Tag Archives: India

The Headline is Not the Story

11 Feb

When dealing with the law and court findings, headlines are frequently misleading. Family law doubly so, because they have to deal with stuff that shouldn’t be handled outside the family. So this divorce story is a whopper.

The headline is “Mere Possession Of Higher Educational Qualification Not A Reason To Hold That Wife Can Maintain Herself : Karnataka High Court.” At first blush, that makes me think, “Oh, the gold-digging ex-wife doesn’t want to get a job,” but a little further reading makes that clear, that’s not the story. The wife’s lawyer (who is an “amicus curiae” lawyer–friend of the court–so I’m not sure if that means she was court appointed or doing this for free) pointed out that just because you have two advanced degrees doesn’t necessarily mean you can get a job with them. And as my wife pointed out, often these are designed as part of getting a husband, and were never intended to be used. It’s what we used to call it in the US a “MRS. degree.”

The next obstacle to get over is that this case is in India–based on the British model–so not only are there different rules, there’s a different culture and location to be considered. The ex-husband is asking to stop having to make payments of 3,000 rupees/month–which translates to $41 USD/month. Now you might think, “What a cheap-skate!” and… well, you might be right, but when I lived in India (albeit 15 years ago), I made the equivalent of $300 USD/month (Rs.13,000; back when 1 USD was 45 INR) and we were upper middle class for the “edge of civilization” town we were living in. So you can live off that… but not very well, and certainly not in the big city of Mysuru (Mysore).

In this case, the ex-wife lives with her brother, and has for many years. How long is not reported in the case brief. However, the couple was married in 2003. Sometime after, it was discovered that there was a medical problem with her uterus, and eventually, she had to have surgery to have it removed. Read: she can’t have kids. Now this would put a strain on any marriage, so when he starts going out at night, she starts thinking he’s searching for a new wife, and the yelling starts. Eventually, things get so testy in the home that she leaves and moves into her brother. She appeals to the family court and asks for Rs.5000/month. The husband then applies for divorce and finally gets it in 2013, where the alimony is now Rs.3000/month.

So eight years later, the ex-husband is trying to get out paying alimony for a wife he only had for… a year? A couple of years? So his argument is, “she’s got TWO degrees. Let her get a job!” Understandable, but then it’s revealed that our ex-husband owns two tailoring shops, pulling in Rs.3000-5000/day. Mind you, he still has to pay 5-10 tailors in that shop, and rent, and supplies, but this is not sounding good for the ex-husband, even if you assume the wife’s lawyer is exaggerating his income.

Because this is India, the ex-wife can never get married again. She can’t have kids and that’s a deal breaker in Karnataka state. In theory, she COULD get a job (and probably does something), but she is black-listed from ever having a relationship. That means she’s a dependent on her family for the rest of her life. The husband is also black-listed, the main problem being is that he’s currently 52 years old, which means he was 35 when he got married… so he was taking his sweet time getting a bride himself. It’s hard to convince prospective parents to let you have their daughter when he’s got “divorced” on his marriage resume (yes, they exist).

In the end, the court found in favor of the ex-wife, and recommended to raise the alimony to Rs.4000/month. But this story takes so many twists and turns… and I had to skim the actual case brief, which the article has at the bottom of the story, but the news left out so many juicy details that make this story more interesting. But what do you think? Is US$41/month too high a price to pay for a couple-year relationship? Can (or should) the wife get a job? Is the ex-husband a jack-ass? Let me know in the comments below!

Then a mountain lion crosses your path…

8 Nov

It’s easy to forget that nature isn’t tamed–we carve out human spaces, trim nature to fit in parks, and think that we’ve conquered it. However, once in a while, nature reminds you that it’s all a façade.

As you can see from the picture about, that is not a mountain lion – that’s a civet cat – but it performs the same duties as the mountain lion and is just as nasty. When my wife and I were working in India, we were up in the first range of the Himalayas at an international residential boarding school called Woodstock. We lived in the middle of a national forest. The forest wasn’t native, they planted it after independence, so although it stopped bad landslides, now we had forest fires.

The point is that to get anywhere on campus, you either had to go up the mountain or down the mountain through the “jungle.” There was a lot of trails that ran through there and you climbed up muddy, rocky paths to get to your destination. That’s when I saw the civet cat.

I stopped–my wife bumped into me from behind–but I wanted to give the pair of civet cats plenty of room. They are predators, and apart from my walking stick, I didn’t have any way to defend myself. For the most part, animals will tend to leave you alone. Besides, we weren’t its prey.

We had a lot of feral dogs running on the hillside. They were a little more solicitous–just like the monkeys–but throwing rocks to keep them away seemed to work. That night, we woke up after midnight to the most horrific screaming we’d ever heard. It wasn’t a human scream, it was a dog. The civet cats had struck the pack of feral dogs and eaten one. We found the blood stains outside our house the next morning, but no corpse. The cats were methodical and dragged the body into the jungle. But the dogs were much more skittish for the next month.

Living in Arizona, we have coyotes, who are far sneakier than any civet cat… but then again, they’ve lived with humans for a lot longer. It’s not uncommon for them to walk off the mountain or the rez, follow the canals, and jump over someone’s fence to eat their pet chihuahua. However, there’s something more impressive to see a beast in their domain and realize the true power of nature.

Have you had an experience like that? Let me know in the comments below!

“You Can Get Everything You Want But Not At The Same Time”

3 Sep

When bidding for apartments, I was frustrated about the choices. When I told this to a co-worker, she said “You can get everything you want, but not at the same time.” Guess what? She wasn’t just talking about apartments.

