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Sanitary Thoughts

This is a piece I wrote in lighter vein in the year 2005.

I had a close brush with an- Indian – American family. They gained this ‘ostracized’ status by virtue of living in the states for the last ten years. What prompted me to write this piece is my recent encounter and an acquired acumen on the behavioural patterns of this species.


I have become conscious of the fact that I have lost enthusiasm to entertain family at home. I would like to blame it on the sweltering heat of Chennai. I also think it is because of the transformation my nature has undergone thanks to being married to a man who thinks of socialising as a waste of time and vigour.


But if you have ever played hostess to a visiting Indian- American family, with first generation American kids, you will appreciate my state. Even if you did have any enthusiasm to entertain- despite the damned weather conditions and a socially doomed married life – the inclination to entertain may go missing after one such experience.


It was a fine afternoon when I was told that a  family would visit us the next day, as part of their ‘visit- the -lesser- mortals- of – this hemisphere’ trips. Naturally, when you haven’t met friends or family for a span of five years, you are blinded by the fondness one feels for people who you don’t meet so often and one often forgets the scars of the last visit and before you realize you have invited them to stay for lunch. So you will understand my predicament. It was a trifle too late to ‘un-invite’ them. They gracefully accepted and also offered to stay on till midmorning the next day.


The lady –  the raison d’être of this piece – is a mother of two very adorable kids. I remember days when she had just been married (I was in connubial bliss for two years then). Her language had become highly accentuated even before she went to the airport at Bangalore. She was rolling her ‘R’s’ and  exaggerating the vowel sounds. But over the years she lived there, she seems to have mellowed down, language wise. Her accent is sounding acceptably natural than earlier (at least I didn’t notice her straining herself) but what has also changed is her constant worrisome attitude about things concerning hygiene especially associated to her children (or so I thought!) If I had to recap the 24 hrs of that fateful day, this will turn into a marathon symphony, so I restrict to quoting and unquoting a few comments that my weary mind recalls of that day.


“ Lovely house. Does every room have a ‘paeteeoh’( patio)”-   referring to the balcony’s.


The troupe brought with them two bottles of boiled and cooled water and wanted it chilled in the freezer. I offered the ionised, double filtered water that lesser mortals like me drink, but she didn’t seem convinced that it was safe…not just for drinking, even for a gargle.


She kept floating around the kitchen, where yours truly was in the midst of assembling a lunch, with a very state of the art tablet cutter and I wondered aloud what it was.


“I have to feed my son his ‘an-tie- malarial’ (Anti malarial) that the doc recommended for him when we travelled in Indi-uh (India). “I had asked the pharmacy to cut it into quarters but they didn’t want to take any chances because they could be sued if it didn’t turn out to be quarters, so he offered me the tablet cutter”.


And like it was the first time she was going to administer medications to the toddler she said with distress,“ I have such a hard time every Friday when I have to give it to him! How do you advocate I do it?


I offered the ‘Aamras’ I had painstakingly made for them in a cup and supposed that it would mask the flavour of the medication.  “Ummmmm… tastes ‘aahsum’ (awesome). May I have some more?”


The toddler clung to a pack of instant noodles and kept nibbling on sections of raw, unprepared bits. Was that very healthy… hygienic, I wondered.  I noticed that the boy still wore pampers and commented on how he should have over grown them- not the size but the habit.  ‘He had, actually. Then there was this rash and the doctor suggested he take it easy and then he got back to his old ways’. The mother didn’t show the slightest of regret about her son’s ‘old ways’. It seemed to suit her fine.


Every time she changed the diaper, she put it into a plastic disposable bag that I imagined she threw into the garbage can. Again, according to her, a very hygienic practice. It was after she left the next day, that I found out where they were…propped on the windowsill of our terrace!


Then there was the ‘significant other’, who like every Indian male in the US always speaks of relocating to the country even though he remotely means it.


‘Tell me if I am wrong. I suspect that I would live fairly well if I made two lacs a month in India, if I have to send two kids to an international school here, spend on two cars and their maintenance, two hand phones, and a holiday once a month, plus grocery, help and sundry, and what have you.’


Just when I was gathering my wits to nod in the positive, the topic changed, thankfully.


‘Who wants to work in India? Its my country and I want to enjoy the place’. (Yeah. The rest of us are ill-fated fools.)





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