Meandarra and the B & S Ball

“Do you think I’ve gone round the bend?”
“I’m afraid so. You’re mad, bonkers, completely off your head. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.” 

My cousin decided to marry an Aussie guy and brought him  home between semesters. All hell broke loose. Good Indian girls don’t bring  firangi boys home even now,  and this was a good 20 years back. Grand- dad had studied in England as a young man and was still suffering from an acute colonial hangover, even 60 years post independent  India. To get the  grand-dad to agree to the marriage was key,  so a ‘certain’  impression about  the  boyfriend  had to be created. Many stressful days  later nana (which in India means grandfather, not grandmother) was still in no mood to talk about the Aussie boy, let alone talk marriage. Talking among ourselves, the conversation took a turn when an ordinarily  politically incorrect cousin dropped in to meet the Aus returned relative..
He:  “So you brought a man back, is that true?
She: “Yes, so?”
He:  ” You may have to die”
She:  “I’ll die if  I can’t marry him”  ( A  favorite  Bollywood dialogue )
He: ” Where have you hidden him?”
She: “At a friends place, and I’m not telling you more.”
He: ” You couldn’t find an Indian there in Australia?
She: ” No. Not my type of Indian.”
He:   ” So where did you meet him?’
She: “At a,  ummmmmm,  ball”
Nana froze. We froze.  Nana spoke-
Nana: “You met him at a ball?
She:  (Scared voice)  “Yes nana.”
Nana: “Hmm, I’m glad he has a refined taste. I am happy to hear  how he spends his recreational hours. A ball,  good, very  good.”
Silken yarns & half-truths followed.  Suitably impressed, eventually  nana  thawed. Happy ending. The Aussie groom looked handsome, and really  uncomfortable  sitting  on the ceremonial horse on the day of the  Big  Fat Indian Wedding .

I was reminded of this story somewhere towards the middle of our Aussie adventure when we had our first experience of  a  B & S ;  Jake- my cousin’s husband- was a country boy and  I wondered  if they had  met at the B & S ball. Would  ‘refined’   be the adjective nana would  use  for the proceedings we were going to be a  part of… I was curious.

It was a long  long  drive. This board  cheered us no end. Finally!


We were disappointed at the start. I think we reached way to early, and expected too much. It wasn’t as crowded as we thought, and in that afternoon sun most people looked  quite sober- until we spoke to them.
I have to say that  it’s quite easy to recognize approximately  how many drinks down an adult  Indian man is, and it generally doesn’t take too many;  in my limited experience  as a traveler, it seemed to me that  adult Aussie  men need a lot more liquor to actually get  drunk. I wonder if that’s good or bad.

As the sun set across the tiny stream, it became clear that the B & S  sports were not  for  the physically weak  or city folk. Our boys were easily outdone even by the girls. In spite of  all the beefy  boys around,  it was a woman who won the barrel rolling event, and she said it was the 3rd year in a row!  She told me her family lived here but she was always determined to leave for a bigger town. She  now worked in Moree. It was easy to see she had worked very hard towards it, and was justifiably proud of her achievements. 

We weren’t so proud of ours  at the  tug-of-war that followed-  them vs us 4 Indians  &  Joe.  We thought our host  Joe, the tough Aussie bloke would dig his heels in and we’d have a chance at winning this,   but  we had over-estimated Joe’s physical prowess. We were tugged away  in the very 1st  minute.

Country sports and events  in India are very similar except that women have their own events, or no part in them at all. Segregation of sexes in public events  is pretty much the norm in almost all of  rural India.


Groups like the Meandarra Pink  Ladies  seemed like old friends out to have a good time.

The  spread of  cheese and crackers  and melted-in -the -heat M & M’s looked pretty untouched- we would have loved to change that, considering  it was a many hours since we had eaten.  Unfortunately we were  herded  away quickly, and  all we could do was wave at the lovely ladies all in pink.

Country folk in India are more conservative than city people, and so  the  B*** flash was unexpected. It came up in many casual conversations  later through our journey and once the promos were aired, wherein many Australians seemed  embarrassed about the impression it gives about Australian  society.
However,  for me, coming from a country  where women have  endless  restrictions imposed on them- from the family, society,  due to  the  general  lack of  safety for  women in many places in  India/  how vulnerable they are to becoming an   easy  target  pretty much all over India,  and also self-imposed ( for the very same reasons),  this was  in  an  unconventional  way..  a  kind of  proof  of  the   freedom  that this country offered-  to be able to live without any  societal or other restrictions whatsoever. Not only for men, but for both men and women!   (Of course, how one uses/ misuses  that freedom/ stretches it,  is a personal choice.)

2 things that stayed with me :
The nonchalance with which one of  the women (who flashed)  smilingly walked away
as opposed to
The reaction of the young  guy with her-  *Accusatory, sarcastic voice *  ” Mom’s gonna be real  happy.”

