come from here. I am equally going to pretend that any minced chicken I buy, does not also come from here. Nobody please try and dissuade me of this fact!

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Well surely such a place was your maiden dream too!
Being in Camp is the only excuse one needs to, well, eat at Ram Krishna’s! They do the very best traditional pure veg food I have tasted in this city. This time, both Anettes had never been there so definitely no excuses were needed. The walk from Shivaji is always filled with colour and life, again an interesting introduction to India if  you haven’t done it before.  There is always something that breaks your heart, something intriguing and always something that makes you laugh!

This time the streets were filled with even more colour than usual. It was Shivaji’s birthday (again, it was his birthday a few weeks ago too! Different dates are celebrated by different political parties). As always any excuse will do to put up mandals (stages used for religious objects) and flags – this time huge orange ones! What amused me however was the different takes on this Maharastrian hero. In one sculptor he appeared exceedingly stately, the next well just a bloke hanging out probably chatting with his mates.

Anette (guess we call her the ‘old’ one) brought me to a new textiles shop where I bought the most beautiful chiffon to make a dress. Total cost including making of dress about £20. Further along, I spotted a tiny sari shop and picked up two saris for £3 each. These will be turned into beautiful skirts – total cost of each skirt £5.50. I just love how I can get the most beautiful textiles and tailoring done for next to nothing. “New’ Anette seemed initially a little shy about just walking into shops, especially the tiny ones but ‘old’ Anette and I are perhaps now old hands and are no longer quite so intimidated by it!

AAlsterholt  edited-1-18My favourite vision of the day however was ‘old’ Anette picking up a trumpet and giving it a go in a metal shop. The shopkeeper seemed a little bemused by the fact that she knew what she was doing (she plays various brass instruments) – again women here don’t necessarily play such instruments – saying that in the west they are not always considered appropriate for women either! In true Indian style however he found an opportunity to have a laugh, picked up another trumpet and joined right in with her! Apparently, it was in the wrong key however and she walked away empty handed.

IMG_0122Our wander then took us up the busy and in my mind less enjoyable MG Road – here western shops compete with tiny independent ones but it seems more touristy; less local. It may also have been that by then I was hot, tired and just a little hungry – never eat on the morning before you go to Ram Krishna’s! You can’t, otherwise how will you manage to eat all the yummy food you have ordered? Especially, of course, the masala paper dosa – a must have!

Satiated, home we went with I hope ‘new’ Anette feeling slightly less ‘new’ and slightly less over-whelmed by the India I have grown to love. Well, she didn’t say no when I offered to go on more adventures with her – that’s got to be a good sign! Surely, that means she was waving and not drowning.

 

 

Embracing Kasba Peth: Embracing Community

This blog has been produced in collaboration with Deborah Clearwater of Embraced Photography. She is a professional photographer from New Zealand living in Pune, India. 

We have started to have great adventures together. Exploring the streets of Pune, in particular the city centre. Through her pictures, I have an opportunity to explore the beauty of this city in a way that the hustle and bustle of street life doesn’t always give you time to appreciate.

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Recently, we went on an inspiring walk through Kasba Peth. Kasba Peth is the oldest community in the city, dating back to the 5th century. Most of the housing however dates back to the time of the Peshwars who ruled Pune prior to British colonialism. The 16th century housing is not subject to protection orders; there is no money to invest in its maintenance. As you read this blog, buildings may be tumbling down taking their very many occupants with them.

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Life is on the streets: a wire recycler – stripping the copper out of old electrical wires

The streets are narrow and circuitous – paths developed over thousands of years of occupation. Some wide enough for a car (a slow moving car), others for a motorbike or perhaps a rickshaw, others again for only a bicycle but most can only be seen on foot.

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Kasba Peth: where the young and old live together harmoniously 

Life slows down on these streets. People loiter in the doorways talking to their neighbours or the women wash their clothes communally in a the washing areas – nattering and gossiping as can only happen when a group of women get together. Children run from house to house, no house really their particular home – all houses feel like home. They just happen to sleep in one particular place! All tenderly rub the children’s hair as they run by or scold them when they’ve been naughty. Bloodlines run thick through these streets but bloodlines do not seem to define family – love and care defines the family and no shared blood is needed for this.

As an outsider such communities can feel intimidating. You don’t know how they work, you don’t know how easily you could cause offence or intrude. Chalo Heritage Walks however have taken what in our minds is quite a unique slant on how to walk through these communities. Rashid and his (Irish) wife Jan have developed over the years a close relationship with the community in Kasba Peth.

They have watched the children grow up and celebrated their achievements and advised when necessary. On first going to the area, they took the time to sit with the locals: pass the time with them, talk seriously with them and laugh with them. As a consequence, it appears to both of us from the two walks that we have now done with them, the community engage with them and don’t see the foreign tourists they bring to the area as intruders but love the fact that they are interested in their little community.

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This fruit seller insisted that Deborah take her picture. Proud of her community and her role in it. 

Deborah has always had a strong interest in people but I think for me the more I live in India they more I realise that I am an ‘anthropologist’ at heart. I want to be able to understand what makes people tick; and how people live. This interests me far more than the history of a palace or a visit to a temple. These places do not reflect the lives of the ordinary people. They only reflect the lives of those lucky enough to achieve high status or indeed were born into privilege. City tours therefore can sometimes fill me with dread. The idea of traipsing from one monument to the next and one historic building to the next is unutterably boring. To wander through the same streets but stop and look down little alley ways; to try and speak to the locals; to simply stop and sit and observe – that to me is a tour worth doing.

Neither Deborah or myself will be paid by Chalo Heritage Walks for writing this blog but rather this is a reflection of what we have gained from them that we feel we couldn’t necessarily get from anybody else.

The biggest lesson for us from these tours has been the power of community. In the west we seem to have largely forgotten that a community that supports and loves each other, that provides peer pressure as a means of maintaining positive attitudes and behaviour makes us all stronger and more able to deal with problems as they arise. Yes, there are drawbacks but the drawback of not having a community to fall back on is surely far, far worse.

