Friday, November 30, 2007

Bangalore: From Outsourcing Heaven to Hotbed of Innovation

But Jain's zest eventually fizzled under the repetitive rigors of the Indian back office. So he did what a parade of burned-out functionaries in Bangalore have begun doing: He quit outsourcing to create his own start-up - in his case, designing cellphone software that blocks calls from telemarketers.

Like Jain, some of the best minds in India, trained by leading global companies like Oracle, Yahoo and Microsoft, are slipping out of the back office to build start-ups. And Bangalore, the outsourcing capital, now looks like an incipient Silicon Valley of the East.
Anand Giriharadas in today's IHT.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Credit for Header

This blog's new header has received a few compliments so I thought I should direct credit where credit was due.

We were driving back to our hotel from Amber Palace when we came across this arts and crafts store just outside the Pink City. We stopped and my husband sprinted back a few yards to take a photograph. When I put it up as the header, Aspi generously offered to crop it and make the title all nice and such. Something like 10 tries later, there it was! Poifect!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Immigrant Voices - Reactions to Shoba Narayan's "Return to India" Article

If the number of blogs dedicated to the 'return to India experience' and the google searches that lead to my blog looking for schooling information and hospitals in India are any indication, returning to India is on the minds of a number of Indians (and those moving to India as expats for work reasons). So, when I came across Shoba Narayan's vividly descriptive article about her family's 'return to India' story, I sent it to a few friends who I thought might find it interesting and also posted it here as documentary proof of the kinds of struggles immigration, repatriation and parenting involve.

The anxieties she painstakingly chronicled, particularly about raising children so far away from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, were familiar to me as a first-generation immigrant myself (as it is to Orchid). When my son was first born, finding no role models in my immediate family or circle of friends, and wanting to hear personal stories, I wrote about it for a local magazine and in doing so, took heart in the successful experiences of other immigrant mothers. Generations of immigrants have been raising children here, and while their issues may not be exactly those of parents raising children in their home countries, by no stretch of the imagination were these problems insurmountable.

We'd already lived with this issue for so long in all its complexity and devised what solutions we could as we went along - Indian friends became uncles and aunts, then their children became surrogate cousins, festivals and pujas and American holidays were all celebrated or commemorated together with them, we tried to go to India as much as we could, my parents and in-laws visited, we seized the completely unexpected opportunity to live in India for a couple of years and eventually we returned to the US - that I could not relate to Narayan's urgency and desperation. I chalked it up to differences in background and experience.

Growing up in India, our family led a rather migratory existence - we moved every two years every time my father got transferred at his job. That meant new homes, new schools (sometimes in the middle of the school year), new friends, new neighbors, new languages, no extended family nearby. My mother was the glue that held us together. We would move in to a new house, the lorry would come in, my dad would go off to take over his new assignment, my brother and I would go off to school and by the time we all came back, the house would be completely set up as if we'd lived there for ages. I'm not kidding. Within a few weeks, my mom would be fully involved in her neighborhood and my dad would acquire a gazillion "walking friends". I never heard my parents complain about having to start over every two years or having to move away from their siblings. Rather, there was an air of excitement. This taught us nothing if not resilience and the idea that when faced with a situation, you put your head down and did what needed to be done and moved on.

As a parent, I could completely understand Narayan's yearning to do what, in her mind, was the right thing for her children, but reading the essay reinforced my inkling that most decisions involving migration (those that are not influenced by compelling political or social reasons or natural disasters) are matters of the heart. Your bones know your decision long before your head backtracks to identify the justifications for it. In the end, her essay made it seem like it was a choice between two equally undesirable options, when in fact it is only a small subset of the populations of the two countries that are lucky enough to be presented with that choice at all - a choice between two of the more desirable destinations to boot.

Over the last couple of days, the article has elicited a few thoughtful and passionate discussions - some laudatory (commenters who said they identified with Narayan's confusion and anxiety and commended her honesty), some critical - from Indians bloggers living in India and abroad. I've lost track of all the issues that have come up in those posts, but they are all very interesting and relevant to those of us who are bringing up our children as second-generation Americans (or Brits or Australians or New Zealanders or South Americans, etc.) and to immigrants in general. So to make it easier on myself, I'm linking to the posts here so I can find them quickly. If you come across any that I've left out, please let me know.

