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5 Things About India that Attract Me

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Bridging the Cultural Communication Divide

by Sharell शारेल on June 8, 2011

in Culture Shock in India

Post image for Bridging the Cultural Communication Divide

Recently, a reader wrote to me upset over the way her Indian boyfriend’s family communicated. She was particularly bothered by how her boyfriend and his family continue to speak in their own language, which she can’t understand, in front of her. She wanted to know how I coped with something like that, and suggested I write a blog post about it.

Here’s a summary of my complicated situation. While my husband’s parents can’t speak English, his siblings all can. The family also speaks their native language, Oriya. This gives rise to all of the following happening when I’m present. My mother in law will usually speak to her children in Oriya and to me in Hindi. A conversation where everyone is involved will usually be in Hindi. The children (my husband and his siblings) will usually speak amongst themselves in Hindi. Everyone who speaks English will usually speak to me in English. My father in law did attempt to speak to me in English once, and my sister in law laughed at him when he got it all wrong.

As you can probably imagine, it gets very confusing for me. It’s a big family, and when everyone gets together there’s a lot of talking going on all at once. Sometimes I just sit back in a daze.

Something that it’s made me realise, is how much we unconsciously rely on understanding what’s being said and what’s going on around us in order to feel comfortable. There can be conversations taking place that I know don’t involve me, and are irrelevant to me, but I want to understand them anyway. The fact that I don’t understand them makes me feel kind of left out at times — and even a bit paranoid. [click to continue…]

28 people like this post.


The Paradox of Wine in India

by Sharell शारेल on June 2, 2011

in Daily Life in India, Eating & Drinking

Post image for The Paradox of Wine in India

I like to drink wine. It’s been my preferred drink since my university days. Back then, I used to drink cheap wine that comes in casks of one to four litres. I didn’t really care what variety it was. Over the years, my taste became more discerning. My favourite type of wine is now an oakey, buttery, chardonnay. Wineries in the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula regions of Victoria produce some delightful ones, as do wineries in the Margaret River region of Western Australia.

When I came to India over five years ago I got an unpleasant shock. Wine was overpriced and underappreciated. In conversation, a young business school student from a very good family told me about the imported vodka and whiskey he was fortunate enough drink. I was unimpressed. “Well, what do you think I should be drinking to make a good impression on people?” he asked me. “A fine wine of course,” I told him. He took my advice and actually thanked me later.

Many people are surprised to find out that India has its own vineyards and a rapidly growing wine industry. However, wine still remains a drink for the elite. In fact, it’s hardly even recognised as alcohol here. [click to continue…]

7 people like this post.


The Beauty of a Bloom

by Sharell शारेल on May 30, 2011

in Daily Life in India, Inspirational India

Post image for The Beauty of a Bloom

Often, things in life aren’t what they seem.

There’s a plant in my rambling garden that, sadly, I admit I’ve looked at a bit disdainfully on more than one occasion. Its foliage is patchy, trunk flaky, and it doesn’t even have a good shape. I thought it looked unsightly and wondered what it was. Nevertheless, I watered it and cared for it.

Today I found out. It’s a hibiscus with a beautiful red bloom. As soon as I saw the bloom, my feelings towards the plant changed. It wasn’t so ugly after all. Immediately I began to like it.

Yet, hibiscus flowers only last for a day. I wonder if I’ll still feel so positively about the plant tomorrow. At least it’s served as good reminder to search beyond the surface to find the inner beauty in things. You never know what’s on the inside.

The hibiscus (with a palm leaf leaning on top of it).

14 people like this post.


Post image for When Indian Politics Rewards You for Cutting Off Your Tongue

How can you get 1 lakh rupees in cash, 36,000 rupees to cover your medical expenses, AND a government job in India? Simple! Just cut off your tongue if the political party that you support wins the election.

I normally ignore anything to do with politics as it only leaves me shaking my head in disbelief and frustration, but this was just too bizarre. A 32 year old woman from Tamil Nadu vowed to sever her tongue if the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party was elected to power. Sure enough, when the party did win, she went to a temple and cut it off. Doctors apparently failed to reattach it, despite Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa intervening and rushing her to a private hospital to be treated. The Chief Minister then compensated, or should we say rewarded, the woman with money and a job in a canteen for her efforts.

My first thought was how ridiculous! Surely, this will just encourage other acts of self harm. I’m not alone in thinking this either as the act has attracted widespread criticism from a human rights campaigner.

Unfortunately, it seems acts of self harm aren’t isolated incidents in Tamil Nadu politics. It’s shockingly been going on for the past four decades, since the anti-Hindi agitations in 1965. Many cadres resorted to suicide to add impetus to their protests then. In return, political parties made them out to be martyrs. Even today, their families still continue receive state pensions.

The last time someone cut off their tongue was in 2002, in support of the same political party. It was the chief’s 54th birthday, and a tea shop vendor decided to celebrate it by severing his tongue and offering it at the Tirupathi temple.

Shame he didn’t wrap it up with a ribbon and offer it as a gift to the chief instead!

9 people like this post.


The Shock of Seeing a Saip (White Person) in Kerala

by Sharell शारेल on May 24, 2011

in Snapshots of India

Post image for The Shock of Seeing a Saip (White Person) in Kerala

Quite a while ago, I wrote about the unfortunate culture shock experience that resulted when a “brother” from Kerala, unaccustomed to the ways of the western world, came to stay at my house in Melbourne for a while.

But what happens in Kerala when people see a white person, up close, for the first time? My friend Barnaby, who lives there, has written an amusing article titled Saip Shock about it over at the NRI.

I’ve been to and lived in quite a few places in India where a white person is a strange novelty. I’ve been photographed, dragged aside to meet every visiting family member, and endlessly questioned and examined. But, I’ve NEVER had the hair on my arms stroked and called soft. Well maybe that’s because I’m now a Mumbai-wali and get it all waxed off, yaar!

Note: the above photo has been (unskillfully) digitally edited by me in a lighthearted manner. (Sorry Barnaby, I’m sure you’re not THAT much of an attraction!).

13 people like this post.