Suburban Australians and other Au pair-ings

“Speak English! I don’t know the meaning of half those long words, and I don’t believe you do either!” ~ Eaglet

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.
Both working.
Successful.
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 room was geared up for the boys, in fact  it was every toddler’s  dream. Is this what all suburban  Aussie kids grow up with? I could enjoy fiddling around these things, even as an adult!


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. 

Sleeping with the sticker book.

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.   

Travel-tales, Cyber-stalking & Vegemite


“That’s nothing to what I could say if I chose.” ~ The Duchess

We 4 Indians  were specially told not to carry our cell-phones to Australia- there was to be no contact with the family back home. The Aussie crew  started the DDR  journey  filming us  at our homes in India,* and  our families were given a number  they could get in touch with, should some emergency occur.
A planned ‘Lost’ ?

It wasn’t hard to not miss home. The agenda was packed really tight. Like our bags, which needed to be re-opened and re-packed every day, and even if there was nothing extra that went into them, they  mysteriously  became harder to shut. Except Gurmeet’ s, which was smaller than the Aussie crew’s personal bags. If  the size of your literal bag is the reflection of how much baggage you carry, Gurmeet would be  the Buddha himself!
Checking into airplanes was a massive exercise. Personal luggage and crew equipment totaled to an obscene amount  of extra baggage, and there was that little bit of stress every time I put mine up to weigh.. and relief when  it showed less than 20kg. I’ve learnt with personal experience  that  airlines  the world over are the same, and all of them  suffer from their own special  brand of confusion. Qantas’  was group check-in:  Surprisingly, they  didn’t have a set national  procedure to get through the whole exercise – it changed at every location.

One thing that stayed constant at every airport was Gurmeet having to hear this- “Sir, I’m gonna need you to step aside, please.” Pat- down each time, every time. Obviously, he was irresistible! The Turkish man at Sydney made that amply clear!
Amer was  next in  irresistiblity quotient, and got  the same treatment  multiple times too;  I think  a bearded non-white person gets a lot more pat-downs in today’s times than they did a decade back-  I guess they just metamorphed into more attractive.

But first…
An airport  hiccup occured even before we left India.
Amer and Gurmeet almost didn’t make it through the immigration check at  N.Delhi . Immigration is  often suspicious of  single men leaving the country, more so if they’re from Punjab and when there’s no previous history of travel stamped on the passport.  It took almost half an hour of anxious moments before they finally joined us past the customs. The Aussie crew looked cool- though their anxiety levels must have been higher than ours by far. Either they were not demonstrative  or they didn’t know how lucky it was that both the boys actually made it through once they’d been asked to wait it out-  our immigration check is  hard to get past unless they’re  convinced you’re not going on a one way route to disappearing into some country forever. Besides, we were  on a  perfectly bonafide but uncommonly  used visa, and thus it must have  created further  suspicion.

It was  close to midnight when we finally landed in Sydney.  Long flights.  Joe began the introductions to the city right away. We had no idea of what we were in for, or even what Joe’s role in all of this would be. Or, for that matter, even  ours.

I’m often asked by Aussie viewers – “How did your families allow you to come to Australia for  something like this !!?”
Mine  gave me 3 days to  make a presentation on everyone involved in the project.  They  had better be ‘respectable’, a word used quite often in India, and can have many connotations. Here it meant ‘not-dodgy’.
Back then DDR  had a working title, and was  called ‘The Aussie Roadtrip’, which by itself could mean anything. I think my family was secretly  hoping for some objectionable information to emerge- we had a Rio holiday planned at the same time as I would have to travel  to Aus if  I  decided to.
That is how I was introduced  to the world of cyber stalking. It was tedious, time consuming and as in the case of information about the director, frustrating.
ABC2- Simple- UK has BBC, Aus has ABC. Bonafide. Endofstory. Sorted.
Cordell- Simple- Tons on the net, and more. Looks good enough for the clan to calm down.
The Director- In India, (unlike Australia, where the focus appears to be  more on the visible people, ie the  presenter/ actors/ etc  ) the director is king- Who the director is lends the project respectability, or the lack of it.
My first discovery was that Aaron Smith is Australia’s favorite name. Or so it seemed. It took Google ages  to find adequate  information regarding him and his body of work. No one has been as thankful for ‘Hungry Beast’ as I was. YouTube, thank you.  Now  I could simply save the links or could download it and show the family- “He is a quirky young director, look at this  ‘Hungry Beast’  stuff that he has done….!”
Hmm,  Might not suffice. Also, even though personally  I  am a sucker for  ‘quirky’,  it may not go down well with the audience of my presentation.
And then I realized that  much to my dismay, some of  Hungry Beast wasn’t what I was particularly  dying for the family to see.  I sat up that whole night watching each one of the episodes (?), and finally had everything together- neatly sifted and all.
It still  didn’t seem enough to impress my slightly cynical audience.
More cyber stalking. Tedious and not fun when you don’t know anything about the man, but by now, everything about his work.
What sealed it was the ACS and Walkley awards Aaron’s work  had won.  I love whoever decided to give  him those  awards-  Indians are suckers for awards, and I knew if this couldn’t convince them, nothing could.
“Quirky and Awarded = Celebrated director.” would be my tag line.  I could make it work..

