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Return to Me in August…

The other day I ordered Mcdonald’s delivery for lunch to celebrate the last day of school with the kids.  Three Happy Meals arrived, hot and fresh but missing the french fries.  When I complained, the innocent delivery man explained to “Madame” that Happy Meals don’t come with french fries.  Frustrated, I asked my friend Sanny, “Why the &^!@*&! call it a meal when you only get chicken nuggets?”  (I admit, it was a simple-minded frustration but I allow myself these from time to time…)

Her answer:  Because this is India.

A simple answer to a stupid question.   Thank you, Sanny!  I owe you a Happy Meal with Margarita when we meet in Arizona…

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The intent of  this blog has been to share my experiences here with my family and friends and whoever taps in – and not, necessarily to have a public diary.  I will be in the U.S. for the next nine weeks and have decided not to post again until my return in August.

It is shocking to me that one school season and nearly a year has passed since our adventures began.  It hasn’t been as romantic or extraordinary as some pictures and posts may have made it seem.  For those of you who have followed me faithfully – maybe you understand that my engagement with India has been like a passionate love affair with soaring highs and aching lows.

It’s time to regroup, dip into the life I left long ago in the States and return refreshed  for the new school year.  I have learned that every expat season has its own flavor  – next year I hope to work a bit to finance a few trips that I’ve been dreaming about.

Here’s ten months squeezed into a three-minute slide show.  It is a tribute to my beautiful children who have struggled to make sense of their new home.   I am enormously proud of them and forgive every tantrum and every tear and every bite they took out of me.   Enjoy.

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Delhi Belly

It’s like the plague in my house today.  My brother and his four friends have been stricken with the local curse:  Delhi Belly.  I feel gluttonous having five bathrooms – but what a godsend, this gluttony!  To have the space to be alone to manage the misery of not knowing which end will erupt… this, is a gift. Our house is littered with charcoal tablets, probiotic pills, Immodium, bottles of water, extra rolls of toilet paper and lethargic bodies.  This morning, Lala found one of the girls asleep on the bathroom floor.  Mildly comic is the way everyone is walking.  They’ve perfected this soft-soled shuffle – an attempt  to avoid churning the contents of their tummy and to protect their battered bits, no doubt.  Sadly, my guests had to cancel their flight to Goa and the beaches of southwest India today.

How apt that the day before everyone got sick we visited the toilet museum.  It was a rather comic and cultish experience – and it was difficult not to laugh at the sincerity of the docent when he insisted that India invented the first toilet and sanitation.   Conveniently though, the ancient civilization that used both with much success was flushed away by an unknown  “catastrophic” event.  So died the toilet and sanitation – and India has been slow to recover this loss.  It’s become cliché to note that there are more cell phones in this country than toilets… but I think it’s true – or the sentiment is, at least.

I won’t go into all the details about our tour, but I will share this local custom for those of you considering a visit:  It is polite to hand things to another person with your right hand only, as your left is used for cleaning the genitals with water after you visit the loo, or more probably here, the field, the sidewalk, the corner lot, the back alley.

Here’s a contemporary advertising campaign:

And one of the displays in the museum:

In honor of fair reporting, the museum is run by a very serious NGO that builds environmentally friendly waste systems in India.  This is me, smelling recycled poo:

Need to poo and you don’t have anywhere to go?  Try this: (It’s worth clicking the image and reading the script!)

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Gandhi and Greek-Chinese bookends:

This would make a great Apple ad:

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Too Hot to Think…

For the first time I am coming to this post with little to tell you about India this week.  I think the heat has hijacked my initiative – it was 115 in the shade on Friday.  The paint on the streets is melting; I can’t open my front door without burning my hand;  the air feels like a blow-dryer on my face.

A nice distraction though:  my brother is visiting from Hawaii and he brought along four friends.  It’s always fun to have a houseful of youth, especially when they  pick up after themselves and don’t make crumbs.  (In fact, I’ve hit the wall with crumbs – my new policy is to put them in the offender’s bed.  George ended up with big chunks of banana bread under his sheets the other night and he has two grapes waiting for him tonight….)

My brother Cole was trained well at West Point and he leaves a minimal crumb footprint.  He just defended his thesis at the East-West School but he’s dangling one little un-finished graduate credit so he doesn’t have to report to duty TOO soon – at least not until his travels through India, Nepal and Tibet are over.  Then he reports to basic training in Georgia and Kentucky. Afterwards, he’s hoping that special forces will want his very special self .  If not, then maybe he will follow our father into psychological operations.   Cole would be GREAT at that.  This was the kid who never gave in, gave up, or gave a rat’s ass if you punished him.  He is stubborn personified and I promise you that he could make an argumentative Indian’s head spin!