Reading the newspapers here or indeed following Indian religion and politics from abroad you could be forgiven for thinking that there is a huge animosity between the Hindu and Muslim communities in India. Indeed at times there is. What Kasba Peth made us realise however is that this animosity is not driven by the realities of daily life but rather political manipulation by Hindu nationalists (BJP etc) of sections of society who lack the life experience and education to understand they are being manipulated.

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Vivek in his community. Notice the narrow streets and the children happily playing. 

Along our route on the last tour we did, we met a lovely young man, Vivek – in his early twenties, total Bollywood guy: hair styled, clothes sharp but this guy didn’t lack brains, rather he is studying an MBa in Finance. He grew up in poverty, living in conditions rarely seen now in the west – yet he finished school, finished a degree and now is completing an MBa.

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‘Is it safe to come out Vivek?’

While chatting to us and while of course Deborah was taking many photographs of this highly photogenic young guy, we noticed out of the corner of our eye, this little, little girl – perhaps 18 months old peeking out through some doors at us and this man.
The young man upon spotting her put out his hand and beckoned her to come out and see us. It was so clear from the look on the young man’s face and that of the little girl that they knew each other and trusted each other. She remained however too nervous to venture any further than her peek hole by the door.

So how does this interaction relate to the question of Hindu and Muslim animosity – well this little girl is Muslim and this young man is Hindu. Is this an anomaly? Not in this community. Wandering through the streets you see women in full hijab laughing with Hindu women – hanging out on the door steps. You see the meat market where in order to make sure both Hindu and Muslim clients can buy all the meat – the muslims butcher all the animals making sure the meat is Halal. Muslim and Hindu butchers share a small space. In order to cause no offence to either side, the Muslims have never sold beef (although it is now illegal in Maharashtra anyhow!) and the Hindus do not sell pork.  They could have chosen to have separate butcheries and have Muslims buy the halal meat and Hindus their pork. However they have chosen not to render division in the community, rather for centuries they have a sought a way to work together in peace.

A tour of temples and historical monuments would fail to bring across this great harmonious relationship. Certainly, at times, a fragile relationship but one that is ultimately built on trust. As you wander through the streets you notice that Muslims will say, ‘namaste or namaskar’ to Hindus while Hindus will say, ‘As-Salaam-Alaikum’ to a Muslim. Why? It is a traditional way of trying to accommodate yourself to others while they try and accommodate themselves to your way. There is perhaps a lesson there to learn in relation to the current world refugee crisis.

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Notice the black mark on this boy’s face: his parents warding off evil that may take his life while he is young

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Kasba Peth is an area that experiences severe hardships. There is a daily struggle for the very basics: water, food and money to educate the children. The children’s toys are old and often broken – yet they still find as much joy in them as they would something brand new. The younger children are often marked with black spots (they look like growths to the outsider) intended to ward away evil. Children die young in India and many are not even named until they are a few months old – to ease the pain if they are to die.

You are not however met with a grimace but rather an open welcoming smile. You can be certain that this community would give you the last of their food if they felt that would make you more welcome. They stop and give you the time from their busy lives to chat and share stories.

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This lady may be recovering from a major operation but that doesn’t stop her being the heart of the community

As my Hindi improves, this becomes an ever more enlightening experience. There is the lady who has had a triple heart by-pass but who proudly stands at her door and tells you just how well she is doing, while her husband is at his printing press next door that only prints lines for exercise books.

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Peek a boo works in any language!

There was the little boy we met – his mother an itinerant builder. Kasba Peth was only her home for a few weeks. This is a woman who lives at a level of poverty even more extreme than that of her temporary neighbours. Yet this woman still took the time to stop and enjoy the sight of her little son playing peek-a-boo with Deborah.

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There was the extended family of two grandmothers, their daughters and their daughters’ children. One grandmother took the time to explain who everyone was, how long they have lived in the area. All to a woman with dodgy Hindi while Deborah was busy taking their photographs.

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The youngest grandchild and his caring sister / cousin

It is a two-way street however. Rashid and Jan make sure that their guests take as many pictures of the people as they can. Their guests then send the pictures to them, they print them and then distribute them when they next do a tour.

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They were clear from the beginning that they did not want the relationship to be financially based. They wanted the community to get something from the visitors but not to depend on them. We met a little boy that said he was collecting foreign coins – on the last visit Rashid had given him some. However, he told the boy that he wanted to see his collection. If he genuinely was interested, then he would encourage his visitors to donate foreign coins if they had them. He insisted however that it be a genuine hobby and not just something he would take and do nothing with.

Jan, who has become a friend, recently forwarded me an article about a woman in Kolkata who has started a project of taking pictures of the poor and distributing them. She said she was struck by how many adults said they had a picture of themselves but when they produced it, it was simply their ID photo. She was also struck by the fact that many parents had no pictures of their children. Something we all love to have, to reflect on as our kids as they grow older.

In India however a lack of photos can have a dark side. What happens if your child gets lost or worse again is kidnapped and trafficked? How can the police and various agencies help you if you can’t even give them a picture of their child? Suddenly, upon reading the article, the work that Jan and Rashid do in the area became even more important.

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This woman is so incredibly beautiful and her saree is just perfect for her. She look so old despite her beauty but when I asked, she is only 50. Life ages you when life is not easy. 

To walk through the streets of Kasba Peth has to be my very favourite thing to do. The over-powering sense of community; the beauty of the women’s sarees; the smiles on people’s faces despite the hardships they endure; and the higgledy-piggledy nature of the streets is uplifting while at the same time reinforcing just how lucky I am to live where I am and to be free of all of those struggles that the inhabitants of Kasba Peth experience daily.

So my friend Gillian (mentioned in my last blog) arrives tomorrow for two weeks and both Deborah and I will once again do the Chalo Heritage Walk tour. I can’t wait to see what I will experience this time round.

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Find Deborah Clearwater on Facebook through Embraced Photography and Embracing India pages: Embracing India (India portfolio) and Embraced Photography (general portfolio)

Chalo Heritage Walks website: Chalo Heritage Walks

‘Tiger, tiger burning bright!’

There are so many things I am grateful about as a consequence of our decision to move to India. Simply driving around the streets of Pune, doing everyday jobs allows me to see and do things that I could never do while living in the UK. It is winter, yet it is 34 degrees and I am in shorts and t-shirts – that itself is something to be eternally grateful for!

