I think that meant yes or was it no? maybe???

I know it’s been a while since I did an update and as I sit in this hotel room counting down my last days in Bombay – it occurred to me that there was one phenomenon which I had promised myself to do a post about and I had neglected to do so.

One really cannot consider themselves schooled in the way of “Indian” until you have been at least exposed to it even if you don;t  fully understand it.

I am Jamaican so I pride myself on knowing a little bit about non verbal communication… Jamaicans can find one hundred ways to tell you something without ever opening their mouths. We utilize our eyes a lot by rolling them… cutting them (does not involve actual cutting just a Jamaican term for a feisty look), giving the up down and once over… A popular one is called kissing your teeth… thats when you make a sucking noise through your teeth generally to express disgust or frustration. Hands come into play a lot – we are a passionate people and when we speak our entire bodies have to be involved.

This post however is not about Jamaicans and their myriad ways of communicating but about one Jamaican trying to decipher the Indian enigma that is commonly  called the  “Bobble Head”.

It can mean Yes… but it can also be an agreement to a No… it can mean I Understand… Maybe… I am fine… Perhaps…

The applications are numerous and can only be understood within each particular context. I have seen five minute conversations take place with nothing but head bobbling being exchanged – the application itself is really is a kind of art form.

I think though that this post is useless without a video so today I present to you “Proper Usage of the Head Bobble” 😀

One Love, One Heart, One People…


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Drive like a Mumbaiker?

I did a post that touched briefly on the roads and driving conditions in Mumbai – but that was shortly after I had arrived and really had no idea what I was talking about. Now that I am a “seasoned” expat Mumbaiker I feel somewhat qualified to expand on the topic, seeing that I am now more familiar with the “rules” that govern driving in Mumbai.

The first rule and most important in my opinion is that the larger your vehicle the more right of way you have. There is  a definite pecking order on the roads and it goes like this… Trucks, Buses, SUV’s, Minivans, larger sedan type cars, midsize cars, small cars, rickshaws, motorbikes, bicycles and then there are pedestrians who are basically just walking excrement who should be run down at every possible opportunity. To violate the pecking order is tantamount to treason and will result in  your vehicle being hit… it doesn’t matter that you arrived at the intersection first… violation of this rule is at your own risk and will likely result in a fatality – that of the driver in the smaller vehicle. There is only one exception to this pecking order and that is if you happen to be a COW – then you trump all living and inanimate things and not only do you have the right of way, but you can divert the flow of traffic should you choose to do so by stopping in the middle of the road for your afternoon siesta.

Another rule (in no particular order now since we have established the primary rule) is that you only stop at the red light IF and ONLY IF a policeman is standing there… at all other times the red light is merely a suggestion and should be approached and breached in the fastest and most expeditious manner… if you happen to to terrorize a few pedestrians while they have the right to cross well then – that only demonstrates your ability to dodge moving targets and cements your reputation as a superior driver.

If another vehicle is approaching you in what seems like a course which will most certainly result in a head on collision… flash your headlights rapidly and accelerate toward them. Unlike the rest of the world where flashing your lights at another vehicle means go ahead – flashing lights at another vehicle here is like slapping them with a glove and challenging them to a duel  – This serves to achieve two things, firstly it alerts them to your presence because it is quite certain they never saw you before, and the headlights will now accomplish what the blinding midday sun could not. secondly it lets them know that you are not afraid to die and will hit them if they refuse to yield.

It is preferable when riding a motorbike to have at least three or more persons on the said bike – to transport less would be a waste of good resources and quite frankly it’s just rude when so many people have to walk or take the bus. the ability to navigate traffic by darting in and around cars and trucks with a family of five balanced at various points around the motorbike is a testament to your lightning fast reflexes and will garner you much respect from family and friends alike. Be sure that only you the driver / rider is wearing a helmet. Passengers wearing protective headgear will only serve to tip the bike over should they have to lean to one side to avoid hitting vehicles on the other.

