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“Only This and Nothing More…”

After being reminded just how human I am by some nasty-nasty that invaded my body last week and held my tummy, my muscles, my head and my energy hostage for six days – finally, I can move.  And move I did, by running 20K today with an inspiring group of fellow running nutters.   About a third of the way through the run we picked-up a stray dog who stuck with us, trotting along like a proud thoroughbred, head held high and tail curled and perky.  She was dauntless and ran with ease from kilometer to kilometer, despite encounters along the way with other dogs who defended their territory as we ran through it.

That’s the way it works here with stray city dogs – they live on a block, become its gatekeeper and protect their space and the people who live in it.   Our canine companion was repeatedly nipped, barked-at, harassed, and even fully attacked by the American Embassy stray.   (Shall we read anything into that?)

Live on the street, scrounge for food, suffer the elements and your enemies – and hold your course.  That’s what struck me most about this dog who found us, a temporary pack –  she held her course and never gave up from India Gate across town to West End and beyond.  Maybe I’m a bit of a sap or optimist, however you see it – looking for a sign that says “hold on” –  but look, I do and found it today in a furry little street dog who ran 8 miles and didn’t miss a step.

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I thought you might like a  brief look at the headlines in the Hindustan Times one day this week:

1.  Delhi Turns Disease Capital (Record numbers of dengue cases, as well as malaria and the nasty-sounding and equally nasty-feeling chikangunya attack the city and all city hospitals are over capacity.)

2.  Fogging on Hold as Government and City Fight Over Funds (Despite number 1 above and the welfare of its citizens, the city refuses to  spray pesticide to kill disease-bearing mosquitos because it says it spent all of its money spraying for the Commonwealth Games.)

3.  Monkey Menace Back to Haunt Residents (Residents in one neighborhood can’t get rid of their pesky monkeys.  They brought in dominant, watch-dog monkeys to scare away the lesser monkeys, but they, too attacked residents.  The city trapped and carted away all the monkeys before the Commonwealth Games – but they’re back.   Proof that it’s just all monkey business in this city?  The place just can’t seem to do anything right.)

4.  Men Barging into Womens’ Coach to be Fined (Trains here are often packed with passengers who have little room to stand, much less sit or squat.  Some men get around this inconvenience by sitting in the “women only” cars.  The guards on these cars are also female, so I don’t think they have much luck in combatting the intrusion.  However now, the trespassing men will be fined.   Some trains have women-only cars because women are often  harassed and fondled – or “eve-teased”, the local name for sexual harassment.)

5.  Finger Test Violates Rape Victims’ Privacy (Rape victims are subjected to invasive finger testing during hospital exams.  The finger test establishes whether the victim’s vagina can hold one, two or three fingers, indicating whether the victim is “habituated to sex”.  Fortunately a Delhi court has ruled that the finger test violates a woman’s right to privacy and is irrelevant to the crime.  Unfortunately, the courts talk a lot here and no one listens.)

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So not much more to offer you after a week in bed but I did rally for Halloween…  (Anyone care to guess from which poem the title came?)   Here’s my gory brood and their friends on their way to trick-or-treat:

Halloween mommies at the annual school Fall Fiesta:

Lala on a shopping spree with her mama.   We hit the mall early and saw a 10-a.m. movie, Letters to Juliet.  Over lunch, we talked about going to Italy together and the tragic/romantic details of Romeo and Juliet.   In Letters to Juliet, the best part of the movie was Vanessa Redgrave’s eyes – they twinkled, full of life and good things.

Here’s my Eddie at baseball and coach daddy, below:

I hit the toilet paper jackpot!  Thank you Christine for turning me on to the toilet-paper wallah – oh, did he DELIVER!

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Mumbai Missive

Dear President Obama:

I’ve just returned from Mumbai and since you will be there in exactly two weeks, I thought you might appreciate an advancer on the city.  By the way, why do your people have you arriving on the night of Diwali, the festival of lights and India’s most beloved holiday?  Can you imagine India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh visiting you on Christmas?  Maybe your people forgot to check the calendar.  No worries, India is VERY EXCITED about your visit.  The papers say that it’s the longest stay of any US president and that it comes early in your term is not going unnoticed here.  Skipping Pakistan  also helps.

