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Human or not human, that is the question

In India, whether you are a tourist or a local, you will be most likely hoping in and out of taxis and / or rickshaws ("tuktuk" for the tourists, "auto" for the others) a lot. It's cheap, they are everywhere, you avoid the hassle of getting a parking space or struggling to find your way around. There is no debate, it is damm convenient. Not necessarily good for the back but useful. THE problem is that taxi or rickshaw drivers are often perceived as thieves. They refuse to start the meter, they forget to reset it, they take you for a merry-go-round around the city:  they have a bad reputation. Moreover it is almost only in Mumbai that they actually agree to put the meter on, in other places they just won’t, sometimes find it easier to just not have a meter at all… In such cases, you are supposed to know the distance and the approximate fare, and the journey starts with a bargaining session.              

This exercise can prove very frustrating, irritating, to the point that sometimes you may decide to actually just not step out so that you won’t have to go through these discussions. For all these reasons, we tend to treat the drivers of such vehicles as subhuman, machines (extension of their manoeuvre stick), from whom we expect nothing but a fight (about the way to take or the amount to pay) and a good bone-shaking ride. Of the lot, taxi drivers are considered the most rogue, hence the exponential growth of radio taxis (just for the pleasure of not having to argue).     

In the daily routine of rickshaw-work-sleep, it's like in the French subway: not yet fully awake, you are half sleeping half sulking on the back bench of the auto. The driver, that you barely looked at before sitting (no need to, he’s a machine anyway), doesn’t ask you the questions he usually showers the tourists with (“Where do you come from? What do you do? Do you like India?”). With the Indian code of politeness, you can easily skip the Western ‘courtesies’: no need to say hello or please, or thank you, let alone smile. Provide the address in the beginning and say "baas" (stop) when you reach your destination, and rock gently your head from side to side as a thanking gesture, that will be enough.            

The foreigner usually makes it a point of honor not to leave a tip, as the drivers are already robbing him. He may therefore lose quite a bit of time (forgetting at his convenience that time is money) for a rupee or two. But it is a question of PRIN-CI-PLE. And the foreigner will blame all his fellow whitemen who do not follow his PRIN-CI-PLE, giving 'bad habits' to Indian drivers, instilling the idea that foreigners are walking dollars and can be easily extorted more money than necessary. It is therefore all the more important to implement this PRIN-CI-PLE strictly.

I was like that for quite some time. The kind of scenes I have made for five rupees! And then one day I had enough, I started again to say “thank you” to the drivers, and to round up (well, except in cases where they are assholes for one reason or another), or even to smile ... And if I'm not too tired, I even try some of my Hindi! More often in taxis because the trips are usually longer than in rickshaws. And I quite often hear crazy stories!    

That's why I wanted to share this note 'Humans of Mumbai'. I discovered this group one day I was walking with Junior in the baby carrier; they wanted to interview me but I was unfortunately having a very bad day and I declined. Anyway, I read with pleasure their daily notes that re-humanize a bit everyone ... Including drivers !!


Humans of Mumbai.jpg  


Having a filthy day?

After three months away…

No I have not disappeared! I had thought (very naively) that I would have some time to “do my things” doing my maternity leave, like writing. But it went the other way around!!

And like if it was not enough to be haggard, drunk of fatigue, full of playful hormones (they say it is normal when you breastfeed), with a useless brain (not even capable to remember what I have done with a bottle of water I picked up two minutes ago – oh well, I put it in the cupboard, of course!), I got back to work, in a not-so-easy environment… And started yoga again (from 6 to 7 (AM!!))… But I am a Samurai, I can do it!!