There is no such thing as over using your horn… blowing your horn repeatedly when you are five cars back from a stoplight where traffic is jammed in every direction is just good common sense. After all, how will the five cars ahead of you know that you have business that is infinitely more important than theirs could ever be and move out of your way? And it doesn’t matter that everyone else in Mumbai apparently has business which is also of a pressing nature and are also blowing their horns loudly – good drivers will be able to discern the sound of your horn and make way. it’s also a good idea to blow your horn when you are trying to overtake a vehicle by driving on the sidewalk and up on the blind side of another vehicle – you don’t want them to suddenly start playing a game of terrorize the pedestrian and swerve into you by mistake.

Lastly… learn to follow the flow of the traffic. Just because that is how it flowed yesterday it does not follow logically that it will flow that way today. Stop expecting things to conform to what you believe to be right and embrace the logical nonconformity… In other words when in Mumbai drive as the Mumbaikers do… stick to these few simple guidelines and you will be off to a good start… happy driving!



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Curiosity never kills the cat… in Mumbai

My Indian people are infinitely curious and opinionated  by nature… it seems they pop out of their mother’s womb questioning what just happened, and then answering the question simultaneously. This is something they never outgrow, quite the contrary,as they become more worldly and knowledgeable it intensifies.

The first time I encountered this I was dumbfounded… Why did a complete stranger on an elevator need to know what my husband did for a living, how many children I had, how old they were, how long would we be here and (my favorite) how much money we made each month? I was from the land of “been there done that” where everyone was fastidious about personal space and preferred to pretend they were alone in the elevator than say hello and risk sparking an obligatory conversation. Caught off  guard I stammered through a few mumbled responses, avoided some questions, blamed myself for making eye contact in the first place and fled when mercifully the doors of the elevator opened. I pondered this encounter all day and decided that I must have had the bad luck of being caught on the elevator with the building’s resident gossip and began devising my strategy for deflection should we cross paths again. Imagine my shock and surprise when this happened to me again… in the grocery store… at the local market… at the mall… just about anywhere that entailed interaction between someone else and myself.

In most instances these question and answer sessions would be peppered with unsolicited and forceful advice. “You MUST go to the park across from your building on Sunday evening, everyone goes you know and they have a nice walk around the park, else wise they just sit and watch the children play, it;s a very lovely activity to do and you will enjoy it”  Ofttimes the advice would be peppered with personal references which of course adds authority and authenticity to the words of wisdom. “You should not buy your fruits and vegetables at the supermarket only you know, they are very expensive and the quality is not so good. My cousin bought fruits there you know and by six months he was broke and also one of the fruits had worms which gave him a very bad fever, you should go to the market it is much fresher and cheaper”. Well, who am I to argue with wisdom and personal experience.

Over time a funny thing began to happen… rather than shy away from, and deflect these interactions I began to enjoy them… I learnt how to answer without really answering and jump on the offensive before they can get started so now I walk away knowing more about them than they about me. I love the fact that there is no event too small which will not fascinate them and pull a small to medium crowd depending on the event. I realize that they have never lost their joy in the little every day things which we on the western side take for granted. Our children are bored with life by the time they are five years old, they have seen and done it all… whereas a grown person here is still fascinated by the ordinary, everyday things and turn them into events… everyone will gather around  and give an opinion and give information to passersby about the exact nature of what is taking place… it is now one the funniest things I have experienced here.

I’ll give you a scenario as an example;

If I stop in the middle of the sidewalk and start looking up into the sky I can guarantee that in about five minutes there will be at least five to ten people standing beside me looking up as well… conversations and speculation will swirl around me…

“what is she looking at?”

“I don’t know but I think it is up there”

“The sky is very blue today”

“I had a cousin who looked up into the sky once, well a pigeon was flying by, dropped poop into her eye and she was never able to see from that eye again”

“well my sister’s, best friend’s fiance’s mother had a friend who looked up into the sky and stumbled over a rock, she broke her leg and when she went to the hospital they were not able to set it right. As a result she now has to walk on the heel of her foot only”

“Yes it can be dangerous to look up into the sky”

“children stop jumping around – go and play over there away from the road”

“perhaps she is looking for rain”

“But doesn’t she know it rains only at the monsoon time?”

