Archive for the ‘India’ category

Tea (Makes me Human Again) (And Elephants)

April 15, 2013





“It’s locked.”

“But there’s a key in it.”

“But it’s bolted from the other side.”

“Bolted?” I turn the key, push, push, shove.. “I don’t like this.”

“I’m not going to be able to sleep, if I don’t get water.”

“There’s a little.”

“Not much.”

“For brushing our teeth.”

“I’m not going to be able to sleep.”

“You have your iodine?”

“Yes, but it takes four hours.”

Me, pushing at the door again–“What if there was a fire?” muttering.

What I am not liking is that for some reason our host (it turns out it was probably one of his sons, acting inadvertantly) has bolted (from the other side) the only door that leads off of this house’s main balcony. This is also the balcony that holds the only entrance to our room. Meaning, because we are on the second floor, that the only way we could get out, if needed, would be to jump off the balcony, hitting, in this darkness, who knows what on the way, but concrete, most likely, at the end.

And we thought we had another, full, bottle of water.

“Maybe you shouldn’t have given that bottle to those Americans,” I gripe, mainly because we had encountered them in a few hours off their cruise. (Meaning that they could have gotten their own damn water.)

‘I got another bottle,” my daughter says.

But whatever that bottle was is now empty.

We have in the luxury of working wifi stayed up well beyond our host. We are essentially locked in our room, well, our room and its balcony. And the iodine tablets, which my daughter sets about finding in our luggage, will take four hours. And, well, our dinner was delicious but Indian food is rather salty, plus I have to take my malaria tablet. (Meaning anti-malaria tablet.)

Which means too that there are flies in the ointment of paradise. Big flies as the night goes on and something about a malaria pill taken without water at midnight swells up my throat and tightens my chest.

Very hard in other words to sleep, though the room is cool, comfortable, though my daughter does drop off at last, though the iodine tablets are busy doing their thing (which even at about 4:30 or 5, I find myself not trusting.) The main thought I hang onto — our host’s promise of a thermos of tea made available well before breakfast.

I get up with a headache and still-taut throat to get it – it is chai – tea and milk brewed together–and after three or four cups plus the host’s apology re the bolted door –we overhear some barked words at one of his sons – I am feeling somewhat human again.


it is what this place is all about. Munnar. Now home of Tata Tea Plantations (and several others.) Originally, a main site of the East India Company.

We have not yet been to the Tea Museum so I don’t know much about the history of it all, but there is one big fact we have picked up over the course of the day. Tea is an incredibly beautiful plant. The individual bushes segment the mountainsides in a mosaic of brilliance. One feels caught in a honeycomb of green, a catacomb of green (if catacombs could, like bellybuttons, come in “outies.” And verdigris.) (One other side effects of the malaria pills by the way is brain fog. This is also one i am positive that I am suffering from. Outies????)

The mountains themselves are beautiful. Old mountains with those eccentric shapes worn by multiple eons – vertical loafs and straight up points, and because they’ve risen fairly dramatically from sea level (I guess), and because we are in the very beginning of the rainy season, misted. (Like my brain.)

I am drinking more chai right now after a day zooming and walking among the plantation mountains with a super sweet and protective, but rather bossy, driver tour guide. Two women traveling need help he thought, and definitely tried to give it, though his English was not so great – “Are you from Munnar?” I asked. “No problem.”

But he glared mightily at any one who made brassy comments to us during the day, such as “from which country?” “Nice brassiere.”

And smilingly took us up and down various parts of the mountains. Bought us a passion fruit and a chico, warned us repeatedly bad bathrooms (making a growling noise to describe the smells), was very careful to hold my arm in a truly helpful way on the rough parts and offered, laughing, to carry me up the steep. Stopped to point out these incredible treed bee hives, and monkeys, and most importantly, four wild elephants. (It is really unusual to see wild elephants, and a small crowd had gathered by the roadside. )

Admittedly, I have a thing for elephants. But there is something that would move anyone, in seeing them flapping their ears in the bright greenery.

Yes, the side of the road where we stood was super-littered (it is an Indian roadside.)

