Kings Cross 1- Before Nightfall

It had already been a long day after barely any sleep- waking up  at an unearthly hour, an  early morning  flight out of  Melbourne, the drive into  Lakemba experience and an informal debrief. The  Shawrma & Hummus lunch was a welcome change, but by the time the car slowed down, we could see the it’s magic- all of us were  drowsy and quiet.
At first glance it looked like a slightly drab shop-lined  part of Sydney, a bit like many touristy places in the off-season.
Aaron’s  “Welcome to King’s Cross” threw me off. Was this the  locale of  ‘Underbelly’ from some years back?  It looked seedy but completely  lacked the edginess that the TV series depicted. Maybe I had the names mixed up.
Joe introduced us to Kings Cross. He didn’t tell us much. We were asked to walk around a bit and get a feel of  the place. For a minute I got the feeling that he was going to give Mahima some money to go buy some ‘specified’ fare, but then he changed his mind.
It was late afternoon. It seemed like a relaxed kind of place- McDonalds rubbing shoulders with shops of the McAdult variety, Boho’s sharing  beer and chips with drunken women, dollar souvenirs sharing space with smutty literature, homeless people with earplugs looking up at the blue sky, beggars politely asking for ..
Just a few minutes in, this is the conversation that occurred:
Polite (This being a big change from the persistent whining beggars back home) stoned beggar – “Can you lend me a dollar mate.”
One of us gives him a couple of dollars and some change we still haven’t figured out. He just stands there looking at us. We try to pretend he’s not there.
Gurmeet: In Hindi- “Lend? Does he intend to return it?”
Mahima: Hindi -“Paagal hai….?  You mad? It’s a  polite way of begging.”
Gurmeet: Hindi- “I like the beggars in Australia.. “
Mahi: Hindi- “Charsi hai yar- He’s stoned, mate..”
Gurmeet- Hindi- “…..”
Mahima- Hindi “…..” Back & forth- assessing the beggar’s politeness, degree of stoned-ness (for lack of a better word) and modus operandi.
The baffled doped beggar gives up hopes for a bigger loan, looks at us and shouts as he walks away-“You crazy Abo’s stoned out of yer brains, aren’t ya!!” Then turns back- “You drunk f*** Wogs, I got that wrong!”
This was the second time that day we’d heard a racial slur. It wouldn’t be the last. (The first was in an airport shop that morning when a white woman looked across at an Asian woman struggling to quieten her  bawling baby and said loud enough for her to hear- “….Slit-eyed c***” )

A short while later, Mahima was  on camera.
Joe- “Mahima, what are your views on  sex education?”
Mahima- “There is growing awareness about this issue in our schools & colleges too. I believe it is very important… In fact even the strippers here have a right to their occupation. It is a step in the right direction, etc…. “

Camera off. Mahima looks at us and winks. “Was I good!”
We all smile. She was.
Just like her response at seeing the $300 tag on a life-sized doll  in the display of an adult shop: “Toys are so costly in Australia! Aussies must really spoil their kids…but how can children enjoy playing with such big toys!”
Amer: “Nice one Mahima!”
Gurmeet: “Why are we here? It’s boring. They should get us to check-in first…”
Mahima: “I would have bought one of these pretty dolls  for my 4 year old niece if it was cheaper and smaller.”
Amer: “Buy me one Mahi! I would myself, but I’ve bust all the money I had.”
With some special Aussie hospitality via a section of our crew, effectively, Melbourne had been Amer’s (Kings) Cross.