Some questions that came to my mind prompted by  his tone of voice :
Was that her brother or boyfriend or fiance?  Her mother or his mother?
Are parents here  okay with their girls  flashing  for TV?  How  respected  are parent’  view-points?
Do people in a small town judge you for it? If they do, how do they show it? Does anyone care if they do?
Is  it  perceived  as  ‘funny’ across Australia?
A  few  Australian women I met later in the journey told me it was no big deal at all, and that  flashing serves many purposes. In fact one of them gave me an instance of when she flashed to distract someone from something she didn’t want him to  to do. In public, yes.

Some things that many B & S Ball attendees said:

“It’s true, it was for Bachelors & Spinsters, now it stands for Beer & Sex.”
“I’m drinking since the past 24 hours, non-stop.
“I’m here to get some. Almost all of us are.
“The messier it gets, the better it gets.”
“The ‘utes’ are about testosterone.”
“My swag is for one but hopes for two.”
It’s just a lot of innocent fun, sex and drinks.”
“You’ll see the fun  at night.”

In all fairness the night belonged to Gurmeet’s  moves on the dance floor. The quiet  cautious  introvert journalist  transformed into a  Boganesque Travolta- loves- Bhangra  ‘So you think you can dance’  finalist.  Pretty amazing moves there.
Yet  he was so modest at  feedback time- actually the ladies just loved him there that night and wouldn’t let him go. Both our boys were big hits with the ladies at the B & S in full swing-  Amer had  perfected one really hot  dance move,  Gurmeet set the floor on fire.

The night was about mostly young people, cheap  alcohol, tearing off shirts,  more alcohol,  Acca Dacca music, a  few people puking away,  making out, more  alcohol,  people  falling over and down, and mostly about  most  people  there getting sloshed,  and happy to get there.

It wasn’t sophisticated, but there was a kind of simplicity and innocence to it-  many of the people there seemed to be  young kids who work hard and look forward to this annual event. It was summed-up  by  two  sweet, shy and completely drunk  22 year olds who said to me :
” Our parents  think we’re  at  work  and we’ll cop it  if  they know we’re here, We want to be on TV but are scared to be cuz they’ll see us on it.” And  “It took us a very long time and a lot of hard work  to save 100 dollars to get in.”

 The mosquitoes were deadly after the floods. Indians fear mosquitoes- malaria is common in our country. These ones were absolutely scary.

We drove all the way  back to Tara to sleep off the tiredness of a really long interesting  day, and recover enough for the long drive back .

The  modest  motel gave  us all  individually  packed  breakfasts.  That historic drive back  Mahima  broke all  her own  Olympian previous  records by  eating  15 chocolates  at one go. Only after did she tell us that  they  were  from all of  our snack bags. Our hard-to -hide disappointment and   “Not fair Mahi” made it abundantly clear that the happy van had a few  really mature Australians and Indians. 

Things got back to normal only after Trev made a pit-stop and bought everyone a  few Kit-Kats and it was  unanimously agreed upon that Mahi was not getting any of  these. That’s when she showed us her amazing  chocolate collection from India, neatly tucked away in her bag. I can still hear her laughing hysterically from sugar-overdose at our  pained envious expressions.

Next post- Mt Isa and the art of drinking.

Post Script: 

“Hello my friend!  The utes are simply called B & S utes; they’re typically adorned with very tall aerials (aka ‘flag poles’ used for getting UHF radio reception) as well as lots of stickers, and they must have a huge 5-post bullbar on the front (aka ‘a 5 poster’ due to the number of upright supports on the bar). These utes are driven by males as well as females and basically signify that the driver is from the country & could be considered a little bit wild and out for a good time.  I used to have one of these utes….”
The ‘tiny stream’ in the photo is known as a creek over here and is breeding ground for massive mosquitos, as you found out.
~ Input from Kimberly Dove of the Meandarra  Pink  Ladies

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On the Road, into the Country


Ah! Then yours wasn’t a really good school. Now at ours they had at the end of the bill- French, music,
and washing — extra. ~ The Mock Turtle
Three days  into  it,  Aaron  (aka Director ji when we Indians talked among themselves)  announced the ‘happy van’ now  had a ‘road-trip smell to it. That’s when I realized this was the road-trip that  the director and  producer ( and  somewhat  iffy  assistant, who  just  disappeared into the blue halfway through the long- distance correspondence, and thanks to whom we  packed our bags  for the North Pole )  were talking about since our ‘participation acceptance’  was stamped  sealed and mailed.
The Aussie ‘road’-trip was scenic.   Countryside tends to be scenic, but that word means different  things to different folk. Coming from  a country with 1.2 billion people,  just  not  having scores of people as far as the eye can see is scenic enough for me. If  it’s green, even more scenic.  Add cottages and  rolling plains/ hills-  picture perfect. No dust- this must be  heaven!
(Sure India has it’s share of rolling fields, empty spaces, natural glory but living in  cities, all of which are absolutely  bursting at the seams….)
Tiny pretty towns  rushed past, heavy-duty trucks lumbered across, stray dead animals  whizzed by, and the more north we went,  tell-tale signs of the recent floods were all around. 

