Friday, April 27, 2007

Life, death, and everything in between

Being a fairly young Indian couple in the US, hub and I were friends with people in similar age groups. In fact, I think the oldest person we were friends with in the US was in his late 30s! I doubt if we socialised with anybody in their 40s or older! This was not by design, but just the way things ended up being. Now, obviously death is not a very 'in the face' thing for people in that age group. All we spoke about was the opportunities in the tech world, start-ups, stock market, kids, schools, day-cares, weekend getaways, and the like. Not really vain, but definitely not covering the gamut of life. The only older people we got to mingle with were the older parents of our friends and relatives who were there on a vacation. And even then the topics spoken with them were fairly limited. It would typically be about their tickets, airlines, air travel experiences, immigration, comparisons between India and the US, their failing health, etc.

When it was just the two of us, all this was quite perfect for us. And, because we spoke often to our own parents back home, we would hear of other happenings in our extended families, and neighborhoods. But, after my daughter was about 2 years old, and when she started grasping things around her, I was quite sure that the limited social exposure was just not going to be enough in the long run. Yes, she was going to grow up and meet her own friends and get involved in their lives, but still I really wanted the kids to get involved in the myriad of life's experiences that a place like India offers, more so because we have our family in India. One of the very important events that made this a certainty for me was when one of my uncles in India died. Typically, there are multitudes of ceremonies and rituals that happen after somebody passes away. And if you are in the immediate family circle, you take part in most of these rituals. Now, why are these ceremonies important? I am not sure I am aware of the significance of the exercises themselves; however I know that these events make strong impressions in our minds, and such impressions are very important to our own growing self. When I was a young child, I lost my grandfathers, both in a period of 2 years. I was at an impressionable phase, and I was part and parcel of the happenings around me. When my paternal grandfather died, we had to rush to our native place, because my dad was the eldest son, and hence he had a lot of responsibilities back home. This happened in March, just before my 6th standard exams were to start. Now, I was one of those school toppers, and academics was the most important thing in my life or that is the way it had been laid out for me. But, when my grandfather passed away, we dropped everything, took permission from school and just went. Somehow, that helped put certain things into perspective then, and continues to even now. The entire family had gotten together under one roof and we all went through the motions for those 13 days. I was just a child, but a very observant one. Death is anything but scary even to this day because of those few days in my life. And personally for me, I did not want my kids to miss out on such of life's experiences. There is more to life than what meets the eye! Death is definitely one of the vital aspects of life. I definitely didn't want 'death' to be just a concept; something that happened to distant relatives in a faraway land called India, or what happened to innocent victims of random crazy acts in the US.

Another big factor is, in India, not everybody we know is in the tech industry. We know different kinds of people having different kinds of successes and struggles in life. Again, in the US, within our own immediate tech circle, it was going to be very difficult to bring in a variety for our kids. There were probably 2 kinds of people we knew amongst our bay area Indian friends - the fairly well off and the very well off. But here, I am glad that we know people in all strata/classes of society. My kids get to see my maid and her family at close quarters, and then some relatives who continue to live in our native places and leading very different lives than ours, and yet some that are right here in the city and still leading a very different (read non-tech) life. I cannot be anything but thankful for this exposure that they are able to get without any added effort. I really wanted the kids to grow up with empathy. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to provide the required environment there.

In the bay area, almost all of us threw wonderful birthday parties for the kids. The kids, like butterflies, could flutter from one party to another. Each one giving and receiving tons of wonderful gifts. Every kid’s parents being able to afford it all. That was limiting, very limiting. Also, one of the reasons to return back when the kids were really young; before they start missing out on the "good" things after we returned to India.

The uniformity of every Indian family we knew in the US was very good in its own way. We didn't have to think twice about what was appropriate and what was not. We could talk the same kinds of things with everybody, and have "intellectual" conversations with everybody we knew. That had its own charm. But when it comes to raising the kids, we do have the responsibility of exposing them to varieties of things. Also, the reason why I am not ticked off at the lack of infrastructure here. I really think it is alright to grow up with some short-comings in our immediate surroundings. Nothing wrong with that! We grew up with many, many more, and turned out fairly balanced, IMHO! To not have a little electricity from time to time, to use water wisely, and to not have everything great around you in general, can only add value to their little lives.

All that said, there's really no easy formula to raise kids. Here or there, as parents, we have to go through our own battles to raise our kids, and to raise them well. Hopefully, this decision of moving back will be one of those factors that helps us. Keeping my fingers crossed...

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Hardly any answering machines!

If you have gotten used to the answering machines in other parts of the world, it will take you a while to get used to the never-ending ringing on the other end of the phones here in India. Typically, there aren't any answering machines. Surprisingly, the cell phone services do not include the answering machines by default! In fact, my hub got the answering machine service for his cell, but nobody left him a message because they were not used to it! So, he just went ahead and cancelled it. Sometimes, it gets a little frustrating, because you just have to call back the person when you could have just left a message.

