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Moving: Mortal Dread!

We’re in the middle of moving hell – surrounded by boxes in our old apartment and greeted by piles of homeless items in our new place.  The movers come tomorrow to pack-out the big stuff.  I can’t find my deodorant, the kids’ medical records (school says I need to update their shots), and most important, the corkscrew.

Lala reminds me daily that she doesn’t want to move, that she hates the new house.  “Mortal Dread” she used to say to me when she was cutest three-year old to walk this earth.  It was a line she repeated from her favorite book, Miss Spider’s Tea Party.  These days she seems to live in mortal dread of everything. It’s a hormone-induced pubescent call to arms against the adult world, I think.

George, on the other hand, is embracing this move with great enthusiasm.  He’s a loving yet mildly unsentimental child.

Eddie is sad (as we all are… ) about leaving Julie and Penny, our local street puppies.  They are defacto pets and committed as we have been to their well-being these last two years, we know that we can’t take them with us because the street dogs in the new neighborhood will devour them.

Every block in Delhi has its dog.

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I have accepted a part-time teaching job.  (There are no part-time jobs, you say?)  I won’t go into details until I get a better idea of the challenges I face when I start next week.   There will be plenty to share of this new adventure… all in good time.

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And finally, worth mentioning in the news:   Anna Hazare broke his 12-day fast yesterday with a sip of coconut water.  The Gandhian and social activist has rallied the nation these past few weeks with his anti-corruption campaign.  Hazare wants the government to create an independent committee to investigate government corruption.  He ended his fast when Parliament agreed to a “morally binding” commitment to pass an anti-corruption bill this session.

Protestors hit the streets across India to support Hazare’s hunger strike.

I don’t have a problem with a hunger strike as a form of protest.  (That’s part of the debate here.)  But it bothers me that it takes a single martyr to get the Indian government to listen to tens of thousands.   Lots of people scream for better governance but no one listens.   Even more – the poor and disenfranchised – quietly suffer the indignities of corruption.

Corruption is systemic and normalized in India.  Critics don’t trust that an investigative committee won’t become tainted as well.  I wish I had a better sense of whether this is an important moment.   Many seem to think it is because Hazare’s campaign galvanized a historically quiet minority:  the Indian middle class.

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Updates in photos.

That’s my mother in front at the barre last week.  We went to her 50-year Royal Ballet School Reunion at White Lodge in Richmond Park.

The memorial to the victims of the 2005 London subway bombings.  I passed it on one of my runs in Hyde Park:

Mom hamming it up in the dressing room at the store where Kate Middleton is rumored to have worked.  We both bought the dress!

Me in front of Buckingham Palace.  Can’t remember what I said to make the guard laugh.  Jim has always said I’d flirt with a flea if I could…

LOVED the Elgin Marbles:  (Now called the Parthenon Marbles…):

And to wrap it up, dinner with friends upon my return from London.  (Notice the dress, mom…)  Daddy was happy to have me back.  He did a great job juggling the kids, the impending move, and the crazy Gandhian who had him writing stories every day.  The village kicked-in too… thank you, Kristi!

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The Desi Diaspora

Just a quick note this week to say that I’m in London.

I have a message for the city from one of my fellow travelers on Jet Airways Flight 122 from New Delhi:  “London is the third world.”

This sentiment comes from an Indian gentleman who stood with me for over two hours in immigration when we arrived at Heathrow.   There were only four immigration officers working last night in the “other passport holders” queue. Most everyone in line was dark-skinned.  Several flights from Africa, as well as ours from India, arrived at the same time.

It was a miserable scene:  Kids crying, exhausted passengers pushed to their travel limits.  Shame on you, London for not having more immigration officers on duty.  You could have moved a few over from the “British Passport Holders” side.  You had four officers over there as well and no one waiting in line.

Hmm….

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On my run in Hyde Park this morning I stopped at the Albert Memorial and found this lovely carving titled “Asia”.   My guess is that it’s a tribute to the Victorian colonial presence in the region.  (?)

I’ve been in London less than 24 hours and I’ve chatted-up two Indian women and a man from Pakistan:

Kavita, a make-up assistant in Harrods, tried to help me find my favorite mascara.  (Blinc….  fabulous stuff, ladies!  Sadly, Harrods doesn’t carry it. )

Kavita’s family is from Gujarat, the Indian state famously known as Mahatma Gandhi’s home.  However, Kavita grew up in Africa – I can’t remember which country… South Africa?  Nigeria?  Kenya?  Many Indians left after partition in 1947 – fleeing to British colonies.

Navinda, a lovely lady from north India, works in a beautiful boutique in South Kensington.  I stopped-in to ask about a black-and-white dress hanging in the window.   Sigh… it costs 300-pounds.  (Why am I always attracted to the untouchable?)

Navinda is getting married in February in Lucknow, her home town.  I invited her to stay with me in Delhi – in turn, she invited me to her wedding.  This is the way things happen in my life… I’m betting that I will be at that wedding.  But NOT in the dress, sadly.

Zafar, a muslim from Punjab, sold me a USB cable to download photos.  I had forgotten to bring mine to London so I popped down the street to a local camera shop.   Zafar has been in London for nearly 40 years but he returns often to his home in Lahore – a city that ended up in Pakistan after partition.

One day in London, three familiar faces, and decades of the Desi diaspora…

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Running Is My Guru

I met my first Guru this week.

He was everything I expected of a Guru on first-meeting:   He had long-gray, untamed hair;  He wore swaths of fabric wrapped around his body;  He was charming, perhaps even beguiling;  and notably articulate.

Jim and I met Sadhguru at the home of a neighbor.  The neighbor is a friend and new disciple of Sadhguru, a “yogi and profound mystic” as he is described in his own literature.

We sat in the living room with about 15 other guests and family members.  There was a powerful corporate lawyer, a television executive and high court judge present.  Sadhguru held salon, of sorts, sitting in a chair at the top of the room, the rest of us fanned out from him.  It was interesting to watch how some people clearly revered Sadhguru, bowing and reaching for the ground near his feet when he entered the room.  One woman was tearing.  We sat with him for 90 minutes, chatting about everything from the state of the mind, desire, the need to believe in God, the search, the search, search.

What is a Guru?  A guru, or god-man,  is a spiritual teacher.  Gurus tackle matters of the earthly mind with the goal of helping their disciples reach some level of enlightenment.  Followers are devoted to the divine nature of the guru who leads them through this process.

Some gurus are spiritual snake-oil salesmen;  Some are genuine sages.

Gurus might have a religious retreat or “ashram” where their followers go for short or extended stays.  I have a friend who grew up on an ashram in south India.

I have another friend who takes her two elementary-age sons to an ashram twice a year. For two days they sit in a large open space with hundreds of other people and pray or meditate for eight hours.  The boys may not be focused on prayer but they have learned to sit and stay quiet and focus on something – a shoelace, a penny, or patterns of dust on the floor.

India has more Gurus than there are breakfasts in a year.   I wonder whether gurus are a natural off-spring of Hinduism, which has hundreds, maybe thousands of Gods and a less collective nature of worship.   Unlike Christianity, or Judaism or Islam, Hindus don’t meet regularly in a congregation for communal prayer and reflection with a leader who facilitates a greater understanding of faith and God.  Instead, Hindus worship privately to Hindu Gods of their choice.  They may have shrines in their home where they pray and make offerings, or they may go to a temple.   Hindu priests are on hand at the temple to assist prayer.  Temples celebrate specific gods, such as Delhi’s Hanuman Mandir (monkey temple) , or Birla Temple (Lord Vishnu) or Chattapur Temple ( the Goddess Durga).  Large prayer-offerings, or pujas, are held at temples on special occasions.

So why the Guru?  My theory:  Hindu priests speak to the Gods.  Gurus speak to people.

I have a mild understanding of Sadhguru’s message after our meeting:  one needs to understand the self to be truly happy and to fully experience all dimensions of life.

And apparently, you need a Guru to lead the way.

Me?  I follow my own path – and I run on it.

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It’s monsoon season… cooler, stickier, and greener:

With the monsoon comes the heavenly smell of jasmine and frangipani.  There’s a path in Nehru park that winds through a field of frangipanis.  The rain knocks the flowers to the ground and scatters them everywhere.  When I run through it the floral bouquet sends me swooning:

Frangipani shading Nek Chand statues at school:

We’re moving to a  new house at the end of the month.  This is our tinky-winky colored dining room:

Our new garden.  Can you spot Aslan?

And the other side of housing:  The white building under construction is new central government housing for federal employees.  The construction workers and their families, employed by a contractor for the government, live in the metal shacks.

Me and the Mystic:

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Home At Last! (or broke, tired and grumpy as Jim has suggested I name this post…)

A few weeks ago in New York City, I hopped in a taxi near the NYT corporate apartment in midtown to meet Jim for dinner in Greenwich Village.  As I settled in for the ride, I noticed that my driver was wearing a Sikh turban.  I asked him if he was from Punjab, an area in north India where many Sikhs live.   His eyes stared at me for a long second in the rear view mirror before they softened. He was clearly unaccustomed to such a question.  “Yes!” he answered with a smile.

I told him that I live in Delhi and that my husband and I know several Sikh drivers.  One of them, Jaswinder, drives Jim home from work  everyday.  Sikh taxi  drivers in Delhi are friendlier and less likely to gawk at my non-sari clad figure or to steal lascivious stares.  Sikhs aren’t bound by caste or gender differences – they consider women equal to men and worthy of participating in all realms of society.

We chatted about India and  life as an immigrant in New York.  He told me that Americans don’t understand his culture – most people think his turban is a sign of Islam and that he is muslim.  He said this misunderstanding was tough to navigate.

He wasn’t my only Indian taxi driver in New York.  I had many – all Sikh.  Again, I surprised one female driver with the Punjab question.  I could tell right away that she was Sikh:  her telling long hair and beautiful smile and gentle demeanor were all familiar to me.  She moved to New York five years ago and every day she prays to a live picture of the Golden Temple broadcast on cable TV.   The temple in Amritsar, an Indian city on the Pakistan border is the most sacred Sikh building and it rivals the Taj Mahal in the number of annual visitors.  While talking to her, my brain leapt to a faded memory of the word “golden” and to this famous last line:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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We are back in Delhi, toasted brown by the seaside sun, exhausted from six weeks on the road, and sated with the company of family and friends.  Thank you Rosie for taking care of my kids while I stole a few days to myself.  Mom, thanks for going out of your way to fly to us.   Here’s a taste of our travels:

Belle France!


Fishing on the Gambler, Point Pleasant, New Jersey:

My brother, Alec… Uncle Extraordinaire:

With Grandmom, Barbara and Vlad:

Sauciness in New York:

And Sweetness:

Beachside:


An old friend with new puppies:

And Jimmy, going to work on his first day back: