Monday, October 26, 2009

Phoren country, Desi Dil

Apologies to all my English friends and to my non-Hindi speaking friends who read my blog as I have used a lot of Hindi words and Hindi movie references in this post.

The subtle and not so subtle differences in living in UK and India.


For 37 years of my life I lived in India. I was born in India, raised in India, have visited almost every state in India and have studied in educational Institutions in four different parts of India and also speak 6 different Indian languages. In other words, I am one hundred percent Indian.(and a very patriotic one at that)

Then one fine day, we moved lock stock and barrel (Okay, not barrel. My husband is NOT fat and I am certainly not calling him a barrel) to the UK and it was a great eye-opener for me about how less than 0.9 percent of world’s population lived and how I had to adjust and adapt to their ways , after living life MY way for so very long. You can teach an old dog new tricks, but the dog has to be willing to learn. Most importantly, the dog should not belong to a ‘dhobhi’. (wink) This, I realised, was possible, only if I made certain acute and astute observations on the basic differences between UK and India and only understanding these differences perfectly would make my transition to a foreign land easier, smoother and perhaps richer than Amul butter. The following is what I found.

1. In India, the Sun is a constant presence like the hero in Yash Raj Films who is there is every frame, every shot, every scene—full paisa vasool—but in UK, the sun makes a guest appearance like Subhash Ghai in Hero, and you are filled with excitement and marvel and general satisfaction of having spotted him when he does—the sun, I mean, not Subhash Ghai.

2. When the sun does make an appearance you have to be faster than Akshay Kumar in Khiladi and have to operate that washing machine and put the clothes out to dry before you can say Rajiv hari Om Bhatia ne ki phir hera pheri :-). If you miss to do that, your laundry will pile up for the next seven days and you would be in grave danger of being submerged under it,much like the drunken men being submerged by the charms of Bips in Beedi jallaile, till the sun makes it next appearance.

3. In UK, you actually see four seasons whose pictures you had seen in story books and whose spellings you had memorised when you scored that perfect ten in dictation where you spelt autumn correctly. While in India, I always thought autumn was something English teachers conjured up to test your spellings. In India we see only sun, more sun, mild sun, rain and heavy rains depending of course, which region you inhabit.

4. In UK, even eggs are of three different kinds—those laid by caged hens, those laid by barn hens and those laid by hens which are allowed to roam in the fields breathing fresh air and listening to Mozart. Okay, I lied about Mozart (but everything else is true) :-). The kind of egg each egg is, is actually stamped individually on each and every single egg and each egg has an expiry date as well! The consumer has a choice which egg to buy too!

In India we have two kinds of eggs-- ‘bade ande’ and ‘aaj kal sister, ande chotte ho gaye’. :-)

5. In UK , if one needs a plumber then one has to book an appointment, who if you are lucky would be able to get one after 12 days (as he is on vacation in Spain) and on the appointed day he would arrive on the dot—not a second late—in a huge van (the size of a small home) which has a hundred million tools ranging from pipe cleaning tools to spanners to pipe reseaters and what-have you. He would efficiently analyse and fix the problem and leave you poorer by 80 pounds ( Rupees 6097 only).

In India, I just had to step out of my house and shout for Tapan or Patel or whoever was the Society’s ‘plumber on call’ who would come immediately, without a moment's delay with a wrench and a screwdriver and would fix my problem and would be thrilled with the rupee hundred note (1.31 pounds) I generously ‘tipped’. (as they already get a salary and aren’t supposed to take money from residents)

6.In UK, cars actually wait to let pedestrians cross. This ‘Pehle aap’ game while crossing roads took a bit of getting accustomed to . Especially, since I was so used to Mumbai and Pune where you weave your way through non stop cars at breakneck speed like the guy in the video of Bon jovi’s ‘It’s my life’.

7. In UK, my children ask me in a very British accent (yeah, they have lost their Indian accent completely now) "Mom—are my friends allowed in?" I always answer “Of course they are.” I was surprised to learn that in UK, friends are not always ‘allowed in’.

In India, my house was always full of kids on some days. They did not have to ask. They were welcome. It was also understood that if we were having a meal, whichever friends of the children happened to be present , ate with us. It was the same for my kids when they went to someone’s home too. But in UK things are a little different.

