Friday, February 29, 2008


Just to ensure you know exactly where we are.

Andhra Pradesh, often simply called "Andhra" by the people here, is a nice state. Telugu is the language, although many/most Muslims in Hyderabad do not speak it. Our driver Akbar does not speak Telugu, my Hindi teacher Abdul does not speak Telugu. Our servants speak only Telugu. So, it gets interesting....

InHyderabad, the people speak a special version of Hindi that is very informal (even base) and infused with Urdu. Hyderabadi Hindi is unique in India and, honestly, a bit of a source of amusement to speakers of pure Hindi. There have even been movies about Hyderabadi Hindi, often comedies.

Andhra is rocky and much of it, including where we live, is on the Deccan Plateau.

It is extremely hot here, often going above 100, and even 110, in April and May - the hottest months here in Andhra.

There is a segment of the state that is moving for independence, it is called the Telangana.

We like our adopted home state.

Thursday, February 28, 2008 not enough......

OK, we are about to expand our list of visited countries. We have a vacation planned in three weeks, it is to Singapore and Malaysia!

It is about getting some r+r in the first world and doing normal things like visit the zoo, go to a water park, eat in a place we can walk up to, drive through controlled traffic...... essentially - to be in a place where the humans and the livestock are not co-mingled like they are in India. ;-)

I have always found the Petronas Towers to be a great structure, I am eager to see it - it's in Kuala Lumpur.

Singapore is reputed to be very, very clean. That alone makes it one of the best places to visit after 7 months in India.

It should be a good trip, details to follow.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The world.....

This is a map of the places we have been as a family. We have visited 13% of the planet's countries.

Tara has been to the UK and Guatemala, I have not been to those places. We have all been to India, and all been in the US, of course.

I have the most countries, then Tara, and all three boys have only the US and India. I cannot believe they have never been to Canada, but I must remember that we're raising them pretty far from Canada both now and in Charlotte. Maybe we can shoot up to Quebec this summer and correct that. Visiting the US's neighbor to the north is a right of passage every American kid should have!

Also, the Caribbean is a must see. But with the Maldives and Sri Lanka so close by, those islands are distant places in our family's mind.....

This summer we are planning a stay in Europe for our layover on our flight back. I think Germany for three days sounds about right.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Internet still down.....

...on work laptop. - Byl

From Tara -

I have been reading more than ever here, in large part because I have so much more time on my hands. Lately, I have read "Eat, Pray, Love", "The Interpreter of Maladies", "Holy Cow", "A Thousand Splendid Suns", and "The Namesake".

A few of these books give tremendous insight into the Indian psyche, and others were just good reads. The humor that some of these books provide is refreshing, and in other cases they are tragic books.

Basically, it has been great reading as much as I have here in India.

It gives a certain weightiness to my interactions with life here, because all of these authors depict being brought out from their home country and being brought into a state where they must accept and interact with a new land and a new life - and find themselves in the process. This has helped me to grasp the change in myself since being here in India.

It's about seeing my life in parallel to stories of these authors, yet as an American that is silly, because I have so little in similar to the Afghan woman in "A Thousand Splendid Suns"........ but there are parallels, even if by different means. It is almost fraudulent to invite the comparison, in some ways.

It's nice.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A tug of war

I came home, knowing that I was running late for getting prepared for the wedding. Tara was dressed in a beautiful pink sari. It had embroidered flowers all over it, and was intricately wound around her body. She looked beautiful.

“It looks great,” I said as I walked by. I kissed her on both cheeks, an affectation we had picked up, but a fun one. Then I kissed her on the lips.

“You like it?” she asked.

“Yes, definitely. It looks really nice,” I told her.

It really was very beautiful. It was incongruous to have a white woman in a sari, yet it also looked very natural. Paradoxically, she looked both out of place and perfectly at home in a sari.

I walked toward the stairs and noticed that all of the boys were sitting in front of the TV dressed in khurtas and pyjama pants. Jonah ran up and screamed, “Daddy!” I was getting fewer of those every day with the aging of the boys. I grabbed him and held him. He was getting big and heavy, but I carried him up to my room. I placed him on the bed and proceeded to get out my clothing. I had a bright blue khurta and an ankle-length white stole that I would wear around my neck. I put on the pyjama pants that were worn underneath the khurta.

I walked downstairs and showed Tara my outfit. She gave her input that it looked nice. Then she said, “Now, for the shoes.” She went into the kitchen and got a bag. Out of the bag she pulled a white pair of silk-covered shoes that came to a point in the front. They were incredibly pointy, and the sides of the shoes were very low.

