A love letter

Dear Spring,

I have waited for you for so long, I thought you would never come. I have forced myself to be strong all winter, telling myself that this, too, shall pass. It was only a question of time. I was patient, braced myself from the cold winds with courage, embracing the greyness of gloomy days. Then, suddenly, you appeared! You rushed in, unannounced and beautiful, engulfing my whole being with warmth and blue skies.

At first, I was sceptic… I mean, are you for real? Is it really you? Are you here to stay this time? And with your disarming charm and gentle presence, you whispered in my ear: “Yes, it’s me… and this time it’s for real…” And just like that, you won me over once again. I mean, how could anyone ever resist you?

I wish I could sit in your lap all day, in the green grass, among the small white flowers, getting drunk on sunshine and writing prose about you…

I could spend hours marveling at the miracle of you.

Yesterday, I sat in the park in silence, afraid to disturb your magnificence in action, working diligently on each leaf and petal, each child’s laughter, you make love blossom everywhere. I watched dogs run around their masters, giddy with joy, couples kissing, families laughing, youth flashing again in the eyes of old people. Others were just lying around in the grass, reading, doing yoga, playing the guitar. One girl, oblivious to the world, was peacefully meditating…

Dear Spring, look how you transformed the world. I breathe you in, you make my heart sing along with the music of chirping birds. I secretly smile all day, because I know you have finally come again into my life…

I look around, and I feel… could this possibly get any better?

This magnificent tree never fails to grab my attention every day when I walk to work on Serrano
El Capricho Park, I told my friend this spot is where he should propose!
El Capricho Park. Capricho means “whim”, this beautiful park in the east of Madrid is “The Queen’s Whim”, like literally
Flower bed in El Capricho Park
New spot in Retiro Park, I just love these sakuras
Little white flowers in the grass in the office garden

Madrid Diaries – First few months in Espana

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It’s been four months since I moved to Madrid. I’ve never fallen this hard for a city before. It’s a weird feeling. Most of it is personal, I feel that Madrid is my very own, carefully packaged, personalized gift from the Universe. It’s like at 31, it’s the answer to my eternal question “So is there more to life than this?”. It’s no secret that 2016 had me dealing with a huge, life-changing blow which annihilated all my life plans and had me questioning everything – divorce. On the bright side, that ordeal made me realize that I had a rock solid support system made up of my family and friends. It also made me re-discover spirituality through meditation. And it forced me to tap into my inner strength, and re-invent myself as a person. There is nothing as powerful as the willingness to rediscover happiness. And just like that, Life gave me a silver lining – a job in Madrid.

I did Learning Spanish 1 at university 10 years ago. At that time, it seemed like an easy way to get good grades and understand Shakira songs. And I absolutely loved tapas and paella. Little did I know that these would actually come in handy 10 years later. With my biligual English/French, and some Hindi speaking skills, I never found communicating in foreign countries particularly difficult, until I came to Madrid. It was strange to realise that there was a whole world out there, about one third of the world’s population according to locals, who did not care the slight bit about hablar Ingles or speak English (Speaking English was discouraged under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, so many people from the older generation speak zero English). So, out of need to make myself understood in the bus and in the supermarket, and out of respect for the culture, I am seriously learning Spanish. Even if mi espanol es muy basico ahora (my spanish is very basic at the moment), one of my goals for 2017 is to considerably improve it. It may be close to French but Spanish people speak very quickly and have an accent. And some of the letters (“v”, “c” and “j”) are pronounced differently. It’s lovely to listen to, but without practice it’s hard to adopt. A few useful words I have picked up so far, which Spanish people use often is Vale (OK) and Claro (Of course). Oh and particularly useful for ladies visiting Spain, Guapa means “Pretty” or “Beautiful” 😉 .The best way to learn is language exchange groups where you speak English for some time for those who want to learn English and the rest of the time they help you with your Spanish. I have never realized it before, but it took me 15 years of classes, reading, movies, television, and speaking to master English and French. Picking up a completely new language at 31 is proving to be hard, but it’s a welcome challenge. I’ve been telling myself that watching Narcos helps, as half of it is in Colombian Spanish. I don’t think I will be using La Puta de tu Madre anytime soon in my everyday conversation, but it’s fun to decipher the Spanish words in the series. I’ve also resorted to reading to improve my vocabulary and grammar (yes the verbs and tenses are as bad as in French) – bilingual Spanish-English books are very helpful. But the best way is to just go out there and speak to people, and not care about the risk of making a fool of yourself. Spanish people are very nice anyway.