 

Some of those things for which I am grateful are everyday things – just part of my daily life. There are privileges however that I should never forget are privileges. The ability to join two golf clubs and learn to play a sport that is often untenable for the non well-off in the UK (same here but our companies pays for membership), is an example of just one.

The ability to travel is however another major privilege that I am eternally grateful for. Since arriving in India, we have spent 3 weeks in Australia (although that was arranged prior to moving), a week in Kerala, 3 weeks in the UK / Ireland and now a week on tiger safari in Madhya Pradesh. I am also in the process of organising a week long trek in the Himalayas for Diwali at the end of October. In addition to the trip to the Maldives in April and at least two visits to Goa between now and then. Oh what a lucky, lucky girl I am!

Having never been on a safari of any description before (does my trip to a local dam to go Flamingo watching and Chinkarra spotting – count??), I really had no idea what to expect.

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Me on my flamingo hunt! (picture Embracing India)

After a quick flight to Nagpur from Pune and then a 2 1/2 hour drive to Pench Tiger Reserve we arrived at our hotel – Tuli Tiger Corridor. Myself and Chris and his parents who were with us have no real need for super fancy five star hotels – now don’t get me wrong, we aren’t going to turn them down (so you lovely hoteliers who would like me to write a blog about your hotel – don’t be put off asking me!). This lack of need was a good thing because although Tuli Tiger Corridor was lovely it was a little jaded and service could be described as more eccentric then perhaps silver service.

Our cottage was lovely – beautifully furnished and a bathroom to die for (although of course it was a little in need of some TLC). Food was great, perhaps a little repetitive to the non-Indian who struggles to differentiate between one curry and another.

Most of the staff were locals, trained up the MP government and the hotel itself. Their enthusiasm to serve you and to talk to you about tigers was boundless. This was really heart-warming to see. Unlike many men (boys really) of their age in the UK who perhaps might see waiting jobs as something to endure until they have a better opportunity, these boys seemed to have boundless energy for it including sprinting across the restaurant one day when I asked for a bottle of water.

One thing hit us even before we ventured out on our first safari the afternoon we arrived – it was cold, really cold. By that I mean UK winter cold!! During the day temperatures rose to over 30 degrees but once the sun began to set, temperatures plummeted to 3 degrees or so. Luckily, I had packed a pair of jeans, I literally stood in front of my bag thinking, ‘will I or won’t I?’. I threw them in in the end as I had room. I had brought a little long sleeve top for the evenings (just in case you know) but the woolly jumper I also debated about was left at home!!

Our afternoon safari started off warm but by the end we were all gibbering monkeys. A good warning perhaps that the morning drive would be even colder! Morning, proved to be even colder than we imagined – wearing literally all the clothes I had brought with me and two pairs of socks we set off at 5.45 a.m. Even wrapped in a blanket, it was freezing.

The morning safaris always proceeded in the same way – I started the day with an empty rucksack and as time progressed, it was filled with my clothes until I was left in just my jeans and a short sleeved top. Evenings were the opposite, starting off with a full bag until I was wearing all of its contents! Next time I go on safari, I can assure you, I will be more prepared!

If you go on tiger safari thinking you will definitely see a tiger you may well be disappointed. We had 10 drives (about 40 hours in total) and saw three tigers for a total time of probably15 minutes!. Worth it though I can assure you.

The rest of our drives involved driving through the forest – Pench was a mix of open teak forests and wide meadows. The drought the area was experiencing made the water holes (picie taleb in Hindi – learnt some incredibly useful Hindi while away) magnets for local wildlife – deer (spotted and sambar), wild boar, monkeys (by the million with adorable babies), herons, storks, egrets, kingfishers (more varieties than I even knew existed!), bison, wild cows, peacocks, butterflies, hawks, eagles – I could go on and on. I will let the photos do the explaining below.

Spotting a tiger is theoretically easy – you listen for alarm calls from monkeys and deer or you hear the tiger roar (chalarna – to roar in Hindi) then you drive to where you heard the noise and Bob’s your Uncle – there is a tiger. A deer will make an alarm call when the tiger (bhaag) is in sight – therefore getting to the alarm call gets you within 50 – 100m of the tiger. Easy right!

Well no, first of all deer don’t see a tiger, make an alarm call and sit patiently waiting for jeeps to turn up and then point and say – ‘hey, there he is!). No, well what would you do if you saw an animal that could run damn fast coming towards you – you would run too! So the call moves and not always in the expected direction. Plus the deer and tiger don’t co-ordinate their actions so that they stay near where there are roads. 80% of Pench Tiger Reserve has no public access so at times we got close to calls but our driver wasn’t allowed go any further or there was no access roads to get closer.

It did make for an exciting time. You felt you were the police detecting clues and then on a car chase to find the culprit! Drivers / guides would excitedly share news of calls or if they were lucky sights. Other times they would drive expectantly towards each other, shake their heads and drive on. It seemed in Pench all the guides and drivers worked together – they wanted to make sure that all visitors saw a tiger. Kahna on the other hand seemed more competitive. Drivers and guides would share information but when it came to possible sightings they would jostle each other for position and as consequence often block the view of others.

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Jostling for sight of Chota Charger – can you spot him?
5 drives almost passed with no tiger sightings, our naturalist – Umi, was clearly getting frustrated as he was desperate to ensure that we had a sighting before we left! 10 minutes from the end we saw a tiger! I didn’t expect to be so moved by the experience. They are truly majestic awe-inspiring animals. This one was a little shy and slunk away quickly. The experienced guides however knew where he was headed (his name was Chota Charger by the way) – to the water hole! Only problem is that if we went, we would be late back to the gate. Umi hesitated but when others decided to go, he decided there was safety in numbers and off we flew! For another 10 minutes we sat and watched him walk through the meadows to the water hole – incredible! We did arrive 20 minutes late to the gate but we think we got away with it – I would happily have paid any fine Umi had to pay – it would have been worth it!