Amer & I checked-in only after our somber meeting  with Dr Fulde at St Vincent. We came out shaken-up after he shared their experiences of saving lives on a regular weekend night: Dealing with aggressive drug overdosers, victims of drunken glassing, fixing broken bones, stitching up wounds, mending broken skulls, gunshot wounds, literally putting together body parts that have been ripped apart- all connected to people under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs- while calmly listening to them abuse, curse, show physical aggression and swear violently at the staff attending to them. He talked about the demons that testosterone brought out-how the the abuse of drugs & alcohol fueled an aggression that turned normal human beings into monsters who didn’t think twice before causing another human being the gravest harm.
The encounter left Amer & I  with the deepest admiration and respect for the doctor and his medical staff. It also left me staring starkly at the difference between a first world country and mine, highlighting how incredibly lucky Australians  are and how much they take for granted. To be fair, why wouldn’t they? It is natural to believe &  claim it as a right unless you’ve experienced differently.
Most of our reactions in the debrief that followed did not make the final cut. These were mine:
In India, drug/ substance  abusers in a brawl/ fight would be bleeding in a police locker,  slapped (at the least) really hard until they stopped the rant, and sent a couple of days later to a rehab center- where it’s another hell waiting (without any gentle doctors & nurses, with the barest infrastructure and definitely not much empathy), unless it is a private one which would have a high fee, and so very few people would have access to it.
With such poor infrastructure & resources and millions needing medical  care, drug addicts are really the lowest in the priority for any medical emergency. Yes, we have  drug abuse in India too, especially high in some states (mostly  arising out of  poverty), and awful as it may sound, there is a stoic  attitude of “Put him in that corner. If a nurse finds time, she will attend to him/ bandage him up, but the police have to  take him back to the locker
But the lockers may also be full, so he is out on his own on the streets  or… I don’t know what eventually  happens to him. The poor family takes him back  and has to deal with the addict and his violence, but also the  ‘shame’ of having an addict relative. Besides, they don’t have the money to pay for his habit/ rehab…and  eventually they are forced to  give up on him. These substance abusers become the millions of faceless people in dark places, unseen, uncared for. Basically there is the underlying attitude- “He is an addict- he deserves nothing much.” …. and then I mentally go back to St Vincents and it’s facilities and all the other free-flowing advantages- all of which (in spite of the excellent doctors and hospitals) are just a dream for our country’s nameless millions. Why? The resources and the terrifyingly huge population just don’t match up.
That experience at St Vincent also gave me a glimpse of  why people from war-torn and politically scarred  countries put their lives at grave risk and do whatever it takes to somehow reach Australian shores. Who wouldn’t mind being killed in that process of becoming a Boat person/ illegal immigrant/ any label.. if their family could get a chance to live in that small piece of heaven- when you come from places like Afghanistan, parts of Africa and the Middle East and a host of other countries where hell  is  just the only way of life. I wouldn’t think twice. Every risk would be worth it.

As we walked back to the hotel in the dark, the genial (if seedy) Kings Cross of the afternoon had become something else.  It was noisy, rowdy, crowded and definitely more sleazy at night- bright neon lights contrasting with dimly lit bars, prostitutes and bouncers standing around and dingy clubs proclaiming adult-related business. It’s mixture of charm &  sleeze reminded me of Pat-Pong in Bangkok. Charm? We walked through a  street with trendy  cafe’s and restaurants with outdoor seating and an interesting menu on offer.

It was already a 16 hour day, but if I had any hopes of  sinking into my bed, those were quickly dashed. An all-dressed-up Mahima and Gurmeet were full of questions- “Where were you both? Why are you so late? How was it?” and Mahima had plans-“It looks exciting out there.. dress up quickly, we must go out tonight..and we haven’t eaten since afternoon.”
She had just  discovered that for the first time since we’ve started this journey, none of the crew were staying with us at night- they all lived in Sydney and had left us in Jon’s care.
Amer mumbled something that sounded like “I’m tired and  sleepy” and slinked off somewhere.
Before I could tell her it wasn’t looking all that safe out there and I wasn’t about to go looking for trouble, she was gone looking for Amer.