“well you never know  – she is american you know”

“I have some very good quality sarees for sale just over there in my shop, also outfits for the little ones”

“I will just come with you after we are done looking up there”

“what is everyone looking at”

“I am not sure but I think a pigeon pooped in that lady’s eye and her husband broke his foot”

Well you get the general idea. So at home where my first instinct is to run from a gathering crowd and look from a safe distance… here I try to get as close as possible so I can hear the stories, perhaps pick up a tidbit or two and generally just enjoy the moment with people who still know and understand what it means to live in the moment, enjoy life and still find the joy in little things.


One Love, One Heart, One People…


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Fun and Food on Colaba

I decided to venture out to Colaba Causeway – because the roadside shopping there is always fun and I love being able to interact with the vendors as I browse – there is always a moment to learn something, see something new, do some bargaining and have a good laugh 🙂

This time I was accompanied by a friends mom Ms. Julia and my “Mumbai Fixer” Godwin.

Colaba Julia and Godwin

As a foodie I am also on the look out for new things to try and this time was no exception… as I sampled some OX TONGUE at CAFE CHURCHILL and it was DEEELICIOUS!


Ox Tongue

Then we were entertained by a little roadside performing troupe… cows and all… and mangoes all around for the kids 🙂 All in all it was a fun day



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Arts festival in Kala Ghoda – Mumbai Styleeee

So my favorite French Mom and fellow blogger  Helene Lecuyer  (See her blog here – it’s very good!   http://helenelecuyer.unblog.fr ) has decided that I live too far away from all the action in Mumbai and has made it her mission to bring Mumbai culture into my life. I am truly grateful for this as she is very knowledgeable about the best spots to eat (very important to me), the cutest shops to get unique items, the best museums / historical spots and all the artsy events happening around town.

Last Friday February 8th, she invited me to the Kala Ghoda Arts festival  – it’s a street festival which happens every year and highlights local artists in categories of children, dance, music, theatre, food, literature, heritage walks, street, Visual arts and they have workshops. The thing is she woke up not feeling well and so of course I told her we should cancel… trooper that she is, she refused because of course that would seriously derail her efforts to lift the fog of ignorance from me. So she shows up in 4 inch heels, looking like a million bucks, does her thing all day without a waver in her step and gracefully makes her exit at days end… How can you not love a friend like that?

Helene and I

I won’t be doing much talking for this blog installment – instead I’ll  let the pictures do the talking… Here are some of the highlights…Living Exhibits Street Performers – the one on the bottom right reminds me of Mrs. Doubtfire 

Can’t imagine Mumbai going back to hand pulled Rickshaws… Road fatalities anyone???

Interesting Imagery…


Until there are big changes – I hope this problem will continue to take center stage…

So colorful and rhythmic… I was absolutely in love with the young man third from left playing instruments – he just wanted to get up and dance! 🙂

Here is a short clip of a puppet show that was set up along the street and a music and dance troupe which entertained festival goers. I am sorry about the quality and my video editing skills are only elementary – try to enjoy the peek anyway! 🙂

Thanks for tagging along!

One Love, One Heart, One People…



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“Do the needful”, “prepone the meeting”, “do one thing” and other phrases you will hear only in India…

Thee first time we got an email from our Landlords agent requesting us to Please do the needful we were baffled… what could it possibly mean? Was there some hidden cultural message behind the request and was there a specific way that we should respond??? After conferring with each other, googling the meaning, eliminating possible other explanations and using superb deductive reasoning we concluded that this was a request for the rent… Ok so now we know what he wants what’s the proper way to respond… Personally I wanted to go for  “As you requested the needful has been done, please needfully acknowledge receipt of the same by doing the needful… also”. Another favorite was “Please find the needful attached”… in the end we settled for just a boring old “Please find rent check enclosed, thank you”

It was the first (but not by far the last) time that we would be requested to do the needful… and for those who are wondering it simply means “do that which is necessary” with a respectful implication that the other party is aware of what is being requested of them and therefore will need no further details. It is considered ummm… how can I put this… Archaic, for one… considering it was stylish many decades ago and stopped being stylish at around the same time that the British left India… nonetheless, there are some who will not be happy until they have requested you to “do the needful”