I  did!

It was interesting to find out later that Aaron  did some cyber-stalking of  his  own before we sealed the deal, and managed to find a picture of me at a party at home…waving a wine bottle at the photographer. For some reason he could not find it again the next day  to show it to the rest of the gang at Cordell. ha!

But I digress…
It was  close to midnight when we finally landed in Sydney. Really long flights. Joe began the introductions to the city right away. We had no idea of what we were in for, or even what Joe’s role in all of this would be. Or for that matter, ours.
Our conversation through polite nods and sounds to Joe’s commentary reflected our apprehensions (We Indians had the advantage of  speaking in a common 2nd and 3rd language )
Mahi: “Do you think we’ll be allowed to sleep tonight? I’m so tired!
G-man: He’s (Joe) talking so much, doesn’t seem like it. Maybe he’ll want to show us the city by night.”
Mahi: “No nonono, I cant move a single step.”
Amer: “That’ll be fun! I can’t sleep at night.”
Me: “We haven’t slept for practically 48 hours or more, but  the Ausssies look more exhausted than us. They’re not Superman, I doubt they’ll film. I’m sure they  filmed  in India through a massive jet-lag. Luke looks ready to drop.”
G-man: “But Joe keeps talking.  I need a bed.”
Me- ” A shower and a bed. It’s tough to look interested after almost two days  of travel, but  lets try and  nod a bit at least…. “
Mahi: “Achha” Okay. Makes those ‘Mahi-eyes and looks exhausted.

Finally we  stopped  in the basement  of a building, happy to have  reached the hotel. No more agenda. Happiness.
As soon as we had our luggage out of the van, Joe drew our attention to the  overflowing  trash bins all around.
In absolute seriousness and a dead-pan voice he announced- “This is where you four  will spend the night.”
Before we could react Joe pointed each one out and said- “Mahima, you there, next to that trash can, Gurmeet…Amer, you.. Radhika, that one there….you guys will have to spend the first night here. Welcome to Sydney, the biggest city in Australia.”
Silence.
We looked at each other. Seconds ticked by. I think we were just too exhausted to say anything.
Then An  burst out laughing and said, ” Come on Joe, enough. Lets  take  them their rooms before they get a heart attack. We can’t risk that!”
Ahhhhhhh!
Normal breathing. Smiles. A desire to kill Joe.

Jon’s welcome gift for us was waiting in our rooms-  A koala key chain, a rain cape, bug repellent, sunscreen, and  a jar  of Vegemite.

For all our plans to crash out on our beds, none of us 4 got much sleep that night. G-man was too  jet- lagged to sleep, Mahi spent most of the night at the reception desk  trying to call her parents, Amer can’t sleep at night anyway, and I had dared to spread  a small amount of the Vegemite on a cracker and eat it – in spite of  all the  stories I had heard about how vile it  is- and spent the night feeling sick and  trying desperately to wash  that  taste out of my mouth.

It wasn’t the best way to start the Aussie adventure.
Mike- up was 8 am the next day.

* To the many  viewers who write in to ask  that  the  other 3 were shown in their homes with their families, so why wasn’t I…. all I can say is- “I don’t know. Maybe  we’re  just  not  interesting enough  to have made it to the final cut!”

Games People Play

It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.”~ Alice

Indians are cricket crazy.

Of all the billion plus Indians, Cordell  found the only 4 who weren’t interested in the game. It came up towards the end of our journey when we had to go watch the India- Aus  Brisbane match. Looked to us like an  an utter waste of a day. We grumbled about it a bit to Aaron and among ourselves- all  4 of us  had one or the other  personal  agenda we needed  a day for- and somehow the people who set our schedule  for those weeks in Australia  just forgot to factor  it  in- that we may want a day  in Australia to do our own thing.
Mahima’s- Rides and tons of shopping.
Gurmeet’s- Sleep, so that he would  recover  somewhat to get back to work immediately on reaching home.
Mine- Catch up with family  I hadn’t met  for years, especially to see the newest addition there. Buy a few gifts to take back home.
Amer’s- That’s a whole post by itself!

