The day before yesterday a friend of mine posted the link to a video on Facebook, the title was: “Learn A Lot From Watching 'Star Wars,' And It Isn't All Good”.
I had to watch that one, because, first I am a Star Wars fan, and then because I have a daughter and the summary mentioned something about girl power. The Video ended up being thought provoking and raise many questions that are as valid in the US and Europe as it is in India. I encourage you all to watch it. Because I just can’t go in a lot of detail about it here without ending up with a lengthy post. Basically the video raise the question of what happens when you teach girls something modern to empower them, and the boys are still taught to be the Prince, the hero who is to go on a quest, defeat evil and win the girl as a price. The example of Princess Leia is a good one, because she is one of these first Princess that have leadership skills, is assertive, and know how to fight…but yet she is STILL the damsel in distress, and still need a bunch of male of various species to come and rescue her before giving them medals and letting the viewer wonder who she will get to be the property of at the end of the first movie (Luke or Han). She is also the ONLY lead character in the original trilogy, Aunt Beru is a supporting one, so is Mon Motma In return of the Jedi. One Princess for a galaxy of male. As a teen when I saw the movie for the first time, that didn’t strike me, I was in awe of having a Princess being other than just pretty, I was pretty much soaking in girl power back then, it was the early 90’s after all. But I can totally imagine that boys didn’t get to see that and saw exactly what is explained in the video: Princess Leia is that object that need rescuing and can therefore be won…
After watching that video, I shared the link on my timeline, and one of my old high school friend, fellow Sci-fi geek and man pointed out that in most of the fictional literature and movies, women easily replaceable by a chest filled with gold the hero gets to win after having defeated evil, and that in most of these movies and novels you could totally do away with the female component as it would not even affect the main story line : Save the planet from impeding doom, the women are accessories, things that come as a perk. Something that the video indeed echoes perfectly. not to say that there is no effort in making these women object more empowered, but then as rightfully pointed, what good is it if boys are still taught old fashioned values?
This whole thing got me thinking very hard, about the stories I grew up with, what Ishita is growing up with, and the crime against women situation we have in India. All at the same time…
Having grown up in the “West” my early childhood references were those of the traditional fairy tales and their princesses waiting for prince charming and living happily ever after. Generations before me were raised on the same stories, but I think my generation will be the first to really start questioning it. The early Disney movies were true to the original fairy tale to a great extent, then came the Little Mermaid, I remember that one a lot because I think I was 11-12 at the time, and I remember loving it. My mom however hated it, because Disney dared doing the unthinkable by altering the ending, Ariel gets to live happily after…outrage! At the time I didn’t quite get it, because to me it seemed kind of cool that Ariel got to decide what she wanted and be happy, the original story pretty much leave her killing herself as the only honourable choice. Suicide is the solution…what kind of message is that? I knew my mom was over reacting, I knew deep down the original tale was nasty, but I didn’t have enough words and way to express why Disney did right some serious wrong in that tale. My mom came to realise it wasn’t all that bad a few years later when a friend of hers pointed out that Disney’s Mermaid was a woman of our time and that she was indeed a role model to girls letting them know that they can make choices of their own.
Now with a daughter of my own and some perspective I must admit that I was very wary telling her about fairy tales I grew up with, even before this video. What kind of role models I want my daughter to have? None of the famous classics in the world of fairy tales qualify. Snow White is this pretty girl that hones her domestic skills taking care of 7 men and end up in a pickle because she ignored their advices, and only get a chance back at life when Prince Charming kisses her and take her to his castle. Cinderella will slave her whole life for her step family in honour of her deceased father, only to be freed from hell by Prince Charming, after years of learning how to cook and do laundry I might add…teaching girls there is virtue in being abused because something will come your way if you endure it with grace. Hansel and Gretel teaches girl it is better to have a brother as only they possess the brain to save them, so sit and wait until a man comes to the rescue…any male is better than you girl. Sleeping Beauty is cursed from birth and only a Prince’s love can break it. The little mermaid teaches girl that you will suffer if you don’t do as you are told and do not stick to your peers and that should misfortune result of your disobedience suicide is the only way out. The Beauty and the Beast tells you you need to fall in love with your captor to save both of him and yourself. And do not get me started on the little red riding hood, that is the pinnacle of ridiculous morale, very few know that the red hood is the symbol of a woman coming of age with a ripe hymen, the bad wolf a sexual offender and that the morale of the story is that girls that have come of age should know better than be outside their home…the very notion that is considered the best solution to rape in India according to many of our pompous politicians!
