When we saw the ad for the book fair to be held this week in Coimbatorewe were very happy. Only because we have got our new bookshelves (a DIY project which gave us immense pleasure as this is our first DIY project for furniture; in the UK we were living in fully furnished places so never had a chance) and have arranged all our shipped books and games and we’re eager to add more to the collection. Little did we know that our trip to the book fair will entail more than just that.
My nieces decided to join us at the destination, but as usual, we were a bit early so we decided to head in and scout the place for children’s books before my nieces arrived. But before we could enter the fair hall we were accosted by a gentleman who was encouraging people to take part in a book quiz that was happening in a hall to the left of the entrance. He guided us to the place and gave us our quiz form (to fill in the answers and our team name and our names etc. each team can have a max of 2 members) and they went about explaining the rules after a few more minutes of guiding people to join as there weren’t too many folks around. We had around 10 teams or so, I think and they promptly started the quiz. The first round was a prelims round. There were 20 questions out of which 5 questions were supposed to be hard in order to eliminate ties. These questions were usually posed to college students as part of their competitions so they informed us that some of the questions might be too hard for us and not get discouraged by them. If we get through the prelims we would enter the finals which included 6 teams and there were prizes in the form of book coupons (to the whole team) to be reimbursed in the book fair for all people who participate in the finals round (the first prize was for 4000 Rs, second prize was 3000 Rs, third prize was 2000 Rs, and the rest three teams got 1000 Rs for participation and getting through to the finals).
Mr M and I were in only for fun and as we watch various quiz programmes we were eager to know the answers to the questions more so than winning any place and by far we were one of the two teams with an average age beyond 40. The first question was a stinker but the second one was about Agatha Christie’s books. That perked us up 🙂 My love for all novels by Sujatha (a Tamil writer) and Kalki (another prominent Tamil writer) helped me with those stinky tough questions and we got 2/5 right. As for the rest, one was based on Fyodor Dostoevsky books (which I knew of) and Mr M’s classical book knowledge came in handy for a few of the other questions. All in all, we thought we had almost 7 correct, but weren’t sure. It was almost 45 mins by the time all the questions were done. We had to wait for the results and even though we were confident we didn’t do that well, we wanted to know the answers so we waited. Funnily, when the answers were discussed, we found that we score 9/20 which wasn’t bad and we kicked ourselves for a couple more answers. But most funnily we got through to the finals round too. Our correct answers to two tiebreakers came through for us it seems. Our nieces hadn’t arrived yet and we weren’t sure what to do about the fact that we would be stuck with the quiz for much longer than we anticipated 😀 Having some far, we decided to see it through.
The finals round was the worse for us. We were surrounded by young college students but thankfully we had one team who was of similar age to ours (the only other non-college team). There were 5 rounds with 6 questions each and it was based on who answered the previous question and accordingly the next question would be posed to the team after them. That disadvantaged us as we either ended up with the toughest questions as the ones that we knew were answered by the brilliant youngsters next to us. Until round-4 we were yet to score any points and the other team of non-college students had answered only 1 question right by then. Finally, Stieg Larsson’s book came through for us during the round-4 and we answered our only question in the finals. My nieces who had joined us halfway through were encouraging us in spite of our lack of scores. By that time, it was all fun and we knew that the college students had better knowledge of books (especially about Indian authors, Tamil authors, whom we haven’t had any recent knowledge of, and also about the books that were made into movies recently).
My nieces also answered one question that was posed to the audience towards the end of round-4 which gave them immense pleasure. When we finally finished all rounds, we were glad to have scored 1 point and a guaranteed 1000 Rs gift coupon to spend at the book fair. Definitely not a bad day of work 😀 but we ended up spending almost 2 hours and more just in that one room. Once the gift coupons were distributed, we thanked and congratulated everyone and made our way to the book stalls. My eldest niece got herself an Amar Chitra Katha book out of our winnings. She, like me, loves those books. We ended up spending (after a little bit of drama, as not all stalls were willing to accept those gift coupons as they are not ready to cash) the rest for ourselves, where we got Richard Osman’s first book, The Thursday Murder Club, a book of Rumi’s poems (I wanted one of those for a while), and a Rebus novel by Ian Rankin.
