Friday, August 30, 2013

Mega Watt Smile

Remember when you were a kid and learning about the importance of brushing your teeth? The dentist used to tell you to spend 2 minutes brushing, twice per day. Your parents would make you sing your way through the alphabet song and you couldn't stop brushing until you reached Z?
9 Oct 2007 - Indian school children attempt to break the world record for the largest co-ordinated tooth brushing, currently held by the Philippines, at 41,038. Courtesy of BBC News
Indians have the brushing thing down to a science. Never in my life have I seen people spend the amount of time they spend brushing their teeth. Every morning, you'll see men zooming by on motorcycles with a toothbrush hanging out of their mouth or kids walking to the kirana shop to get the morning packet of milk, brushing all the way there and all the way back home. My personal favourite (please sense sarcasm) generally happens between the hours of 8-10am, and is the sound of any number of neighbours brushing so vigorously that they gag themselves, repeatedly. Brushing right out there in the open; for a super extended period of time. Shoving that toothbrush so far down their throat, they make heaving noises and not just once, but like 10 times before they're satisfied. It's like a gagging quota or something.
Everyone does it. It's not an isolated thing. I've not been anywhere in India where I haven't observed this. Don't get me wrong, I think it's great. Many Indians have really sparkling beautiful teeth regardless of the fact that they might have never visited a dentist in their life.
There are two dental products I have not been able to locate however. The first is dental floss. Both of my brother in laws are dentists so I thought they could hook me up. When I asked one why I couldn't find it in the stores he says, "People don't know how to use it, so it's not sold. They do themselves more harm than good with it." When I asked him whether he could get me some, he said "No, you'll do more harm than good with it." Point taken, and perhaps he's right as I did have my US dentist tell me once I was flossing too hard and had cut marks on the roof of my mouth and gum line. Moving on...
The second product I can't find is home tooth whitening kits. Again, deemed too dangerous for the average consumer, you can only avail this service at your local dentist office. Of course you have the normal array of whitening toothpaste but we all know how effective that stuff is. So I did what the internet savvy consumer would do and I turned to Pinterest. There I found an amazing recipe that worked better than any store product I've purchased (and I've pretty much tried them all). You just have to mix 1/4 cup baking soda with juice from half a lemon and apply it to your teeth for 60 seconds then rinse with water and brush as normal. I'll spare you the before and after pics of my own mouth, but trust me, this concoction works! Just be careful not to get it on your gums because the mixture will tear 'em up. I found it worked well to use a Q-Tip (you won't believe how long it took me to find those in India) to apply.
So... happy brushing, and happy whitening if you decide to try the recipe. If so, let me know what you think! And if you're visiting India any time soon, could you bring me some floss?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

All Dogs Go To Heaven

You'll be missed, Buddy!
It's with a heavy heart that I report Steppy's passing. Steppy left us in the early hours this morning. I kind of suspected something was wrong. The past few days he's been a tad lethargic. I had noticed his eyes were a bit squinty and he wasn't his alert self. Sunday he even got goosed by a monkey and didn't get overly excited about it. When I stepped outside mid morning I noticed he was laying in his usual place, but not in his usual position. It seemed odd. I actually wondered at that time if he had died and thought of going down to poke him, but figured I was over-reacting. This afternoon when I got up, my maid confirmed for me that he had passed. She thinks it was due to his old age, but who knew how old he really was?
He was such a sweet soul. Every day when I got home I would receive such an enthusiastic greeting. He would dance in circles of excitement as I stepped down from the cab and bop his nose along my hand as I walked to my front door. Then when I closed the gate behind me, he'd sit beneath my balcony wagging his tail and whining for more attention.
Each afternoon when I'd step out to catch my cab he'd trot along with me and wait at my side until my cab arrived. Anytime I'd walk to the corner store, he'd be right along side me and wait outside until I completed my shopping and escort me back home.
He taught Leila and Doni compassion towards animals. He was patient with them while they overcame their fears and soon he became part of their games. He served as the unofficial security alarm for our apartment, ensured no other stray dogs made our lane their home, and he even rescued me from a rat once.
It was weird coming home today and not having him waiting. Perhaps another dog will move in, but never one as sweet as our Steppy.
You can read more about Steppy in 'A Dogs Life'