8.Mostly what hit me initially, when I first moved is the absolute quietness in this place. Everything is so silent. Everything is so orderly. Everything is so clean.Stepping out on to a street in UK and stepping out on a street in India is mostly the same as a difference between a song and dance sequence in a Karan Johar film and a scene in ‘Pather panchali’ by Satyajit Ray. :-)

9. The English language has no equivalent for the ‘th’ sound in Hindi (which is found in words like bolti) and consequently my name is always pronounced ‘pretty’ which I have learnt to ignore. But what I still haven’t got used to is my son’s and daughter’s friends calling me by first name. “Hi Pretty” said a lad who was already taller than me, at school (where I was helping out with a film making project) who is my son’s classmate and I looked over my shoulder before I realised he was addressing me.

In India, it was always “Hello Preeti aunty”. Here in UK, my English friends tell me that they find it very irritating to be called ‘Aunty’ because “I am not your aunt” and they have specifically told my children to call them by their first names, which of course we have no problems following and have adapted very easily too.

10.The best and really good part about living in UK is the libraries. They are outstanding, amazing, marvellous and nothing like I have ever seen in India.(and I have been a member of a library ever since I could read, so that is a LOT of libraries). One can borrow FIFTEEN books at a time which means between four of us, we can borrow SIXTY and that too free! Besides books, there are latest DVDs, Games CDs for Wii, X-box etc and also thousands of latest and old audio CDS, television series DVDs and so much more. For me this is like PARADISE.

I think I'll survive.
Life in UK isn't so bad too. :-)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Eliminate Clutter. Free your mind.


Many many years back, and it seems like such a long time ago-- almost another lifetime as it was before I had my children-- I used to read the self help books. I used to follow the parts that appealed to me and I used to consciously mould my way of behaviour according to what the books suggested. Needless to say I would choose the books with care, and one of the books I read very early on in my life, was 'Don't say Yes when you want to say No'. I remember following some of the exercises in the book and I remember how the book emphasised the difference between being assertive and being aggressive, and why it was important to say No. I have never had a problem saying no to people when I don't want to do something they have requested. Paulo Coelho tweeted some time ago "No" is painful, but much better than a "yes" that brings regrets. How true!

Many years back I had also read another book whose title I have now forgotten. The book had an excellent suggestion. It asked you to write down (not just think it mentally, put a pen to paper and write it down) a list of petty annoyances that you tolerate on a day to day basis. It could be something very trivial like that drawer which gets stuck, or a small tear in your favourite jacket which you have been meaning to mend, or that painting which you have been meaning to hang up. It could be something more serious like a very real threat of losing your job because the organisation you work for might be taken over, or it could be an annoying boss, or it could be frustration you feel as your children who are teenagers are not listening to you or a spouse who refuses to listen to your repeated requests about something that bothers you. Whatever be it, that is bothering you, list it down. It could be 'solvable' problems like a messy room or a pile of magazines that you have been meaning to get rid of or a phone-call that you have been meaning to make. Whatever it is ,think hard and write it down. The book said that the very act of writing it down, gave a concrete shape to minor annoyances which are really hindrances in getting what you want. Eliminating the ones over which you have control (like the tear in the jacket and the messy room) clears the energy clutter and gives a clarity to thinking. You are able to focus on your goals better. The book talked about a person who put in long hours at work and was very frustrated as he had not got that promotion that he anticipated. On the list he made, was a simple thing like 'no time to watch a sunset'. He had suppressed the little annoyances so much that he had forgotten about what mattered to him. That week he left work early and went to the park for a walk and enjoyed the beauty of the colour and life around him and watched the sunset--something that he had not done for several years! Soon after he changed jobs and was now in a job which recognised his efforts and brought great satisfaction to him.

Of course to assume that making a simple list is a solution to all your problems would be assuming too much. But the essential thing behind all this (saying no and eliminating annoyances) is basically that you are freeing your mind. You are defining your goals.

I had tried the list making exercise and I felt great satisfaction a week later when I that almost 90% of the things on my list had been taken care of! Eventually the 10% got fixed too.

Basically both these things that I mention here, saying no and getting down to things that are bothering you are taking care of the same things. They are plugging the drain on your time and life and improving the quality of living. Eliminating clutter, be it a clutter of thoughts or a clutter of objects or a clutter of minor annoyances does work and bring results that you want.

Try it and you will instantly feel a satisfaction that is hard to explain. I know it because I have experienced this several times.

