A TALE OF TWO SISTERS

Our family is growing.

For all the memes and forwards and shares on sibling relationships, familial love and affection, Rama and Urmila will share with you a very different perspective on the bond that sisters can share.

Theirs was as happy a household as any. Their father was a good man. He worked smart and well and took his family along with him on his journey to success. Their mother was an able partner in ensuring it was a happy home. She supported her husband as best as she could, took care of ailing in-laws, taught and groomed her children to do well with everything in life. She ensured the twins focused on their studies, ferried them around to music and dance classes, taught them how to sew, cook, keep home and look after themselves well like progressive women should. She goaded her girls to be ambitious and go after the good things in life. She taught her girls the fine Indian art of “balancing” modernity with tradition. Come Dussera or Diwali, the Sharma family decorated their home for the festivities and turned up on their porch in their modest finery, all laughing and smiling and seemingly celebrating together, painting the picture of a perfect family. Mrs. Sharma meticulously followed the social norms and worked diligently towards her ambition of having her family featured on the cover page of ‘Women’s Era’ someday. “The Poster Family of the Ideal Modern Indian Home” it would read. And she would get her due credit and recognition as the woman behind it all.

And yet, the problem with Mrs. Sharma is she didn’t see what was festering underneath the surface of the happy family. Ambition and competition are both healthy traits if kept in control and perspective. Unfortunately, greed never saw reason, logic or perspective.

Rama was pretty, intelligent, demure and talented. When the time came, she landed the perfect ‘catch’ – she married a technocrat in an affluent family and lived the live, traveling the world with her husband. Mother to three lovely children, she stopped working to concentrate on her children and family. Truth was, it was a comfortable life, so why should she work hard if she had it easy anyway? She was the epitome of grace and happiness to all who saw her. Always turned out in great clothes and perfect looks at every party, she was every woman’s envy and her mother’s dream come true. She had a lovely home, a handsome and successful husband and a caring family, who could ask for more? Unfortunately, for all her blessings, Rama never had a moment of satisfaction and contentment. She was always wanting new clothes, a fancier car, higher grades for her kids, and the next promotion for her husband. She spent all her days living for the new possessions she could have, control she could exercise over her family, and praise, comments and envy that came her way. And she spent all her night worrying and wondering how her stupid sister, with so little, was so much happier than she was. Urmila didn’t possess as much as Rama did, in material terms at least. And yet, every time she met Urmila, Rama envied her more. For something that she couldn’t understand or define.

Let’s talk a bit about podgy Urmila. She did well too. She was not extremely bright, beautiful or gifted. But she was blessed with the understanding that it took a little more than her mother’s list of ingredients to cook up a happy life. She married a brilliant man, one who didn’t have much to claim for himself by way of pedigree. And she went about her happy and quiet life, dreaming and working hard and sharing her future with her lovely husband. And slowly, over time, she added to her mother’s list of ingredients a few new ones – namely hard work, ambition, confidence, resilience, gratitude and genuine care and concern. She tired of meeting her mother and sister for tea and useless natter over their new material acquisitions and social chatter – read malicious gossip of all and sundry. She chose to spend her time with friends instead who appreciated her so much more for the person that she was, not the person she should have been, gaining social approval over her every walk and turn, everyday. For all her imperfections, Urmila looked beautiful, for it was the kind of radiance that came from within, that no skin care regime will guarantee? Need I even begin to tell you how much better this new recipe was for a lasting and happy life?

If you asked Mrs.Sharma which of her daughters was more successful in life, you could see her squirm in discomfort. For she knew the truth and yet, she could never admit it. To the world or to herself. For in all her teaching, she had forgotten to pass onto Rama one simple truth: Choose wisely on how you live your life. Sow the seeds well. Look inward for happiness.  And you will live to tell a happy tale.

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An Ode To A Cup Of Tea!

cup of tea

There are some people who never get their due credit in life. Like the devoted, dedicated wife. Yeah, I can see all you women starting to “like” this post already. There are also some things, that never receive the revered status they reserve. Tea belongs to this category of the over abused and underappreciated.  Much like the middle class housewife. How, prey, are you comparing a tepid cup of tea to the dedicated, strong yet ethereal wife, you ask? Read on.

You cannot find your wallet or specs. Ask the wife. You cannot find the credit card statement. Ask the wife. You don’t know where to take your friends out for dinner. Ask the wife. Do you think you’ve lost weight with all the gymming? Ask the wife. Why is the school charging so much for the extra- curricular activities this year? Don’t bother asking the school. Ask the wife first. Why has the cable service provider disconnected the sports channel? You need to watch the U.S. Open this evening. Ask the wife. What do you do about this one discussion where you do not agree with your parents on the topic? Ask the wife. (Really??! Just this once, you will be surprised by the wisdom she spouts!) Of course, it must be mentioned here that in some exceptions, the over-grown male species in XL sized shorts sometimes continues to ask the old, harassed mother instead of moving onto the replacement called wife. No, I do not consider us replacement for the mothers and I hope to God the men don’t either, but surely you women notice that that is what we are for the most part? Maaaa, where is my towel???? Sheila, where is the towel????!

Now, let us talk about tea. Consider some typical everyday instances in most homes now. Am tired and just back from work and need to unwind. Let’s have some tea. A friend has just come over and is all weepy and needs some good advice. Nothing like a good cup of tea to calm her nerves while we talk it over things. Have a headache? Sit down, relax, have a cup of tea. Friends are coming over for tea. It is Saturday afternoon and you have nothing to do…. switch on the T.V. or curl up in the corner with your favourite book and a mug of tea. You have an important conf-call to take from home, quickly, get yourself some tea before you lock yourself in the study!!! You need to teach your kid some algebra. Better to sit down with a good large cup of tea…this can be quite a task. Seems like tea is a far cheaper and more effective substitute to paracetamol? And no side-effects either!

And yet, we just do not do enough justice to this drink that provides us with salvation, respite and hope every single day.  This elixir that feeds us, yet does not leave us feeling overfed. This infusion that can leave you with such warmth and paves the way for such joy, laughter, warmth and …SAMOSAS. Yes, we forgot to mention. On a cool, balmy evening, tea often brings with it enticements such as hot fritters, pasties, scones, dhoklas, bajjis, sandwiches and samosas. The options are endless. So unassuming, friendly and easy with everyone. You can have tea and then sit down to a lavish dinner or stuff yourself well at the brunch and wash it all down with some tea. You can have tea in any season, with just about anyone. Not like the conceited wine or egotistic whiskey. They are too pricey, for one, and come with way too many exclusions and clauses. And yet, so many fridge magnets and bottle openers that pay respect to the latter while the unassuming tea is all but forgotten.

Of course, the English have a National Day dedicated to tea I think and there was some mild attempt at observing the International Tea Day on December 15th. Well, I got to know of it only now because I googled it. For me, every day is Tea day. Ladies and gentlemen, before you sit down with your cup of tea next time around, be sure to take a moment to appreciate this fine brew and the warmth it brings to your life, every single day. And if it is the lady of the house who has made your tea for you, all the more reason to appreciate the tea and the effort she has put in to bring some warmth to your life.

Dedicated to all my cha loving and cha making friends. You know who you are!

Moving to the U.K. with your family this autumn? Here is what you need to know!

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Moving to the U.K. soon after the summer season can be challenging in more ways than one. Especially so, if you are moving along with your family and have school-aged children. We first got here over a year and a half ago and while I cannot say we aced everything, it has been relatively hassle-free. This was partially down to some amount of luck and largely due to a fair amount of planning and research. This year, as I see new families move in and struggle a bit to settle down, I was tempted to put together a two-part write up that will hopefully be of help and make life easier for those of you who are new here.

In the first part detailed below, I have brought together some information, tips and tricks that we found useful when we first moved here. I have mostly referenced to resources that are available all over the country. I am certain you will be able to find smaller and similar groups / associations / communities closer to the region you move into.

Please note this is not all-encompassing in terms of information and not necessarily what may work best for all families. However, it will provide you with some good information that can serve as a starting point for you and your loved ones.  Do leave me a note if you found this useful, and also, please share this post with folks who might find it helpful.

Here are my top 10 pointers to help you with your move here:

  1. Background Research: Do your homework on the region or locality you will be moving into within the UK. Look into neighborhood demographics, schools, application processes and housing options well before the move. Some basic online research and networking will yield all useful information, including rental and sale prices on housing, school availability and application process and a lot more. Keep a few important factors in mind:

Schooling – If you have school going children, identify a locality/ council with schools rated well by OFSTED and make sure you are looking for houses in the vicinity of  good schools. Your children will be eligible for seats in schools provided you are in the “catchment area” for those schools (subject to availability of seats at those schools). This is especially important if your children will be going to state schools. Ideally, your choice of home should be based on both factors – good schools + safe middle class neighbourhood. It is always a good idea to visit the school so you get an idea of the environment – both literally and figuratively speaking. Also keep in mind that housing in the U.K. is expensive, and the typical English home is very small in size. So, if you are used to American sizes and standards, I suggest you leave your furniture behind in your old home 😉. In the U.K., unless we are talking museums and parks, small is beautiful!

