Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A little gripe....

I am not a griping expat. There are such folks, I am not one and I generally seek other company than those who perpetually gripe about India.

Today I need to gripe about India for a second.

I worked out in the gym this morning.

Decided to go out for a cup of coffee after.

My usual place, My Caffee Latte, was closed. To see a coffee shop closed at 8:30 will always feel a bit unusual, but we are more or less used to that. India gets going at a different time than the US does. The idea of the coffee-makers getting things ready before I want a cup is way behind me. You have to play it by ear and find out which place is open on a given morning.

I'll tell you how I learned that lesson.

One time in the autumn of 2007, I walked to Barista Creme Coffee House from our home in Jubilee Hills at about 7:15. Wanted a cup of coffee. When I got there, I walked in and found two guy asleep behind the counter. The lights were on, the door was open, a few devices were turned on and I think there might have been some coffee brewing somewhere. But these guys apparently couldn't sustain the effort and sacked out behind the cash register. I laughed a little, finding this both odd and amusing. A first lesson.

Cut 19 months forward. I went to the same place today. Barista has been purchased in India by Lavazza Coffee, an Italian company. I was curious to see what had changed.

The place was cleaner. The walls which were badly gouged in the past were replaced by faux wood paneling. It looked nice. I ordered an almond muffin and a latte.

I sat there, and waited.

I watched the news for a while on the TV above my table. Then I realized I wanted to watch a Bollywood music video. They're colorful, fun and the music is something I have acquired an appreciation for.

I called my waitress over and asked her to turn on Bollywood music videos and to turn the sound up. She smiled in that way that told me she had no idea what I had said. So, I spoke in Hindi. Nothing. Fair enough, we are in Andhra and the language here is Telugu.

I called a second guy over. Asked for Bollywood music videos and more sound - in Hindi. He said ok.

Five minutes passed.

Got out of my seat and found a third person. Asked for the same, again in Hindi. Smiled and said "Ok, sir."

Five more minutes.

Yet another guy and another affirmative response. That was four requests.

A tangent - you may ask how could I have found so many people in a coffee shop? Well, in India each place of business like a coffee shop has approximately ten employees at any given time. I think they have titles like Senior-Leader-Who-Points-At-What-To-Do and Low-Caste-Woman-Who-Wipes-Things-With-Water and a large number of people in between who may have the title of Apron-Wearer-Who-Answers-Yes-To-Everything.

I worked my way around the staff, all of whom said I could see my videos. Until I got to the senior guy. I figured him to be someone with whom I could speak English. He heard my request and said, "We no longer have permission to play music on these televisions."

Another change by Lavazza. So be it. No issue.

But *why* do I get a "yes" when the answer is "no". Many people here in India will say yes simply to end a discussion that needed a "no". Don't they get that we'll keep asking until it happens, or we get the right answer?

You may ask how other Indian people deal with this same phenomenon. I have seen it a few times. They simply lay into the person who is saying "yes" when they need to say "no". They really lay into them, even belittling them.

It's this environment which has changed us as a family - to be vastly more assertive and perhaps a little less polite. It's a shame, but it's a survival technique.

Last few observations. The guy that told me "no" actually evoked admiration in me. I appreciated his ability to answer me honestly. What is an expectation in the US is sometimes a luxury in India. This sometimes includes a direct answer. I wanted to shake his hand. I thanked him with a smile.

I think part of getting older and wiser is realizing that much of what you fret about simply isn't worth worrying about, that sometimes your anger is amusing, and as I get older I start to see those amusing attributes during the situation instead of a month later.

So, it was with a certain amount of amusement that I watched myself get worked up over not being able to see a Bollywood video.

Deep in the recesses of my mind, the American part of me didn't really feel right asking for it in the first place.

Had my muffin and coffe and left.

Then, I got to work and wanted to have a small bite of food. Like a hobbit, I have "Second Breakfast" some days. I eat very large breakfasts, it's part of what has allowed me to eat better and get in better shape.