I was wary of us  sampling Kings Cross alone at night. Mahi, on the other hand was persistent. Luckily for me, Jon had this to say-
(Very serious expression and a stern voice) “Mahima, Aaron has given me strict orders that I cannot, I repeat, CANNOT allow the Indians to go out at night while we are here. I can however go get you all a pizza for dinner.
These were our reactions:
Mine:  Aaron, director ji, if you really said this, I feel so much love for you!
Gurmeet: Looking relieved. “Okayokayokay, but we can’t just eat pizza everyday…”
Mahima: Argue Argue Argue ..and then  “and Jon, how will you know we won’t creep out at night, huh, tell me!!”
Jon: (Pulling himself up and pulling out  his terribly officious British accent) “Mahima, WE  have our ways. You Indian’s have secret trackers on you. I can’t say more”
Mahima looked a bit worried now. “Jon, can you  track us everywhere? You sure?” (Then to me in Hindi- “Bathroom too you think? Did you read the contract? I’m worried…”) “Ok  Jon, because we don’t want you to get into trouble with Aaron, we’ll just stay here. Just because it’s Aaron, okay..”
Jon & I looked at each other & I mouthed a thank-you.
Mahima was  placated only when Gurmeet and I agreed to spend time at the hotel bar instead. She asked for Champagne, but reluctantly settled for her fav pom-poms instead. (Those are Breezers, right?) Her constaint refrain was “Amer had to choose tonight to feel sleepy. I would have gone ..”
The bar looked onto a noisy dimly lit narrow street. We were looking directly into a tacky strip bar. In fact, we were looking into several of them. They all had prostitutes posing outside the dark smoky premises, many of whom looked around sixteen. Intimidating bouncers lounged around them. We could see them haggle fiercely to fix a price each time a customer stopped and showed interest, after which they were led into the dark, only to emerge as  shadowy silhouettes on the floors above.
It was almost voyeuristic, this experience of looking into another world from across the road- all this going on right across while we sat sipping our drinks and pointing out the action outside and listening to the crazy-but-true stories the barman recounted.
We saw fights break out, a bouncer slap a prostitute really hard a couple of times as if to wake her up, visitors pour a bottle of something on another persons head leading to a brawl, visitors being roughed up and herded out of a strip bar, a couple of girls retching right in the middle of the street, drunken tourists try to kiss  a couple of really young looking boys dressed like prostitutes after which they just dropped their skirts and roughed them up…. and then we saw someone in a red hoodie walking leisurely across where we sat. It was Amer!

Next post: Kings Cross After Dark & Other Scary Tales


Beer, Biryani & The Aussie Invasion

We’re in the festive part of the Indian  year.
This year’s celebrations of  Ganesha’s journey into our homes and  the farewell immersion parades  were  unique for the large number of  foreigners involved in playing the ‘Dhol-Tasha’.  While I was merely one spectator in the thousands all around, they marched along with the locals, danced, and picked up the  well-practiced crazy beat.
When the 3 white women waved wildly  at my direction  from a few hundred faces away I thought they were just expressing their happiness at being a part of the celebrations.

A little later they were standing just a few feet away from me. The decibel level of the songs & drums was deafening.
“Hey,  you’re  Dumb, Drunk & Racist?” (No one in India knows about DD&R so being  recognized from  it wasn’t even a remote possibility.)
” Umm no, but I was in it.”
“With Joe!!”
“Wow! You write the blog.. It’s really you.”
“I guess so.”
“I loved DD&R and we love  Joe….!”
“Yes, Yes, Yes”
“Can we see the dvd  if you have it, I missed an ep and I believe Joe did a.. “
However much I tried, it was tough listening to the women go on  about Joe right  in the middle of  dancing, drum-beats, cymbals &  deafening chants in praise of the elephant god. This is how it looked.

We exchanged numbers. That weekend my home was resounding with  Australian English- Uni students on an exchange program. Pune  is always abuzz with visiting students.

I was expecting three Aussies for lunch. There were eleven!
Luckily we can order ‘biryani’  in, and since the eleven Aussies were polite enough to say they’d love some, lunch wasn’t hard to organize. Besides, being Indian means there’s always food in the house- it’s like we’re always ready for any eventuality.

It was their 2nd week in India. They were fascinated with the colors, food, chaos, people, traffic, Indian clothes & jewelry,  festivities and the sea of humanity all around.

Conversation flowed… like strong Indian beer.
We ran out of beer  quickly  due to the unexpectedly large number of guests, but help was at hand in the form of  the ‘home-delivery’ from across the road. (I wonder if they do that in Aus.)

The students  insisted on watching the DD&R dvd.  For me, it  was the first time I actually watched the series at one go.
It was immensely  interesting to ‘see’ real-time Aussie reactions instead of read them on social media and mail. We kept pausing for loud discussions all through. They were appalled, embarrassed, moved, disgusted, surprised, taken aback, disbelieving, amused and  defensive. “This is not really us”/  “I see this  happen all the time” were thrown around all evening.

