Lemonade or limbu-pani was the staple we wanted something fresh and refreshing on warm afternoons, or when we returned home from the heat outside. The plethora of fruit juices in the supermarkets these days were missing when I was a child. Come summer, there were the seasonal delights like mango juice and grape juice. For the extra thirst the year round, there was always lemonade.
Among the more unusual summer juice was the raw mango juice or Aam Panna. This was as refreshing and light as lemonade, because it was mainly water with the cooked pulp of raw mango and sugar added to taste. There was a short window of time when this greenish drink could be enjoyed.
In Germany the elderberry cordial would be the equivalent of cool raw mango juice. Elderberry cordial is made using the fragrant tiny white flowers that appear around the end of May. Elderberry flower juice or holundeer bluten saft as it is called in German is a concentrate that is diluted with water as a drink in its own right. Or it is added to alcoholic drinks like sekt, the local German variety of champagne.
Elderberry is a weedy climber that grows as part of hedges or in forest openings. I head to woods or its edges to collect these flowers. Two walks in the woods every year are dedicated to this task. I spent a lovely Sunday morning collecting them again this year. It was a sunny day, and there were elderberries everywhere in bloom, and you could smell them in the air.
The flowers are soaked overnight in water, and they lose their pollen and fragrance to the water. Sugar and lemon juice are the other ingredients. Now I have a supply of summer fragrance bottled up, that I can use through the next months. This is the main difference between elderberry cordial and Aam Panna, which we never stored, but drank immediately. Not that there was any problem finishing it.
I have never seen elderberry cordial sold in supermarkets, just as you won’t find Aam Panna sold in supermarkets or restaurants, and yet they are readily welcomed by family and friends.
Everyplace has its special little treats, and I consider myself lucky to be able to enjoy both these drinks.
Indians are prone to hero worshipping. This is most apparent in the cult following that film stars inspire. Though politicians are usually regarded with disfavor, a few do have faithful followers.
In a land that revers goddesses, it is perhaps not surprising that many women have managed to occupy top political positions. India has seen many women Chief Ministers, and Indira Gandhi was the second woman worldwide to be voted as head of a nation. (After Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who was the world’s first woman Prime Minister).
Looking back, I see that ‘Mothers’ in public spheres entered my life and have held sway since I moved away from home to study and work. The first was ‘The Mother’, Mirra Alfassa of Auroville and the Aurobindo Ashram. Nobody who has lived or visited Pondicherry can miss her influence on life and culture in this erstwhile French colony. She was recognized as ‘Supreme Mother’ by none less than her spiritual mentor Sri Aurobindo.
Looking for work, I landed in neighbouring Tamil Nadu (TN). Just a couple of years after my move, Jayalalitha, a popular film actress was elected as Chief Minister of TN for the first time.
Since then she was in and out of power, because incumbency is the main factor deciding which of the two main political parties the electorate votes to power. Neither Jayalalitha, nor her management of the state was free of controversy, and there have been many charges of corruption against her. However, there is no doubting her popularity amongst the people in Tamil Nadu, especially women. She targeted women, with election promises from gas stoves, pressure cookers to colour television sets. It was no wonder that she soon began to be called ‘Amma’ or mother by her followers. ‘Amma’ remained popular till the very end, and her sudden death in 2016 plunged Tamil Nadu politics into chaos that it still has not recovered from.
Germany, I considered was going to be free of this kind of hero worship, partly because westerners visiting India like to mock this as an Indian idiosyncrasy. People though are not so different wherever they may live. So imagine my surprise, when I found that Angela Merkel a repeat Chancellor was called ‘Mutti’ or mother. She seems to have earned herself this title due to her party’s efforts to sell her as a ‘trustable pair of hands’, a simple but solid personality.
Merkel’s ‘Mutti-hood’ was strengthened when she opened the doors to refugees in 2015. In the latest election though her hold on power was reduced, nobody in her party or in the opposition considered anybody else as a chancellor candidate. He opponents from other parties have been compared to adolescents sulking at a mother!
It was that this point that I began to notice that ‘Mothers’ in the public sphere had become a prevalent feature in my life. It is not every person, let alone politician who can claim this title or nickname. There can be doubt that Merkel has been a competent and a strong ruler. So contrast her ‘Mutti-hood’ with that of other strong stateswoman. Indira Gandhi was the ‘Iron Lady of India’, and Margert Thatcher ‘The Iron Lady of UK’.