But that was outside.
Inside the van we were a mixed group of 4 Indians, 3 or 4 Aussies, and  following us in another car was  1 Brit- as he would sometimes refer to himself. Considering how different we all were,  it  is remarkable how well we all coped with being in that van with each other  for what sometimes seemed like an eternity. 
One such day, while  I sat there next to Mahi,  both of  us  humming  Hindi movie love-  songs ( aka  Bollywood- pretending- to- be Sufi ), I made a mental check-list of  some things that make a longish road-trip really  painful, and our’s checked all of these-
No idea of where we were headed.
No idea of how long the road-trip was going to be.
No idea of  why we needed a road-trip.
No idea of whether we  would even ‘like’ our co-travelers (which came  to  mean   4 Indians + 5 Aussies + 1 Brit ).
No idea if our co-travelers would even ‘ like’  us.
No idea of  where we’d stop/eat/ halt/sleep/ film
No idea of …

Basically we had  just climbed into a van and started on The Aussie Road-trip.  And yet, these were the very reasons  this road trip became blog-worthy.

There were times Mahi and G-man missed home terribly ( I am sure it’s only a coincidence that  those times  occurred when the choice in veg fare was a bit lean ), and  there were  times  when we  didn’t really care where we were.  Most  times our lives seemed caught  in a strange limbo, while the others’  had a clear-cut agenda and purpose. We stopped  stop for lunch at a tiny place  one really hot afternoon and whiled away the 20 minutes  until food came,   while Aaron and Chris went into a  discussion with someone on the laptop. They looked more  serious than ever before, we looked  completely relaxed. We could sense the tension, but like always, we asked no questions.
The other day D  told me we should have raised questions if they came to mind, and I started to think why we didn’t.
There was camaraderie and there was a great level of comfort with each other, but there was an  unspoken ‘something’…  hard to say what exactly, that kept questions related to filming  DDR at bay.
Maybe we Indians were reticent to show  an inquisitiveness because we didn’t want to cross the acceptable line in a set up like this, more so because we didn’t know where that began and ended, and  because even though we 4 were so different and diverse, we all could  immediately trust Aaron.  Quite unquestionably.
Most  Indians are intuitive that way- we grow up surrounded by people, extended families, society pressing very closely against our personal lives, and unknowingly we develop antennae which pick  up subtle signals  quite  well. As more and more  of  younger India now   moves into bigger cities and secular (as opposed to ‘joint’ families) family-units,  marries a person of their own choice and opts for only 2 children, the pressures of conforming to centuries of traditional societal demands and a  way of life  gets eliminated almost completely- as does  this  antennae.
 Suddenly experiencing a way of life very alien  to where one is coming from, it is replaced by mistrust, parent/ family (back home)  expectations, peer  pressure and a desperate need to fit in,  because even though the ‘caste- system’  is not obviously  apparent in larger metros,  the ‘class- divide’  is.  Pretty much like in any country, including Australia. It is the degree and the  attitude towards it that is is unique to each country- Most Australians don’t give a s***,  unfortunately almost all  Indians do. 

So I’ve digressed…

Maybe Aaron  and A  were scared to give away anything, and we caught that vibe. Or maybe they weren’t sure what to make of the 4 Indians who  had suddenly become almost  the center of their universe, and they  were a trifle worried about how we’d cope with the hectic, meticulously planned schedule that allowed for no delays and had everyone walking a tight-rope at all times.
With Chris, Luke and Trev, it was different. We would joke a lot among ourselves, ask a lot of stupid, obvious and exploratory  questions, and share thoughts, food and concerns.
Luke and I shared an affinity for healthy breakfast and natural fruit smoothies. I  always bought  breakfast from the deli’s  he did, knowing he would look out for healthy. The smoothie  recipe he shared with me still  keeps me going most 16 hour days.  I want to believe I  helped him keep his  muscled  guns  from  going into a  decline by  letting him  help me with my ‘yellow’  bag…  and thank-you Luke, you are such a gentleman, and not not  for this reason alone.
I was glad for the immersive experiences planned out for us  because going with the Aussies we were practically living with,  I  would have wondered where ‘Dumb, Drunk & Racist’  came from! None of them were either of these. A bit disappointing if I come to think of it,  haha.
 

 I often  joked with Jon  that we 4 Indians were tied to him with  an  umbilical cord of a materialistic kind. And since he planned to visit India soon,  that he was  an ideal candidate for  an ‘arranged through the matrimonial columns’  groom that parents of  thousands of  Indian men and women of marriageable age subscribe to- he was fair-skinned, tall, educated  and had a red-hued passport, the last one would perhaps, if he was lucky,  make up for the other important  requirement- ‘From a high status family’.  Caste could pose a problem, especially since he was pretty much without any,  but urban India is now  quite accepting of inter-caste alliances. Many advertisements now say- Caste no bar. However, this is still  not true of a large part of India. 

