The route is clear

Not……

It’s an update.

To reiterate. I’m required to leave India within 180 days of arriving every visit. Due to the virus that has been extended but I’m likely to have to leave in August. I hope they’ll let me back in

There are three obvious options: Sri Lanka, Canada and UK.

I’m openly discussing this with friends and family who might be affected or kind enough to let me stay, so that we’re as informed as we can be. I wouldn’t want to be someone who came to stay at the house or next door and not be open and honest about the risks and consequences. God forbid.

The first challenge (assuming there are flights) is getting health insurance. It’s available but there is the risk that if there are COVID 19 restrictions it might invalidate the insurance. I don’t need it for the U.K.

Sri Lanka might initially seem the best option. Shortest distance, clear polices and systems, no need for quarantine/self-isolation, open to tourists in August. BUT it might mean a domestic flight in India which I’d prefer not to do. I’ll be required to travel with a negative test result taken within 72 hours of the flight, which might not be obtainable. I’d have to stay in a government sanctioned hotel. Yuk?. I could pay any health costs directly but I wouldn’t get to see any family or friends.

Canada is a stronger contender. Means double the distance to travel than the UK, I’d have to remember how to cook, and I wouldn’t want Oll my youngest son to be tried for murder. Insurance maybe a problem and I couldn’t afford to pay health costs directly.

U.K. well clearly….
It’s a well managed place, no problems with the virus, competent leadership, no idiot behaviour and the country isn’t disintegrating. A safe haven.

I jest, of course, it provides the opportunity to catch up and be with friends and family which I feel that I need due to fragility, I would have to be 14 days in isolation so that and the risk puts a lot onto whoever is kind enough to take me in. I don’t need travel insurance and hope the Health service can cope. It does involve risky travel to and within the country.

I think you can see which way I’m leaning.

I’ve had a beard trim but no hair cut for quite a few months

Unkindness

This situation is something of an analogy.

Manjula was the kindest person I’ve probably ever met yet she’d be let down badly by people throughout her life.

I also try to be kind and considerate and I’m beginning to realise it doesn’t work well when others are insensitive, thoughtless, can’t appreciate the ‘other’ and are ultimately unkind. I know, I know I’m a naive 63 year old.

I’m now isolated, in quarantine at home, the street is blocked by fencing on either side of my house, the washing machine is disconnected, I’m unable to shop. Lucie is confused and I can’t walk her. I’m disrupted.

Sowbhagya who works for me is also in a difficult situation quarantined with a sticker on her door confined to a postage stamp house separated from her son.

On the positive side I am in a comfortable home, received home deliveries, stocked up the freezer, Lucie is a street girl and can figure things out. I am extremely fortunate, there are people in terrible situations and have been for months. I should complain less and be sensitive to their situation.

This situation is however completely unnecessary and could have been avoided with a little thought and care.

Two weeks ago the owner asked if they could use the downstairs house for a couple of months. I readily agreed as we have no guests in the current situation. I use it but can manage. There’s one of me and counting the ground and first floor house it’s four bedrooms, library, two lounges you know the sort of thing. Help others, share it out.

The five members of family: grandparents, parents and daughter were living in an apartment in Bangalore and were concerned about the increase in the spread of the virus. At least one of them has underlying health conditions, and the elderly are from a vulnerable group. Once we discussed a few conditions primarily about looking after my stuff and complications about shifting the washing machine plus getting confirmation this was a temporary arrangement (many of my friends were suspicious it was a con to get back the houses) but I checked that one out specifically.

It was a hard thing to do emotionally. Manjula died a year ago. This is our home. She moved and properly set up the Mysore Bed and Breakfast when we took over the downstairs house around eight years ago. But I could so I should help. They could exclusively have the downstairs house with me and Lucie upstairs, separate entrances etc.

They moved in ten days ago.

The adult son of the owner who I deal with now informed me after six days, he’d been tested positive for coronavirus and would go into isolation in hospital.

The rest of the family and I were tested the next day. It seems that the only one other who tested positive was his daughter and she’s now with him in hospital.

Of course it’s just one of those things we have to deal with the best we can, everyone around the world has the same challenges. However, we’ve spent almost three months in lockdown being careful not to get the virus. That care paid off as we’ve had no cases in our layout Siddarthanager, until now, that is.

Now we have what seems to be a completely avoidable situation. Were they suspicious that they might be carrying the virus? Probably, otherwise, why go for a test the day after arriving?

If there was a suspicion a test should have been taken before shifting from Bangalore or gone to their isolated rural farmhouse rather than completely disrupting our lives.

It’s a practical problem but was quite an emotional pull letting them use the house. Manjula’s room was downstairs and for her last few months we created a lovely set up for her. This was her place I was letting go. I’d asked for her picture, the one on which we’d placed flowers every day for a month and then every month to be left on the wall. I discovered they’d taken it down and stuffed it in my storeroom down there. It’s now upstairs with five other pictures of her so maybe a bit over-the-top.

It’s now reflected, when I said at the beginning, kindness met by at the very least insensitivity, to me and my situation and to Manjula even after she’s gone. People don’t care for others enough.

The world is in a sorry state, we just don’t care. The virus, climate change and our responses are actually symptoms of that malaise.

Firangi’s Fortunes

He was breathless, panting, with bulging eyes. What was amiss? Was he having a heart attack? would I have to scramble around in my messy brain for the First Aid Training from over 40 years ago?

He was completely speechless,  flummoxed and didn’t know what to do.

But relax dear reader it wasn’t a life or death situation.

He’d unexpectedly met a foreigner.

Foreigners

We’re often asked by guests at Mysore BnB why, as foreigners travelling in India, do we get so much attention? Whether it’s wonderful hellos, gorgeous smiles, penetrating questions, endless photos, now the ubiquitous ‘selfie’ and almost constant stares.

 

When I first travelled in Kerala,  I found myself with a Frenchwoman in a small Elephant procession but it was us, the foreigners and not the Elephant that seemed to be the main attraction. It felt as if we were the first foreigners these guys had ever seen but that was patently not true.  We are so often the centre of attention.

How could  that be with such lovely specimens…..?

It hasn’t changed that much after living here seven years.

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I often wonder who’s watching who? It’s sometimes unwanted and annoys some people  but its pretty harmless. But why? As always and especially in India there is not one, nor easy or consistent answer.

A blessing

On one of my first visits to Mysore. Early one morning, I’m sitting at a corner watching the city come to life.  An elderly Indian lady walks up touches a cow (which of course is a god!) and then touches herself as if to take a blessing. She then does exactly the same to me! How come?

Some may see us as special even exotic and there seems to be at least, a certain reciprocity there.

One of the downsides of all this, is of course, that it relates to seeing someone with lighter skin as better and in that case it should be relegated to the dustbin along with the ‘fair and lovely’ creams. But it’s not quite as simple as that.

Guest is God!, but not always…

Nowadays

Just last week we went to see another (first floor) house to rent.

Manjula had called the owner to get details and the price. It sounded ok. So we arranged to see it. It didn’t quite go to plan.  We hadn’t revealed that I, a foreigner, was involved. This was to help ensure we’d get a fairer Indian price. The owner pulled up outside the house of his two-wheeler. Manj and I were waiting and the ladies from the downstairs house were hanging around and chatting.

He’s the guy I began to describe at the beginning of this piece.

Let’s say he was speechless but it might best describe his initial response to say he was shocked and stunned. When he slowly began to gather his senses (OK don’t expect too much here) he said it was “only available for vegetarians”. The shocking foreigner before him obviously was a rabid Christian carnivore. Well, I’d got him there, I’ve been a veggie for 40 years.

sorry ….. the cogs whirred a bit more

“It’s for family and not bachelors.”  Well as I’m nearly 60 with grown up kids I’m not exactly family but neither am I bachelor and I’m not planning to have all night parties. So I sort of hit him with that in my inestimable western logical sort of way. I must admit though I wasn’t winning him over.

