Wednesday 20 February 2013

About a Girl

There’s an advert on the telly for a pressure cooker which makes me want to leap off the balcony because I find it so utterly depressing.
 The husband brings all his mates home from work – unexpectedly – and tells wifey to get in the kitchen and rustle up something quick sticks. The look in his eye suggests she might get a whack around the head with a frying pan if it doesn’t pass muster. 
While all the suits make themselves at home, checking their Blackberries and probably stinking the house out with a heady mix of Playboy and Axe man spray, wifey chucks some lentils into the pressure cooker and hey presto, dinner is served.
The tension is palpable but hubby gives her the thumbs up and we can all breathe easily. She smiles nervously as one of the guys sidles over and rather creepily puts his hands on her shoulders and murmurs: “Whose wife is she anyway?”
The ad implies that if you knock up some tasty grub in a pressure cooker, guys might even notice you in your own home. Nice.
The ad comes on while I am watching ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ (except me) with my 13-year-old daughter, Polly.
“This advert is so annoying,” she says.  
“Yeah, I know, it really annoys me too. Advertising like this defines women in relation to men, whereas men are usually defined in relation to their work, their creativity or their play.”  I say, rather eruditely.
“No, it’s not that,” she says, “it’s just that in reality she wouldn’t cook the dinner herself, she’d get the maid to do it.”
Perhaps we’ve been living in India for too long.
“That’s not the point, Polly. He was treating his wife like a servant, not an equal and that is not acceptable.”
“When you ask Lucy to cook the dinner, are you treating her like a servant?”
“Lucy gets paid to do a job…”
“Shut up now mum, it’s coming back on”
And so we’re back to Raymond’s plaid shirt-wearing world of circa ‘96 America.
Raymond’s mother moves in with her son and his wife Debra after an argument with her husband, Frank. Her babying of Raymond drives Debra out of the house.
“You see, when sons are put on a pedestal by their mothers, they expect to be pampered by all women.”
“You put Hugh on a pedal stool.”  I want to laugh but I let it go because I’m trying to have a serious mother-daughter conversation here.  Polly will be starting at the same UK boarding school as Hugh in September and our telly-watching days together are numbered.
I watch my smart little girl eating with her fingers in front of the telly. She expertly mops the dhal with the folded chapatti and scoops it into her mouth.  The meal has been cooked by Lucy - in the pressure cooker.
We turn over to Comedy Central and shout in unison: “I’M NOT A SELL OUT! WHAT’S A SELLOUT?”  They must play that catch phrase a thousand times a day, it’s beyond annoying but we’ve learnt to live with it after all this time.
Finally, we settle down to watch the only decent thing on telly, ‘Two and a Half Men’ but the one with Charlie Sheen and not Ashton Kutcher (which is rubbish). We’ve been watching this show on and off for the past four years, though not necessarily in chronological sequence. One minute Jake is 17, the next he’s a chubby eight-year-old kid. It’s always funny though - if a little misogynistic.
“So let me get this straight,” says Polly.  “If your mum pampers you as a boy, you grow up expecting all women to pamper you?”
“Er yes, generally.”
“But if your mum doesn’t pamper you as a boy, like Charlie Sheen’s mum, you should grow up to treat women as equals, right?”
I am horribly out of my depth because I know what’s coming.”
“So why does Charlie treat all women as sex objects?”
“Yes, that is ironic,” I say, making a quick exit to the kitchen for a pre-weekend gin and tonic.
There was a time when whatever I told the kids was gospel but now even the youngest is questioning me and challenging my all-knowingness.  It’s a good thing I know but all the same I feel as if the last vestige of something is slipping away.

When we first came to Mumbai, Polly was nine and very gung-ho about this new family adventure. She travelled to school in a rickshaw and integrated seamlessly with the other children, adopting a Mumbai accent and wobbling her head with the best of them. Soon it will be time for her to leave and I wonder how much of India she will take with her.
Samir, our driver of three and a half years, asked me how old I was when I lived in South Africa. I told him I was exactly the same age as Polly is now. He wanted to know if I remembered much of it and I told him I did, very clearly, why did he ask?
I want Polly to remember me when she grows up.” He said.
The two of them sing along to Hindi pop songs in the car and share a mutual love of ‘Gossip Girl’. If ever there was a meeting of cultures…
“Mum, can you bring me a coconut out of the fridge please!”
I take my gin and tonic and her coconut and straw, back into the lounge.
“Anyway, I was thinking” she says “what do you mean when you say ‘ironic’?”
"Well, it comes from the word ‘irony’ which means, erm, you know, let me think…erm.... ”
Polly: “I know, it’s ironic that somebody like you, who is supposed to be so good at English, can’t give me a definition of ironic!”
“Come over here, and give me a cuddle” I say, buoyed by the gin, “I’m going to miss you!”