 With regard to schooling, while the local council is supposed to ensure your child secures a seat in the local school, they do tend to take their time and their suggestions are not always the best options. Therefore, I suggest you proactively identify the best schools in your catchment, write to them and follow up with the schools regularly on your child’s placement while working with the local city council in parallel to secure your child’s seat. Also remember, Reception, Year I and Year VII (secondary school) admissions are through council announcements in September of the previous year, so keep a watch out for those. This would be your biggest problem sorted. And as they say, well begun is half the task done.

Useful Links:

Housing: https://www.rightmove.co.uk/, https://www.zoopla.co.uk/,

Schools: https://admissionsday.co.uk/,  https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ofsted, 

Living: https://www.internations.org/great-britain-expats/guide

  1. Connectivity – If you will be driving in the UK from the get-go, your choice of accommodation or location of residence will not be limited. But if you are going to live in London proper, or live elsewhere in the UK and won’t be driving, make sure you live close to a train (or tube or DLR in London) line or in the very least, on the bus route. This will be super important given your commute to work and your children’s schools. It is an equally important factor if you are a stay-at-home adult, as life here can get disconnected and lonely, especially in the winters. Public transport in the UK is decent, if not the best. And you would be wise to make good use of it and get out and about easily during the duller part of the year, to keep your spirits up. Ask around at the train / bus stations or check on-line for deals on transport services if you are likely to use public transport on a regular basis – there will be plenty of frequent traveler plans that will work well for you. You can drive in the U.K. for the first year of your residence with an international travel permit, if you have one. But the sooner you take the local driving test, the better it is. I am told it is not an easy one at all!

Useful Links:

Trains in the UK:  https://www.thetrainline.com/

London Underground: https://tfl.gov.uk/

Driving License: https://www.gov.uk/browse/driving/driving-licences

  1. Money Matters: Taxation in the UK is very high and leaves you with far lesser disposable income than most countries. Living expenses are higher than average as well, more so in London. Do some research on pay averages in your sector and plan your finances. Be prepared to feel the pinch a bit in the initial months of settling in, when you are likely to have more expenses. It also takes a considerable amount of time to get your bank accounts opened and going and the country is particular about its paperwork and all related regulations, so I would recommend that you have an existing account with a reputed international bank when you come into the country. This makes your initial months of settling in easier.

Useful Links:

https://www.gov.uk/income-tax-rates

https://transferwise.com/gb/blog/cost-of-living-in-the-uk

  1. Weather in the U.K. and Surviving It: Listen to and register all the popular and well-intended advice. Take your Vitamin – D supplements regularly starting as soon as Summer ends. If you choose to follow only one piece of advice, let it be this one. For any of us who come from tropical countries – winter in the U.K. can be extremely dreary and depressing. It is not the cold weather, but the absolute lack of sunlight for days on end, that gets to you. Make sure you step out during the morning once you have finished all your chores, even if you have nowhere particular to go to. Getting ready and stepping out for a bit of day-light can be a great mood enhancer during the dull days. England is one of the best places to explore on foot. It’s tree lined avenues and narrow streets make for brilliant walks. You can choose a different path every day as you explore your neighborhood and you can pick up your essentials and groceries on your way back. You can also take the bus or train into the nearest city-center and do some solo adventures. Libraries, community centers, charity shops and organizations are plenty in the UK and most of them are looking for volunteers. If you are a stay-at-home parent and still waiting to build your social circle, you can consider volunteering some time with your local charity. It is a nice way to spend your time, support a good cause and make friends in the bargain. Also, do not let a sunny day trick you into believing it will be warm outside. Get into the routine of checking the weather predictions before you head out the door, and just so you know, they are rarely wrong. The predictions on the weather app, I mean😊

In the cold season, dress in layers – and always carry an umbrella or a rain-coat. As the saying goes, you are likely to face 4 seasons in a day in the U.K.; so be prepared.

Useful Links:

https://www.accuweather.com,

https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/public/weather

5. Make good use of the internet and social media: Sign up to be a part of the residential and networking groups local to you. There are many expat groups in the UK, depending on your ethnicity. Choose to be a part of the groups that are local to where you will be living. Reach out and put yourself out there in the open and ask for help. People will be forthcoming with advice, inputs and help to ensure you feel at ease in a new place. We moved to a small quiet town in the West Midlands at the end of summer. I signed-up on a Facebook group that was focused on my area and asked to make friends with folks as I was feeling a bit lonely. You will be pleasantly surprised at how many people responded – with invitations to tea, walks and a catch-up. Some, who have turned out to be great friends since that first ping! I also suggest you try to go to the first few open-house or festive meetings and gatherings – makes for an opportunity to make some interesting new friends.

6. This country works on a planned approach to life. The British do not care much for surprises and they definitely don’t deal very well with them. So, if you are the spontaneous sorts, I suggest you leave the spontaneity bit aside for when you take an impromptu walk in the park. Get on-board with the scheduling of meetings, appointments, lunches, birthday and anniversary tea-parties weeks in advance! Heck, even doctor appointments, where possible must be well-planned (Please don’t ask me how that is done, I haven’t figured it out until now). And if you are planning Christmas lunches, send out your invites soon as autumn sets in. As for term-end holidays, the country goes mental. So you would be wise to plan your travel and stay bookings for your holidays at least a few months in advance, if you want decent deals.

  1. Register with your local NHS clinic soon as you have moved into your new home. If you have children under 10 or adults over 65 in your family, make sure you avail of the free flu-jab facilities for them. Especially if you are going to face your first winter in the UK. It can be very harsh and the flu is no fun at all!! Also, if your income and benefits permit, you may want to consider taking on an additional insurance package that allows you private health and dental coverage – especially if you have family members with special medical needs. From my limited experience, NHS care in this country is brilliant, but getting the appointments and getting your slots on-time can be a harrowing and painful experience, particularly during the winter months. Keep in mind that you can call NHS 111 for some immediate phone assistance if you cannot reach your GP in an emergency. Also know that you can walk into your local pharmacy and get some immediate help for basic ailments with some OTC meds.

Useful Links:

https://www.nhs.uk/

https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/nhs-services/urgent-and-emergency-care/nhs-111/

  1. The U.K. is extremely family and disabled friendly and if you don’t mind the weather, you will always find plenty to do for you and your family. Find a community center in your area. Most neighborhoods have one. There will be lots of activities for adults and children alike that will be conducted at these places. And the charges are usually reasonable. Dabble about with a few hobbies until you find something you like to be engaged with, on a more regular basis. Every big city has numerous places of interest to explore such as parks, farms, museums, libraries, canals and mansions and quite a few of them with free or very nominal entry charges. And if you are willing to venture out a bit further, there will be castles and ancient manors and mills galore for you and your loved ones to explore. This country is a wonderful mix of history and modern amenities. And it is haven for those of you who love the outdoors and adventure activities. You can pack picnic lunches for all in the family and head out to some of the lovely day-holiday destinations or National Trust properties for the day. There are plenty of options to choose from, depending on what interests you as a family! Also, the National Trust annual membership is well worth investing in as it gives you and your family free entry and parking at all their beautiful heritage properties for an entire year! It was suggested to us by a friend and has to be one of the best pieces of advice we have received till date.

Useful Links:

https://beta.visitengland.com/things-to-do/family

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/

9. Most shops, malls and department stores operate from 9.00 to 5:30 PM, Mon- Sat. Neighbourhood supermarkets will be open until much later. Restaurants and pubs are not welcoming of children after 7.30 pm. So, plan ahead when stepping out! And if you are looking to lunch out on the weekend, you would be wise to make reservations. We had quite a shock the first few months. We moved here from Dubai where malls are open through mid-night, 365 days of the year; And we were stunned to find the city center all shut and dead at 5.30 PM on a Sunday evening!!!

  1. You now live in a technologically and logistically advanced country. Everything that you could possibly ask for is available online – information and services likewise. Online shopping and parcel drop/pick-up services are brilliant. From your milk to your medicines, you can get them all delivered at your door-step. If you are likely to be away from home on work all day, you can make use of the parcel-shop services. Pay close attention to the sale seasons as well. You can avail of some good deals if you shop cleverly. Even your energy and telephone service providers will have plenty of deals to offer depending on your family type and consumption needs. And for the thrifty shoppers, there are the charity stores that can sometimes deal you a few pleasant bargains.