Author Jawahara Saidullah takes umbrage at Narayan's employing the poverty in India as a parenting tool,

while it raised many excellent points about a family deciding to return to India after many years in the U.S., it also pissed me off. The author talks about how earlier she would tell her kid about not wasting food because there were starving children somewhere (how does eating when someone is starving help anyway?), but now (lucky her) she can actually show her child the starving children in person. Wow! Glad their starvation's helping her child-rearing skills.
DotMom found it unpalatable that despite her doubts about living on in the US, Narayan went ahead and did all the things necessary to obtain US citizenship,

You cannot want to be a U.S. citizen simply because having a U.S. passport makes travel hassle-free. Or simply as a fall back incase you decide to live elsewhere (then why acquire citizenship if you have no desire of living here?) There have to be better reasons if you are going to be a citizen. You cannot be a citizen and criticize the American people with a “these people have no ___ [insert suitable anything].” Because you are one of them now. “These people” must turn into “We people.” Because now, you are Americans of Indian origin.
DotMom's point reminded me of this essay by novelist and Booker contender Mohsin Hamid in The Independent earlier this year in which he says exactly what DotMom finds objectionable,

It is clear to me that I have much to gain by becoming a British citizen: the right to travel more easily, the right to be more free of the fear of a change in the public mood followed by sudden deportation, the right to exercise my vote to have some say in how the taxes I am paying will be spent and in how my new country will be governed, the right to be less self-conscious in calling my home, home.
but offers a compromise,

But then I remind myself that I am allowed dual citizenship. My situation is not analogous to that of a husband who is leaving his wife for another woman. No, I tell myself, I am more like a father who is about to have a second child. Of course I am nervous about neglecting my first-born. But surely I can find within me the affection and commitment to be true to both.
One of the threads that the discussion veered off into is the subject of assimilation in your adopted country. How much involvement should immigrants have in the countries they live in? Poppin's Mom (PM) makes the excellent point that no matter where immigrants choose to live, they should not merely hanker after the life they left back in their home countries, but actively try to celebrate and adopt the values of their host countries. She asks,

Let’s take festivals for example. By all means celebrate Deepavali in your local Indian Community Center. And if you don’t want to celebrate Christmas that’s fine, it’s a religious festival after all. But Thanksgiving? July 4th? Do Indians living abroad celebrate it at all. How many of you know the words to Stars and Stripes or teach it to your children at home.. It is your child’s national anthem, is that not enough reason for you to learn the lyrics?
I wouldn't have thought that this was an issue at all. Where ever you live, wouldn't you want to take a look around and jump in and get involved with all that your community has to offer? All of the Indian friends we have here seem to have figured out a way to do just that and celebrate Indian as well as American traditions - granted with tweaks here and there to allow for food preferences. But it did surprise me that there was some discussion about not celebrating Thanksgiving, presumably because they see it as an "American" holiday.

Well, nothing could be further from the truth. As Gawker commented on this Thanksgiving menu post from a couple of years ago, Thanksgiving is the holiday tailor-made for immigrants. If you are a non-vegetarian Thanksgiving doesn't have to be about Turkey at all. In fact, it is not just about Turkey. It is, as I describe to people who haven't heard about it, the American version of Sankranthi - just being thankful for the bounty of whatever happiness and good fortune has come your way during the year.

I couldn't say it any better than Beatriz, the single mother of three who emigrated from Bolivia when her children were very young,
"We did not have that [Thanksgiving] in Bolivia, but here there is a special day. We love that holiday," says Beatriz, obviously delighted at the concept. [...] She initially introduced that holiday to her family so that "when the children went back to school on Monday, they have something to talk about….They have to be a part of their school, our community; they have to belong somewhere."
PM's post also describes the "insular" lives that Indians lead in the US. To an extent, that is true of most immigrant communities (and so we have Chinatowns and Little Italys) and it is human nature to seek out the familiar in strange surroundings. Methinks it only empowers you to deal with the unknown and is not necessarily a negative.