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Chota Charger (small charger – he used to attack jeeps as a little cub)
The next day we ate breakfast (at 8 a.m. – so, so late!) and drove for 5 hours to Kanha Tiger Reserve. Stopping en-route, I bought a fleece and some leggings for under my jeans from a local market. At the end of negotiations, I looked around to find myself surrounded by gawking men astounded at this white woman speaking Hindi! It was the first time I had used my Hindi for practical reasons and it felt amazing!

Chitvan Lodge in Kanha was definitely less ostentatious than Tuli Tiger Corridor but it also seemed more real. The staff were much better trained but still in a rustic enthusiastic fashion that felt comfortable and not forced in any way. Again the place was a little jaded but that wasn’t an issue at all. All of the food came from the local villages or from their own organic garden. It was yummy! Again perhaps for the foreign taste a little repetitive but for those who know Indian food it wasn’t.

There was a gorgeous pool that unfortunately at this time of year was freezing. As the afternoons were glorious, to sit out in the sun between drives was ideal – often of course accompanied by a little snooze. The difference here however was while in Tuli there were lovely soft cushions, here there was nothing but hard wooden sun beds, not at all conducive to an afternoon snooze. My snoozing instead had to happen on the charpoy outside our room or in bed.

Again it was bitterly cold in the mornings but this time we got in addition to our blankets, hot water bottles – genius!!

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Sal Tree – only found in Indian Subcontinent
Our drives continued in the same format as Pench but this time we drove through thick Sal forests – a tree only found in India.
This was harder to see through, which in its own way took away from the experience but this time there was no water shortage and water bodies abounded, the meadows were larger and vibrant with wild life. So pluses and minuses to both locations but Pench probably would have won over Kanha slightly if it were not for our two tiger sightings!

 

 

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Yes, two! One late in our fourth drive and one early in our last and final drive. Umeerpane appeared on the edge of the forest briefly and then disappeared down a gully and wasn’t seen again.

 

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Umeer Pane and my arm!
Bema, on the other hand, was seen down a gully and then came up onto to the road and wandered towards us with absolute confidence. This however is where the lack of team work between the guides became a problem. They jostled for position, cut each others view off so that the clients in their car could get a better view. This resulted in our jeep and another effectively blocking each other so no one could move. Consequently, neither jeep could keep reversing up the road, the tiger had no where to go but off the road and so we lost sight of him! A little frustrating to say the least. However, to see a tiger no more than 15m from you was amazing. I felt like I could get out of the car and rub his head as you would a domestic cat – clearly this would have been incredibly stupid.

What an experience though! Wow! Those three sightings were worth every minute (sometimes gibbering minute) of the 40 hours we spent in those jeeps. The cross-country bumpy ride was worth it – anything would have been worth it! Incredible.

Our drive from Kanha to the airport in Nagpur was a little painful – 6 hours: on rough roads for at least the first 3 hours. Nagpur airport was completely chaos and so so loud; you couldn’t help but know you were in India! Our flight was delayed and I must be honest after a 5.30 a.m. get up by midnight when we returned home there was a bit of a grumpathon going on. Somehow all marriages emerged intact – somehow!

After Kerala, I said that I would happily share details of our travels agents with you if you contact me. This was because I didn’t like our travel agents but the driver was so amazing that I would use the agents again in order to have Manoj as my driver. This time however I can only say that Sharad Vets of Nature Safari India was amazing. Without hesitation I would use them again. They will certainly be my first call when it comes to booking any sort of safari in India. Amazing! I should say I have not been paid for this endorsement in any way shape or form but sometimes good people and good companies should be recognised for being great!

All pictures except for that of me were taken by Chris Ironside. My picture was taken by Deborah Clearwater from Embracing India.

India’s Nasty Side

There are without doubt many incredible things about living in India. India, in fact, has given me the opportunity to do things and see things that I could never have done back in England. In just 6 months, I have learnt more about the world and myself than I could have done in 10 years in the UK. India has taught me that people can preserver in the face of hopelessness; they can smile and be happy when all else seems lost.

India has also shown me that it is a disgustingly racist.

‘All my life, I thought I was ugly. All my life, people told my mum that my sister was beautiful and I was not. When I married, I always worried that my husband found me too ugly’. This from a beautiful woman not just internally but also externally. Why had she been brought up to believe she was so ugly? Why? She was darker skinned than her sister. In a society that values white skin, the darker you are, the more you are perceived to be ugly.

My maid told me that her brother (who is very dark skinned) is consistently told by his wife (who is quite light skinned) that she doesn’t deserve such an ugly husband. She deserves someone more handsome – i.e. whiter skinned. How degrading for the husband (especially as this was a love marriage – she made her own decision to marry him) and how confusing and upsetting for their children to overhear.

Not only does your skin colour seem to determine your level of beauty but it also seems to determine whether or not you are trustworthy. The darker your skin the more likely you are to be stopped and searched or as is the case more frequently, the darker your skin, the more likely security guards will make it difficult for you to enter housing societies or worse again to get jobs or promotions.

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Opportunities – leisure, positive future – what percentage of people in this image are dark skinned?

As you drive around India today or you visit friends have a look around. Just how many cleaning staff, maids, drivers, security guards look like the people above? Just how many senior managers or even junior managers don’t look like the people above.  I do not know a single maid or driver that I would not consider dark skinned – not a single one. Perhaps that is just Pune but something tells me it is not.

I am never anymore than superficially searched – I could carry anything in anywhere! Sometimes I feel like shouting – ‘you know I’m Irish, we have terrorist organisations too – how about you trust me less!’ Other times, our car is not searched while the car in front of us is checked carefully. It’s OK though – I’m a white foreigner so you don’t need to check me!

White is associated with trustworthiness, education and aspiration. All you need to do is walk down any ‘beauty’ aisle in a supermarket to realise that everything comes with skin whitener in it. The only anti-perspirant I can buy in India is also whitening – whitening for my armpits! When a society worries about whether its armpits are white enough that is when you know a society has a serious problem with racism.

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It takes 1 minute to find tips to becoming whiter online and it takes only moments to realise that the international beauty companies are in cahoots with a society that puts white over well what you really are.

A stranger prior to coming to India if they only watched Bollywood movies, saw adverts and read celebrity magazines could be forgiven for thinking that India was actually a ‘white’ country. The fact that Bollywood has now started recruiting white teenage girls from the UK with no Indian heritage to come and be turned into Bollywood stars indicates just how white you need to be to get ahead.

Just check out this list of the top 10 Bollywood stars of 2015. Not a single face is anything other than almost white. Where are the role models there for those that do not look like them?

2015 Top Bollywood Actresses

You could be forgiven for thinking based on the advertising hoardings for new housing societies that frolicking in the gardens of ‘Crystal Society’ or ‘Westminster Lodge’ were happy little English families – only difference perhaps being that these ‘English’ families are wearing saris and salwar kameez!

As a new comer to this country, I try to avoid falling into the trap of saying that everything in the UK is great and comparing it to India and finding India lacking. That, to me, just isn’t realistic and it isn’t fair.  Just ask any average British person on the street in the UK at the moment about their attitudes to Syrian refugees and it won’t take you long to find a revolting response to the crisis.

I can however judge the racism I see in India as unacceptable. I see racism here that would have been considered deplorable in the UK 20 years ago. Someone told me recently that on a WhatsApp group she received a picture of a white person and a images-2black person with the caption –  Oreo Cookie!

How this was perceived as acceptable to share as a joke is inconceivable. Sometimes racism is an outcome of ignorance and often this ignorance is driven by lack of opportunities to broaden your view of the world, a lack of opportunity to experience more than the  world simply around you. This lack of opportunity is often driven by not being able to afford to get outside of the world you live in.

This WhatsApp group, on the other hand, was a group for children at an international school. It was sent by an Indian who had the resources to pay the very high school fees and I can also assume consider it worth doing so the children could expand their horizons. These would be the very parents who would be more likely to have the time and money to break down the ignorance that such racism stems from. If parents at this level of society fail to see how wrong their racism is, how will others with less opportunities deal with such things?

In the UK, as a teacher I always felt it was crucial to consistently show young people that they didn’t have to be stick thin to be beautiful despite what celebrity culture said. I didn’t however have to try and convince them that they shouldn’t try and change something that is ultimately unchangeable – who they are – what their ethnic make-up was / what their skin colour was. While there are not enough role models from different ethnic groupings in the UK, there are role models.

Here it feels like the only role models are almost white. What does that say to the young girl or boy who is dark skinned when in reality there is nothing they can do to change it or indeed there is no real reason to need to change it? What does it say? It says: ‘you are worth less than those lighter coloured skinned people. You should not aspire to as much because you are not beautiful, you are not aspirational, you are not wanted.’ What sort of a message is that for India to send its own people?

‘Two Forces’ shows ‘classical’ Britain using the sword to protect themselves against Irish ‘rebels’. Notice the difference in stance, demeanour and look.

I too come from a land that was formerly colonised by the British Empire – Ireland. I too lived in a land where for centuries to be Irish was seen as being less than British. Just like Indians, the Irish were laughed at in Britain for being ‘bog trotters’ – basically unsophisticated idiots. Now the days of colonialism are long gone for both nations (Ireland became independent in 1948) but we shouldn’t forget that we were once looked down upon and therefore to look down upon your own is almost a greater sin than being looked down upon by a foreign agent.

I teach the children in my classrooms that unless they respect themselves nobody will respect them. Well, if India does not respect the fact that is is not an homogenous or more or less white Hindu country but rather a country of so many religions and of none; of so many ethnic groups; mixed ethnic groups; and mixed skin colours than how can it expect to be respected around the world.

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The Road to Heaven via The Road to Hell!

Gently floating as I currently find myself on a traditional Keralian houseboat near Allepey, it is hard to imagine that just yesterday our Keralian adventure took us to the other side of the state: a land of complete contrast to here.

IMG_0335 2Our first night in Kerala had found us, or so I imagined, in the high peaks of the Western Ghats – a mountain range stretching down much of western India. Our views were spectacular. Views that stretched for mile after mile of intense greens and rising peaks. Our morning however was to show us that we were far from the high peaks I had imagined the night before.

Our driver, Manoj, managed to rather undersell our morning. ‘Today, we can take jeep and see tea plantation. We drive half way and jeep drives up next half, off-road.’ This was stereotypically Indian – either you get a great over-sell or a great under-sell. Rarely, do you experience an accurate sell.

So we drove up the ever smaller, ever twister and ever (as I thought at the time) bumpier roads. Our driver calm in the face of buses coming hurtling towards him in the middle of the road around blind bends. It was with great shock therefore when I heard him say, ‘Shit!’ This was not the type of language I could ever imagine emerging from his very gentle face.

IMG_0346‘Shit!’ is a good phrase and perhaps the only accurate phrase for when you find yourself going up a steep hill and find a truck stuck on the verge, having failed to quite make it around the tight corner. Several attempts to pass the truck failed, the road simply too steep for the car to cope. Manoj however to the rescue, a couple of quick phone calls and chats with locals led to a perfectly acceptable solution. The jeep came and collected us (after a rather steep 5 minute walk up the hill to get beyond the truck) and a neighbour agreed he could park his car outside their house.

For Manoj however I think this may have been a good day. He too could be a tourist! With his car stuck, there was little more he could do but join us.  The jeep careened up the mountainside, flying over bumps and landing with a thump the other side. Upon reaching a village perched on the edge of the mountainside, our driver jumped out to get some diesel. Looking around, I was a little perplexed. Diesel? Where was the petrol station? Moments later he returned with a plastic five litre bottle and a cut up plastic soft drink bottle with a hose attached. Diesel issue solved.

We then proceeded to go higher and higher up a mountain – leaving the ‘high peak’ of our hotel far below us. Eventually, our driver stopped and pointed to a mountain range in the far distance shrouded in cloud – ‘that’ he informed us, ‘is Tamil Nadu state, we are going there!’ Tamil Nadu is where my maid, Maggie, is from so I was excited to be able to tell her I had at least seen the state from up close.

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As we rose out of the jungle, slowly a verdant carpet spread out around us. Suddenly, the expression ‘a carpet of tea’ came to mind and equally suddenly – it made sense. Each cluster of tea plants were like a detailed knot on a Persian rug – separate but intricately linked to the knots beside it. Knot by knot creating an image of a flowing softness of colour.