So this is Maxim #3 that I live by because it works so well for so many aspects of my life. Of course, there is a better way to phrase it, as I heard CGP Gray say in a recent video, “There are no solutions, only trade-offs.”

If you’re wondering what “bidding for apartments” means, this was back when I worked at Woodstock School, which is up in the Himalayan mountains next to Mussoorie, India. Unlike most international schools, they offer free room to their teachers because a) they’ve got a lot of leftover missionary homes to give out and b) they can pay their teachers a whole lot less. However, instead of choosing an apartment, you had to bid for them, and just like any socialist system, rank and seniority mean everything. So as a new teacher who had only been there a year, my choices were between the really nice places that involved a 15-30 minute walk to work everyday (we lived on the side of a mountain, forget driving or biking), or the close place that was smaller and had a yippy dog downstairs.

Thankfully, someone was leaving and I bid for their place (called the “Shoestring”). Plenty of space, but dingy. 15 minute walk, but it was at the same level as the school (not up or down). Had a couple of strange neighbors, but not annoying, although the turnip liquor still was difficult when he fired it up (hillbillies are the same the world over). In other words, I made trade-offs to find a good solution.

Of course, that was true about the school itself. Gorgeous location, wonderful students, free room, cheap to live there… but they paid incredibly little. When I was there (2003-5), we got paid $300/month. In the US, that’s below the lowest poverty level. In rural India, that meant upper middle class… and I mean rural. We were fifteen minutes from the edge of civilization–you walked around the corner and there was NOTHING for miles. What there was when you crossed those miles are very limited. I had two servants (who also worked for others and made a good living) and saved up enough in one year to go home to America. Of course, I had to sleep on friends’ couches, but I spent little while I was actually on site.

Later on in life, when I decided to follow the money and become a travelling consultant, I got paid a ton of money (1.5 to 2 times my previous job). I stayed in great hotels, got my meals reimbursed, and my credit score went through the roof. However, that meant I only was home with my family for 2.5 days a week. Now I work at home (have before the pandemic started), get paid far less (but more than my job would be in an office), and work far harder. But I basically get to work wherever I want… and sometimes that’s a cafe, a restaurant, or a bar. The pandemic meant that my kids and wife were with me all the time which killed most of the incentive for this job in the first place. Now I dream of an office… who knew?

So that’s when I understood that everything was a trade off in life. You want the hot car? You either earn more or get crappy everything else. You want the hot girl? You either earn more or get in great shape yourself. This is why this statement has become a maxim of mine and reminds me that I can’t have it all — I have to make decisions about what I’m willing to sacrifice to get what I deem a priority.

Do you find this to be valid? What are you willing to give up to “have it all?” Tell me about it in the comments below!

Shrug Shoulders, Smile Awkwardly

4 Aug

When I was living overseas, I figured that if I ever wrote a travel book, I would have to call it “A Land Where No One Makes Change.” Where I lived in the Indian Himalayas, everything was a cash economy. Yet strangely, no storekeeper EVER had change for your big 500 rupee bills. Were they lying? Or was there a deeper reason?

To preface this, I was working in Uttarakhand State about 15 years ago, but I just bet this is still the case. Lot of things changed while I was living in Mussoorie. First off, they changed the state name from Uttaranchal to Uttarakhand (Northern Valley to Valley of the Gods… I think), we finally got a real pizza place (Dominos is frickin’ gourmet compared to sweet tomato sauce on baked bread), and our very own cafe (Barista). I’m sure I wouldn’t recognize the Buz (bazaar) if I went back.

However, I bet few people have credit card readers, and most of the stores will have difficulty making change for a 500 rupee note. Now, for my Western readers, if you do the calculation, that’s only US $6.67. However, the purchasing power of that note in the hills is closer to $13-20! To explain, I was making $3600/year – that put me in the poverty range back home in America, but made me upper middle class in the mountains. I had two servants (a housekeeper and a laundry man) and a 43-year-old Bajaj green scooter that I called the Hulk (it was mean, green, and dangerous to ride).

Of course, I didn’t pay for my apartment or utilities, so there was some benefits. However, I saved up enough cash even on that little to pay for a round-trip plane ticket back home! THAT’S how far my US Poverty Level salary extended. So when you’re going to a storekeeper than maybe makes… oh, Rs.100-200/day and has to pay rent, food, fuel, and take care of their elderly mother singing bhajans (hymns) all day, that burns out fast. Gee, I wonder why they couldn’t make change for a note that equaled a week’s profit?!

So when I see signs in the US saying, “We can’t make change,” that’s where my mind goes. It didn’t help that the ATM machine only kicked out 500 rupee notes, so if you wanted change, you went to the “grocery stores” or you waited in “line” at the bank. NOTE: neither of those statements are accurate. “Sardarji’s” was the size of a big closet and crammed to the ceiling with packaged groceries, with fruits and veggies on top of other shelves crammed with stuff. If something didn’t sell, it stayed there… forever. That wasn’t even the name of the store: it was “Harkrishan Store” and it was run by a father and son who were both Sikhs. So since “sardar” is the (insulting) nickname for Sikhs, you soften it by giving it the honorific “-ji.” Also, no one ever lined up at the bank teller; they just moved as a mob to get to the front. Not always the case in India, but at my bank, yes.

In the US, I rarely use cash–everyone has card readers, except for the rare exceptions of the dive bar I frequent weekly–and that has more to do with the economic hit they took for being closed for three months. They couldn’t afford to pay their fees!

Have you been having trouble making change? Have you run into this problem before? Let me know in the comments below!

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