My resolution of this getting-back-to-‘normal’-life is thus to start blogging again, posting every Monday instead of every other day…

And to start with, a video to remind us that some Indians don’t have it easy every day…




I had managed without the help you usually get in India. Of the mother-in-law. Or of a night nurse. Or of a Japa, these very traditional nannies, often from Kolkata, who assist mother and newborn during the first 30-45 days after birth. Day and night, they take care of everything, bath, massage, food etc. Without any support (as I didn’t feel any was required), I thought the three of us had done pretty well these first months! But I had to start thinking about succession for when I would resume work... 

india,maid,japa,ayah,nanny,baby,mary poppinsSo came the time to hire an ayah, which is in India a maid cum nanny, if possible with some cooking skills... Although Indian women prefer to be employed by foreigners (they work less to earn more while being treated more humanely, as they themselves say), we didn't get many options. ‘Working less’ implies that they do not work on Sunday nor Saturday (they don’t necessarily get days off with local employers); and that they work from 9 to 5 – which doesn’t help when you have yourself to be in office from 9 to 6 (the few times where you leave before 8 p.m.). And in case they themselves have young children (i.e. most of them) or they live very far (i.e. almost all of them), you know you can say goodbye to extra time which is bound to happen... And if you want her to speak at least some English, you might as well ask for the moon... 

I was therefore about to say yes to a nanny who didn’t know a word of English, had a little girl and lived in the far east (of Mumbai) when we gave a last interview. A Christian (therefore English-spoken – don’t ask, Indian Christians usually speak better English than Hindi), with a 27-year-old daughter, who lives close by, who is used to work 12 hours a day and on Saturdays, who has already worked with foreigners (and “they do not stand any dirt at all” she added!) and who asks for less money than others. Too good to be true it seemed! According to her, her old age is a handicap to find job today: being in her fifties, mothers fear that she cannot run after their kids! 

In 24 hours, she had made friends with the cat. The cat that terrorizes everybody as he is kind of gigantic; even the Pest Control guys did not dare enter the guest bedroom he was sleeping in. The cat that slaps your feet to get your attention and spits when pissed off. So, this cat, from the first day, she started conversing with him as he was growling in his cupboard hideout!

In 24 hours she had reorganized the cupboards (food and clothes). Ironed pillow cases, a first for them. Dusted off the vacuum cleaner and then below the sofa, then the fans.

Within 24 hours she had taken over my food diet and timing! If mummy digests well, so will the baby. I thus learned (but let me doubt that) that the impressive farts of my son are due to my love for potatoes... Well, I don’t know if potatoes make you fart but I can tell you about the peas she cooked for us the first night... If her goal was to clean my intestines in fanfare, she definitely scored! No chilly in the food, plenty of fibers, garlic and ginger (condiments that she loves to prevent gases) and I even have to fight to eat my ‘regular’ yoghurt (“but low-fat is better, it doesn’t make you fat”)! 

And then above all, above all, in less than 24 hours Baby Samourai ended up on a mattress on the floor with an Indian cloth diaper! I almost got a disapproving comment when I put a Pampers on him to feed him: apparently Indian mothers come to know the pattern of their offspring’s pooping and put modern (absorbing) diapers only at that time. I am not sure the intestinal clock of my baby is properly set! And I don’t particularly enjoyed being peed on... I also had to fight with her for him to not spend the full day naked: where doctors say the baby needs one more layer of cloth compared to me, she said one less! 

india,maid,japa,ayah,nanny,baby,mary poppinsAnd as for her age is concerned, it shouldn't be too much of a problem since, as she repeats frequently to the baby: "no carrying business, no carrying business". In other words, he can forget spending his time in the arms – in fact he already doesn’t spend much time in the arms but he likes to fall asleep on our lap, especially if we sing 'Ooooom' bouncing on the exercise ball (surprisingly she did not look overjoyed at the idea of working her muscle on the ball!). I also got an admonition on the subject. She is not cold in the eyes that one! At the same time she is not wrong, he does need to learn to fall asleep alone... 

india,maid,japa,ayah,nanny,baby,mary poppinsIn 24 hours, Mary Poppins took charge of us, me my house and my son. As for me, while I thought I had been managing rather well, I was left with the impression of being a college girl who is doing all wrong things with her doll in her pigsty! 

Let’s hope it lasts ;)