Similarly, consider Mamta Banjerjee another popular Indian Chief Minister and a politician reportedly with the greatest mass appeal at present in Bengal. She is neither ‘Ma’ (mother in Bengali) nor Iron Lady. She is the Didi (elder sister) ready to take on Delhi and lead the country. Maybe once that happens she will become Ma of India. Jayalalitha in contrast became Amma early in her career.
Curiously enough both Jayalalitha and Merkel have no children of their own. Even though the land both the women governed have prospered under them, there is not much in common in style or substance with these ‘Mothers’. Jayalalitha was dodged by charges of corruption and led a lavish lifestyle, while Merkel is well known for her simple apartment and love for her weekend cottage garden. So what makes one stateswoman, ‘Mother’ and not another? I do not know and it is beside the point.
The point is wherever I decide to live, there is apparently going to be a ‘Mother’ at the helm of affairs.
All the changes that I experienced in Germany were not external. Some uncomfortable and surprising changes occurred in me. One of them was a change in my self-identity.
Living in India, I had considered myself a world citizen. I was an Indian among Indians, who believed the world was shrinking into a global village with the spread of internet, and I considered it a welcome change. It was after all the only way forward for humanity.
My relocation to Germany I believed would intensify my global outlook. However, in a foreign state, I was constantly confronted with my Indian roots.
Every time I met a stranger, people wanted to know where I came from. It was a perfectly innocent and simple question.
Each time I replied with, “I am an Indian”.
Repeat something enough number of times, and it starts sinking into your consciousness, and you can no longer ignore it. Not that I didn’t know I am an Indian. But it had never been an important part of my identity. It was not necessary till now. I never was nor am an anti-national, but I was never a nationalist.
Our roots remain important however far or however long we stay away from our country. Even if I take up German citizen, I would still be a German-Indian. This labelling sticks to even second and third generation immigrant citizens.
I am not the first to experience this heightened sense of identity with one’s nation of origin. My husband once commented that it was almost impossible for him to forget that he was a foreigner in India. It though does mean that however much you may want, it is not possible to blend into the new community.
One can aim to integrate, but it also has its consequences. There are many second-generation Turks in German, who are born and brought up in Germany and hold German citizenship. They complain that in Germany they are still seen as Turks, but in Turkey they are considered Germans.
Many Indians this year are also reflecting on their place in the country and the identity of their country, even if they have not left its shores. With the rise of fascism, and a surge in anti-social activities by the Hindu right-wing party and its sibling organisation, this Republic day was not one that Indians could ignore as usual.
The Republic Day and Independence Day were usually occasions to relax completely, without the burdening of celebrating any religious festival. This time however, many are realising that the country they grew up in has suddenly taken a turn that many could not have thought possible. The whole country is polarised in a way that I have never seen before, along not just religious lines but also ideology among Hindus.
On a lighter note, back here in Germany, I am confronted with other things that are quintessentially Indian. When I tell perfect strangers about my origin, some women seem pleased to learn from where I come and start gushing praises for the romantic movies with its romantic heroes from Bollywood. It is with difficulty that I manage not to roll my eyes in these situations; these women are after all trying to be nice and friendly. Even if I have grown up on a diet of Hindi movies, I have never associated myself with the craziness of Bollywood. Nor was I prepared to encounter Bollywood movies here. They have a following here, with Bollywood movies dubbed in German screened occassionally on popular televison channels.
It seems there is no getting away from the good, bad and the ugly of India wherever I may be.
‘Never knew before what eternity was made for. It is to give some of us a chance to learn German.’ Mark Twain
One of the biggest challenges in moving to Germany was learning the language. As a languageGerman is renowned for its not-so-subtle difference in sentence construction and use of verbs.
Germans take pride in the precision of theirlanguage, as in all other things they do. There is a specify word for everything I was told. This is especially true for technical objects and process. So as a consequence where the rest of the world makes do with phrases, Germans tag words together to provide a complete description.
This tendency is omniscient, and has gifted the world with vocabulary like ‘Schadenfreude’, which translates to ‘enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others’ according to Merrriam webster. In German it is a combination of two words‘Schaden’ which means harm and ‘freude’, which means joy.
However, for all their love of precision Germans do have some words that have a double meaning. None is as inconvenient as their use of ‘Morgen’. ‘Morgen’ means both tomorrow and morning. Many other German words have a double meaning like ‘kater’ which means male cat and a hangover, but these are used in different circumstances. So if your friend tells you they have a ‘kater’ after a party, you know they are referring to a hangover and not a cat.