Finally we got it. It wasn’t available to a foreigner. It’s the Firangi Flop. End of story so we’re not just special!!  I gave him a bit about being a guest in his country (Famous saying Atithi Devo Bhava: ‘Guest is God’  clearly didn’t apply here), that I’d been renting from a member of his ‘community’ (this guy is a vegetarian Lingayat as are my current house owners) for seven years, kept a clean house, paid rent on time, blah blah blah. To no avail. So that house is off the list and he’s not getting a Christmas Card! 😉

We tried it again with a lovely small house just down the road, same problem.

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It does however reflect a common fact here, not unlike elsewhere. Traditionally, local people’s friends are quite rigidly defined, social networks and milieu are of their community, a term which locally means: where they are from, who they worship and their caste. No difference from the rest of the world eh? but prejudice here is incredibly transparent. They haven’t learned to hide it behind ‘politically correct’ camouflage. Appealling to ‘vegetarians only’ is code. Outsiders need not apply. It specifically means:  it’s only for higher caste (Brahmin), Jain or Lingayat. In this case, it’s based on even more prejudice and only available to people from Rajasthan , who are themselves, of course, in-comers or oft-comers as we’d say in Yorkshire.

So we’re special but we’re also outsiders.

In my view its part of the iceberg which  also relates to extreme politics, we’re seeing  around the world and that touches on people being disconnected from each other, xenophobia, anti-immigration and intolerance,  but that story is for another time.

Maybe, as always, I leave the last word to Manj.

Here’s Manjula ‘s view from a couple of years before working for me.

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over nine years ago, the time when I lived at my brother’s place. Once my brother’s wife and I were out to purchase something from a shop, it’s a small village, it comes after Hassan, it’s called Salgami. On our way back home we saw 2 foreigners, a couple, they were cycling. My brother’s wife said in astonishment, “Look how these English people are cycling in our village. I think they like to see villages.” She continued, “If you work at an English person’s house you will earn well enough, they’ll offer you good food, nice and rich food. Imagine, if I was not married, I would have worked at an English person’s house. I would have eaten the same food as they did, I would be happy and jolly. “
I said, “Ayyayappa! English person’s house? A big NO to their house. They eat insects, they eat all kinds of meat, they eat cow’s meat, pig’s meat and what not! And a few also eat insects.” I said this as I had watched in television; in a few shows which showed them eating many creatures “
She said, “It’s not necessary that everyone eats. The ones who eat will eat and there are the ones who don’t eat at all. “
Later we reached home.

After 6 months, I came to Mysore. Look what happened with me? The same thing what my brother’s wife had said, I got a job at an Englishman’s house! I remember Stephen had asked for a maid for this house, a girl or an old lady. I was lucky to find his house and he was lucky to find me.
I was wondered thinking about all kinds of meat I might have to cook. Later I heard it from Vasanth that Stephen was looking for only vegetarian food to be cooked. “Thank God!” I was relieved.
I eat chicken, mutton and fish. I can cook them all but if it was any other meat I wouldn’t have touched it. I would have reluctantly said “NO” to cook any other meat.

so we’re special, crazy, outsiders, or maybe…

We’re just weird…

Farrell Factoid

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The final section above is taken from the digital recordings that Manjula has made in Kannada and have been transcribed by our good friend Vidya, for me to share via the blog. This is the first quote from this treasure trove.

 

 

 

Firangi is an old term for Foreigner, usually white, westerner and possibly British now we’re referred to, rather boringly, as plain old ‘foreigner’ or even “American’, I think it was originally Persian and Jonathan Gil Harris describes some in the ….

The First Firangis