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Scene: I'm standing on a chair in the kitchen, reorganizing the small appliances the workers haphazardly placed after they finished painting our kitchen.
Z: "Why are you doing that? Let the workers do it."
AT: "I can do it myself. What do I need them for?"
Z: "Just tell them how you want it organized and they'll come and do it."
AT: "It's not a big deal. I can have it done before they can even get up here."
Z: "But it's their job. Just stand here and tell them how you want it and they'll do it."
AT: "I told them how I wanted it, and this is how they kept it. I'll do it my way, it will be done in two minutes, and it will be the way I want it. You know, in the US you don't have someone you can call every time you want a small task done. You have to do it yourself."
Z: "Don't scare me like that."
When I was making plans to move to India I was given a single piece of advice by my then Site Director "Don't become too dependent on others to do things for you."
In India, hired help is just a call and a 20 rupee note away. Anything you want done, any time, day or night, there's someone you can call and hire to do it. Just two years after arriving, I'm realizing how completely dependent I've become on others for super basic things I've done for myself most of my life.
When I first came here I felt guilty asking my watchman to get me breakfast or to go to the market or to take my clothes to be pressed. My husband kept telling me "it's his job." Not really. His job is to keep the exterior of the apartment clean, be a Mr Fix-It when required, and ensure our building is relatively secure.
Fast forward 2 years: Hired help takes my laundry to be pressed, hired help presses it, and hired help goes and picks it up after it's pressed. Hired help makes my lunch and my tea. Hired help takes me to and from office every day. Hired help replaces a burnt out light bulb, or an empty water bottle, or an empty toothpaste tube. Every little thing, is done by someone else; to the point of my own paralysis. If my cook doesn't come, I don't eat. If someone doesn't take my clothes for pressing, I don't wear business formal to the office. I've become completely dependent on others and I find it maddening.
Having someone there to do every small task has put me into a state of helplessness when I'm left to my own devices. What I find most frustrating about it, is that I have to wait for said help to arrive then spend what feels like an excessive amount of time trying to explain what I want, and watching over them to offer direction in order to ensure it's done right. In that time, I could have just done it myself, and no doubt saved some money and my own aggravation.
I've always been a strongly independent person and I'm stunned and rather dismayed about how quickly that quite admirable trait has vanished from my character. I try and justify it by saying that everything is so damn difficult here that you should take help where you can get it. Let someone else fuss over the small stuff. Part of me is appreciative for that reason, and the other part realizes how sheltered I've been over the past 2 years because I've always had someone there to do everything for me and I've had pretty limited instances where I've had to struggle for anything. That's a blessing, but could also be a curse.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

10 Things You Have to Know About Arranged Marriages - Courtesy of and My Boss

My boss forwarded me this article from Bollywoodshaadi'
People in the western countries are at their wit’s end when it comes to comprehending the rationale behind arranged marriage system, more so the success rate that it enjoys. But there is a lot more to this traditional system of making matches than what meets the eyes.
1) Right age: Love knows no age, but in order to make a good match through arranged marriage, it is imperative to keep age consideration in mind. The preferable age for girls is around 25 or 26 and for guys no later than 30.
2) Self assessment: Take a pen and paper and list down what all things you expect in your spouse to be and what level of compatibility do you desire, that will be in tune with the compromises that will need to be made.
3) Decent Expectations: Expectations in an arranged marriage tend to run high and higher the expectations, greater are the disappointments because at the end of the day, it is not necessary that all the virtues that you desire can be found in one person.
4) Economic compatibility: Arranged marriages take everything in account and strive for utmost compatibility even in terms of economic standing of the families. In fact, in olden days it was a way of ensuring financial security for the bride.
5) Beauty: Arranged marriage is about suitability and compatibility. Beauty can easily take a back seat. Your intended need not be as dashing as Tom Cruise or as charming as Kate Winslet. Looks are important but not the most important thing.
6) Understanding: Now, this is the million dollar question: how can you understand a person in just one or two meets? At times a lifetime seems less to truly understand someone. It is here that you should share your feelings about the person with your very close friends or may be siblings.
7) Observe Etiquettes: Yes, there are some set codes of conduct that society at large expects you to follow. For example, do sufficient background research about the person before consenting to meet. Answering in negation after having met twice or thrice may be detrimental to the person’s self confidence.
8) Take Advice: Feel free to take advice from those you feel will be able to guide you in the best possible way. Do not make a show of your feelings but then do not go about it unsolicited.
9) Final Decision: Do not just marry a girl or a guy just because your parents or friends asked you to. It has to be your own decision and you will be responsible for whatever happens later in the life.
10) Commitment: Arranged marriages are based on commitment and it is the most necessary element that keeps a relationship going. – Mon 29 Apr, 2013 1:11 PM IST
What do you think? Is there anything that should be added to the list, or any items you don't feel should be on the list?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Chachi or Didi?

Chachi, in Hindi, means Aunt/Aunty.
Didi, in Hindi, means Sister.
While in fact I am a Chachi, the term is generally reserved for the older crowd, one I don't yet accept being a part of. Both are considered terms of endearment but which one is really more endearing?
When I first came to India, little girls would call me Didi. As in, big sister. All that came to an end on Saturday when I met a friend of mine and his niece. He asked his niece, "Is she a Chachi or a Didi?" and she replied with "Chachi." My heart plummeted.
Granted the little girl is probably 9 years old, which makes me the same age my mother was when I was 9 years old, and we all know how old our mothers seemed when we were young. Here's a Then and Now photo of me when I came here in 2011 and just two years later. In fact, I'm gonna post pictures of me wearing the same dress to really make you scrutinize! You be the judge.
Last Wednesday

Then (2011)

Okay, so perhaps the hijab makes me a tad more "cherubic." But Aunty?!?!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Make A Wish and Blow Out Your Candles!

A few months ago, while visiting with my husband’s cousin from "the village," I asked her how old she was. She said she didn’t know. In the village, it turns out, they don’t really record birthdays and there’s no annual celebration, so people aren’t really sure how old they are. I found this kind of sad. Granted, as I age, I kind of wish I could forget about my birthday and the increasing number of candles on my cake, but still, you have to admit, it’s kind of fun to celebrate no matter your age.
While trying to gather documents for my husband’s visa, I also learned that birth certificates are not issued, and instead, the law depends on the 10th grade graduation certificate as proof of a person’s date of birth.
Today, I learned something even more strange about birthdays in India. It seems, that at one point in time, in order to write your 10th Standard (10th Grade) exams, you had to be at least 15 years old. So, if a kid was ready to write their exams, but hadn’t reached the age of 15, their parents would forge their date of birth on the document. What happened as a result is that kid would take the exams, and that date of birth would get recorded on their graduation certificate.
Fast Forward: When they attempted to enroll in college, or apply for a job, they would provide their 10th grade graduation certificate as an identity proof, with their forged date of birth, which would then appear on all their legal documents such as driver’s licenses, work permits, passports, etc. Basically, the altered date of birth became their new legal date of birth.
So today, we celebrate a co-workers birthday. Afterwards, we learned that his actual birthday isn’t until November. When asking another co-worker about this, I learned that this co-worker was only 12 when he was ready to write his 10th grade exams (he’s some sort of prodigy I guess) so they advanced his age by almost 3 years on his documents, so he could graduate with his class. When I was checking my office calendar to see what other birthday’s we had coming up, I noted that someone was celebrating a birthday in September, which we had already celebrated in August. So I inquired about it and learned in her case, her parents made a mistake on her 10th standard documents, and because it was recorded there, it became her new legal date of birth, but that she preferred to celebrate in September, when she knew her birthday really occurred.
I find this entire practice strange. In the US, if someone learns they’ve been celebrating their birthday on the wrong date all these years, it makes the newspapers, or is stuff we read about in pre-teen novels after a child discovers they were abducted and the people they thought were their parents are in fact not their parents.  It involves drama on some level. Here, it’s common practice due in large part to no issuance of birth certificates at the time of birth, and instead, relying on a 10th grade graduation certificate, which can easily be forged. What’s scary to me is that whatever is listed on that 10th grade graduation certificate is what becomes your legal birthday on all your documents. It feels like a loss of identity to me. As much as I’d love to find out I’m actually 3 years younger than I think I am, I know my correct age basis the birth certificates issued the day I was born and signed by my parents and the doctors who were present. It never occurred to me that they might be forged, but as so many things here in India, people do what they have to do…
What would you do if you found out the date you’ve been blowing out the candles wasn’t your actual birthday? Would you start celebrating on the correct date, or would you keep celebrating on the same date you always have? Share your thoughts below!