Welcome to my first attempt at a blog! I figured now is as good a time as any, having moved halfway around the world to Hubli. While I didn't know anyone on day one, I've since met many wonderful people, both those who have come from out of the country as I have as well as those who are native to India and have been teaching me a lot.

The plan is to update the blog somewhat regularly so that none of the posts get too lengthy (which is the case with the first several, as they were originally mass emails). We'll see how well I do at keeping up. Miss you guys!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

homeward bound!

The end of the year started like it had begun, in a whirlwind of activity, and I wasn't ready for it.  Most of my work was in order - I'd completed what I'd set out to do - but there was certainly more that could have been accomplished.  Furthermore, there were missed and cancelled trips (like my trip with Kraemer to the Himachal Pradesh/Himalayas and my solo trip to Thailand), and an early departure meant rushed, and sometimes missed, goodbyes.

But no one let me stay in a funk for very long (I told you my friends and coworkers rocked!)

The DFP Cohort II organized an afternoon "party" for me, where one of them dedicated the ceremony with a song, another emceed and a number of others volunteered to come on stage one by one to tell everyone why they appreciated me or would miss me.  In typical Indian fashion, I was required to sit directly in front of or next to the podium throughout the talks.  They ended with a slideshow put to music (such talent! go DFP!), delicious Indian snacks and juices and, of course, countless pictures.
Not to be outdone, those who remained in town from DFP I pooled their resources to feed me even more Indian snacks and treats (including barfi, which I'd been wanting to try for ages - you wouldn't believe how good something with a name that bad tastes).  They presented me with a giant doll, since the girls in the office call Barbie and the DFP II fellows were convinced I looked just like the "Southern Belle" (that I'm from Ohio was irrelevant).  They still email me now, several months later, to see whether I've found the doll a partner (and we still talk shop, too).
The Deshpande Foundation staff took me out to lunch at Hotel Swathi, an office fave, where Vidya ordered all the dishes for herself (just kidding, V!) and the group presented me with beautiful gold hoop earrings.

Kraemer and I also went out to dinner with Naveen at Hotel Naveen, the site for several of my events throughout the year, so we also got to visit with one of our sweetest, favorite waiters, Samson.  Then we also headed out for one last evening with Shai and Kumar, probably laughing nearly as hard as we did last time and reminiscing about our motorcycle race home after the last dinner out.

Our apartment (Lesley, Arati and I) hosted a dinner for Durghamba's family (our housekeeper) with Kraemer and Pio.  We so badly wanted to share with them a taste of America, but we learned that besides roomali roti fajitas (which is, er, Mexican, I guess), not much comes close sans an oven and cheese.  Nevertheless, we sautéed up some spinach and garlic and served pasta with fresh tomato sauce … and ordered some pizza from the only pizza joint within a couple hundred miles.  So it was an attempt at Italian - but they didn't even like that.  Only Durghamba cleared her plate, probably because she's just so polite.

Sweet Durghamba also tried to make breakfast for me on my last morning in town, but we had already left for the airport when she arrived (and apparently Naveen, too).

Vidya wouldn't let me leave without visiting her home, either, so her mother, sister and Vidya spent the day in the kitchen creating her specialty, bisebele bath, and other deliciousness, including homemade gulab jamun.  We were impressed with their cute, well-kept home and their ingenious space-saving ways (check out the floating baby crib!)

After my last day in the office, Shai whisked me away to his home where his new wife, mother, sister, neice and other family members and DF staff were waiting to serve up a delicious lunch of all my favorites - baingan (eggplant), lemon rice (MMM), chipathi and a tangy mango dessert.  They presented me with a beautiful sari and blouse piece that I can't wait to get a chance to wear in the US.

Of course, in true SBF form, we had yet another early going away party for yet another two prematurely departing fellows, this time at the fantastic Sagar Palace.  The ladies + Anoop ordered K and I a going-away cake and smashed some cake into K's face just for good measure.

