Thursday, April 16, 2015

One word to describe India : Time

Time. Such a contradiction here in India.
Such an old country. People so patient, yet in such a rush.
Ancient modern
Patient squatting 
Impatient driving and queing and cutting each other off.
Slow walking
Late starting
Bank notifications in real time on your phone.
Arrive for parties at least a half an hour after the stated time or you may be there before the hosts.
Service at restaurants is sometimes incredibly slow.
Sun moves slowly across the ancient landscape
Motorcycles travel at breakneck speed past placid cows.
Who get there first?

As the airplane lands and begins to slow on the runway, you hear clicking all around the plane as people unbuckle their seat belts. Flight attendants shout at passengers rising to grab their bags and push forward in the aisle to get off first so they can wait for an hour for their baggage.
Public Parks have limited "timings" such as 6-9 AM and 5-7 PM and are locked the rest of the day.

Blog entries written months ago
Then plans change and time is ripe to travel home.
Michigan time seems so predictable and regular by comparison.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

One word to describe India: Hopes

I will be attempting over a few blog posts to write some of my thoughts about India by collecting them around one word.  This is my first attempt.
I began writing this using the word "Expectations", then realized that "Hopes" was a better choice.  I was initially inspired by our trip to Darjeeling where Nancy and I arrived with great hopes of seeing the Himalayas, only to have three days of cloudy, cold weather. 
Our best view of Darjeeling from the toy train ...
The closest we came to seeing the mountains

India is densely populated with hopes.

Beggars tap on the windows of cars hoping for a coin or scrap of food,
With hopeful songs of hawkers and vendors assailing passing ears.
Crows hop between cars hoping to grab a bite of road-killed rat
While Party members desperately hope for a majority vote.
Drivers confidently thrust their vehicles into packed intersections
Hoping and somehow knowing that a path will magically appear.

Families move to the crowded city slums in hopes of a better life
and quirky television commercials raise ideas of how it can be lived.
Children attend after-school classes hoping for high exam scores,
Mothers dream of degrees in law, or medicine, or engineering,
While fathers of daughters look for ways to raise the needful dowries,
And consult with the pandit for an auspicious wedding date.

NGO's hope to make a small difference in the lives
of their carefully identified slices of the teeming masses,
some of whom huddle in their makeshift shelters lined
against the back walls of the luxury hotels where
CEO's make deals over buffet lunches and dream of record profits,
growing market shares and low labor costs.

Stray dogs lounge all day on the sidewalks, waiting for the evening
and the hope of a handout of food scraps while
Black kites circle slowly in the warm updrafts
looking hopefully down on the world below.
As the days become hotter, farmers hope for good rains to come:
The entire year revolves around the hope of the monsoon.

India is nothing if it is not a land of hopes.
-- -- -- --
We have our first-world hopes too.

We hope for quiet spaces amidst the growing cacophony
of horns and loud mall music and night-barking street dogs.

We hope to maintain the fond memories of wonderful people
whose essence can't be captured by a few photographs.

We hope to see past the poverty and pollution
to experience the awe-inspiring vistas,
the mountains soaring skyward into cold blue skies,
and white marble mausoleums reflecting back the early morning light.

Trying to reflect back a hint of the gracious welcome and friendly manner of the people
who greet us each day, we dearly hope to stave off the day
when we become the jaded, self-absorbed ex-pats thinking
only of our next vacation and nodding sagely as we tell each other:
Tee Eye Eye
This Is India.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

By the airport

View from airport - our apartment complex is behind airplane's tail

We live by the airport.
Not such a big deal,
lots of people live by airports
and put up with extra traffic ...

Airplane landing by our apartment - taken from across the street

and flights that arrive and depart
in the wee hours of the morning and disturb your sleep.

Plane landing with Mahim creek in foreground

Near the airport is a creek
and a number of slums / suburbs
The new terminal
Just opened at the airport.
We haven't seen it yet,
but hear good things about it.
What we have seen is the life
In the neighborhoods around the airport.

Life under the landing planes

I like living by the airport,
hearing the planes landing or taking off.
They're louder when they take off of course,
But the wind is usually from the other direction
so we get the sights and sounds of the landing planes.

enjoying the evening air - watching the planes land

I think about where the planes are coming from
who is on them, and what lives they are about to begin.
I also think about who else is watching them
and the lives they lead.