But I digress.  Mumbai – Bombay – The Big Banana,  as one very arrogant and colorful local calls it.  (If you meet him and he tells you that marriage isn’t good after ten years, tell him that he obviously hasn’t met Michelle…)

I stayed at the exquisite Taj Mahal Palace, where you, too will stay.  It’s a lovely gesture for you to lodge there after the terrorist attack two years ago in November 2008.  As you know, 166 people died in the attacks at the hotel and several other locations under a coordinated siege.   Security is tight now but you already live this way and won’t notice the difference.  I hear that you are taking over the entire hotel for two nights and that you and your staff will stay on the most exclusive floor.   Word of warning:  while the hotel is comfy and well-appointed, you might want to bring your own shampoo and conditioner.  Theirs’ sucks.  You will love the tub if you are into baths. It’s big enough for a six-foot man to stretch in.  Don’t ask me how I know this…

For dinner, you MUST, absolutely MUST eat at Trishna.  It’s a little seafood place not far from the hotel.  They have their own boat and catch their stock daily.  I recommend the black pepper and butter garlic shrimp, the pomfret Hyderbadi and the squid Koliwada.   The atmosphere reminds me of places I’ve eaten in New Orleans:  a black and white, mirrored and cozy bistro stocked with locals.   Always a good sign!  And the waiters – they are subtle and sublime, a rare combination not found in Delhi, where I live.  They know their customer and they make you feel the perfect combination of being familiar with the place and yet on a great discovery.   Before dinner, head to the top of the Intercontinental Hotel and have a drink at the Dome.  It has a gorgeous view of the bay and what is called the Queen’s Necklace, the glittering lights of the city that ring the bay.

There’s plenty to see in Mumbai and I know that you will have official business, but getting down with the people would be another nice gesture.  You might try visiting one of the dhobi ghats.  This is where the city’s laundry is hand washed.  The men who scrub and wash and rinse and hang and iron the clothes and sheets and towels are from families who have been washing for generations.  In fact, the ghat is a village of washer people.  I don’t know how they keep the clothes and fabrics separated and organized – it looks chaotic to me but somehow it works.

Also interesting are the famous dhaba wallahs.  These are the guys who pickup and deliver hot lunches to people all over the city.  Basically, this is how it works:  Michelle cooks you a hot lunch and mid-day a guy picks-up the meal and delivers it to the train station.  The lunch is put on a train and ferried across the city where another dhaba wallah collects it  and dozens of others.  He delivers them to their respective work sites, including your office.  What makes this extraordinary is that nearly 200-thousand lunches move about the city this way, all organized and rarely lost.  You can see the movement of the lunch boxes outside of Victoria station which is the largest train station in the world, I believe.

A few quick tips:  bring powder.  It’s very humid and the talc helps keep you dry.  The massage at the Taj was good, but not exceptional.  Breakfast overlooking the bay is a nice way to begin the day.  They ran out of oranges for juicing while I was there but I doubt that you will have the same problem.  Shockingly, I didn’t do any shopping but it was just a 24 hour trip and I plan to return.

I’m enclosing a few  photos for you to enjoy.   I live in Delhi, so if you want to meet for a cup of coffee at the American Club while you are here – it’s on me. Bring Michelle!

A supporter and faithful citizen,

Theo

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Here’s the Gateway of India, built to welcome George V and Queen Mary to Bombay when they landed in the city on their way to the Delhi Durbar in 1911.  (This was a big meeting of the Raj and it was there that the British decided to move the capital of colonial India from Calcutta to Delhi.)

Here’s the front of the Taj Palace Hotel:

And the back:  (There’s an urban legend that the builder made a mistake and built the hotel backwards and that the architect killed himself when he saw the mistake, but this is not true…)

Here’s a view of the bay and the buildings and a pair of silly feet:

Here are a few photos of a dhobi ghat:

That’s me with my husband imbibing at the Dome:

And I couldn’t resist showing you a photo of my cub scout citizen getting his Bobcat badge:

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Udaipur

When I moved to Delhi a good friend of mine who grew up here told me to get out of the city every six weeks.  This is the key to mental health, he said and to maintaining the energy you need to manage this place.

I’ve been grumping my way through nearly two rounds of six-week chunks and feeling guilty for the grumpiness, so I took myself on a thirty-six hour therapy session to Udaipur – the city of dawn – in the heart of Rajasthan.

The city hugs three lakes and rolling desert hills.  It is steeped in warrior history and the stuff of legend.  There’s a palace that was built in the 16th century and that has housed the reigning maharanas until Indian independence.  The term, maharaja, which is most commonly used to refer to the royalty of the princely kingdoms in Rajasthan means royal leader.  “Maharana” means royal warrior.  The kings of Udaipur are known for their warrior skill.

Here’s a shot of the palace and of me with my travel partner, Lola:

Udaipur is a romantic city, mostly because of the large central lake and the world-class hotels that sit on the banks or float in the middle of the lake.  At night, everything is lit, the city glows, and the hills fade from brilliant sunsets into velvety nights:

We stayed in a small haveli, a term used to describe hotels that were once courtyard homes of the wealthy.  In our haveli, most of the rooms overlook the lake and there are breezy open-air window seats, perfect for nestling.  I spent one divine morning with endless cups of coffee, reading and watching children play in the water below my window.

Lola and I wandered the streets, shopped and bumped into village life.   There was lots of flavor on the streets.  Sunday was the Hindu festival of Dussehra – a holiday that marks Ram’s victory over the evil Ravan.  People burn effigies of Ravan, dance in the streets, parade, wear masks and throw colorful powder.  I don’t understand all the symbolism behind the ritual, but it’s a festival of color and lots of drumming and dancing:

Here are a few temple scenes you might find interesting.  The first is a shrine to the warrior goddess Durga, I think – or maybe Laxmi.  I can’t remember and it’s difficult to discern because of the dress but the symbols in her hand suggest Durga.  The second photo shows a little girl putting a coin on the plate (yoni) at the base of the lingam.  The lingam is often misinterpreted as a phallic symbol – in Hinduism, it represents the oneness and endlessness of life… although I think there are arguably sexual-spiritual roots:

This temple also made little homes for white rats – they, too are worshipped.  Unfortunately, as you see in the second photo, one little guy was unable to move and most probably dying.  He kept raising his head and falling back in exhaustion.  I’ve never liked rats but watching him wasn’t easy.   Anthropomorphic sympathy set in, I suppose….  he was, for me, a little suffering soul:

Here’s a typical scene – everyone loves a photo with the foreigner:

And foreigners do silly things, like get a second piercing in their ears.   I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I don’t get a bad infection or tetanus or some unknown local yucky – the guy I went to sold old knives and weapons and he used what looked like a thin nail.   Yes, it hurt.  And it’s still hurting.  I sleep on my back… misery for one who favors the fetal position:

To round-out the adventure:  a traditional Rajasthani dinner in a village hall on painted cow dung floors.  There were no utensils – you use your bread to scoop and your rice to mix with the gravy dishes.  The rice turns into a sticky, malleable paste that you ball into your fingers:

Lola and I spent our last evening on the haveli rooftop under the stars and the moon…. getting drunk.  We were celebrating her 60th birthday and friendship.  The last photo is of her actual birthday a few days before our departure.  Happy Birthday, Lolaji!  Thank you for the laughter.

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What’s in a Purse?

Don’t bring a tampon to the Commonwealth Games.   If you do, be prepared to open it in front of many interested security guards and onlookers.

Leave the hand cream, face cream, eye cream (Hey, I like cream!) at home as well.  If you don’t and you’re asked to test it, and you get a bit playful and rub it on the cheek of the security guard… you better hope he’s in a good mood.

And if you really seek a challenge, try explaining to police why you carry a small container of freshly ground cinnamon.    “Sir, I sprinkle it on my cappuccino.”

Leave the stray coins at home as well.  Even the ones in the folds of the folds of the folds of your purse.  Security is more obsessed with coins than they are with tampons and face cream and cinnamon.  I think it’s one last effort to fill a few already thickly lined pockets.

If it’s 95 degrees and you are going to an outside event, such as archery – don’t expect shade.  There isn’t any.  Just chairs on a platform on a lawn:

And when you are sitting in the sun and sweating profusely, don’t get thirsty because security won’t allow drinks inside the venue.  If you absolutely must avoid fainting and need a drink, you can exit the stands and drink outside.

If you seek a bit of shade while drinking and a security guard asks you to move away from the fence and into the sun and you complain that it’s too hot in the sun – don’t be surprised if the guard gets a bit uppity and lectures you about India being hot.

