Friday, October 27, 2006

M3 is for Madonna's Malawian madness

Forgive the language. I am so pissed off by this whole Madonna adoption vs Media row. I have many points, and some of them will probably conflict with yours but for a change I shall not be politically correct, mild or calm.

1. There is the argument that Malawi is poor and in Madonna’s words “I witnessed conditions in Malawi that were the equivalent of a "state of emergency. I think if everybody went there, they'd want to bring one of those children home with them and give them a better life.” I applaud her for sponsoring eight orphanages’ even though it probably does not even cause a dent in her millions. I applaud her for thinking that these children in the poorest of the poor places need help. I applaud her for bringing the plight of the forgotten to the forefront. For using her fame to make people sit up and notice what is happening in the deprived nations. At least her heart is in the right place and however small a percentage that is in a devastated country like Malawi, if even one child is healthier or happier her contribution will have been worth it. However by adopting a child from there she has turned herself into an accessorizing superstar. Does she not know how much media she attracts or is this the prelude to another music release? More than good intention this smacks of “Oooh, look at me I am so talented AND so good.” Balderdash I say.

2. If she was so concerned about the ‘children of Malawi’ why not give the cost of adopting this one child in legal fees and bringing him up in England (where he shall no doubt go to private school and own a pony) toward making a whole host of children happy. Why not put her money where it’s most needed, sponsor 15 orphanages instead of 8? Surely nutritious food, basic education and efficient healthcare for as many children as possible are better, nobler deeds.

3. Her basic premise is incorrect. David Banda is not an orphan. His mother died in childbirth and his father put him in the ‘orphanage’ so that he could work. To earn a living, to eat a square meal each day. One report said that the child had not been visited in over a year. As if this magically makes it right for the child to be considered an orphan. Did it occur to whoever said this that the father might be working, trying to save up some money or trying to get to a better place where he can provide for his child. And that instead of leaving him alone in a dangerous situation the father chose to put him in a safer environment. And no matter how bad the situation or how infrequent the visits it remains that the young boy has a blood bond with his father and that is above all else. How often is David Banda going to see his birth father now?

4. The media skews everything to suits its own needs of attracting an audience. It’s all sound bites for viewership, readership. All without context and although this was how it was reported I doubt this is an accurate account. First David Banda’s father Yohane comes out saying that he did not understand that his son would be taken away forever, only that he would be clothed, fed and educated with Madonna’s money. Then he says that he could never ask for his son back and deprive him of the luxuries in life that she is able to afford. Then Madonna says she “looked him in the eye” and that he completely understood what was going on. I don’t believe anyone. And this side controversy could have been averted had she chosen a real orphan, a child whom no one would claim their own, ever.

5. The Malawian Government is no better bending rules which state that adoptive parents need to live in the country for 18 months. And Madonna claiming she has “kept to the law”. Was it her doppelganger angering the Vatican by recreating the crucifixion while on world tour just a few months ago while she and Guy slummed it in a tent in Malawi? I highly doubt it.

6. Are there no orphans in the UK or America? Every day I watch ads on TV here in London asking people to foster and adopt children within the many boroughs. As she lives here and apparently wanted to adopt a child why couldn’t she have done so here (country of her husband Guy) or in America (her own country). Are these children not needy enough or is it that the media frenzy is greater with an African child? Children are not accessories and I fear no matter how noble the intention, by doing this she has created an ill required storm.

Do not get me wrong. I am a big Madonna fan – her music was my music all my growing up years. I do not for a moment begrudge her well earned fame or wealth. I just worry that by looking abroad and doing something as foolish as bending the law, adopting not quite an orphan and going all the way to another country to adopt when the needy are at our own doorstep, she has made herself look foolish, inconsiderate and flaunting of her wealth in an unattractive and uncharitable way.