And on my last night there, my apartment hosted one last shindig, complete with as American snacks as we could concoct, including any goodies sent from the US throughout the year that might have gone uneaten.  We drank our favorite mixed drink - Blue Riband orange gin - with soda water, chatted about the year and generally avoided talking about when we'd all see each other again.  But with this group, I'm sure there'll be - and I'm looking forward to - a happy reunion. 

shai's wedding aka goa III

I somehow couldn't manage to get out of India without heading to Goa one more time.

But, as I've said before, Goa is a whole new world when it's tourist season, and I couldn't have been happier to go to see Shailendra (DF logistics coordinator aka "the man") marry Kavita.

We spent time chilling on the beach, only this time I was sand-challenged: crutches and a cast that opened AT THE TOE (ideal for inviting sand inside and not letting it back out).  But I managed, staying in fairly (fairly) good humor.  ;)  Am I talented or what?!  The first night we stayed at a hotel on the beach with Lesley and Pio, Brian and Heather and some of their other friends, but with no A/C and a huge, cotton-swabbed cast on my leg, I respectfully pardoned myself and moved to an A/C hotel the next night, convincing Dulcie and Kraemer to come, too.  And then I slept.

Before the big day, Kraemer purchased a dress kurta and pants and somewhat matching set for Brian, a friend of Lesley's from DC.  Dulcie dressed me in my sari, which I'd come to find even more difficult now that I had four legs.  I hobbled up the stairs into the wedding, much to the amusement of hundreds of guests, and sat myself in the back.

As expected, the colors were vibrant, the crowds large, the food bountiful and the music about blew us out of our seats (Shai later told me he didn't even notice it, he was so absorbed with the ceremony and intent on Kavita!)  We also got a chuckle out of the Indian love for Wonderbread.

Later we spent an evening investigating the one of the town's famed night markets, where vendors packed into countless cells and hung their wares on the walls and outer racks.  Clothes, jewelry, CDs, shoes, wooden pieces, food, beer, you name it - it was all there.  Many of the sellers were Indian, but there were also a fair number of hippy tourists who had come to India and never left.  Dulcie marched resolutely before me up and down the rows, swinging her arms from side to side in front of her like she was swatting away gnats and shouting at people to make room for "the cripple."  We stayed to watch some music, but we were too pooped to hang out very long.

Our taxi man was also less than honest, getting stopped by the police because he didn't have the proper license to cross the border as a driver and making us pay the fees.  Boo.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

the aftermath

I never met the guy who hit me.  Apparently, the guy’s younger brother showed up at our apartment; Lesley answered the door, and furious about what had happened to me, told him to scoot.  Never saw the guy, his brother or his friends again.

Without going into too much detail, yes, I could squat to use the Indian squatter, and yes, it was not easy and pretty darn uncomfortable.  ☺

Jaishree in particular was very adamant about ensuring that I was as properly cared for as possible, so between Laxmi and Shailendra, I had a taxi ready to pick me up every morning for work and drop me back home every afternoon.  Laxmi took me to appointment to appointment and helped me locate some solid crutches since my first ones were poop (and now even my PT in the US is impressed).

The Deshpandes called and emailed me multiple times to ensure I was doing okay and offered several times to fly me home early if I felt that were the best course of action.  At first it didn’t seem necessary, but after a long deliberation, I finally caved (and now I’m glad I did).

Once home, getting my cast off was an ordeal, and when I finally saw a doctor here in Cincinnati, he was NOT impressed.  Of course, neither was I – my muscle on the left leg had dwindled down to next to nothing, making even walking an impossibility.  If Kraemer hadn’t prepared me for what I was going to see, I might have cried.  Picking up my leg and watching the skin slide off was so drastic that it was almost comical – almost.

