This post is in answer to the question I’m asked so often- Yes, the people who planned DDR did arrange for us to meet conventional Aussie suburban folk too. And this is how it went.
On the day that G-man and Mahi went to meet Erin and Chloe, and G-man couldn’t understand why two women would opt to live together instead of with men, Amer and I went to meet an Aussie family.
The plan was a bit different this time-
Joe’s style to take us through whatever was planned for us was all “Okay gangsters, ..” Basically laconic, and more often than not, letting us quickly immerse into the experience and take it from there.We didn’t realize it then but maybe it also meant that subconsciously we learnt to wait for him to open the door to the experience (and the van when the cameras were on- since our director didn’t seem to trust any of us with this technical maneuver .. or so it seemed* ), and it helped to immediately figure out what may be the issue (s) at hand. Of course, beyond that we were with our own individual reactions, understanding, realizations and take-aways.
It also meant that Joe made the introductions and basically opened the path to further discussion, except the instances when we were all collectively taken by surprise or shock. Then, we Indians just hoped he knew what he was doing.
But Joe wasn’t coming with us that day, which meant that Aaron gave us the background. Seems inconsequential at the face of it, but because their styles were completely different, our interactions were different too. This time around we just went with the flow and relied on just the way we would have interacted as individuals.
Aaron’s introduction was more “These are the facts, now lets see what you make of it.”- “Indians, today Gurmeet and Mahima…
Amer and Radhika, you’re both meeting an Australian family. Lets drive to their home, and I’ll tell you more on the way there.”
It was around 5 pm. I remember being in the hotel room in the afternoon- such an uncommon occurance- we got a couple of hours of rest because of some unexpected changes.
Here’s what Aaron shared on the way there:
“They are a young Aussie suburban couple.
They have kids.
They also have an au pair.
And yes, I think you”ll have dinner with them.”
We didn’t really know what to make out of the description.
‘Suburban couple’ means different things in different places. What would it mean in Australia?
Au pair. I ask Aaron if that is common in Australia, and he says it isn’t.
Dinner. ” Do we have to Aaron, even if they’re really formal and it gets uncomfortable?” “Yes. I think they’re expecting you to.”
Successful: Does that imply wealthy? Personally I believe you can be one without being the other, but it seems I’m in the minority.
Bruce, our host, was at the door. There was that awkward camera self-conscious moment that lasted a couple of seconds, and then we moved inside. They had a set of adorable two year old twin boys who were dressed alike, but had such different personalities, it was easy to tell them apart. Amer and I fell in love with them right away
The men immediately got around to talking about beer brands and the high alcoholic content of Indian beer… over, what else, a beer. I’m sure that broke the ice.
The au pair was a young German and looked happy to be there.
[I thought of the Au pair/s of my childhood. Especially one. An Anglo-Indian, Miss Rosie (we had to call her that) was an extension of the ‘Convent’ school/s* we went to- with Irish nuns & brothers who were strict, dedicated and extremely single-minded in their purpose of transforming us into sterling human- beings. (When we have school reunions it’s easy to see they may not have succeeded entirely). Only, Rosie wasn’t strict, she just pretended to be like that in front of the employers- we were left in her care when our parents were out, and she in turn was happy to leave us alone as long as we didn’t break anything, including bones.
What she was strict about was the ‘Our father who art in heaven…” prayer before bed, the Sunday church, and speaking in English. So even though ours was a Hindu family, the religious moorings were extremely elastic- Hindu rituals, temples, festivals, dusk-fall recitation of mantras and hymns to the gods and the universe, Vedic ceremonies around around the sacred fire, recitation of the Granth Sahib and Japji Sahib (Sikh holy books), Miss Rosie’s Sunday church education and everyday chapel service at the school church- Luckily not all in the same day. ]
But I digress.
Karen joined us a short while later after work- straight off a flight. She was mommy above everything else. It was easy to see she hated being away from the babies.
I had thought I would find this evening particularly difficult. How do you go to someones house, enjoy their hospitality… and pry into their lives? And then do a de-brief! Even if they may be prepared for it, it just didn’t seem right.
Quite unexpectedly, conversation flowed easily right from the start. I think Karen and I established a rapport quite instantaneously after the discovery that we both relied on several ‘To-do’ lists’ to ease the hurly-burly of everyday life. I asked her direct questions, all the while following her ( and the camera following us ) around while she took care of things, dinner ( Bruce had made delicious lentil pies, and Karen made some more, this time with chicken) , playing with the twins, talking to them, getting them changed for the night, putting them to bed.
