The ugly Indian Habit of spitting anywhere they want – 21 Sep 16

Today’s blog will be about a topic which is, for us, a never-ending story. We hope it will have an end one day but as it has been going on for years and decades, I am not sure how high our chances are in this regard! It is the problem of people chewing gutka, a mixture of betel nut, tobacco and flavourings. And the fact that they spit the red mixture out anywhere.

At first this was an issue which we had with our employees in the Ashram. They chew it and then they spit – leaving very ugly red spots everywhere. These look horrible and are difficult to clean. Obviously, we told everyone not to spit and best not to chew this stuff at all. We even educated them about the negative effects on your health. This habit is one of the main reasons for mouth cancer! It got a bit better over time although we still sometimes found a spot here or there.

With the opening of Ammaji’s Ayurvedic Restaurant, you wouldn’t believe it, this problem got fully new dimensions! First of all, starting with the staff. New people, a lot of them and a lot of them with bad habits! From the first day on we stated that we did NOT want to have any stains anywhere but soon realized that once more it would take effort to enforce this. So a fine was placed on anybody who would be caught chewing on the premises. It worked – and one employee left due to this! Crazy, isn’t it?

Well, now we had controlled our staff but there is one issue which is why I am not sure we will really ever be able to eliminate this from our premises: we often see that guests come into our restaurant and walk straight to the hand-wash-room or the toilet. Not for obvious reasons however! After they leave, have a look at the sink or the dustbin: you will find the white sink sprinkled red or their red spit in the dustbin!

Yes, it is educated people who come to eat in our restaurant. It is a strong bad habit however which they cannot leave! And unfortunately for the world around them, it doesn’t only affect them and their health but also the people who clean up after them!

Three days ago I had an incredible example of how strong this habit is – and maybe how little Indians care about keeping their environment clean: two guests came into the restaurant and while one of them was talking to the person sitting at the cashier, I looked at the one standing behind him. Believing himself to be unwatched, he simply spit out his gutka – in the middle of our restaurant, onto the floor at the cashier counter! Yes, onto our beautiful floor, spraying until our bamboo counter! I immediately got up and asked him, as politely as I could manage, to please clean that up! I asked a waiter to provide paper napkins and had our guest clean up his mess.

Spitting is a habit that I have not seen in this way in any other country or culture! Even people who do not eat gutka often have the habit of spitting. Often enough not only spitting anywhere outside but inside as well! Maybe children see their parents spit out betel nut and tobacco and that’s how they learn to spit, even if it is just spit and nothing else? Anyway, if someone spits in our restaurant and I see it, I will definitely tell them to clean up!

In this way I believe in making an effort in educating others – even if it is not what a usual business owner would do!

When the Birth of a Child is not a Reason for Joy: the seventh Daughter – 18 Aug 16

Yesterday we got the news that a few of our school girls have got another small sister. Obviously, with 250 children, there are all the time new siblings being born. Normally when you talk about a new life coming to this earth, you feel happy and celebrate. In this case however, we cannot really feel happy with this family – the parents himself are not. The reason is the same but different: it is their seventh daughter!

Oh, we have known this family for so many years and see their development with sorrow: the father is a mason who has already worked on our Ashram building, school building and restaurant building. His eldest daughter was among the first children at our school – and the next three daughters started in the years after that as well. In 2013 I introduced this family to you in my blog. In that time, they had five daughters already and we knew exactly why: they kept on trying to have a son!

The father is hard-working and has managed to save some money to build his home – but obviously it is quite a task feeding six children – and now another belly wants to be filled! We will be here to support the girls with their primary education – but there are other expenses that have to be covered as well!

We actually confronted the father with our concern and were surprised: he started crying and told us that he himself as well as his parents had already told his wife after the second daughter that two children were enough. He complained that everyone suspected him to be the one wanting a boy at all costs – but that in fact it was his wife!

She had even gone as far as to threaten him: if he didn’t make her pregnant again, she would get help by someone else! For her, the reason for not being full of joy about this birth is clear: it is ‘only’ another girl! Another girl to feed, who will have to be married and finally will leave home. No son who will carry on the family name, who will stay at home and earn money for the parents when they are old or whose wife would care for them!

It is unfortunately still like this here in India and this mentality is something which will still take a long time to remove from people’s minds! Girl and boy are not equal here. Parents may love their daughters but daughters and sons are never equal in their eyes. They say it clearly in front of the girls, too: we wanted a son!