By the time we were done with the book fair, we were exhausted and it was almost 5 hours in that building, but we ain’t complaining as we ended up not spending a single rupee of our own and yet ended up buying some good books for ourselves. We also realized that it is just not watching quizzes that are fun, taking part is too as long as we are not too competitive about it and not ashamed of not scoring any points 🙂 We got to know of a quiz club which we could join if we fancied and I think Mr M might be tempted to do so once he finds his footing.
This post talks about what happened with the move professionally and where I am now. It might come across as a rant and you might have guessed that things didn’t go as planned.
Accepting a job remotely just based on lots of interviews and solving question papers without having a first-hand experience of the place and the audience might have been a bad shout on my side. But hey, it takes two to tango. There was an element of trust that was involved. People who hired me as a teaching faculty for their school believed me to do my job and do it well and they did offer a very good package. And I trusted them to keep up to their word on what they said my roles and responsibilities were and how my growth would be. They needed a commitment of 2 years which I was willing to provide because this was part of a growing school (international syllabus) and I was happy to be part of that journey. This made us change our plans of relocating towards the end of 2022 and we made our move much ahead of our scheduled time.
In India, the school academic year starts in June. I got an email from the school that they had teacher inset days/training days planned in May so they were expecting me by the 2nd week of May if I was available by then. They also told me of their management decision to additional responsibilities to my role. I was to be a year 6 class teacher along with being an ICT faculty for GCSE and A levels and maybe do some maths. I have already done these combinations (apart from the class teacher) in my school in London and I know how to manage my work so I said yes to it. When I landed in India, there was a training schedule sent around which was for three-plus weeks, 6 days a week training for all teachers. WTH! Why would we need almost 22 days of training to start a year? and 6 days a week at that? Wouldn’t the teacher be exhausted even before they start the school year? For the first week, I went for half a day (as I still was setting up house and had so much other stuff to do having landed only 2 weeks by then). It definitely gave an insight into the school and their philosophy. They are huge into mindfulness and are very child-focused which is a good thing and which is what I expected. To be honest, all schools should have that as part of their day-to-day functioning and most actually do. They just do it in different ways and honestly, some schools just don’t bother with it. We as teachers did a lot of art, music, movements etc. etc. which was good for team bonding and may be getting some ideas for primary and kindergarten but I wasn’t very sure why I would do this instead of my planning for higher secondary and year 6.
Even on the first day, there was some confusion as to which part of the school I belonged to, middle school (because I am not a year 6 class teacher) or upper school (GCSE and A level teacher). I was classified as a middle school teacher by the coordinator. That was a warning bell for me. Because my primary role was for upper school and additional responsibilities were for middle school, here I am roped into learning activities for my year 6 students. And also as the training days went by and the roles and responsibilities were discussed I realised that the class teacher role goes above and beyond the school. I have to be with them *all* the time and do evening special sessions, night schools, trips, home visits (that was a strict no for me) etc. It involved a lot more than what is done within the framework of the school. I wasn’t comfortable with some of them because of the travel time. Ironically, when they told me that my travel and food will be recompensated, it wasn’t explained how. They provided food and snacks (which were great!) but the travel was a sticky point as there was no pick up from my place which was furthest (almost an hour from the school). In order to get to the school, I had to travel half an hour from my place, leave my vehicle with someone, then board the school bus and do the same in the evening. Except in the evening because of the traffic, by the time we reach the last bus stop it is already two hours into the journey. I felt that if I was given the money instead of just the bus available I could have got my own vehicle and done the hour-long travel myself. But that wasn’t an option.
Apart from all the responsibilities, they also added teaching science to my list which wasn’t discussed with me. I got to know when the timetable was published. Now my days were too full to have any time to think or take a breath. This didn’t sound very healthy both for my mental and physical sanity. When the second week of training rolled by, I decided to discuss this with the concerned folks (there was confusion about whom I should be talking to… middle school coordinator or upper school coordinator… ) but they kind of brushed me saying that between the move to India and setting up house and new job I am getting stressed out unnecessarily and once I am all sorted it would be a walk in the park and that I would have support from the management to help me out. It felt like they were making this my problem rather than a mistake in their management decision. No other middle school teacher was handling any other upper school subjects so there was a clear distinction of roles and responsibilities. I was the only one who got shunted between the two sections of the schools. When I went back to them after a few days of thinking about it, they were ready to take me off the GCSE ICT teaching responsibilities and get me to do that later in the term. I was shocked to hear that because that was why they hired me in the first place. But it looked like their priorities changed when they were doing their management planning in April. Now they wanted someone to be a year 6 class teacher and since I was already hired they decided that I would be able to do it and they decided that I would be ok with it.
To say I was livid is an understatement. I don’t like being taken for granted like this and in a way abusing my trust in them. The other issue that got on my nerves was that they did not have any IT lab at all and were in the process of setting it up. Two years of online teaching and teaching by part-time staff for ICT didn’t prepare them for in-person ICT teaching. That is bad management that is, given that they introduced ICT because of popular demand from students. As a school, their philosophy is to have as much less tech in school as possible which didn’t bode well for my subject now. They were also adding training sessions on an ad-hoc basis thereby wanting me to attend a training tailored to their philosophy for a whole week including the weekends after which we were supposed to attend a school retreat. There was literally a 1-day break between three weeks. I don’t know how the other teachers do it, but I was exhausted just after a week. All the training that they had could have been done in 1 week and let the teachers do their individual planning. But they spread the training for two hours per day over 6 days and the new teachers had to do more training over the weekends. This is totally uncalled for. It looked like they didn’t give any thought to the work-life balance of the teachers especially when the school hadn’t even started yet. I had a good long discussion with Mr M about how I felt and then Mr M suggested that I think twice before continuing because when the students come in then it would be very hard for me to leave the school. It would be unfair on the students especially year 6 ones as it might be difficult to hire a new teacher by then and I might be stuck in a very unhappy job.
When my concerns went to deaf ears again, I decided to ditch the week-long training and sent a very long email to the person who hired me and also the founder of the school highlighting my concerns and my decision to leave the school. I had refrained my signing the contract when it was given to me the first week. The package was very good, the school was in a very lovely place, and the physical environment was very good too, but there was an underlying current of slight dissatisfaction and when I spoke to the other teachers, not all were happy about what’s going on, but they were happy to continue. I wasn’t. The management accepted my resignation not because of any other concerns that I had put forward but because of my travel time. That was typical and made me laugh because that was the only thing on the list that wasn’t their problem. It was my personal decision to travel that far off even though it wasn’t sustainable in the long term and I was willing to do it if the school and my work were good.
So after three weeks of training and a week, before the students were about to start their academic year, I left the school and was back in the market looking for options. Given that most schools already had done their recruitment for the current academic year, I was left with no other option other than to take a break and try for alternatives. Finally, after a month of job-hunt, I have landed a part-time teaching job so I am set for this year at least, but this experience has taught me to be careful and not trust everyone at face value especially when it comes to career changes. I have never had a career break ever since I started working many moons ago but this one-month of break (forced) was a much-needed one especially, after the move and setting up the house. All this might have been a blessing in disguise but that one month of balancing everything else (getting the move sorted, house sorted) the chaos of the job was, in hindsight, something that could have been avoided. At least I have learned my lesson and made a few friends in the process.
A word of advice (if I may):
Never change countries while changing jobs while your house is still not fully complete. It is a nightmare! More on this in the upcoming posts (maybe some rants will be involved too). But in this one, I wanted to share some of the funnier things that have happened so far.
When we decided to move I did tell Mr M that he would be an odd man out in my city, especially in the place where we were planning to settle down as the influx of people from other countries is very minimal (read zero). You might find a handful in the city centre or in the malls, but out where we are close to the hills and almost 15 km away from the city centre, none. He had his share of incidents where he was asked to be part of a selfie, a group photo, etc. where they find him interesting and looking so different to everyone around. He has also had incidents where in shopping places, he has been given the royal treatment and I am ignored like a nobody 🙂 even in spite of being the person who is footing the bill for his purchases (he doesn’t have a bank account here as of yet). He has also had incidents where he has been ogled at or rather stared at and pointed at and whispered behind hands to the presence of a foreigner (for them) amidst them. This has put him off from time to time but he started coping by waving at people who stare at him. That takes them by surprise and they either smile and wave back or just turn away and don’t look at him anymore.
I am curious as to what the folks around here think when they see him. I grew up in this place and I can, to some extent, understand the curiosity of knowing why someone who isn’t from India wants to be in such a remote part of the country, but would I have stared at them wondering or would I have had the courage to say hi or at least respond to them if they had said hi to me? I think it would be the former. I am an introvert at heart (even though people who know me now might disagree but that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t like initiating conversations).
The other day we were going for a walk when a car screeched to a halt next to Mr M and the fellow who was driving asked him where he was from and why was he walking (all the while totally ignoring me who was right beside Mr M, he did not even look at me for a second) around the area in the dust. Mr M was trying to convey that he was out for a walk and that he lived close by and that it was totally fine but that gentleman wouldn’t take no for an answer and insisted that he would be happy to drive Mr M to wherever he wanted to go 😀 (and nope, he still didn’t bother looking at me while having this conversation with Mr M) Mr M then had to explain to him very patiently that he has a vehicle (which he doesn’t drive by the way :P) but that he chose to walk to know the place etc. etc. and that fellow was so surprised that a foreigner would like to go for a walk whereas the locals wouldn’t even consider something like that at all (I am sure some of my neighbours who are out for a walk every single day would be very offended by that statement if they heard that gentleman). And then he turns to me and asks me where was I from and that is when I unleashed my weapon and spoke to him in Tamil and told him that this was my hometown. Boy was it fun to watch his surprise. He apologized to me (for what I don’t know) and then bid us farewell and went his way.
This wasn’t the first time that kind of incident happened. We have got a scooter and were out to fill petrol (or gas as you might call it on the other side of the world) and this young chap who was filling the petrol spoke to me in English (or what he knew of it) once he saw Mr M. I knew he was trying his best with his limited knowledge and so encouraged him by answering in English (questions ranged from where were we from, what is Mr M’s country etc. etc.) and then when he asked me about my place I didn’t have a choice but to tell him that this city was my hometown and he then started to chat in Tamil and chided me (in good fun) that I could have let him know about it and he would not have tried too hard in English. But I didn’t have the heart to crush his attempt at making an impression with Mr M.
It wasn’t just them. Even the folks in the school I joined (for a brief while at least) all thought that since I moved here from the UK and since my husband was Irish, I wouldn’t know Tamil. On what basis did they come to that conclusion I don’t know. I look like a proper Tamilian in my current surroundings. There is no mistaking me and my Tamil face. But by association (even though they haven’t seen my Irish husband) they all assumed me to speak only English. One day when I uttered a line from Vadivelu’s (a Tamil comedian) movie scenes, they were surprised. I had to tell them that I was in this country until recently.
You know what gets me though. When I moved to the UK, people in the UK thought that I wouldn’t know enough English because I came from a part of India which isn’t popular and there were surprised to hear me speak good English (and comment on that too). I had to explain to them that I studied in an English medium and worked in MNCs (multi-national companies) which had HQs (headquarters) in the Netherlands and San Francisco and have had to deal with clients from other countries for almost two decades. Now that I am back in India, people here think that because I have an Irish husband, I don’t know any other language other than English. The irony of it all heh. 😀 I can never win. I end up explaining to people no matter where I go…Is it because my face is so generic in nature that I can be categorized as Indian in the UK, European in India, and alien on Mars? Who knows, heh! At least Mr M’s presence in the community is getting normalized day by day and fewer people are staring at him unless they are new to the place or passing by. Now, this doesn’t mean that people here can understand him. That is a story for another time.
While we are still settling in India, here are a few photographs of nature welcoming us with its beauty. These birds have got a permanent home close to where we are staying currently and they do put on a very good show every day 🙂