To buy our meals at work, we use Bank-funded debit cards in our facility. The Bank pays for the employee's food, essentially. So, I went to buy my breakfast. The Guy-At-The-Debit-Machine told me that his debit machine wouldn't work and that I needed to go to the juice counter and have my card "loaded" with this pay period's funding.

So, I proceeded to the juice counter.

The Guy-At-The-Juice-Counter was standing there fiddling with the wires of his debit machine. I had no ability to pay for my breakfast. So, I walked back over to the first guy and gently let him have it. Speaking Hindi, I explained I simply wanted my breakfast and didn't have time for this. He explained that my debit card's funds wouldn't be loaded until 10 am.

Why didn't he say that in the first place??

I asked why food was put out an hour before I could pay for it. He smiled and shook his head in affirmation as if to agree with me that the system made no sense.

A "yes" when I needed a "no". I was angry.

In the end, I got my food and proceeded to start my day. They gave it to me for free.

Anyone who knows us and/or reads this blog knows we love living in India. I personally really love it and am having the time of my life. But some days - here's the best way to say it.... if India were a chicken I'd snap its neck. It can be a very frustrating place.

Thanks for letting me rant.

All done.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Cherry Blossoms are out

As we contemplate returning back to the US, it feels like it can be done without too much heart ache if we know that we can see cherry blossoms again. This is from our friend Allison's FaceBook page. Spring has sprung in the Carolinas.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


...and I went out this weekend to get some fresh mango juice. Jonah was disappointed that we did not get it in the form of a smoothie, so he looks a little pouty in this picture. I am putting this snap out on the blog because I think it's cool to see him in such a setting as an Indian sidewalk cafe. Even after all of this time I still think this is cool.....

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Linda and Indu's Bday Bash

Last night was a fantastic joint party for Linda and Indu! It was a '70's-themed bash and I lead the trivia game about the 1970's. Great fun, one of the best parties in Hyderabad history.

The DJ was excellent, there was a great meal outdoors and the group raised money for a women's school. Take a look....

If anyone else has some good pictures, please pass them on to me, thanks!

Friday, March 27, 2009


We spent Ugadi night at the Fairlesses for a party. As always, good time with good company.

^ The neighborhood had some rangoli.

^ When they saw me taking pictures, two guys pulled me aside and asked that I take their picture on my camera. Not sure I'll ever quite get this, but I am always happy to oblige.

^ Matt's grill got red hot, like a pulsar star. Got a little scary for a second.

^ The kids tried on clothes and did an improptu fashion display.

^ Then we spied Jonah and two friends reading quietly under the mosquito netting in one of the bedrooms. It was nice to see them relaxing and it brought to mind the word "colonial".

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Today was the day before Ugadi, the Telugu New Year. In the office we had a contest where the technologists dressed in their best Indian clothing - best dressed man and best dressed woman contest followed.

Additionally, there was the "bay decoration" contest during the day, wherein the associates decorated their bay (section of cubicles) with flowers, banana leaves and altars to Hindu gods. As always, it was very beautiful to the eye.....

I am always asked to be a judge for these type of events, so I did for this contest, as well. Great fun.

In two of the bays they had a terracotta pot which contained "pachadi", a chutney for Ugadi. I ate some. Chapadi has six flavors which epitomize different flavors of life - salt, bitter, sweet, spice, sour, pungent. Which taste you taste when first having some pachadi is supposed to tell you how your coming year will be.

I tasted masala - the spice. We'll see what that means in the coming year....

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


^ His surgery stitches have been removed, and Ashoka is back in the saddle (so to speak). And so ends and ancient and proud line of stray dogs that have inhabited India since.... well, a long time.

He is the true Slumdog Millionaire (which I still have not seen).

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


^ Jonah and Aidan having a minute of sitting like lotuses in the Dubai airport.

How have we changed?

I will write about this from time to time as we reflect on this experience ending. We have been changed and will probably remain changed forever.

It became clear to me that we had changed during a few key events.

The first time it was clear to me that we had changed was through a somewhat humorous event in Singapore. This vacation was the first time we were out of India since our arrival. We had been in India for about 8 months by that time. It happened as we walked out of our complex to a local coffee shop that was about 5 blocks away. I noticed something was different, but I couldn't put my fingers on it.

