Sunday, August 31, 2008

Back from Goa

^ The Andhra Pradesh countryside from a few thousand feet.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


You won't hear me complain about Goa - it is a fantastic place, when it is sunny. I say that because my first trip to Goa was during a rainy time and that reduced the pleasure principle of Goa. But this time was fantastic. I stayed at the Taj Fort Aguada Resort, for any intrepid travelers who want a reference. A really nice place, despite the ubiquitous mildew that infests Goa.

^ On the way into Goa from the airport, we stopped for samosas and chai. I figured if I could eat this and had no issues, I was really broken in -- glad to report, no issues.

^ Beautiful snap.

^ Here I am with a few of the many Bank folks assembled for the weekend of sun, work and fun.

^ Check out the view from the resort - apparently a few years back a ship was stranded right off of the coast and they aren't sure what to do with it. It is just sitting there, adding to the ambience and mystery that is Goa.

^ On the way home from the airport, I took a photo of a bunch of guys driving a Ganesh statue around. Wednesday begins the Ganesh Chaturti festivities, which culminate in Ganesh statues being immersed in bodies of water.

Friday, August 29, 2008

And then....

I got a little negative in the blog yesterday (for all of the right reasons, I assure you!). But, I have always said India will win you back when you need Her to.

Tara is sitting up in the executive lounge of the Marriott, all of the kids were asleep downstairs in the room - and she was just chilling out and enjoying herself. She's feeling good. We talked over the phone, because.....

I am in Goa.

What a place! Like Hawaii or the Carribean, but it's India and there are palms everywhere and the Arabian Sea was tempestuous today and all was green and beautiful and breezy and the sun was warm. Really nice.

Earlier in the day Tara called me and said that she was getting the new house in order and all was falling into place. At that time, she had no idea where the kids were, as they "were out playing in the neighborhood". Haven't heard that in a while, nice.

Love to all - good night.

Thursday, August 28, 2008



There are few things that reinvigorate one's prayer life like a choppy flight over the Maharashtran countryside.

That suuuuucked!

Anyway, the move is going forth and filled with intrigue - here in India, one does not disappear quietly from a place without everyone seeking some advantage - our servants have been forbidden from coming with us, the landlady is contesting returning the security deposit from the Bank, and the new landlord has taken the plasma screen from the new place because he wanted to watch it in his house before September 1st.

People pulled this kind of **** when we moved here, and we were confused and exceedingly polite and then stunned. Now we have learned how to laugh at it a bit and, when necessary, push back in a way that is not at all what we would have to do (or choose to do) in the US. It is a bit sad to have one's manners coarsened to this level, but when in Rome.... one inevitably learns a bit of Latin.

Last night in the castle!

This is a bit of a different castle, because the wicked queen lives in the tower and the good queen is downstairs - and leaving.

If you are one of the people that reads the blog to ensure we are safe and ok..... we're just fine. No worries. Just getting through it all with the Gentle Hand and a smile.

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was.....

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Boxes are being packed. It's happening! Moving this weekend.

I will be in Goa at a work offsite over the weekend, and I am in Mumbai now.

My love will be doing this whole thing without me. She is truly resilient and splendid.

Whisper Valley - hum jaldi ayenge!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Here I am in a suit - a rare glimpse into my worklife in India, which I usually keep off of the blog.

It's sort of like seeing a snow leopard, no?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sunset in Mumbai

OK, you need to feel some of the serenity that I just felt. Have you ever seen a beautiful sunset in India? If no, here's your chance. And this was a monsoon sunset in Mumbai - a special treat.

Here's how - look at the top photo for about five minutes. Go to the next one. Repeat until you are at the bottom.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Aidan's Festivities

Aidan's birthday party was a good time.

We brought him and a gaggle of kids to the viewing room at Cinema Paradiso. They chose Planet of the Apes. And there are photos of the cake cutting, too.

Happy birthday, Yeti!

^ The viewing room.

^ Smiles all around.

^ The departure from the movie theater.

^ Cake.

^ Tara and I being fed cake by Sucelia.

^ Later on that night the Gangadhars came over, and Tara borrowed Indu's ample hair for a temporary wig. Awesome!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Did she call my Hindi "child-like"?

An article from The Hindu about me.

Child-like. Child-like. Not sure how that sits with me. ;-)

Friday, August 22, 2008


As you can see, we took the plunge and bought some of the roasted corn on the way to parent's night at the school. It was actually really good and we enjoyed it very much. They rubbed it with salt and lime, a great way to enjoy corn.

I think it is called "goota".

They roast the corn on open embers and wave a bamboo-frond fan to stoke the flames.

You can see the one guy who wanted some pictures with me. We took the first as he admired me, but then he insisted we do a pose with our car in the background. Now remember, he didn't use *his* camera, he used *our* camera for this shot that he felt so strongly about. Little did he know that his face would be on the world wide web. Nice guy.