I feel for these girls, I feel for these families who increase their poverty only by this wish for a male child. Your daughter is precious and lovely – don’t think she is worth less and don’t make her feel she should be anything else than she is!

Why a four-year-old is trained to feel ashamed when being naked in India – 5 Jul 16

In the past weeks, I have again experienced something which was a topic the last time when Apra was born and just a few weeks old: the idea that nakedness, even when it comes to children, could be something shameful. It is, to me, the most absurd idea to say ‘Shame, shame!’ when a small child walks around naked!

Let me elaborate on this a little bit. We were confronted with this topic for the first time when Apra was very small. Instead of putting her in diapers the whole day, she often crawled around with just her dress on. The underwear we got with these dresses was usually too tight for her legs and disturbed her – so we took it off. A few times, someone who came by would look at her with wide eyes and say ‘Oh, shame, shame!’ Obviously, a child of a few weeks or months did not react at all to that but we did. We always explained, as nicely and calmly as possible, that there was no shame in a baby being naked, it was just natural.

People got to know and in our Ashram environment, this kind of words stopped completely. Of course, the older Apra got, the more often she was wearing full clothes rather than not but it is still her home – sometimes moving from one room to the other happens without any clothes on!

With the restaurant, a lot of new people have come to our place. Our new staff doesn’t know us that well yet and that’s how it happened the other day: we had showered in the morning and as most of Apra’s clothes are in my father’s cupboard, she came out of our room with nothing but her slippers on. We were moving towards our father’s room when one of our employees said the familiar words: ‘Ooooh, Apra, shame, shame!’

We stopped and turned, starting our explanation right away: there is nothing shameful in being naked! If you find a four-year-old girl walking naked from one room to the other in her own home shameful, something is wrong with you, not with her! We adults don’t walk around naked due to social conditioning but in reality, there is nothing more natural than a naked body! What you try to instill in my daughter is something I don’t want her to learn! You are talking about shame to a child or who doesn’t even understand the concept of shame!

If anything, she would enjoy walking naked because it feels good or because you tell her she shouldn’t. It is something one doesn’t usually do – so she would do it extra and on purpose if you teach her this. Without this kind of teachings, she would usually wear clothes because everyone does – without any bad feelings about being naked!

Slowly even our new staff members get the idea that we think a bit differently from others. That we are not as much tied in the Indian idea of shame. They will learn not to say such things even if they don’t understand or agree with our reasons.

But it makes you think about what we teach our children about our bodies – shame and guilt. Make a change. Teach them to accept themselves and be more natural. This will help them in life!

My Experience with Indian Food-Lovers and their Advice – 1 Jul 16

I have surely already mentioned in my blog that Indians are food experts. We have a food culture here in India and we are proud of it. Mothers are the best cooks in nearly every nation, I believe, and in India, they bring this pride of cooking to a completely different level. That makes every son and daughter a food connoisseur of course – or at least that what everyone thinks themselves to be. That’s something I had known all along – but now, being in the restaurant business, I experience this from a whole different perspective!

Indians love giving advice on food! Now my dear Indian readers, please don’t mind the generalization but if you watch your own habits or those of our countrymen in a restaurant, you will notice that it is true! I have lived for a long time with people running restaurants in England, in Germany and other European countries – and really, Europeans act differently in restaurants! They give far less suggestions to the waiters on how food should be!

Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that Indians complain or tend to not like food. No, even if they like the meal they are served, they make suggestions on how it could be even better! Even more than in the restaurants where I went to eat, I am seeing this in our own restaurant: people love our food. I am not saying this to boast, if you see our online reviews, people really do! Nevertheless however, more often than not, our guests provide advice on how a dish could be even better – or how it should actually be correctly prepared in their opinion.

As much as I love getting feedback and new ideas, it sometimes makes me wonder: it happens in questions of taste as well! In this way, one person tells us that their flat bread, the roti, is too crispy while the other one finds it too soft. We were told to make our Shahi Paneer, a dish which usually comes in a lightly sweet sauce, sweeter than it was – and on the next table we were also told the exact opposite, that it should not be sweet at all!

This all simply shows that Indians love food and have their own sense about how it should be. They are real foodies, usually always ready to try something new and not holding back with their opinion and feedback!

The Consequences of domestic Violence and arranged Marriage – 10 Jun 16

Yesterday I told you that a facebook friend of mine had come. In one of our longer talks, we of course also came to the topics of culture, relationships and love. We shared a few thoughts on the problems that can arise and of course talked about their possible solutions as well. With all of this thought processes going on, I wanted to share a little part of that with you, too.