Ishita’s first brush with fairy tale came with Disney’s Tangled, a take on the rather weird and boring Rapunzel tale. In the original version, it comes as no surprise that Rapunzel wait all her life for Prince Charming to find her and rescue her, as of course it never came to her mind that she could cut her hair and escape that door-less tower she was trapped in. Growing up I remember that this tale never ever made sense. Why would any girl be stupid enough not to escape, Disney found a great way to explain it with a very credible reason: “Cut your hair loose the healing magic you were born with”. What Disney also did was turn Rapunzel into a lady that ends up taking charge of her life, without a Prince, she uses a random Joe to get out and see the world, she ends up realising he is likeable, he ends up feeling the same, and they end up saving EACH OTHER, nobody is the prize the other gets to win. It’s mutual, it’s full of ladies making choices, and the ONLY work of children targeted fiction that also tells boys that women deserve respect, that no you don’t get to win the girl by default and that life in general means being responsible of your own choices. I love that movie, I love that version of Rapunzel…that’s the kind of Princess my daughter should have as role model, and that is the type of tale boys should have as a model too.
The other movie that is a cut apart in the children’s genre is the one mentioned in the video: Brave. Brave is that movie were all the character central to the story are women, it’s a story of a girl carving herself a destiny, and learns a few lessons along the way, namely that when you screw up, you are the only one that can fix your own wrongs. It’s a story in which Merida is firs on offer as a Princess to a bunch of really non-worthy boys who will fight for her hand without her even having a say as who she wants as a suitor out of the 3 or if she is even interested in getting married just yet. She is that “treasure chest woman” that becomes an actual human being along the story line. She teaches girls to make their choices, and mistakes, and learn along the way, and teaches boys that when a girl says no that means it and that choices is not just something men gets to do. Not surprisingly, Ishita likes both these movies a lot.
Now in India, we are moving toward a better grasp as to what Girl Power is, women are stepping up, demand safety when they venture out of the house, urban middle class little girl are getting access Disney’s movies, to Dora the Explorer (a great cartoon that promotes problem solving and leadership skills). Like we did in the West, India is departing from a more traditional literature and role models. It’s no longer just Sita that has to be won in an archery contest, Sita that breaks the rules and cross the safety line, Sita than then see her virtue questionned by Ram upon rescuing her (when his is undisputed). It’s no longer just Draupadi the common wife of 5 brothers that decided to share her over fighting over her like a piece of property, the same Draupadi that is leading the 5 brothers to go to war when another man dare trying to touch her. Nope India is on the same realisation path where women are transitioning from trophies and properties to actually be human beings…we are still a long way from having accomplished that, but it’s getting there.
But as the video pointed, 1 out of 5 women in the US has been a victim of sexual assault. That is in the US, after girls have been empowered with at least 2-3 decades of empowerment. And as Colin Stokes points out, that means there are a lot of men who are sexual offenders out there…it’s not women’s fault, it’s not what they are doing or not doing, but it probably is what boys that grow up into men are lead to take as a good role model: Fight evil, get rewarded with a girl who has no depth and doesn’t talk. And that is in Hollywood movies, Bollywood takes it a notch further by teaching boys that no only the hero fights evil and get the girl, but that should the girl dare saying no, enough harassing, pestering and even a little physical violence will make her say yes in the end, as there is no such thing as a woman saying no and actually meaning it!
This brings back my friend’s metaphor of the treasure chest filled with gold. Hollywood pretty much teaches the boys the chest will open if your bravery was up to par, but Bollywood teaches you that even if the treasure chest doesn’t open, it is then fine to yank, push, pry and possibly smash it against a rock to access the prize that is inside.
To me it is no wonder anymore, I will empower my daughter, but what are the ones who have sons going to do? That’s where the change needs to be.
Thursday, December 05, 2013
The day before yesterday a friend of mine posted the link to a video on Facebook, the title was: “Learn A Lot From Watching 'Star Wars,' And It Isn't All Good”.
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
Each year the start of December means getting into Christmas mode for me, I start with the Advent Calendar, bake some cookies, do the Christmas tree, celebrate St Nicolas…This year we are going to wait until this coming Sunday to do the tree, simply because Ishita being into Christmas more than ever before this year means we really want to make it a whole family event. The other years I would do it with Ishita watching with DH being in office, this year we all feel it is important to just do it all together, and DH working completely crazy hours combined with Ishita being in bed by 7.30pm (last year she was still fighting sleep until 9) means we are only left with weekends, or what are left of them, as DH is working every other Saturdays. The plan was originally to do it last Sunday, but our fun trip to the mall, got us a bit tired and Ishita totally wiped out, this coming Saturday DH works…which leaves us only the coming Sunday.