What are you going to eliminate today? If you want to tell me or share your thoughts about this, I 'd love to hear what you have to say.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Autumn starts (wordless wednesday no. 15)

All snaps clicked by me this morning just a few minutes ago, in my garden and around my home. Click on each to enlarge. This is my post for Wordless wednesday.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Especially for you

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, said Confucius, thousands of years ago, when travelling a thousand miles probably took a few months. Yet, even after so many centuries, the depth of what he said is just as relevant.

I too embarked on a journey three years ago, when I began blogging in this very month (On 22nd October, to be precise) and I had no idea what a long way I would come since then. This is my 364th post! But something even more special happened today. My blog crossed an important milestone, for any true blue blogger-- 1,00,000 visits! Yes--One lakh! (In case you thought it was a typo) :-) The page views had already exceeded 1,60,200 a long time back.

A big thank you to all of you, who read whatever I write, who leave me such wonderful comments, who mail me regularly in case I don't update in three days, asking what has happened. It would surely not have been possible without you--so a big and heartfelt thank you.

When I first started blogging, it was to overcome a deep loss, as many of you who have read my book already know. As things stand today, I have made some of my closest friends only because of my blog and also because the Universe conspired to make us meet, not just virtually, but in real life too. And to think that it was only because of my thoughts and words is a bit overwhelming!

The power of words is indeed tremendous. Words do have a life of their own. This is why we must always think before we speak and say only what we mean. Even to ourselves.

I also think it is important to express the positive thoughts you feel, because they have a way of resonating and filling both people, the person who says it, as well as the person to whom it is said, with a vibrant, happy and warm energy.

It is also said that one picture is worth a thousand words. At times when words fail me, I turn to art. Not many , especially the newer readers are aware that I have an Art site too :-) Click here if you want to see my pictures.

The 'surprise' that I have mentioned in my previous post is that I am now doing an Art course in Human Portraiture that will lead to an NCFE level 1 qualification! (NCFE is the nationally recognised certifying body in UK) I have always wanted to do portraits and I jumped at the chance to learn it, when I got it. Needless to say all my time these days is spent sketching and sketching and more sketching. The course is very intensive and I am really liking it.

Above are some of the portraits that I did recently. They are all pencil sketch portraits ,except for one which was sketched from a live model using charcoal, chalk and sanguine. I have been getting a lot of praise for these and someone liked them so much that they enquired if I'd do it professionally!( and yes, I would be!) For me, it is like another dream come true. I always wanted to draw realistic portraits of people. I used to be fascinated to see Artists doing it. I never dreamt I would become one of them. :-) [Just like I never thought that my dream of becoming a published author would actually come true too]

"Never, never never give up." Said Winston Churchill. He also said "If you are going through hell, keep going."

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step--and the secret is to keep going even when you think you no longer can.

Confucius and Churchill definitely knew what they were talking about!

Apply it to your life today and you will surely see amazing results. I can vouch for that.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Happy Birthday Gia! (Wordless wednesday no.14)

Happy birthday to the one in the centre :-)

She turns three today.

( I could not really be wordless, even though this is my post for Wordless wednesday)

Monday, October 05, 2009

The sad story of a once happy heart


I am sorry I had to remove this poem as it is under consideration for publication.
© 2009 Preeti Shenoy

For more poems click here. Some poems have already appeared in print.

If you're into poetry publishing and want to buy the rights to this poem please mail me on
ps @

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Can you swim?


It is deliberately and consciously that I try to keep current affairs and ‘breaking news’ away from this blog. This is a blog full of Bubblegums and Candies, hot chocolate and iced tea, warmth and love, comfort and happiness and of course, delighted genuine peals of laughter. I get hundreds of mails from people who share their lives with me and who consider me a good friend. I am humbled and honoured that my writing touches your souls.

But today, if you have come looking for the things that you usually look for, (especially the 'surprise' that I promised in last post) I’d suggest you stop reading. Sometimes bitter pills are needed too, as digestives.

It is the Thekkady boat tragedy that has compelled me to write this post. Perhaps it is because I have visited this very place and sailed on the glorious river Periyar, a countless times. Perhaps, it is because I have recommended this place to my friends who are visiting Kerala for the first time. Perhaps, it is because, after getting married, I took my husband to this very place with great ardour and showed him the sites that he marvelled at and my heart swelled up happiness and intangible but definite pride, as though I owned the place. We loved it so much that after the children were born, we took them too on this same boat ride and enjoyed their delighted exclamations when they spotted the elephants.

Perhaps it is because of all this that I can identify with the excitement of the tourists who rushed to see the wild elephants when they spotted them, thus making the boat capsize. A boat carrying 76 passengers capsized and my tranquil and serene Periyar has now become a monster that has swallowed more than 36 lives including 11 children.