Interestingly, there's this concept of 'missed call.' (Some of you reading this may be familiar with it.) Typically, if a person is at work or some place where s/he has access to make 'free' calls, people call her/his mobile and let it ring once and cut the call. That person then realises that s/he has had a missed call from a so-and-so and calls the person back from the 'free' phone and now both can talk without having to pay for it from either ends! Amazing use of technology!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

6 months later - An R2I look back

We recently completed 6 months of stay in Bangalore. Overall, I don't think there were any major surprises. But for a person planning on an R2I, I think what would be of more interest are the things that we missed the most on returning. I expected to miss and do miss all of the following:
  1. Roads and regulated traffic - The city traffic situation and the road conditions are so bad that going out is not in the least bit pleasant, unlike in the US. No amount of writing about it will paint a picture of how the traffic situation actually is. Whenever I have to step out, I try to almost always do it in the non-peak hours. Luckily, I have the freedom. Unfortunately, my husband who works outside of home has no choice but to navigate the traffic at peak hours. He is actually a very good driver and almost always has driven in India whenever we came here for our vacations. However, these days he is considering getting a driver to help him out. Lets see. Here's a pic from Wikipedia of a city road in SF bay area.
  2. I terribly miss the sidewalks and the lovely walks I enjoyed when we were there. The pic on the right shows a typical sidewalk in the SF bay area. Here, unless you live in a huge community that offers some kind of walking/jogging track, it really is no fun! Sidewalks are non-existent or illegally used leaving the pedestrians to use the roads for walking. The traffic situation is so bad that you have to think twice before stepping on the roads. Add 2 little kids to the equation! Gosh! I am glad we will be moving into a community that promises some of these facilities, because the city doesn't offer the pedestrian any infrastructure. You are really on your own out there in the cramped, jostling city jungle.
  3. Pictures of beautiful parks in Cali is all I have left here. There are some parks in a few neighborhoods here. However, after having enjoyed the lush manicured lawns, the ponds and the ducks, the children's play area, picnic tables, rest-rooms of the parks in the US, it is difficult not to miss 'em. The park you see in the pic below, well we lived right opposite to it.
  4. The entire family misses the public libraries that you find in the US and in almost every city in the SF bay area. I often find myself salivating at the thought of those libraries. The innumerable number of books on every subject, DVDs, CDs, videos, children's books, children's learning material, the quiet, the rest-rooms, the views from the reading areas. Sigh! I would take the kids every week, and we would pick loads of age-appropriate books for both the kids. The kids enjoyed picking them out themselves. The easy use of the online library sites that helped us put things on hold, search the library catalog, etc. And to think that the whole thing was for free! How can anybody not miss it? (I do not have a pic of the Santa Clara city library. If you have one, and if you don't mind me using it for this post, please send it to me.)
  5. Lastly, I definitely miss the doctors back in the US. Yes, I did write here about how cheap the medical care facility was, which I still think is the case. For regular everyday issues, it is still alright to go to the neighborhood doc and quickly get a prescription for our illness. However, the experience of a visit to the doc's office in the US is not available here. We had an exceptional pediatrician when we were there. He was good at his job and was wonderful with the kids. We were so pumped with general knowledge of how a child must be doing at every well-baby check! It was almost a disaster here, when we went for our second kid's 2 year well baby check, because of how little the doctor spoke to us about how our child was doing overall, and if he was meeting all the 2 year milestones.

  6. Adding a few more points from my comments, about the docs there: (Apr 18th 5:15pm) Docs there are easily accessible over the phone whenever you have a question. During both my pregnancies, I was able to talk to my Ob/Gyn whenever I wanted. With both our kids, the pediatrician was so good about returning my calls whenever I called in with a question, that I always felt comfortable about their reliable service. There really is no such procedure in place here for our calls etc. Nurses there are available 24/7 via phones. And when you have 2 young children, you almost always have a question to run by them! All our docs talked to us and acknowledged that we were educated adults who could understand what they were talking about. Their bedside manners is commendable. And my childbirths, well I cannot thank the hospital and the nursing staff enough for my wonderful experiences both the times. The nurses are so dedicated, and the hospitals so clean.

    Also, the use of computers in all doctors' offices. Your 'case' is always stored away and nothing will ever be forgotten, either with your prescriptions or your diagnosis. Especially helpful when it comes to the kids, since their growth charts and general progress are all so well maintained. It is the insurance procedures that are a pain, but the docs themselves are wonderful. We have had to go to a few specialists, and we have had good experiences there too.

So, in all these 6 months, what has been worth coming back to?
  1. Family. It has been wonderful to meet our folks as often as we have. Nothing to beat the closeness, and it is so light on our nerves being physically near and not worrying about their health problems from half a globe away.
  2. Hub and I also think that India offers multiple work/business opportunities to do anything that we may want to. Whether we will make use of the opportunities or not remains to be seen, but at least we are in a happening place. :) And to think that the happening place is in our own country is exciting, to say the least!
  3. All the manual help that we can get very easily here. A maid, or a driver, a cleaner, a painter, a carpenter are all very easy to find and very affordable. Since, you tend to do most of the chores in the US by yourself, sometimes it is so hard to have a life what with the kids needing your attention too amidst it all.
  4. No extra effort to get the kids to talk in their mother tongue. We have neighbors who talk the same mother tongue as us, and then the grand-parents and all the relatives. Helps with their sense of belonging too.
  5. Access to a whole range of alternative medical sciences. There's ayurveda, homeopathy, siddha, unani, and tons more. This works for somebody like me who doesn't believe in popping a pill for most anything. I am glad we have access to so many more treatment options, and not worry about insurance coverage to heal ourselves!
  6. For me personally, the temples! Not all, just those that truly matter to me. In the US, I could not relate to the temples at all, just the knowing that they were fairly new and didn't have a "history". Yes, some of the temples there are about 25+ years old, but really nothing like a thousand year old temple. I can relate better to the 'Gods' in such old temples. Yes, if you believe in God, you also know that God is probably everywhere and without form, but the visit to some of these temples does make a difference in the way I feel. And for not an overtly spiritual person like myself, the 'extras' definitely help. And to think that I do not have to cram up all those visits in a month long visit is wonderful. As an added bonus, the kids love meeting the elephants in these old temples! :)

As a concluion, I think coming back has been good. Though I do miss the things that I have listed, and will most likely continue to miss them, I definitely enjoy the pluses. Also, I think I am happier(?)! There, so that's what it is after 6 months! :) Your comments/reactions please.