“There is no way I can wear these,” I remarked. Tara laughed. She got why I couldn’t put them on, but she also said, “The outfit won’t really work without them.” She was right. Oh, no. India had stripped me of so much that was comfortable and familiar to me. But this was simply too much. Silk, pointy shoes. I didn’t wear silk, pointy shoes. That wasn’t my thing. Not even here, even now. It was a very strange prospect, wearing shoes that looked as if they were for my grandmother. Everything in me was screaming not to put them on, yet there was a sound of far-off drumming somewhere in my psyche. India was beckoning me to put the shoes on. America was insisting that I not. A tug of war with my mind in the balance.

Then, I noticed a small man on my right shoulder. He was wearing a baseball cap, a flannel shirt, and jeans. He looked up at me, and I noticed a tooth pick sitting on the side of his mouth.

“Dude, tell me you aren’t putting those shoes on,” he said in a slow drawl. It was a Southern twang. Oh, no. I looked down at the shoes in my hand. Silk, pointy.

“You’re right, I cannot wear them,” I whispered to him.

“Alright, man. Good deal. Now, chuck ’em. You got plenty of sandal type things already, wear one of them. I have always been a bit bother by ‘em, too, but go for it. Better than those girl shoes.” He appeared to be chewing something. My suspicion was validated when he whipped out a pack of Red Man chewing tobacco and refreshed what he had been gnawing on.

I started to stand up and go for a new pair of shoes, but I noticed that on my left shoulder was a small Indian man. He was sitting there in a splendid silk outfit. And pointy shoes.

“Before you make up your mind, consider what I might have to say,” he said gently.

I stared at him for a few seconds.

“Fine, what?” I asked.

He started to make his case, with a slight Indian accent, but perfect English.

“These shoes are beautiful. Look at the embroidered silk along the sides. And look at your outfit. Such a blue lights up the heart, no? Such shoes belong with such an outfit. And we are going to prepare for a beautiful event. You just wear the shoes. Tonight you will see things such as you have never seen.” He peered across my neck onto the guy standing on my other shoulder. “And the likes such as this man would not understand. When the men of India wore shoes such as these, your ancestors were eating rocks in Scotland, without a written word. These shoes connect you more deeply with a life that you love – your Indian life.”

“But I don’t wear shoes like this,” I said quietly to the fellow on my left shoulder.

“And you don’t want to live in the Southern states back in America. And you don’t want to work in the corporate world. And you don’t want to move to India.” He stared at me with a knowing smile, knowing that my life had been a series of unexpected turns that arose out of my declarations of what I would not do.

“Again, man. Look at the shoes. It’s the kind of thing people wear in old folks homes.” These statements came from my right shoulder. I looked over at the American guy. He was sitting down now. His shoes were the standard athletic shoe of an American. They looked ok. I could wear my New Balance running shoes to the wedding, it would be ok…….

The guy on my left shoulder was staring up at me. He was sitting down on my shoulder, resting his back up against a fold in my khurta. He stared up at me with a smile. It seemed to be a knowing smile, and for a second I resented the look on his face. He seemed to know what I was going to do, and was now just passively watching me struggle. I felt like flicking him off of my shoulder. I reached my hand up and prepared to strike him with my cocked index finger. But he just sat there in the fold of my silk shirt, knowing…..

I put my hand down. I looked onto my right shoulder. “I am going to wear these,” I declared, holding the shoes up.

“Well, I’ll have to go, then. Ain’t no way I can see you do this to yourself. It just doesn’t seem right. I’ll check back with you tomorrow, or something…..” He turned and jumped off of my shoulder, hitting the ground somewhere out of sight with a sound of painful impact.

I put the shoes on. They glowed in the light of the room, showing up at me as I stared down at them. As I walked they made a click sound, as they were made with a small layer of wood at the bottom, shined to the level where you could see your face in them.

“You ready? Looks like you were just in the zone again. What were you thinking about?” Tara asked.

“Just thinking about these shoes and if I should wear them or not.”

“Oh, come on they look nice.” She yelled upstairs, “Come on, boys! Time to go.”

We all walked out the front of the house, down the marble stairs.

Click, click, click, click……

Out we went...........

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Internet is busted again.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


We had my official birthday party last night. We had about 35 of our friends over, and it was a great time. It was also fun to entertain a handful of fellow Bank associates here on an official visit. Bruce Lovvorn got off the plane from the US at about 1 am and 24 hours later he was on our porch asking everyone if they wanted another beer. The guy is inexhaustible!

We catered the event, and the group ended up doing a fine job.

It was a very memorable party. I believe my friend Kent took some pictures, so I will look for those soon and hopefully get them to you.

Such considerate people all around - I think between work, the family party and our extended party that about 100 people acknowledged my 40th. The number alone means nothing, but it serves to show that we have made really good connection in this amazing land, and I was sincerely touched by the kind gestures from all corners of our life here.

