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Reflecting on my summer stint in #Paris

My three week stint in Paris draws to an end tomorrow. It’s been a work trip peppered with lots of outings with family, though they did way more sight seeing and touristy activities than me. That’s what they have been here for. As for me, I have thoroughly enjoyed having solo time at work. This is a luxury in India, where the work place is a juggling act involving much more than the core components of research like fieldwork, analysis, reading and writing. Much time is spent in project and team management and in attending meetings and conferences too. I enjoy all that buzz as well, so carving out time for more solitary kind of work has been very challenging indeed!

Here in Paris, the work environment has been conducive for solo activity, though I share an office space with two other researchers, both senior to me from whom I am learning a lot through observation and everyday conversations. The solitude has helped me increase my concentration span and somewhat improve my ability to schedule work more realistically. It has also taught me the value of reading beyond my subject, something I have wanted to do for a long time. The importance of embarking on a PhD at this stage in life has come home to me as well, as I interact with academic researchers at various stages of their careers.

For the most part, I find my colleagues here immensely focused and dedicated to their own sliver of research (though not in a restrictive way). PhD students and scholars working on remote Asian and African nations have spent years teaching themselves new languages, delving deep into understanding the cultural traditions and political economy of faraway lands as well as spending vast amounts of time physically experiencing these geographies and cultures. As a relatively new entrant to social science research, I realize my training as an urban planner somewhat limits my attitudes because I tend to focus on solution-oriented approaches without adequately steeping myself in the context. This is a drawback I am determined to address going forward.

Being outside my comfort zone and a change of scenario also helps me reflect on myself in other, more personal ways. My time here has strengthened by belief that life must be a delicate balance of self-confidence and humility. The former in the sense that I imbibe the importance of being myself, not judging myself too harshly, not overthinking everyday decisions and certainly not worrying about appearances or what other folks think of you! This has been a work in progress for the last few years and its got a fillip here in Paris. Humility in the sense of being open to new ideas, really listening through when other people talk, opening out the senses without judgement and leaving the ‘I’ out of as much a possible. To be honest, I have not progressed as much in this because temperamentally I am the talker/do-er/impression-maker type. Stepping back and toning down when I need to is something I am aware of but have not been able to practice as well.

All in all, these reflections form the base for my second stint here in September this year. I will be unaccompanied by family or friends then and will be living alone for a month for perhaps the first time in my life (yes, believe it or not!). During that trip, I intend to catch up on the missed out parts of tourism, the alternate experiences in Paris and also work much more on my journey towards serious and focused research.

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Shopping with children is fun and instructive too- Aug 29, 2012

A quick trip to the supermarket with both kids in tow was the highlight of the day. I hadn’t been too chirpy all day and was on the verge of copping out, but Aadyaa insisted we go and Udai tagged along as well. Busybees that they are, both of them wanted to actively participate. Aadyaa clambered onto the shopping cart and I was supposed to pick stuff off the shelf and hand it to her and then she put things into the cart. We didn’t have a shopping list today, so Udai was running around finding the stuff I needed as and when I remembered it.

Fortunately, we know the layout of Needs Gourmet in Vatika City by now. So we know the cereals come first, then the jams and peanut butter stuff, then the namkeens, then the biscuits, then the boring stuff (aata, sugar, besan, dals, oil, etc), then soaps and cosmetics (which we never buy from here), then the noodles and pasta, then the drinks and finally the refrigerated stuff like cheese and butter. I was amazed to find Udai remembered where to get what from, even though he isn’t a regular on this jaunt since we shop mostly while he is in school.

What I love about shopping with the kids is how much they observe and their unending curiosity! Do we need this mumma, do we need that? Why can’t we buy that? Do you have enough money? Why have they packed so many packs in a bigger pack? When something is free with something else, what does it mean? Do we have this at home? Yes? then we don’t need to pick this up, right? And so on and so forth. (All those questions were actually asked today, not making this up!)

It is absolutely thrilling to pick stuff from the cart and put it on the billing counter. Aadyaa did all of that for me today. I keep wondering how excited they would be to see a standard Walmart type of set up where the moving conveyor belt system operates!

Udai also commented on how expensive he thought things are. He was genuinely shocked at the total and much amused by the length of the piece of paper that the little machine spat out, the bill! It set the stage for a discussion on food costs, why food must not be wasted, how processed food costs more and why it is good to buy as much as we need, not stock months and months ahead. On the ride back, he read every item on the bill aloud. His tone made it clear which were his favorites and which were of no interest to him.

Helping with the shopping means the kids know roughly what’s in stock, what ingredients are needed for what, etc. It also means they’ve picked up what they sort of like (the no junk food rule is sacrosanct at our place though, and exceptions can only be picked up by parents!). Consequently, they have a healthy interest in cooking and make good little sous chefs! Aadyaa helped out with the chicken tonight, for instance. To top it all, they love to eat what they bought and cooked, so mealtimes are effortless too 🙂 I wish I had taken a pic of Aadyaa gobbling up the chicken….

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