I just wanted that word to stand by itself for a moment as we consider it’s implications… Pre – pone... In Jamaica we eat some thing called PONE  – which is really just a nickname for a delicious pudding, oftentimes with a moist soft soufflelike mass on top, it is quite delectable and can be made from cornmeal or sweet potatoes and as a child I lived for the edge of the sweet potato pone  – just right where it almost caught a burn, Lord that was a piece of heaven on earth… but I digress and this has nothing to do with that… In India you have the option apparently to POSTpone or PREpone things such as meetings, appointments, performances etc. My husband was quite nonplussed the first time he was greeted with the proposition to prepone a meeting. as In “Sharmila will not be here on Thursday which is the proposed date for the meeting so I suggest the we prepone it to Wednesday”.

Logically, if we can postpone… why shouldn’t we prepone? It seems to make sense… I would add this one to my dictionary except that every time I hear the word I begin to think of puddings and lose track of what i’m supposed to be doing… strangely enough  – it doesn’t happen when I try to postpone something, but then again being a lifelong procrastinator the chances of me actually trying to prepone anything is highly unlikely.

Do one thing” generally this is a lie because they never want you to just do ONE thing… it’s always several things and this command is usually given by someone who thinks you are doing something incorrectly and now wants to show you how it should be done, or else they simply want to demonstrate their superior knowledge of product or process to you. Like when my microwave / convection oven started shooting flames on the inside wall and I called the company we had bought it from not eight months before… I explained the problem I was having (flames shooting, food being consumed when it should be warmed etc.) the ensuing (one sided I might add) conversation went something like this… “do one thing, plug out the microwave, now, on the side that the flames are shooting from remove the  side panel  – it’s a metal plate , look inside and tell me if the wires are still intact, if they are, look for the the little metal thing that hangs down, is that burnt? ok good, remove that, now replace the panel, plug the microwave back in, now try to use it… oh the flames are still shooting? ok someone will be out to look at it tomorrow at any time between 11AM and 6PM”… do you see how that went, he lured me in by saying do one thing when  in actuality he was interviewing me for the position of microwave technician… it never, ever is just one thing… so now when  they tell me to do one thing  – I simply say “no I decline – kindly have one of your technicians come and do this one thing  – thank you.”

Can You use them all in a sentence?

Tell me… This phrase I actually LOVE… because if an Indian person says to you “tell me”  – it doesn’t just mean tell me your business – it means so much more… it means lay down your burdens, I am here to help you, I am going to fix your problems – it is a phrase laden with compassion. This I learnt shortly after arriving here and was overwhelmed with the strangeness and unfamiliarity that was Mumbai… there were two persons that I reached out to constantly for help, advice, reassurance, information and always I started with “I am so sorry to bother you” and I was met with “tell me” and always, always, always  – they made it better… fixed the problem… took it away… gave me advice… interceded… showered me with compassion so for me “tell me” is a warm place. I have since adopted it  – my mission is to be the “tell me” person for all my loved ones 🙂

Kindly revert… ummm so yeah – this actually means please reply… and there is not much I can say about this except that at least its asked politely. Seriously my Indian brothers and sisters… to revert means to change back to a previous state – like when the Hulk is done rampaging he REVERTS to being Bruce Banner. It actually gains layers when asked to “revert at the earliest” – now I feel pressured – I have to get back to the essence that was me probably yesterday and I have no idea how to do this… It can actually make you feel quite inadequate. Meditation anyone?

I had actually intended to speak on the topic of Auspicious Days but I decided that I would leave that for another blog installment… right now I have a pressing need to revert to a previous state of idleness… but by all means leave comments or questions if you have them and I will try to revert at the earliest… 🙂

One love, One heart, One people…




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Once Upon a Year…

There is  restless energy in the air in Mumbai… something is stirring on the breeze … what could it be…

Whispers of a movement… the rustling… the last minute errands and purchases… perhaps a stolen lunch with a dear friend, and the air of expectancy… yes it is palpable now – it becomes more than  a stirring… it is a small movement at first, but then it burgeons into a full blown frenzy as hundreds of expats finish packing and prepare to fly home for the holidays.