Then we were spirited away in the car, enjoying this treat.

Reports of radical gastritis may follow....

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A New Threshold

Alright, Tara is going to cross a threshold tomorrow - she is going to buy the corn that they roast on the street. We habitually drink coconuts off of the street, and buy most of our bananas and mangoes off of the street - and this time of year, the corn roasters are everywhere.

She'll tell you how it goes.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


I started tabla lessons yesterday. Should be interesting..... My teacher says tabla is a language. Seemed a bit of an obscure comment until he started speaking it.

It's hard to describe, I'll give a lengthier update another time.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

First day of school

School started today.....

Jonah is at a great stage of life. He starts to think about Christmas in July. He fell asleep last night in full elf regalia. And if we have a son who can look like an elf, he is it.

Liam started the day with a healthy dose of angst. We think that we remember the age of fourteen being tough - he seems to validate our memories.

Here is Mohli opening the gate for us, as often featured in my writing. Check out my love - she is really going native.

The littler ones, perfectly excited about school starting......

I requested them to turn toward me for another snap -

- part of the rationale for that camera angle was to juxtapose them to the migrant worker woman starting her morning fire. The "untouchable village", as I named it earlier (perhaps incorrectly) has spread out onto the street. A man and woman have created a home at the base of a tree on Road 23.

Monday, August 18, 2008

From the weekend

Pictures from Sunday brunch at The Marriott. Last weekend was when the remainder of our friends returned to India, so it was nice to see everyone.

We have a tortoise in the front yard, a very big attraction.


Painted face.

Liam playing the role of estranged teenager.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


I got off the bus about a half mile before uptown. The ride on the bus had been as I remembered rides on the bus before we left - nice, quiet, a chance to read the BlackBerry or sleep on the way into work. In some ways, being a Charlotte mass transit user had prepared me for having a dedicated driver in India, although it is a very different thing sharing your driver with forty other people.

As I walked past the Charlotte courthouse, I reflected back onto what had struck me as I had stepped onto the bus that morning. It was mostly made up of the same people as last year, prior to my departure. If I am not mistaken, many of them were in the same seat that they were in before we left for India. It was – a little unsettling. I am not sure why I would have predicted some change among the people on the bus after a mere year. I myself had been riding the buses for nine years, so I myself had played the part of immovable fixture many times over. I rode Bus 19 for five years, then I rode on bus 45X for a subsequent four years. I got on the bus every day, and rode into the same cityscape, following a generally similar day at the office, got back on the same bus and punctuated my day with some variable activity with the family. So, a year later, it made perfect sense that the people on the bus would be the same. So much had changed for me, but it was wrong to extrapolate that onto the riders of 45x. They were the picture of stability in the midst of the whirlwind of change that we were experiencing.

I walked up the hill into uptown Charlotte, descending into the skyscraper jungle. Cars were shooting into town past me, cars of a prosperous class in a prosperous city. BMW, Mercedes, an occasional Porsche. People were walking on the sidewalks, but it would be a good hour before the streets were really teeming with the flocks of white collar birds. There were unique waves of arrival into uptown Charlotte and I liked being in the second wave. I would get into the office around 7:30 am, and at that time there were always a few people already online and working. Then came the 8:15 crowd, followed by the 8:45 wave. The 9:00 am crowd was a deluge, and included all of the Indian contractors, most of whom appeared to commute together. The 9:45 crowd was a somewhat dejected grouping of individuals, largely made up of those who would fall in the next round of corporate cullings. I made it a habit of getting in somewhat early. A Second Wave Guy.

As I walked up onto the main thoroughfare, Tryon Street, perhaps the most prosperous stretch of real estate south of the Mason Dixon Line, I caught a glimpse of a place that I dropped into about twice a week. It was part of the routine in my prior life, where I would give myself a morning treat once or twice a week. I decided that I would do the same this morning. Dean and Deluca. Home of the Morning Glory muffin and great coffee that didn't taste charcoal-burnt-a-la-Starbucks.

I opened the door to the place in search of coffee and a muffin.

I walked down the marble steps onto the driveway. As it was monsoon, I walked very slowly. Our first monsoon had taught me caution, as I had already several times slammed my body onto slick marble around our home, and my ribs this morning were begging for caution. The steps into the driveway had various flowers cascading down the side, and, despite the rain, they gave off a beautiful set of fragrances, a combination of musky citrus and sweet perfumes, all overlaid with the sensation of heavy moisture. The moisture made you sniff harder than usual. India was a mixture of some of the most beautiful smells on earth co-mingled with the absolute worst smells on earth, and the two were often only a few feet apart. This segment of the stairs was a guaranteed good smell every time. It wished me a good day as I left in the mornings, and welcoming me home when I came back in the evenings.