Some random learning :
Almost all of them had seen at least a few eps of the show (the ones who hadn’t said they never ever watch or will watch  ABC ),  all of whom had replayed the pre-airing  promos for 2 things-
Expected- The b*** flash.
Unexpected- To laugh at my “We don’t recommend ….too much  in the sense of  not at all.” I mentally  went back a few months  to the mail/ comments on various sites where people were “ha”- ing about it, and realized that it was a more common reaction than what I had thought.
I was just being myself- I guess I have an odd sense of humor.

Everyone who had watched the series followed this  blog. “What you did outside of  what we saw is  also so interesting! Season 2 should include this- Outside the Camera” felt good to hear.

Almost all of them- all the  women & one man- wanted to ask me a hundred questions about Joe & thought he  was one or the other- cute/ wanker/ smart/really  cute/ purposely controversial /needs a new coat and I should send him one from India/ totally crush-worthy/ what was he like in real life?/ were we friends ?/ did you meet his girlfriend?
The rest of the men just wanted to continue  drinking  beer without a break*/ thought he was a troll / didn’t know him before DD&R  (Joe, I know  that’s impossible! I know I shouldn’t say impolite things about my guests, but I think  the nice Aussie bloke  lied to me)/ tries too  hard to look either like Jesus or a tramp/ am curious: was he rude in real life  too?/am  curious: was it awkward spending all that time together even though you were  strangers?/ Did you all sleep in the van or  share rooms and was Joe a part of it?

One refrain: “You have to be extremely brave or really crazy to do this show! Were you all warned about how dangerous it could get? Almost every episode has something really uncomfortable or dangerous.”

Their questions  just didn’t end :
“Just curious, why did they choose you four? (Read the refrain. Maybe we were the only four who were crazy enough..)
“Which did you like more- Sydney or Melbourne?” ( Hard to say since we kept traveling in & out.)
“Which city seemed  more friendly ‘in the sense of’ the people there. ha!” ( Ha!)
“What caste are you, and do you have friends from other castes?” (Mixed. Personally, I don’t know anyone who makes friends based on that anymore. Not in the cities anyway.)
“Why didn’t they show you in your home  with your family?” ( Wish I knew. But my very- reluctant-to-be-interviewed  daughter is glad for that.)
“Did Mahima actually mean it when she said Indian girls  have to appear to be good girls?” (She meant it. All don’t though. There are enough give-aways I would think.)
“Did you have an arranged marriage? Mahima’s having one too? What about the boys?” ( Semi- arranged. I would think yes. Gurmeet- yes. Amer- No/Semi, maybe)
“Did Amer really breakdown at Cronulla.. Why exactly? He’s cute… Is he really? (Yes. It wasn’t an easy report to see. Yes, very.)
“How could you be so polite & sit with and calmly speak your mind to the Protectionist Party while they were so noxious?( I’m like that- I speak my mind, but calmly.)
“What was the scariest experience? Alice Springs attack?” ( A King’s Cross experience outside the camera/ Melbourne streets at night where we filmed. No)
“Why don’t you share experiences about Joe like you do about the other Aussies with you? Has he/they** asked you not to?” ( No particular reason really, I just write what comes to mind. No)
Are you still friends with the Aussie crew/ stay in touch? Are Joe and you friends/ do you read what he writes? Do you like it?( Yes, good friends/ All the time. Yes we are. I read everything he writes. I don’t understand a lot of the political stuff, but he’s smart & he’s funny!) [ The boys: “Aw come on sold out Radhika.”  Most girls: “Yeah”]
“Why haven’t you posted anything on Melbourne/ the Alice Springs attack/ Moree interactions/ Indigenous interactions & learnings?Have they** told you not to/ to stop posting? You should write about all of it- it’s an incomplete picture yet!” (I just assumed there’d be not much interest left in DDR recalls anymore. No. I will now.)
“You stayed in Kings cross? What was the Indians’ experience there? Did Joe take you all to some of the night  spots? What was Mahima’s/ Gurmeet’s reaction there? Amer must have had a great time.” ( The next post has it all.)
I promised I would get back to  DD&R blogging soon.

