31 May 2005

The not-so-golden years

One of the saddest things when you live in the Western world is the old people in it. Especially, NZ is a haven for golden oldies, as its much warmer than say UK or many other European countries. So the proportion of aged population is quite high here.

This is probably the reason for this post of mine. Yesterday, when I was driving back home after work, I saw a bent old woman (could be a man, can't be sure as he/she was so heavily bundled up to protect against the Southerlies) walking down. She was so bent by herself, and the two shopping bags she carried in her hand probably only added to the weight. I felt really saddened by that sight. Such an old person, still having to do everything herself.

Its a bad thing in the Western world, where everyone is so busy, they have hardly any time for even their own parents, however old and bent they may be. Give me the Indian system any day, I thought.

And then I thought again. The Indian system? The one in which, theoritically at least, the grown-up children took care of their parents? That may still exist, but only for the lucky parents. Or the rich parents.

And I thought again, of a certain old lady. Mrs S is now old and lives in India. She had many children and some of them are no more. Some live overseas and the remaining four live in India, but in different cities to Mrs S.

Till a few years ago, Mrs S and her husband (who is now no more) lived along with one of their daughters, whose husband was no more. The daughter, Mrs T, and her two children, who had lived with Mrs and Mr S for many years, were able to take care of the aged Mr S, till his death even, along with Mrs S, who was then not too old.

But as time passed, Mrs T's children grew up and went away to different cities and had families of their own. And so, Mrs T was torn between her mother (Mrs S) and her children. Even now, it is she who lives with and takes care of her mother. But it is at the cost of time with her children.

When things get too much for her, or when some of her siblings wash their hands off their mother, her cry is: Can I not even spend time freely with my two children. Everyone else is doing it. Is this asking for too much? How long do I have to bear this responsibility?

But her heart and conscience do not allow her to abandon the old Mrs S all alone. And her children support her decision to stay with her mother, although it is very hard on them not to be able to spend time with their only parent. For their grandmother's need is greater than theirs.

In a way, Mrs S is luckly. At least she has some family with her.

But I can still remember a place called Annai Illam that is near my mom's house in Chennai. So many old people, mostly women, living in that shabby place, and subsisting on charity. They are the victims of a daily tsunami that most people miss. Hence, there is no one doing much for them.

I have heard of other families, where the children have threatened their old parents, asking for their share of the family wealth.

So, is our Indian way or people really superior? In many cases, materialism and selfishness puts paid to an excellent theory of taking care of the old and ailing. Most of them are as busy and uncaring as their Western counterparts.

I wonder what others think. Do let me know. As for me, I can think only about the story of the tin bowl. (in my next post)

25 May 2005

Understanding Kiwi

Vidhu's article on missing India took me back to my early days in NZ. The biggest problem I faced was understanding the Kiwi accent. And believe me, its hard to, even if you know English to follow Kiwi English, unless you are used to it.
Recently, I even read an article on how the UK was going to have test of English for Kiwis wishing to apply for citizenship, as it was so different to English English. Bit like Madras Tamil is to Madurai Tamil.
What's below is what I wrote after a few months of living here. And I still stand by every word in it. True, I have now gotten over the stage of acutely missing India. It is a more insiduous longing now, tempered with caution about an expensive trip back home. But still......

Kiwi English. Nothing had prepared me for it. Looking back, I can now say that nothing, except first hand experience, could have really prepared me for it. Having been brought up in a household and school where I heard, spoke and read as much English as I did my mother tongue, I had been absolutely confident that English, even outside my country, would not be a problem. Moreover, constant exposure to the Hollywood accent through the movies and the British accent on BBC, I had assumed, would stand me in good stead. As well as the occasional visits from relatives Down Under, who did speak with a pronounced twang that I thought was an accent, and was able to follow well enough.
But I soon saw how far from reality my expectations were. My first few days in Kiwidom were utterly chaotic, comprehension wise at least. Although it was only English, it was a veritable Tower of Babel to me. The words I used more than any others were "sorry" or "could you please say that again" or "excuse me" -- at least a dozen times daily.
Everyday activities and situations became fraught with difficulties -- at the supermarket checkout, I was hard put to even imagine what it was that the checkout operators were saying to me. Even when I had the advantage of knowing that it had to be something related to payment for the items purchased. Especially so, since many of them tend to be younger Kiwis, who speak very unclearly anyways.
Callers on the other end of the telephone line seemed to be speaking some mysterious language that bore a faint resemblance to what I had been taught as English.
While on the road, kindly strangers who gave me directions would have been horrified had they realised that I could make out most of what they had told me only by following the movement of their hands, and not lips.
The problem became accentuated when I discovered, after many futile attempts, that in many cases my Indian accent made as little sense to Kiwis as did their accent to me! And this when I had so far assumed that I spoke English with no noticeable accent! After some serious thinking, I resolved to do what any sensible person would have done in this situation -- adopt the Kiwi accent as soon as I could. If Indians in Yankeeland could, and did, sound American within six months of getting there, I could do it too. But easier said (not really) than done! It took me a couple of months to get used to even the vowel sound substitution. That I had to substitute the sound `i' for `e' and say `aye' for `a'. And to understand that, for example, `six' was pronounced `sex', `seaven' was seven, and when someone said `cheer', what they were meaning was, of course, chair!
I had thought my teachers back in school had done a good job of teaching me the Queen's English, but none of them had even the remotest idea that I'd be called upon to speak the language with an accent so different -- some dim combination of British, Scots, Maori and a few other Euro influences. So, I toiled and and consoled myself, saying that I was indeed progressing. I was, in one way. All the unintelligible sounds began to make more sense to me. I was able to understand Kiwi English if it was spoken clearly.
But still my problem was not solved, as my efforts at speaking English with a similar accent seemed to leave many souls more puzzled than they had been with my Indian accent. I was at my wits' end! I had had just about all I could digest of puzzled looks that greeted my efforts at speaking Kiwi English outside the home or the roars of laughter inside that invariably followed after every telephone conversation with a Kiwi at the other end. And so, quite simply, I just quit. But time does heal all -- even accents.

Ha, ha, those were the days. But although now I can understand any Kiwi, my accent continues to be staunchly and stubbornly Indian. Vive le difference!