Nikki's mom puts across her thoughts wonderfully about what assimilation means to her and how she might feel a few years down the road about where she might want to live,
I have been here only 3+ years but I think I have assimilated more than those who have lived here for 10 years. We celebrate Halloween & Thanksgiving understanding it's spirit fully. Thanksgiving is exactly similar to Pongal that we celebrate back in India, thanking Gods for the bountiful harvest. Our Thanksgiving feast did not have a Turkey though, we had a store bought chicken on our table. I am planning to throw a vegetarian Thanksgiving feast this year, adapting it to my style of living. [...] As Nikki grows and has American friends, I will start celebrating them too, because it is his country and I do not want him to feel alienated here. He is an American by birth and if he grows up here I will let him be an American, but one with Indian roots. American to the extent that it does not conflict with the ethics and values of our family.
In the comments to these posts, Noon, Kodi's Mom and Tharini expressed the wish that their children would grow up to be global citizens - comfortable in their country of birth or in any country they choose to live with strong roots in their heritage. This is something I fervently wish for my children as well. Children already seem to come with some kind of a finely-tuned barometer built into their systems that tells them how to adjust to a particular situation, particularly if they've been around people from different religions or areas of the country or the world. For the last couple of years, my son would adapt his conversations (accent, content) to suit who he was talking to - he would talk in an Indian accent with his Indian friends and with an American accent among his expat friends in Bangalore. A comment to the post (on our quest for identity) in which I described this filled me with hope that that wish is not far fetched,
the type of identity switching you've described in your son is common even amongst "true blue" Americans in America, not just immigrants.i'm an "ABCD", the first child of Indian immigrants to America, and I grew up in a small, conservative town in Oklahoma. i was a "smart" kid who wasn't content being labeled as the typical nerd. so i experienced first hand what it means to have multiple identities. Indian, American, intelligent, cool, ambitious, sexy. I aspired to be all these things in different contexts. and with each label came a different style of speaking, gesturing, and even thinking. but not all my identities were defined by my ethnicity. as karmic_jay points out, the desire for acceptance is a fundamental human trait. so i think our tendency to wear different masks for different occasions is not simply a cause of a cultural mismatch with our environment. rather, our cultural differences add to the number of masks we feel obliged to wear.but, as you mentioned, we are all different people in different contexts, to some extent. i am a daughter, sister, friend, etc. And my personality adapts to the context, within the bounds of who i am. i don't think that type of adaptation constitutes hiding one's real identity. the question is, are we being true to ourselves? that's what matters most.
No matter what side of these issues we belong to - returning to India, staying on abroad, choosing which holidays to celebrate, having our kids go to tabla classes or ice-skating - we all, as parents, try our damnedest to do the things, make the decisions and adapt the strategies that we think, hope and wish will equip our children with the tools they need to lead the best lives they possibly can. Our reasoning might be screwed up sometimes or we may find out later that perhaps one or the other of our strategies did not work. But we tweak a little bit and we move on.

At the bottom of it all, when you clear the noise of who should do what, why and how, and which way is better, is this simple idea:
There is a place for my kind too in this world, however foolish I sound, as there is a place for all of us. All of us, who carry only one thing in our hearts. The well being of our children. And somewhere along the process of living, this simple intention will get cleansed and purified of all selfish associations and we will together raise the children of the world, the best way we know how.

Update 1

On a highly pertinent note, Ammani and Kowsalya both ponder the meaning of culture (via Kathambamaalai). Kowsalya says,
If as a parent, you don't want to celebrate certain things you can always explain that to your kids and when we do things consistently and confidently, Kids generally don't have any confusion. Even if we try to celebrate Thanksgiving or Haloween, it will not change the external color of your child, so why try so hard to change the internal color.
Ammani asks,
Indian culture. What is it to you? To me, it seems like a convenient and rather hazy area that covers everything from dress code to Bollywood to wedding ceremonies to prime time tv soaps.
Do read the comments to her post. They are illuminating and entertaining!