Of course, all that  changed once we were at the cricket match. Was it the beer Joe had offered us?

But first..
We went  to the East Coburg Cricket Club on a blustery day- cold windy and cloudy. None of us were prepared for it. Just as well none of this made the cut- everyone looked a bit hunched up, fake-cheery and quite ill-clad for the weather.
2 learnings for me were:
Forget the politeness of respecting  secrecy about the forthcoming  locations/ experiences- Ask  Chris or Aaron  if we’re filming indoors or outdoors and  how the weather would  be the next day.
Sports can actually  unite hearts. Even cricket.

I know nothing about cricket (Once I sat next to Sidhu on a flight , one of our really famous  bowlers who was in great form then, and didn’t recognize him until 2 hours later when we both reached our destination and he picked up his India kit-holder ) but even I  knew about Harbhajan Singh, Symonds  and ‘monkey-gate’. I’m pretty sure Bhajji  didn’t say ‘monkey’ and actually said an Indian  swear word that sounds very close to it- not because I am defending him, but because ‘monkey’ isn’t  really a slur in India. Many north Indian men would say the other more abusive  word quite naturally under stressful circumstances. Actually ‘monkey’ may even be used as an endearment to a child, and I doubt ‘terms of  endearment’ was  the mood  in play that day.
Basically not an episode that united hearts.

But the ECCC did that.  Also the camaraderie. Such a diverse number of ethnicity blending in at one place was amazing.
Just like George, fondly known as The General.
He shared with us-
“Neighbours, colleagues and school friends would congregate in the warmer months with little more than pride and bragging rights at stake. That was until 1981, when me and my mates decided to step things up. It was myself, some of the neighborhood guys and some old school friends.”
I found his  recruiting methods particularly interesting-
“We’ve come across a lot of sub-continent players, such as taxi drivers, 7-Eleven workers and so on,” he said.“For example, if you go and fill up your tank and come across a sub-continental bloke, I’ll often invite them to training and exchange phone numbers.”

It would have been a great fun only  if  it wasn’t  blowing chilly gusts. ( I’ve lived in really cold places like Ladakh, where the temp goes down to -30* C, but that was a long time ago. Pune, my city has spoilt  me rotten with its glorious weather all through the year) The only thing I wanted to do after we had spoken to George and the others  was escape to the club house.

But first we tried our hand at bowling.
Amer- Okay-ish.
G-man- Good.
Mahima- Okay-ish, but thrilled to keep at it- her run-up was almost half a mile. (Great to build up an appetite for the barbecue that followed, only, she was vegetarian. However, the ECCC extended  great  hospitality and kept the vegetarians in mind.)
I- was the worst. The ball was so wide that the batsman at a  parallel practice pitch hit it for a four.

That done, I made a quiet exit. Good decision.

Thanks to two club members in there, I was able to do a visual tour of  the club’s history- the black & white pictures on the walls tell heart- warming stories attesting to  many nationalities playing cricket together as a team.
The best was yet to come.
One of the people sitting there looked  like an  Indian. He seemed shy, but was forthcoming  when I asked him to tell me something about his experiences with the club.
It turned out he was a Punjabi, a Pakistani. What a wonderful chance meeting. We discussed everything but cricket. Time flew.
Looking at us,  who could have  guessed our countries have a terribly  fractured history with each other-  the political relationship  has been ‘strained’ at it’s best, we’ve been at war with each other  at its  worst .
Both of us shared a lot in common- language, history, culture, movies, telly serials,  food, social fabric and an aspiration to be able to freely visit each others’  country  somewhere in the future.
I told him about how  Mahi and  my favorite songs (in fact most  of India’s)- the ones we were listening to all through the Aussie  road trip- were the ones sung by Pakistani singers. He talked of all his favorite movie  heroes  and heroines being Indian. I told him about our love for Pakistani suits and embroidery, and that many of us   girls from border towns  like Amritsar grew up following Pakistani fashion trends  from watching their television serials. We spoke about Amritsar where his grandparents belonged to  until  the partition forced them to choose to take that train to Pakistan  in 1947;  I had spent my teenage years there, so I  told him about that city he still considered his heritage.He was a graduate from the same college my  grandmother had studied ‘Education’ in- Govt College of Lahore  (in 1939).  We exchanged stories of  teenage crushes we had across the border- Rahat Kazmi, Imran Khan….. (my most treasured possession in college  was a photograph with the Pakistani bowler  Imran Khan with his arm around my shoulders,  it still must lie somewhere!)