Sometimes though it is not easy to comprehend which ‘Morgen’ is being discussed. In all fairness German is not the only language that struggles with the concept of time. Hindi has a similar problem. ‘Kal’ means both yesterday and tomorrow. Here the tense of the verb comes to one’s rescue. In German, with tomorrow and many mornings lying in the future there is no help.
How does one say tomorrow morning I mused? Not ‘Morgen Morgen’, which is actually a greeting used in place of the formal ‘Guten Morgen’. Anybody greeting with a brief ‘Morgen’ is usually suspected of being in a bad mood.
When I confronted some Germans with the problem of trying to say tomorrow morning they were momentarily stumped. They quickly explained that they get away by saying ‘Morgen früh’ or ‘Morgen Vormittags’. ‘Morgen früh’ translates to earlymorning (‘früh’ means early), and ‘Morgen Vormittags’ as tomorrow before noon. These are not good enough I pointed out. As both these phrases are not really the same as sayingtomorrow morning. The Germans understand what is being referred to I was told. It is though just one more of the mysteries of this language that an expat has to deal with.
There is also no getting away from the fact that for all their love for precision, Germans have no exact translation for tomorrow morning.
There are few countries more different than Germany and India. Though I had visited Germany a couple of times, the culture shock I experienced moving to Germany after living for decades in India, was not little.
Visiting is an experience distinct from living in a new country, and provides an entirely different perspective. Since I had visited Germany a few times, I thought I knew what was in store for me.
However, there were many surprises, and living here, comparisons of my life in India and Germany were inevitable.
In the archipelago of Bermuda two endemic species have been threatened by domestic animals that human occupiers brought along with them.
The Bermuda Rock skink (Plestiodon longirostris) are one of the rarest lizards in the world. They are considered to be a critically endangered species living in small scattered groups; there is only one subpopulation of 240 adults that is viable and will be able to continue according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) (1). Loss of habitats and predation by domestic dogs, cats, pigs and rats are responsible for the decline in their numbers
The second species, Bermuda petrel (Pterodroma cahow) was considered to be extinct for three hundred years due to predation by domestic animals (dogs, cats, pigs and rats) and hunting by people. 18 pairs of these petrels were rediscovered in 1951, and were conserved by an intensive program that has ensured there were105 nesting pairs by 2013 according to the Cornell Lab of Orinthology. The recovery program which is considered a global success, happens mainly on Nonsuch an island where there are no domestic animals (2).
Bermudas is not an isolated case. The IUCN considers cats as one of the top 100 invasive species that are responsible for the extinction of 14% of birds, reptiles and mammals that have evolved in islands without predators (3). The Scientific American suggests that there are just too many cats out there (4).
The impact that pets have is unfortunately not confined only to islands.
Loss and his associates have published a research paper in Nature that reports that in the USA alone, ‘domestic cats kill 1.3–4.0 billion birds and 6.3–22.3 billion mammals’ each year. Though un-owned cats are more responsible than owned cats, it is important to note that the scientists include farm cats, and semi-strays/pets as unowned pets. Cats are therefore the main anthropogenic or man-made reason for bird and mammal mortality (5).
The doctoral thesis by E. A. Silva, found that 180 mammals worldwide are threatened by stray dogs or semi-strays, so dogs are just as invasive as cats. According to him, ‘Domestic dogs are the most abundant carnivores worldwide.’ The less care and food they receive from their owners, the more dogs turn to hunting (6, page 13).
There are an estimated 600 million cats in the world, and 480 million are stray (7). The same is true about dogs. There are 600 million dogs in the world and 480 million are strays according to World Animal Protection International figures (8).
This begs the question of why people keep pets. And why so many?
This article will not explore these issue. People who have pets or plan to have pets will hopefully ask themselves these questions. Even if (prospective) owners have the means to keep many pets, they need to consider the environmental impact they can have through their pets. In places where dogs are required to be kept on lease in the developed countries, there is no restriction on the movement of cats, leaving them free to roam around killing birds and other small animals. So the responsibility is entirely the owners.
In case of dogs there is a human cost involved too. Dogs are responsible for 99% of the deaths due to rabies, and at least 15 million people are bitten by dogs every year according to the World Health Organisation (9). According to 2016 figures from the World Organisation for Animal Health 60,000 people die each year due to rabies, and most of whom are children (10).
While nobody is denying the rights of people to have pets, they need to be aware of the problems they create for others through their pets. Frequently, owners have more than one dog or cat.
Many people do not like dogs and cats and may even fear them, but have no influence over a situation that is harmful to them or the environment they care about. Animal management programs and regulations should be guided by ecological and human health issues besides welfare for the pets.