I wonder how much longer I can separate her music from her deeds.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The flight one

They do it to fool you into complacency. Check-in is 15 steps away from security check and there is no customs and immigration after, just the bright glow of duty free beckoning the credit card. I buy Cognac for the father, whisky for the f-i-l and some chocolates for everyone else to fight over. And then I look at the boarding card. Of course I should have guessed. The Indian flight is from gate 206787387, which the board kindly suggests I allow a 10-15 minute walk for. Of course it’s only a 15 minute walk for the sprinters of the Chicago marathon. For the rest of the normal ambling public, laden with duty free goodies, it is a half hour walk - an aerobic and resistance workout, all in one. Good thing I did not go to the gym early this morning.

Even on a weekday morning the flight was full as could be. There was a heaving crowd near the departure gate. I was pleased to note that there was just one little boy sitting quietly by his mum. I mentally relaxed – after all what was the probability that they would be sitting next to me. And even if they were close by he was only just ONE little boy - far lower lung power than the last time I went to India and had lots of sticky children running up and down the aisles.

I was so wrong - on every count.

I do not know why I bother playing with probabilities. I am doomed by Murphy’s Law curse. I was in an aisle and the mother and son were in the aisle and adjacent seat of the centre back. Take off was quiet. And then it began. For two continuous hours there was an ever increasing decibel chant. I want my G I Joe. I want my G I Joe. I want my G I Joe. I want my G I Joe. I want my G I Joe. I WANT MY G I JOE. He did have the lung power of 20 children. His screams pierced the sound barrier, went around the world and came back to us. I swear - it went on for two hours with the sobbing soon giving way to hysteria soon half having a fit. And all the while his mother sat quietly and ignored him. She must have stolen ear plugs from Virgin Atlantic - bl**dy BA saves on money and doesn't give you any. I sat across the aisle with the headphones on trying unsuccessfully to block out the noise, wishing I would magically go deaf. I guess other passengers were reeling under the noise barrage as well because at the 2 hour 1 minute mark the woman in front of the loud child got up and pretty much yelled at the mother, “For god sake, give your child his damn G I Jow before we all go deaf”. A bit shocked by this outburst the mother got up, reached into a rug sack in the overhead locker and pulled out a small G I Joe. Instant silence. All this ruckus was for the worlds smallest toy – no bigger than a child’s palm. Unbelievable. Had it been any bigger I would have snatched it from the little boy’s hands and beaten the woman over the head with it.

The rest of the flight was standard. Watched ‘The Devil wears Prada’ and ‘The Break-up’. Neither was memorable but the quality of Meryl Streep’s acting versus Jenifer Aniston’s was like pitting a bull versus an ant. Picked at the standard lunch of cardboard, drank copious amounts of orange and tomato juice, completely ignored the cold cardboard snack distributed before landing, chatted with an old New Zealand-er couple of Netherlands origin and generally dagger eyed the incompetent mother across the aisle.

I was so glad to land at Delhi.

Friday, October 20, 2006

On holiday

I'm in India, holidaying and holidaying.

I'm having too much fun to write. Just yet.

Also the internet connection is simply appalling.

Next week I shall be be back, with stories and stories.

Have a lovely Diwali celebration (if that is indeed your thing) wherever you are.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Bring on the moon

As far back as my memory goes my mother has celebrated karva chauth at her cousin’s home in Delhi, with her cousin sister in-law (my maiji) leading the ceremonies and being the guide to all the traditions and stories surrounding it.

As a child the ceremonies of karva chauth held no great appeal except that it was the one day that all the cousins got together and spent all evening looking for the moon while their mothers piously prayed for their marriages to be long and happy. Sometimes, on especially cloudy evenings, the fathers would bundle us all into the great big ambassador cars and drive us to India gate where the clear maidan would be the most likely place to spot the moon. A treat of ice cream from the thelawala was our prize. In a good year we even got a balloon each.

Childhood turned into young-girl-hood and I began to take a greater interest in the lore and mechanics of the festival. I remember sitting in the room listening to my maiji reciting the paath and leading all the young women (cousins, nieces, friends – newlyweds joining in each year) through the ceremony. This is what I remember.