When talking about Indian culture and relationships, there will always be one issue coming up: arranged marriages. A lot of people here, the majority of Indians in fact, still believe very strongly in this concept. That includes young people as well who, from the beginning of their lives, get the idea that their parents would definitely find the right partner for them. What do you need for this idea to work though? Apart from the luck to find someone compatible, it requires trust. What to do however if the child doesn’t have this trust?

I believe this can happen a lot in this society and even more with the advance of modern media, globalization and possibilities to travel, see and understand more and be freer. Young people get to see a lot more than what they were able to know in the past. They may not trust their parents to make the right choice anymore. And often you don’t have to go very far to see why: in their own home, they can often see an example of how marriage should NOT look like.

Fights, suppression and even violence – nothing very uncommon in many Indian families!

It is also no wonder, in my opinion, that this scars a little child. And it may scar him or her so much that the idea of marriage is too scary. That there is the wish for love, closeness and intimacy – but the fear of experiencing violence too big! There is no trust – in the other gender, in parents to make the right choice and even in themselves to choose correctly.

A young woman may very well get afraid of her future husband beating her the same way her father was beating her mother. Young men may be afraid of his future wife nagging and constantly trying to get into fights, showing her disappointment just as his mother was doing to his father.

At the same time, they long for that ideal love which they see in movies, hear of in stories and feel a desire for the same experience in their hearts. They have this need for acceptance and love but they don’t dare.

For me this makes one more thing very clear: we have to do more to stop domestic violence. We have to make people aware of their options, of the possibility to leave and even press charges. We have to make this pressing of charges easy and possible. And in the end, I believe still arranged marriage is not the right way, as more people will feel disappointed with the partner that was chosen for them. This leads to conflict and an unhealthy environment for children.

More than anything however I want to ask parents: be an example for your children because they learn from your actions much more than from your words!

Indians hit their Children in public Places – and don’t feel guilty about it! – 8 Jun 16

In our restaurant, we witness again and again something which we have been working against for many, many years now: domestic violence against children. Unfortunately it is so common here in India that no day passes on which we don’t see a child getting hit or at least threatened to be hit. In the middle of the restaurant, where everyone else can see and hear it. Without shame or guilt. It is normal.

I knew this. I have always known it because I grew up here. For Ramona, this came as a shock which was revealed over time. In the past years, it was more an issue which we saw at schools. Obviously: we had sponsored children in other schools and corporal punishment was the issue we faced. We opened our own school and taught our teachers how to teach without violence. It is a never-ending topic as you have to repeat those talks, workshops and classes whenever new teachers join! It was direct interaction with teachers, not so much with parents – although we of course saw that, too.

With Apra’s birth and in the years that followed, we were strongly reminded that this was also a domestic problem in people’s families. Children of staff members at the Ashram were hit – and we opposed it. We created rules for staff not to use violence or even violent language at our Ashram. It was our small world here and we lived in here.

Now, with the opening of the restaurant, the outer world has come to us and this aspect of it is something we don’t like. Something we strongly dislike even – but which we cannot help or change except for making small changes in our own surrounding.

There are small children who are simply hungry, waiting for their parents to order and then get food. They get impatient, cannot sit still and play with the cutlery, the cloth napkins and crockery. Sometimes there is only the threat: ‘Stop it now or I will hit you!’, ‘Keep on doing this and you will get slapped!’ and so on. More than that, we can see the action right away: a slap in the face, on the hands, on the buttocks. And then talk just goes on.

It is normal, for everyone around them, too. Just we are sitting there with the feeling that we want to object, that we want to jump in and protect the child. The urge to tell them not to do this in our restaurant. In the end however, we are the ones who seem strange here. The ones who do it differently.

After all, our guests are all educated people. While the parents of our school children were from what society would call a ‘lower class’, we are speaking here about the upper middle and higher classes.

This, my dear readers, is culture. It is one of the dark aspects of our culture. I hope it will vanish someday. We will keep working against it anyway and just hope that others will follow so that we will see the day on which no child is hit in our restaurant!

How an Indian Girl walked away when offered the Job of a Waitress – 4 May 16

Of course we have all kinds of experiences now with the restaurant, not only with our existing staff or with guests but also with people who are looking for jobs. The other day, there was a woman who confirmed something I have written about before: people think for a lot of work that it is something they are too good for. With our restaurant, we have experienced that first-hand.