Settling in can be a bit tricky in the U.K.. But once you cross that first hurdle, it is a lovely country with an eclectic mix of the traditional and the modern. And there is something for everyone here! So, give yourself a bit of time to feel at home. And then, as they say here, Keep Calm and Carry On!

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P.S.: I have no affiliations to or business associations with any of the organizations that I have referred to above. They have been mentioned here purely as a starting point for some research/reference and these views are all my own basis our experience here.

Happy Women’s and Mother’s Day. Not.

I have specifically chosen to put this post up today. Since all the brouhaha about Women’s Day is finally behind us, at least for this year. And since all the madness over Mother’s Day is threatening to stare you in your face.

There are all these innumerable larger-than-life, bra-burning and yet sensuality celebrating forwards that stare you in the face on Women’s Day. And then, there are the anxiety inducing portrayals of the ‘altruistic mother’ messages for Mother’s Day. Proving you to be the angelic mother who has bestowed upon earth perfect little children.  Some of these forwards almost make you want to vomit. To my mind, each of these well-meaning messages is only increasing the pressure on us to aspire to be something or someone we are not. Be sexy. Be Sensuous. Be your special unique mysterious self (Whaaaaat??!!!!) who will breast-feed her child, use sustainable menstrual pads and cups and still turn her man on (Again, Whaaaaat??!) while going away on long, women only adventure holidays. If you figure this one out, let me know, please. Be Durga incarnate, wielding and juggling all these multifaceted avatars to perfection. Be a successful corporate woman who gets promoted every single year. But can also make amazing phulkas at home. Be sure to be miraculously back from work on time to help your kids study for their exams. You have angelic kids who score Aces all the way through every single test. Your kids are a reflection of the super-power you. Your husband dotes on you and your every single achievement and leaves messages for you on your facebook wall. You have perfect family pics on FB. You manage to find time for your girlfriends, your family, your spouse, your in-laws, your parents, your dog, and yourself…..you have perfectly manicured nails, brilliantly presented outfits with matching bags and shoes all the while and go on these enviable holidays and show off the hot body.  Don’t waste your time. Make every second count. Live it up in life. Make your mark on this world!!!

Cut for a moment to my life (and many others like me) this week. I do not work at the moment. Or I work when I desperately need pocket money. Or when someone hires me. I do not pack lunch as the state is kind enough to feed my child at school. I sometimes bathe and look half decent when I go to drop her off at school. Then there are times when I look like the devil incarnate in pyjamas as I shove her out of the car at the school gates. I do not doll up and stand greeting at the door at 6 pm.  There are days when I cook, there are days when I haven’t. There are days when the house looks spectacular. And then there are days when it looks like a scum hole. Almost inviting those fat British rodents. (They are a different size altogether, I swear!!)

I maniacally breast-fed my child. I can tell you I love her but she’s no genius having digested the miraculous milk. And while on this absurdly trending topic, I was never breast-fed. I am as mad or sane as all other women. If anything, I am taller than the national average and weigh lesser than the national average too. But oh yes, on the negative, I have more than the average amount of facial hair. I have worked. For a fair amount of time. And when I thought I couldn’t hold it all together, I quit. I have gone back to work again when I thought I was ready. I have also woken up at 4:30 am for the longest time to get dabbas ready for all three of us in the family. I have tried my best to be a good mother. And there are days when I have failed miserably despite my best intentions, having my child yell at me that she likes the friend’s mother better. I have desperately tried to be a good wife, a good daughter and a sexy happening woman. Failing more than succeeding by the standards set by society as above. Some of us don’t have the luxury of a master plan with so many dependent factors in our lives. And yet, I have some precious, absolutely happy moments from at each of these stages of my life, one day at a time. I am far from being any icon or indication of success. But I am alive. And I don’t bite. So, for what it is worth, as my friend and I were discussing today, here is a thought. Just be yourself. And just do what you believe is best. At that moment in time, with your hand on your heart. Some of us are destined for greater things and some are not. And that is OK. You cannot predict the future or own it. But you just do your bit. At this particular point in time. That is it. And if you don’t want to try your best, switch on Romedy Now and watch back-to-back episodes of HIMYM or Crown and wallow around in your pajamas. This is fine too. You will continue to live well beyond these stressful WhatsApp messages. And the greatest miracle of all, no child has ever grown up to be an adult who can’t wear their shirt or guide the spoon to their mouth by themselves. No man has ever been successfully trained to sit and pee in the toilet. And I swear those Harpic salesmen don’t randomly come ringing your doorbell to check if your toilet is sparkly clean. So let it be. And just be.