Then it hit me....

We were all walking on the street. We were next to a perfectly good, intact sidewalk. Immaculate, in fact.

We had become conditioned to the fact that no sidewalk is intact for a significant distance in India. If there is a sidewalk, which most of the time there is not, it usually degrades into a pile of rubble every 100 feet or so. And/or the Indian sidewalk is a place where people sit and do their business - I mean "do their business" in both senses.... They are either releasing bodily waste on the sidewalk *or* they are doing their job on the sidewalk, be it the fixing of shoes, selling of chai or food, making spare keys, reading tarot cards or any other such street-based trade.

In short, there are extremely few sidewalks in India that you can walk on for a long period of time. So, we got used to walking in the streets.

When I noticed that we were doing this in Singapore next to a perfectly good sidewalk, I started to laugh.

I asked Tara, "Why aren't we on the sidewalk?"

She looked at the sidewalk and said, "Well, I don't know." And on the sidewalk we walked for the remaining few blocks.

Since that time, I have noticed a few other things.

Jonah's mode of speech has changed slightly. He says the letter "h" like this "haych", with a small aspiration in the front of the sound. Certain UK accents say it like this. This is instead of the American "aych". Jonah also says "trousers" instead of "pants". And he has sometimes called his friend Hanna by the pronunciation one would hear in England - with the first "a" sounding like "ahh". Haahna. Not the nasal American way of saying Hanna. We think he is young enough that he is more susceptible to this kind of thing.

Aidan calls soccer "football" now. No other changes to his language.

Liam, Tara and I have no changes to our speech. But every once in a while our mannerisms will change. I think answering "yes" by moving one's head side to side instead of front-to-back is actually more clear in some situations here. I do it from time to time.

Another change - It is sad, but our manners have coarsened. "Please", "Thank you", "May I", "Excuse me"..... these more or less are absent in most conversations where someone is performing a task for you. If you are being polite in Hindi, you use a different verb tense, but there are not many extra words for politeness. So, if you the English politeness words, it can cause some confusion.

For example.....

If you answer someone who is offering you another drink with "No, thank you..." they often focus on the "thank you" and bring the next drink. This happened many times, early on. It is much easier to say "No." It works and the discussion is clear.

But, we cannot return to the US like that.

So, we will have to quickly focus on reclaiming good manners as a family.

Also, we won't have domestic help, so this will change many of these impulse to speak in basic ways. Soon gone will be the day where I can say "Padma, coffee digiye" and get a steaming hot cup within a few minutes. This will quickly be replaced by "Sweet heart, would you please make some coffee?" which half of the time will result in "Sure" and other half of the time "No, you do it." ;^)

Finally, we are accustomed to the unbelievable. This is a change from the shell-shocked group we were 20 months ago. We see guys riding camels down the street, herds of buffaloes walking in traffic, cars driving down the street in the wrong direction, immense piles of garbage covered with foraging wild dogs, men peeing freely on the streets, each car at an intersection utterly ignoring their respective light (red or green) - we don't give any of it a second look anymore. Two years of seeing these things is plenty of time to start to think of it as "normal". It makes sense that these practices will be hard to correct here in India, as these have been the only thing many/most Indian people have ever know.

More observations to come.

Monday, March 23, 2009


I have recently noticed in myself the tendency to have the "hundred days to go" thing guide various of my actions.

As an example, I recently bought three more Hindi videos on DVD so that I can keep my Hindi up when back in the US. Two of them are typical light and mindless Hindi movies (Dil Chatha Hai and Bhool Bhulaiya).

But the third is a very different movie. It is Ghajini with (and by) Aamir Khan. He is definitely my favorite actor in Bollywood, as I was absolutely amazed by Taare Zameen Per, which he wrote, directed and starred in.

In Ghajini, Aamir Khan is fit like never before, a veritable monster. I read he achieved this in 125 individual work out sessions.

He continues to amaze.