Yes it is time for the annual expat Christmas migration to mostly colder climes.

Many have already flown the coop, navigated the “thrill ride” that is Mumbai International Airport and have completed (in at least one case I know of) the twenty four hour journey to the warmth of the family bosom. For others like myself, we chomp at the bit, itinerary in hand, hovering and pacing as we wait for that final day of school to be over so we can scoop the kids up, load the suitcases and point cars to the airport.

It’s not that we don’t love our adopted city, its not that we don;t have good times here and and make unforgettable memories with great new friends… it’s not that Mumbai hasn’t embraced us and shown off for us and shown us what a great flirt she is… it’s not that we don’t appreciate her culture, diversity and warmth… quite the contrary… we love her for all these things.

However, when Christmas time rolls around there is a little spark that ignites in every expats heart, it is fanned by memories of family dinners, white christmases, christmas carols and blinking lights… it is fueled by ho ho hoeing and reindeers with red noses and earnest letters to Santa… it catches blaze with the thought of seeing loved ones, sharing hugs, kisses under the mistletoe and the warmth of family love. It is the fire of being home for Christmas, a veritable conflagration comprised of children and laughter and christmas trees and love and excitement… it is simply home… and there is nowhere else on earth quite like it at Christmas time.

So we wait restlessly, as we listen to the sounds of the city outside… and we dream of touching home soil as we bid adieu to Mumbai and 2012

Here’s to new memories in 2013


Mumbai expats –  MERRY CHRISTMAS! 


If you do not celebrate Christmas  –


All Around the World…

Afrikaans – “GeseÎnde Kersfees en ën Voorspoedige Nuwe Jaar.”

Arabic – “I’d Miilad Said Oua Sana Saida”

Argentine – “Felices Pasquas Y felices ano Nuevo”

Armenian – “Shenoraavor Nor Dari yev Pari Gaghand”

Basque – Eguberri on

Bohemian – “Vesele Vanoce”

Breton – “Nedeleg laouen na bloavezh mat”

Bulgarian – “Tchestita Koleda; Tchestito Rojdestvo Hristovo”

Chinese – [Mandarin] – “Kung His Hsin Nien bing Chu Shen Tan”

Chinese – [Catonese] – “Saint Dan Fai Lok”

Cornish – “Nadelik looan na looan blethen noweth”

Croatian – “Sretan Bozic i Nova Godina” (Merry Christmas & Happy New Year)

Czech – “Prejeme Vam Vesele Vanoce a stastny Novy Rok”

Danish – “GlÊdelig Jul”

Dutch – “Vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar”

Inupiaq Eskimo (Kotzebue area in NW Alaska)-
Quvianagli Anaiyyuniqpaliqsi suli Nakuuluni Ukiutqiutiqsi
(Merry Christmas) (and) (Happy New Year)

Estonian – “Haid joule ja head uut aastat”

Farsi – “Cristmas-e-shoma mobarak bashad”

Filipino-“Maligayang Pasko”

Happy New Year in Filipino

“Manigong Bagong Taon”

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in Filipino- “Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon”

Finnish – “Hyvaa joulua”

French – “Joyeux NoÎl”

German – “Froehliche Weihnachten”

Greek – “Kala Christouyenna”

Hawaiian – “Mele Kalikimaka”

Hebrew – “Mo’adim Lesimkha. Chena tova”

Hungarian – “Kellemes Karacsonyi unnepeket”

Icelandic – “Gledileg Jol”

Indonesian – “Selamat Hari Natal”

Iraqi – “Idah Saidan Wa Sanah Jadidah”

Irish – “Nollaig Shona Dhuit”

Italian – “Buone Feste Natalizie”

Japanese –” Shinnen omedeto, kurisumasu omedeto. 
The first part is translated “Happy New Year.
Kurisumasu omedeto means Merry Christmas.
Japanese people generally add the expression gozaimasu to indicate some humility.