That said, I already made a batch of Cinnamon cookies that are already all gone, a batch of Milano cookies that is half finished and there is a plan of doing a batch of Brunsli (I will refer you to my previous year’s lot of Holiday post there, not going to post cookies pictures every year). Last Saturday Ishita and I made one hand made Christmas decoration together:
I had enough green paper left from the advent calendar to make a wreath, we gift wrapped a toilet paper roll and an empty matchbox to make little gifts, pasted old gift tags that came with gifts my dad sent us last year, added a snowman made of face cleaning cotton pads, and cut out shapes out of Christmas themed craft paper, added some ribbon leftover from the Halloween Witch Hat project, taped our masterpiece to the door between the hallway and the living room and voila, a little festive spirit infused into the flat!
I now just wished the weather would start feeling a bit more like Winter, because while it was dry and cool when we came back from Thailand, we are now experiencing a return of the humidity and heat that is almost making it feel as bad as what October in Mumbai is. Which is not exactly making me fall into the December Holiday festive spirit just yet, but according to my weather app we should be seeing a change and cooler temperatures toward the end of the week…and I sure hope they are right.
Meanwhile Ishita keeps asking when Santa will come, and my explanation of “When all the door on the advent calendar are open” is not satisfactory enough, she asked me to open number 24 yesterday to make Christmas come (I love the thinking process there). She has been wishing for a princess scooter since March, which I told her all along will be something Santa will bring her, and she hasn’t forgotten…Santa has to bring her one, and some elves working at Flipkart have scooters of that kind in stock…though of course Santa better hurry to place his order all while hoping the Flipkart guy will deliver when Ishi is in school.
Falling into the festive mood as you can see.
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
When you have kids, your life changes completely, and for us here in Mumbai it means ishita is pretty much tagging along all the time as we have no family and relative nearby to watch over her, baby sitting which is an institution in Switzerland is a totally unknown concept here in India. DH and I had only about 2-3 dates without Ishita since she was born, all done while she was in school and DH wasn’t in office.
Today, I went out for lunch, but not with DH who was working, instead I got myself a girl’s lunch date, 2 of my friends and I decided to indulge ourselves at one of these “Barbecue Nation” type grill restaurant, one of my friend because she is the only non-vegetarian in her house and can’t have it home, me and the other, because we love grilled food. At first none of us realised it had another advantage. The fact that our kids were all off to school around noon, and would remain to until at least 3pm meant we were faced with one of these very rare occurrences of being out in public without our kids.
No trying to get a 4-5 years old to sit still in a restaurant, no potential broken plate, spilled sauces, and urge to play with the salt and pepper shakers. No “I want this…no yuck I don’t like it”, no sudden “Mama I want to go to the bathroom” just when your food is hot on the plate. No “mama I want to go home…NOW”, and of course no kids constantly screaming “mamaaaaaaaaaa” in our ears while hopelessly trying to have a conversation with the other grown ups at the table.
It took us a few minutes to realise how weird that felt to be able to actually talk full sentences without interruption, and not having to solve a toddler crisis, or suddenly be engaged in a far less grown up talk that involve words like pee or poo. Heck we even talked about movies and TV shows that didn’t have a mouse or a princess for a central character.
We spent two hours taking our own sweet time with the unlimited barbecue starters, and then unlimited main course buffet, savouring just about every bites, knowing we could and nobody would stress us out into swallowing food whole in order to be out the door before one kid or another made us leave in embarrassment with their typical kindergarten age antics.
We ended up leaving stuffed with food, relaxed, and exclaiming “We have to do that again one day”
These are the simple little thing that SAHM suddenly see as a luxury, while others who are working in offices or have no kids would take as granted. One of these little break in a day that makes it that much more perfect. Not that we hate our kids, on the contrary, it’s just that once in a while you need moments during which you aren’t just defined as “Mom”, moments where you have your own birth name back to your person, and likes of your own to go with it.
Today was one of these days, I even ignored the house chores and mess, tomorrow is another day to deal with it all.
Monday, December 02, 2013
It’s that time of the year again! And this year I am going to blissfully enjoy the fact I’m not going to be in the boxes this year. No moving 4 days before Christmas this year, no tensions, no hundred people visiting the flat at all odd hour, no feeling beat on Christmas day after 4 days straight of packing and unpacking…ah!!!!!
This year I decided to do another toilet paper roll advent calendar in the shape of a tree, simply because that looks really nice, and this year I planned better, not having to cut kitchen tissue rolls to size and buying all my TP in one brand to get the same diameter of rolls, making a more even tree in the process. I filled it with stickers, chocolate and little art supplies this year, no plastic trinkets I will end up stepping on, no hair clips that will get lost a few month later.