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Recipe: Cranberry Pickle

The Thanksgiving holidays are just around the corner, and if you're like us, you'll probably have quite a few Indian dishes on the menu along with some traditional ones (here's a menu from a Thanksgiving past - and the New York style cheesecake was homemade, just so you know).

For a desi twist on that Thanksgiving staple, Cranberry, try pickling it - Indian style. Here's a recipe from my friend Lakshmi (ingredients are in bold):

1. Choose firm cranberries

2. Clean (chop off any dry ends near the stems) and dry them completely. There should be no water because water tends to rot the berries and the pickle will get spoilt.

3. Chop the berries into halves

4. Add salt, red chilli powder (paprika) to taste

5. Add a dash of turmeric powder

6. Add 1 tsp of roasted fenugreek powder (methi powder)

7. Heat sesame seed oil (for 250 gms cranberries, 50 gms oil), add powdered asafoetida and 1 tsp mustard seeds

8. Wait for the oil mixture to cool and add to the cranberry mix

9. Enjoy! Try it with warm pita pockets and humus.

With the exception of the roasted fenugreek powder, you'll find everything ready to use at the Indian store. If you don't find the fenugreek powder, ask for the seeds (buy the smallest pack available), dry roast them until you can smell them (a darker shade of the golden brown they already are) and grind them at home.

Let me know how it turns out!

A Love Letter to Bangalore

Aaman sent me this link via e-mail. I'd read bikerdude before, but not in a while. Anyway, this post is hilarious and I want to go to a donut angadi. Like now.
The shop assistants, imported as always from a different planet, nodded and shook their heads for everything. Several sweet delights later, I waddled back to work and realized my wallet was gone. "Aiyo!" I screamed, and huff-puffed back to the donut shop. "Did you see my wallet?" Nod, shake. "Wallet, purse. Left here. Anybody saw?" Nod shake. "No?" Nod shake. "Yes?" Nod shake. I gave up, wrote my name and number on a paper and told them to call me if it turned up. Nod shake.

Monday, November 12, 2007

22 Things Guys Always Wanted to Know...

... about women. Trust Amrita to have her finger on ... lots of pulses, actually. So she found this set of questions, answered them brilliantly, and wickedly passed on a tag. Here goes nothin'.

1. How do you feel after a one night stand?
It's not cheating unless you get caught?

2. Do you ever get used to wearing a thong?
See 3 below. If you've gotta do it, you do it.

3. Does it hurt?
Only as much as flossing does.

4. Do you know when you are acting crazy?
Yes. Right at the moment people start running the other way.

5. Does size really matter?
As the wise man Bob Dole is rumored to have said, depends.

6. When the bill comes are you still a feminist?
Prospects need to be nurtured. The good ones, that is.

7. Why do you take so long to get ready?
Clearing the brush is a labor-intensive enterprise.

8. Do you watch porn, too?
Watching is so overrated.

9. Will something from Tiffany’s solve everything?
Nope. But groveling along with the blue box in hand help.

10. Are guys as big of a mystery to you as you are to us?
Not the ones in the fringes. The "normal" ones, yes.

11. Why do you sometimes think you look fat?
Because sometimes I am.

12. Why are you always late? (oh yeah, see question six!)
Good things come to those who wait.

13. Does it bother you when we scratch?
Not if one scratch saves nine later.

14. Do you wish you could pee standing up?
Who sez we can't?

15. Why do so many women cut their hair short as soon as they get married?
So you can't tell whose hair is clogging the shower drain.

16. How often do you think about sex?
In my book, detail trumps frequency.

17. What do you think of women who sleep with guys on the first date?

18. Would you?
Too late for that now.

19. Do you realize every guy wants a girl just like his mom?

20. Why does every woman think she can change him?
Because mom obviously didn't do a good job if 19 is true.

21. Does it matter what car I drive?
Nope. It sure matters how.

22. Do you ever fart?
Ever heard of the stealth bomber?

Now for the fun part - I tag Poppin's Mom, Sue and Aditi.

Photoshop Magic Erases Faith Hill's Elbow

Redbook, supposedly the magazine for a "mature" audience, is in some hot soup this week following a behind-the-scenes look at the machinations to "fix" Faith Hill's cover photo. got a hold of the "before" picture and has helpfully created an animation that jumps between the before and after verions of the country music star's image. Here's a blow-by-blow account of the the fixes if you want more details.