There were  so many stories to exchange, I think we were both quite emotional  by the time the others joined us. We both knew that this was a chance meeting we would treasure, even though we did not even  know each others names. Exchanging  details  seemed  unnecessary.
The  politics across our  borders divides, while  common  people ( apart from  the fundamentalists) on both sides work quietly towards  ‘Aman kii aasha’- A hope for peace.

Except at cricket. It’s a war. Pride is at stake. Also money- the illegal betting mafia makes a killing. An India- Pak match means offices shut early, students bunk college and there’s not much point in keeping shops open that day.
But for a couple of years in between, Australia was  India’s  new Pakistan. The rivalry on the field was intense. Perhaps off it too.
It’s a bit funny how there were  2 neat divides in some urbane  Indian social  groups when men and women watched the Aus-India matches  together on Tv. Of course everyone wanted India to win, and the cheers went up accordingly. However, while the men cheered our Indian team all the way through, women would cheer for the Indian team  but keep saying how the Aussie players had better bodies and  body-language  than our boys in blue. 

Coming back..
When Aaron told us we’d be seeing a cricket match none of us looked thrilled. In fact I think we made a few faces ( a very Indian turn of phrase, a literal translation ) and looked at each other with knowing eyes- It would be a be a boring day. Cricket was such a boring game for all 4 of us!

We were so wrong.

 The atmosphere was electrifying. The noise was deafening. The Swami Army was at it’s dhol (Indian drum) best, and dancing to it was a high.  It was fun!
Even without the beer Joe offered us.
A teetotaler, I was determined to make an exception for a highly recommended ( by Aussies)  Aussie  experience- until the 4th sip when the blue and green team jerseys  began to blur into each other, and the other Indians all around us began to look at me oddly- I was  cheering and also  doing some neat  ‘bhangra’ steps each time something interesting happened on the field, including when the Aussie batsmen cracked a few sixes. Since the cameras were on us  I’m hoping  most people there would have assumed that  this broad-minded  global stance was for the filming and wouldn’t have attributed it to the 4th dangerous sip of beer.

 I gave that  glass  to one of the Indian boys sitting behind us  who saw me keep it  under the seat and  said- ” If you’re not going to drink, might’s well watch a cricket match in India!”**
 On our way to the press enclosure to talk to  some important  cricket names, we came across these Aussie fans who stopped and asked me if I was a famous Bollywood actor (thanks to the cameras around us and  their  hazy vision due to looking through a sliced and carved- out watermelon shell). Naturally I said yes, ha!

They all wanted to take pictures.

 (Reminded me  bit about myself  in a flight back home  from Barbados with someone who every man in sight was taking pictures  of.  I didn’t recognize him but took a pix  anyway- how else do you find out who the celebrity was! Later that day  the men in my family were aghast  at my lack of   general knowledge; in fact my 6 year old nephew took one look at the picture  and said- “The whole world knows Steve Vaugh!”)

 One of the melon-heads  said he loved Bollywood and could I please dance a few  Bollywood  dance steps with him. Some thoughts in the still- fuzzy head-

Here in the middle of the foyer?

Why didn’t I  join my cousins back home when they went for Bollywood-dance classes (We do that- weddings in India are all about song & dance, and you are expected to make filmy moves.)

I hope this dance doesn’t get past the final edit. Everyone back home would be mortified. Not because I danced with a water-melon head (which is both rare and  funny  if you are an Indian) but because my lack of  intensity in the  Bollywood ‘jhatkkas matkas’  (twists & jerks)  would make  my  Indian friends  hang their heads  in shame.

It didn’t make the cut. Nor did Amer with the Flintstone shirt his new friends  gifted him.
Just comes to my mind- What do they do with the miles of  unused footage. Would they agree to give it back to us? Would it make a funnier even more interesting DDR?  I have a feeling it might!

We left the stadium as soon as the filming was over, much before we lost the match. The walk back to the hotel was a good oportunity to tell  Aaron  I was sorry about  our whinging about spending the day watching the match.

I can’t say about the cricket, however,   the day wasn’t boring at all. In fact, I could easily  do it again- but only in Australia- and  with a little help from Joe!

**Alcohol is not permitted in public places in India. In fact there is so much security that  it  is painful to watch cricket at a stadium. Only the really cricket-crazy go there- which I guess is all of India.*

The Quest for a Mt Isa Bogan

“Of course it is,  there’s a large mustard-mine near here. And the moral
of that is– The more there is of mine, the less there is of yours.”  ~ The Duchess

Surprisingly Mt Isa was as hot as  Uluru. Probably more. Maybe it just felt like that because the name was so misleading!
Hearing  we were going  to Mt Isa, we thought we were headed for the mountains, for cooler climes.
And why were we there? Joe had a task at hand- finding a top-class bogan.

The day didn’t start too well. We had  a somewhat eventful night,  and Amer & I had an early mike-up the next day. Mahi & G-man  would  go  bogan  hunting at noon and were thrilled to sleep in late. The early riser of  the group, I was often given the KRA  of an alarm clock- that morning  I was to  knock on Amer’s door to wake him up.
This seems fairly  easy, but was actually a bit tricky-  Amer  would say he was up  so you thought your work was over, but then  he would go right  back to sleep.
( On a very crucial morning  when we had yet another early morning flight to board and I had already woken him up once, Jon had to be rushed up to his room to see if he was actually awake.  When he finally joined our  nervous  group of people sure to have missed the flight,  he looked at me with sleepy  eyes  and said – “Tussi mainu utthaya kyun nahin?”  Why didn’t you wake me up? )

On that particular Mt Isa  morning I opened my eyes, put  the kettle on  and slapped some really horrific looking            ( but ‘eternal-beauty’ promising ) ancient Bhutanese  concoction  on my face and remembered I had to  knock  on Amer’s door right next to mine.
First knock- Grunting sound from within.
KNOCK- KNOCK 2nd time.

Thoughts in my head:
Wake up Amer, I really don’t   wish   to scare Aaron and Joe and the others  looking like this.. especially  Aaron, who  had  to deal with  some  Indian drama until past  1 am the night before.
This damn elixir of beauty is not supposed to dry out-  or it turns the face into hell, and I can feel it start to dry. 
The tea is turning cold.

Still nothing. No sound.
KNNOCCKK-  with the key outside Amer’s door.

Suddenly the door opened-  Stranger, white male, almost completely naked. We looked at each other in absolute shock. His jaw dropped, not an unexpected  reaction to  my face which  had  by  now assumed  a lovely shade of dried- moss green.  A few confused  seconds later  I mumbled an incoherent “I’m so sorry” and beat a hasty retreat.

Who was that in Amer’s room ?????

Half an hour later I stepped out ready to face the immersive  world of DDR  camera and action.
A smiling Amer was  already outside. His bag was outside the door next to the one I had knocked on an embarrassing half hour back.
Me (not giving anything away): Slept well handsome?
Amer: Ya, what were you guys doing up so late. I heard you and Aaron say bye to Mahi.
Me: Nothing. Mahi was a bit unwell. 
Amer: I changed my room. It was booked for a  mining  businessman who was to arrive from overseas  in the early hours.
Me: Oh!
Great.
Not only did I wake the  man up just as he must have gone  to sleep, but I also gave him the  fright of his life!

This was my introduction  to the mining town of Mt Isa.

Amer and  I joined Joe on radio, calling out to all Bogans in Mt Isa.  Actually, we were  looking for a self proclaimed “bogan” or two, to show us  the ‘real’ Mount Isa. In Joe’s words, “We want bogans, we want them fast, we want them now, we want them loud, we want them proud and we’re here in Mount Isa to find them!” 
The problem seemed to be that everytime Joe would  go up and  ask a bogan  if  they were  a bogan – they’d  say “no”.

At the start of filming we were all asked if we knew what  ‘Bogan’ meant. I thought it  may be close to  ‘red-neck’, but wasn’t sure. Was  it  very  different  from  labels  like nerd, geek, emo, etc… which aren’t necessarily derogatory.  The dictionary hadn’t officially recognized it yet.
We have many words like that in India- basically to describe ‘uncouth/ uncultured’- gawaar, ghaatti, tapori, dehaati, gaautti… Although they are thrown around jokingly, many times they are derogatory, or can be perceived like that.
We have a few million bogans  in our country. Easily that many if not more. It’s a way of life and depends on  the opportunities that you’ve been afforded, or not. I’m still not sure if it’s the same in Australia.
I think Australians are more comfortable with the label than Indians are- to be called one, or to call someone a bogan too.
Maybe we’re just overly fastidious and sensitive.
I wondered if you could call someone a bogan to his face. Was it  derogatory or rude? Wouldn’t you be a  bogan  to do so?

It quickly became apparent that you could. Or at least Joe could. (It was funny when Joe asked a woman in Mt Isa to describe a bogan and she looked at Joe’s black jeans and said- “Wearing black jeans.”)

We stopped at a store to buy  bogan clothes. Every one except  Gurmeet  knew what was coming.  It took a bit of coaxing before Gurmeet agreed to give up his own style statement for the bogan look. Stubbies and  wife-beater in place, he looked transformed- from boring  journo- fashion collared shirts to, umm, Mt Isa  bogan.

But that was after  we went to a bar to sample  Mt Isa’s drinking culture.

Some things about Mt Isa that we had  read about  in press reports were :
Drinking in excess and drinking binges between shifts.
Organized “wet messes” at the camps, and a kind of organized drunkenness.
The large disposable income of the fly-in-fly-out  workers.
The heavy population of of men, lack of women and the fighting and rivalry  over  them.
And a first for me,
Mayor John Molony’s  appeal for “ugly ducklings” to move to Mt Isa- “Ship in the ugly ones, we’ll take ’em”- to help address the woman shortage.

I was given a task in the bar- collecting empty glasses and learning to stack them up on one hand-  and I was such a champ at it! I think we counted 25.
It’s a bit unfortunate they cut out all the interesting things I did,  I was so proud of myself !
It’s not easy-  first you walk up to  strangers and convince them  to gulp down their drinks so you can collect their  empty glasses, and then you pile them up like that, the glasses I mean.
Not easy- When they’re 25 of them  together, they  weigh a lot! 

While the boys exchanged small talk and  Mahi   discovered a love for purple  pom-poms  post a vodka and  a beer, I sat away from the camera  and chatted with a group of  people who had  spent many years in Mt Isa.
They told me that  all that we  had  read  about Isa  was true. These were some experiences they were happy to share:
“We both have been coming here for the past many years. We work 7 days a week, save a lot of money, go back to England  until the money runs out, and then come back to work again. There’s so much money to be made, we don’t need to work for 3 to 4 years between. It’s not an easy place to live, but the money makes up for it.”

” True, drinking is a big  part of our life here. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that it is our only recreation. What else can you do in a town like this anyway… Of course  fights  break out all the time. This is Australia’s testosterone capital. “

” My girl-friend moved here to be with me but she moved back quickly. There’s not much to do if you are  culturally inclined. It makes more sense for me to fly back to be with her. That happens with a lot of us here.”

” Kids tend to get neglected. Parents work round the clock. The purpose of being here is making a lot of money. I have 3 kids, and I see their class-mates drinking under- age, doing dope,  joining gangs and running wild. There’s very little parental supervision.”

” Maloney is just  a big-mouth. He hasn’t done s*** for this town.” ( That’s about all politicians all over the world, right?)

I would have loved to sit and listen to more stories, but they couldn’t wait to introduce G-man to the  best of the bogan species that Joe had conjured up for us.
I wondered if it was necessary to come all the way- was this like a bogan headquarter or something, where they gathered at? It came to Joe  later- The flight to and back from Isa was packed with them-  we needn’t have stayed there at all.  Just flying in and out would’ve been sufficient.”

We went to meet John Maloney in his shop. It was the 1st of its kind I  had seen. We tried out man-cowboy boots and hats and saw him crack the whip and  heard him talk about the town. He talked direct. Or something…
” You need to have b**** as big as apples to be the mayor of this town,”  was one of the first things he said.
Apples… strange analogy, I thought. Maybe that’s just uncommon to my Indian turn of English  phrase.

At  night we all sat together at the hotel and ordered in. The pizzas in Australia are far better than in India; it would be the quality of meat perhaps. Amer and I enjoyed sampling  just about everything. Since I’ve  eaten snakes  and many  other such creatures in Bhutan and China, I think I’ve just exhausted my quota of meat to a large extent. Veggies seem more  tempting.

It  felt like family until we were joined by Amer’s new  bogan  friend. One look at him and I froze. It was  the man whose sleep I had ruined. I wondered if he would recognize me without The Mask style statement I made that morning.  Should I apologize anyway?
I did.
To my surprise  he said it wasn’t him. ” How could  I not recognize you ?”
Maybe  he was so tired  then  that he hadn’t registered  it happened.
Or maybe he was a really chivalrous bogan.
Oxymoron? Honestly, I don’t think so.