FullSizeRender 9IMG_0386In the village, we had also picked up a lady with truly the most beautiful smile on earth who had gone to the village for her weekly supplies. Her return trip to the tea planation she worked on was dependent on such a lift. Only two hours later, having arrived at her house, did I realise just how far it was to the tea factory: how isolated it was, how isolated her life was. The roads became impassable but for the sturdiest four by four – ours I was not convinced was all that sturdy and its engine needed screws tightening at every photo stop.

Every time I turned to look at the lady she was smiling. Was she too enjoying this crazy bumpy ride to the top or was it just the unexpectedness of finding two foreigners enjoying what she saw as normal that made her smile? Either way, without many words to share with each other, we laughed and both I think will remember that very briefest of friendships for much of our lives.

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IMG_0385This lady of course reminds you that amidst this intense jaw-dropping beauty are everyday people trying to live their everyday lives to the best of their everyday ability. These people live in poverty yet always have time to smile broadly at a stranger. The tea plantation workers must pick 31 kilos of tea a day plus clean it, all for a miserable 350 rupees a day (3.50 UK), yet they took the time to stop and recognise your presence with a smile, happily showing you the tea they had picked and allowing themselves to be photographed. There was no sense of the intrusion I feared there would be, rather just a delight in sharing their lives with us.

IMG_0403We reached Tamil Nadu!! Rather, we reached the top of the mountain range representing the Kerala / Tamil Nadu border. Maggie will, it seems, have to wait to see that picture of me with a Tamil Nadu background. Thick fog enveloped us, hiding our view. Our driver did assure us that below was village after village and even large towns. The tree in my nearest foreground was all I got to see!

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Our tea plantation claims to be the highest organic tea planation in the world. True or not, it was certainly a very long way above sea-level at 8,000ft.  As we ascended the mountain (through switchback after switchback of tortuously bumpy roads) you were left wondering – how in all heaven were these roads ever built, how in all heaven was the planation carved out of the jungle and finally how in all heaven did the heavy machinery (from 1935) every make its way up these roads? My theory is that the reason this factory has still its original equipment is that modern equipment would never get up the mountain!

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Our journey down was equally an adventure although of course missing my new friend. To, I can only assume, save diesel our driver shut off the engine and glided down the mountainside. Well, no, glided is definitely not the right word – rather careened over the bumps and around bends. A free massage, the driver jokingly said. Certainly not
a massage I would pay for. When finally we reached a relatively smooth bit of road (well surfaced anyhow!) that was it – brake off and AWAY! We glanced at each other, sIMG_0377miled bravely and…well continued and anyhow it was fun! The thought, I will admit, did flash through my mind, we are a long way from anywhere should something happen. A long way from even a helicopter being able to airlift us out! My husband later reassured me that we would have been fine! ‘Did I not see the ambulance at the tea factory?’‘Ambulance? What ambulance?’ IMG_0442‘The box on the wall with ambulance written on it of course!’

To be able to accurately describe all that we saw and experienced in those four hours is impossible. No wordsmith or photographer could really capture the true beauty of Munnar.  I do not represent any travel agency but if you too want to experience true beauty let me know and I can put you in touch with our travel agents and of course lovely Manoj!

To read more about our Kerala adventure read my last blog and the next few blogs to be published very soon. 

It is always nice to know that people have enjoyed what I’ve written so please do feel free to follow, like, share and of course comment below. 

Kerala: Another India / Stunning India

One’s vision of India before you first get here is of a chaotic teeming mass of people in a chaotic world of rundown buildings within which small enterprises of all descriptions take place. You also imagine vast poverty and slums. You may also envisage the Indian man / woman as the stereotypical image of an Indian propagated by Hollywood and indeed our own restricted ability to see Indians as ‘Indians’ who don’t fit into our rather limited image of well an Indian.

Flying into Mumbai seemed to very much confirm this image of a teeming mass of people. Poverty in Mumbai is quickly shoved in your face for you to try to begin to come to terms with – if indeed that is ever possible. The vast wealth of certain sections of Indian society also becomes rapidly clear.

Quickly, however, it also became clear that you can be Indian and not look my ignorant vision of ‘Indian’. You can look ‘Chinese’; ‘Tibetan’; almost white; extremely dark and every other colour and ethnic make up you can almost imagine. India is far from a homogeneous country of one ethnicity and one culture.

Our first attempt to begin to see for ourselves the great diversity in India beyond the bounds of what Pune can show us began today. Kerala has proven to be a complete contrast to Maharashtra. Both states on the Indian western coast; both states emerging from this year’s monsoon but utterly different geographically.

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Pune
Kerala Hills
Kerala Hills

So what are my first impressions of Kerala? Without a doubt I love it and I have yet to see Kerala beyond the 4 hour drive from the airport to tonight’s hotel.

Coconuts on sale everywhere - you drink the water with a straw and then some seem to make the husk into bowls.
Coconuts on sale everywhere – you drink the water with a straw and then some seem to make the husk into bowls.
Lungis - traditional male skirt / trousers
Lungis – traditional male skirt / trousers

Kerala: lush forests wrapped around rolling and also at times precipitous mountains and hills; solid architectural houses rather than the more blocky housing seen more commonly in and around Pune; bright houses painted every colour of the rainbow – sometimes several colours of the rainbow at the same time; clean (for India) and quiet (for India) streets; men in lungis – imagine a long skirt that can, through ingenious wrapping, be turned into shorts, palazzo style trousers (above the ankle), short skirts – some men wear these in Pune but here more do than don’t; spectacular scenery; good god it is humid (at least until you are very high up in the mountains); narrow twisty roads ascending mountains and dropping down the other side; and crazy driving – hair-raising overtaking around blind corners and equally terrifying, being overtaken while you can see a bus hurtling towards you from around a blind corner!

Warning - dangerous curves! Too right!
Warning – dangerous curves! Too right!
just a little twisty - if only my camera could have made it clearer!
just a little twisty – if only my camera could have made it clearer!
It's OK, it's only a bus coming hurtling my way!
It’s OK, it’s only a bus coming hurtling my way!