Originally, in ancient times, the celebration of karva chauth was started as a day on which women got a rest from cooking and cleaning. A day of well deserved rest. With time the day got a religious bend to it and it became a day that married women fasted to ensure the long and prosperous life of their husbands. It is celebrated all over north India, predominantly in Uttar Pradesh (where my mum is from), Madhya Pradesh and Punjab. All these states have their own version of the tale of karva chauth and the prayers said in each state are all variations of one another. This is the story (the paath) as told in Uttar Pradesh – my interpretation and definitely an abridged version. It also sounds much nicer in Hindi.

“A woman’s husband takes ill and dies because she has not prayed for his health or prosperity and greedily not fasted or prayed. She repents and takes her husbands body under a tree and sits and does tapasya [prayer through penance]. One by one 6 witches come and to each one she asks to exchange karva's (terracotta/ clay pot with a spout and little lid) with her to complete her penance and bring her husband back to life. Each of the 6 witches denies and goes away. However, the 7th witch is impressed with the woman’s penance and patience and exchanges karva's with her, bringing her husband back to life and ensuring success and hapiness for many years to come. “

Traditionally women wake before dawn to eat and drink something. Then they keep a vrath (fast) all day, taking nothing either to eat or drink from sunrise onwards. This fast is called 'nirjal' or 'without water'. This is far harder than it sounds as being hungry is one thing but being thirsty is quite another. In the evening, after sunset, a pooja is done. A figurine of atta [kneaded flour/ dough] called 'gaur' is made and prayed to. The gaur is meant to be the embodiment of all the female incarnations of god. Women will dress in pink or red; wedding finery is usually aired this day with heavy sarees and jewelry being donned. Prayers are usually given with sisters-in-law, mothers etc, just after sunset. Each woman has her own karva [and one karva is kept for the gaur]. Each karva is filled with water and over the top lid 7 poori's, a pua and some money are kept. The paath is recited. Then once the moon is sighted, each woman takes her karva to where she can see the moon. She must look at the moon, pray for the longevity, good health and prosperity of her husband and pour some of the water from the karva - this is to be repeated 7 times by each woman. Then all the women come back to the pooja and passing the karva to another woman, one says 'pua passun?' [should i eat this pua?] and the woman replies 'passon' ['eat'] - the pua is broken into 7 bits and each time the woman eats one bit. Two women must do this for each other 7 times - usually you just touch karva's with the other woman, not actually exchange them.

I still remember my first karva chauth as if it were yesterday. I had none of the paraphanalia; no karva, no gaur, no pooris or puaas. But with a long email from my mum I quickly adapted. Got the poori’s from a restaurant, a glass and small lid to be my karva and a small bar of chocolate to be my puaas. I made a small gaur with atta and did the pooja quietly at home, dressed in what little Indian finery I had had carried from India to London. It was an especially cloudy night and whilst I stayed home, V went off walk around the Sainsbury parking lot to check on the whereabouts of the moon. Funnily enough he was not the only one there as there were other desi guys (his classmates) also duly dispatched!

Now I have got better and better at it. More organized, getting my karva from India, making the poori’s and puaas at home. It has been said that the modern women needs to move on with the times and one unbelieving friend laughs every time she hears I keep a fast for karva chauth. I disagree as I believe that a balance between the modern and traditional is possible to achieve. It is a festival that in some way comforts me. I like to think of it as an Indian anniversary, a celebration for married women to rejoice in their married-ness.

Tomorrow is my fifth karva chauth. May the moon rise from behind the clouds before I faint.

maidan: open space/ park, such as the famous Kolkata maidan
thelawala: Man with cart selling stuff – in this case ice cream
maiji: Maternal aunt (mother’s brothers {or cousin} wife)
vrath: fast
pooja: prayer/ worship
karva: small terracotta/ clay pot with a spout and little lid
poori: A light unleavened bread that is deep fried in oil. Simply scrumptious!
puaas: A baby Indian pancake steeped in sugar water. Sweet, sweet sweet.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Losers club Or DIY hell - take your pick

Once upon a time, nearly every Friday evening, 31 and V used to come home from a hard days work, get changed, maybe have a drink and then head out with friends for drinks, dinner, a movie, dancing. They would come home past midnight, possibly with friends in tow, and watch re-runs of re-runs of old movies, singing along while sipping cognac. They would then sleep till past noon on Saturday in preparation for another night out. Those wonderful wonderful times. They were called 'our twenties'.