None of it would have happened had it not been for the planning and support of my love, thank you Tara!

Friday, February 22, 2008


Jonah gets out of the shower in the morning and huddles on the ground of our bathroom swaddled for a few minutes before he gets dressed. It's cute, heres a shot.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Yes, I have left the corral of the young - I am 40!

Thanks for the great birthday party to Tara and the boys.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


....talking to Danish and Norwegian girls at the pool. They are nice girls, and their languages are even mutually intelligible. Sigrun and Tom and daughters (Norway) can speak to Nikolai and Brigitte and daughters (Denmark) and they seem to follow each other quite well.

Who knew?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Brahmani Avenue

From a billboard near our house. This is an advertisement for a neighborhood they are building somewhere in Hyderabad.

Brahmans are the highest caste in Indian society. Hindu mythology says that this caste came from a god's mouth, so they have authority to teach. They are the priests. Think of them a Indic Levites.

In this day and age, their name evokes status, and they are essentially being invited into neighborhoods where their light-skinned wives can play tennis all day.

The old and the new, blended....

Monday, February 18, 2008

Near our home

....there is a temple. Here are a couple of the sights from around it. Believe it or not, sights such as this have become mundane to us.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Wedding video

From the wedding.

It's hard to see, but the bride was brought up to the altar for the wedding in a wooden flower-covered box that was carried by a team of men. Very old-worldish, even ancient-worldish, to my eyes. She came out and was resplendent in her colors. You will see, if you look closely, that she is helped out by a male and a female relative.

When I did the panoramic view, you can see Tara in her sari. You will also see that the women sat on one side of the wedding and the men on the other. The women are the colorful ones, the men were all wearing white.

The thousands of people that attended are family. Family ties here are at the clan and caste level. One knows ones second and third cousins, and members are all over and in every direction. It is a much more elaborate system than we have in the west now.

Again, this was a great experience.


For those of you looking for a chuckle - check out my shoes.

They are what you wear with the outfit I bought - I promise. Yes, I concede they are a bit hilarious in their own right.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Wedding footage

Flowers appear to be a huge part of Indian weddings. There were flowers all over this place last night. It was beautiful. Yes, every flower you see was real and fresh.

The ceremony itself was elaborate and we only stayed through the first hour of it. It goes on through the night and is meant for only the closest family at the end.

There were about 3,000 people sitting out in the chairs of this place.

You can see the colors and the ornate nature of the ceremony.

Being foreigners, we were welcomed to the front stage where we sat on a couch right next to the couple (!). It was very nice, but we did not expect it.

We were all in Indian clothing, and we ate with our fingers.

The actual wedding itself had to happen at 9:12 pm, as this is something that stems from astrological charts that figure into the wedding, the marriage itself, and apparently many other things.

Overall, a fascinating and very exotic exerience.

There is more to say, I'll write at greater length tomorrow.

Friday, February 15, 2008


... we went to our first Indian wedding tonight. It was really, really neat.

Tara bought a saree for the event, her first.

More tomorrow, we're tired.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Salaam e Ishq

We have discovered an aspect of India that is often not explored by Westerners, due to the language barrier. It is Bollywood - Hindi language movies. So far we have only watched "Dus", which means "Ten". This is an action film, the kind I like - terrorists, plot twists, defusing bombs, etc. It was ok. I would say that it is hard to connect with an Indian film that depicts a little a*s kicking. It was fun, though.

But the real core of Hindi cinema are love films. Not the kind we have in the US, at least not the kind we have now. They are very beautiful. The only one we have watched thus far is "Salaam e Ishq", which means "Peace to Love", I think. It is a play on Salaam e Alaiykum, an Islamic greeting. It was absolutely fantastic.

First thing you need to know about Hindi movies is that they are really, really long. Salaam e Ishq was almost four hours, and this is normal. They have intermission where you go get popcorn, discuss the cliff hanger that is going on, and refresh yourself. We watched ours on DVD, of course (subtitles are needed), but you could clearly see where the movie had the intermission - the first half ended with a guy getting slapped.

Next thing about these movies is that they are notoriously modest - there is no kissing. Many couples in the movie look like they are about to kiss, but they then fall into each others arms, or the man kisses the woman's forehead, or kisses a tear off of her cheek. It happens many times, but there are no actual kisses. Interestingly, despite this absence of physical intimacy, the movies are infused with love. The kind of love about which we are perhaps becoming a bit more cynical of in the US.

Here's what I mean.....