Spain is a world in itself, with rich cultural history. There are many Latin American people in Spain, the obvious consequence of Spain having previously colonized these countries. People love and hate Christopher Columbus, depending on the region.Spain has its very own ski resorts, beaches, party islands, mountains, parks, you name it. Most people have no idea where Mauritius is. And there are not many Indian people in Madrid. So I mostly walk around feeling very exotic, which is something I never felt when I was living in the U.K.

In terms of political history, Spain has got its own issues for example with Basque and Catalan separatists. The country has been “run” by a fragmented parliament for the last couple of years (and has still been able to achieve economic growth). One of the biggest problem the country is having to tackle is the high unemployment rate (20% in 2016). And that is despite the fact that Spain has got many award-winning universities and that the average Spaniard seems to be well educated. According to locals, this is mostly due to the Spanish lifestyle.

“For Spaniards, work is just something that needs to be done in between tapas”. This is something I read in El Pais newspaper, in an article about youth unemployment. True and not true, in my humble opinion. By the way the siesta is a myth, which does not happen in Madrid work life. Madrid is far from a financial capital. Banking may be big, but it’s nothing as compared to a place like London. For those with office jobs, work starts at about 09 00 – 10 00. Lunch is at 14 00 – 15 00 (still getting used to that), and depending on work loads, finishes at 18 00 – 19 00. Then Spaniards usually have a light dinner at 22 00 – 23 00 then go to bed at about 00 00 – 01 00. Madrid is a nocturnal city, going out, having drinks and tapas is an essential part of the lifestyle. The metro is very clean and efficient and runs till 01 00 and even later on Friday and weekends.

Football is a big part of the life of Spaniards, especially Madrilenos. Most people prefer to support Atletico de Madrid or FC Barcelona over Real Madrid as the latter is the obvious winner and it’s no fun to support such a team. When there is a match, roads are closed, the Guardia Civil oversee the crowds on horseback and the atmosphere is electric.

Madrid has a rich cultural scene with an impressive number of museums, the entry to some of which are free on certain days. Drinks are cheap with a the price of a glass of wine, sangria or cava (sparkling wine) ranging from EUR 2.50 to 5.00. Drinks are meant to be had leisurely with tapas (small portions of food or starters) before the actual dinner. Most of the time the tapas by themselves make me full, so no need for dinner. Free concerts, exhibitions, street artists are everywhere. It is a great place for those who are on a budget and culturally curious. This is why Spain is a favourite tourist destination for lower middle class / middle class Europeans. It is a relatively cheaper destination, and you still feel a real change of scenery.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that Spanish people are very serious about deportes (sports). Parks, gyms and running tracks are everywhere. Spaniards pay special attention to their grooming and physical appearance. I’ve realized that Spanish people have dark hair and chiseled features because of Arab influences. Eye candy everywhere :)) The average Spaniard invests a considerable amount of time in their hobby, whether it is skating / surfing, bailar (dancing, especially salsa), hiking or playing a musical instrument.

Spaniards also love their pets and take them out for walks three times a day. I’ve seen all kinds of dogs from dalmatians, Chihuahuas, huskies (my personal favourtie) and St Bernards. Madrid Ayuntamiento or City Council is very well organised in terms of recycling and cleaning, being one of the justifications of the high rates of local government taxes.

Many people fall in love with the Spanish way of life, explaining the phenomenal number of expatriates in Madrid – Europeans, Americans especially, looking to flee their stressful home cities for a better, more balanced lifestyle. After four months in Madrid, I have to say, I totally get it.

Birdy Concert 6 Nov 2016

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So last night this happened… very first concert in Madrid!!! There is nothing like live heart-renching, husky vocals, haunting lyrics and great acoustics to awaken the romantic indie teenager in me 😀

The concert opened with Dan Owen, a guy with messy hair (obviously!) from our dear old England. We were waiting patiently in the Sala Riviera concert hall, which was decently packed (mostly with people younger than me; but then again at 31, most of the cooler kids are inevitably younger), and this unassuming guy with messy hair and a guitar comes onto the stage alone and starts singing with the huskiest, gorgeous voice. His voice is so riveting that it took only a few seconds to win everybody’s attention! My favourite of his set is a song called Moonlight, a “campfire” ballad as he described it. You’re the moonlight in the darkness, making my skin hate the sunriseeeeeeeee… And then he did got his harmonica and did a faster track called Red Rooster, the crowd loved it! This guy is going to go places. One of the best opening acts I’ve experienced.