It's mesmerizing.

US Schools: Public vs. Private

If you've ever thought about whether to send your children to public schools or to private schools and were looking for a way to assess the pros and cons, then this past weekend's Washington Post Magazine provides the personal insights of two families who've grappled with this issue.

In Learning to Conform, Fredrick Kunkle "reflects on how the drive to test and label students at his daughters' public school has snuffed out freedom and fun," and in Unreal World Pamela Toutant argues that, "for all their privilege, private school children miss out on the richness of being around kids not so like themselves."

As you will see, the choice is not an easy one to make and doubts linger no matter what.

Middle Name Tag

Sue tagged me a while ago to write a post related to the letters of my middle name.

The rules of the tag are:

1. The rules must be mentioned in the beginning of the tag.

2. You must list one fact that is somehow relevant to your life for each letter of your middle name. If you don’t have a middle name, use the middle name you would have liked to have had.

3. At the end of your blog post, you need to choose one person for each letter of your middle name to tag. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

I don't have a middle name but I love the name Maya. It also has the advantage of being short! Here goes:

M - I love the flavors of Mediterranean cuisine - the fresh veggies, the olives, the herbs, the grains, the hummus. There's always a tub of hummus in my fridge and makes a great snack (with some bread) in an emergency. I also love my mom's Mysore saaru. A meal of simple tomato saaru and beans palya is always a treat!

A - Astronomy and Art - I wish I knew more about those subjects than I do now, which is not much at all. Some day, hopefully.

Y - I have a terrible yelling voice. When I scream at the top of my lungs (at a game, for instance), I sound like a banshee and people turn to look.

A - I want to say I'm stubborn; will use adamant here. I am that when it comes to the things that are important to me.

I'm going to break rule number 3 and tag Taz, BPSK and Sunshine.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Rising Rupee, the Falling Dollar and Lost Jobs

The story of the strengthening rupee, dubbed by Indian newspapers as the "raging" or "roaring" rupee, has cast a long shadow on the export industry. According to the Federation of Indian Export Organizations, 4 million Indians have lost their jobs this year, and the number is estimated to rise to 8 million by March. The worst-affected exporters are those producing garments, leather goods and handicrafts for U.S. customers, as well as companies providing information technology services to the United States.
Today's Washington Post on the fall out from the strengthening rupee.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Chronicle of One Family's Decision to Return to India

Writer and journalist Shoba Narayan painstakingly chronicles her family's decision to return to India. The words jump off the page as she describes her longing, confusion, determination and excitement.

It was after I had a child that I first entertained the previously heretical possibility that, perhaps, America wasn’t home for me. I was tired, sleep deprived and encumbered, and the “land of the free” no longer seemed so to me. I was saddled with a toddler and missed parents, relatives and other potential babysitters. I missed the respite that came from dropping off a child with a trusted aunt for a few hours.

India’s social fabric seemed more conducive to raising a family. There, I could call a neighbor, any neighbor, at a moment’s notice and ask her to watch my child while I ran out for some milk. I missed the septuagenarian grandfathers who patrolled my neighborhood and reported back all naughtiness and babysitter negligence. I had hated their interfering as a child; now, as a mother, I viewed them as allies. I missed the whole village of people who had raised me, who would help me raise my child.

The whole thing is here (via SAJA).

Updated to add links to previous posts on this topic:

Where is Home?

What Makes a Community?

Parenting from an Immigrant Perspective

Identity - The Quest for Comfort Within our Skins

Bangalore: The Insider/Outsider Debate

Happy Deepavali!

We were very lucky to have celebrated Deepavali the last two years with our families and friends in India. It was childhood all over again - braving the crowds at the firecracker stands, having to make choices between equally enticing flowerpots, rockets, Lakshmi patakis, vishnu chakras and bhuchakras, splurging on the garland of 10,000 crackers, running through the entire flowerpot stash in ten minutes, and then running to the shop to splurge some more, the endless cups of tea and carrom board games, the family jokes, the teasing and the gossip, and the FOOD!