We have all seen "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang". We have all seen "The Sound of Music". They are almost exactly like Hindi movies, except they depict us, not Indians. In those movies we have innocent pictures of people who are sad due to the loss of a "someone", yet they are doing the best they can to raise the children they and this "someone" created. They have flaws and foibles, yet they love their children and are good people underneath it all. Then love intervenes and renders these fragile people vulnerable - in ways that tug at the heart and in ways that we can all relate to. In the end, the guy gets the girl, or the girl gets the guy - the poor inventor marries the heiress and kisses her in a mucky pond where they are standing, or the nun marries the affluent socialite and gives a shining mother to a wonderful group of forlorn children........ in both cases - a family is born. And it is all wonderfully interspersed with song and dance. Yes, life does not often look like that. Yes, the term "girl" in "the guy gets the girl" has been rendered offensive by the feminist movement, and yes, they are not inclusive movies because everyone is heterosexu..... you see what I mean? We have a series of thoughts that come in when we look at these older movies, yet - who really wants to see the world as it is for eight dollars? Escapism is not a flawed practice! As I get older, I think it is actually somewhat noble. Our hearts look for an elevated reality, for a different and better world - and as a believer in a different and better worls, I think it is actually entirely normal and healthy to seek a glimpse of that place.

I ask you - could such movies be made today? God forbid we have a remake of either.

Hindi films seem to acknowledge this same reality where love is the highest attainment of a human being. The characters are all beautiful, yet they are all flawed and in need of love. They are chasing the wrong things when the right things are doing everything they can to capture them. They are looking for ways to keep love at bay, yet love employs intent to get their attention. In Hindi cinema, love does not take "nahi" for an answer.

Salaam e Ishq is about six couples, all of whom are preventing love from taking ownership of their hearts. Their lives intertwine in ways that you don't see until the end, and everything gets set right. Love has conquered infidelity, self-absorption, racial and religious divisions, even amnesia. It was great!!

Another aspect of the Bollywood films are the dance and song scenes. These are a central feature of every movie - even Dus had songs and dances. Imagine Bruce Willis in "Die Harder" singing a song and dancing around between explosions. That was a bit odd, and that is best left to the love movies. But most Hindi movies are love movies, so it is congruous most of the time.

In response to the appaetite for this type of movie, films with a sad ending do not do well in India. "Casino Royale", where the heroine drowns to death, killed that film here. Despite all its merits, that's what people in India remember about that movie. Remember, this nation loves James Bond almost as much as I do.

If you came from another planet and saw a Hindi movie, you would think India was a nation of beige and white people. Only the lightest of the light become superstars here in India. An incredibly color conscious society, its aesthetics revolves around light skin. In this way, you get an incomplete picture of this brown and black nation of a billion.

It also helps one's Hindi to watch movies in Hindi, so I enjoyed that.

Overall, on this day of love, I declare that the world has two more Hindi movie fans - mai aur mera dil, Tara. Meri beevi bhi mera dil hai, wo mera tara hai, ek khoobsurat star.......

Happy Valentines Day to my love and beauty - Tara!! Aap mera pyaar hain......

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


There was a headline today that announced there are only 1,411 tigers left in India. This is down more than 60% from a decade ago.

There is a man who is over 90 years old who lives in Hyderabad. He was raised in the royal family, and he speaks to small groups about what life was like when he was younger. We have not met him, only heard about him. He keeps a museum in his house of the old way of things....

Anyway, he hunted tigers as a young man - in Banjara Hills, the section of town right next to us. Now, all houses.

The government is increasing the amount of land dedicated to tiger preservation. One can only hope it makes a difference - but the trend is not encouraging. One of the main caused of tigers being killed is for use in Chinese medicine, but habitat destruction is really the major cause.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Some insight for you

I have decided to get back into some photography, like I did when the blog was new. I have found it rewarding today. These pictures are from my walk to the gym this morning.

^ Neha's is next to the gym where we go, Latitudes. It is a clothing shop for women. It actually sells nice stuff, and is on one of the nicer stretches of road here in Hyderabad.

But the inconceivable is sometimes mundane here in India.

The building where Neha's is located is half torn down above the shop. Not this week, nor as of a few days ago and it will be torn down in a week or two - it is in a partial state of destruction and has been since we got here - six months ago tomorrow (!!).

^ Most buildings are torn down through the use of about twenty guys with sledge hammers. Just slamming away day and night - and then, apparently, with a lengthy respite. Look at this above - a new place being built next to a place that has also been in a state of partial destruction since our arrival. Looks like it was a nice place at one time...

^ Here is an aquarium store. Yes, the tanks in the place are pretty murky. Never been in there, but I have glanced in while walking by. Yick.

^ Here is our gym. It's four stories, really nice. Spas, salons, work out. A veritable oasis.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


....watching TV.

Saturday, February 9, 2008


Anita's sister is in town. Mohli and Padma's other daughter is visiting for the weekend. It's the first time we've met her, very sweet.

Just a regular commune here on the property.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Liam in Action

Liam had some sports oriented day at school. These are some shots from this day.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Pooja Room

We have completed the Christianization of our pooja room.