By the time they left, it was the next day. I doubt they’ll ever get to have ‘Mutton  Korma & Pau’ for breakfast at 4 am.

I’m sure they’d have loved to help clearing up, but Indian beer is no pushover.

Just as they were leaving I heard a few of them counting the beer  bottles I had  piled up for the re-cycling bin. It was a round figure- 110.

* They hadn’t yet found an opportunity to drink alcohol. Most Indian  homes where they stay would not be okay with them drinking there.
** They- It was just left unexplained. “The ABC ” is what I got when I pushed.
*** None of these pictures are mine. They took a lot of photographs, but I’m  not allowed to share them- they told me later that they weren’t supposed to be here and didn’t want their host families  to know.

Copping Abuse, Knobby Tales and Closing the Great Vegemite Divide

“We called him Tortoise because he taught us.”  The Mock Turtle

The Vegemite chronicles continue… but there’s a history to that.

The gap between the  teasers and the actual airing of the series was a nightmare-  harrowing mails and comments (totaling a couple of thousand at the least) directed at us four and Indians in general was incessant, obsessive, threatening  and sometimes scary- it felt good to be really far away.   It was also bewildering because the the series hadn’t even  aired yet. I guess the name was provocative, but that it would draw out the kind of outpouring of reaction it did was unexpected. Or maybe we were naive- and had no experience of the viciousness of a section of  trolls.

It  ranged from sarcastic..
“Amer is clearly a gentleman and a scholar who most certainly enjoys tea and scones in more leisurely times. He cannot be expected to know how to deal with the vulgarity of such barbaric ruffians. He can only be expected to be the light of philanthropy and compassion when confounded with the misfortunes of such pitifully darkly minds.”
“You’re all fair in color, so are obviously Brahmins. What do you know of the plight of the untouchables in your own country. But wait, why should you be bothered by that living in your high-caste world”

to presumptuous..
“Astounded by Amir crying. Have you never lived in India, mate? I have for years. Just a walk out on the streets brings up things much sadder and appalling than Crunalla. What about the violent clashes in India? But I guess you have no idea about them. Grow up kid. An Indian crying on seeing the footage that you cried on- you have to be a rich protected kid who has no idea about his own country.”

to abusive..
” Great to know I’m not the only one who is happy to cop abuse at Indian call-center C***s… they are F****** A******* and I’m saying it to them, and proud of it……”
” I learnt Indian abuse so you brainless F-twits from call-center’s, hear what you deserve. Bomb your country and kill you stink  bombs would be nice”
“How dare you come here and label us Dumb Drunk & Racist, you filthy  faggots and hors”

to repulsive..
“Well we all know what we think of the Indians that live in our country don’t we… which hand did you clean your crap with btw? And of course you don’t wash afterwards.”

to vicious..
” The 4 of you should have died in the Abo attack at Alice, no maybe 3 so one of you could’ve carried the filthy corpses home- maybe that would have got the rest of the trash from your country to go back home too.”
“Why don’t you hug your own slummy black kids back home. I believe they’re sold in your country a dollar a piece…”

Endless rants in hundreds, Comments on the DDR facebook page totaling a thousand at least, verbal threats and  abuse, strange advances and suggestions and a lot more on threads in chat rooms.*

About 50 down, I took Aaron’s advice to us  and stopped reading any of it, changed my settings and  learned to laugh off  whatever Mahi and Amer shared with me from the massive unexpected  reaction on the www.
It wasn’t  surprising that   Julianne Hayes 1st mail to Amer and I just before the live Q & A was so welcome, her friendly reassurance  meant much more than she would’ve known:

“Hi Radhika, wishing you the best of luck on the ABC forum tonight after the show. As I advised Amer, don’t take any notice of the stupid people asking stupid things and making stupid comments. There’s one in every crowd! I assure you that most Australians are intelligent and non racist and you won’t find most of them hanging around on Facebook! As a fan of the show and Joe’s work, I commend you on taking this unusual trip and voicing your opinions. This show will go down in history if not only for the amazing reactions from the public it has brought to the fore. Have fun with it! I’m sure the ABC will protect you from too much silliness that will inevitably go on if the recent threads about the episodes are anything to go by. Good health to you! Friend me if you wish. Cheers, Julianne!”