Like many Hindi movies, they are copies of western movies. Ghajini was a remake of Momento, wherein a man with short term memory loss is looking to have vengeance on his wife's killers through keeping notes on his body that provide clues to who the murders were.

It's the same movie. But Ghajini has music videos and other things which only a Bollywood film would contain. Think of it, a murder mystery with three dance scenes! Well, this is that movie.

One note about the film was the level of violence. It is absolutely brutal.... and I was raised in America, so I should be able to take it. But it is really, really bloody. Most Hindi movies have some violence, but there is always some general nod toward Gandhi-ism in that the final moment. Most often, there is a reconciliation, forgiveness of the culprit or some such sentiment.

Not in this movie.

Without ruining it for you - there is substantial blood in the final scene.

If you are following the blog from here in India - see Ghajini.

If you are back in the US and curious to see an atypical Hindi movie, see Ghajini.

Overall, consider it highly recommended.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Today, during a walk, I got a glimpse of a sight which immediately made me think of our old neighborhood in Charlotte, Montibello. It was uncanny - for a second, the pink flowers joined both places together.

This blog post is dedicated to all of the flowering things in our lives - the world over.

^ Pink, flowering trees in Whisper Valley.

^ Pink, flowering trees in the Montibello. It should look like this in a few weeks.

^ Montibello


^ Montibello

^ Whisper Valley

^ Montibello

^ Out off of Carmel Road

^ Whisper Valley

^ Whisper Valley


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Recent events....

Fantastic birthday bash last night (it's now Sunday morning) - happy birthday to Phil, Jim and Carol!

I didn't take the camera, but it was a great party. I think of it as the calm before the storm, as next weekend will see the 70's birthday bash. It also promises to be very fun.

So, lately there have been elections in India. Interestingly, our neighborhood became the place of an election rally. Apparently, the guy two doors down is a politician. Take a look....

^ We were awakened by drumming. Really loud and strong drumming. I and Jonah went out to the street to see what was going on.

^ These drummers-for-hire were banging away. Not sure they had seen many westerners before, so I got all of their attention.

^ Check out their leader - seems deeply disinterested in the whole thing.

^ One of these is the local politico which lives in the neighborhood. You'll notice the typical appearance of a politician. A bit hefty, all in white clothes (this varies by region) and hands in a formation of supplication. In reality, guys that look like this often have two beefy guys walking being them and an occasional skinny guy carrying a gun. One time at a breakfast joint called Chutneys I saw three politicians eating an ungodly amount of idlis while the obligatory skinny guy with a machine gun stood close by. First, the gun had no clip in it, so I felt good about that. I then noticed that the machine gun was held around his shoulder by a seat belt that he had been fashioned into a strap. Hilarious!

^ The required jeep-with-speakers-that-blast-Telugu-election-slogans.

^ Then the crowd poured into our street. This is from our front gate.

^ The drumming and dancing turned very rhythmic and there was a circular dance where the drummers slammed their feet down and made the bells on their ankles ring. It was pretty intense at this point.

^ Then, the obligatory guy-not-senior-enough-to-be-inside-with-the boss started to dance with the drummers. Most of the attendees are young men who got paid to attend. They looked disinterested as they threw marigold petals to and fro.

I left before the Big Man came out.... but when he did, the crowd surely went wild.

Friday, March 20, 2009


I was asked to do a write up for an article related to our Aurangabad trip. I'll make that today's blog entry. Also, Meera and Susina - you can simply cut and paste the article from here if you don't get the message I sent you both on FaceBook. thanks.

The TEA trip to Aurangabad was an enjoyable time for all. Old friends and new friends enjoyed two exciting days of ancient painted Buddhist caves, temples carved from mountains, and an exciting fort that invigorated the imagination of all who saw it. Overall, it was a great success.