(The other day I asked my daughter if she knew what her caste was, and she said- “Okay give me a hint.”  When I said “You’re not a Brahmin” she smiled and said- “Great, it gives  me a better chance at becoming a Member Parliament  if I ever want to!”)

Unfortunately Jon was only interested in a ‘part-time’ Indian bride, basically only  for the 3 months he planned to visit us in winter. Naturally it was  way too un-Indian for  us Indians  to take it any further!

Marriages in India are still expected to last a life-time, and even though divorce rates in bigger cities are spiraling upwards, there is a stigma attached to  it  in most families. If Jon was to be serious about an Indian bride from anywhere in India except the metro towns,  which is the biggest part of India, he would have to be prepared it would be for keeps! Since families are often completely involved in the process of marriage, they do a lot to protect it from a legal divorce. That the family involvement is often the very reason leading to it  is rarely looked at as a possibility. But this is a generalization.  

Just as we were tiring of   that  interminable road- trip and the less-than -comfortable beds,  the 1st sight of the   home-stay  at Allora  gladdened our slightly- morose  hearts. The drive into the main house made us sit up- graceful curve, green mossy grass and our first look at really huge  steak- on- hoofs.
Once in the house we tried hard not to knock over any of the many artifacts elegantly  strewn around, they all seemed at least a couple of centuries old.  The owners were friendly and hospitable,  pretty much like the property itself.
 Add beautiful, and the picture is complete.

Almost immediately, Amer,  Gurmeet and Joe  disappeared  into the rooms behind the grapes dangling  decadently  off  carved wood supports. An hour  later, while the rest of us waited for them to emerge,  they  were almost impossible to bring back  to life. It’s hard to come away from a soft bed, even to see the  the bull- riders trying to kill themselves.

Mahi, Trev, Luke and I  just had fun kidding around. It was a much deserved  hour long  holiday!
Thought jumping  in my mind- What happened to the Sundays in Australia?  We hadn’t seen any in the past few  weeks!

 Driving the cart  through  the empty spaces in the property  at break- neck speed was  great fun  until  Trev fell  out and rolled  down a bit-  I couldn’t find the break in the confusion, and accelerated, and now Luke jumped  out in fright too.  Had  I had morphed into  one of those  Indians who  can’t drive unless there’s traffic coming out  at us from everywhere?  Were those male-drivers back home who  looked back at me and made faces and who I  dismissed as MCP’s  actually making a good point about my driving skills? Was I responsible for some broken Aussie bones?  Was the answer  to  all  of these questions a resounding yes? It was only when I saw them laughing crazily  at my  petrified expression that I realized this was just  Aussie sense of humor.

This is what we found parked in the back yard while on that  memorable   drive!

I learnt later that the owner had a penchant for doing  aerial  stunts while flying his plane, thanks to which the missus no longer agreed to fly with him- if he was  at the controls. She preferred  the car.

It was the prettiest  runway  I had seen- Green grass and  tiny purple flowers.

The girls’  house was  with a   kitchen attached and washing machine fitted, which suddenly seemed like forgotten  luxury. There’s something about washing machines, especially when you haven’t had the time to access them for  almost ten days- and everybody had something they wanted washed. That night  Chris, Mahi and I dunked in  almost everything we owned,  and smiled happily at the prospect of loads of clean clothes. The smiles vanished quickly at the realization that  the dryer had given  up on us.  Just lovely. Wringing out the clothes, we put them out to dry, and quite naturally, it had to rain that night.
The next day the  Happy Van smelled of   laundry. For some reason  the men had washed their shoes too, so  the back of our van looked a bit like what we call a Dhobi-ghat in India- special spaces for washer-men’  washing  and drying .
Almost everyone in India dries  their clothes in the sun, even if there’s a dryer at home. It just makes more sense with the kind of  bright sun-light we have almost through the year. Also, there is the belief in the curative properties of the sun-rays, and our clothes must get that after each wash. Many of us offer prayers to the sun first thing in the morning, believing that the 1st rays of the sun have healing and restorative power. With doctors prescribing a sun-ray shower early morning to get a daily dose of vit D, our  ancient  sages are in favor once again! 

While the others were sleeping the next morning, I was woken up at dawn  by  my canine friends  from the previous day,  wagging their  tails  excitedly. We had  slept without locking the doors- a truly unique experience for us Indians.
Stepping out to take pictures of  a crow-nest  I had seen the evening before, I happened to meet the estate manager who invited me  to go to the village to fetch newspapers.
We were a great group- manager, 3 big dogs and me. It was a special  personal tour,  including a walk inside the Mary Poppins  cottage, meeting local farmers, and being offered the milkiest tea I have ever tasted out of my  husband’s village. It had the exact same taste- all milk, a hint of tea, and a bucket of sugar. The warmth with which it was offered ensured there was no escape. I  gulped  it down with a smile.