Thursday 7 February 2013

Life's a Beach

The first time we went to Goa, we stayed in Candolim in the North because we didn’t know any better. Drunken, sun-burned Brits staggered about in the hot sun and Russians in two sizes (miniscule or massive) sat around in bars drinking beer and vodka for breakfast. You could select your menu option in most restaurants from a laminated photo and enjoy a BOGOF bucket of Long Island Ice Tea with your meal.

We got wise after this and picked the brains of long-term expats in Mumbai: Where’s the best place to go for a beach holiday in Goa? After a lot of cajoling we finally managed to extract, from good friends, the name of their secret Goan destination.  I can’t tell you where it is or I will have to kill you. Oh, alright then, it was Agonda Beach in the South. We loved it so much that we stayed in the same ramshackle beach house the next four times we visited Goa. The kids spent the days digging a hole in the sand and Mick and I read books or played Scrabble on the verandah, occasionally looking out to sea and wondering if it was too early to pop next door to Madhu’s for a beer. We would have carried on like this every time we had a few days off, but when Hugh shipped off to boarding school, Polly decided we couldn’t go to Agonda without him so we had to come up with a new short-break destination. As luck would have it, I was chatting to beach wear designer Sophie Paget Stevenson, when she mentioned her pop-up shop, Beach Candy, on Morjim Beach. She told me Fashion Designer Jade Jagger had a chalet in Morjim and also a boutique on the beach. As I am the sort of person who is very impressed by this level of name-dropping, my decision to go was made then and there.  Sophie said she always stayed at Palm Grove on Ashvem Beach so this was duly booked within the hour.

The journey was almost too easy. Getting out of Mumbai and arriving in such an idyllic spot really should take more than a few hours door to door –but it doesn’t.
Palm Grove is a small boutique resort run by a Swedish couple, who looked as though they’d arrived in Goa 20 years ago and made the decision to stay on and make a living for themselves in Paradise. It was a bit pricier than our place in Agonda, but hey ho, it was a lot more glamorous.
Our new home for the week ‘Honey Bunny’ was a large, half-brick, circular house with a palm frond roof and en-suite shower room. The majestic four-poster bed was rather romantically swathed in mosquito netting and fragrant candles were placed about the room.
Having set off from Mumbai mid afternoon, by the time our bags were brought to the room, we decided to pop down to the beach restaurant for a swift half and to watch the sun set.
After a few swift halves and a magnificent light show from Mother Nature, I nipped back to the room to use the loo. It was dark but I could make out the white toilet seat by the light of the moon slicing through the roof fronds. I had earlier noticed a large spider at the base of the bamboo wall facing the toilet so I thought I’d better just find the light switch in case it had moved. It’s a good job I did because there on the loo seat sat a shiny red frog. I dread to think what might have happened in the dark. By this time I was desperate so I banged the bamboo wall and the frog jumped to the floor, just as the spider leapt forward. They stood facing each other an inch apart. I don’t particularly like frogs but I am more scared of spiders. Especially this one as it was very big. The three of us stood there rooted to the spot until, rather spectacularly, the frog shot out its tongue and whipped the spider into its mouth and started chowing down on its big, black, hairy legs. It was the best thing I have ever seen in my life. I sat down and marveled at the wonders of nature and then kicked myself for not filming on my phone which was all the while in my hand. It would have gone viral! I couldn’t wait to get back to the bar and tell Mick and Polly how exciting my trip to the loo had been.
I wish this was a video clip of the frog eating the spider - soz

That was the highlight of the week, which suited us just fine! I spent the rest of the holiday collecting shells and building sand castles with Polly while Mick read his book and slept around the clock. We tried sun-bathing on the beach one day but felt too inadequate next to the bronzed and athletic bodies of professional beach people, mostly Russians. One of the knick-knack sellers on the beach asked me why I was so white. You wouldn’t think I’d lived in India for four years! I guess I’m just not the tanning type.
And so, every evening at sunset, Mick would wake from his day’s sleeping/reading and accompany us to one of the many beach bars so we could enjoy a cocktail and a piece of fresh, meaty fish and watch the hippies do yoga poses on the beach. I suppose they will have to get a job one day, we muse to each other as the sun goes down.
There are definitely some upsides to living in Mumbai and this is one of them!