I could not bear to watch the NDTV compere thrusting the mike into a man’s face who had just lost eleven of his family members including his wife and two children. The harsh lights of the camera zoomed in for a close up, to capture his grief and the interviewer prodded piercingly asked him whether the body of his two year old child had been found. Perhaps she was hoping that he would break down, thus making ‘good television’ footage, sending their TRPs soaring. I switched it off in disgust. I suddenly remembered why I had stopped watching news on television and had stuck only to music channels.

The Chief minister of Kerala has announced a compensation package of rupees 5 lakhs, for each life lost. Even a million pounds would not have sufficed The politicians are saying all the right things, condoling death and expressing their ‘heartfelt’ grief. The inquiry reports talks of safety norms being flouted as none of the passengers were wearing life jackets and nobody warned them about rushing to one side.

However what really strikes me as I write this post, is that so many of them could have saved themselves had they known how to swim. The shore isn’t ‘unreachable’. For a person who knows swimming , it is really not hard to swim to safety.

I strongly feel that we Indians, pay scant attention to ‘life skills’. Swimming is a life skill, yet is it taught in schools? No! We are too busy making our children cram for Board exams and after that, IIT JEE and CAT and GRE and what not. You can perhaps argue that not many have access to swimming pools. But let me tell you—where there is a will, there is a way. Most cities that I have lived in, do have fairly clean and accessible public pools which you can use for a small fee. But hey, chances are that if you are reading this blog, you are well off and can comfortably afford to access a pool at a private club or a hotel. The question here is not of accessibility—but people seeing the need to know swimming. If you do know how to swim, the rest of the post is not for you. But if you don’t, then please read on.

Everybody in my family swims. I learnt swimming as a child and yet I had never entered a swimming pool till I was 20. My father was an expert swimmer and in the village he came from, the children learnt to swim, before they learnt to crawl. When my father was a child and before he learnt to swim, his brothers used to take him in a boat to the middle of the river. Then they would carry him and throw him into the river. You natural instinct is to lash out to save your life. Of course, they would not let him drown and they would pull him out as he choked ,spluttered and spat out the water. They were tough and they did not believe in molly coddling and taking the easy way. This was their way. It was the only way they knew. A couple of more such treatments and dad learnt to swim.

I too learnt to swim in this very river. The current was stong. Summer vacations were always spent at Kerala. My dad would take me and my brother along with numerous cousins. We were the ‘city dwellers’, the ‘softies’. They were all excellent swimmers as they had lived there. The current was very strong and your swimming skills developed a lot as you tried to swim against the current. Swimming with the current was so easy in comparison. (But it was very easy to be swept along too—so you had to know how to get back). After having swum here, I was astonished how tame, swimming in a pool seemed, in comparison, when I first entered it. I have since then, swum in the Arabian sea in the beaches of Goa and magnificently breathtaking Lakshadweep. I have swum in the Bay of Bengal in Mahabalipuram and Chennai. In comparison to the sea, even the river seems tame now.

When I was a child, I have seen my father saving a life, at the sea. The man was drowning and dad jumped in without a moment of hesitation. Being an expert swimmer, he yanked him out and had brought him to safety by which time help had arrived. At a resort in Bangalore, I have done the same for a eleven year old child who had somehow fallen into the deep end. The profuse gratitude of parents towards me is something I can never forget.

I was insistent that my children learn swimming in India. I taught them myself even before they turned 4. But it was not in a river like my dad taught me-- it was in a very tame pool in our residential complex. Still I thought I had done a good job, as compared to the children in India, they seemed to swim well. But imagine my shock when we moved to the UK and I was told that my son, along with a few other children needed special classes to clear swimming tests. He was excellent in academics and far ahead of others in Math. But when it came to a basic life skill, he lagged behind. What I really liked was that it was mandatory , here in UK, to clear the swimming exam. There is so much stress on life skills. He was also doing carpentry for the first time in his life, something that he had never done in India.

You can argue that UK is a developed country and so the state can ‘afford’ to do it. Our government does nothing in this direction as it has other problems etc. But I am talking about YOU. What I am trying to say is please pay heed and help yourselves. If you do not know how to swim, please enrol for a course. Invest time in it.

You may not travel in a boat on Periyar which will capsize. But of course you will do other things at some point in your lives. You never know when a basic life skill like swimming could come to your aid. The life that you save could very well be your own.