I’m in the mood for reminiscing about the good old days. Humour me.

You know things have changed when you spend Friday evenings at B&Q. Ever since we moved to our own place (8 weeks ago this past Friday) we have been spending an inordinate amount of time in B&Q. For the uninitiated B&Q is one of the UK’s ‘largest home improvement and garden retail centre’s’. In other words it’s the warehouse from hell for people who have nothing better to do that strip their houses and re-do them time and time and again.

This country is very caught up with DIY. To the uninformed that is ‘Do It Yourself’. I should have been worried when I saw the many TV programmes that constantly show the ‘new’ trends in home design and then force you to go and redecorate your existance. There are whole channels dedicated to makeover shows – ones where noisy, boisterous and usually overbearing presenters/ designers go into people’s houses and re-do rooms in their ‘distinctive’ (often hideous) style. There is many a programme where the house owners have begun some project of self improvement such as stripping out their bathroom and then never got back to putting it together again. And then when their children are in danger of slipping through the gaping hole in the floor they resort to calling home shows and begging for help. The designer and handymen come and film the whole re-design and at the end of such shows the owner has no choice but to smile beatifically and be groveling, breathless and thankful, all simultaneously, that their children can now walk along the bathroom floor without landing directly at the kitchen table (or rather on it) without the need for stairs. I recall one particularly popular show that finished its run on BBC after 8 continuous highly rated seasons. In this show neighbours/ friends exchanged keys and then worked with designers to redesign just one room in each other houses. When I say worked with, I mean that in the loosest sense, as usually the designer had their own unchangeable plans that they barked at the friends. At the end the rooms is revealed to the owner of said room. I have to admit that in many cases the rooms turned out well - completely incongruous with the rest of the house, but well in isolation. In other cases they were unmitigated disasters, with sand beaches on floors not being the desired living room effect they were hoping to come home to. What was that designer ON?! Or like once when a ceiling suspended show rack for a prized plate collection fell to the floor shattering a lifetime’s collection into a million shards. Or like when someone expressly mentioned that they hated black and the designer completely ignored that and created a black and gold bedroom. Sexy, you say? Needless to say one of them burst into tears and vowed to strip out the room because “I HATE IT”. I bet you some friendships have been ruined over that re-decoration craziness.

I digress. So anyway, one Friday evening a few weeks ago, I was in bl*st*d B&Q (thanks to this)traipsing the aisles looking for light fittings to replace the UFO’s that previously lived in the ceiling. 540 choices of lighting and endless sad-o’s like me, with trolleys and stacks of DIY equipment. After about 15 minutes of utter wonderment at the sheer range of choice and the ugliness to choose from it was determined that help was needed in tracking down simple spotlights. Along with other confused parties wandering the lighting aisles, a ‘customer service assistant’ was chased and pinned to a wall. Needless to say I got some answers about wattage and other sundry lighting jargon. I left with 26 spotlights and many more bulbs. And god said, “Let there be light.”

Another Friday evening was spent searching for a simple, straight line towel rack. ‘Ultimate’ and ‘towel rack’ are not words you would think would go together. B&Q begs to differ as there were 12 different choices, each uglier than the other, and the one on special offer was marked ‘Ultimate towel rack’. I kid you not. I chose the least of the ugly brothers, bought two and beat a hasty retreat. I wonder if there are frequent buyer miles in these places?

Another Friday evening was spent deciding on paint colour. But that’s a story for another post. Wait for it.

I am not a student of the School of DIY – so I was merely buying materials for a jack of all trades to affix for me. I’m still lazy and mainly incapable of doing any home improvement things - a legacy of having affordable labour to do these things in India. I’m great at shopping for the materials but someone else will have to do the work. I wonder if there is a frequent buyer miles programme at B&Q?

I want my Friday evenings back please.