Still. Elephants. Wild. The driver too was thrilled; it was impossible not to be thrilled; it was impossible not to look down at them and not feel some deep thankfulness that such animals ear-flappingly exist, even in a place as crowded and cultivated as this one.

“Lucky men,” our driver kept saying after we got back into the car, turning in his seat to point at us.


Above a couple of pics of the tea plantations, the view from “Top Station”, our very thoughtful driver, the wild elephants. My iPhone, which I am using as my only camera on this trip, only caught two.

PS – the tree frogs and what my little ten year friend assures me are squirrels are hooting like crazy right now. He is drawing rockets, me winged elephants, and now he’s gotten into the flying elephant game, only his elephant has a rocket instead of wings on its back. I include our joint drawing too.

PPS – sorry everything is so long and that I can’t seem to write wonderful little poems that pass on the feel. I am blaming it on the malaria pills.

Upward Bound (To Western Ghats, Kerala)

April 14, 2013


Just in case you are wondering, we did not die and go to heaven last night, although it feels like that right now. (Well, a bit.)

We have ascended (in a very competently driven car) about 5500 feet, and instead of being in a beautiful hot always-muggy leafy place, we are in a beautiful cool and only-muggy-right-before-a-rainstorm leafy place.

It is useful, if you travel mountain roads in India, to be in a competently driven car. The margin of error is thin – make that the distance between the sides of cars is thin. Less than an inch sometimes.

Driving basically means (i) passing, while (ii) avoiding vehicles going in the opposite direction that are also passing. (All this, in the mountains, on a one and a half lane road.) Avoiding also–and this is important–large buses that careen front and center even when the road curves. In other words, there is a reason one reads about terrible bus accidents in India.

To be fair (i) there are vehicles of all speeds on the road, and (ii) some of our 4 1/2 hour drive was spent on a toll road freeway in which everyone stayed absolutely on their side of the divide.

But, by and large, the process takes either (i) a careful combination of concentration and calculated nerve (I like to think this is what our driver had), or (ii) full-bore recklessness spiced with an unshakeable belief in predestination (as in – don’t worry, you will not die till your time has come.)

Signs like “Accident Prone Road” don’t seem to hush all the internal yikes.

But enough of that – to catch you up, my daughter and I both managed fine in our ceilingless bath last night. Of course, in the darkness necessitated to avoid mosquitoes, I did not figure out how to get water to go through the shower head, as opposed to the knee-high spigot, until I had almost finished my personal bath. “Hurry hurry,” I shouted to Christina when the shower head suddenly began spurting. (We had spent part of the day with no water, so haste seemed imperative.) (Also, process note – most showers/spigots in India pour out directly onto the floor with no division between shower space and toilet space, except perhaps a bucket. There is typically a drain in the corner.)

On the good side, there were no heavy thuds and squeaks from the bathroom during the night (as there had been in the afternoon). The fireworks across the river did sound like someone endlessly tapping on the door, but no one actually was, and we woke up to a fine muggy morning in which the very sweet Manu, who’d helped us so much with the computer the night before, told us that he absolutely intended to choose his wife (rather than have his marriage arranged), the little hot calf was tethered (entangled) in the grassy shade right outside our room, the crazy red ant that bit my arm did not leave a sting, and the hotel owner refunded in full all the money I’d prepaid for the second night (which we were canceling). (Though he was so doleful that I gave him a big tip back.)

In other words, all was more or less right with our particular little Indian world.


“Did I take you from your family on your holiday?” I asked our driver when he arrived promptly from Cochin, as it turned out to be not only Sunday (he is Christan) but also pretty big holiday here today. (A Hindu holiday but celebrated by all Kerala.)

“Yes,” he replied curtly. But pretty soon both Christina and I decided that he didn’t quite get the tone of my question, as he was an incredibly good guy, who did not seem to feel overly put out, and had even brought back a small canvas bag of books that we’d left in his car when he brought us to the Backwaters the first time.