Our journey from Kochi airport led us up through the spice gardens and onto the tea plantations of Munnar. A brief stop at a spice garden led us around a whistle stop

Stone Banana Tree - takes three years to grow and as soon as you cut off its one and only fruit - it dies!
Stone Banana Tree – takes three years to grow and as soon as you cut off its one and only fruit – it dies!

tour of a ‘sample’ spice garden. Within 20 minutes,  30 plants were pointed out; the local name and botanical name given; and what the Ayurvedic (Indian herbal medicine) properties were. Needless to say none of which has stayed in my head beyond the fact that Stone Banana trees are huge and only have one fruit, vanilla is a creeper as is the pepper plant and that some plant of whose name I have thoroughly forgotten tastes both disgusting and gorgeous simultaneously – should I remember the name – it is great for stabilising sugar levels in diabetics! Oh and you can’t forget the bamboo plant that produces seeds that look and taste exactly like rice. Only issue being it only has these seeds once every 42 years so I’m guessing it’s never really going to take off commercially.

Vanilla
Vanilla
Pepper tree
Pepper tree
Pineapple field!! Now don't pretend you realised they grew this way if you haven't seen it in real life!
Pineapple field!! Now don’t pretend you realised they grew this way if you haven’t seen it in real life!

Our journey also saw us (I kind of feel embarrassingly) discovering how a pineapple grew. Now I couldn’t tell you exactly how I would have drawn a picture of a pineapple growing but I can assure you, it would not have looked like what it actually looked like. We also saw mile after mile of rubber trees all of which were tapped to collect sap. IMG_0047Monkeys were to found at the side of the road everywhere and some were clearly quite content to be approach and photographed – I, on the other hand, was happy to keep a wary distance. An elephant was even spotted around the back of a house as we passed by.

Turning off the main Kochi – Munnar road (for UK / Ireland people – a B road at best) we continued down (or should I say up) a road that got narrower and narrower, passing through a few very small towns and villages. Along the route the terrain got steeper by the minute. Our final ascent to our hotel was signified by a sign saying – 1st gear needed – as the driver took us up a near vertical hill.

Our relief to have arrived before dark – seriously that road would have been terrifying at night – was countered by our stunned silence upon seeing the view. Sunset had lit up all the valleys below us catching the fog that drifted out of the forest. For miles we could see the Western Ghats spread out below us.  Without doubt it has to count as one of the most spectacular views of my life.

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Our welcome garlands!
Our welcome garlands!

We were warmly welcomed with garlands of flowers (my first in India) and a blessing. While the hotel may not be anything special – really no more than just a log cabin in the mountains, the scenery and the staff more than make up for it.

There is something weird though – something really weird I haven’t really got my head around yet – its just a little chilly here. Now it’s still t-shirt weather, don’t get me wrong but up here in the mountains it’s not hot! Very strange experience.

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Beware the Ivory Tower

11020776_10152842712541820_3240351471761126711_oI live in an ivory tower, quite literally. I am on the 17th floor of an apartment block that is quite ivory looking. Not only that our block – one of seven in our society, as they call apartment complexes in India, has the biggest apartments and the best views. one_north2I have a wonderful driver, Datta and a maid, Maggie who I complain about but who is learning. I have a wonderful fruit and veg guy who comes in his little blue van twice a week and sells great stuff at cheap prices.

Yesterday, after a mild ‘what the hell am I going to where on my feet in monsoon panic’, I went and bought a pair of Clarks sandals (Clarks simply because they fit my big clunky Irish feet). Discussions were had this morning on whether Chris and myself and some friends would all go out for dinner together on Thursday night.

Last week, we bought a gorgeous new bed and a stunningly unique table and bench and had chairs re-stained to match them. I ‘helped’ a friend yesterday bring in lots and lots of plants and trees that she bought for her balcony – I intend to do the same on Thursday or Friday.

Yesterday, my driver drove me 30 minutes to a shopping mall only for me to discover I had left my wallet at home so I got back into the car and he drove me home and then drove me back to the mall.

Last Friday, I went out for dinner with Chris and two friends. We had three bottles of wine and lovely Datta was waiting outside the whole time to take us home when we were ready.

I live in an Ivory Tower practically but also metaphorically.IMG_3407

Daily I drive by the ever evident poverty: the women walking miles in the heat so they can go and clean somebody’s house just like mine; the child begging on the street, clearly drugged so she would keep still; the construction village just below my 187-02-beggar-in-manilabalcony where 500 people live in tin sheds with one communal water source; the little children that come and beg at your window when you stop at traffic lights; the whole families you see digging the streets with little more than their bare hands; and so many more examples.

It confuses me.

Tata would not have employed Chris if they felt he did not have a skill that was not readily available in India. The cost of bringing him here and maintaining us here is far too much for it to be a crazy idea that simply wasn’t thought through. Surely, his presence here is playing a role in the development of the Indian economy – hopefully opening up more people to opportunities to better their own economic situation. Our relative ‘wealth’ surely also gives opportunities for employment that otherwise wouldn’t exist – maids, cooks, drivers, bar staff, mall employees, relocation agents etc.

poverty-is-not-a-sin-ignoring-it-is-L-166SzW
On the other hand, I am in danger here of becoming blasé to the poverty around me and thinking that the lifestyle I lead here is nothing special. It would take nothing for me to never walk on the streets here but to always head to the clinical safety of a mall or the ‘expat approved’ restaurants.

If I do, I will not experience India – I will only experience a part of it. The last few weeks have convinced me more than ever that I must do some form of charity work here. I have a skill that is in high demand and really I must use it. I thought previously that I would do paid tutoring. Indeed, perhaps I will but I think I must remember that to sacrifice time that I could be spending with a charity for the sake of my own personal gain is probably not the best use of my time. I am in th38d7297d4fb9e15e756b128979428167e very fortunate position of not needing to work economically.

Luckily, some connections have already been made with one charity where hopefully from September I will go out to a village once a week to teach the girls English – thereby giving them a better chance of having choices in their lives. The more educated they are the less chance they will marry young and live a life of drudgery and being considered secondary to the men around them. I do hope this opportunity and others will begin to emerge that will give me a role in India more than being the housewife and the lady who lunches.