I wanted to put that blog post up on Sunday, but we are having some internet connection glitches, and I am currently on DH’s Tata Photon rather than our home connection. Yesterday we also spent all afternoon at the mall, with the initial plan of getting a yellow t-shirt for Ishita’s yellow day in school (which was today) but ended giving the car for a full inside out clean up and enjoyed some coffee and cake in Starbucks…where I fell in love with yet another of their seasonal coffee…move over Pumpkin Spice Latte, you’ve been bested by Praline Mocha! On these words I’ll leave, the airtel guy is her to fix my connection.
Saturday, November 30, 2013
Our recent trip to Thailand exposed us to the first time international travellers, a phenomenon I saw countless time over the years as I am no stranger to holidays abroad. Our flight from Mumbai to Bangkok had a significant amount of such people, and the reason I noticed a fair percentage of them is because these were acting like total asses. They exists in every country, every culture and they usually end up being rude and insulting. The ones on that flight were behaving like brats, shouted at the flight attendants not getting why they would not serve them food before all the other passenger, demanded special meals they never booked in advance and that didn’t exist, threw fits because they could not open the overhead compartment and couldn’t wait two minutes for a cabin crew to help, they pushed, poked, and rules and regulations didn’t apply to them. I haven’t seen these past the airport though, they were that breed of travellers that go the tour operator package route, DH and I went the independents way. Not only because we are both more seasoned travellers, but because we like having a free schedule on our holidays…but that is not the point of this post. When you are venturing out of your native country for the first time, there are things you need to do in order to prepare yourself, not just what to pack, and what vaccines to have, I won’t tough these here, because these are things all travellers virgin or not have to figure out.
Nope my list of tips is to make the life of the locals, fellow travellers and in the long run the life of the first timer easier.
1) Even if you go a tour operator all inclusive trip route, educate yourself on the country you are going to visit beforehand. It sounds redundant, but you just should NEVER expect the world to be just like home, there are different etiquette protocol, dress code, and customs the world over. You don’t need to know them all, you just need to have a rough overview of what to expect, and the job of learning that is not a tedious one, just a few pages to read in the Lonely planet or a website. I’ve seen many Westerners in India who just think it is ok to walk around in tiny tank tops and even tinier shorts…while there are no restrictions on dress code outside temples and places of worship, don’t be surprised if your attire rub people the wrong way, you don’t have to go all local, or dress in potato sacks, but parading around half naked is not very respectful…period.
To some of my fellow passengers on the Bangkok bound flight: Thai do not seem to put a same show of hierarchy and power play as it is done in India, so tone it down, just because you can afford an international vacation which would elevate your status in your own community back home doesn’t mean you are above anybody else, or have even a right to treat the cabin crew like garbage, simply on the base fact that you paid “good money” and therefore are entitled to have all your whims and fancies answered…sorry.
2) It’s ok to have a special diet, religious or ethic based, but you must be prepared that there are regions of the world where your dietary needs will be misunderstood, not understood at all and that feeding yourself might not be as easy as back home. You need to plan accordingly, it’s not your destination country’s job to figure out that in your country strictly veg means no egg but dairy allowed, or that if you are Jain it means the onion and garlic needs to stay off the plate. If you ask nicely some restaurants will accommodate you, but don’t expect it to be a norm. There was a group of six on our flight that was Jain vegetarian, and didn’t know they had to place a special meal order at the time of check in. They instead pestered and harassed the crew for over an hour to provide something that was simply not there…I’ll let the fact it was 1 am and they probably ate before boarding slide…when you have a very specific diet, you plan ahead, that group was probably on an all inclusive tour with a vegetarian chef tagging along, but you must still be ready not to have every single meals on the whole trip planned your way. Again better read about your destination’s country culture and cuisine in advance to avoid being taken short notice. In the same vein the foreigners that would find the lack of steak and fries outrageous in India would make me roll my eyes just the same.