The fact that I’ve taken over the tipping in the last couple of days (and probably give crazily high tips) may also have had something to do with it. Tipping in India is difficult. Though one understands that service people probably depend upon it to some degree, when you are here awhile, you can at moments develop almost a knee jerk reaction against it, just as you do against being over-charged. (My daughter, for example, is fine with the tipping, but she can get into longwinded arguments with rickshaw drivers over the equivalent of a quarter. I remember behaving similarly in the 80s, after I’d been here for a while, inspiring, at one point, such a fierce fight between two competing bicycle rickshaw drivers that one went after the other guy’s tires’ with a hat pin.)

But when you have been away and are freshly here again, you feel a little differently, especially in a place like Kerala where people really do not seem to angle much for tips, and receive them with seemingly genuine pleasure. (It is kind of wonderful to be able to please someone with such a relatively small gesture.)

At any rate, on our driver drove; on we rode. Over backwaters and under palms. Through something that looked rather like a true toll booth and through another one that just looked like some guys hanging around on the road in rolled-up lungis and golf caps. (Lungis are the draped cotton skirts that men wear traditionally in the south, long rectangular swathes of cloth, often plaid, that are wrapped towel-like around the guys’ waists, and then doubled into short skirts all day long –again and again and again. Refolding and tying their lungis seems to be a favorite pastime of many men)


Through horrible little quikie-mart type towns, past newly constructed and immense villas (Kerala’s booming in the IT age), little green mosques, Hindu temples, and huge multicolored Catholic Churches with big painted plaster-of-paris sculptures of Christ and Mary and various saints in large niches. From palm trees to bigger trees, taller trees, still jungly sort of trees, twisting and passing and just cutting in front or around or beside.

And now we are sitting on a balcony on a mountain side in the Western Ghats, with a very lovely room with attached bath AND ceiling, surrounded by extremely tall trees, tea plantations, spice groves, and much lower temperatures. Banana bhaji (fritters) and tea have just been served and a very sweet, very cute, but worrisomely garrulous little boy wants to race his plastic cars with us. (Wants to, a lot, all the while telling us about Bugattis and showing us all the different tricks he can do with his nostrils. My car, the smallest, keeps getting taken off by his fire truck for a tire malfunction, though the repairs always take less than a hour, he says, so that I can soon join the race again.)

So maybe it’s not completely heaven.

But close enough.

(The photos are as follows: above – my feet in socks and body draped in pants, against mosquitos and ambitious A/C, under mosquito net this morning; the little hot calf; one of the toll booths – note the “Bride Church”. Below -our driver’s very neat and religious dashboard, me photographing the ceiling of our bathroom, our balcony here outside of Munnar.)




Kerala Backwaters (From the Back–Hard–Seat)

April 14, 2013


My true post for today is the next one, which describes our trip from the backwaters of Kerala to the Western Ghats, but before moving on, I wanted to post some photos from the short trip we took in the backwaters in a man-punted dug-out boat. The area – on the border of the Alleppey District – really is very beautiful.

Granted, the dugout boat is also kind of hard on the backside, despite the small boards our boatman got us to lean against, and the coir (coconut fiber) mat that lay on the bottom of the boat. On the return trip, when the boatman got out of the boat and pushed the boat along the current while walking beside the canal, I sort of wanted to walk too–but Christina, my daughter, is much more gracious than I, and her feeling was that getting out of the boat and walking beside it might seem as if we weren’t fully enjoying the trip.

Needless to say, she won out.

Some pix below.

Just a process note – the women under the blue awning are peeling prawns (as a job). The red marker is of the local CPI (Communist Party of India) office. Kerala had the first Democratically elected Marxist government in the 50s, and it’s my understanding the party has been in and out of power at various times since.

Other pics include sad chickens (in a cage), happy ducks. Our boatman also stopped to show us how coir is braided – taking raw coconut fiber from a discarded husk and after shaking and cleaning by hand, rubbing it into a rough braid.

My daughter’s hat (inherited) has an ink stain in back.