This lady entered our restaurant together with her daughter and directly approached me at the cashier counter. She shortly introduced herself and her daughter, explaining their reason for coming: her daughter, twenty years old was currently studying for her Master degree in Commerce and was looking for a place to work. She literally said ‘She can do any kind of work’.

It was pretty clear from the way that they approached and explained that the young woman could handle a computer that she wanted to work at our cashier counter. I thought for a second how exactly to reply but when the woman continued ‘Please, we really need the extra income right now!’, I made up my mind. My answer was: ‘We will be happy to have your daughter here. We do the work at the computer ourselves, but we would need some help in service.’

I could see how the woman’s mind processed this information and how the reaction clearly formed on her face: disbelief and, soon to follow, a kind of outrage at my proposal! ‘You mean, my daughter should serve people water and food here?’

I already knew now what the mentality of this family was: this girl would not work here… I clarified: ‘Yes, that would include serving water and food, welcoming guests and the like.’

Oh, she did not like this – but I continued: ‘Do you think that is some kind of small work? I myself do this, it is a very important and respectable work!’ The mother was very angry however and nearly shouted: ‘But she is educated, she is doing a master degree!’ I answered: ‘But you said she could do any kind of work!’ Without further reply, she took her daughter by the arm and stormed out of the restaurant.

I know that this is a very common problem: people think that certain work is something that they are too good for. Something people do who are below them. I don’t believe in this. Every work is necessary and thus should be respected. You need a job but you think you are too good to do what is actually needed? Well, then you don’t fit in here and won’t like our thinking anyway!

Do Westerners divorce too easily or do Indians stick around too long? – 17 Mar 16

I yesterday told you of one of our first experiences at Ammaji’s Ayurvedic Restaurant. The four of us, Purnendu, Yashendu, Ramona and I, have committed ourselves completely to our new work and love getting fully involved in everything surrounding it! We are thus often talking to our guests before or after their order, collect feedback, help serving and constantly improve our new venture. One of these conversations which Ramona had with a female customer was rather interesting, as it mirrored a very Indian view on westerners and their relationships!

The lady had come from Delhi together with her adult daughter. It was their first time in Vrindavan and they were happy that they had found our restaurant so that they could relax during lunch after a busy morning of visiting temples. Ramona started a conversation and soon they also asked where she was from and how long she had already been in India. They got to know that we were married and the moment Ramona told this, I was just walking by, so I stopped as well to greet our guests. The older lady got serious and told Ramona: ‘You know, now that you are married here, you should stay. We Indians believe a marriage is forever!’

We replied she should not worry, Ramona would not run away from me!

Obviously, we laughed but the fact that this woman had mentioned this shows a widely popular perception Indians have of relationships and marriages in the west: they believe western people easily break up and even leave their spouses much more frequently and maybe even without thinking much about it.

In a way, it is true: the divorce rate in the west is significantly higher than the one here in India. It is also true, the average Indian will have a lower number of relationships throughout his life than the average westerner.

There are a few different thoughts and facts to this however, too: In India, relationships before marriage are not appreciated which is why people don’t normally make it known when they are in a committed relationship. Or they don’t regard physical contact or emotional attachment as a relationship, as it is not a usual concept in this society. It happens in hidden and when it is over, it is simply as though nothing has ever happened. That’s how in the west, there seems to be much more trial and error – while in India, it also happens, just not officially. Maybe less, but it does happen, too.

When it comes to the divorce rate, it is very clear why exactly there are less divorces in India: not because people are much happier in their arranged marriages with people they had never known. No, there is the same amount of unhappiness and failure to communicate in between spouses – but divorce is such a taboo in society that most people just don’t think it is an option! Women are dependent on their husbands and cannot sustain themselves or their children, families offer little to no support to relatives that want to get a divorce, religion opposes the very idea of ‘turning against your fate’ and especially as a divorced woman, life can be difficult and even insecure at times.

So while many Indians think westerners divorce too easily, I often think Indians make divorce too difficult. Men and women often live in misery due to this. Of course, some people in the west don’t try to work on issues in their relationship in order to solve them – but sometimes Indians just don’t see that nothing helps and it would be better if each went his or her own way!

Looking healthy, being overweight and Size Zero – Differences in Beauty Ideals in India – 10 Mar 16

Ramona and I talked further about the question of beauty ideals in India, especially for women, as well as the attitude that people have towards these ideals and their body.