The trip began and ended in a dedicated train car where families and friends joined each other for good conversation and community. While it did not evoke the Orient Express in all of its attributes, the train ride did give everyone a taste of travel in India that was new to many of us. While the cadence of the train and the rhythmic movements of our car were something we have all experienced before in other times and in other places, for many of us it was the first time that the Indian countryside was the view out of the window. The arid stretches of the Deccan plateau stretched out for all of us. Andhra Pradesh faded into Maharashtra at some point. the land around us was covered with the light brown of grasses long since dried after monsoon. We saw the sights that never cease to intrigue us - young boys riding camels, a goat herder with his flock, small groups of women on foot in brightly colored clothing and more than one school where the students waved at the train passing by. What we saw was India reshaping itself time and again into forms that delight the sense and occasionally shock our Western sensibilities. We saw small cities, villages, settlements, and farms - a huge variety of communities passed by as the day progressed on into night.

We arrived in Aurangabad late on Friday night and proceeded to the Taj Residency with the kind of fatigue that had all of us moving slowly. Sleep came quickly that night.

When we awoke, the first day was dedicated to visiting Ajanta. Ajanta is a series of man-made caves which are carved and painted in fantastic ways. Some of them date back more than 1,500 years. The faces on the walls were varied in appearance and hue, showing that this was a crossroads for pilgrims from all over Asia and lands beyond. The ornate carvings were overwhelmingly of Buddha, with a serene look on his face and his hand held in different positions indicating teaching, meditation and a variety of other postures. At one point, our tour guide disappeared behind a "stupah", a Buddhist altar of worship. He let out various chants to illustrate the acoustics of the place. It was a magical moment.

We retired back to the hotel and a spirited game of water polo followed. Through inexplicable bad fortune, the superior team lost.

On the second day we went to Daulatabad Fort. It started with a vigorous hike up the side of a small mountain. At the top was a tree filled with monkeys, seemingly there to tell us that more amazing things awaited us. We walked into the Fort.

While in the fort, we were amazed to find that it had almost all of the attributes of a Disney exhibit. The fort had a moat that once contained crocodiles. It had massive doors with spikes that was opened only at dawn. Bridges between towers. Sections where invading armies would have boiling oil poured upon them. And a myriad of surprising false hallways and misleading steps that intended to befuddle and vanquish those armies foolish enough to attempt to take Daulatabad through force. The highlight was being lead through a section of the castle inhabited by bats while being lead by a guide carrying a flame torch. It was a romantic moment that made a few of us forget we were not in an amusement park.

As we exited the castle, I asked Tara in a fit of forgetfulness if we could rush to get a good place in line for Space Mountain. She rolled her eyes.

Ellora was the culmination of the second day, where we saw more caves as well as the fantastic Kailash. The Kailash is a beautiful and intricate edifice carved from one single stone hillside. On it there are multi-headed and -armed deities shown in battle with demons. There are massive heads of elephants surrounding the base of the Kailash evoking images of power and strength. While there, many of us were amazed and amused to see our children playing an innocent game of hide-and-seek amongst statues and caves that dated back more than 1,000 years. For some of these children, their ancestors lived in India while this amazing work was being done. Perhaps some of their ancestors even worked in the Kailash, or even designed it. Or prayed at the site after it was complete. For some of the other children, their ancestors lived in the Europe during the era that Ellora's Kailash was being achieved, wandering hill and dale without an idea that such a place as India even existed. And somehow, history has knit all of us together in a new community.

The heat got to some of the group, as some have made strange claims that we visited a smaller version of the Taj Mahal. Perhaps best remembered as a bit of a mirage, this place solidified in the group's mind that valuable time should be dedicated to seeing the real thing, not the degraded plaster version that some believe was seen that day.

That night we got back onto the train for the midnight ride back to Hyderabad. As we all returned to our dedicated car, we carried the best kind of fatigue. So many of us get tired day-to-day due to lengthy hours of work and attending to the lives of our families in this different land. Yet that night, we had acquired our fatigue through hiking up hillsides that had frolicking monkeys on them. We were tired from visiting ancient Buddhist caves. And we were tired in all of the right ways that permitted us a quick descent into Dreamland. We all easily slipped into a sound sleep as the trains wheels lulled us to sleep.