As stated in an earlier entry, most Indian rooms have a prayer room called a Pooja room. We have altered ours and it is now a Christian pooja room. Not that we pray in there.... it's actually kind of boring in the pooja room.

The Greek Orthodox icon is from the Greek Festival on East Blvd back in Charlotte, and the Jesus statue is actually somewhat old, we got it in an antique shop in Kerala.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

5 top things

Hi my name is Liam. During my experience in India I've noticed 5 things about it,

1- It's dirty and polluted.

2- It's unorganised and inconvenient.

3- It's exotic and pretty but at the same time disgusting.

4- Indian people are very spiritual as well as the country.

5- Trees are young here, Indian people cut down trees when they grow a certain age to build firewood.

Just to give you a flavor of what Liam is like, I asked him to write today's entry. - Byl

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


We had been in the house for about one week. Events were passing quickly. We had hired a cook, her name was Leena. She also spoke Telugu, Hindi, as well as English. She was a Catholic, and seemed able to cook well. On several grounds, we felt we had an affinity with her that was great and we were sure she would help. She had lived with a foreign family before, and even stayed with these people in Cyprus for a few years. She was a welcome addition to the family, and we were happy to have her. The idea was that I would be so busy that I would not have the time to cook, and she was also very inexpensive. Even though I loved to cook for Byl and the boys, I was going to see what it was like to leave the cooking to someone else. Also, our kitchen was filled with tools, utensils, and devices that I was unfamiliar with. So, it was just fine to leave it to someone who could navigate around that place.

It was hard adjusting. We were in a hard place, and we had a million things coming at us, emotionally, physically and in terms of setting up a whole new life. We had seen our new home, our new schools, a new work place, and our new city, and we were having a hard time thinking of it as home. Especially the house, we really felt we had seen a different place than this during our visit in May. We had a completely new life and we found that we had to tap into some pretty deep stuff, emotionally. And we had to lean on each other.

The kids really wanted watermelon. I bought one and left it in the kitchen. Later that day, the five of us sat at the dining room table and asked Leena to cut up the watermelon. She was in the kitchen preparing the night's dinner, which she did very early every day. She said she would cut up the watermelon and bring it to us. It was hard getting used to giving someone orders and having them obey them without question.

I said it with a smile, and had "please" mixed in with the request, but I was still asking someone else to cut up a watermelon for my husband, myself and our kids.

We heard the knife sink into the watermelon. The five of us were sitting around the table quietly, still not fully engaged with the new time zone. We were just starting to sleep through the night, but they were not good nights of sleep. So, a watermelon would be just right. She sunk it into the watermelon again. Only the second cut, so I considered how slowly people cut watermelons in India. Then I realized that was a ridiculous idea.

She walked out of the kitchen and said quietly, "It's spoiled."

We all just sat there. What do you do when a watermelon is spoiled? That's it, there was nothing to do.

"What does that mean?" asked Jonah.

"It's rotten, honey," I replied.

"No watermelon?" he asked.

"Not this one, sweetie." I told him. "It's yuckie."

His jaw dropped in shock. It was a weird reaction, but Jonah was very dramatic. Liam clicked his teeth in disappointment. But Aidan took it the worst. His bottom lip started to quiver. Not a mild tremor, but a big one. His eyes welled up. "I just wanted watermelon," he said,"that's all." His speech was halted like it does when he's really upset. Basically, he was talking through crying, but was holding back his tears with all he had.

He shot across the room and entered the back stairway, running up the stairs to his room. I got up from the table and ran after him. I entered the stairway and could hear him up at the top. I ran faster. I got to the top and ran in his room. He was lying face down on his bed, crying. Not the normal crying that comes from fighting with Liam or Jonah, but a kind of crying I had never seen before from Aidan. He was weeping with his whole body, letting out sobs. I sat down on the bed next to him. I started to cry, too.

"Hey, honey, are you ok?" I asked him.

He cried and yelled into his pillow, "Get out!"

"Sweetie, I just...."

He screamed louder, "Get out!!"

I started to rub his back. He flung his arm around backwards and hit
my arm. I rubbed his back again.

"Sit up, sweetheart," I said.


"Please? For mommie," I said again, tears streaming down my face.

He sat up, his face a swirl of tears, his eyes red. His blue eyes were electric due to the white part being so red. Poor Aidan was trying to inhale and it was coming through in bursts and gasps. It was the kind of cry I had not seen from him before.

"Honey, we'll get another watermelon," I told him, knowing full well that it was about much more than the watermelon. He leaned into me, and I picked him up and put him on my lap. Only a few more years of being able to do this, he was heavy.

"I hate India. Why did you you bring me here?" he said.