The planes land right over their heads

The contrast between those of us who have come to this place
on the wings of dreams
and those of us who can only leave by dreaming of wings
is so strong.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Crossing the Street


I've been meaning to write about the traffic and crossing the street here in Mumbai for quite awhile. During a recent professional development event (ASB Unplugged conference) , I was lucky enough to be sitting next to a good friend and colleague, Megan in a cinematic narrative workshop by Jim Sill. Great speaker and good session and I really like the approach and the opportunities for use in education. We were tasked with telling a story in a short movie using 4 shots: an establishing shot, a long shot, a medium shot, and a close up.  Great speaker and good session and I really like the approach and the opportunities for use in education.

I chose to show how to cross the street in Mumbai. A couple of notes about this:

1) The corner we're using is the one nearest our school and apartment
2) It was shot mid-morning - a very quiet time of day in the neighborhood. 
    The good news about that is that it made it a little easier to shoot without getting run over.
    The bad news is that it really doesn't show how tough it can be.
3) I had a little difficulty with the sound - the crossing clip sound was messed up so I copied some audio and replayed it ;-)
4) Thanks to Megan for her patience and great acting !

So this is my first attempt to include a little movie clip in the blog. Hopefully it will work OK.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Playing Tennis in Mumbai

Playing tennis in Kurla, our neighborhood in Mumbai, is an experience that needs photos to tell the entire story.
First, you must walk down the street in your culturally insensitive tennis outfit. You hope that by carrying your tennis racket you are signaling that you are very aware you are wearing a short skirt and sleeveless top, but this is the outfit you wear when you are going to play “LONG TENNIS.”  If you happen to be on your way to the club between 4:00 - 5:00 you will pass the garbage truck. Now passing a garbage truck in Mumbai is not like anything you have ever experienced before. The garbage which you (or your housekeeper) placed in a black plastic bag and set outside your apartment door has been dumped on the road along with everyone else’s garbage in your entire apartment complex. There are men behind the garbage truck sifting though the garbage. You suppose the garbage is being sorted into recyclable items, but you walk on the other side of the street to avoid all the neighborhood dogs that have gathered for a tasty meal. Sometimes you are extra lucky and the dogs follow you to the other side of the street.

After you cross the street, you enter the club. A young woman that works at the club unlocks the gate. Then you and your tennis partners begin to play.

It takes a lot of concentration to play tennis in Mumbai. Just as you are getting into your stride, the workers at the club come to sweep the area around the court. They laugh and talk as they bend low to sweep with their short, branch-like brooms. Then the stray dogs, one who has two puppies, run past the court to romp on the cricket field next to your court. Sometimes there are men or boys playing a match of cricket. Sometimes the match is accompanied by a loud speaker with drums, music, singing, or announcements blaring at decibels sure to permanently damage your hearing. 

Do not let your attention wander even if you notice bright lights and sparks from men installing a window grill without any safety equipment on the twelfth story of the high rise apartment building that towers over the club. 

Do not let your attention wander even if workers are painting lockers with a power sprayer two feet from the court.

Playing tennis in Mumbai also calls for a certain amount of confidence as well. The fitness room looks over the court. Often you will notice men who are taking a break from the running machines watching you play in your short tennis skirt and sleeveless top. 

Your wandering eye might notice an audience of families sitting on their narrow balcony on the high rise apartment building. They are watching your match along with the  young men sitting on window ledges. You hope they are enjoying the game.
Playing tennis in Mumbai also requires a loud voice. If your tennis ball happens to fly over the fence into the small area next to your court that is  behind the restaurant next door, you will need to holler to the restaurant workers, “Uncle! Help! See our ball? Throw it to us!”
Playing tennis in Mumbai also tests your hearing. You must listen carefully for the distant call from the neighborhood mosque. The sound will float over the court at dusk. When you hear this call you must make a decision, “Shall we quit since it is getting difficult to see the ball or shall we ask a worker to turn on the lights?” No matter what your decision, you will be drenched with sweat and you will be thankful for the chance to play tennis in Mumbai.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Kodai Revisited

Always so green - Poinsettia tree ;-)

After more than forty years, I returned to Kodaikanal, where I had gone to boarding school through 7th grade.
Main entrance

It had been 47 years since last I had been there - though several family members had been there since. Much has changed of course - the town is much bigger and noisier, as is the school. There are a number of new buildings that made the campus seem more crowded than I had remembered. Of course things also seemed much larger in my memories, some of which I am sure are because I was smaller and my perspective has changed.  A lot of thoughts and memories came back to me - mostly good, I think. I worried that I afflicted Nancy, Alisabeth and Rickie with boredom as I spouted old stories, but they said they enjoyed it.  I hope so.  Here's some pictures.