Now several weeks into PT, I’ve graduated to no leg brace and no crutches for easy terrain (i.e. my living room), but I’m still working on those steps…

the extent

After the rickshaw, the next thing that comes to mind is arriving in the nearest (and best Hubli) hospital’s ER.  Ew.  It wasn’t as bad as you might be imagining, but it didn’t appear clean, either, and the fact that a dead man was rolled into the room while I was there certainly didn’t do much to lift my spirits.  There were three beds in one small room, each bed a faded mustard brown and coated with dried blood.  Several nurses speaking Kannada skittered in and out.

What DID lift my spirits, though, was that the nice Sankalp employee who had picked me off the ground in the first place stayed with me and asked me if there was anyone he’d like me to call, pretty much as I simultaneously asked him to grab my phone and find Kraemer.  Chinnababu had immediately called Naveen, my supervisor, and then headed into work to take over my teaching duties, since, in my half-conscious, very confused state, I’d told him I didn’t think I’d make it in to teach today (though knowing Chinnababu, he’d figured that out long before I had and already had everything under control).

Naveen showed up in seconds, along with Shailendra, Laxmi and Golden (I hope I’m not forgetting anyone!) – someone, lucky for me, had also picked up Kraemer on the way.  My coworkers are AWESOME.  Since that day, anyone who didn’t show up at the hospital pretty much showed up at my house, bearing sweets and ice cream – they know I can’t resist, even when I can’t move a muscle to burn those calories!

Friends of the guy who’d flattened me were also there, begging my coworkers not to file a complaint, promising to pay for anything we wanted them to. 

The doctor, who was NOT amused with my predicament, wiped my face clean of the blood and stuck a needle through my skin to sew up the cut next to my eye.  Can’t say he was particularly careful.  Next I headed to the x-ray machine, where they rolled me to my side and I was quite certain something was not right.  Not right at all.  But even so, the x-ray was apparently clean – the doc took a quick look and said I was good to go.  Go easy, get some rest.

Ummmm, no.  About a week later, once I felt comfortable leaving the house, I visited a specialist.  Genius that I am, I left the x-rays at home, but the new doctor felt around my knee, told me I had a damaged ligament and that I was good to go.  He advised that if I weren’t feeling better in three days to come back, but otherwise, he’d see me again in a week (so I had no qualms about still hosting and hobbling around at our St. Paddy's Day party three days later).

Of course, I’m paranoid, so everyone assured me I was doing better.  A week later, unfortunately, it turned out that that wasn’t the case.  This time I brought x-rays.  Alarmed by what he saw, the doctor explained the severity of the fracture (yup, it was broken – darn ER doc!) I’d incurred and fervently requested that I literally hop out of his and back to the taxi; according to him, less than a millimeter more of displacement would put me in the surgery category.  I hopped. 

And that would be how I ended up with a ginormous, pink synthetic cast on my leg, toes to the top of my thigh.  Possibly the largest cast I’ve seen on anyone ever.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Going Out with a Bang: The Accident

Only a very few of my experiences in India do I wish I’d never had. Getting hit by a motorcycle is definitely one of them.

Now, it isn’t really all bad.  First of all, my injuries could have been much, much worse – it’s not necessary to speculate, so I won’t.  But all the doctors I’ve talked to (and there have been many) could not seem to keep themselves from telling me how very lucky I’d been.  Second, I wasn’t left on the street to fend for myself; instead, the kind face of India showed itself once again, and I was taken directly to the hospital, which happened to be about a block down the same road.  And third, I had an amazing crew attending to my every need.

So here’s the story….
I’d been sick for weeks, and I had finally gotten in my first morning run in what seemed like
 decades.  After breakfast, I started my 20-minute walk to work – not bad and pretty much my only option, given that I don’t own a bike, motorcycle, rickshaw or car – though I admit I might have been a bit distracted: I would be teaching the Fellows that morning, and on those walks to work I’m always running through the key points I definitely want to make sure I hit.