As soon as Mohli saw me walking down the steps onto the driveway, he ran up with an umbrella. He must have thought we were brilliant idiots. He knew that we were capable of producing a life so very different from the one that he and Padma and Navia knew and lived, yet he also saw that we were never smart enough to provide our own umbrellas. When he handed me the umbrella, the first impulse I had was to hold it over both of us and continue walking, but he would not have settled under the umbrella with me. Everything in his India psyche had been instilled with the idea that he should not share the umbrella with a shaab, a sir. It was a bit sad, but I immediately checked my impulse and continued to walk onward. I was not here to overhaul their ways.

He opened the gate for me.

Akbar's car was there on the street. Good. Some days he was late. But his car was not running, which means he had not seen me. I knocked on the tinted windows and gave him a second. A startled chicken shot out from underneath the car, squawking and running away at a speed to which an obese American chicken could not even aspire. My heart beat from the fright of it. I turned back to the tinted window. I knew Akbar was inside the car. I knocked a second time, as I had not heard the rustle inside the car that I expected. After the second knock, I heard movement and I opened the back door. As I had expected, his chair was reclined and he was asleep. "Challo!" I said, smiling. He shot up and straightened his seat up. His eyes were red.

"Good morning, sir," he said, groggily.

"Hey Akbar, good morning," I replied.

He had been dead asleep, although this was only 9 in the morning. I wondered to myself if he was moonlighting. Probably not. I hoped not. On some mornings in the past, our prior driver, Khalil, had arrived with dents in the car that he could not explain. It had taken us a while before we got wise to his ways. We trusted Akbar more, but one expects a young guy in his twenties to be engaged mentally by 9 am.

"Before the office, I want to get a cup of coffee. My Caffe Latte, please," I told him.

"Tikh hai, sir," he said. That’s fine, sir.

We pulled away, and I noticed that little Devi was under a tree, standing outside. She was almost certainly the cutest thing I would see that day, so I smiled and rolled the window down. She was only two, and loved us. She waved and I waved back. As we pulled away, she walked forward a little bit and continued to wave her small hand. So sweet! I made namaste with my hands. She did it back and screeched happily.

We drove away up the hill of Road Number 23/A and snaked out onto the main roads. With each turn there were more and more people. Wet Hyderabadis as far as the eye could see. Feral dogs. A cluster of children wearing only ragged shirts. And, of course, the ever-present hierarchy of pedestrians, bicycle, scooter, two wheeler, rickshaw, small car, big car, big imported car, van, truck, bus and buffalo. The rickshaws continued to flout the whole hierarchy, puzzling everyone with their gyrations and weaving through the traffic with aggressive impunity. As we arrived at the intersection of Road 10 and Road 36, the light went red against our adversaries, who were those going the other way. Without exception, they ignored the light change.

Akbar shot out with all of our fellow Road 10 compatriots and we all systematically cut off the red light violators. The ever-present beeps became cacophonous as everyone sought a leg up on everyone else. Nary a gesture of acquiescence to be seen anywhere. The horns beeped during the melee, but no one had a look of anger on their face. I was still struck by that. A completely different order ruled the day on Indian roads, including the fact that everyone approached the chaos with a dispassionate peace that boggled the American mind. The behavior which would elicit road rage in an American driver lead to a calm look of resignation in the average Indian driver. Amazing.

I chuckled a little bit.

It seemed that a red light was license to keep going, and a green light was the inverse license to lay on the horn and cut off the other drivers who had run the red light. The lights held little significance beyond this. These drivers switched seamlessly between the role of culprit and victim throughout the day. Sometimes they would plow through an intersection that hailed them to stop and, other times, they would seek to cut off those who did the same - in both situations, everyone remained equally placid.

As we wove through the mess that was almost every Indian intersection, I noticed a single dejected guy standing there in a rain poncho. He was the traffic cop, dripping. He was but a footnote to the mess. He stood on the edge of the cluster of cars, his whistle blowing and hand waving gently in a circular motion of generality. He was utterly ignored by every driver. His day would culminate in the few tickets he distributed to the weak an unsuspecting. He would perhaps grab a twenty two year old off of a two wheeler and, after making them take their helmet off, give them a ticket for not having a helmet. It would only end with a small cash hand out. The traffic post he was supposed to stand on said, "For You, With You, Always".

It was astounding, but somehow these traffic events was repeated day in and day out. Indian traffic was waiting hungrily for the first avatar of politeness who would start to shift the system through acts of kindness which would be passed on.

I had some nagging sense that this avatar had been run over and killed by a rickshaw long ago...

We got to the front of My Caffe Latte and a guard opened the door to my car.

"I'll call you Akbar," I stated.

"Yes, sir," he replied.

I walked up the small sidewalk to the entrance of the place. The ever-present north eastern Indian guy was there, although it seemed to be a different one almost every day. They were reputed to be paid very poorly, so they didn't act as very good guards. But they looked tough as bulldogs, so they made a good fixture in various establishments who wished to declare, "Don't try anything stupid in here."