Karen was gracious and candid in her answers. Some of her responses were:
“No, it’s not really that uncommon to have an au pair, many people we know have them. It allows me to spend time with the boys.”
“The Au pair is instructed to speak only in German with the boys. We want them to grow up with a second, and later, maybe a third language. The younger they are…
“ For a minute I wondered if that is too much pressure for kids as young as two, and then remembered that the largest population of Indian children grow up with at least two languages right from infancy; in many urban homes where English is spoken, it could even be three.
“The au pair is like family, but of course there’s a list of duties. She has a day off every week and can have a friend stay over, but we have to meet her/ him first.”
“No, I don’t mind the boys being around the two dogs. Besides, the dogs are well-trained”
I tell her-“I’m so glad! Somehow I had thought you would be quite phobic about the twins being around these lovely creatures.”
” My to-do lists allow me to do all the things I have to do. Actually,I can’t help being organized.”
And how! I was absolutely gobsmacked at the ‘methodically labelled, extremely organized’ laundry sections in the washing corner. I can be compulsive on occasions, but this was another level altogether.
“I guess I make most of the decisions related to the twins . No, Bruce is actually okay about that.”
I look at Bruce’s raised eyebrows at the second half of that answer and smile at him. Some things are the same the world over!
Karen and I discussed our parents and parenthood, how siblings are so different from each other and so how they raise their kids differently, on balancing work and home-how she translated her mommy skills into the kidstodo website to help other moms on things to do with kids, weight issues (she’s skinny!), aspirations for the kids, typically- arranged marriages, et al.
They were great hosts, warm, friendly and interesting. It was hard to believe we were strangers a few hours back.
Bruce was easy going, smart and an involved dad.
Karen was something else. No one would blame me for wondering if she was like most Aussie mommies/ women of her age. If I was to describe her in 5 words, even with great restraint, they would be – Super-pretty, Super-mom, Super-planner, Super- organized, Super- in charge. (When I first wrote this list without the superlative, it didn’t seem an apt description. Then I added a ‘super’, and bingo! Profile – match! )
We said our goodbyes and left the warmth of their home for the cold wind outside. Aaron decided to have a de-brief right there. Right in front of their home. At almost midnight. I still wonder if they were peeking from their windows, wondering what were we four were doing filming Amer and me at close to midnight, talking to a camera and sound equipment on a dark empty road, with chilly gusts blowing around us.. We must have seemed like some spooky weirdos!
At the de-brief, Amer spoke at great length about the chicken pies. I think he accepted Karen’s kind offer to carry some back too.
Aaron may have worried that I may have a similar response, so when it was my turn to speak, he asked me some specific questions. I can’t remember my exact words, but I remember thinking and saying that in some ways Karen was no different from a contemporary suburban Indian mother after all. Maybe contemporary young moms are like this the world over- big aspirations for their children, and ready to do whatever it takes to support them reach there.
Amer and I stayed in touch with Karen and Bruce even once we were back home.
As we neared the DDR airing I worried about how our evening’s interaction and de-briefing would sound post the edit- a lot can change there.
One episode down Karen casually mentioned to me that they had heard from the production that due to lack of time, our evening together would not be a part of the show.
I was so relieved! We really liked our Aussie friends, and didn’t want them to feel short-changed in any way- with a full evening edited into four minutes or less, there’s always a chance of that happening.
Even as I type, I just remembered Mahima’s question when I described our hosts to her the next day at breakfast- “So that’s how Aussies are normally?”
What a difficult question even for an Aussie to answer.
All I know is that ‘normal’ is just a setting on my washing machine.
* Not that Joe ever got it right in one take either. The average was four. One day Aaron will de-brief us on the finer nuances of the perfect door-open/ door-shut shot.
**There was a time in India when “convent” education was the most “coveted” form of school education. It was considered wholesome education in a disciplined environment, albeit Victorian in its approach. One draw was that students were expected to/learnt to talk in English. The nuns ensured that the accent was right and you learnt social graces. It had a certain ‘snob value’. Even today, the requirement list for a preferred bride in matrimonial advertisements often reads “convent educated”- even though there is barely any ‘convent education’ left, except for schools flaunting the prefix ‘Saint’ in front of their names.