Chapel interior - significant early spiritual and musical memories.
Phelps entrance

Near Sherwood dorm - I helped build it serving detention hours. Used to make forts in woods near the dorms.

Phelps Hall - my first dorm - Houseparents were Mr. & Mrs. Banks - both born in 1899.
My traveling companions in front of the auditorium.

Kodai Lake - Perumal Mountain in the background.  The school in the red roofs on the right hand side above the boathouse and the Carlton Hotel.  Stayed there.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Day 11 of the festival, Ganesh Chaturthi

Juhu beach
Juhu Beach is a long beach.  It is a wide beach, too, especially at low tide.  Usually the beach is crowded with young men playing cricket.  But today is different. This afternoon the beach is crowded with families. Among the families there are the ever present gangs of young men—loud, laughing, their arms draped casually around each other’s shoulders. There are also the beggar children too. They are aggressive.  They paw at you, nimbly skip in front of you so you have to do a strange dance to keep moving forward. They persist until they hear a loud, firm “NEY! NEY!”

Auspicious decay

The first thing I notice as we walk along the beach are the many Ganesha statues that are scattered along the beach.  These are the statues that were immersed on auspicious days 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9. They have washed back on shore with lost limbs. The heavier ones are half buried in craters—treasures sunken in the sand. Sometimes we see a lonely ear, hand, or trunk. 

Who is Ganesha?  He is the elephant god. He is the god of new beginnings and the remover of obstacles. He is my favorite god. He was a mischievous child. He is affectionately called Ganapati Bapa. He’s the kind of god you meet and you like him right away.  You want to invite him to a party and get to know him better. I think he must enjoy this festival very much because it is one big citywide party.

Happy family
Tim and I hear chanting. Families are bringing their Ganapati (Ganesha) statues to the beach to be immersed. The families are kind and open.  They welcome our curious stares. The Ganapatis are adorned with strings of bright beads, pearls, greenery, and flowers. One family invites us into their worship. The dia (a small lamp with ghee) is lit and burning incense is waved as the family says puja (prayers.)  Puffed rice treats with sticky peanut brittle is offered.  Tim eats his and I slyly slip him my handful. Next we are offered the bananas that were laid before Ganesha. The women lovingly remove the ornaments from Ganesha, the men pick him up, and they head for the water. They all go into the water with Ganesha, but the men go farther out.  When they reach chest high, they dip Ganesha three times and on the third dip, they push him out to sea—released into the water. 

More statues are arriving. These statues are larger.  They are carried by groups of loud, raucous  men. The men are wearing t-shirts stained with red powder. One man shouts “Ganapati Bapa!”  The crowd shouts in reply, “Moria!”  We join in. “Moria!” we shout with enthusiasm as the chant begins with “Ganapati Bapa!”  This statue is 7 feet high.  The men are weighed down by its massive orange body, but it does not dampen their spirits. They are honoring Ganesha with their enthusiasm and volume. 

By 7:00, Tim and I decide it is time to go home.  The beach is getting more and more crowded.  The mood is changing from a family atmosphere to Mardi Gras. The road we came on has been changed from a two way street into one way towards the beach. Huge lorries carrying even bigger Ganapati statues, plus men and boys sitting, standing, hanging on are lumbering towards the beach.  Something hits my face.  It stings.  It is only flowers, but they were thrown with force.  It is time to go home.

Tim starts walking with purpose.  He is parting the Red Sea of people by the size of his body. We become separated. I try to push forward too.  I look anxiously for Tim.  How did he get to the other side of the street? I shout for him to stop, but he doesn’t hear me. Finally, he stops and looks for me.  When I reach him, I cling to his backpack like a little child. We find a lighted corner near a policeman and wait for Rakesh to find us.

When we see his car, we dive into the coolness, safety, and peace. Our tiny capsule of calm crawls forward.  People walking, motorcycles, trucks are inches from my face. I watch them through the glass. I see a truck that is decorated with palm branches. My mind wanders . . . Palm branches in a parade.  A ride to Jerusalem with a chorus of “Hallelujah!”  and people waving palm branches. A ride to the beach on lorries decorated with palm branches with a chorus of “Moria!” Baptism— immersion in water. A symbol of new life. Ganesh Chaturthi— a festival with immersion. A symbol of creation and rebirth.  All around the world hymns are sung, prayers are said, and holy people are present.  Ganapati Bapa moria!