Korean – “Sung Tan Chuk Ha”

Latvian – “Prieci’gus Ziemsve’tkus un Laimi’gu Jauno Gadu”

Lithuanian – “Linksmu Kaledu”

Navajo – “Merry Keshmish”

Norwegian – “God Jul”

Pennsylvania German – “En frehlicher Grischtdaag un en hallich Nei Yaahr”

Polish – “Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia”

Portuguese – “Feliz Natal” “Boas Festas”(Good Holidays.)

Rumanian – “Sarbatori Fericite”

Russian – “Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva s Novim Godom”

Serbian – “Hristos se rodi”

Slovakian – “Sretan Bozic or Vesele vianoce”

Samoan – “La Maunia Le Kilisimasi Ma Le Tausaga Fou”

Scots Gaelic – “Nollaig chridheil huibh”

Serb-Croatian – “Sretam Bozic. Vesela Nova Godina”

Slovak – “Vesele Vianoce. A stastlivy Novy Rok”

Slovene – “Vesele Bozicne. Screcno Novo Leto”

Spanish – “Feliz Navidad”

Swedish – “God Jul and (Och) Ett Gott Nytt ≈r”

Tahitian -Merry Chrismas :” Ia orana te Noera”

and Happy new year is “Ia orana i te mata iti api”

Thai – “Sawadee Pee Mai”

Turkish – “Noeliniz Ve Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun”

Ukrainian – “Z Rizdvom Khrystovym !” – “Merry Christmas”

” Z Novym Rokom !” – “Happy New Year”

“Z Rizdvom Khrystovym i Novym Rokom !” – both greetings together.

Vietnamese – “Chuc Mung Giang Sinh”

Welsh – “Nadolig Llawen”

Yugoslavian – “Cestitamo Bozic”


One LOve, One Heart, One People


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When a legend dies (Balasaheb Thackeray)

What do you do when the person on whom you have pinned all your political fervor and dreams on for the past forty six (46) years passes away?

Many questions fill your mind… who will speak for us? can they be as charismatic? as powerful? command the respect? will they love the people?

When one is gripped in the throes of loss and emotional anguish it is sometimes hard to think clearly, to put things into perspective, to act rationally… perhaps that is what prompted a rapid shut down of the great city of Mumbai… twenty one million people managed to find their way home, shut down all businesses and lock all doors in a little over two hours after his death was announced. Fear is a powerful motivator!

Bal Thackeray (1926-2012)

The pipe-smoking, beer-loving, self-styled Hindu hriday samrat (‘emperor of Hindu hearts’), could bring Mumbai and the entire State of Maharashtra to a standstill by a single command.

The unrest began three days before when it was announced that Bal Thackeray patriarch of the Shiv Sena political party was critically ill… Thousands gathered outside his home to await news. He was having respiratory problems and in the throes of a cardiac arrest. Many businesses began shutting down even then as memories of previous blood letting with his involvement came flooding back to memory. Uneasily, people watched the news for a sign of what they should do next, even as Bollywood stars, and other noted politicians rushed to his bedside to pay homage.

Thackeray is either a visionary, a saint, a charismatic leader or a hateful, Hitler loving, divisive thug… depending on whom you talk to. He made no secret of his admiration for Hitler, and started his career as a cartoonist with the Free Press Journal in the 1950s. In 1960, he started a cartoon weekly called Marmik, and used it to campaign for a unified separate Maharashtra state, and against Gujaratis and south Indian workers migrating to then Bombay. He formed the Shiv Sena party in nineteen sixty six (1966). His political agenda was built on the tenets of Hindu nationalism and regional chauvinism and he did not hesitate to resort to mob tactics to have his will enforced. His legacy is irrevocably bound up in anti-migrant hate particularly targeting Muslim and Pakistani residents of Maharashtra. Some feel he has been a scourge on Mumbai which is the the financial and entertainment capital of India… while others felt he was the protector of their legacy, the bastion of Hindu nationalism.

Balasaheb later began sporting a stylish beard and wore twin bead necklaces in the manner of Hindu gurus and ran the Shiv Sena like a local militia. Active until the end, Bal Thackeray, who never hesitated to practice his particular brand of street politics, had just days ago on Nov 5 asked party activists “not to permit” the forthcoming cricket matches between India and Pakistan.