3) Observe the world around you, travelling gives you that wonderful opportunity to learn about others, to be exposed to something new and different and learn from it. The lonely planet and other guides will not cover everything, you need to use your judgement…a lot. One thing that has disturbed me a little on our recent Thailand trip was the total disregard the Indian travellers we saw around had for rules. Thais seem to like their discipline, have a much much higher sense of civism than even my Swiss compatriots, there are signs written in English along with pictures everywhere to make people’s life easier, little rules to follow to make it so. The prime example is the blue line standing 3-4 feet away from the luggage conveyor belt in the airport, with “No trolley beyond this line” written in English, in Thai and accompanied by a picture explaining it. The logic being that cramming the trolleys right smack against the belt will make it difficult for anybody to access their suitcase in the first place. My observation led me to see that all travellers in airports observe that rule, the only one breaking it blatantly were Indian. Pushing and being chaotic is accepted and common place in India…but that should not mean one should be above rules in another country. Ditto with the ladies in the Gate’s bathroom in Bangkok, if you took time to observe things around while on your trip around Thailand you would have noticed that people stay in line so don’t go cutting it to be in the loo before everybody else, and you surely must have noticed that not a single public bathroom on your trip was filthy (that surprised me…cleanest bathrooms I have ever seen in all my travels) so when you decide to refresh yourself and wash your face, don’t go all Tsunami in there, two ladies were doing so before boarding the flight back to Mumbai, once their face was fresh, the entire bathroom was slippery and wet…simply DISGUSTING, and just because you can get way with it in India doesn’t mean it’s even polite anywhere, what you end up achieving with this is giving a bad rep to your entire nation in the eye of the people in your host country, especially if said country place an utmost importance on hygiene. Just because civism might be a lost notion where you come from doesn’t mean the entire world thinks the same. Observe! People routinely give their seats to old people, women or children on public transports? Do the same. People wipe the splatter around a sink in a public bathroom…do the same, you see a queue with people waiting patiently? Don’t jump it. See some signs around you written in something you can read or understand, you are not immune to what it says, follow the instructions. You see a clean park or beach with enough dustbins to dispose of your trash…use them.
4) When in doubt, it’s ok to ask. Not asking and making assumptions is a tricky thing when you re faced with a dilemma because there is 50% chances you will be wrong and offend a lot of people if not break a capital rule. If you aren’t sure you can take a picture in one particular place and can’t see a sign pointing one way or another, ask a local. Of course always ask when specifically wanting to take a picture of somebody, that’s the polite way. If you aren’t sure about stepping into a specific place inside a temple, ask. It will make you appear respectful in any case, never stupid or ignorant…not doing so however will.
5) If you know nothing about something, don’t have an opinion…learn first. There is nothing more annoying that the self proclaimed know it all on a holiday. They know better than all, they are the best, the rest of the world is wrong, there is no nation more advanced and superior than their own and they will never miss an occasion to rub it in the face of anybody be it on holidays or back home…frankly it is going to the point as to wonder why that type of people even bothered travelling at all in the first place. It’s ok to be proud of your home country, not ok to make the other inferior. Each countries have their strength and flaws, expats that have been in a host country long enough do understand enough of the internal politics to have an opinion…as a tourist, you don’t, so thread carefully.
6) Just before you can, doesn’t mean you should. Goes along the line of actually spending time reading the cultural overview of a country before travelling. But I will not repeat it enough. Try to act responsibly the world over, just because you can pay to take picture with a wildlife animal somewhere doesn’t mean you should, the prime example in Phuket was of what we learned visiting the Gibbon rehabilitation center, these animals are poached, an illegal practice, and then the owner of those creatures makes as much profit from them before dumping them or killing them when they stop being cute or too difficult to handle. As a tourist, you can take a pic, all it costs you is a few dollars/rupees whatever. But the repercussions on the environment and wildlife are much deeper, and as long as people will pay for “just one innocent picture” there will be poacher willing to break the rules and kill. This is only one example, but there are some the world over. And that will be my conclusion to this blog post.
Travelling is a wonderful opportunity to learn, always make the most of it.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
Cities in India have far more wildlife living in them than European cities by far, and Mumbai has one notorious predator that made it its home (or rather was there all along and never left): the leopard.
Yes you read that right, leopard, as the spotted nocturnal big cat. The reason being that in the outskirt of what is the actual Mumbai city (the one that has its city limits around Mahim) there is a national park, that park was once upon a time clearly outside the urban limits, and thanks to mass the expansion of Mumbai that lead to a succession of suburbs, the park is now in the middle of densely populated hub, the areas in the immediate boundaries of the national park are used to relatively frequent sightings of the big cats, in slums like settlements there even have been death cases, mostly childrens that leopards tend to mistake as small preys rather than consider them as human, and adult humans who go squatting in the bushes at night to relieve themselves, which again register in the mind of a leopard as nothing remotely human and a potential prey.
On rare occasion, leopard are sighted in the well heeled residential building compound built in close proximity to the park. Our area is one of these, though we aren’t exactly close to the park in question, there is just enough undeveloped terrain in between. My area has seen one death in the past 10 years, an unfortunate toddler that was playing outside after sunset. But since then the cats have been sighted regularly enough without incidents. In 2011 there was a notice in my building’s message board reporting such a sighting, the notice was detailed enough reminding people not to walk near the bushes and compound wall at night alone, and to not let the children play outside unsupervised and reminded people not to panic. Last year there were no notice, but just a few days ago the notice came again, announcing that some leopards have been sighted in the area on two occasions in the previous week at least, the notice was less elaborate than the previous time, but reminded people to be cautious after dark and avoid letting kids play outside alone.