On one hand, the idea of how thin a beautiful woman is, is definitely different here in India than in the west. In India, the models we usually get to see on posters as well as the actresses we get to see in movies usually weigh some more kilos than the ones in the west. Size zero was and is not as popular here as there. I believe that this has something to do with the fact that we actually have people dying of hunger. The general Indian will associate an extremely thin body with poverty, not with beauty.

In the same way, having a few kilos more than the average is considered as good in India. That’s how, when we once visited friends whom we had not seen for a while, the lady told Ramona ‘You look healthy!’ with a smile. What she meant was that Ramona had gained weight since she had last seen her – and it was a compliment made sincerely! I explained that to Ramona later, as in that moment, she had just been slightly confused for having been complimented on looking to be of good health. She had to laugh and now always tells our non-Indian friends that she’s not really keen of looking ‘healthy’!

So that is the difference in how women see a figure in India. On the other hand however, they do talk about it in very similar ways as out of India, too! There you have women discussing their weight and ideas on how to lose weight fast, shows on TV where the female characters try to go on diet and finally lots of products and charlatanry trying to sell pills that make you slim in a very limited amount of days.

You can see and hear both in India – but while those who are happy in being big get bigger and bigger, those who wish to be slim and fit know only one way to achieve it: go on a diet and be hungry for most of your day. Obviously, that is not the right and best solution but it is the sad truth that there are little to no fitness offers for women in India! It obviously depends on where you are, as you can easily find a gym for women in Delhi or Mumbai – but once you are out of the mega cities, it gets difficult! Colleges and universities offer sports but for adults, working women, housewives and those who simply don’t attend these schools, there is nothing! No place where they could learn exercises, no place where they could meet and work out in a group!

There is even no awareness about exercises during pregnancy or after birth. That’s another reason for women to look pregnant although they are not – after five children and with no exercise for your belly muscles, your belly won’t look flat anymore! No complaining or dieting will help here, you would need to exercise!

Of course, yoga is one option which you can easily do at home with little equipment and space. You can use help like our online yoga posture directory.

In the end however, in order to help people in India to be fit and healthy instead of oversize or undersize, India would need to first of all create awareness and the possibility for women to work out. It might change the image that people have of themselves – and maybe improve it one day!

If you are in India, plan with ‘Indian Standard Time’! – 16 Feb 16

We have had people steadily coming and going in the past days and weeks and there have been a lot of talks about India compared to other countries and cultures. Obviously, Ramona is often asked what she likes about India or whether she found anything difficult here. She of course always mentioned one thing: the concept of ‘Indian Standard Time’ which is different to German punctuality! Which of course could throw her off balance at times!

It is really true – even though this happened mostly at the beginning of her time in India. It is quite logical: in Germany, it is normal for people to have quite a clear plan of what they will do in the next days. They even plan in advance for several weeks! It is just usual for a regular person to know where he or she will be next Friday. Or whether they have plans for Saturday the 5th. Or whether they can meet you at 3 pm the next day. If you make an appointment for a meeting, if you fix a time with them for any kind of common activity, they will make a mental note and probably write it down a bit later, too. They will be there at the exact right time. If they cannot, they will call you, write to you or let you know in some way.

In India, it’s different. Here, you cannot plan. No wait, you can – but there is no guarantee that your plans will work out the way they should! As a German – or a person of another nationality that take plans and punctuality more serious – you may take a mental note and you will make your plan. You cannot however rely on the Indian person to do the same!

If you make plans with a person, it may be that the other one was not completely serious about it. So you say ‘we should meet at the weekend’ and you think you actually fixed that plan but then you realize that the other one just said it to be polite or because it sounded nice that moment! He or she never actually thought to meet you!

Or you have called a person for a service, for example an electrician or a bank employee. The appointment is supposed to be at 11 am. You are ready and waiting at 11 am – but nobody arrives! You call and the answer can be ‘I am on the way!’ but you wait another two hours! Finally, it can very well happen that the other one doesn’t appear until the next day! You may get a call to tell you or you may not!

It can also happen that a group of four people was planning something together and you were preparing everything and are ready to go when all of a sudden, everyone gets into a talk and they decide to do something completely different! All of your preparations are for nothing – or at least postponed to another time.

It can drive you crazy – or you can lean back and relax. You can accept the change in speed and the fact that you always need a plan B. That’s how Ramona always tells our guests: when you are in India, relax and go with the flow – she has learned to do exactly that!