Staying unemployed for over two and a half months with no signs of the next ray of light can be very depressive. More so, if you are an expat in a foreign land. You feel trapped. You can’t leave the country till your house (or every other investment here) is sold off and all formalities cleared; and yet, at the same time, your very existence in the resident country is eating into large chunks of your hard-earned savings. Everyday.
The unfairness of it all
When an expat loses his or her job, it impacts the whole family. More so, during these tough economic times. Even more so during the last quarter of the year when most companies freeze their budgets and their hiring. It is even worse if after being globally shamed, the related circumstances continue to be unfair. Though you have been cleared by the relevant authorities, no organization is having the guts to hire you, nor the intent. In short, nothing changes for you.
A high-flying, high salary, high designation career; a perfect family who travel the world; those smiles and those happy posts … everything now in ruins. In one unintended stroke. And the situation just refusing to turnaround. You feel like a frail squirrel stuck between two elephants in a room. None of them are moving. You are running helter-skelter, scurrying up and down, hoping to cross either hurdle. But it’s just not happening.
Your sleep patterns get disturbed; your diet (or willingness to eat) reduces sharply; anytime you wish to eat, your fingers only go for the junk food packs; you are bored with sleeping, bored of television and you can count the threads of that sofa fabric that you lie down on 24×7 these days. Aside from your closest friends and relatives, most other so-called friends, office colleagues and relatives are reduced to just contacts in your phone book. Many of them are too busy for you and the rest only want to give you advice, opinion or judgement. Never mind, the fact that they would have never encountered what you are going through, the uniqueness of your problem or the intensity of unfairness. Little money and that little search engine inside the smart phone has given bloated egos and turned humans into walking talking advisers. These days in a parent-teacher meeting – the parent speaks more than the teacher; in a consultation – the patient speaks more than the doctor; in an office meeting – the subordinate speaks more than the boss; and at home, the child dominates the parents. It’s a new age
Life in a phone
At such a juncture it’s easy to feel lonely, isolated and unsure of what to do.. when not counting your savings vs expenses. True, my daily schedule has now got reduced to wake up. apply for jobs, beg for jobs, remind people not forget to me, check my credit card and bank balances, estimate how much more I can save from daily expenses and await for the property agent to sell my house. This in a nutshell is what I do every day, three to four times a day. The email refresh button or the bank account login page are my most active screens. My life currently is all inside one phone.
It is very easy to get depressed in this phase; easy to keep thinking of extreme situations and subsequently keep getting frustrated and angry. It is tough is to keep the mind engaged, positive and have something to look forward to. Tough to do something that involves the entire family well enough to keep their minds away, from the current problems. And at the same time, achieve such targets with minimum fuss, fanfare and at measly budgets.
Diwali wasn’t really lighting up our lives this year. All our close friends threw parties, we didn’t. All of them shared gifts, we didn’t. Everywhere the talk bordered around excitement about the upcoming year-end. For us, we could only see a dark tunnel ahead. Since the last couple of months, I have stopped scrolling through LinkedIn too – aside applying for jobs. Because watching all your contacts enjoying at office, getting promoted, launching products, getting awards or sharing new age technology related articles, wasn’t giving me any positive feelings.
It was around this time that a WhatsApp message popped up on my phone. It came from a local Indian cuisine restaurant that was serving their ‘once in a month’ simple meal (called Sadhya Bhojanam) at a ‘pay as you wish’ concept. The message read “Dear customers, We Sri Lukshmi Naarasimhan Restaurant have great pleasure in inviting you all on Friday (09/11/2018) Thulam Masam (Aipasi) for Sri Kanchi Maha Periava special Sadhya Bhojanam (Lunch) from noon (12) till 3.30pm. All are welcome. Expecting your gracious presence with family and friends. We are at 436, SERANGOON ROAD, SINGAPORE- 218132. PAY AS YOU WISH REGARDS FAMILY OF SRILN”
I didn’t understand parts of the message (some words were probably in a South Indian language (which I didn’t know). But I knew this was a mini event worth exploring.