He opened the door for me as I searched for a coffee and muffin.

I stood in line for my Morning Glory muffin and doppio cafe americano behind a guy who had a Bluetooth in his ear. It blinked a blue flash every five seconds. I stood there and counted. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. I was starting to get a bit hypnotized by it.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Bleep. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Bleep. And again......

After five iterations of his Bluetooth bleeping, the girl came up for the register.

"I am sooo sorry, how can I help you?" she said, widely smiling. Blond ponytail, black baseball cap. A proud Dean and Deluca employee. She seemed about 19. Probably a student. Friendly.

"Get me a blueberry muffin and a black coffee," he said. Someone's mother didn't teach someone nice manners, I thought. From the accent, a northern transplant like me. A "cooaw" followed by a staccato "fee". I could cook up a quick mini bio of the guy, even though I knew that was not the right thing to do.

Name: Tony
Hometown: Patchogue, Long Island
Charlotte connection: Came to Charlotte in 1993 because he heard " could get a house on a golf course for next to nothing."
Past times: Going to all of the bars in town that played the Mets games, chuckling about Rednecks in safe company, blond jokes
New Nickname: "Mr. Get Me"

"Sure," she said slowly, smilingly. Sing-songy voice, she was a Southern girl.

He stood there, tight bellied, fashionable glasses without rims, hair gelled into a refined slick. Grey suit, white shirt, red tie. Charlotte's business community had a certain look, and this guy added to my sense of how the day would unfold in a predictable way. Many guys throughout the day would say "Get Me" and others would respond to "Get Me" and yet again pass it on to others. Some folks wouldn't have the potential of telling anyone to "Get Me" and then again a mere five men in the town, all of whom were cloistered in spacious CEO offices above 550 feet, would never hear the phrase "Get Me" directed at them, even once.

The natural order of things had coarsened a bit in Charlotte during the last several years, with "please" being a smaller and smaller domain of the few. We were trying hard to make sure we were adding three more young men to the count of polite people.

He got his muffin and said, "Thanks." Nice!

"No problem," she said.

You're welcome. No problem. Big difference.

I needed to get out of my head. Get the coffee and muffin, I thought.

I edged forward. My turn.

"Good morning," I said. I smiled.

"Hey there, good morning," she said, smiling back.

"May I please have a Morning Glory muffin and a doppio cafe americano?" I asked.

"Yes, you may," she said, smiling even wider. This was code for "....thank you for the manners.”

Tongs came out, a clean wax bag, muffin inserted, a nice grey cup with perfect coffee followed.

"Be careful, it's hot," she said.

"Will do. And thanks very much."

"No problem," she said, again. It was almost a perfect exchange until the end. Oh, well.

Get out of your head, I thought again.

I sat down at the elevated table and surveyed the place. It was immaculate. The US was still fresh enough to me that I was seeing it with completely new eyes after a year in India, and I continued to be astounded by the cleanliness of the place. Really an amazing thing. It occurred to me that it was not only culture at work in the cleanliness. I remembered there was a system, I remembered that. I looked back at the register for the sign of the system, back to the place where No Problem was standing and taking another order from another guy in another grey suit. There it was. 98.7, a framed score. That's pretty high, I thought. Same number as the temperature of a human body, I considered. Probably a coincidence, but you never know, I thought, smiling to myself.

Dean and Deluca, like every other business that served food, was obligated by law to display openly their sanitation score from the Health Department. That was a pretty good system. Prior to living in India, I had not thought of what a great system that was. One of the best uses of tax dollars that I could think of…..

I ate the Morning Glory muffin and washed down each delicious bite with the scalding coffee. A Morning Glory muffin has shredded carrots, raisins, honey, shredded squash and cinnamon, all within a whole wheat flour muffin. Excellent. A very Western taste. As we in the West were the progenitors of the muffin itself, I considered that we had mastered a huge variety of muffins over the centuries. This Morning Glory was perhaps the culmination of all prior attempts at making a good muffin. Other places had a similar kind of muffin, but Dean and Delucca had broken from the pack and absolutely perfected the food form. Best muffin around.

Mr. Get Me was sitting at a nearby table and reading his BlackBerry. Darn it, I thought. Seeing someone else read their BlackBerry always had the effect of reminding me to look at my own BlackBerry. I pulled it out. 14 new messages.

They can wait.

I put it back in my pocket, but it was almost as if some force from beyond was using me as a marionette puppet. I held onto it for just a few seconds. I couldn't let go. Ok, I'll just glance at them, I thought. It came back out of my pocket. It had really been a rather feeble attempt at holding it at bay. Type in password, zoom over to the mail client. Venkat, Goverdhan, Anthony, Marc.

Frank Sinatra was playing in the place. I read e.mails as old blue eyes belted out a tune from beyond the grave. Something about Chicago.

We sat there, two guys from the second wave, reading their BlackBerry devices. I finished up and pushed the door open, starting my walk to Gateway Village.

I walked in the front of the place. It had creaky wood flooring, making it seem as if you were entering a pirate ship. A bust of Johnny Depp was in the alcove. Six pairs of plastic skulls and crossbones sat on crates in front of it. My Caffe Latte's entrance was an altar to Pirates of the Caribbean. I had always liked that. As I got through the entrance I saw the obligatory staff of nine people that manned every coffee bar in India. They all looked at me and smiled. A series of "Good morning, sir". I smiled back. "Good morning," I said, enthusiastically.

Hyderabad was a cool place. Still couldn't believe I was here, even a year later.

I did the sharp u-turn into the James Bond room. India and I shared an affection for 007, and I really enjoyed that specific room in My Caffe Latte. It was pretty creative. Movie posters that spanned the entirety of my lifetime, even a bit more. Pictures of Bond Beauties from when I was a small boy, other Bond Beauties from when I was an adolescent who watched Bond Beauties in awe, and a few from when I had a family. The room appeared to be empty. I went to my usual seat, a grey couch that was ripped. I sat down and look at the big screen. Some Khan or other was on the screen, singing and dancing on some Aegean rock. Nice. Good song, beautiful women, fun Bollywood music video. All good.

I sat there, knowing what was going to happen, or, more specifically, what was not going to happen. I just sat. And sat. Watched the video and sat. I finally got up, it was all part of the ritual. I peaked in at the staff of nine and said, "May I order?" They all scrambled and went for the menus. I smiled inside my mind and went back to the ripped couch. A young girl came up in a uniform of a black apron, black shirt, black baseball hat, black pants, black shoes. She handed me the menu and turned to walk away. I had ordered here a million times, so I knew what I wanted.

"I will give my order now, please?" I said as she walked away.

She turned around. "Yes, sir," she said, smiling.

I knew the answer to the next question, I had asked it several times a week during the prior year. It was all part of my ritual.

"The menu says you have eggs you can make, may I have two eggs and toast?" I asked.

She scowled a little bit, I knew what it meant.

"You don't have eggs?" I asked, knowingly.

"No, sorry sir. No eggs," she stated. The scowling continued as if to communicate to me that someone else had made a mistake by even putting that on the menu.

"Ok, then I would like the Cafe Bollywood and a blueberry muffin, please."

"Sorry, sir, no blueberry muffins." Unexpected. She had thrown me a curve.

"Do you have apple pie?" I asked.

She lit up. "Yes, sir. You would like Cafe Hollywood and apple pie?"

"Apple pie, and a Cafe Bollywood," I said, with emphasis on the other film mecca, the Indian one. Hollywood had no milk. I wanted a latte, a Bollywood.

"Ok, sir, Cafe Bollywood," she repeated, and came for my menu. I handed it to her.

"And apple pie," I repeated.

"You want apple pie? Ok, yes sir. We have it," she told me, as if for the first time.

"Pie and coffee," I said, now perhaps a little suspicious this wasn't going my way. Her head gently moved side to side in an affirmation.

"Thank you."

"Ok, yes sir. Thank you."

I actually sort of liked this after a year of it. In India you didn't quite ever hit the mark when ordering something, you sort of wandered toward it as a general destination that took a few tries. Often the appetizers would come at the same time as the entree, maybe after. No problem. James Bond and some dancing Khan and an incoming cup of coffee with some sort of baked good. Again, all good.

The pie was warm and a little moist that morning, just right. I washed each bite down with a swig of strong, scalding coffee. I watched more videos, beautiful people, bright clothing, fun songs punctuated with the word "pyaar" and "zindagi". Love and life.

Love and Life.

I finished up and waited for my bill. I knew how this went, as well. I sat and waited. Not a bad proposition to see Ashwariya Rai dance in Dola Re Dola from Devdas. After she finished up, I decided to force the issue. I walked up to the staff of nine.

"I will take my bill," I told the group. They all scrambled in different directions, as if the bill was hidden somewhere around the room.

I returned to the ripped couch and several minutes later the bill came. She put it down in front of me and turned to walk away. I told her, "I can pay now." If I had let her go back, it could have been several minutes more before she returned for the money, or perhaps she would not have come back at all. I put some rupees in the black jacket and handed it to her. She smiled and took it.

Several minutes later the change came. I did not need it, and left it in the jacket. I thanked her again as I stood up. She thanked me. As I walked out, the remaining eight smiled and said, "Have a good day! Good bye, sir."

"Good bye, you have a good day, too," I said happily.

As I left, the door from the establishment was opened for me by the same guard. I walked outside, and a guard ran up and opened the door of the car. Akbar started the drive into Madhapur and HITEC City beyond that. We moved through the mass of people and cars, and I stared out onto a scene that had become mundane in the sense it was daily, but it was a scene that could never become mundane in that it presented me with a world that staggered my mind. I could look at it for a thousand more mornings yet never quite fathom how it worked.

I saw the mass of grime and beauty that was India.

Wood carvers turning blocks of wood into elaborately carved doorways next to people who had jumped off of their two wheeler for a quick urination on the sidewalk which was right next to the spot where a woman cooked a fresh breakfast which she slapped onto metal plates for the crowd of day workers from the villages. I saw a myriad of water buffalo, some reclining and chewing, others loping along with a calf in tow, and yet more rutting through piles of trash. Women with a handful of reeds sweeping wet sand into the gutter in this most prosperous segment of Andhra Pradesh. The children running between the cars were wearing barely a shred of clothing, starting up a day of pan handling. Cows with painted horns pulling a cart that sat unassumingly next to a BMW. There were various restaurants where groups of men stood engaged in intent conversations that were only interrupted by streams of red betel nut spit spewing from their mouths. Women in the most elaborate and beautiful silk garments walking through groups of the lame, the crippled, the blind and the insane. Every third person wore a name tag around their necks which indicated they were going to work at a technology company, as was I. They, like I, would step out of this world into another one that carried very few attributes of the prior. In the offices the chaos of the Indian street was replaced by the orderliness of a compiler and an operating system, grime was replaced by a perpetually mopped floors, and the dense crowds of humanity were replaced by the order of a cubical-based floor plan.

We turned into HITEC City. The guards watched us as we drove in and beyond a second team of guards checked us as drove into my company's complex. He rolled the window down and they greeted Akbar with scowls and looks of challenges until they peered into the backseat and saw me. Their faced altered in a blink of an eye into a huge smile.

"Good morning, sir," they said.

We were passed on.

I entered the shining glass structure that the Bank had built in HITEC City, the newest of our buildings. It was immaculate, and had decent landscaping in the front. Green and inviting, I walked through the front and took the elevator up to my floor. The three guards sitting in the lobby turned toward me, and the one behind the desk stood up to attention. That had initially puzzled me, making me feel I needed to explain to them who I was - an ordinary Joe. I was used to it now. They broke into a smile, and all said in unison, "Good morning, sir."

"Good morning," I replied, smiling back at them. I walked to the front desk, and they looked at the pass on my briefcase. They verified that everything was mine. I thanked them and walked toward my office. One of the young guards ran past me at a slight jog, and arrived at my office door before me. He bent down to unlock it. He stood up, opened the door, and thanked me again, for exactly what I was not sure. I thanked him back and sat down at my desk.

I logged in.

My face was gently lit by the laptop display. As I booted into the network, I came into a standardized environment where e.mails would flow, metrics would be captured, relationships managed, and growth sought with both precision and professionalism. Another day at the Bank had started.

As I started my walk to Gateway Village, I took note of the fact that the streets were immaculate. As one of the many transplants from the North, I had been struck by the cleanliness of Charlotte nearly fifteen years prior. It was really exceptional. For those of us from places as different as Rochester, New Haven, Cleveland, Akron, or Detroit, we felt in common that we had left behind a place of urban decay. Generally, we were pretty grateful for what Charlotte offered. But now that I had lived in India, I realized that the contrast between a New Haven and a Charlotte was not the chasm that I once considered it to be. They were simply variations on the common theme of American urban experience. Not so very different at all, really. Still - this particular stretch of Charlotte real estate was incredibly clean and orderly. Very few places like it could be found anywhere else in the world.

As I walked along, I considered how empty it was when compared with Hyderabad. While people were streaming into town, most would go from their parking deck into their elevator and, finally, into their offices. As a consequence, the streets were a mere fraction of the actual humanity that occupied the spaces around me. I felt as if I were an ant between various mounds that teemed with an astounding underground activity and life, almost all of it currently hidden from my eyes.

I walked by a few smokers. I had enjoyed my friend Tom's term for these folks - tobacco captives. They stood together talking intently about something, pulling on their cigarettes. One finished and placed the butt into a small circle of sand that sat at the top of the trash can next to them. A small gesture that he did without thinking, it was one I enjoyed witnessing.

I walked on. I approached the building with the waterfalls in front of it. My friend Chris worked there, I remembered. The roar of the waterfalls was a nice break from the swooshes of the traffic. Two black guys were playing chess at a table in front of one the waterfalls. Each had a considerable bag next to them, immense. These bags contained the entirety of their worldly good. Homeless guys. I always remembered what my love had once muttered while we looked at a homeless guy in New York City from within our car - "That was someone's newborn baby once."

These guys were intently focused on their chess game and didn't look up as I walked toward them. Whatever had made them homeless clearly still had a grip on them, they both had thin frames and wore more layers of clothing than seemed necessary. Their eyes looked a bit glassy, but the tumult that had lead them to a life on the streets was currently on hold as they both focused intently on their chess match. I stopped to watch for a bit. They both glanced my way and were quick to determine that I was harmless. They focused back on their game. What do they say, that there are more possible chess games that could be played than there are stars in the universe?, I thought, trying to remember what I had once heard. It's probably the case that we don't know the actual number of either, I thought, correcting myself.

They played an excellent game, far beyond anything I would have been able to execute. When I was younger, I had an idea that the homeless community was actually filled with those who had pursued the ascetic life, and that they were the true spiritual seekers. Time and reality had stripped me of this idea borne of youthful idealism and a healthy dose of stupidity. I learned a small bit about the homeless in closer proximity through my church, which participated in a program where we took in the homeless during the winter months on Monday nights. I learned that they were ordinary people suffering from a combination of bad luck and extremely bad decisions, usually more of the latter than the former.

One guy won and sat back in mellow satisfaction and stared at the other guy. He had congratulated the loser on a good game. I walked away.

I took a left onto Trade Street. This was not in the direction of any major buildings other than Gateway Village. The humanity, small as it was behind me, thinned out even more. There were very few people on the street. I continued to walk down Trade Street. I looked a block ahead and noticed something coming up that gave me cause to smile. Those huge trees. The kind of trees that were saplings during the Civil War. More than a hundred years of growth in a region that that had a long growing season. They had thick branches that were themselves the size of respectable trees which lead to smaller branches, and down to even smaller branches which terminates at needle-thin twigs on which there were leaves. Underground this theme repeated itself as the massive roots terminated at tiny points which drank from the earth many feet underneath. Such a massive structure maintaining itself through the myriad of small and fragile connections, these trees were grounds for endless philosophical ponderings, but this morning I didn't have time, nor anyone with whom to share the ideas.

There were about half a dozen of these trees spread around a verdant lawn. Robins hopped around the lawn, pulling worms out of the massive yard. Around the perimeter of this same property was a black cast-iron fence that I had always considered to be uncharacteristically foreboding for a church. This was the property of the First Presbyterian Church, a place of immense proportions. A staggering structure, it continued to grow upon every possible space on the property as new wings were added. Its sandstone-colored walls rose into various spires, while the structure of the sanctuary itself rose into a spire that would often appear to me to be higher than the skyscrapers around it. At least from certain vantage points.

I drank in the sight of the trees as I walked by them.

In front of the church yard was another bus stop, and a group of people stood there waiting for the next "Gold Rush" trolley to come by. Charlotte was famous for ripping down signs of its own past and replacing the old structures with new buildings that were sleek and modern and trendy. It was starting to have a unique style that was found only in Charlotte, something I liked to call "upscale Starbucks ciche". As the city's past faded from sight, Charlotte had spent years borrowing ideas from other cities. One example was the "Gold Rush". Charlotte had purchased a fleet of trolleys on wheels that looked like akin to the San Francisco trolleys. The "Gold Rush" trolleys were free to those who would not walk from point A to point B. It was the same as I remembered it, people would wait for these trolleys for durations of time that easily were longer than the time it would have taken to walk. The twenty people waiting for this particular trolley included some familiar faces, but no acquaintances or friends. I noticed everyone was pretty large in girth. That really strikes you when you return to the US after being in a place like India. We Americans are indeed a big people.

I walked onward.

The next two blocks passed without a single other person crossing my path. I finally got within sight of Gateway Village. It still looked remarkably like a space ship to me. A mere seven floors, it was a wide structure. The fifth and sixth floors spanned the property into a bridge. The span was actually called "The Bridge" by those of us who worked in the building. I wasn't sure who coined the term, but we all used it. I assumed it arose from the fact that most of us who worked there were die-hard Star Trek fans, authentic geeks. The name "The Bridge" evoked images of intrepid journies throughout the universe, but what transpired there on a daily basis was vastly less interesting than that. The Captain Kirk types actually worked up in the Corporate Center, while most of us in the technology village were more like Spock, with an occassional Scotty and maybe some Uhura types.

There were a few people sprinkled around the breezeway of the building, with The Bridge spanning the space above them. It was quiet.

Something that was moving caught me out of the corner of my eye. I turned toward it.

Oh, they didn't. No way. No freaking way.

A portly security guard was shooting through the breezeway on a Segway. I had heard that there might be plans for the guards to use these. I had a disproportionate dislike for Segways which bordered on the irrational. All those stupid devices did was serve to make an increasingly immoble nation even less active. What some considered futuristic and cool made me physically tense. I liked to believe that I reserved my strong dislike for those things which merited it. Segways merited it. As he approached my corner of the breezeway, I stood there and watched him. I considered what would happen if an actual crime occurred and this guy gave chase on one of these foolish devices. It would merit the comical scene that would follow, and I might even cheer for the criminal.