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My favorite CWG story:  4,000 used condoms backup the plumbing in the athletes’ village.   The hook-fest is nothing unusual.   Like most conventions, the extracurricular scene is active.  Mike Fennel, the head of the Games Federation praised athletes for being responsible – this, after Indian officials complained about the athletes’ poor behavior.

Hello?  Is it really news that young, fit athletes have sex?

Isn’t this the real story:  Indian plumbing couldn’t handle the celebration?

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The stands are empty.  (The press, The people)

The stands are full.  (The officials)

It’s all in how you see it:

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A good handful of the English and Australian swim teams suffered from diarrhea and vomiting.  They blamed everything from the pool water (Did it meet international standards of cleanliness and chemical balance? ) to pigeon poop.  (Pigeons are roosting in the rafters over the pool.)

Has anyone on the English or Australian team heard of Occam’s Razor?  The simplest and most obvious answer is usually the correct one…

Delhi Belly!

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On the street at my local market – they’re watching India battle its way to a gold medal in wrestling:

I call this “going local” – sitting on newspapers while we wait for our driver outside the archery venue.   Police detained him for driving in the wrong lane:

One of India’s boxing hopefuls (blue) losing to England (red).  It was a close and very exciting quarter-final match.  The crowd went wild:

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And the dream team:  My dreamy son…

And his daddy – they keep me laughing:

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Confession

I stole a roll of toilet paper from the American Club today because we are down to using Eddie’s “Happy Birthday” napkins.   I’ve mentioned this before, the dearth of toilet paper in my house.   How does this relate to India, you wonder?  Let me count the ways….

1.  I can’t buy a mother-lode of paper to  store extra rolls in the bathrooms.  There are no Sam’s Clubs, or supermarkets, or hyper-markets, or Walmarts, or Carrefours or shops in Delhi with the space to stack lots of anything, including toilet paper.   A family of five, especially my super-sanitary clan, uses a lot of paper.   And, I think it’s fair to say that we use slightly more paper here than we would in many other places…

2. Getting to the store to buy toilet paper isn’t always that convenient.  The stores don’t open until late morning, the local markets are depressing  – grubby, run-down, stinky, pot-holed, littered, crowded, loud.   When I am in the right mood, this is charming, local;  it can be fun to be in the fray.  But when I am not in the mood, using Happy Birthday napkins instead isn’t such a bad option.

3.  Sometimes, stores just aren’t open – like this weekend.  Saturday was Gandhi’s Birthday, a national holiday.  There were nine bank holidays last year, 11 central government holidays and more than 20 public holidays, including religious, bank, state, central, court and union holidays… I think. It’s a confusing system – India is so diverse, it has lots to celebrate.  Today, the city ordered all businesses to close for the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games.  My guess:  to reduce crowds and opportunities for a terrorist attack.

Because of the Games, we’ve been warned that supplies may be low during the next two weeks.  Trucks are not allowed into the city or on roads that lead to the venues.  Already, I can’t find boxed milk within a three-neighborhood radius of my house.  There’s a local dairy down the street.  I pushed aside health concerns, walked over with Olivia and had the vendor fill my jug with the fresh stuff the other day.  It’s buffalo milk – buffalo produce more milk on less sustenance than cows.  It’s not pasteurized, so we boil it.  The kids are in heaven.  My nanny seems to like it too – she drank half a gallon in one afternoon.  I read that urban and rural Indians spend a healthy chunk of their food allowance on milk products.

4.  Toilet paper is expensive here.  This doesn’t stop me from buying it of course, but I notice the cost every time.  We pay about 14-dollars for an  8-pack of the best stuff on offer, which actually comes from Indonesia.

5.  Blaming myself – I’m just not as motivated and super-organized as some of the supermoms around me.  The shopping here wears on me.  One of my friends (and readers) said it best:  I go shopping but when I open the fridge, there’s just not enough inside to make a yummy meal.  Yummy or not, you can bet that not long after eating it, you will need toilet paper…

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A lesson in how to entertain 13-year olds:  “Mrs. Yardley, will you arm wrestle?”  Hmm….

Should I let her win?

Never!  I’m shameless – and the kids loved it!


Here’s where I buy fresh milk:

My baby – he’s no longer five:

And he LOVES arcades.  We celebrated his birthday here:

Little boys, big boys – they all love speed:

Women’s work at a construction site – they get to lug the sand:

Should I order one of these?  It’s a vest designed by one of India’s rising designers, Nida Mahmood:  (I’m mulling it over….)