Saturday, 18 February 2012

My Big Fat, gin-soaked, Ex-pat Life

One of India’s leading make-up artists, Stafford Braganza, tells Elle Magazine: “If you want to fly, you’ve got to give up all the shit that weighs you down.”
A fine sentiment, Stafford, but not one to which I can easily adhere. You see, I am a bit like Emily from Bagpuss, I never quite know what I’ll be dragging home with me from one day to the next. This week, for example,  I bought a temple, some leeches for my maid’s husband’s severed finger, four compression garments (buy two, get two free) and a kilo of marigold heads (for the temple)
And this wasn’t even an unusual week. Last week I bought, amongst other things, a rosewood circus lion standing on a ball! I just like it. It reminds me of my childhood, not that I ever saw a lion standing on a ball but I did have some circus-theme curtains.
The flat is very small and is beginning to look like a storage area for a props department. As much as I enjoy collecting all this random stuff, I wonder, is it the thrill really in the chase?
I subscribe to a website called Tiny Buddha which sends out words of wisdom every Friday afternoon: This week it read: Humans Beings are in danger of exchanging ‘being’ for ‘having.’
There is certainly truth in this but is it not possible to ‘have’ and ‘be’ at the same time? Do I have to choose?
I bought the temple from a junk shop in Jogeswari street market. It was covered in dust and unloved sitting high atop a pile of junk. I took it outside, blew the dust off and could see it was made of rosewood. It was beautifully crafted and I wanted to bring it to life again. The old gentleman who sold it to me spent three days restoring it and now it sits resplendent and filled with marigolds and candles in my living room, bringing pleasure to me and my family.  Hopefully it will have pride of place in any house in any country I live in, in the future and remind me of our happy time in India.
I bought the leeches (Rs 150 each!) because my maid’s husband severed his finger in a car door, had it sewn on again, but needed the leeches to suck out the poison.  And talking of sucking, the compression garments were to aid in the contouring of my (hot?) new bod after having 6.5 litres of fat ‘liposucked’ out of it following years of people asking when the baby was due. I only wish I’d done it years ago.
So, all my purchases have made me happy. But do I have to get rid of everything to find true fulfillment? Is the pursuit of material things wrong?
I was inspired to write this today, not just because I read the make-up artist’s wise words in Elle, but because I am, as I type, being crucified in the comments section of an article about my family in The Mail Online for, it seems, getting my priorities wrong.
In December, I wrote about how a journalist in Delhi had contacted me about ‘doing a piece’ on reverse immigration as a nice flip side to the doom and gloom in the UK press. We agreed, had our photo taken and said some very positive things about Mumbai.
Today, the article appeared online, written by a person I have never even spoken to. She has me ranting: “Britain has gone to the dogs, the country’s bankrupt” etc.  The story was peppered with inaccuracies and left me feeling a bit gloomy.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, the comments started to roll in from Daily Mail readers calling us ‘chavs abroad,’ ‘hideous people taking advantage of cheap labour.’ But worst of all the comment that we sent our son away to boarding school in England, neglecting his feelings, so that we could pursue material wealth.
The article was a rather skewed version of reality, written to satisfy the Mail’s agenda to claim that everything in the UK is terrible.
I don’t know why I am surprised. I know that a journalist must tailor the story to suit both news agenda  and publication. All I can say is Thank God for Facebook and Twitter so I could let our nearest and dearest know we didn’t actually say those things.
The people who commented have no idea of what it is like to live in Mumbai, no idea of my son’s educational requirements and no idea of all we have had to give up to be here.
We are not the ‘vilest of expats’ or ‘chavs.’ We are just here to make a living like everybody else and if I want to buy a flippin’ temple or a lion on a flippin’ ball, leeches or liposuction, I will do.  I can ‘be’ and ‘have’ at the same time. The only shit that weighs me down is people who think it’s ok to pass judgment on other people when they only know them through shit they read in the Daily Mail.
The funny thing is, we have now been approached by one Sheldon Lazarus, Creative Director, who wants us to consider participation in a BBC documentary entitled: ‘Brits in Bollywood.’ Can you imagine? It will be like ‘My Big-Fat-gin-soaked-days-of-the-Raj  Ex-pat Life,’  a fabulous mix of ‘Desperate Scousewives’, ‘Porridge’ and ‘It Ain’t  ‘alf Hot, Mum!’ A quality production I am sure, but this memsahib for one ain’t doing it!