On the way back Mr manager told me he had spent six months in India about 30 years back.
Me- “Work?”
Mr Manager- “No, not really. I had just got married, and was there with my new bride on our honeymoon.”
Me:  “A six  month honeymoon overseas!”
Mr Manager- ” The lady was so worth it.”

Ahhhhhh.

 

 



Lunar Karma

     

I had  seen a 3-D picture of  Uluru when I was around 8 years old. My  parents had an Australian friend  visiting, and he gifted me a book  called  Australian Wonders.  Uluru was on page 4. One huge rock that seemed to have fallen out of the sky. The book had the typical slightly garish colors that souvenirs tend to have, but I didn’t know that then. While my siblings loved the kangaroos, I was mesmerized by this  magic rock which seemed to  radiate  all kinds of incredible colors.  Looking at that picture I took  (Up there), I can’t but help wonder if the colors in that book were real after all.

Before we made the journey into DDR, the producers asked us 4 to tell them something we’d like to do while in Aus. For me, it  was simple- Diving with the fish and visiting Uluru, the 2 things I had to cut short on my previous visit there.
Those were my 2 wishes, and to my amazement, the 1st one came true on the 1st day itself.  How they mis -read  ‘fish’ for ‘sharks’ though, I don’t know!

That dive  was a lasting experience:
After confronting our worst fears under-water among the scary creatures of the deep,  Amer & I no longer cared about any other  dangers awaiting us  Down Under.
We both began our fight with an  ear-ache and mild-deafness in one ear  that came and went, (generally choosing to visit  at the most inopportune moments)  and  just refused to go away for the next  month.
My hair turned a color I had not thought existed. Since  I wanted to somehow live through it until I found a 45 minute ‘re- color’  break somewhere through filming, I tried to fool myself saying it was the beautiful  shades of Autumn leaves.  On  the impossible- to- fool- myself  days I began to put it up.

Now Uluru. 


   Gurmeet and I were constantly buying and stocking up on  fruit  through the journey.  We loved the fruit in Australia. A lot of times we were filming until  late, and it made sense to make do with that, rather than order dinner.
The 1st disappointment on reaching Uluru was having to dump all the fruit  before entering the airport.
It seemed such a colossal waste!
And then the heat! It was overwhelming.
We were  used to heat in India, where temperatures above 40*C are normal in the summers, but this heat was something else.  And of course, we started filming in the afternoon.

The rock drew 3 kinds of reactions from us Indians:

The boys were un-impacted (for lack of a word) for most part. Boys will be boys.
I was awe-struck at the sight of that rock. A huge presence in the middle of nowhere, It seemed easy to understand why it has been  sacred  to  the aborigines for hundreds of years.

                                 Mahima: “We have many rocks like this in Rajasthan.”
So, basically unimpressed.
Hmmmm, I was an oddity.

It was a bit hard to look at it- The rock shimmered  in the afternoon sun.

                                                                         

 Through  the  DDR Journey  each of  us four had  our own brand of  peculiarities.  Uluru brought Mahima’s to the fore- her absolute refusal to drink water.

Aaron, the director – “Okaaay Indians (Yes, that was the most-used  friendly reference by the Aussies,  just in case we began to  forget our identities!)  Everyone has to carry their jumbo  bottle of  water and I need it finished by the time we are done with the walking tour”
3 obedient and slightly already-beginning-to-feel-dehydrated  Indians begin to gulp some down.  All eyes on Mahima.
Mahima- ‘But I don’t like water. I just can’t drink water. Even at home I don’t drink water. I feel unwell if  I drink…”
Aaron- ” I don’t care Mahima, today you will HAVE to drink it!”
Mahima- ” But , actually y’know….”
Aaron (In that voice)- ‘Okay Mahima. No water,  no going ahead with us for you. That’s final.”
Mahima- (Looking slightly scared)  ” Ok, I’ll ‘carry’ the water.”
Aaron- (Looking relieved) ” Great Mahima. Okaay Lets go.”
Mahima- ” Ok  , can I get a juice instead?”
Chris  produces a bottle of Gatorade from somewhere.  Aaron shakes his head in disbelief.  Mahima looks pleased and oblivious to the collective sighs all around. The other 3 Indians look away.

We finally began the  Heritage Walking  Tour escorted  by the shy lovely  Aṉangu  Sarah, our indigenous guide into an ancient culture her people try hard to preserve.    

It  brought us closer to seeing the lost world  of aboriginal culture. We felt immersed in it despite the  terrible heat and the stillness in the air.
What made it even more interesting was that our Indian villages/ most of our kitchens in India,  and the traditional aboriginal cooking-ware tools / implements  have many things in common.
I couldn’t  help going back to something I had read a few months  back:  Genetic research indicates that Australian Aborigines initially arrived via south Asia. Researchers have found telltale mutations in modern-day Indian populations that are exclusively shared by Aborigines.
Interesting.

As the sun began  its descent, the rock assumed a life of its own. The sand-stone lit- up  and emitted a glow, like dying embers in a forgotten fire. 
It  was  beautiful.