Love him or hate him his passing has left Mumbai gripped in an unearthly and uneasy stillness which descended at approximately seven (7) PM yesterday evening… two and a half hours after his death was announced. Almost twenty four (24) hours later… businesses remain closed and only tentative signs of life are visible outside. Perhaps memories of the Mumbai riots of 1992 -1993 still reverberate strongly in their memories… these riots which left nine hundred (900) dead in it’s wake and pitted Muslims against Hindus scarred irrevocably the residents of Mumbai and the Shiv Sena played an instrumental part in inciting much of the violence that played out over those two months… by the time leaders realized that the mob could not be controlled and called for an end to the violence, it was out of their control.

Sad or happy… all people are united in one thought… we want no violence… and I for one will be more than happy to be bombarded once more with the traffic and crush and incessant noises that define Mumbai.

One Heart, One Love, One people…


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The Trailing Spouse?

The Trailing Spouse…

The first time I heard that term being used to describe an expat husband who had followed his wife to India I thought it was a joke… I laughed heartily until I realized that people were looking at me strangely… I swallowed hard and said “you’re not joking are you, that’s an actual term?” I guess the joke was on me as I soon came to be intimately acquainted with the reality of living my life as a “trailing spouse” (the non working half of an expat couple).

I have since googled the term (as we all know that nothing is true if it doesn’t exist on google) and found out that it is in fact a real term, with it’s very own entry in wikipedia , and was as far as anyone knows, first coined by Mary Bralove in the Wall Street Journal (July 15, 1981) in an article titled “Problems of Two-Career Families Start Forcing Businesses to Adapt” (Thank you Mary for this delightful addition to the expat dictionary)

Aside of hating the actual term, living life as a trailing spouse, is not exactly a cakewalk either. Sure your friends back home think it’s very exciting to be able to step outside the mundane nine to five routine that defined most our lives before we took on this role, the international travel, meeting new people, eating exotic foods in faraway locales and being able to experience another culture from inside out… and yes, for sure that element does exist, but for many there is another very real side to living life as a trailing spouse.

For those spouses that came from a two career family there can be a very strong sense of displacement… once the last box has been unpacked, the furniture all placed and the curtains hung, it comes home to you that this is not a vacation… can’t just repack the suitcases and head home once the adventure has worn off. You send the husband / wife off to work… the children head off to school and you look around the house and wonder… what now? You bravely head to that first assembly at school determined to make new friends, get involved in some meaningful activities, perhaps have an opportunity to make a difference… but the fact is that suddenly the days don’t have the structure that you are used to and the places which used to provide social outlets (office, church, community groups) are no longer available in that old familiar way to you.

Perhaps prior to accepting the assignment you had viewed this as a great adventure that would envelope you and your family in a great bonding experience but the truth is that while your partner goes off to the office and participates in some form of social / professional bonding there, which more often than not does not include you, and the child / children are forming their own structures and social groups in school… you are most likely bonding with your driver, (or taxi drivers) local tradesmen, the building security, google translator and a Mumbai guide for dummies book.

I must admit the first six months were a challenge for me in ways I never imagined. I had lived abroad on my own before for an extended period of time, so I thought myself well equipped mentally and emotionally to take on the challenge that was India. I saw myself boldly exploring new frontiers and blogging about my trails on a daily basis… what happened instead was a kind of disconnect… I no longer had daily shared events to discuss with my friends back home and they, it was obvious could not relate to the world of minutiae that it seemed my life had been reduced to… yes they wanted to hear about that great trip to Thailand, but my endless search for cracker barrel cheese… well not so much.