"Honey, you'll make friends. School starts next week."

"I don't want to go there. I want to go back to North Carolina." His declaration was pretty normal. I could admit to some of the same feelings myself. What had we done?

I held him tight onto my chest, and kissed his wild head of hair. He was so dear, I started to cry all harder.

"I hate it, I hate it , I hate it," he said.

"I know, sweety," I told him, as I hugged harder. There wasn't anything more to say, he just needed to let it out.

I walked downstairs about ten minutes later. Byl and the boys were sitting around the living area. Byl was watching cricket. Jonah was cutting up paper, he seemd to be able to do that all day. Liam was sitting at the table pulling his fingers, cracking his knuckles. He seemed to be able to do that all day, too.

Byl got up and walked over. "How is he?" he asked.

"He's okay, as okay as he's going to be for a while," I said.

Again, what had we done? I had brought the idea up of moving to India, so I suppose I had more to do with the situation than anyone.

I really, really hoped this would work out.

Monday, February 4, 2008

At Work

As I always say, I don't say a great deal about work in the blog. But there is a phenomenon that I have noticed that I must mention. It is pretty pervasive, and I have seen it for several years. But now I am living it, so it is impacting me a bit more directly - and getting to me a bit.

Today I was giving a presentation to a group of about eight associates. I was teaching them about some metrics that are used by the leadership back onshore and giving them an overview of how the data is gathered, what it means, why it matters - all for their enrichment. A very relaxed situation. I was simply looking to build some knowledge and depth over here on what happens back in the US - in other words, doing my job.

Here's the rub.

I asked various times the standard questions - "Is everyone clear?" "Any questions?" "Did that make sense?" "May I go on?" At each question, you expect a response. Something. A smile, a nod, a..... word. Anything. Yet they did nothing. At one point I said, "Guys, silence does not suffice as a yes. I need you to speak."

Eventually, they started to speak. Even a few offered questions and input, illustrating that they knew what was going on and they were learning something. But it took me getting testy a bit for that to happen. Additionally, a colleague was with me in the room who has lived in the US for many years - and he kept coaxing them to talk, telling them there was nothing to be afraid of.

I mention this to other colleagues who have lived outside of India, and they say it is a big problem they have heard of before.

It makes you wonder how children are treated in the schools here. Basically, a learning situation here, and even back onshore for folks from India, can often feel like it is a relatively intimidating event for these young folks.

Just an observation.....

Sunday, February 3, 2008

One day in August at the top of a temple....

Sincere thanks to all who have given positive feedback on my writing. Most recent I received positive reinforcement from Sarah Henderson (thanks!). I have been cranking out some stories, and have decided to write from Tara's perspective in the first person. It's kind of interesting. She says it doesn't sound like her, which is probably true. But I love her perspective on things, so I have made a few essays where she provies the eyes and the narrative. This essay is based upon the difficulties we had in adjusting when we first moved here. Hope you enjoy it.....

And, yes, the picture below is an actual shot of Birla Mandir during monsoon.


Our trip to Birla Mandir caused some more pain, this time with Liam. We had only been here about one week, and we decided to go to the place where we could see the city from on high. We decided to go to Birla Mandir, a large white marble Hindu temple on one of the highest points in Hyderabad.

We drove with Wajid. He seemed to care about us in addition to being a pretty diligent driver. We drove through the small streets in the section of the city directly below the temple. Byl and I had been there during our look-see visit in May, so we knew what to expect, but the boys had never been there. They were still not used to the sights and sounds of the city, so they all were responding in different ways to the amazing things we were driving by. Aidan and Jonah were in the back seat facing backwards playing a game to see who could count more goats than the other. This section of town made this a fun game - goats were everywhere. Some were foraging through the trash on the side of the street, while others marched in groups under the direction of a shepherd with a staff. Very ancient looking, these shepherds made us think of biblical images and reminded us how very far from home we were. Liam, on the other hand, was in the front seat just staring out of the window. His mind was growing. The age of thirteen was a unique one for us all, so we knew he was going through alot.

When we stopped at an intersection, the inevitable beggars came to the window, and since Liam was in the front seat, he got the majority of their attention. A few proceeded to notice that Byl was sitting right behind him, and they then migrated back to his window. But Liam was the first stop for almost all of them. He would simply look away.

As we drove, Byl lowered his window and gave one of them one hundred rupees, about two and half dollars. This must be a huge amount for these guys, because the recipient stared at it and yelled something to the others. All of a sudden, there was like five of them, and one was pounding on Liam's window, jumping up and down and laughing a little bit . Wajid beeped and waved over a police officer. The officer came over and started to hit the beggar in the head with the antennae of his walkie talkie. The guy bent over and scuttled away. Liam was shocked, as were we all. He turned to me and flashed me a look, basically one of fear. The traffic started moving again and we left that whole scene behind us, but Liam was kind of shaken up.