We began  filming us  in  the moving car with Joe at the wheel.
1st take– Fast & Furious over the breaker and into the sunset.
Not good enough.
2nd take– Even more F & F, sharp U turn.
Not good again.
3rd take– Joe, now raising Heat & Dust. Breaker- bumps and camera rolling.
Not good enough.
Aaarghhhh.
Thoughts running across my brain yet once again: “Why can’t we seem to do the simple things correct…like just open the car door and shut it again. Like walking towards the car. How hard can that be?  Is there something so technical about these seemingly simple things that just eludes us? Is this what people go to  ‘acting schools’ to learn?  Are we living up to the 1st adjective of the show’s title?”

While Joe does the endless rounds of the short stretch,  we sit back exhausted, ready to head back to our rooms. Finally  Aaron  looks happy. A collective sigh of relief goes up in the car. We stop and  troop out without a smile.


And that’s when  I saw the  full moon rising behind the rock.                                                                                                                                    End of all tiredness. The beginning of long sighs of a different kind.

 We gazed  at it  alongside other travelers who seemed  to have planned to be here for the full-moon. We, on the other hand,  just got lucky.
Mahi and I sat  happily at  the dead-end of the road and just enjoyed  the yellow grass, shadowy rock, the easy low chatter  and the full-moon rising. 
We  finally headed  back. It had  been a tiring few days. Early flights, late night shoots. We were driving back with Joe. It should  have taken us about 20 mins to get home, but that is if we hadn’t lost the way. We kept going around in circles. Google-maps and other modern  help, no use, nothing worked. We were hopelessly lost for a bit.  Would we end up like in the story of  The Lost Camel they had up behind the reception at the hotel?
However, the blueish desert dusk  spilling  into, and all around  the car made up for  time lost.
What did we do that day for dinner? Oh yes, exactly what we did for lunch at the exact same place. They served us what we ordered for and then locked up the fridge and disappeared into somewhere at 10 pm. Obviously NT isn’t for TV folk.
I also realized once again that my English wasn’t  all there. At least not in Australia. Asking for a salad I made a request,
Me: “…… and could you please go easy on the dressing?” 
Efficient guy with the menu card: Sure, no problem”
20 minutes he’s back holding a big salad, very  very  generously  doused with the dressing .
He- “I hope you enjoy this. Been really easy with the dressing just like you asked.”  
Me- “Ummm, ok, and  thank you so much!”
That night too, like every night while filming, our director  gave  us  the mike-up time  for the next morning. We were  exhausted and knew that there was  a mid-morning flight we had to take to Alice Springs. Most of us had that wary look we couldn’t  help  at that  particular time of day.
And then Aaron  gave us a choice, first time ever!
” I plan to go see Uluru at sunrise. I leave it to you if you want to join me at 5 am.”  
We were already close to midnight. The rest of the cast & crew  were  clear in their choice of bed over rock.                       
As for me- torn. The story of my life.  Badly required  sleep vs  Uluru at dawn- break.
Sometimes, I just  hate choices.
 
I met-up with Aaron  at 5 am. We walked to the car and drove in silence into the reserve. Beautiful  Silence. In silence we climbed  the stand and were met  with the most most memorable sight that I had ever experienced.   ‘Experienced’ is right, ‘seen’  falls too short. The full- moon setting behind the 36 rocks of Kata Tjuta. It was  an unreal psycho moon. Standing there in that almost dark vast emptiness with the surreal moon hanging like that was  like being in a sci-fi movie.  Aaron  found  his corner and  sets up the cameras, efficiently and quickly. 2 of them. One to film the moon set in front of us, the other behind us in anticipation of the sunrise.
It was  like there was nothing and no one else on this strange planet. Everything stood still as if to silently partake in this ancient  drama from time before beginning.
Yes, time stood still.
It was profoundly moving, this mystic  ceremony of  what  was beyond anything that  pictures could capture, or words could describe. 
Aaron  and I were fortunate  to have got those minutes there.  Out of the blue (literally),  we saw  travelers  piling up. They got off buses in scores, almost like troops inching towards  the battle- field. There was  a determination to them. They were mostly  destination checkers. The sound of click-click- click of cameras filled  the silence. Some had  already begun to upload pictures.  Uluru- Check.  Been there done that.  
They left as quickly as they arrived. 
And then the dawn broke.  So did that really special magic spell. 

  This was truly a sacred land. It wasn’t a religious experience. It was a  primal one.
Standing there in the empty silence was deeply meditative. Going back to the real world seemed so hard. Was  there any other world out there?
 On our way back,  Aaron and I were quiet. Words seemed unnecessary. 
I was glad it was just Aaron and I. Both of us  are comfortable with silence.
We shared a lunar karma.
Who was to know that  this experience would be jolted out of our memories very soon-
The Alice Springs attack happened just a few hours later. 