A few minutes after Dan’s last song, Birdy and her crew got onto the stage and she sat at the piano and opened with a track called Shadow from her new album Beautiful Lies. So wherever you go, I’m your shadow / Desert to ice flow, I will follow… That part of the song is still stuck in my mind since I first heard it.

Birdy is a great live act, and she looks like an angel. Seriously. The whole set was great, with my favourite parts being Wild Horses, Wings, People Help the People, and of course Skinny Love, which obviously gave me shivers. She also did a pretty cool version of Placebo’s Running up that Hill. And for the Otra (“Encore” in Spanish), Birdy called the “wonderful” Dan Owen for a love song called Let it all Go, which was pretty magical.

All in all, it was much better than I expected going to the concert knowing only 3 Birdy songs – I’m a fan! I totally recommend seeing Birdy live.

Movie Review- Captain Fantastic

SPOILER ALERT BE WARNED

You know the feeling when you go into a movie with zero expectations and end up being so moved and intellectually provoked that you feel the need to write about it? These are the best kinds of movies!

This movie is so not mainstream that I walked into the theatre expecting to watch a superhero movie. The movie opened on the breathtaking landscapes of the forests of the Pacific Northwest. All in all, if you love nature, are a hippie at heart and reject the notions of capitalism and organised society, this is THE movie to watch. But, other than the main theme of a family living autonomously, led by a “fantastic” patriarch, Ben Cash (very convincingly played by our very own ex Aragorn Viggo Mortensen) in the forest, away from civilization, the most interesting aspect of the movie is the director’s take on the notion of family. How parents shape their kids – the way they think, feel, behave, judge, act. In the movie, the kids undergo regular physical training during the day, learn how to subsist in the forest, hunt and skin game for food and take care of plants. More interestingly, they are home-schooled from scratch, and in the evenings, they read about quantum physics, mathematics, philosophy and literature. The children are also treated like real adults, being allowed to drink wine, to swear and are not cushioned by lies, but are told the bold truth because their parents trust them to be able to handle it well. The movie had really innovative notions about education – for example, when reading a book, they were discouraged to use the word “interesting”, instead they had to really critically analyse the way the text made them think and feel.

Training to make your body strong during the day, hunting for food, reading to feed the brain, and making music to bond as a family. Who needs anything else, really? It seems like the director Matt Ross made a movie about his dream way of best raising up his kids. Being able to wholly influence your kids in the “right” direction, with the right values, ways of critical thinking, right music, books, philosophies – this must be every parent’s fantasy.

Now for the matriarch. The movie starts with the news that the mother, Leslie, was bi-polar and could not be treated, even in the best facilities, and ended up ending her life. The six children are devastated – they want to attend the funeral. So they inevitably have to take their bus from their home to drive to New Mexico where Leslie’s parents were planning an elaborate funeral for her – when she wanted to be cremated. The scenes of the Cash children dealing with civilisation are hilarious, and each of the six children are extremely charming in their own unique way.

Well, however, like with all escapism stories (think the Beach movie), their underlying philosophy are put to test by the notion of physical and mental “safety”. Ben starts to blame himself for Leslie’s disease and for putting the children at risk. The movie has a mushy ending which almost (Ok, it did!) bring tears to my eyes, especially with this song which means so much to me already (this version is sung by the cast): Sweet Child of Mine

In fact, the whole movie soundtrack is epic, it makes me feel like I am actually in the Pacific Northwest forests in a bus called Steve. The soundtrack features the likes of Israel Nash, Sigur Ros, Jonsi and Alex, really, music for the soul. Whole soundtrack listing can be checked out here: http://www.soundtrack.net/album/captain-fantastic-soundtrack/.

Anyway, a must watch – for parents, for wannabe parents, for families, for hippies, ex-hippies, those fed up with predictable movies, for those who want to be moved, for nature lovers, for a change – please watch it!

Best movie quote:

Rellian (the most angry and rebel of the 6 kids) :“If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world”.

Rating: 8.5

A Prayer to the Universe

 

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Dear Universe,

I pray today to thank you for all the things I have in my life

Thank you for this hot cup of tea, which fills my insides with warmth

Thank you for all my friends, young and old, who laugh and cry with me

Thank you for the music which cradles my soul when i need it most

Thank you for family, whose very presence brings comfort to my heart

Thank you God, for taking my hand and helping me make difficult choices

Thank you for hard work, the result of which is the sweetest elixir

Thank you for the beauty and wonder in this world, which will never cease to amaze me

Thank you God for hope, and faith, and courage

Thank you for this roof over my head, which shelters me from all kinds of storms

Thank you God, for giving me the power of words to pour out my feelings

Thank you God, for the pain, which will make me strong, for the pain which is the most effective teacher

Thank you God, for days like today

Thank you God for the precious time away from the shackles of routine, which helps me rest my soul

Thank you for the books which help me escape into fantastic realms

Thank you Universe, for the wires which open doorways to other worlds

Thank you for the sunny days which come after the rain

Thank you Universe

“If you have one prayer to say in a day… let it be thank you” Rumi

 

The Progressive Couple

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Yesterday I finally watched Ki and Ka, a refreshingly different Bollywood movie throwing a new light on the roles of men and women in a relationship. (Spoiler Alert!) Basically, Kabir (the guy) does not want to hear about the corporate rat race and dreams of becoming a house husband. He comes to a deal for a different kind of marriage with Kia (the girl), an ambitious workaholic, who would be responsible for providing for the financial needs of the family. It got me thinking of the different roles society and ages of civilization impose on men and women and how ready we all are to accept that things have changed… for BOTH men and women.

Family is the basis of the the social fabric. In my opinion, monogamy was favoured over any other forms of union because it was more easily controllable by the rulers, and it somehow prevented the spread of sexually transmittable diseases. Anyway, in the traditional family model, the man was the breadwinner and the woman was the childrearer. That made sense, because masculinity is associated to physical strength and most manual jobs required that very quality. Feminity on the other hand, equally important, was associated with the passing on of values. However, post industrial revolution, most manual jobs became redundant and now in 2016, even if the fight for gender equality is still real, it can easily be concluded that most jobs can be handled by both men and women. I’m all for virility, but the range of uses for man’s physical strength has become more and more limited, especially in the jobs market. We are living in an era where the gap between the earnings of men and women is becoming narrower and narrower.

So what of the couple of 2016 then? A deeply confused generation trying to make sense of the meaning of “family” from what they feel, from the reality of things, from the role models set by their parents. In Mauritius, in the previous generation, it seems that the gender roles were much more well defined than it is in the current generation. Mothers, even working ones, were primarily responsible for the home, and men were responsible for the finances. With divorce rates skyrocketing in Mauritius, I think the evolving roles of men and women in a relationship warrant some more analysis.

The Progressive Fam

I will talk about Fam (“Woman” in Mauritian creole) first obviously because I am a Fam. We have been raised by a generation of hard working parents who put a lot of emphasis on education. After academic education came professional education, and once you start earning, it is hard to imagine life without the comfort of a paycheck at the end of the month. I once met an ex colleague who, when I asked her about work, nonchalantly told me that she got married to a businessman and does not need to work anymore. My first reaction (which I did not voice out, of course) was: Lazy bitch! Relying on the generosity of your husband to get that new shiny pair of heels just does not seem right. Or doesn’t it? Maybe “Lucky bitch” would be more appropriate… Anyway, in my opinion, most women would rather work and feel better being financially independent. However, many would not mind quitting their highly stressful jobs for one with better hours, albeit less pay, to spend more time with their families.

I don’t know if it’s the media, the sound of biological clocks ticking, or pressure from the family, but the priority of most women seems to be “settling down”. Fall in love, get married, have kids, establish their very own social cell. Which they feel they are somewhat well equipped into doing, what with all the education, financial independence and all the self-help advice from the internet… WRONG! You can never be really prepared for the chaos of married life – juggling with work, managing a household, bonding with two sets of families, handling pressure for making babies, keeping fit, making sure there is a healthy yet tasty dinner on the table every night! Wow! Our mothers made it all seem so effortless…

What if the Progressive Fam needs a little help from her husband? The illusory 50/50 relationship – is that a myth? If you contribute 50% financially in a household, can you expect that the other partner contribute 50% in household work?