It ticked a few boxes:
- Since it is ‘pay as you wish’ concept, it would be a low-cost outing.
Simple vegetarian meal, hence not unhealthy.Explore and appreciate vegetarian food, which the family often tries to avoid.
- No choice of menu, the restaurant will serve as is, so very much like a 1980s wedding dinner.
- Eat on a leaf plate, with no cutlery. A unique experience for kids surely.
- The location being eight train stations away, it would constitute a proper outing – dress up, travel, walk, eat, return – and take over three hours time.
- This is a ‘once a month’ event and we don’t know how long we will be here at
- , so we have to attend this time.
- Since we are planning to move to Bangalore, this would be a good audition of the food to expect there.
The message came late at night. I woke up the next day and announced to the family that we were going for an outing lunch at a new surprise place. Everyone got excited. But food being food, everyone got curious too. While getting ready, all sorts of questions flowed – We had been to few Diwali parties this week, so why go out again so soon? Why spending again on outing? Which restaurant? What cuisine? Which location? Etc
I made my second announcement “Sorry, no details now. But while travelling, at every train station we arrive, I will give you a clue and you can try guessing”. My daughter, the self-proclaimed ‘Queen of riddles’, loved the gaming concept. The fun was on. Suddenly, all thoughts about our current state took a backseat.
As we travelled, the train stations kept arriving. I kept giving clues (answers in brackets):
1. Rhyming with the popular mobile game PUBG (Answer – Sabjee, in Hindi means vegetarian).
2. We are visiting this place first time.
3. A girl who didn’t get married (Answer – KanyaKumari, a famous tourist attraction in Southern most tip of India – meaning a South Indian meal).
4. No menu options and no giving order to waiters.
5. No plate, no fork and no spoon too.
6. Station not Little India (since all guesses were going there).
We reached the place and having excited the kids enough, they loved the new experience. It was indeed back to the 1980s, back to the basics, back to simplicity. As the banana leaves were served, my kids’ curiosity levels soared. My little son learnt that day how to eat rice and curry using only his fingers. My wife loved the taste of every dish and the experience. The kids kept exploring with an open mind the fifteen odd different items served. Everyone was loving it all. And then, while eating, I introduced a fresh new game. ‘Who can now finish all the food in his/her plate and wipe it sparkling clean?’
Wipe the plate clean
In Indian culture, and I suspect in many more cultures, the more you wipe the plate clean after a meal (that means zero food wastage), the happier the host gets. We wanted to be appreciative of the concept and our way of thanking the restaurant serving was by not wasting a morsel. They deserved it – for keeping our mind away from all our worries during this hour; and for a tasty meal. We finished the food, wiped our plates clean, paid a token amount, and left. As I write 48hrs later, the topic of conversation in the house has still stayed around this unique event and looking forward to the next occurrence. My daughter, since then, prefers to eat most meals at home using fingers only.
Did you, the reader, realise that even you would have forgotten all our gigantic worries while reading about this experience? We did too. It’s important to fight back adversity, punch for punch, day by day, everyday. Our worries will continue for now, but I hope, the way we are handling this life-altering issue, sets some examples for my kids, readers and fans – that you can create your own light amidst the darkness. Never buckle down to unfairness – always keep battling on. Never stop living life – stand up and take the bull by its horns. You will get hurt, injured and saddened at many points in this journey. But standing up and constantly punching back, even when you are falling, will be what builds your strength of mind and character. Makes you ready to deal with whatever life has in store. For everything else, there is a MasterCard & MS-Excel Sheet!
Co-Edited : Ranjini DasGupta Talati
Update Christmas 2018 – Scissors Paper Stones
I have recently launched my first travel book “Scissors Paper Stones” – A budget travel guide for middle class families who have dreams unlimited, but their thoughts and pockets restricted. You can buy the book by clicking on the links below: