Thursday, January 31, 2008

Flowers



The kids made this arrangement of flowers out on the patio. Pretty nice.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Navia



Navia is Chandramoli and Padma's daughter. She plays with Aidan and Jonah, but enoys Aidan the best. He is teaching her cricket. She has a sister in the village, but we don't see her often. Chandramoli and Padma live here with her and support their other daughter who is back with the grandparents in the countryside.

She is pretending to have a mobile phone, but she does not. Her father has one that he bought after we gave him a nice tip. So, our servants are now "wired".

Below is her school. She walks to it from our house.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Roofing - Hyderabad Style

The roof across the street is being replaced. It is an amazing thing to watch. The number of people working on the project and the way they interact - amazing.

A picture and video for you.



Monday, January 28, 2008

Anita




^ This is Anita. She does not work at our house, she works upstairs. She does come visit often, though. And she cooks for us every once in a while. She made aloo paratha the other day. It was a great addition to our dinner.

She has two daughters, both of whom work in a hospital. One stays on the property, sometimes.

Anita lives in a room at the back of the house. There are rooms under the house, and along the back.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Cleanin' Up

Chandramoli and Nandu were burning some garbage that had built up on the other side of the wall of our property. They throw things over there from time to time, so I guess they set everything back in order by creating a blaze to turn it all to ashes.

Chandramoli promptly put the fire out with a hose.

A video and a picture for you, of the events. Notice Jonah in the video.



Saturday, January 26, 2008

Nagesh




Nagesh works around our property. He only speaks Telugu and he does not understand my basic Hindi.

He smiles a great deal, but not in pictures. In India, it is very common to see people in pictures that are not smiling. There is something more honest about that, I suppose, yet they look sad as a result, at least to American eyes.

We are not sure if he was an orphan, or how exactly he came to be here. He seems not to be with full cognition (if you follow me), and we're not sure that he ever received schooling of any sort.

One of the things he does around here is gathers flowers in the morning for Mrs. Goel. I think she may put them in a "varpu" (pictured below, something I took in Bangalore's Leela Hotel), or uses them in a Hindu ritual. Whatever the intent is, it is a nice thing to see someone diligently searching for the best petals every morning - it
is a calming thing to see.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Champs

Aidan and Jonah took part in a fun day out at ICRISAT, where Liam goes to school. Jonah is an amazing runner, and gained 4 Gold Medals today. We're proud of him. Aidan made a strong effort and did well, too. He won the shot put.





Thursday, January 24, 2008

Jungle cruise




^ A jungle cruise for the boys. In a canoe pushed by an old man with a bamboo pole. Very neat.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Hyderabad's attraction




Hyderabad has one of the largest Buddha statues in the world, middle of Hussain Sagar lake. it was built to attract visitors from southeast Asia. Not sure if that worked, but we like seeing it, especially when we drive by at night.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bird Flu



An interesting thing - there is bird flu in India now, and they are culling chickens like mad up in West Bengal.

There were minor explosions in Kolkatta and Delhi last week.

Bad news does not have the same impact here. I hate to say it, but you get used to seeing and hearing tough things, so you just hear it and watch your immediate surroundings.

Notably, related to bird flu, we have chickens and roosters on our street, more or less feral.

I am working with a group of Bank associates here to develop a culture of fun and enjoyment in the organization, and they offered that it might be fun to take the team to Lumbhini Park - where the bombing happened when we first moved here. We talked it through, and then I asked if they felt any reservation about bringing a group to that park. They uniformly said "no". One guys said something interesting, "Everywhere is safe and everywhere is unsafe."

Monday, January 21, 2008

The encampment



It's Byl, I'm back. My love has a million things going on and cannot focus on the blog right now. She received very positive feedback on her updates, so we'll do it again, soon!

I was at the bus stop the other day and decided to get a bit closer to the encampment that I have written about before. It's at the end of our street. I have developed a much deeper understanding of what it is - it is a group of workers who work in the neighborhood and surrounding streets. They do not live her on a permamnent basis, but rather have homes outside of the city and come here to do work and send money home. It is akin to Mexicans coming to the US, but on a much more local scale. These people are from Andhra Pradesh itself.

So as not to appear too intrusive, I had to pretend I was taking pictures of surrounding trees, houses, etc. Then I quickly shot over to the stone wall which surrounds this camp and took this snapshot.

Quite amazing. Click on it for the larger version.

There is something unseemly about gawking at the living conditions of others, but it truly was interesting to get this closer look.

Contrast that to Mr. Agrawal's house, just two doors down from the encampment.





Or a few houses further down.



It does tend to make the debate inside of America about "the widening gap between rich and poor" look a bit different, at least to me.

Rangoli




^ Some rangoli is painted onto a driveway, preventing the need to make a new design every day, as Padma does in our house. This is our neighbor's rangoli, more or less permanent. They refreshed the colors about a month ago.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

In the antique store....



... we saw a face that reminded us of one of our kids. Which one would you guess?

I sense we're all able to guess this one. Despite the fact he is not a nineteenth century girl, this expression captures face as it looked between 1 and 6.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Bougainvillea





Beautiful bougainvillea around here lately. Remember to click on these and see the larger versions.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Lunch




This is my lunch group - actually one of a few that I attend.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

More from me....



Today I chaperoned Jonah's first date, ok, it was just a play-date. Her name is Kiran and she is from Seattle. We went to Baskin and Robbins for ice cream after school.



This is Padma and her daughter Navia. Padma is our maid. They live downstairs and sometimes join us in watching television. Navia has been on school break this week because of the harvest festival. She spends most of her day hanging around with us. It is like having a fourth child sometimes. I am noticing that she is picking up a lot of English words. At her age, in school, they don't teach any English and I am not sure if she is in the type of school that would offer that at any age really. So it is fun teaching her new words.

- Tara

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


One question I am asked frequently is about charity work. Am I involved with anything here? Well, I am one of the founding members of a group called Tea Cares. "Tea" is the name of the expat organization here in Hyderabad.. Basically we are seeking out and investigating organizations with the ultimate goal of putting together a reference list for other expats to use when looking for ways to give money or volunteer time.
This is us at our meeting yesterday. Not everyone was present. Soon we will start site visits. I am really looking forward to getting out and visiting these organization. This is good work with great people.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Today was a holiday in Hyderabad. Sankranti, it marks the beginning of the harvest festival. Most of the businesses in town are closed for the day and most Indian children have been out of school for most of the week. Therefore, for me the day was really quiet and uneventful. I did however vow not to go out of my way for a photo op to impress you and I did stay true to my word.
I decided to go for a stroll around the neighborhood and this is what I found only minutes from our house. It only cost me 200 rupees to make them leave me alone. And the mule peed a bucket load. A spot I remembered to sidestep on my way home. - Tara

Monday, January 14, 2008

A day in the life.

The question keeps being asked, "What is Tara doing?, How is she dealing with India?, How does she spend her day?". I now realize that the blog has been mostly about Byl and the boys or us as a family. Not much about Me. And it is Me that is experiencing India on a more intimate level than the rest of the family. I don't have a job. I don't go to school. I had to make my new life here from scratch so to speak. I also don't travel with a camera or write in this way often so I admit my experience has been somewhat of a mystery to most people. No, I am not hiding in my dark bedroom watching reruns of "Desperate Housewives" (although it is an option). My days are quite full actually. Much more than I thought they would be. Of course I spend a lot of time grocery shopping and running the usual errands, dry cleaners, post office, bank, etc. But as mundane as that sounds, these tasks require a hell of a lot of patience, endurance, humility, and of course a great sense of humor, (thank God I have that). I spend most of my day with Akbar, a young muslim man who drives me everywhere. I have learned to carry a glue stick to the post office to avoid having to dip my finger a common bowl of blue goo because the stamps are not self adhesive. I now know where I can find brussel sprouts and broccoli. As long as I get there early and can find my way through the crowd of hindu devotees exiting a nearby temple I will have the makings of a great meal. One that is not curry!!! I know to avoid the dry cleaners at lunch/nap time because although they will acknowledge that I have entered the shop they have no intention of interrupting their midday break (or simply putting up an "out to lunch" sign and locking the door). I now wear practical shoes.
I have met a lot of great women with whom I spend a lot of time. We share our joys and concerns. We share our funny stories. We give advice when asked. We play scrabble and have a book club. We all fret about the effect this whole experience will have on our children and our families as a whole. I am not alone. I am not lonely. I feel very safe. I feel very stimulated in ways I never thought I could.
As of tomorrow I will give you all a look into the day in the life of Tara. I will try to post photos of the people and things I encounter. I vow to keep it real, meaning I won't go out of my way to find some interesting photo op to impress you.
Then I will happily retreat into anonymity once again.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Saturday

From yesterday.



^ Aidan as a cricket player, his duds were his Christmas present.



^ Jonah stuck to a velcro wall at a birthday party.



^ The birthday party.



^ The birthday boy!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

At the window



For those of you back in the US, I want you to imagine having people come up to your car window to beg - multiple times each day. It is an interesting phenomenon that I have discussed before. More on it....

Seeing people who are in India for the first time experience this is interesting. It's almost universally traumatic. I have seen a man of more than 50 years look into the back seat where I was sitting and say, "Help" in an almost child-like voice. He spent a good part of the rest of the afternoon asking me who took care of this old woman, how could she have ended up like that, etc. This man, an extremely gentle and devout guy, was truly upset by it.

We were recently upset when Jonah declared, "I hate poor people." He said it very matter-of-factly. We spent time telling him that was a wrong thing to say, but to him, they are dirty, annoying, a bit frightening, and generally unlikeable. I cannot say I related to what he said and how he thinks underneath the comment, but I can understand full well how he could arrive at that conclusion through his simple lens of a six year old mind.

Tara sometimes carries "biscuits" (cookies) to give to the poor children, as money in many cases compounds their problems and contributes to their exploitation. Once recently, an old woman came to our car begging. I opened the window and gave her a small bag of cookies. The look on her face was of great disappointment, but it was a very funny look. Tara, I and the driver laughed spontaneously. Tara and I were quickly embarrassed by our reaction and stopped laughing. But, it was honestly very funny.

There is an extremely dark side to the begging culture - some have their arms chopped off as babies to ensure a greater income as a beggar, shocking the driving community into greater giving. It is routine to see people without one or both legs, without one or both arms, there is even one guy with his right leg draped over the back of his neck, completely useless. Many have bandages with fake blood smeared all over it on their heads. In response to this, your mind learns to accommodate it. It is surely a hardening of the heart, but you do get accustomed to them coming to the window, and you do learn to ignore them for the most part.

When they have a true item to sell, I do business with them. We have a device shaped like a tennis racket that, when charged, can be used to electrocute mosquitoes in the air. Got it on the street after the guy selling it gave a demo by sticking a nail into the electrified webbing of the device, causing sparks. We also purchased about ten Santa hats on the streets this Christmas season. And as I get more confident in my Hindi, I love to roll down the window and ask, "Kitna hai?" and respond to the elevated price that is asked of a foreigner, "Nahi, bahut ziyaada hai, mera dost. Best price kya hai?!" They get a kick out of it, as do I. Bartering done during the duration of a red light, smiles all around.

We have given money, but that is honestly not the best thing to do. The actual scene of the donation can get scary, and it perpetuates the system of begging. But I am sure we will, unwisely, give a few rupees again.....

Many of the begging people look like each other, they are sometimes an extended family. You get to know some of them by sight. We have even had discussions where Tara was explaining to me where something was, and she said, "...you take a left at the intersection where the guy with the leg is. The one with the leg on the neck."

Aidan, in characteristic fashion, has a soft heart for them. Sometimes he reminds us to buy something at the market for them.

Liam is bothered by most things, including those who beg from us.

I took the picture above, and it was an interesting moment. When I put my window down and took the picture, the man (seeking to sell us queue tips) and the woman (with sleeping baby she kept pointing to and gesturing to her mouth [my baby is hungry]) both smiled a little bit. The woman tried to hold it back. The guy was truly smiling, though.

It is amazing how deep and widespread the poverty here is. There is probably a great deal of waxing eloquently I could do about it. But I'll leave it at this - there is a great deal of it and it is sad, and perhaps even more sad is the fact we are very used to it. It's like seeing the sun in the sky or the water come out of the faucet - it's how things are.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Only in Cochin





Only in Cochin, by virtue of being a small island of Hebraism in India, could you see swastikas and the Star of David on the same street.

Again, they are not what you think....

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Internet

....down.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Kerala Dances









To an outsider, India looks monolithic. It is anything but. Indian is such a varied land that it is more useful to think of it as being like Europe than like a China. The people from the northeast look different than, eat different food than, speak a different language than, and generally are different than the people in south India. Someone in Srinigar in the north couldn't be more different than a northeasterner or a southerner. And within these three main regional categories, there are subtleties, dialects, religious nuances, different faiths, different castes. It is a vastly diverse country.

One state that is really different than any other states, perhaps with the one exception of its cousin Tamil Nadu, is Kerala. I have been there twice and the family has been there once - on the recent trip.

The food is fragrant and coconut flavoured. The countryside is green. The people are warm and friendly. And there is a unique set of dancing styles that are from Kerala specifically. One of the best known is kathakali, I have written about this many times. But we attended a show where various other styles were executed. I have not memorized the names, but I can assure you that they are beautiful, shocking, alluring and a variety of other things. Above are pictures of these dances.

You'll notice the picture at the top - it is of the full hour that we watch make up applied to the faces of the main kathakali dancers. The kids really enjoyed that.

There are a couple of videos, as well. One shows a dance between Kali and Krishna (Krishna is the guy in kathakali with the green face - always). The second is of the various facial expressions from one of the main characters of the dance we saw. It is a woman - although played by a man. Kathakali has the prohibition on women taking part that characterized Shakespeare's plays early on.



Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A Day at Golconda











We went to the local ancient fort, it was fun. It is named Golconda.

Not sure where he learned it, but Jonah thinks it is funny to flip the bird during pictures. It is actually hilarious, although we have scolded him. I asked him if I could hold him for some nice father-son photos, and look what I get.

Tara is pictured in her new shades, they cost her 5 bucks. ;-)

Monday, January 7, 2008

Video from Cochin



Eating a coconut is something that I like to do. Aidan seems not to share my enthusiasm.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Today




Out at ICRISAT, where we run on Saturdays, there is a unique set up. There is a place out in the middle of a field where a Hindu Temple, a masjid and a Catholic church are assembled on a property. It is for the workers, I have run back there several times, and it has got me thinking.....

_______________________________________

The run was hard, we only had a chance to do it once a week, and it makes for a hard run when you don't do it often. Today I was running without Liam, alone.

I arrived at the edge of the road that lead back to the places of worship for the field workers at ICRISAT. I decided to walk down the road. As I did, two green parrots flew overhead. They were bright. They flew to the old stone building that sits along the edge of the road. Dozens of them were at the top of the building. a loud and vibrant splash of green against the dull grey stones and the expansive blue sky. This was the one place where you could go in Hyderabad and see a vast expanse of sky, due to the fact that three thousand acres had been set aide for crop research. ICRISAT was an interesting place, a UN-funded facility where countries as different as Ethiopia and Mongolia would send researchers to study how to grow crops efficiently in a place with little rain.

Beautiful grounds.

Beyond the stone building were three buildings. One was a small Hindu temple that was built around an old tree. The tree shot out of the temple into the sky. Beyond it was a very small masjid, where perhaps as many as ten people could assemble and face Mecca for prayer five times a day. Beyond that was the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi. I had seen them before, but I decided to get a bit closer to them today.

I walked up to the temple. It was a basic pile of bricks with a huge tree shooting out of its midst. In it was a small altar where flowers and colored dust were spread around. A small room existed right next to it, probably for a holy man who came to live there now and again. Today, it was completely empty. I walked onto the temple and peaked into the altar area. There was a small statues of a sitting god or goddess, and marigolds and colored dust strewn around the front of it. The Puranas said that there were 330 million gods, more than enough to occupy a searching soul. These gods and goddesses existed in ways curiously like humanity. They had marriages, mergers, spats and wars, and even played practical jokes on each other as well as humanity. They were born, grew up, moved in the other-realm, as well as amongst humanity. One thing that seemed to occupy the followers of these gods and goddesses was a desire to receive an elevated status on this planet. In the wink of an eye, the deities could change your fortune. Without a doubt the arrival of prosperity was a sign that they were smiling on you and your kin. An influx of wealth and good fortune were the benefits to be gained from them. An ascetic would sometimes drop out of the pursuit of material wealth on this earth, and they were revered by Hindus. But the reverence was not so much as a sign that those who eschewed the pleasures of this world "got it" more than the others, but because they were so exceptional, so odd.

Means and ends blended together here, the simultaneous attachment to this world mixed in with a profound deference to the deities from the other world.

If it did not work this time, there would always be next time. Next time, and next time. Ad infinitum. Rebirth would take away the sting of failure.

Offer, receive, benefit, watch the end and not the means......

I walked out and toward the masjid. Empty. Arabesque. I knew which way it faced. My love had an uncanny ability to know north, south, east and west. I needed this masjid to know where I was pointed. I had always had a poor sense of direction.

I walked into the masjid. I kept my running shoes on. I was one who followed the Trinitarian heresy, in the eyes of the Umma an infidel who would be crushed in the Final Day by the returning Issa, their Jesus whom I did not understand correctly. The shoes and the faith both prohibited me from legitimate entry, but there was no matawain to escort me out of the masjid, so I walked in. There was some Arabic script on the wall at the front. It almost surely declared the shahada, "la illaha ilallah, wa muhamadan rasul allah." Only allah is worthy of praise, and Mohammed is allah's prophet. A declaration of certainty that gave rise to strict laws of who was living in their sin, and what needed to be done with them. Find the behavioral cancer of sin and cut it out. Thief - take the hand. Adulterer - kill. Blasphemer - take the tongue.

Take what was heard in the whispers in Mohammed's ear and declare strict punishment for violation. As all dwelled in sin, ensure that the powerful had stones and could cast them first, and publicly.

Define and conquer. Place your face on the ground. Watch yourself, and know that you'll be watched.

I left the masjid and walked toward the Church of St. Francis. Pictures of the man on the front, surrounded by animals. The door was unlocked, the first time for that. I opened the door. The church could seat only about fifty people. Small. Light came through the window of colored glass and cast beautiful shades around the sanctuary. There was an altar at the front, covered with books and papers. They were in English. They stated what was to be said, by whom and when. The window at the front of the church had St. Francis. Perhaps he was to be prayed for when your pet was ill. There was another saint for times when you needed help to gain some benefit to your business. Another saint for help with love. And one for selling your house. One more for finding things you have lost.

What happened here was control by Rome. An edifice of unreal splendor, I had been there. The current Pope seemed to have a bright mind. The prior Pope was a good man, helped defeat communism. There were two Popes way back when, weren't there? They were fighting for the keys, a spat amongst the infallible. I think I learned that there were papal armies in centuries past. That had surprised me. Everyone else in the class did not utter a word, just reconciled to the fact that the Popes "were getting theirs" in this world.

Arrive here at the proscribed time, let the man in the front say something, you say something in return. Focus on This, speak to That. Salvation would follow, assuming you were obedient to the teachings of the Fathers.

Purgatory. What exactly was that, again? Whatever.....

Outside of the window I could see a field. Empty of any building. It seemed that i had seen everything the grounds had to offer. But i was being called to the field. i wanted to stand there with nothing for a bit.

I stepped off of the steps of the church and i walked out onto the grass. I turned away from the three buildings. The open field was colored with greens and yellows, grasses that were in various phases of growing and dying. As I walked over to the empty field, I remembered a verse from Psalm 90, "....You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning - though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered." The grass blew in the wind, shifting to the right, and then to the left. Pure submission to the wind and the sun. Water was provided graciously at certain times of the year, it was absent in others. With acres upon acres of canals built by human hands, here was a small field that flourished through being what it was asked to be - a field of grasses. I considered that perhaps we were to be like the grass - being what we are and receiving the benefits of pliable submission. We would have water when water was needed, we would have food when food was needed. "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?"

Why worry about the rest, i thought. I had been taught convincingly that whatever I declared I would not do, i did. The fact that i was here in India proved that i knew better than to plan for myself and my family from this time forward.

Wind, sun, water, grass. That was the only lesson i needed on this property. As the wind blows, bend. As the water is offered, drink. As the sun rises, take of what is given freely. The canals would be dug in my midst, but perhaps the greatest act of Submission i could give was to pull up my roots and move to the open fields. Or perhaps the digging around my roots by Another had been going on for the duration, gently unearthing me while I declared my autonomy. A Gentle Hand was digging with gentle requests for my consent. What is it that i read, "free will is a prerequisite of authentic love."? I am not sure that i can even understand that. When I first read it, I was sure I was now armed with a new point that would impress others in discussion and debate. Now it simply served to remind me of how i was being dug up, and that the Choice of the Field was before me.

I looked over my shoulder. Three buildings and three billion varied believers stood behind me. I had been in the place where I needed to be anchored by a tree, where the world shot up through my faith. I once needed to be held onto this earth, too. I also knew the impulse to have right and wrong defined, and work to ensure that I was held up as one of the Good. I could, from that place, judge others. Haughty enough to attempt humility, misguided enough to judge what was only God's to judge. I had also seen the church universal, filled with its proscriptions, controls, rituals, and hierarchies. I was from the protesting splinter. We often shared the Roman impulse for control.

Now they all sat behind me. i was faced with a living Field where the true example had been declared by something that could not utter a word to me, yet the grasses shouted Truth.

Love.

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal."

The true gift was found in an empty grave. It continues to be declared. Even grass would act as testimony to this. Silent, loud Fields of Grace.

Yes, dig me up.

Amen.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Santa




Children in Cochin are discouraged from begging, so they become creative. These didn't seem like true street kids, so I am not sure what their deal was. Anyway, they asked us to pay them to take a picture with Santa Claus. I offered Liam up and insisted that they join him.

Here's the snap of this.

Hilarious!