I had just passed a cane juice vendor who I passed every morning, but this time he asked me my name, which took me a little bit off guard.  I looked down the road to gauge the speed of the oncoming traffic, waiting while the Dharwad busses barreled through and the bikes sped by, then headed into the crosswalk.

Apparently, there was one motorcycle I had failed to see.  Maybe I had just misjudged his speed with relation to mine.  Maybe he’d been stuck behind a truck that he’d finally peeled away from.  Or maybe he was just driving plain crazy and too fast – which is not unheard of in India.  Regardless, I didn’t hear the horn until I was maybe four steps from the other side, at which point I stopped, looked up and asked myself: now what?

I’d played these games on the sidewalk before, when you’re running down the street right toward someone walking, and you have to catch each other’s eye or watch their body to figure out who is going to go left and who is going to go right.  I’d always decided that it was up to the runner to move – she was the one moving faster in the first place; so wouldn’t the same logic apply?  Wouldn’t this dude figure out that he needed to swerve to miss me?

Er. No. Thanks for playing.  At this point, I don’t remember much.  I don’t think there were any other vehicles coming that he would have had to look out for, but it’s entirely possible that there was another pedestrian behind me that kept him from swerving off course (I’m giving this guy the benefit of the doubt).  I have a bit of a hazy memory of getting hit, but I think I’m making it up.  I have no idea where he hit me, since there are bruises on both legs, or how I fell (or flew) onto the concrete.  I have no details to give you here.  The next thing I remember is crawling into a rickshaw with some helping hands, examining my shirt and pants and finding deep red splotches on both and taking in the scrapes on my hands and the sharp pain by my eye. (see terribly unflattering photo of me on hospital bed)

Turns out the my champion coworker Chinnababu, a graduate of the Deshpande Fellowship Program I had been running, had chosen a new route to work today and spotted a bright orange Deshpande t-shirted person in the middle of the road.  Whiiiiich happened to be me.  He tells me it was only by the grace of God that he was both later than usual and in the mood for a new route and that I was in my t-shirt.  A kind employee from the building next to ours had also seen the accident, or at least me on the ground, and had made it to me even before Chinnababu did.  Yay for Chinnababu!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

the north

From Bangalore, we flew to Agra, which immediately appeared to be a dingier, rougher Hubli, its streets peppered with camels instead of cows and pedal-ricks in addition to the autos.  Apparently wedding season, we frequently sped by venues decorated for the celebrations, with huge, but temporary, arches draped with colorful cloth and hundreds of white plastic chairs awaiting the hordes of guests invited to every party.  We often passed caravans with horses carrying grooms through the crowded streets or rusted tractors hauling mammoth models of Hindu gods and goddesses toward the ceremonies.

While the city didn't impress, and our hotel wasn't anything special, the Taj made the trip more than worth it.  Agra might be out of the way, but I wouldn’t hesitate to tell anyone flying halfway across the world to India to make one last detour to this incredible structure.  Built starting in 1632(ish) by Shah Jahan in memory of his wife, the mausoleum is buttressed by two mosques on either side (I think they only really used one, but they put in two for the sake of eye-pleasing symmetry).  Later, Shah Jahan's son put him under house arrest in the Red Fort where he could still see the Taj from afar (also worth a visit), where he died, and he was later buried in the Taj with his wife (unless this part of my half-fictional book on the subject was, indeed, fiction).  The interior design is full of precious stones; you're not supposed to take lights inside, but all the tour guides do anyways to make the gems sparkle. 

Next we took what turned out to be a less than pleasant overnight train to Udaipur. The train itself was an hour or more late to begin with, so when it got there, we were worried it would only be in the station but for a few minutes; imagine us frantically searching for our car and finally jumping on something we thought was close, the four of us lugging our bags through narrow, packed walkways.  Oops.  Even in second class (us cheapies are used to traveling in third!), my mom didn't sleep a wink thanks to the creepy man across from her that stared at her all night.  All sites indicated that 2nd class = two-bunk (private) room, but no, sir.  Not the case.

Udaipur, I might add, City of Lakes, was recently rated number one in the World's Best Cities list by Travel and Leisure Magazine.  We checked out the Lake Palace from afar; while non-guests typically can still dine in this palace-turned-Taj Hotel, the Mumbai bombings kept us from getting anywhere close.

Instead, we took a little boat out to Jag Mandir, another island in Lake Pichola, and enjoyed a beautiful night view of the City Palace and Museum, which we later toured in the daylight.  Cool, but not as cool as Mysore Palace, no question.

We also unintelligently trekked out to Shilpgram, a craft village, which we'd been warned was only hopping during a certain time of the year.  I take full responsibility for this decision.  That said, we did come away with a pretty sweet table cloth, and both my mom and I are still mourning two specific purchases we failed to make; me, a bedspread and her, a handspun silk something or other.  Someday, I will be back…

The shopping and markets were huge, boisterous and full of color - no surprise there.  Our driver was getting hungry so led us back to his favorite spot for - what else? - tea and snacks.  My mom couldn't even make it to the end of the alley, she was so disgusted by the swarms of flies flitting around the carts full of fried food, but Kraemer's empty stomach got him to the end.  I eat a lot of things, including a cooked mushroom from my pasta that fell off my plate onto the table at a restaurant in Georgia that he will never let me forget, but there is no way I was going to touch that samosa he downed in three bites, which had certainly been handled by a cook who hadn't washed his hands recently and poked and prodded by a series of passerbys checking for appropriate samosa temperature.  Mmmm, mm! ;)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bangalore revisited

I feel that in my last post, I really didn't do Bangalore justice.  Oh, Bangalore.  The steadfast city of continued respite.  While it may not have the cultural and atmospheric draw of some other regions of the country, Bangalore provided us with what we were looking for every time: a much-needed break, good food and, sometimes, a reminder of home.

For my own personal reasons of documentation, and because I always Google restaurant, hotel and trip reviews, I have decided that it is only right here to review here where we ate and stayed.  (Don't laugh at me because I love food!)   Of course, there's Sunny's, close to VC Mall, I believe, an American-type bistro that never let us down from start to finish.  

If you're looking for Indian that isn't a hole-in-the-wall (which I love, but isn't advisable for unIndianized stomachs), check out the tandoor restaurant on MG Road, just a hop, skip and a jump away from the Gateway Hotel - I think it's called Tandoor Restaurant - it's that simple.  Great kabobs.  And speaking of the Taj Gateway … loved it in Mangalore, loved it in Bangalore and wished we'd stayed there in Agra.  Number one through and through.

Sadly, I will have to suggest that you're cautious when it comes to pedicures - they scrub long and hard, and my mom maintains that her pedicure caused her pain for weeks to come.  Be afraid.  (Though I must say - mine was fine.)

Friday, April 24, 2009

the rents visit Hindustan

Since my parents were arriving right after a Monday holiday, Kraemer and I decided to check out of Hubli a little bit early to stop through Mysore on our way to meet my parents in Bangalore.

We took an overnight train from Hubli and, of course, took no time at all in finding an eager driver to cart us to the hotel we'd picked out based on our guidebook suggestion.  The man assured us this one was no good and proceeded to find us two cheaper hotels closer to the Mysore Palace.

Mysore isn’t super big but has a decent amount going on.  We decided to use the energy we had while we had it and take a morning hike up Chamundi Hill, some 700 steps up to the first pit stop with Nandi, the bull, and another 300 steps after that to the market.  Legend has it that when the bull's left knee reaches the ground, it's the end of the world - at least that's what my landlord says.

It wasn’t too long before we figured out that our book was geared toward people with a deep pocket, as everything was a quatrillion miles away and required at least two rickshaws and a bus to get there if you didn't have a taxi.  We wound up at a relatively sub-par garden (granted, we didn't stay for the 7:00pm lit fountain show that everyone had raved about) out in the boonies, which caused us to rethink another trip out that direction, and at a posh hotel restaurant, when we'd been hunting for a hole-in-the-wall.

But my favorite part of Mysore by far?  Mysore palace and my run-in with the popo.  Okay, okay - it was just palace security, but this man meant business.  I PINKY PROMISE I saw NO signs banning photography, but I can't deny that I suspected it … whiiich is why I tried to be sneaky by holding my camera at chest level and pointing it up at the stained glass ceiling I wanted a picture of.

Unfortunately, flashes are not listed in the "sneaky" category.  The man came over and insisted I turn over my entire camera - not just delete the photo (see one of the two the illicit photos here). 

 He threatened to take us to the station.  Not sure whether he would have followed through with that.  After five minutes of pleading ignorance, the man pulled us aside and Kraemer offered him money - just like that, it was as if nothing had ever happened.  The bribe nearly negated the discount I'd received for being a Hubli resident.

Mysore and Bangalore are pretty close, so we took one of many busses down to B-lore to meet my parents, and we all spent a few days in the IT center eating, drinking and being merry. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

So many details that this post doesn't NEED pictures (not to mention that I don't HAVE any - don't think it would have been particularly appropriate)

And ohhhhh, the busride home.  Apparently I don't have any better luck with busses than I do with trains…

First, actually, we DID try the train - no luck.  We had been on the waiting list and unfortunately hadn't inched up at all.  That meant we'd gone out of our way and proceeded to take a bus to another bus station to catch one back to Hubli.  While we waited there for a couple hours, we encountered a rather rowdy family next to us, staring (what's new?) and spitting.  On me (that's new).  Yes, the grandmother was doing something very interesting with her soda, and the rest of the family was either getting a kick out of it or persuading her to quit.

Once on the bus, Kraemer and I deliberately sat near the front to avoid them, even though it meant sitting apart for a while.  The family chatted/yelled cheerfully to one another, breaking into song at random intervals.  Again, not that new.  At a stop about halfway through, the two older boys in the family (early twenties?) chatted us up, asking all the usual questions.

Not too long after everyone boarded again, a loud commotion broke out at the front of the bus - new.  The taller of the two boys had another young man by his throat, shouting Kannada words I couldn't understand.  But we got the drift: this man was NOT his favorite person and had clearly done something to upset the guy.  That said, the guy didn't fight back and hardly looked like he'd hurt a fly.  I think at one point the father slapped his son around a good bit, but that could have come later.  You'll see.  The conductor broke them apart and we resumed our relatively quiet bus ride. 

Not for long.  I was jolted from my favorite bus pastime - keeping tabs on all the wild, weaving oncoming traffic - with our favorite family as the starring characters.  The Muslim woman behind me, who appeared to be traveling only with her baby of less than a year, started WAILING.  And I mean, she probably woke up people in Pakistan.

Apparently, the woman had lost her earrings.  At least, that's the impression we got at first, and Kraemer couldn't wait for her to pipe down, thinking the jewelry couldn't have been that valuable.  Not so in India.  Many people here wear their wealth, and this must have been hers.

The brothers got up to search, using their cell phones and my headlamp to peek around the luggage on top and people's legs and feet.  People tried to be as helpful as possible, slightly raising their bums and peering around their seats.  Still no luck, and the woman continued to sob.  She'd completely disregarded her little girl at this point and was tearing through her purse.

Shortly thereafter, we pulled over at a police station - we were less than an hour away from home, and it must have been 11pm by now.  A police officer started a search of his own, which turned up one of the big, gold flower earrings, stuck into the crevice of a seat.  Now it was clear these were stolen and not just lost.  The woman hadn't been wearing the earrings; she'd only been transporting them, and they'd been tucked carefully in her purse in a little plastic baggy. 

The officer called some of the men from the back and started patting them down right in front of us, requiring to strip off their shirts and pull up their pants.  They didn't have much on underneath, but I pointed out to Kraemer that they'd failed to search the rolled-up cuffs of the shorter brother. 