We could see the temple off in the distance, rising above the neighborhoods we were driving through. It was white and pretty big. As we turned the corner into the street below the temple, a police officer was there waving cars back. He needed us to turn around. Wajid rolled his window down and asked in Telugu what was going on (I think) and the officer responded that we simply needed to turn around and go up another way (I think). It's funny how much of a conversation you can follow when you don't know a word of a language.

We turned around and saw another way to go up, so we followed that road. We finally go within walking distance of the mandir and decided to get out and walk up. We got out of the car and started to walk. As happened so often, everyone in the area started staring at us.

“I hate this,” Liam said.

“What,” I asked.

“Everyone is staring at me. Haven’t they ever seen a white person before?”

“Just keep walking,” Byl said, having overheard Liam's comment. “Deal with it.”

Liam clicked his teeth, his way of saying, “Shut up, Dad.”

“Liam, they’re staring at all of us, just ignore it,” I said, hoping to avoid Liam and Byl getting into an argument here on the street.

We kept walking. Many of the people stared at us in passing, but some others pointed and whispered. Some of the young men laughed about something. It drove Liam crazy and he started to stare back in an exaggerated way, as if to say “I can stare, too!”

We arrived at the gate of the mandir and took our shoes off at the small shop at bottom where the sole business (no pun intended) was watching shoes. Our shoes were catalogued off and put in cubby holes. We walked barefoot toward the temple, and since it was monsoon season, it was cool and wet. Liam also seemed to fixate on all of the spit on the ground, so he was basically tip toe-ing up to the entrance of the temple. He kept making a sound in his throat like a hack, expressing his anguish in a new non-verbal way.

We got up to the entrance of the temple, and three guards were there. They were checking bags. They took my bag and gave it a search, what they were looking for I had no idea. We all stood there. People were coming down the steps and most people that walked past us gave us a curious glance and then kept going. But, inevitably, a few stopped and started to form the small audience around us that so often gathered. Liam was starting to get more testy with every passing minute.

We finally were found to be without weapons, or whatever it was that they were looking for. We started to walk up the steps. We were still not used to walking up the left side of steps (it is the same as the opposite traffic in India) so Byl and I started walking up the steps on the correct side, while all three boys started walking up into the people descending the stairs on the other side. Byl yelled out at them to come over to our side, which all three did in a pretty sloppy way, bumping into old women and everyone else on their side of the steps. Liam started saying, “Move!” to everyone around him. Just like the traffic in India, no one could seem to stop for anyone trying to cross, so the boys were trapped in a mass of people. They were pushing and jostling with the people in the crowd in a way that alarmed me. Finally, they made it over to where Byl and I were standing, on the other side of the wide stairs. Jonah and Aidan were laughing, but the experience made Liam even more angry than he already was. It wasn’t working out like we had hoped, but we could still go and have a nice walk in the temple and get a good view of the city.

We finally got to the top landing and followed the crowd. We assumed those people in the crowd knew where they were going. As we proceeded, most eyes were on us, some with relative disinterest, but others were fixated on us. A few people were starting to follow us. One asked Byl where we were from, and he responded “US”. They became more intrigued and a small group of boys started to follow us. They were about Liam’s age and they asked if we could have our picture taken with them. We said yes. This had happened before. It’s an odd phenomenon in India, but people ask to take their picture with foreigners, especially Americans. Something about the way we looked made us an irresistible addition to an Indian photo album. We stood at the edge of the temple with four Indian boys around us. I noticed out of the corner of my eyes that Liam was fuming. He was looking all around at the crowd milling throughout the temple. As soon as the picture was taken, we walked down the marble floor to the edge, where you had a great view of the city.

As we walked along to the temple grounds, we noticed how beautiful it was. The Birla family was one of the most wealthy in India, and this temple showed how much money they had. It was all white marble with beautiful columns and carvings of dancing Hindu gods and goddesses on every wall. It had various maze-like paths you could go through, and at one end there was a place where the Hindus walked in and prayed to a statue, all black with flowers on its neck. It was an impressive place. At one point, as we walked around, we noticed that there was a carving of Jesus teaching a crowd, and underneath this was the full text of the Beatitudes, which I thought was pretty neat. Byl gave the boys a brief speech about how this didn’t belong here or something like that. He was always a bit more uptight about these things than I was. I liked seeing it.

We walked along to the edge of the temple and got to the place where your view of Hyderabad was one of the most expansive that you could get. We stood there and a brown eagle flew by, almost close enough to touch. Aidan and Jonah were excited. Byl was staring off down into the city. In each direction there were different and unique things to see. Dirty, busy, amazing, with high hills here and there, all underneath grey monsoon clouds – our new home. We were all captivated for a few minutes, but it seemed like hours. All of a sudden, every mosque in the city started to wail, yelling out the afternoon call to prayer. It was at first just a few, but then a bunch of them started. And then more. Suddenly, you couldn’t hear anything except verses of Arabic being shouted throughout the city.