 

Strange Brewings in the Badlands of Melbourne

“Now, I give you fair warning, either you or your head must be off, and that in about half no time! Take your choice!” ~ The Queen The global  media had whipped  up the hysteria to another level  in India, and Melb was a four-letter word.  A few years down,  I don’t think any of us four were scared to go there, but we knew Joe would have something interesting drawn up for us.  Sure enough,  filming in Melb was hectic, but interesting. We landed there and immediately got into the thick of things. It was so funny when Joe pulled out   the flak-jackets and helmets. We were fairly new to DDR, and this  seemed like a game.
The kit  reminded me of the army days.
We laughed as Joe handed them over to us, but  I remember Mahi and Gurmeet looking a bit nervous as they put them on.  Since the belts were all entangled and the front and back looked practically the same, we spent the next 10 mins figuring out what went where, and helped each other put them on. So much for smart soldiers ready to take on an assault!
Literally the next minute,  we encounterd  what Joe described later as a true picture of a  Melb street’s  bogan, Mr  “RippedasF***” with his mid-riff  exposed for the camera, all  ‘ripped’ and ‘ blood gang sign’ and ‘only one machete’. What we don’t see in the 3rd ep is his repeated invite to our producer to punch him in his “ripped.” Nice.
I learnt to say the word ‘Machete’  correctly that day, experienced first hand a self-professed Aussie gang member and his gang- sign, and the start of our experiences with the camera triggering a strange compulsion in people from both genders to either pull up their shirts, or pull their pants down. But more of that later.

What made it truly  interesting was walking into a  bar with the flak-jackets and helmets on, cameras and Trev’s boom stick in tow. Hahha.
The customers sitting there were polite and pretended that this was an everyday  occurance and  regular acceptable nice-bar dress code,  pretty much like Amer on  encountering the *White-pride motherF****** on Melb streets at midnight, when  Joe had to almost beg him to agree that the really angry drunk  man was making racist statements and clearly  had no intention to take up his  offer to hug him, or believe Amer when he  insisted- ” I love you man, I love  white people.”  Classic case of  cross-cultural unrequited love.
But three months later  with Mr White Pride’s  sweet apology  that the racist  rant was actually for another set  of  Indians ( I believe they are Sri lankans/ Bangladeshis ?) he  proves  Amer’s point of view that nothing can hold down love, nothing comes in the way of brotherhood-  of-  man and  no  racist chains are strong enough! Yeah.
Ahh, I love trans-continental love stories since the time I had a Swedish pen-friend  in elementary  school. It may have eventually  worked out if the post-man who delivered letters to my home ( the world hadn’t heard of the internet back then)  wasn’t a stamp collector who obviously didn’t have enough  Swedish stamps, and also a life. Sometimes I think it may have been my parents;  Indian parents at that time (and even now,  in most families from smaller towns) were not likely to be happy about their daughter interacting with a strange boy, so what if he lived a bazillion  miles away and was only about 12  years old.

 I admit that walking those Melb streets  close to midnight was scary.  I was glad for the police officers, but more for the ‘security’  that the production had thoughtfully arranged.     People ( the ones who weren’t just tottering around lost or  completely drunk, or mostly both )  came right up to the officers, screamed/ laughed/ made funny faces  at them, and basically showed  that they had no respect for the uniform. Indian police is infamous for its corruption and lack of ethics and are not on the top of any popularity charts, but I have never seen  such blatant disrespect for the uniform of the level I saw that night, and was amazed  that the officers were so accepting, genial  and almost blase’ about it.  On the other hand, the ‘security’ was polite yet  firm, and effective. Considering he worked two jobs (“I earn these extra dollars to give my kids some extra frills”) he was alert and on top of it.

It  had been an exhausting day. It was also windy and cold. Expecting to film till even later in the night,  Mahi and I were thrilled  to be able to  go back to our hotel around 12.30 am,  and  that is when I  started my love affair with Melb nights: Cold and acutely craving  for a cup of masala  chai since evening, I asked the Bosnian receptionist  if I could somehow get a cup of  authentic masala or ginger tea even though it was late; I had been without my daily fix  for days now!  I didn’t know that the sous chef  for the night shift was sitting in the foyer, and had heard my request.
That was the last time I would crave masala tea in Melb. I was invited into the kitchen, was allowed to brew my own cup of  long leaves, milk,  cardamom, ginger and cinnamon , and  sitting in the warm busy  kitchen, we exchanged recipes and stories over the most divine concoction  ever. Soon we were joined by a couple of others and then by the manager, all wanting mugs of the same brew.  It was a bit  other-worldly, or maybe I was exhausted, it’s hard to say, but it stays such a distinct  memory-  an orchestra of clanging pots and pans, unfamiliar accents, exchanges of lives spent doing this and that, curious looks, a shawl and cushions  being produced from nowhere, warm cookies  and the aroma of the never-ending cups of chai. I almost dozed off there but they just would not  let me go! In fact,  when the boys  and the crew returned later  into the night and Amer ordered his famous rounds of room-service, I was still there, and saw them put his order together.
Also who took it up there, and that she came back looking really pleased.  hahaha*.
It was really late when I got back to the room. Luckily for me,  Aaron  had given us a ‘late’ start  for the  next day- 9 am!  DDR heaven!!