With that, a plain-clothed investigator cleared the men off the back of the bus and really went to town. He quickly found a huge wad of money at the very back where all the women had been sitting, which started a huge uprising, with the women in tears as they were all ushered off as well.

The next thing we know, the boys are being walked gruffly toward the building.  Through the open windows, we can see them being thrown up against the wall and interrogated - or at least shouted at.  We later learn that they found the other earring on them - in his rolled up cuff.

Oh, and the boy they were threatening earlier?  They were upset because he'd gone to the back of the bus to lay down in some empty seats, which were, in their mind, simply too close to the women in their family.  Thought the guy was trying to be sneaky.

Not your everyday return trip!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Taking Kraemer to the Beach

And why not?

Kraemer is not a man who likes to stay put, so I figured I better hightail it out of Hubli if I wanted to keep him around. ;)  

We decided to celebrate Valentine's Day a weekend early, and with Aparna and Lesley, all stayed in a cute house (with stained glass) tucked behind some shops and a bar on the main road, owned by a sweet man named Maurice.

Only there for the weekend, we did our best to make the most of our time and hunkered down for a morning at the Tibetan market, a huge tent where Tibetan-only vendors set out their wares daily, mostly jewelry, but also clothing, singing bowls, incense burners and more.  Every one we walked up to wanted to give us "best price, morning price," as we were potentially their first customers, and it's in their best interest to give the first buyer a deal so that the rest of the day brings good luck.  In the end, I cleaned up with a couple of nice pendants and chains plus some awesome silver fish earrings that all Kraemer's doing.  (thank you!)

The rest of our time included walking, running, eating and beaching, where we met a ridiculous amount of British tourists, many of whom came to Goa for weeks or months at a time, every year.  Not many Americans.

As usual, Lesley did best in the shopping department throughout the course of the trip, but this time she came home a few days later than the rest of us with something else … a boyfriend!  The guy she'd spotted at the nightclub turned out to be a keeper.

Friday, April 17, 2009

By the Way…

I've got this other blog I contribute to, one with entries written by all the Sandbox Fellows and that specifies a topic per month.


Monday, March 16, 2009

in living color

Before coming to India, I’d learned a bit about two major Hindu holidays – Diwali and Holi, both of which, between the lights and the paints, sounded like pure chaotic bliss. The festivities did not disappoint.

Today we celebrated Holi. The story behind Holi seems slightly convoluted (not surprising given the number of gods total and the number involved in each festival story, the number of forms they each take and the number of possible stories behind each holiday). To make a long story short, this guy tried killing his son in multiple fashions, but because the son was a strict follower of Lord Vishnu, he was protected by the gods and made it through every trial. Finally, the dad decided to have his daughter wear a special fire-resistant shawl and carry the son into a fire. Bad news. Shawl was mysteriously lifted from
the girl’s shoulders – who was then burned to death in the fire – while the son survived. The girl’s name was Holika. Thus, the Holi festival. The night before Holi is celebrated with bonfires.

Don’t worry, good ol’ dad got his due – Vishnu came for him later.

Then there’s this whoooole color thing. Something about Krishna getting color painted on his face by his mom, and this happened during the Holi festival time. Something like that.

So around 9:00am this morning, the doorbell rings. I’d already been out running and had seen a few crowds of boys with colorful faces, so I knew the routine. But my landlord had said they weren’t playing Holi this because her son had exams the next day and they were locking the gate outside to avoid all craziness. Who could this be?

9:05am. I answer the door. It’s the housekeeper from upstairs. She’s probably in her early 20s, sweet girl, no English. She shows me one of her hands, full of yellow powder and beckons me outside. Svalpa, I tell her. Just a little.

9:07am. I change out of my tank and wash it vigorously, followed by a good face scrubbing. Fortunately, I’m not looking too jaundice. Back to the laptop.