Gradually though as I helped my family to get settled I began to embrace my role as the trailing spouse… let’s face it – we trailing spouses just make life easier for everyone else in the family… we run interference with the tradesmen / workmen… our spouses come home from work, the child comes home from school and things are magically fixed, in place, and working… we arrange schedules so that everyone can get where they need to go Mumbai traffic notwithstanding… we endlessly search for new food sources to ensure that our families are gastronomically entertained… we research places and forms of entertainment for the family… ensure that all the little things which will help our families feel more at home are in place and taken care of…

There are in fact many housewives who do these things on a daily basis worldwide, but it becomes that much more challenging when you are doing it on the other side of the world… in a land with different customs, norms and expectations. I liken the experience to thinking you are going off to finishing school and ending up at a military disciplinary camp for unruly teens… once you learn the rules and abide by them – life gets a lot easier, but until you get the hang of it you are in for a bumpy ride.

Looking back now, a veteran of a year and six months I know quite certainly that challenges, disappointments may come, but I would do it all over again if I had the chance … I will embrace my title and my role as the “Trailing spouse”  – I will ensure that life here for my spouse and my children are as worry free as I can make it and I will enjoy my new friends… the other trailing spouses… because yes, a funny thing happened over the past year… I made friends… I created a whole new reality for myself, one which includes friends who can totally relate to my obsessive search for cheese, and my comical exchange with the rickshaw driver, and also my days of homesickness.

All things considered there are worse titles one could give you other than “trailing spouse” and I have learnt to wear mine with pride!

One love, one heart, one people…


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Eid Al Adha or Feast of the Sacrifice

Why are all the goats in Mumbai cowering in fear today?

Today October 26th is Id-ul-Zuha (Bakr-Id), which is also known as Eid al-Adha or Id-ul-Adha, is a festival that many Muslims celebrate with special prayers, greetings and gifts. It is also referred to as the festival of sacrifice.

Eid al-Adha is called “Bakr-Id” in India due to the tradition of sacrificing a goat or “bakr”

How it is celebrated…

Like most religious festivals in India Id-ul-Zuha  is celebrated with great fervor and gaiety. Most Muslims will wear new clothes and attend an open-air prayer meeting. They may sacrifice a sheep or goat and share the meat with family members, neighbors and the poor. Many Muslims feel that they have a duty to ensure that all Muslims can enjoy a meat based meal during this holiday.

Large scale prayer meetings sometimes cause disruption to traffic (although most Mumbaikers may find it hard to distinguish between this traffic and regular everyday traffic jams which are just as bad)

Why the celebration?

Muslims around the world believe that Allah (God) commanded Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son Ishmael. Ibrahim followed God’s orders, but God  replaced his son with a sheep at the last moment. Muslims celebrate this at Eid al-Adha. Eid al-Adha is called Id-ul-Adha in Arabic and Bakr-Id in the Indian subcontinent, because of the tradition of sacrificing a goat or “bakr” in Urdu. The word “id” derived from the Arabic “iwd” means “festival” and “zuha” comes from “uzhaiyya” which translates to “sacrifice”.


Goats can ride the rickshaw too…


I was told by my driver that approximately 500,000 goats are killed each year in Mumbai alone… while I could find no figures anywhere to substantiate that judging by the number of goats I saw tied by the street side and being transported around the city by cars, rickshaw and even motorbikes, I think it is fair to say that the goat population will be greatly diminished come tomorrow morning.

Now in Jamaica we enjoy a good goat as well… Curried goat (Or Curry Goat as it is simply called) as any self respecting Jamaican knows is a delicious delicacy. Goats are eaten all year round but there are certain auspicious occasions which would be deemed a “FAIL” if there were no curry goat on hand… these would be funerals, weddings, Easter dinner, Christmas dinner, relatives coming home from abroad, graduation, dance… well you get the idea. Like many of our traditions / eating habits this one can also be laid at the feet of our East Indian ancestors and it is just one more link that our cultures share.

When the East Indians first arrived in Jamaica as indentured labourers they were dismayed to find that there were no lambs about, but rather than give up their beloved curry dishes they utilized what was in plentiful supply… goats of course! I was raised eating curry goat in Jamaica and I have been fortunate enough to compare to the curry lamb dishes they have here in India and I can say that they taste quite different so the dish has evolved somewhat since it was first introduced way back in the 1800’s. In either case to the detriment of the goats… both are delicious!

I wish all Muslims a Happy Eid Al Adha!

Until next time…

One love, one heart, one people….

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