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Monday, September 15, 2014

Vignettes from Across the Pond

The natives are not friendly.

I could count on my hand the number of friendly smiles that I might have received as I walked around for the span of three weeks. The feeling of being constantly evaluated as in 'What class is this person from?' pervades every little transaction, no matter how insignificant.

Though there was a gorgeously dressed black lady who smiled without hesitation at me as I exited the sports camp building. Must have been of Caribbean extraction.

They are polite and business-like when you have dealings with them. But there is no sense of joy in interactions with them, just a fatigued tension.

The one day that I received more than an average share of 'Mornings' from the other walkers was the day I trudged home with two Sainsbury plastic bags in hand, carrying a couple of quarts of milk.  Maybe they thought that I was a local, accounting for the friendlier attitudes.
 Maybe that's what it takes to crack the serious facades.

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My brightly colored sneakers must have seemed quite odd.
 An tiny grey-haired lady wearing a violent magenta blazer paired with a bright orange skirt passed by as I escorted my toddler nephew to his sports camp.
"I love your trainers', she offered with a smile.
'They're nice, aren't they?' I replied, glancing automatically at my nephew's shoes, white with green accents, flashing red with mini lights.
Then I thought, maybe she was referring to my shoes, a bright violet and lime combination, whose main attraction for me had been the cheap price for a decent brand name.
I do not like the current year's fashions of horrendously bright color contrasts and neon shades, but wear them, nevertheless.

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Slugs and snails come out in droves when it rains.

We reached there during a relatively sunny and dry spell, so the green turf of the park was starting to dry out. But then the rain kicked in, with no warning other than a greyish light at dawn. It was a steady rain, falling in large drops over several hours.
The next morning, I saw a huge snail, bigger than any I had ever seen in my life, crawling across the glass door, leaving slimy streak in its wake. It must have been at least 3 inches long.
I stepped out for my morning walk and nearly squished something  that looked disgustingly like dog feces, but on closer examination, was actually moving. A big fat slug, bigger than the miniscule ones I have seen in my garden in the US, was crossing the footpath.
A few steps later, another snail with a reddish brown shell, another pair of slugs making merry.
I spent the whole walk watching for snails and slugs, and hope that I didn't squish any. There were the messy results of a few more careless walkers ahead of me to provide an 'ick' element to the walk. Poor squished slugs, unlovely though they might have been.


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The British museum with its collections of treasures from far and wide, collected over the centuries of dominion.
 Assyrian reliefs, no doubt saved from the horrors of bombing of Iraq and Lebanon in the current era, massive pillars and statues lifted wholesale from ancient temples of  Nineveh and Nimrud.
In the Asian section, a Chola bronze Nataraja took center stage, and there was an impressive, five faced Vinayaka. Provenance, anyone? Will those statues be ever returned to India, as Australia did recently? I think probably not. The British museum doesn't recognize claims made for art and artifacts that were removed from India prior to 1947.
The privileges of being an empire, I suppose.

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We sit exhausted in the train after the museum outing, our stop is still about 10 minutes away. I notice a man on the opposite side staring at M, or rather, leering at her. Kohl on his eyes, bearded. What a wacko! I glare at him as best as I can manage for a few seconds before I resume gazing at the Tube map above the seats, thankful that we get off shortly.
No further weird characters on the next train we hop on for the trip home. 
Now in light of the Rotherham scandal and worse, I suppress a shudder.Things that seem unimportant take a more ominous significance, as the casual leerer in the train, or the little girl who toddles away from her 'home' with noone apparently watching her.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pastoral Panoramas





Lost?

I trotted downhill a couple of miles from home, trying to cover the final third of my journey. A tiny lady walked ahead of me, and as I walked past, waved and said something in Chinese(?)  I waved back with a cheery 'Morning' ( my 'Ni Hao' deserted me at that time, and in any case, might have been the wrong dialect with which to address her.) She was dressed in a dark red coat with pretty flowers embroidered along the front, and a pair of black capri pants.
We had reached a bit of a slope and I pressed on, and the ageless Grandma faltered behind me, having kept up with me until then at a very sprightly clip. I reached the top of the slope and turned the corner, glancing back to see where she was.
She was backing her way up the slope, waving her arms out to the sides. I stared. Was she alright, or having some sort of health problem. I ran back down the slope and she turned around smiling.
'Are you alright?'
She smiled again, saying something in Chinese.
'Are you lost? Where do you live?'
Again, an incomprehensible phrase, but with a hand pointing in the general direction of a few houses up the road, and a vigorous nod of the head.
She was alright, and appeared to know where she lived. I breathed a sigh of relief and continued on my morning walk.
Not lost, after all.

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M was heading out to London to see the Lion King musical with her uncle and cousin.
'Do you know our address and phone number, in case you get separated from Chittappa in the crowds?'
'No.'
It was time to grab a piece of paper and note down the essential details.
'Keep this with you, and in case you get lost, approach any lady or police officer and ask them for help.'
M looked highly insulted.
'I'm not going to get lost.' with all the indignation that her thirteen years could muster.
'You are not going to get lost. But better safe than sorry'

She didn't get lost, and got back safely home after a lovely outing to Covent Garden, crowds and fancy car displays notwithstanding.

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This morning, M and I walked out looking for a bookstore. M had run out of books to read in the third week of our stay in the UK and I had promised her that I would get her some more.

A little girl with harvest gold hair peeping from under her crochet hat, wearing a pale purple dress,white cardigan,red socks and red shoes, was walking slowly ahead of us. No adult was in sight.
We walked slowly past her, as she ruminated on something, gaze fixed on the sidewalk. I slowed down even further, with an uneasy feeling about this. Sure enough,she came running after us, and kept pace with us as we turned the corner.
She started speaking non-stop, and I strained to make out her accent.

Something about the cat in the corner house, which gazes at me solemnly each morning as I walk by. I tried asking her."Do you live in that house? What's the number of your house?"
She paused her chatter and considered: "It has a seven...and a six."
"Oh, is it 76? Let's walk you back there."
She assented and happily turned around with us. As we walked, I asked "What's your mum and dad's names?"
"My mum and dad died in a fire."
I wasn't expecting that, neither was M. Startled, I pressed on with the inquiries, trying to figure out which house she might belong to. "Do you know the name of the street you live on?"
"No, I don't remember..." She drifted off into more ramblings.
"What's your favorite colour?" she asked. "Mine's purple...and pink."
"I don't have a favorite colour." I replied. A thought struck me. "What is your name?'
"Emma*", she replied, barely audible.
"And your last name?"
Silence.
"Ooh, blackberries! These taste good!" She reached out and took one from the blackberry hedge at the road corner.
"How old are you?", I asked.
"Four."
I formulated a plan. I would take her to my sister's house, and call the police to let them know of the lost girl. It was better than leaving her wandering around the neighborhood, especially with the dodgy characters who appeared to inhabit the bus stop bench.
We walked past three or four houses, and paused for her to try shoo the cat which had moved onto a low roof.
Just then, a woman came running up, dressed in sweatpants, no shoes, just bare feet. She gathered up the girl, who launched herself into the arms with a vengeance.
"Is this your daughter? You must have been terrified!"
Poor woman, I thought. She barely spared me a glance, even as I tried to make eye contact with her. "We live at __ , and just happened to see your child walking about alone."
"We're at __, if you ever see her wandering about again", she tossed off in a hurry, as she turned to rush back to her house.

As I recounted the incident later to my sister, she trenchantly observed "She got lucky that you found her child and that the police were not called. They would have placed the kid in foster care, if they found out that she had not watched over her carefully." Ah, the perils of a nanny state.

Lost and found.

*Not her real name.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Moth

She got the head count for the party from her friend. - sambar for twenty people. "This should be fairly easy," she thought. Having routinely made sambar for ten people, she would just double the quantities and be done with it on the day of the picnic.
The day of the picnic dawned, bright and beautiful, after the heavy rains of the previous night. No more rain was in  the forecast for the day.
The dal was simmering away in the pressure cooker and the vegetables being chopped with alacrity, when the pressure cooker decided to malfunction and release steam prematurely. She rushed to remove it from the heat and realign the gasket. Back to the stove, with fingers crossed this time that the dal would finish cooking in peace. Alas, that was not to be. It turned out partly cooked and needed an additional round of steaming in the dubious cooker.
Finally, a good half hour later than planned, the sambar for twenty was done, poured into a disposable roaster, wrapped up in plastic wrap and aluminum foil ample enough to hermetically seal it for a voyage to outer space. Time to head out to the picnic, which was being held in a shelter at a local park.
The shelter was surrounded by large puddles of water,  the picnic tables covered with bird droppings, the remnants of last year's autumn wood fires in the chimney. A solitary chickadee hopped hopefully on the table, chirping as the people made their way gingerly past the puddles and slimy mud onto the concrete of the shelter. Time to get cracking on spreading plastic sheets and setting up the food for the picnic.
Two hours later, the dingy shelter looked transformed. People filled every nook and cranny, chairs were set up in the drying grass nearby, food aplenty on all the tables as everyone brought their offerings to the potluck. The sambar shared space with the onion chutney and idlis, and a few of the younger kids had already started digging into their share of the goodies.
She turned away from her chatting friends toward the food tables when she spied a commotion around the sambar pan and rushed to investigate. She saw a lady gingerly ladling out a scoop of it, and dashing it on the ground near the post. A black and red moth fluttered to the side, and one of the other ladies nearby took it into her head to attempt to stamp on the moth.
The hostess of the party rushed up. " I must discard the sambar!"she declared definitively and loudly.  Sambar-lady looked up in horror. "Oh no, it was barely in the sambar for more than a couple of seconds. After all my effort...", she wailed.
"Oh, but everyone has seen it fall into the sambar! I know, I feel so bad about having to toss out the sambar... but..." pleaded the hostess.
 "But what will the others do when they come to have the idlis. I don't think the chutney will be enough."
"The sambar is almost over anyway", said the hostess.
"No, it's only about a third done. That is a deep pan, so you will be tossing out two thirds of it. Any way, do what you wish", despaired Sambar-lady.
 She turned away, not wishing to see what transpired with her precious sambar and walked off to talk with other friends. A few minutes later, the hostess confirmed, with much apologies that she did decide to toss out the sambar.
"Watch out for the rest of the dishes that are now sitting out in the open. There are bound to be other insects to fall into them, if we aren't careful." tossed Sambar-lady as a final quip.

As to the moth, who knows whether it survived the stomp. Sambar-lady loves to think that it flew away despite the abuse heaped on its little self. And Sambar-lady will offer to only bring bottles of pop rather than slaving away over a stove the next time she appears at a picnic, as she recovers from the tragedy of the lost sambar.

Mystical Mornings

A picture is worth a thousand words...

Mornings, misty and otherwise.