9:15am. Text from Naveen: “You are invited to my home to play holi, feel free to bring friends.” Great! “Come anytime after 9:30,” he says. I’ll figure out what time everyone is heading over, probably around 10:30 or so, dressed in clothes I don’t mind destroying – I’d been warned.

9:18am. Doorbell rings. Geez! I don’t answer this time, I’ve already gotten my due and am planning to go out again. I hear a ruckus and some shouting. I wait a second and then feel guilty – better see what’s up and make sure nobody is in trouble. I scoot open the door and am met by three bright pink faces. What the heck?!!! Who let these crazies in my house?! I don’t KNOW this guy. While I’m screaming “beDa” (I don’t want any!), they’re forcing my door open – turns out it’s my landlord’s brother. I promise them I’ll be out in an hour, they shake o
n it and head out.

9:31am. Doorbell rings. Again? Really? Doorbell rings A LOT. Some pounding. This time Arati and Lesley start yelling that we’re being surrounded by a mob … which turns out to be my Fellows and Naveen (who was apparently unrecognizable). Guess they couldn’t wait for me to get to Naveen’s house. I come to the window – they really DO look like a mob and are difficult to identify with all the gunk they’ve got all over themselves. I put up a finger and tell them I’ll be out in a minute.

And so I go. And so I got it. Powder of all colors, smeared into paints, and buckets and bottles of water just to rub it in. I’ve got at least 20 pairs of hands rubbing the color into my face, ears and hair, and about 30 seconds into, I look like I’ve been hit by a rainbow typhoon.

We spent the next hour and a half trooping through Naveen’s neighborhood, throwing color on the unsuspecting (actually, I’m sure they knew what was coming – if I knew, they knew) passerby and applying new colors to each other with a vengeance, breaking only for holiday sweets and snacks. Somehow, it was endlessly entertaining. If my eyes hadn’t started to burn and I’d had a tissue to blow my nose (hey, what can I say? I’ve been sick.), I woulda stayed around for a bit longer, just to witness the scene.

As you’re reading this, I’m probably still tinged with a hue of peacock blue.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

ringing in the new one

I've decided that writing up blogs two-three months following the event is an incredibly poor idea. That said, I'm still doing it for my personal records, just so that I have some sort of account.

As a result of the Mumbai attacks, tragic and with continually frustrating ramifications, my New Year’s comrades and I canceled our plans for a big night out in Bombay, trading it for what we hoped would be a relaxed beach night in smaller Mangalore, off the coast of west Karnataka.

Our hotel, the Gateway (part of the Taj chain) turned out to be at least 30 minutes from the beach, but proved to be just the locale for the relaxation we desperately needed, which led to a vacation lived in the hotel itself. You could have barely dragged us by our hair from that place, we were so enamored.

Every morning we woke to a sumptuous buffet breakfast, had the small fitness facility to our selves, spent the day lounging by the beautiful pool and then wrapped up with a delicious dinner in the hotel’s restaurant.

Unsure of what to do for NYE, we elected to attend the party at our hotel (and heck, why not? We loved everything else about it!) The event was poolside and jazzed up by a pool fountain, flame throwers and a live band.

We were wined and dined by the hotel staff, and Kate and I narrowly missed winning the prize for Best Dressed Couple who won a free stay in a Taj (sigh) , earning instead a gift certificate to a clothing store, which we promptly lost. After most of the guests had returned to their rooms, the DJ entered the scene, pumping what I can only guess was the most current Indian pop, and we spent the rest of the evening dancing on the deck with the hotel staff who’d been so kind to us throughout the week.

Because of my incredible love for food (not like I have to tell any of you that), one of the girls joked that they should give me a tour of the kitchen. Conveniently, the evening before we left, they offered us a peek, so we all dawned hairnets and went inside to drool over the chocolate "molten lava" cake and apple pie. Who says India doesn't have edible sweets?! :)