Friday, 15 March 2013

Hey Mr Rabbit, why are you so twitchy?

Last Sunday I got up at 6 to take part in the Rotary Club Fun Run which was due to start at 6.45. (Stay with me, hopefully this'll get better) The flyer promised a goody bag worth 4000 rupees for all participants of the 8km race - carrot enough for me!

Mick had been up half the night watching rugby but was still up before me (now watching cricket) when I shuffled past to put the kettle on at 6.15. He is always ready before me - a source of great irritation to us both. I know what time it is, I know what time we have to leave and I cannot and will not be chivvied along.

We arrived at the meeting point at Lokhandwala at 6.40 to find a few hundred people milling about looking lost; a DJ blasting out 'Hotel California' to the point of distortion and the President of the Rotary Club urging everyone to form an orderly queue to register.

Both of us, tightly wound as we are, became instantly bad tempered at the lack of organisation.  Why didn't people register earlier in the week as we had? Why do they always play 'Hotel California'?

The Rotary guy delivered the standard 'Women's Day' platitudes ("Womans is very important because without womans we would not be here!") and, rather scarily, warned runners to watch out for the traffic because "your life is more important than winning the race." (Hmm, I'll bear it in mind) Thanks for those pearls of wisdom but it's 7.15, can we start the race now?

No, we cannot. We must first warm up with some Zumba dancing led by a trio of exuberant teens who danced their legwarmers off in spite of the ear-splitting feedback from the sound system. I plonked myself down next to some elderly ladies in saris and trainers and took in the scene before me. There were girls from an orphanage in matching caps shaking their booties to the salsa beat. A man who must have been knocking on for 100 was waving his arms about and having a ball. It was 7.30 by this time and even though it was hotting up weather-wise and otherwise, Mick and I started to calm down a bit. So what if the race hadn't started yet? These people were having a blast. It was all very good-natured so why on earth were we getting so het up?

In true Indian style, just as it looked as though the race would never start, a steward came out of nowhere, released some balloons and we were off!

I guess a couple of hundred people took part in the 8km race with a couple of hundred more taking part in the 5km and 2.5km races which were for women only. As we ran head on into the early morning traffic, dodging rickshaws and buses, I watched several male runners slip off to relieve themselves at the side of the road (so long had we all waited for the race to start). Curious, I thought, especially as this was a race organised to celebrate 'Women's Day' that there should be no toilets for women (or anybody) en route. What was all that blather about respecting "womans" earlier on? Real change will only happen when details like this are not routinely overlooked.

Twenty-five minutes into the race, just as I was beginning to regret the cup of tea I'd had before I left the house, I saw the finish line and Mick sitting on the kerb rifling through his goody bag.

"What? Is it finished? No way was that 8km!"

"Yeah, I know, they got it wrong, it was actually 4.7km," he laughed.

The 4000 roop goody bag contained a packet of broken biscuits, some noodles and two multi-vitamin pills, along with money-off coupons for products and services I would never use. I started to explain to the official at the finish line that the course was not 8km as advertised but she just smiled and said "well-done, dear!" As far as she was concerned we were raising money and having fun and I guess that's all that matters.

An expat friend who left last year always used to say: "halve your expectations and then halve them again and you will never be disappointed." She was only here for a short time and, now I think about it, I don't actually agree with her. It's not a question of raising or lowering expectations, it's about realizing that everyone's expectations are so very different. What seems like chaos to us as foreigners, is often just good-natured fun to Indians. It's a question of acceptance and learning to go with the flow.

When I worked in West Africa years ago, a local man told me that you could always tell how long a foreigner had been in the country by how fast he was walking. Newbies fresh from the airport were practically sprinting everywhere but those who'd had time to drink in some of the local atmosphere were moving at a far more chilled pace. The trick is to adapt to your new environment and the sooner you do that, the more you will get from the experience.

So, for those of you who remember the Cadbury's Caramel ad, "Hey Mr Rabbit, why are you so twitchy? You just need to take everything really easy..."

P.S Thanks to Bombay Jules for the blog lessons this week. At last I can write in a font that you can't see from space!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Women's Day...I Just Don't Buy It!

Call me a cynic, but I am just not comfortable with all this Women’s Day stuff. “Let’s celebrate Women!” Yeah, let’s celebrate cats while we are at it. Do we need celebrating? Would the men folk like to be celebrated too? Or might they find it a bit demeaning?
Giving the li’l’ ladies their very own special day, I feel, undermines the struggle for equality. I expect Emeline Pankhurst will be spinning in her grave.

The HR woman at my husband’s office thought it would be a lovely idea for all the women to go home at lunchtime. You can just imagine their male colleagues thinking: ‘Hang on a minute, you want equal pay but you also expect special treatment because you’re a woman?’ You can’t have it both ways. This sort of thing breeds resentment between the sexes. And see how the whole Women’s Day thing (like Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day) has been totally hijacked by the very businesses that seek to exploit women. Today’s papers are full of adverts peddling bullshit to women who feel inadequate about themselves.  

“Saluting the spirit of Womanhood!” says the ad for ‘Nurture Health Care’ which invites women to lose weight without exercise or diet. There is a photo of a gorgeous, slim woman and absolutely no mention of how this can be achieved but whatever it is, it’s 10 per cent off because it’s Women’s Day!
And then we have ‘Desire’ (strap line: ‘Women of 21st Century are Fat Free’ - really, is this true?) which is advertising a special ‘Women’s Day’ package where, for a little under 11,000 rupees, you can have your fat melted away by massage. Now, I’m no scientist, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that this is utter bull. And now I see that politicians are jumping on the bandwagon. "Women vote now, yeah? OK, let’s run on that ticket!"
I was at a festival of Music and Arts on Saturday night as my daughter was performing with her dance troupe. The festival had been organized by some political bigwig who used it as a platform to promote himself under the guise of promoting the arts in my neighbourhood.  Most of the seats were empty when we arrived so we plonked ourselves down in the second row, behind the politician and his family.
Eventually the sound system erupted with some ear-splitting jingle on a loop (which didn’t seem to bother anyone but me) This went on for a good 15 minutes until a disjointed voice announced our hostess for the evening: “And welcome on stage, the face of Whirlpool for the past six years, Miss………!”
The face of Whirlpool was certainly a looker but her presenting skills needed a fine tune. She had a wonderful gift of undermining everyone who came up on stage.
“Hey, has anyone here ever seen a funny female comedian? I certainly haven’t, so let’s give it up for……”
Turns out the comedienne was very funny and would have made a much better hostess than Whirlpool Face. Shame she wasn’t considered for the job. (I wonder why?)
The highlight of the evening was an appearance by  'heartthrob actor Varun Dhawan who delivered an emotional speech about two friends of his who were killed in a fight as they tried to defend their girlfriends. Whirlpool Face was so busy swooning and choosing who would be allowed up on stage to touch Varun that she didn’t hear him and asked him to repeat what he had just said. The poor guy looked mortified at having to deliver the same heartfelt speech twice. Then it was the turn of the politician to stand up and proclaim his great respect for females as the screens showed a film of women around the world being raped, attacked and felt up by their horrible bosses. Emotions running high, the politician pontificated about how everyone should be given equal respect. Perhaps he was not aware that his mother, a rather hard-faced and porcine lady in an expensive sari, was all the while ordering security to eject people who were sitting in the front seats as her relatives had now turned up. I guess everyone is equal but some are indeed more equal than others.