Now, if the woman is really progressive, it is only fair to say that she cannot put extreme expectations on the guy. Traditional education and net-worth xrays before choosing the right partner – are these things  really indicative of whether a couple will last or not? I don’t think so. If you are choosing a partner earning much more than you do, then can you expect him to contribute 50% in household work?

You cannot have it all in a relationship. Most women really have to choose between prioritizing their family lives over their careers. It’s a choice, and often a difficult one. And most of the time, this choice has to be made by women, and not by men…

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The Progressive Zom

Now for the Progressive Zom (“Man” in Mauritian Creole). Apologies, for I might be biased on this. I will try to be as objective as possible. Mauritian men have been raised by mothers who have treated them like little princes. Their priority was to love and provide for their sons – that often involved cooking, laundry, cleaning and everything else to make their children’s lives comfortable. They watched their mothers do this, while their dads supported the family financially, and came back home tired, rightfully demanding a hot home-made meal.

The Progressive Zom is now married to his girlfriend of a couple of years. They met at work, sparks flew, they dated, shared dreams and aspirations, all the boxes were ticked, and they got married. They moved into a brand new place which they lovingly decorated together. A few months passed. He realised that the house was never as clean as his mom’s house. The meals cooked were not as varied or tasty. His wife often came home late too tired to cook. He was also tired, and he had no idea how to cook. Now the macho man would never accept this. He would expect the impossible from his wife. And that would be the start of the end of it.

The Progressive Zom would however react differently. He would come to the conclusion that his preconceived notions of how married life should be, or what his wife is supposed to do were perhaps outdated. Because he is progressive, he will try to understand and help as much as possible. There is nothing emasculating in contributing to household work.

The Progressive Couple

All in all, both men and women have to be progressive, reject traditional notions and embrace the new, modern couple. Even if a 50/50 relationship, though desirable, is perhaps not very realistic, love, understanding, and compassion is essential to make the modern family life work. I don’t believe in defined roles for each one, like in Ki and Ka. Even if the movie makes the idea of a house husband seem extremely appealing. But I do believe that we have to acknowledge changing roles in the couple and accept that moving towards equal financial contribution in a household comes at a price. And it need not be at the detriment of poor housekeeping and neglected kids if both partners agree to share responsibilities…

Thirty-One

That’s it. I’m 31. 31 and one day, actually. Three decades of my life gone. I have lived, I have worked, I have toiled, I have loved. I made mistakes, I was naive, I was dumb. I also grew up, got stronger, wiser. I have learned to be grateful, to belittle obstacles with sarcastic jokes. Grateful for the small army of helpers that have emerged: my sister who woke up at 5 to bake me a yummy birthday cake, my not so little anymore cousins, my loving colleagues, my family who have witnessed my whole life from crawling baby to working woman, Sister Niti my spiritual guide, my friends who have patiently listened to my relentless whining… Books, work, career, music, game of thrones, writing…

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What I like to call my Iron Throne Cake
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Made by my sister at 5 in the morning
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“A song of mint kit kat and mnms”

Move from Life Plan A to Life Plan X. Be OK with that. I’ve been through too much to fool myself into believing that I know where I’m going. But I love life, I love me. I love me living my own life. I will do the best I can with it. I will correct my mistakes, polish up my flaws. I will be my best. Happiness is not a life event. It is not becoming the perfect picture of happiness that you have in your mind that will make you happy. When you graduate you will want a good job, when you have a good job, you will want a great job, you will want to marry, have kids. When you want it all you will want time off from all of it. No, happiness is not a life event. Happiness is a subtle state of mind. In fact, it is so subtle that it might sometimes slip out of your understanding’s grasp.

Lately, I have found myself exploring spirituality through meditation. I hope that one day I will be able to master meditation and have full control over my thoughts and emotions. For now, the soothing sensation of emptying your mind and turning your thoughts inwards is relaxing and really helps. Maybe one day, I will grow to become so self-sufficient that I will not feel the need to connect with people. But right now, that sounds like too lonely an experience. It is a really comforting thought however that God put me on this path, and that it is God guiding me out of this storm. Is there a lesson to be learnt from it, is there a higher purpose to it all, is it just reaping bad karma? In any way, when you hit the bottom, the only way you can go is up. That deserves a smile 🙂

So, life at 31 is not even remotely like how I thought it would be. And that’s OK. I will be OK. Eva Longoria got married at 41. There might be hope for the rest of all mortals.  (That’s what I meant by sarcastic jokes)