When we got off the train, we all quickly went our own ways. And in fact, a time will come when we global nomads will all go our own ways in a more significant sense. We will some day all be in different places. Still, we will always carry the amazing shared memory of time together on the arid Deccan plateau in a place where forts, castles, painted caves and profound carvings coalesced easily with friends from far and wide. Aurangabad will be remembered for the rest of our lives.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Election time in India

It is election time in India. Since this is a parliamentary democracy, it is a more complicated deal than in the US. There are coalitions of different parties that must align with each other so that they may achieve a level of power that they could not alone. In such alliances, there is a myriad of considerations - caste, religion, region, social standing, class, rural-versus-urban, North versus South and so on. It is as complex and chaotic as thing as India itself. But, as with India Herself, things actually proceed and get done.

We have been feeling the direct impact of the Indian democratic process in our mobile phones. Somehow, the mobile phones of everyone living in Andhra Pradesh end up in the hands of the political parties (hmmm, could it be bribery?) and we receive SMS messages from the main political parties. Here is an example

No job.... No money.... No hope. DO NOT LOSE HOPE. Bring back the leader. BRING BACK CHANDRABABU. THE leader who will make a difference in our lives. THE JOBLESS.

^ The Chandrababu in question is Chandrababu Naidu, a man who was central in the development of Hyderabad as a major city in the tech boom. He is famed for his trips to meet Bill Gates at Bill's home in Seattle and brokering a major development center for Microsoft here in Hyderabad. As of late, he is up to less dignified things - he is promising the poor of Andhra Pradesh color televisions if his party wins in the next elections. As a friend of mine noted - this is a sign of relative affluence increasing in India. He remembers a time when a bag of rice is what was offered for an electoral victory. One thing I have noticed is how many election posters in Urdu show Naidu with an Islamic skull cap (above). His name is recognizably Hindu. After looking into this, I found out that he is a Hindu, but reaches out to Muslims for votes. Think of Bill Clinton in a yarmukle (anyone else remember that?) and you'll get it.

^ Of note is that each party has election symbols (seen above) which allow illiterate voters to still recognize their party and cast a vote. In a country where many or most people are functionally illiterate, and those who can read often know entirely different languages and alphabets, it is useful to have a lotus flower (BJP) or a hand (Congress) to tell the masses who you are.

^ Some of the major characters in the recent election are a man named Advani. He was born in Lahore and his family was kicked out to India for being Hindus. He is a leaders of the Hindu nationalist BJP Party, which has many positive attributes, but it also seems to be a place from which Hindu bigotry occasionally emanates. In a worst-case scenario, the BJP is behind violence between communities. In reality, he is a very dignified man who speaks in India's defense in stark terms. After 26/11 (Mumbai attacks, transposed day/month is the Indian norm) he told it like it was and didn't hesitate to say what was going on. Looks like he was right.

^ Then there is the Congress Party, the party of Gandhiji and Nehru. It is a major source of power in India and has been for a long time. One person who is a leader, if not *the* leader of the Congress Party is Sonia Gandhi. She is the Italian wife of Rajiv Gandhi, who was killed a few decades back by a Sri Lankan terrorist. She has become Indian in most ways. She intrigues everyone here. She elicits very little animosity for being a foreigner here - except there is a guy named Modhi in Gujarat who said that she is part of a Christian conspiracy that has lead to various threats to Hindu identity, including suspiciously cross-shaped symbols on the back of the new two rupee coin (read more on this). This would seem silly, except Modhi and some like him have cranked up the rhetoric to the point that churches are being burned and Christians killed in various regions around India for evangelizing. But the real pain that Modhi has caused were the riots between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat a few years back, about which he has no words of remorse or reconcilation.

So, it can be inspiring, humorous, complex and even a bit scary to see an Indian election proceed. Like everything else in India, it has more masala than its American counterpart. We in America have the two-men-in-navy-blue-suits thing time and again, complete with the obligatory Democratic candidate's visit to a black church and the Republican candidates visit to a farmer meeting in "the Heartland" where he wears a short sleeved business shirt. Well, maybe this last time was different. Yeah, I guess it really was.

So - we're having fun seeing an Indian election up close. May the best Party win.