Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Eye Of The Beholder

I wonder what your first reaction was to seeing this symbol on my blog. When I first arrived in India I was shocked when I saw my first swastika. I could tell it was different than the one I had seen in movies and history books, the one that meant evil and hatred and danger, the one that marked everything it touched as repugnant. The angle was different (although I didn't realize that until Number One Son pointed it out), the black field was gone and the block-ish shape had been replaced with an artistic flair. I knew that if it graced homes and cars and store front signs that it had to mean something else here, in this land that was so new to me. Despite the fact that my logical brain picked up on all of these things, my stomach still turned every time I saw it. My eye would slide around it, as if not looking directly at it would make me feel better about it.

When we got the van that we would be driving for the next few years, some kind soul decorated it for us. In India, buying a new car is something to celebrate. You bring sweets to your friends and co-workers and you decorate your car. On the hood there was a beautiful red ribbon (sorry, no bow) and right there, front and center, was a bright red swastika. For weeks as we drove around the city I felt like ducking so that no one would see me in the swastika car.

This isn't something you can ignore for long in India. It is everywhere. Clothing, wrapping paper, even sidewalks. They come in all shapes and sizes and are made with all different mediums. They also often have four dots included with them, like the one below.

Even our neighbors house is decorated with them.

I decided to try to find out just what this particular geometric pattern represented in Indian culture and as usual found that there were several different opinions. The ones that came up the most were, a blessing of wealth, good luck and general well being. I think it is so interesting that one symbol could have such diametrically opposed meanings, depending on where you were raised.

I admit that after almost two years I have lost a lot of the old emotional reactions that I had, but I still don't choose keepsakes with swastikas on it and I don't see that changing anytime soon.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Number One Son

Number One Son is nothing if not interesting. He is a crazy mix of intelligence and bad judgement, of kindness and narcissism, of maturity and rashness. He has provided Mr. Smith and I with countless stories and a number of sleepless nights. Two new stories cropped up just this week and so, of course, I have decided to use them for this week's post along with a couple others thrown in. I think all good bloggers should exploit their children for material, let them earn their keep.

Number One Son has a fascination with buttons and knobs. He cannot see a button and not push it to find out what it does. That is how he learns, he just jumps in and tries. One day, soon after we arrived in India, I heard a frightened sounding yelp from the direction of his room. I rushed towards his door only to meet him as he shot out and announced, "I have been violated by India!" It seems that while "sitting in the bathroom" he noticed that there was a faucet like knob on the wall next to him, but no corresponding faucet. So, being Number One Son, he reached out and gave it a good turn. The startled yelp came when the cold February water shot out of the bidet attachment that was controlled by the mystery knob on the wall and hit him where the sun doesn't generally shine, so to speak.

Number One Son is a bit of a compulsive shopper. Of course Mr. Smith and I would never allow such a character flaw in ourselves and so we are bewildered as to where he could have gotten such a loathsome habit. The $1,500 we spent on a set of Encyclopedias two months after we were married was an investment in our future. Well, it was. Upon Number One Son's return from his extended stay in the US this summer, we discovered that one of the things he had purchased during his days of freedom was a book, "Stuff White People Like" by Christian Lander. Not only was I annoyed that he had bought one more completely frivolous thing, but for some reason the title annoyed me. It turns out the joke was on me. A few weeks later Mr. Smith and I were discussing the fact that when we see other white people in public we want to run over and introduce ourselves and find out what brought them to India, but they seem to want to pretend they don't see us. We were debating various theories to explain this phenomenon when Number One Son jumped up and ran out of the room, only to return a minute later with the book. It seems section #71, Being the Only White Person Around says, "In most situations, white people are very comforted by seeing their own kind. However, when they are eating at a new ethnic restaurant or traveling to a foreign nation, nothing spoils their fun more than seeing another white person." Whew! I thought we had B.O.

Number One Son doesn't always think things through. This week's compulsive purchase was three black ski masks. You know the kind, two holes for eyes and one for your mouth. This is always a silly purchase in balmy New Delhi, but in light of last week's events and the fact that all of India is on high alert, it seems to me like a particularly dangerous one. "Gee mom, I can't understand why our driver was so nervous when I put the ski mask on while we were driving through traffic." Um, perhaps he was afraid you would both be dragged from the car and beaten to death? Just a thought.

Number One Son is...well he is who he is. A couple of days ago Mr. Smith and I left Number One Son in charge of his six siblings. While we were away, Number One Son decided to make himself some microwave popcorn to enjoy while he carried out his duties. As usual he placed the bag in the microwave and set it for an undetermined amount of time, then stood next to it, listening to the popping sound so as to catch it at the exact moment when the bag reached that delicate balance of mostly popped, but not yet burned. Unfortunately something distracted him and pulled him out of the kitchen. The popcorn was completely forgotten until almost thirteen minutes later when the smell of smoke caught his attention. Number One Son rushed back to the abandoned microwave and opened the door only to find his popcorn engulfed in flames. He ran through his fire fighting options and decided the situation was bad enough to warrant the use of the fire extinguisher, which fulfilled its destiny beautifully.

I thought all fire extinguishers were filled with foam, but it turns out that some are filled with yellow powder. I only regret that I was too stunned when I got home to think of taking a picture. Yellow powder covered every surface and every object in our kitchen. Here is my lame version. Lame as it is, it's pretty darn close.

Make no mistake, Number One Son is still number one in the line up and number one in our hearts. Well...he is at least in a seven way tie for number one.