We constantly seemed to be in and out of Melb, just enough to sleep a few hours before we were off again. I never went to bed without brewing my own tea  among  the lovely people in the kitchen who  showed so much genuine  love. When I pointed out at check-out  that I hadn’t been charged for it, the manager said,” We love that you want to do this yourself, and that you like drinking it  here with us even though you could order room- service. End of story.”

Thank you TS, AA & B. I hope you’re reading this because I have to say yet again that  you are wonderful and  the time we spent together was absolutely special!

*One person  who didn’t look too pleased with Amer the next morning, actually many mornings, during check-out was the owner of a hot-pink wallet, who we Indians loved intensely. When we said that to him,  he would point to the wallet and say, “Even without this?”  Strange that he just wouldn’t believe us when we chorused a “Yes!”   Why was he so doubtful  and why did we sense a lack of reciprocal  feelings of our love? That is another post altogether.

In a heart-beat

“Curiouser and Curiouser”

Someone from Australia I was doing an interview with  said to me this morning  that they all thought the 4 Indians were great sports, and then asked me this question:
” Considering that many of the situations you were put into were dangerous, do you think you were exploited ?”
Interesting question. Logical one too.  It got me thinking.

It  never crossed my mind once while in Australia, and  in the three months since I’ve been back, and I still haven’t figured that out, but I know for sure that I would do that again in a heart-beat.     
I began the journey expecting that it would be simple enough- We four Indians  would explore Australian stereotypes through a variety of experiences and interviews, and  how hard can that be..  I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Nothing about this journey was ‘simple.’ For one, we were living in this strange bubble- We had no idea about who we were to meet, where we were headed, or what to expect until the very end.  Brief stays in one town after the other, travelling from one   city to the next, one experience piling onto another and de-briefs through the journey became the only constant of our lives. However, the often interminably long road trips quickly helped bridge the cultural divide between us Indians and the awesome Australian crew, and everyone seemed like family.  With very limited communication with our families in India, the bubble got bigger every day.

     The close to 45 so- called interviews –each unique and thought- provoking, were encounters with peoples’ innermost  lives, not journalistic  questions that required standard, rehearsed answers. Sometimes it required  a  great  deal  of  effort  to be objective,  and  at other  times it was tough not to become emotionally involved and affected. ( I often wished  I  had the option of  recording  my thoughts  later in the night as well-  some experiences evoked/triggered a delayed reaction.)   

Many times the travel and lack of sleep were physically exhausting and  many of the stories  and experiences  were  emotionally trying,   but the trade-off was  worth it: It was exciting to expect the unexpected and I was surprised to discover new aspects of  myself. There were times I wished I didn’t have to de-brief/ comment on an interaction/ experience, as assimilating so much together required time, the luxury of which we really didn’t have. 

 I believe that some interactions and stories don’t deserve to be commented on, and are best left alone to be a part of life’s experiences- however good bad or confrontational they may seem at the onset. This, I think, was my biggest issue on some days, and I had to push myself to not sit on the fence, but be as honest as possible without actually passing any judgments.
I’ve been lucky enough to have travelled extensively across 30 countries and this has pushed me to deeply appreciate cultural diversity. In fact, I train organizations to be sensitive to it, and so the expectation to constantly talk/ comment  about whatever I experienced was really  tough-  many times it seemed to run counter to my innate conditioning to accept. These were the times I  had to remind myself I had work to  do and I had to toughen up and speak up. 



           

 At first, the cameras rolling at all times, (especially the three within the van) seemed overly intrusive, but within a few days we had almost learnt to ignore them. There was at least one time when  we  badly needed to take a  break from the  mental pile-up  of intense interactions/ experiences and  thought  the camera’s  were turned off,  only to realize from Aaron’s  expression that our attempts  at Bollywood’  song and dance had actually been filmed.
Yes, there were moments we would have been happy to wish the camera’s away! 

                                                                                             .


I was touched by the large- heartedness of so many Australians who allowed us into their homes and lives. It could not have been easy to let strangers see their insecurities, fears and personal details. Even though they had given their permission, it almost felt a breach of trust to talk about it later as a part of the filming. That was very  hard for me.

The greatest take-away for me is the special friendship and bonds we five forged with each other and with the Australian crew. Each one of us is so different, and yet I feel deeply connected to them.  I feel extremely fortunate  to have  been a part of this journey,  and in spite of many  challenges that came in the way of it being  a ‘comfortable’  experience-  there  wasn’t a single moment I didn’t feel that way .

In many ways it became a  journey of self-discovery, and like I said before, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  In retrospect I am amazed at the range of experiences we had, the diversity of Australians we met, and, irrespective of whichever way it is perceived by the viewers, and whatever is the end result,  the sheer ambitiousness of the project.