A beautiful world

I’m called to the door by an Amazon delivery. There are no guests so it’s been an opportunity for a lie in. Now cut short.

Manjula has not been well for weeks stretching into months. Most of the day she’s in bed but with significant wobble will stumble gracefully to the outside sit-out and sometimes a walk in our park.

She excitedly tells me of hearing the birds visiting her window towards the back of the house. It’s her first experience of the morning.

Today, for some reason, I can hear them clearly. The whole air is full of joyous birdsong. Our house outside at the front, in the drive, hanging from the car port, on the mezzanine, the balcony and the sun terrace is bursting with life. Our greenery welcomes, as you arrive.

Now the presence of the wonderful birds brings a whole new dimension.

This to a house already marked by its openess. We’re far from but also reflect a traditional Indian home. The matriarch, the Amma, is Manjula, formerly the maid. Her husband who she declares: ‘the maid’ now provides her necessary support. As with established typical local homes. It’s a vibrant active place. Ordinarily there is a constant flow of people. Our cleaners, gardener and that husband-assistant feverishly ensuring it’s prepared for our paying guests at the Mysore Bed and Breakfast. It’s inward flow of guests, a mix of generations, the conversations mingling from the different lounges,  with their languages from around the world, in a very Indian way creates a mish mash, a melange of jeek by jowl. A pick-a-mix of rich experiences.

The smells, noises, colours, the feel and texture of India is enhanced by the beautiful bird song. Less than an hour ago it was full flow. It added a perceptible glow to the already shining house. The bird song is more than the icing on the cake its part of our whole.

It helps at this very difficult time of Manjula’s constant challenges to bring a natural soundful beauty.

This house, our home and the memories it creates are a natural consequence of my Manjula. Her smile that radiates is for our many guests, the first and last experience and a remaining mark of their visit.

img_5525The presence that is at its heart, the source of our life here, the link to all those who shared our place. This woman from a poor background, with little formal education who has a kindness reflected in those of the stories she shares of her father, a delightful beautiful woman who has made so many people happy by opening her home as the soft, gentle caring golden thread, linking it all. She, my very own Maharani, has…. no surprise here…. gone and stolen my heart, completely bowled me over… leaving me a marked man.

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All this helps remind us of how lucky we are, here in our Indian home in a world of infinite beauty. Where things continue to amaze, draw us out of our sadness and bring a smile on our face.

Why is nothing straightforward

A visa run (*) to Sri Lanka.

What could possibly go wrong?

1 flight bookings were made from Mysore to Chennai, then Chennai to Colombo in Sri Lanka. Return in 36 hours or so we thought. Sugar. The return flights we’re booked for the following month! Erm and quickly changed 🙃

2 the day before I’m due to fly the immigration Police inform me I’ll not be let back in on my visa. 😩

3 I apply for an e tourist visa so I can at least get back in. It’ll take 72 hours so I’ll have to miss the rebooked return flights, assuming I get a new visa🤪

4 hotel arranges taxi pick-up at the airport. All goes smoothly until we arrive at the hotel at about 4 am. There is no room at the Inn. How did they manage to book the taxi but not reserve the room? I sleep on the sofa in the dining area. 😮

Thanks booking.com

5 this hotel is a fair distance from Colombo so I check out Airbnb options and find what looks a very promising place to stay in Colombo. I can’t book it. Our AirBnB entry is now in Manjula’s name because of our Mysore Bed and Breakfast listing. 😕

5 there are no micro breweries in Colombo😩

So what could go right?

6 I tramp the streets. Find a cool boutique hotel with sea view, get a basic orientation of the city while creating a list of things to do. Meet some lovely people and do some shopping 😋

6 the e-visa arrives (within 48 hours) on the first night so I can leave on the booked flights. 🤩

7 they let me in at Chennai🤫

8 flights go great and it’s a dinky affair in Mysore 🙄

9 I can surprise my beautiful wife who was a little worried that i might not get back in 😘

A visa run * an extra trip out of the country is sometimes necessary so as not to overstay one’s welcome, usually beyond 180 days.

The price of an ice cream

As a young child in the 1960’s my grandparents used to take the grandkids driving through France to holiday in Spain. It was unusual for a working class family from Sheffield (grandad was a steelworker) to go on holiday abroad. What a great experience!

One of the things I noticed changing during these occasional visits over the years was the price of ice cream.

In Spain and England it was at a very low price and affordable on my pocket money. In France it was a little different. You know, more classy with prices to match. 🙂

The price of ice cream was of course significant in my world!

Over the years the prices gradually increased and merged. They became global and consistent. The price (and quality) changed dramatically.

In retrospect I was experiencing from a child’s world view both globalisation and the way products are now priced ie at a level that the ‘market can take.’ Price was increasingly determined not by the cost of raw materials plus the cost of production plus a profit. There was a dramatic shift towards the price-we-can-get-away with charging. There were key stages of this change, including; the increase in international travel especially holidays, higher disposal incomes amongst more people in society, middle class growth, the moving on from the effects of the war, decimalisation, sales taxes such as VAT and of course globalisation and not least internet sales .

In a few short years the cost of ice cream went way beyond my pocket money. Obviously my own disposable pocket money income didn’t keep pace.

Now, I’m here living in Indya age 61.

I often say that India is a good teacher it illustrates and illuminates many contemporary issues.

We’re seeing exactly the same process going on here. Ice cream was and still is cheap but now there’s a whole range of premium quality options so prices differ wildly. There is a massive surge growth of the middle classes so new demands and greater disposable income, India has always been the world leader of flexible pricing (the least local you look the higher the price you will pay). Now we’ve the introduction of GST (a General Service or Value added Tax) and the idiotic demonetisation which resulted in over 80% of currency becoming worthless overnight, so another reason for prices shooting upwards! So the price of ice cream, amongst other things goes up and up.

We often think that India is a cheap place. That’s both true and not. It can be incredibly cheap and shockingly expensive.

A case in point.

Medicines.

The big box of twenty tablets costs, …….. wait for it……. 1760 Rupees! (That’s one GB pound per tablet) I’ve managed to get a 15% discount and I’m not paying firangi (foreigner) prices. The minimum daily wage here is 250 Rs per day how is someone who is poor, supposed to manage? I can tell you as an exceedingly rich (not) foreigner it’s hard to handle! Imagine what it’s like for poor people, or Manjula for that matter if she didn’t have access to our resources!

So what’s the point?

So, I’m seeing the same process of prices increases at work, here in India over fifty years later.

Prices are becoming more consistent around the world, reflect what’s possible to charge rather than actual costs, are often increased when there’s a convenient policy change such as change in taxation. It also serves to accentuate and polarising difference, it reflecting the severe differences in levels of income and wealth, life and death experience in society.

Our guests often ask..

Why is there so much rubbish/litter/garbage in the street?

fact is we don’t know but as always we have a view….

There is no simple or easy answer.

We offer the following to help sort the wet from the Dry! It’s in no particular order and it’s taken from what we’ve heard and experienced. Non of it represents the official view of the management.

Elitism. There’s Always someone else lower in the pecking order to clear up after me, it’s beneath me.

Options. There aren’t any. There are few bins, what’s to do? Oddly enough bins have suddenly appeared in the most unlikely places. Like here at the bathing ghats.

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Easy. We have a daily collection, a shrill whistle informs us he’s coming and to put the rubbish outside. If we miss him then it easy to walk up the street and dump it. People don’t like storing rubbish at home. It’s dirty innit?

Ignorance. People just don’t perceive it as a problem. The middle classes might blame it all on the lack of education.

keeping up Human behaviour can’t keep up with changing technology. For example: Chai was previously served in terracotta cups, meals were on a leaf. These were thrown down and those materials were biodegradable, it created no problem, except the unsightly mess. Nowadays we have plastic but we behave as if our waste will disintegrate and safe to just through down. It’s not, obviously!

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Insignificant there are so many other things to worry about, people don’t have a long term view and don’t see it as a problem

it’s always been like this. One interesting connection is to do with race and culture. Travellers or Gypsys in the west may have originally travelled from north india hundreds of years ago. There might be a connection. They are scrupulously clean inside their caravans (here’s Manjula outside a traditional one in the UK) but just outside it’s a complete mess. Maybe there is a cultural aspect that we don’t understand.

But hang on, look how clean this site is.

P1070840Individualism. Me and my own patch. I’ll look after my own home and doorstep but beyond that, nothing matters.

Blindness. It’s not noticed. Its out of sight out of mind.

Careless?

it’s a real issue locally. Just recently there has been a sterling effort by the city corporation and their teams to keep on top of the rubbish and clear it away within the day. But still people just carrying on dumping…. To make matters worse some people are forever setting fire to the rubbish in the streets.

OK it’s a big problem but change is possible, otherwise we’d still have to tolerate the Brits!

Here’s an interesting take from a blog comparing the north and south. Click here

Before anyone gets all smug. It’s been a worldwide problem. The U.K. had a campaign sixty years ago to keep Britain tidy. The logo is still used today here in India. There are moves afoot, local and national campaigns and citizens taking action.

So let’s leave the final word for a campaign group based in Bangalore. Click here…. it’s worth a look and take part in their mini quiz ..

So its not true that…

Spontaneous organisation

Getting out again. A totally new experience.

I’ve worked for a Prince of Wales’s charity and been to some pretty posh do’s. This one was however something else. Yes, Indian and very special.

It was the engagement of my very good friend Vinay to a lovely woman, Tapas. Who I only met at the event itself.

How amazing, a great mix of ceremony, ritual, a spectacular celebration. It was unexpected and astonishing. 

It began with a series of traditional rituals involving the couple their parents and family. Held together by the women of the families and the direction of the priest or Poojari.

Ok, I’ve no idea what was going on but impressive, to say the least. I was interested to see another dimension of the modern entrepreneur who I first met and worked with on his then start-up, Royal Mysore Walks (Now expanded and known as Gullys).

We were at Tapas’s home, a coffee plantation, an Estate first established in the mid 19th Century west of Mysore., on the edge of Kodagu.

And then, we were transported away to another part of the estate….. and it’s where the rest of us got more involved! A fairytale.

It clearly took a lot of time, and all sorts of resources and pure dedication to organise it. Yet they managed to keep it informal, down to earth and great fun. 

Exchanging the rings

It was very special and seemed to go like a dream.

So what’s Spontaneous organisation?

It’s a new term, from me, another aspect of Indian life. It’s bordering on contradictory, a juxtaposition of potentially conflicting observations and experiences as is so much of India. It’s meaning? It’s formulating as I write.

An example of something well organised, which flows well but teetering on the edge of impossibility. It all falls nicely into place, well organised but not so much that it squeezes the life out of it. It’s a sergeant rather than a corporal. It’s built on experience, it fits well together its sophisticated, not crass nor out of place. It works beautifully and sometimes one wonders how. It is also quintessentially Indian as it never feels false or forced it just happens! …..and yet feels that at any moment it might not.

The organising sisters

Wonderful!

Thank you to Vinay and Tapas. A great way to mark a new chapter in your life. Manjula and I look forward to sharing aspects of your journey. With our warmest wishes for peas and love, for your life together.

Getting out

I need to get out more.

Sunday was the second Mysore literary festival. Great to get out, meet old and make new friends.

Discussions about wildlife and how we can promote conservation, Roy’s films, presentations on Mysore Palaces and our wood inlay traditions, all great stuff.

Maybe the best of all for me was hearing from a young woman from a very poor background who at age four had been given a new opportunity in life. A philanthropic organisation sponsored her residential education through to her 20s. Not straightforward. An amazing life opportunity but controversially perhaps takes her completely away from her family. I’ve ordered her autobiography. More later.

A great new slogan 🙃

A different segment and layer of society in Mysore. Mostly women, middle class and of an uncertain age.

Great people watching and meeting. I only knew a handful of the maybe 150-200 people..

I do realise from this, that with the challenges at home and the build up to busy-time I do need to get out for a bit of newness now and again.

What’s

What’s up in India?

The mobile phone is having a profound effect.

I decided to observe drivers for a few moments on the main road near our home.

Ok it wasn’t quite as jammed as this. 🙃 but even I was surprised to see the majority, yes over 50% of drivers, mostly in cars but also on two wheelers …. actually on the phone! Stuck to their ear, jammed up the crash helmet, jabbing in messages. It’s astonishing, young and old, they’re all at it.

Maybe it’s the same around the world. I don’t know.

It represents a modern day challenge….How to keep up with technological change, whilst recognising what’s appropriate and acceptable behaviour and what isn’t. We all know that our education doesn’t necessarily equip us very well for daily living. It’s nowhere more apparent than how we respond to and behave with technology. On a day to day basis we can all think of our own examples…. dangerous multi-tasking as when driving. Allowing a phone call to interrupt a conversation. Walking blindly head down texting.

You know, there are many.

It’s also true with litter. In the past in India, chai might be provided in a terracotta cup and then thrown down. Not a problem if it’s mud returning to mud but a completely different matter with plastic.

Well another example is what’s app messages. My yoga teacher put me on a what’s app group ostensibly to let me know when a class was cancelled. Well I got more than I bargained for!

In two days there were more than fifty photos, messages, quotes and videos. ALL of it unsolicited and non of it relevent.

Now I don’t want to be churlish and it’s important for me to connect with people in my adopted country. But all this garbage is filling my photo app, I can get by…..but..there is a sinister side.

Revealed in this article from the Guardian

Society here relies on the spoken word and people connections, there is less recognition of private space and people tend to accept what others say uncritically. That’s the crux of the problem with what’s app.

Filling up my phone with garbage is one thing but leading to death and mayhem, (Like this) that needs serious action.