I need it.

‘Mam, yes, mam’ Ahhh!!

Okay, time for some realism here. Most of my blogs have been so positive and so determined because, well frankly, that is the sort of person I am. I always do my best to see the positive side of everything. Yes, I’ll have a quick moan but then on I’ll go seeing the silver lining. Sometimes, however, that is quite frankly bullshit! Sometimes, it is damn hard to deal with things. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that there is always a silver lining.Expat

During our cultural training for our move to India, we were warned. ‘Chris will start working in what is in relative terms a situation he is accustomed too. There will be certain recognition of how things work and what the hierarchy of control etc is. The wife on the other hand (aka me!) will be dropped into an entirely new world with the expectation that they will just get on!’ While at the same time, the understanding is that the wife is having the easy life – going for lunch, lounging around all day – because she is not gainfully employed.

While this may eventually be the situation that I find myself in, at times it does not feel that way at all.

So what is my moan about? I guess it is simple: nothing is easy here to organise. You understand that before you come here. You listen in your cultural training; you are aware of the stereotype of the Indian who never gets things done on time but I don’t think you really get it until well you are dumped in the middle of it and simply expected to ‘just get on’!

For days it feels like I have been sat at home waiting for people to arrive. The typical, ‘Mam, we will be with you in morning’, ‘Will you definitely?’ ‘Oh yes, mam!’ so you wait in all morning, waiting for them to come and guess what they don’t turn up. So you call them. ‘Mam, we will be there half hour, definitely, half hour mam’. Five hours later they turn up or possibly don’t turn up at all. So you have spent your whole day waiting around for this person. A whole day stuck in an apartment, which possibly like today has no food in it but I can’t go shopping because I’m waiting for my maid, who on her first day is at the moment 30 minutes late!

It is one thing when you are waiting for one trade / service but for days now I have been waiting for very many. Right now, I am waiting for my maid, a washing machine installer, an electrician and a dishwasher repairman. The washing machine installer and the dishwasher repairman all promised me they would come yesterday, having promised this for the proceeding 3 days. The electricians when they came yesterday promised me they would be right back with the part needed to fix the lights – guess what? They never returned!

Of course, assuming these people do eventually arrive you are faced with another problem – not one that is particularly the fault of the people who have come but it still makes life incredibly difficult and stressful. The problem is most speak no or very, very little English. This is not their fault. These people are probably not very educated and have neither the time nor money to learn English as an adult but it makes it very, very hard.

Of course, they usually hunt in pairs and stand there speaking Hindi / Marathi to each other in long detailed conversations and the turn around and say, ‘Mam, everything t.k (OK)’ while doing the typical Indian head wobble (seriously it does exist and it is everywhere).

While it may be true that everything is t.k. but it also may not be but how are you to know? Indians hate to disappoint you; they are desperate at all times to make sure you are happy and satisfied, even if that means telling blatant mistruths. There is a certain sweetness to this but god it can be very stressful and very confusing.

Sometimes when the conversation needs to go beyond a head wobble and a ‘Mam, everything t.k (OK)’, a phone call is made to an English speaker so they can translate. Problem is, nine times out of ten, it is impossible to understand a single word this person says. You’re better off with the person in front of you and sign language! The person always speaks so fast with such a strong Indian accent that it just is not feasible to understand them. This even goes for those who are perfectly understandable face to face. This inevitable leads to you handing the phone back to the person who then leaves and leaves you none the wiser.

I will be honest, the above is annoying but really not the fault of the person who has come to do a job for you. What is annoying, is the platitudes! Back to the refusal to disappoint or lose face. More than once I have had to leave a person and stand around the corner where I can’t be seen and inwardly scream while jumping up and down. The alternative is to shout at them and that, quite frankly, will not help anyone.

It is excuse after excuse after excuse. My maid has just explained her half hour lateness by, ‘they held me at security’; which is probably very true but when I asked her for how long, it was for fifteen minutes. So, she was already fifteen minutes late. Now I know she comes from a long way on a hot bus so I am not being mean but it is her first day! If she is fifteen minutes late, that is not a crisis but you are honest about the reason why. If she is late, she just stays the fifteen minutes at the end! No big deal.

The realtor’s representative who works for the society as well is the worst case. He speaks very good English, is immaculately dressed and on first meeting seems efficient and on top of things. However, once the plans begin to unravel he becomes the platitude king. Any excuse is given, any positive slant on the situation is found, anything other than to be honest about the situation.

You know to expect this but when you experience it time after time after time and you are alone in your apartment trying to deal with it all – it is not easy. I don’t think in the long-run my husband has a better deal than I do: the exact opposite in fact but I think until things settle down and all the ridiculous paperwork is completed (don’t get me started on that – that is for an entirely different blog – let’s just say yesterday, Chris and I got 24 passport  each printed. We think that will be enough for a few days.) then my life will in general terms be very nice. Until then it is hard work both mentally and physically.burn_calories

To give you an idea about how hard work it is. I generally burn 2500 calories a day 2800 or so if I exercise. Since I moved into our apartment it is more like 3500 or more! It is all the cleaning that is needed; the running up and down trying to get things sorted; going to the Facilities Management office to try and get things done etc. I wouldn’t have thought it feasible to be so active while still feeling like you are achieving absolutely nothing!

Now, I said at the start that sometimes it is quite frankly impossible to see the silver lining in a situation. Well, maybe that is not quite the truth! You see, last Tuesday I had such a lovely day out with some new friends and made some lovely new friends as well.

The m11313145_10206593499059165_1030394388001712301_oorning started with a visit to a friend’s house where her maid dressed us in beautiful sarees, then lunch at a lovely hotel followed by an afternoon / evening on the terrace of somebody else’s apartment with my feet in a huge washtub of water. It was fun, relaxing and just nice to get away from reality for a bit. It helped 11156296_10152896590587992_1230909227398388954_nto remind me that this move is not about trying to get the dishwasher fixed or trying to organise a maid but about experiencing life in a way that I could not at home. And dealing with all the stress of workmen and sitting on a terrace drinking sparkling wine with my feet in a washtub is also an experience of life I would not have at home.

So that is my silver lining. It does exist after all!

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