As we all stood there looking over the edge, I peaked over at Liam. He was actually facing backwards, back to the city. He was staring at the people staring at him. I walked over and asked how he was doing. His eyes were angry, and they had started to well up a little with tears. He was doing everything he could to hold them back. I hugged him and asked him to turn around to look at the city below. He did. I asked again, "How are you?”

“I hate it here,” he said, matter of factly.

I didn’t have a lot to say to him. If this was the case, it was what it was. And if it was going to change, it wasn’t going to happen in the next few minutes. I just rubbed his back and stood next to him.

“Is it the people staring at us,” I asked, knowing it was about that and a whole lot more.

“Yes, what’s wrong with them. They’re stupid, it’s like they’ve never seen someone like us before. I don’t stare at them. They’re idiots, and this place smells. I don’t want to be here and I hate Dad for bringing us. The people who beg at the car, they are disgusting. And the car sucks. Everything sucks here.”

“Honey, school will start soon and you’ll make friends and…”

“I had friends, Mom. I had Michael and Ben and other kids, and now I live HERE!” He held his hands out over Hyderabad. His voice was starting to get louder. I knew the number of people staring at us would only go up if he started to yell, and I knew Byl was going to get upset if Liam got much louder.

"Quiet, sweetheart. Liam, calm down.” He had started to turn around again, where there were some people staring at us. I knew we were getting into a pretty bad place, so I told him, “Liam, you have to stop. We’re all here together and we are all going to face the same things, so get yourself together.” I was talking through clenched teeth. If he was this upset, it always made me upset, too. And this move was my idea, after all. My frame of mind started to follow Liam's. I was pissed. We had come all this way and now he had to throw a fit. I wanted to scream.

Another eagle flew close by and Jonah screamed in amazement. Both Liam and I looked over at him. He was reaching up for the eagle. It looked like the eagle was almost close enough to scoop down and carry him away, it was really cool. We stood there and looked at him for a few seconds. "The eagles are coming, the eagles are coming!" he yelled with a British accent. I looked at Byl, puzzled. "Lord of the Rings," he said, smiling.

Aidan said, "It's during a battle scene." Aidan then shot a fake arrow from a fake bow into the air. He made great sound effects and somehow made a twang sound and a whoosh of an arrow all at once. I heard a laugh. I turned away from the three of them and looked back at Liam. He was laughing. He had a big smile on his face. I smiled, too.

We stood there for what seemed like an hour, just watching the eagles glide toward the temple and away from it. They would sweep down into the expanses of the city and back toward the temple and around the hills off in the distance. Who knew there would be this many eagles here? It was mesmerizing. We watched for a while longer, and then Liam asked if we could go. We did.

We turned around and walked back down to the base. After we got our shoes back and walked down the steps, Byl called Wajid on his mobile. As always, Wajid seemed to shoot out of nowhere with the van just moments after being called. He got out and held the door for Tara, always the gentleman.

"The mandir was good?" he asked.

"Yeah, very nice view," Byl replied.

I asked Liam, "Liam, how did you like it?"

"It was ok," he mumbled. That was about the best affirmation we could ever get out of him, so this was progress.

"Good," Wajid said.

We went back to the hotel.

I was upset that I kept thinking it, but my mind kept returning to this same sentence - I really hoped this would all work out.

Saturday, February 2, 2008


Flowers - one from Tara's small arrangement in the house, the other from a genetics research facility. Yet another from ICRISAT and another from the front of our house.

This is where the genetic research is happening - in the House of Arakis Genetics Resources lab. Named after one of the royal houses in one of my favorite books - Dune. Which means that a fellow geek has once this way come....

Friday, February 1, 2008

Local color - or lack thereof

Many Islamic women in Hyderabad cover their faces completely. They also dress completely in black. This is not entirrely uncommon in other places in India, but is somewhat uncommon in south India. For example, when we went to Kerala, the Islamic women there dressed in colored hijabs, even brightly colored ones with flowers and sequins. But Hyderabad is perhaps the most Islamic city in south India, and there is an increasing inflence from the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia.

We recently had a brunch where an Islamic family was seated near us, and many of our questions about these veils got answered. The wife lifted her black face covering to drink her juice, and she lifted it to eat her food. A fully black apparition of a woman lifting a veil so she could eat and drink. Note that she did not take it off, she simply lifted it a little bit.

It's honestly kind of menacing how the fundamentalist states like Saudi Arabia are changing the landscape of India.