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The Hands of Time

I’m reading a book by V.S. Naipaul, A Million Mutinies Now, about his travels through India in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  The last time I read Naipaul, I wrote a critical essay of his book A Turn in the South for a my history professor in Atlanta… (?)  New Orleans (?)  (I can’t remember exactly where.  I was always taking classes until I had kids.)  Anyway, the professor was nearly apoplectic reading my paper – he was a huge fan of Naipaul’s and I distinctly remember him commenting, not so kindly, that I had a unique take on the book.  I was reluctant to read Mutinies until a friend of mine mentioned that it was an insightful look into the intricacies of India.  We were discussing India’s diversity and the challenges of understanding the national psyche, if there is one.

I mention the book for this reason – one clause that caught my attention in chapter three:  “The India of many feeble hands doing simple small tasks.”  When I read this, I think of the million mutinies that occur daily – not the capitalized title of the book, but the lower case, lower caste hands that rebel against a shitty life by doing the tasks that keep these hands alive and productive – sweeping, collecting, sorting, fixing, selling, begging, cutting, ironing, butchering, carrying, scrubbing, cooking.  For many, it is mutiny simply to survive here and mutiny to believe that life will improve.  It’s painful sometimes to watch the many hands that make a day turn here when your own hands are not so feeble and when your own tasks are not so simple.  Today, I am bullish on India and I can’t help believe that with time, growth, democracy and the natural attrition of a corrupt bureaucracy, India will become a place of many strong hands using the tools of a modern world.   Ask me tomorrow and I may not be so bullish. Optimism is sometimes fleeting here.

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A few shots from our Thanksgiving trip to Rishikesh… Our train looked just like this one, only our car had fewer passengers:

Road Work:

George and a friend on the Ganges:

I have a friend who is into Ayurvedic medicine and he says George is water and Eddie is earth:

(And I am air with a touch of fire – Jim argues the reverse…) Preparing to hit the rapids:

Warming up, like lizards on a log:

Our tent.  (We teased Jim for exposing his southern roots by putting the furniture outside…)

A slice of our Thanksgiving family:

A beggar in the train station on our way home.  Look at her hands:

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And that’s me in real-time, writing this post.  This perch in my bedroom is brilliant with sunshine and toasty warm during the winter.  We don’t have heat and the house gets very cold:

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Turkeyless

Just a quick note today to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and to say that I am truly blessed to have such a cornucopia of family and friends.  Thank you for the myriad of ways in which you support me – reading my often ego-centric blog, traveling long distances to visit me, sending me funny text messages, always being at the end of my emails, and for those of you here in Delhi, laughing and crying with me at all that we enjoy and endure.

This holiday passes for us without the usual Thanksgiving feast – I’ve decided NOT to spend 150-dollars on a 12-pound Butterball, or half that amount to chew and chew and chew on  a local bird.   My father-in-law prefers to cook Jambalaya on Thanksgiving.  I’d do the same if I could get real chorizo and healthy shrimp and Zatarains creole seasoning.   And this reminds me of my father’s exquisite paella…  a feast for the eyes and the palate.  (We miss you, dad.)

Ok, so what ARE we eating?  We will be tenting on the banks of the Ganges river in the foothills of the Himalayas – eating Indian camp food.  The meals are nothing to wax poetic about but I am brewing and bringing grog and expect the combination to be divine…

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Sunday’s race:

It wasn’t my best performance – from the start I was slightly off.   My chest was tight, which I haven’t experienced before and the labored breathing threw me off-balance.  I even inhaled water through my nose at one of the stations! Drinking, breathing and running at the same time takes coordination but runners usually figure this out.   I didn’t beat my time from last year and honestly, I was pissed-off at first, then disappointed… and finally I felt guilty for feeling so competitive.   NOW, I’m copacetic about it all and thankful that I came through without injury and feeling physically good.  I even won a few greenbacks to add to the “negligent mothers” travel kitty.  (This is a term a friend in China coined when we would sneak away for a day of skiing…)

I had a crew of friends running this time but failed to get a group photo of us, which saddens me.   Here I am, getting a rub-down – and later, after washing up, a celebratory brunch with the family and a friend who ran as well, Tom Wright.  (He works for the Wall Street Journal but we forgive him because he’s a decent runner….)

And a few local scenes… a bike, a guy and his monkeys:

This dear woman irons laundry for my neighbors.  I love telling her that she’s beautiful (and I mean it…) – she smiles and smiles:

Buying veggies for the beef stew I craved and cooked this week.  (Thanks to my naughty girlfriend, Viv, I actually have a freezer full of real beef, NOT buffalo. She vacuumed packed a slab and stowed it in her luggage from China.)

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India: Tiger or Elephant?

I am forever catching-up on dated reading material – week-old newspapers, month-old magazines, and books started last season and set aside to plow-through book-club books which I have a habit of reading at the last-minute.  I’m always late, always rushing, always chasing…  happily!

On top of my pile this week was an old Economist magazine (October 2) with an article about India.  There wasn’t much new in it that I hadn’t heard or read before – but I thought that some of the information might interest those of you who don’t live and breathe India.

Assuming that the Economist’s statistics and facts are correct:

India’s growth will start to outpace China’s in three to five years and it will continue to grow faster than any other large country for the next 25 years.

Why?

1.  Demographics – It has a large and growing working-age, English-speaking population.  And…

2.  Economic Reform – There’s lots of energy and momentum for commercial growth following years of debilitating tariffs and impenetrable licensing.  Now you have companies that compete globally and domestically:  Tata motors which makes 2-thousand dollar cars for Indian buyers but they also own Jaguar and Land Rover;  Arcelor Mittal, the world’s largest steel firm; and Bharti Airtel, a mobile phone company with over 130 million customers in India alone and a growing market in Africa.

And there’s a vibrant and creative domestic market:  LG Electronics alone had annual sales of 3-billion dollars last year and sales rose a whopping 30-percent in the first seven months of this year.   LG succeeds by adjusting its gadgets to local tastes:  Refrigerators have more vegetable drawers for vegetarian customers; TV’s are made with especially strong speakers because Indian’s like their TVs loud;  they have voice activated washing machines for the growing number of middle class families who often hire illiterate maids;  And how brilliant is this:   It designs its products to handle fluctuating electrical currents because electricity doesn’t flow consistently here – it surges and seizes.  Also, LG wraps its products in extra tough packaging to protect them from India’s rough roads during transport.

The picture isn’t all rosy:

Infrastructure is in terrible shape or doesn’t exist at all and it’s difficult to move goods across the country.  Many rural roads aren’t even paved and there are lots of checkpoints and shakedowns between cities.

The workforce may be young but it’s uneducated and unskilled.  India’s adult literacy rate is only 66-percent compared to China’s 93-percent.  This means that there aren’t enough skilled builders, electricians, plumbers, etc… to work on improving the poor infrastructure.  AND, if there were – corruption is so endemic that “it threatens to undermine the moral legitimacy of capitalism itself…”

Not to end on a negative quote, the article concludes:  “India’s democracy may confer long-term benefits.  It is not just that Indians can say what they please without having tanks rolled over them, it is also that India can change governments without a revolution.  In the long run, that may offer a better guarantee of the stability that businesses crave.”

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I’m running the Delhi Half Marathon tomorrow and I’ve listed my running songs (in the column to the right) for my friends who like to share new tunes for exercising.  One of my favorites in this line-up is “Rock Star”.  I can’t listen to it without laughing.  (Alan, I have to admit to dedicating it to you!)  My theme song (If Today Was Your Last Day) is full of cliches but there’s nothing better than a string of clichés and a good beat to pick up the pace.   S.E.X. says what it needs to.  I’m hoping to finish between songs 25 and 27 IF all goes well. One never knows…

Happy Weekend!

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This would be my (just) 8-year-old son lifting my 46-year old, six-foot-one husband:

Water delivery:

I’m not usually a Lady Who Lunches but I did indulge on this particular day.  This is Kiran and her streak is even more pronounced than mine:

Lala was in the school play  – can you find my little dolphin?

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Indian Gothic

I had a near perfect day last Friday.  I boarded a plane with two girlfriends, one visiting from China, and we embarked on a three-day journey into the hills of Rajasthan.  The skies were brilliant blue that day.  It was Divali, the festival of lights and India’s biggest holiday.  Divali marks the return of Ram to his home after 12 years of exile.  Candles lined his route from the darkness of the forest from which he emerged to the horizon and his village – and so, on Divali, Indians celebrate with candles and strings of lights and lots of fireworks.

The blue sky highlighted even more the raging colors of tribal Rajasthan.  If you have dived on the Great Barrier Reef, than you know the brilliance of the colors below the water – they simply don’t exist in the air above.   I’m not sure the colors in the villages of the Aravalli exist beyond the borders of hill and desert.

So this day, with its brilliance in the sky, brilliance in the swaths of fabric wound around lithe bodies or entwined in turbans on the heads of leathery men, and brilliance in the warmth of girlfriendship – rejuvenated me.

We played chicken with sheep herders on winding roads, covered our bare bodies with dirty smocks to tour a stunningly carved Jain temple, lounged on cushioned marble beds like unsuspecting sacrificial lambs in a fiery sunset and dined by candle light at an ancient step well in the middle of an orchard.  Can it get more perfect than that?

Saturday morning we indulged in laziness and read on open air daybeds outside of our room.  Even the instant coffee served bedside tasted gourmet in this setting.

Later, we sat with village elders and shared poppy tea.  It is tradition on Divali to visit your neighbors.  In our village, we stayed in the feudal landowner’s property.  Male elders representing the various factions of village life (farmers, herders, merchants, etc…) sat en masse in the courtyard of the guesthouse and shared a pipe, ate sweets and drank festive tea.  It is tradition to sip the tea from the hand of one of the hosts.  It was quite a ritual of brewing and sipping.

There were no women, of course, but us – and being adventuresome, we sipped…. and sipped.  Everyone there was seemingly unfazed by our presence and our participation, but it still felt odd (mildly erotic?) to drink from the bare hand of a strange man.

We toured the village and paid our own respects along the way and bumped into sacred cows painted pink.

If you’re searching for the perfect blue, you just might find it in Rajasthan.   And if you don’t find it, the search itself may be satisfaction.

Take a look:

Silliness and serenity:

Our hotel:

Poppy tea:

And the photo that inspired the title of this blog – sans gothic window in the background, of course… but gothic none-the-less, for these villagers live much as they would have in the middle ages:

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And you can’t send a girlfriend home without a henna party.   Here’s a sampling of our tattoos.  Viv’s feet:

Kristi’s hands:Hannah’s back:

Our Ladies of Mehndi (henna):