If I were King for a Day, I would have a global Segway bonfire.

He passed out of sight and I decided to let it go. Sometimes it's just better to let it go. The stress I would carry that day if I remained fixated on that infernal device would only impact me. The security guy with the ample belly would not change what he was going to do based upon my thoughts.

Let it go.

I lifted my wallet to the controls of the doors. I had not used it in a year, and wasn't sure if it would work. It beeped, and the light turned green. Good. I walked in. The elevator lobby was empty, and I brought an elevator down to the ground level and got into it. Dead quiet.

I walked onto the bridge and walked around the cubes until I found one that was designated for telecommuters who had decided to drop into the office for the day. I sat down and took out my laptop. I started it up. As it booted up, I glanced over to the windows of The Bridge. These windows were a full two stories tall, and on this side of The Bridge they provided a beautiful view of the Charlotte skyline. The morning light was streaming in the windows and the buildings stood as massive monuments to the Southern City That Could. So many people would pass the day without taking in this view. What was extraordinary had become mundane in this place, that always tended to happen with people. I was really not very different. But that morning I realized what a fantastic view this was. This city and this company had been very good to us as a family. I sat back and stared at it for what seemed like an hour. I eventually glanced over at my laptop. It was at the network prompt, ready. I could hear someone else pecking away at their keyboard on another part of the floor, but other than that - empty.

I logged in.

My face was gently lit by the laptop display. As I booted into the network, I came into a standardized environment where e.mails would flow, metrics would be captured, relationships managed, and growth sought with both precision and professionalism. Another day at the Bank had started.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Rakhi - Raksha Bandhan

Today was Rakhi. This is the festival where sisters tie an ornamental string on the right wrist of their brothers. As my sister is on the other side of the globe, and not known to practice Rakhi, the people in our house decided to step in. I got various strings around my wrist, as depicted.

You can see a close up of the first one I got. It has Hindi characters on it, and I can read it. It says "श्री", a title of honor - sort of like "sir", but a little more.

Hey look at that = sri -- sir. Never noticed that before.

And, they feed you sweets as part of the process.

It's a nice honor and an interesting thing to experience, again.

Friday, August 15, 2008


An interesting thing happened the other day, something Americans will probably never hear about - India won its first individual Olympic Gold Medal ever. It was won by Abhinav Bindra, a 26 year old Indian who won in riflery. It was neat to see the nation erupt, albeit gently. There was a swell of pride, and I sensed a little lift in some of the guys at the office. When I mentioned it, they smiled largely. It may have helped that I was happy, too. And I am from the land that will soon nab its 900th Gold Medal since the Olympics started in 1896, so my compliments perhaps meant more to them thereby.

This picture above is a neat one. Pratibha Patil is the first female President of India (I believe Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister or something like that, not President). She is a Gujarati, as is Abhinav. But it is the touch that is so nice. That is the way an adoring mother touches a child here in India. A level of intimacy impossible in a national celebration of the same sort back in the US. I really like that picture. Congrats to Indians everywhere!

Now, how about that Michael Phelps!

Sorry, I just had to add that in. As a former swimmer and an American, it's nice to see this guy perform at this level, it's just amazing.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

It's Tara

Hi everyone, it's me. Its good to be back in India. It has been quite grey and rainy since we have been here. It has been a slight challenge entertaining the kids as school does not start 'til next week and most of the kids friends have not returned yet.

But we are enjoying ourselves once again and starting to get back in the groove of things. 8)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Yesterday's Chennai trip was interesting. I could not take any pictures in the US Consulate, so this entry is about everything else.....

Here's a shot from within Hyderabad's sparkling new airport, featured in an earlier blog entry.

Chennai street, kind of a normal sight of an Indian street.

I know this is kind of gross, but if we have to live with it, you have to see it at least once. Look at the size of this dessicated mongoose. I put my foot down for comparison.

This was funny. A police booth that used to have a solar panel on the top (I saw various of these in different state of disrepair throughout Chennai). It has since been ripped off, and the window is propped open with a stick. Notice the words on the side, "Let us solar power the nation."

I ducked out to do several hours worth of work at the Coromandel Hotel. Nice place.

As I ate my lunch, I realized how much the common three colors of chutney are like the Indian flag. Tomato, Coconut and Mint. Is it intentional?

I took a quick side trip to Santhome Church where Saint Thomas is buried. It is one of three churches built over a body of an original apostle, the first and second being The Vatican (Peter) and some place in Spain (James). Notice the people praying to the plastic replica of Thomas, as if it emanates some special power that wasn't available to them upstairs, or out on the street.

At the Chennai airport, I had hours to burn, spent working via BB. This fish was in a display tank. The picture does not convey its beauty. It was really great.