“Hi Julianne. This is so sweet, Thank you very much. As you’ve guessed, it’s scary and I’m a bit petrified
This much I’ve understood that there are many many lovely people out there. I met plenty, and there’s been great support all along, like yours right now. There are all kinds everywhere, my country has its fair share as well, and more!
It’s been a crazy ride and I’d do it again anytime. I learnt so much about my own self, about people and about pushing boundaries. Most importantly about not giving in to sitting on the fence, which seemed so tempting every single day!
The friend request is not going through, can you send me one so I can accept pl. Am using my daughter’s phone, and I’m lousy at this kind of stuff !

“Dear Radhika, try not be petrified, I’m sure it will be quite interesting. My thoughts will be with you. Don’t forget to breathe! X”

“Thank you! I’m writing the next blog post while waiting nervously  for the Q & A, so you can be sure this post will be my best, haha. smileEnjoy the show tonight- Joe’s great in it, as always! I can see you are a fan!  :)”

“Hi Radhika, just finished reading all the questions from last night. I was out at a gig in Sydney (I’m a singer) but I caught the repeat tonight. I really enjoyed it as usual. Wow, lots of questions! That wasn’t so scary after all was it? You are very brave though and I respect your calm dignity. I can see that lots of Australians learnt from you. Again, well done! Have a great day”

It was the start of a  special  friendship.
We went on to share thoughts, experiences and similarities and differences in our cultures and lives. There are plenty of both, and that is what makes it meaningful, interesting and valuable.

Julianne is beautiful, inside out.
And a great performer- singer and dancer.
And so funny.
That, I guess  is where the Vegemite instructional Video comes from.

She told me my  post on my less than pleasant  experience with Vegemite got her thinking-
“……..The Vegemite story is a classic. You cant have it for the first time alone on a cracker! YUK!. Your Vegemite experience has been ruined! gasp
You’ll have to come have breakfast with me and I’ll show you how to do it or I might make a video and show you.” 

” Julo**, Make a video please! Maybe I can redeem that experience yet !!”

I was so touched by Paul and her  generosity-  they actually took  the time out to make that video happen.

“Don’t worry, it will be a high class home production. Don’t forget, Hunto** is a camera man as well as a sound recordist/editor…We have brainstormed ideas already and it should be ready by tomorrow.” ( Julianne’s  boyfriend  Paul Huntingford  did the sound effects for Gollum in the Lord of the Rings.)  is so funny! “This is a toaster”  hahhaa.
Julianne should be in the movies.

Just as her Vegemite video was getting famous, this is what happened-

“Hey Radhika, my suburb has been voted the “most unfortunately named suburb” in AUSTRALIA! I had heard about us winning a smaller poll earlier on in the week and decided it was time to move but this is a shocker. Watanobbi. I always say I live right on the knob – it makes for a good joke. I used to live in Watanobbi Rd, Watanobbi. It used to take me 5 mins to write out my address. Oh well, at least my suburb is famous now.  Hehehehe. It was on NBN News!”

Is that word what I think it means?
” Great Julo! But what exactly would it mean to Aussies- the word, and living with it? “

“Hmm… good question. Being a “knob” is a derogatory term here. Slang here for penis is knob. So ‘what a knobby’ can be construed as a huge dick. People giggle when they hear it. You always have to spell it and nearly always get some sort of reaction when people hear it….”

I think there may be another instructional video coming my way  soon.

* A lot changed once the series went on air, and a large section of  viewers went on to see that  we weren’t there to label them DDR.
** Joe’s tutorials to us 4 on Bogan names came in handy- we addressed each other with our  bogan names, though  ‘Boganette’ sounds so much better  for women. Jules, Radhika etc  was so insipid- Julo, Rado & Hunto- so much character. ha

(Next post- Kings Cross and other Aussie hot spots )

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.
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.”
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!”
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!
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.