This time around however, it turned into a paranoid fear of being out with kids alone, kids were kept indoor, forbidden to be out after school. And for a couple of days I was the only one still taking Ishita out for an hour or so to come back just after the sunset, most of her friends’ parents kept their kids inside under leopard curfew, the talk of the neighbourhood was about the spotted cat, the myth, the facts, came out, the rumours spread. The fear started grasping people the night few saw the big cat walking peacefully and casually on a pipeline away from too urbanized setting. The nasty fear…the blood thirsty killer was out, how could the authorities have let that happened! Outrage! Never mind that the cats have been seen regularly enough in the past couple of years with not a single attack on the humans living here, never mind that this time around there hasn’t been a single incident either. People suddenly feared for their lives. Many claiming that leopard only venture out in townships to attack humans and that it was the reason why it was there again. Sadly the sensational thirsty newspapers do not care to dispel the myth in question, and I for my part was among a minority (but certainly not the only one) of people who were not gripped by the psychosis in question, knowing the facts about our notorious indigenous predators. They aren’t human blood thirsty, a healthy adult leopard will not hunt a human on purpose, an adult human is far too big for them to drag to a hide out to eat, the few cases of death are all children, who were all playing or walking near bushes or near a forested area during the hours a leopard is active, simply because the cat mistook them for something else due to their short size. The adults who have been mauled, were resident of hut settlements without running water and were relieving themselves in the bushes at night, again their squatting down reducing their size and human appearance leading to the leopard mistaking them for some other small prey. Have there been instance of human killers? Yes, but my research only pointed at old, and wounded animals that could not hunt otherwise, they are not the norm. In my area people suddenly got gripped with ideas that the leopard would come running in the open and attack people…little do they bothered find out that Leopards do not really like being in urban territory and certainly not in open space, the ones sighted in our area have always been sighted in the neighbouring forest-y compound, or as close to the boundary wall as possible in ours before leaping back to safety in the bushes and trees on the other side. Like most cats they are solitary animals, who flee crowd and noise. As an anecdote, I went on a safari in Kenya as a kid, and during that one week the only animal we could not see was the leopard. Our guide explained that it was one of the toughest animal to spot in the savannah, first because they like to rest in tree dense area, then because they are nocturnal and hide well to sleep during daylight, and lastly because they are far more shy than cheetahs or lions. In short if leopard can stay in hiding, they will. Not very consistent with the wild idea my fellow neighbours had of an animal that would run around and create havoc in the area huh?
But then seeing the wildfire psychosis that suddenly grasped the neighbourhood, I went researching a bit more, in the chance I could have been totally wrong and downplaying things. Googling “Leopards in Mumbai” will pretty much only yield sensational articles and reports of death…all by the popular newspapers in the country, we all know what sells: drama, blood and gore, so not very surprised by the result of that search, not one article bothered to elaborate on leopards facts. One published in the Mirror recently did hint at the fact that cohabitation was possible, but not a very welcomed solution. Clearly I needed a better Google search key words. So I typed “Are leopards dangerous to humans”, after sifting through the usual lot of wiki answers and yahoo groups answers that are in most cases rubbish regardless of the question you type in Google I ended up finding a few articles that are more fact and research based. Yes human death due to leopard attacks are numerous enough, but only because it’s the only big cat that lives in too near proximity to urban settlement. Then there was this very good interview of a Wildlife Conservationist named Krishna Tiwari who lives in Mumbai which you can read here, in this interview he replies to the actual question of danger with this statement.
“It’s important to keep perspective. Leopards do kill humans when they are provoked, or when they mistake humans for other animals. But thousands of people die every year in road and rail accidents in Mumbai. And if you compare this with people being killed by leopards, the risk is negligible. In fact, it is the leopards that are in danger. Heavy infrastructure growth and encroachment on nature has altered the habitats of these cats and depleted their prey base. This has threatened their future survival.”
I myself can only nod in agreement with the above statement. It just about summarizes what I have learned and read about leopards in the past, what few articles in papers over the years have said. They are not cold blooded killers and will not kill humans on purpose. To me it always seemed that the rate at which the city is developing, and the rest of the country by extension was pausing far more a danger to the big cat than the spotted feline was to us humans. All the other conclusive articles I found in my web search pointed to the same thing, ALL.
Meanwhile a bushwacking, tree trimming, and barbwire checking frenzy is going in the area in order to make the place less tempting for our feline neighbour to visit, flood lights have been installed around the wall compound, and the grapevine spoke of the forest department capturing one adult and one cub in the past few days. People hearing that are slowly breaking their curfew…the beast has been caught…hooray! All the while I don’t delude myself. We only got to know about their presence because of that notice and because someone in one of the neighbouring compound spotted one, but it’s almost every year that an adult and cubs are spotted in the area, the fact there was no notice last year didn’t mean there were no leopards. Kids were playing outside unsupervised, an attack could just have about happened anytime. I know that in a matter of days people will have forgotten all about it, the bushes will be left to grow wild again with very little maintenance, until the next notice…No one really wants to deal with the fact that no notice in the message boards doesn’t mean there is no risk, and that 3-4 days of panic induced fear of the outdoor is not the way to go. Education, dispelling myth and learning to live with the big cat’s presence is far more fruitful. And frankly speaking letting a child play unsupervised never stroke me as safe, feline predator or not. There are so many other ways a child could get killed in this area, and the one that makes people react is the least likely to happen…
Monday, November 25, 2013
The freshness of my Thailand trip memories is sadly fading away, and I need to write about our food experience there before Christmas sucks me in (already made cookies if that says something)
I wished we stayed longer to be able to experience the food better to be frank, one week was simply not enough, especially since on most days we pretty much ate breakfast at the hotel and then ate dinner. First thing a traveller from India needs to absolutely know before going to Thailand is that Thai cuisine is primarily non-veg, which can be a huge problem if you are vegetarian as fish sauce is a condiment used in almost every dish to give them that tangy salty flavour…including dishes that would be vegetable based (not that I saw many of these on the menu, or even really cared about). Another thing that Indian travellers need to know even if they are non-veg is that Thai love seafood and you will find it on the menu everywhere, along with beef and pork. Chicken does exist, and the Indonesian Chicken Satay is a very popular starter you will find just about anywhere in Phuket or Bangkok, and all Thai curries on the menus let you choose what meat you want in, at least in the touristic places. To an Indian willing to be carnivore there will be some familiarities in the texture and to some extent the taste as Thai food can be spicy, though many dishes are more aromatic than red hot chilli hot. Coconut milk is used to make most gravies, and the food is always eaten with some rice.
Now since I’m a happy carnivore, I don’t really mind any meat, and I love seafood…that my dear is my little regret, we didn’t stay long enough for me to try one of these fresh seafood restaurants in Phuket for dinner, as we just had too little time and way too many options…and a 4 years old that needed the familiar and comforting in the food department (I blogged about it, kids usually don’t give a hoot about the gastronomic value of a holiday). In Phuket a lot of restaurants will put a fine display of fresh prawns, lobsters and fish on ice at the entrance of their restaurant to lure you in, and if DH wasn’t repelled by the idea of eating fish, I’m sure we would have gone to one of these places even under the crunch of time.
Another thing that is very nice to know to the foreign traveller, is that you don’t need to know what tom yum, pad thai and other Thai dishes are, all the menus we went through all had pictures of all the dishes, in some places, even a special picture book handed to you along with the text menu, and when you order something, what you see is what you get, a thing I thought was limited to touristic Phuket, but noticed in Bangkok as well in restaurants that are not frequented by tourists, even in malls food court you are sure to find a replica of a dish in the form of a picture, display plate, or even Japanese style wax sculpture of the dish, which in all cases makes it very easy to order even if you don’t speak Thai, can’t pronounce a name or just have no idea what something means. To speak frankly, some of that could be applied in some restaurants in India. I remember my first few restaurants outing in the country being confusing as there is no way of knowing what a Murgh Badami looks like versus a Murgh Makhani…and if you are new to India even know that Murgh means chicken, granted some menus give you a description of the dish, but not all, and I have many friends who visited India and found themselves puzzled in front of a restaurant menu. Equally, pictures could be present on continental menus back home as well, as expecting anybody to know what a “Steak tartare” is or that “Escargots” are actually snails (as the slimy garden pest snail…yes indeed) is a bit pompous…of my soap box I go!
In Phuket we ate our breakfast at the hotel as it was included in the price, and they offered a lot of fresh fruits, eggs, bacon (ohhhhhh heaven!), ham and your usual cereals and bread, butter and jam…with the bread being homemade. We usually ate a big breakfast that was filling enough to only have us want a snack at the beach later in the day, and then we headed to one of the many restaurants in Karon all serving a mix of grilled continental food, Chinese and Thai. DH fell in love with red curry Chicken, I just couldn’t miss eating prawns, which I did a lot, along with Pad Thai noodles I actually ordered for Ishita while sticking to a prawn cocktail salad (knowing I would be eating about 90% of her noodles). Ate enough Satay chicken to make me want to cook some at home (need time to hunt for recipes to try). And one night with Ishita being a supreme cranky pot and us being quite tired by our elephant safari/jungle hike/canoe trip we headed to the first restaurant we saw which served primarily some Italian food…which turned out to be the real good stuff like the one I would find in an Italian family owned place in Geneva. I enjoyed a real spaghetti alla carbonara there.
In Bangkok we stayed in a restaurant in which we opted not to have the breakfast included because we expected to be out as much as possible on our last two days, the first night a mere hour after we reached the hotel, tired and a bit confused I managed to locate a small mall near our place and told DH we could head there and find a restaurant there. It became clear that that tiny mall is frequented by locals almost exclusively, and for a brief moment I felt very confused and out of place, most restaurants in there were Japanese and Thai, and there was a KFC which at this point I didn’t feel like visiting, it’s when Ishita saw a picture of Noodles in front of a restaurant that we sealed the deal on what was a Japanese place doing an all you can eat menu deal involving sushi, and all kind of meat, veggies and noodles you cook in a broth that gets placed on your table on a built in induction plate. I ordered a crap load of sushi having missed them in the 10 years I spent in India. DH being less adventurous than me and not quite getting what the menu deal was opted for a Japanese chicken noodle bowl meal instead, Ishita being a kid was eating free of charge and she got a plate of udon noodle to cook in the broth along with some dim sum type dumplings and was happy with that. That night DH said he has never seen such a sparkle in my eye as when the sushi arrived on the table…I used to eat them once a week in Switzerland as it has become a popular lunch option, I ate sashimi once in a Japanese restaurant in Bangalore, and when returning to Switzerland ate Sushi only once again, so in 10 years since I left Geneva I ate raw fish dishes only twice! no wonder the glimmer in my eyes was so noticeable, as for DH…it was his first time coming face to face with sushi, he thought it was a kind of fish, he was surprised to know it was the name of a dish with many variant. He ended up surprising me that night wanting to try one, but while the idea of eating salmon, or prawns totally repelled him he took a chance with a salmon roe (as in salmon eggs) sushi roll complete with seaweed wrap! His verdict: bland, but not as fishy tasting as he was fearing. He didn’t want to try it with the soy sauce and wasabi paste to make it taste better, but he tried something out of his comfort zone, which food wise doesn’t happen too often. On the way back to the hotel that night we just stopped to buy individual serve milk cartons for Ishita to drink in the morning while getting ready for the day as our hotel plan was without breakfast, added a few biscuits, all purchased from the supermarket in that same mall, where my curiosity got triggered as I wanted to know what the middle class Bangkok dweller had access to. I noticed that pretty much like in Phuket fruits are a big staple, far more than vegetables which are mostly eggplants, cucumbers, leafy greens and beans and only used as part of a meat dish judging by what was in the restaurants serving Thai food. Vegetables like broccoli and bell peppers are actually costlier than in India clearly. I didn’t venture long enough in the meat section to check the prices, but the variety was good, and the rest of the store was full of condiments, crackers and instant noodles with prints in Thai or Chinese which I could not read, this made be feel like living there as an expat might be even more challenging than being one in India.
The next morning we used the pool at the hotel before heading out for breakfast and a full day of shopping, exploring Bangkok’s malls, we kept it simple heading for a coffee shop not different than any you would find in India, then at one point Ishi got cranky and spotted a Starbucks asking me for cake…leave to a 4 years old to spot the familiar, so we headed there, and we spent the evening at the Asiatique Night market, where we finished the day eating at an Italian restaurant…too tired to really venture in unchartered territory, which ended up being just that for DH since he is used to Indianized Italian whcih has replaced red meat by chicken even in pasta dishes, in the end he settled for a chicken breast dish, while Ishita wanted a Pizza, I ordered another of these things I just can’t find in India without paying a ridiculous price for it: Parma ham pizza, which when it got served to our table looked, smelled and ended up tasting like the authentic ones I got in many true blue Italian restaurants back home. What I found very interesting with the two Italian dishes I tried in Thailand was how true to the real thing they were in a country where I would assume it would be a stretch for the locals to like such cuisine that is relatively bland in comparison to Thai cuisine, granted I doubt country-side dwellers would try it, but to me it gave me an idea that those who live in cities and can afford it seem t not have a problem stepping out of their comfort zone trying new things the way Indians do. As 10 years in India taught me that Indians prefer the safe and comforting when it comes to food, and while continental cuisine is starting to be more common, it is still fairly modified to please a desi palate, ditto with Chinese food, which in many places is actually Indo-Chinese. Not saying there are no tweaking of exotic cuisine happening in Switzerland, but never to the point of having the spice palette of a cuisine change entirely the way it happens in many places over here. But then eating out is a very new concept in India, and might not be as new in Thailand, though I didn’t get to figure that out in our way too short stay there.
Next time we head there I want to try the street food, Thailand being apparently famous for it, and I will definitely have to try one of these seafood buffet.