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I keep notes when I see something that I might share with you, such as this advertisement on a billboard in Delhi that I saw a few weeks ago:  “Become an airline pilot in six months”.  Of course, this is an embarrassing claim following the crash in Mangalore yesterday and now, investigations into flight safety, training and maintenance.  The NYT did a nice, and very quick follow-up into flight safety here.  Surprise, surprise – It appears the industry enjoys the national past time:  corruption.

So, there you have my lazy entry.  I promise something more of this place later this week.  I want to visit the toilet museum – so stayed tuned!

Here’s a photo of my beautiful friend, Kristi who just turned 40.  She and I celebrated by doing something that we NEVER do:  we lounged in the middle of the day by the pool – with lots of trashy magazines and WITHOUT the kids. It was fun!

And… my little brother next to me and his crew of friends:

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“…. We Must Be Saved by Love.”

Mother’s Day may have started with a monkey attack but it ended with me tucked away in a 15th Century palace on the edge of Rajasthan.  Jim surprised me with a night away at the Neemrana Fort, a two-hour drive outside of Delhi.   The best part of this gift was his sacrifice of a Sunday of writing.  What you may not realize is that he has worked on his book religiously every weekend, most weeknights, and a good handful of weekdays for over a year a now.  He’s taken no vacation and little free time.  Even over Christmas when we went to the beach, he worked every day in the hotel library.  Weekdays roll into weekends with little delineation of either for us – except that the kids are home on the weekends and Saturdays start with pancakes and Sundays start with French toast.

But the fort/palace – it was quite spectacular.  We had a rather roomy suite on the upper tier with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, multiple balconies and views of desert plains.   Mother’s Day wouldn’t be special without the kids and of course, we had ours tagging along.  We all took from the night away exactly what we needed:  the kids, time with daddy and a break from Delhi;  Jim, time away from the computer; and me,  the joy of seeing everyone really happy.  I know that sounds corny but it’s sincere.  Here, take a peak – this is the view of the hotel from our room.  It’s sprawling!

The crispy hillsides:

My boys:

Royalty….!

On the drive home the next day, I asked George to hand me something from the back seat of the car.  “Mother’s Day is OVER!” he yelled….

Jim and I have a long-standing joke – it’s moments like this when we look at each other and one of us demands:  “Weapon!”

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“Make a list of all the things that are needed to empower the disempowered:  education, resources, food security, economic resources, political participation, etc.  Not a single one of the major things that need to be done to make an impact on people’s empowerment requires a caste census.” – This, from an op-ed piece in the Times of India on Wednesday.   I mentioned the caste census in my last blog – It’s become a huge debate because people have not been counted by caste since British colonial rule.

Did they or didn’t they? India’s largest Islamic seminary (and maybe even the world’s largest) denies  that it issued a Fatwa this week against working Muslim women.   Several news organizations here reported the Fatwa after a cleric wrote online that it was against Sharia law for Muslim women to work in the same office alongside men.  The seminary says the “statement” was simply the musings of one cleric to a question posted online.   Regardless of how the statement is classified, the misogynist message is the same.

By the way, India is home to the world’s second largest Muslim population with about 150-million Indian Muslim citizens.

Also this week – The High Court in Allahabad issued a ruling that says marriage between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man is not valid unless the woman converts to Islam.  There is a shade of gray here – the couple can register to marry under some act that allows for inter-religious marriage, but the wedding can’t be celebrated or solemnized by a representative of either religion.  Honestly… this country busies itself with issues that distract it from all the real and glaring work that needs to be addressed to lift India out of the muck.  When you swerve your car to miss a cow, sit in gridlock surrounded by tin-can trucks and three-wheel tractors, close your windows to desperate beggars, and train your eyes not to notice the decay of a city so far behind the development curve… loud mullahs and sneaky courts seem exceptionally unconscionable.

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The Story of two Faisals.  One is, of course, Faisal Shazad, the would-be Times Square bomber and the other is Shah Faisal, the first person from Kashmir to rank #1 in the India civil services exam. The comparison caught the media’s attention here, probably because both share the same name and both are Muslim.  One fell into bad times and bad company despite relative privilege;  The other rose to admirable status despite the hardships that befell his family after his father was killed by militants.

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Did you know… It’s a good day to tie the knot in India today?  Indians are waaayy into astrology and it turns out that today the sun and moon are shining in balance – a good omen for marriage.  There’s also a religious significance to this day that guarantees good fortune.  It’s estimated that 20-thousand couples will celebrate weddings today in Delhi.

As for astrology, it’s a 3,000 year old practice in India.  One’s birthday and the position of stars, moons and planets on that day predispose you to certain outcomes in the events of your life.   You may remember one of my first blogs (http://www-standupcomedy.blogspot.com/2009/09/tusar-tarun-or-tanujj.html) about attending the naming ceremony of my driver’s son.  A Hindu priest poured over charts and worked formulas to arrive at the best name for the baby.  Birth date, time of birth, sign, sex and other factors were all woven and worked until the priest was able to select the best letter of the Hindu alphabet for the name.  You can revisit the blog for the rest of the story…

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We celebrated this week – Lala making her 11th birthday wish.  This little girl is truly amazing – she exudes something special – confirmed by many!

And my other one who exudes… silliness!

Unit #3 at his kindergarten open-house:


Here’s Maya… I finally got a picture of her!  Look at that smile…


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V-Cubed and Important

This is a photo I shot back in November when I ran the Delhi Half Marathon.  It’s a perfect intro into a topic that I’ve wanted to touch on:  Power.   There are a lot of Indians in the world’s largest democracy who wield it and there are also a lot of constituents willing to recognize and indulge that power.   I’ve already written about the obscene public displays of Mayawati’s reign.  Like the hierarchical social strata of caste, power appears to be stratified as well:  a sign for VVVIP parking would suggest that there also exists VVIP’s and merely VIP’s.

I’m reading an interesting book titled Being Indian that discusses pan-Indian characteristics and how they play out in modern India.  Power and hierarchy – you can’t escape them here.  Stand on a street corner and wait a minute or two  – it’s likely that a ubiquitous parade of police-escorted government cars will pass by probably ferrying a low-level government peon.  Indians, the author argues, believe that the powerful are entitled to display their wealth and that if they don’t, they will never be able to wield it over a constituency who wants to feel and see this power.   Open the newspaper and read daily about honor killings or caste politics – this is a country whose constitution guarantees equality but whose culture perpetuates inequality.   Just this week the government agreed to include a question identifying caste in the national census.  This was a huge debate in parliament and it had more to do with parliamentary politics and quid pro quo than anything else.  However, what sort of message do you send to your voters when you tell them that everyone is equal yet you still ask, “Who is your daddy?”?

The book has fascinating discussions about amorality and the Indian ability to justify any means to achieve an ethical end in a morally flexible world; and, the idea of democracy as a means for the historically disenfranchised lower castes to achieve power, yet how this power only reinforces new levels of domination and hierarchy.

Here’s another photo for you to enjoy.  This is a sign in the Delhi airport.  If you are any of these people you don’t have to pass through security!

And another…  This is a government official’s car.   How do you see to drive with all those VERY LARGE stickers on the windshield identifying access to otherwise inaccessible compounds?

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I shouldn’t have written in my last post that I had not yet been bothered by monkeys.  Fate would have it that today’s Mother’s Day run, of all runs, was doomed.  There I was happily jogging along, lost in music and the promise of the day when I rounded a corner to a terrible, feral smell – and before I could react, four monkeys came at me.  I learned three things:

1.  monkeys are fast

2.  monkeys make a lot of noise

3.  monkeys are strong

I always carry a stick and when one lunged at me, I used my stick to lunge back.  He grabbed it, bit it, snarled… when another came at my calf.  He brushed it with his paw, but didn’t hurt me.  I lost the stick to the monkeys and ran across the street to two men waiting at a bus stop.  The monkeys didn’t pursue me – but I was scared enough to end my run and hop in a tuk tuk to a local park, where I finished what I set out to do this morning:  run 10K.

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And the week in photos.  A rare shot of George reading a poem:

My last class with fellow Bollywood dancers:

A mother’s triumph:  three boys on a bed crafting!

He exists!!  My Hubba in the school library:

This is what  a mother does for her kids:  makes homemade marshmallows… but it takes so long to blend that I moved the bowl to a place where I could sit and read.  Mutli-tasking at its best:

And what do I get for those marshmallows?   A bonk on the head with a very hard soccer ball!

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My Run

I’ve come to love my outdoor runs in Delhi.  Like mad dogs and Englishmen, I’m crazy for doing it – but what I see on the streets makes sweating through the early morning heat worth it.  Watching the city wake up makes me feel more apart of this place.  Yes, I am a spectacle as well – a lone woman running the streets spins more than a  few very curious heads.  I carry a stick to ward off dogs, and mace  – just in case the dogs don’t fear my stick.   So far, the monkeys haven’t bothered me but I hear that I’m lucky.  They are temperamental and unpredictable. I rarely see other  runners but on this particular day I ran into a guy from Peru, a doctor who now lives in Arizona.  The first thing I asked him was this:  What the hell is your governor doing?

Experimenting, he answered.

Enjoy the show!

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