Two years ago, apart from two cousins, the entire set from my mom's side was in attendance and it was great to hang out with them - babies when I left but now all grown up.

Pictures from Deepavalis past are all we have this year and the hope that we can meet up with some friends this weekend and recreate the magic.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bedtime Reading Picks for the Under-6 Crowd

M. Venkatesh's bedtime reading picks for the really young in this past weekend's Mint Lounge.

Blogging and Community

Choxbox and Poppin's Mom both awarded Blogpourri the Community Involvement Award and they both cited my posts on schooling in Bangalore. I've been basking in the warm, gooey feeling ever since. Thanks a bunch guys! I'm just glad those posts are helping someone.

I pass the award on to Saks - her involvement with causes and passion for helping people is tremendous and admirable. Go Saks!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Children's Book Review: The Little Man in the Map by E. Andrew Martonyi, Illustrated by Ed Olson

My hat, my face, my stylish shirt.
Two states that prop my hat.
A whispering state, a pack of books.
Say "Cheese!" A honking pat.
A puppy and a mitten,
With a cozy sleeve below.
My drinking cup's the final state.
You probably have no idea what this verse is all about, but hidden in it are the clues that not only help elementary school children learn the names of all the states in the Midwestern region of the United States, but also exactly where they are positioned in relation to each other on a map. No mean feat for seven lines of verse.

Learning the names and locations of all fifty states is no easy task, even for older students, but is one of the main building blocks of elementary geography education. Most children recognize a few states - perhaps the states they live in and the ones around it and one or two others - but memorizing all fifty of them and where exactly they are on the map is quite something else. The Northeastern states are all a jumble as are the ones to the west of Illinois and south of Virginia.

Enter Andrew Martonyi's The Little Man in the Map, the winner of the silver Moonbeam Children's Book Award in the Non-fiction picture book category. It is a gem of a resource for parents and teachers on a quest to make US geography engrossing and captivating for young children.

With the help of an imaginary "Man Inside the Map" (the shape formed by five states down the middle of the United States - Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana), Martonyi employs mnemonics, simple verse and a healthy dose of creativity to help spark enthusiasm and excitement for an arguably dry subject.

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Minnesota is the little man's hat, Louisiana is his boot and Kansas is his backpack. The narrative bestows each state with a function in relation to the ones around it, so if you recognize one, identifying the adjacent ones is a breeze.

To help children assimilate the information in small, bite-size chunks, Martonyi breaks down the US map into discrete regions - Midwest, Southeast, Southwest, Northeast and West.

By the time the story of all the fifty states is told, Ed Olson's graphic illustrations and Martonyi's knack for spotting everyday things in the shapes of the various states have done the trick. The name of each state is recalled with ease. I should know - my seven year-old learnt the entire map in two readings of the book.

Every so often there's a study that bemoans the falling standards of geography literacy. Books like Martonyi's, written for children with an intimate understanding of what captivates and retains their attention, are much-needed agents of change. I wonder if he has plans to tackle world geography next.

Image courtesy: Schoolside Press

Friday, November 02, 2007

Great Resource for Comparing Bangalore Schools

I received a comment on one of my Bangalore Schools posts about a website dedicated to listing, comparing and providing other information about schools in Bangalore. I took a quick look and it seems like a great resource. It's simply called Bangalore Schools and is at Good luck.

Update (Sept. 27, 2009): A wonderful post on alternative schools in general and one in particular, the Krishnamurthi school, at Punarjanman. Lots of good info about myths and advantages and disadvantages of alternative schools.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A Father's Dilemma

Herman had chronicled his son's life from the day he was born, writing down details that only parents have the urge to remember for ever and ever.
But it also memorialized anecdotes like the time when he sat with my wife on the front step of our home and watched as a bird crashed headfirst into our front window. Unshaken by the limits of his 2-year-old vocabulary, he turned to my wife, put his hands to his head and quietly offered up his assessment of the bird's plight: "Helmet" was all he said.
Now, eighteen years and 250 pages later, the baby is a grown man and has flown the coop for college. What is the father to do?

Herman has his turn in Newsweek.