“Resort” To Kerala

April 13, 2013

A prime reason to stay in a luxury resort hotel is comfort. The expectation is that the extra cost will protect you from some of the less pleasant aspects of life–fishy odors, power shortages, the need for a large pink mosquito net over your bed and the sight of a small hot calf tethered to the front porch. A resort hotel typically also provides little extras in the bathroom–shaped soap, shampoo samples, conditioner, and, you know, a ceiling.

We are in the Kerala backwaters not staying in such a luxury hotel. (When an idealistic person, such as a certain co-traveling family member, works a while for an Indian social welfare organization, the idea of paying the kind of prices charged by such hotels becomes highly objectionable.) So, we are having a much much cheaper eco-friendly experience.

It is lots of fun, mainly.

Well, right now as I retype this post onto my daughter’s teeny computer from my iPad because there’s no real wifi, while sitting under the mosquito netting, while firecrackers from a Hindu festival across the water feel like they are pounding at our door, it is a little less fun. And neither of us are truly looking forward to the rooftop-less shower. (It is more than fairly buggy here.)

But it is a lot of fun, mainly.

Turns out, of course, that the fishy smell isn’t actually the byproduct of staying by the riverbank, but the result of the hotel owner also operating a small fish processing plant on the property. The key for me – other than the odor – were the faded stenciled letters on the outside wall – “Finished Product Chute”.

But it’s truly a very small fish processing plant. Next to very small greenish pools outside. Staffed, it seems from the silhouettes of the small assembly line, only by women. And India needs all the rural employment it can get.

I cannot also say that it is super quiet here, as promised by the tour person who booked this for us in Cochin. There is one Hindu temple just below us that has hosted microphoned chanting all day, and one across the water that is celebrating a holiday with fireworks tonight. The prawn workers around the bend do not have a true building to work in, but do have a very loud speaker system–generally, they’ve played a mix of Bollywood and classical Indian; the children here of the hotel owner have a TV.; the adults another one. (The prawn workers’ music is actually sort of cool as is the chanting.)

BOOOM. (I won’t comment on the firecrackers.)

Still, there certainly is a kind of peace here beyond the heat stupor. (Boom zap zap.) In the daytime. And on most OTHER nights.

The canals shimmer with reflected palms.

And this particular little fishfarmhouse is also not so bad– the food is delicious and generous, the little calf does not seem ill-treated–it’s tether moves with the shade; when the power goes out, it usually goes on again quite fast(BOOOOM), and (BOOM BOOM BOOM), and though it is very very very hot outside, it is also incredibly beautiful. Green on green.

Still, one night instead of two, we’ve decided.

(I should clarify that the fireworks mainly just go bang; far fewer flares and sparkles.).

(Also I don’t know how many pictures I can post with the wifi situation. I may just get up the view from the toilet. Below. Tomorrow I’ll put up some of the ACTUAL backwaters .)


Fort Cochin–cooking with gas

April 12, 2013






Rushing from Internet to taxi to go to Keralan Backwaters, but in recovery from sickness, I feel I’ve not mentioned any of the wonderful things about Fort Cochin–primarily its beauty and the sweetness of its people — a very unusual mix of Catholics (from St. Thomas’s conversions of several centuries ago), Muslims, Hindus, and teeny teeny smattering of Jews from 2nd century (more on all this later.)

So while I still have the signal–patience seems to be in much greater supply here than electrical power–I wanted to post the above pictures. The beautiful girl is my daughter. Probably the coolest thing we’ve done is to take cooking classes with the wonderful Meera Leo of the Flavour Cooking School (more on that later too.) Meera really runs the “class,” but her very kind husband helped teach chapati making, and one of her little sons was also a frequent participant. The drawing is my attempted depiction of his climbing around from living room to cooking room to see what was up with us.

PS – the picture with Meera and my daughter shows them making Dosa.

Inside/Outside (Thoughts on India)

April 12, 2013

Two things that strike one very powerfully about India are (i) there is so much to be done, and (ii) there are so many people who seem to need something to do, who seem in other words to be underemployed, even some who have jobs of a sort.

I am not saying that people do not lead very hard lives here, They certainly do; many work a lot. The women office workers we met in Ahmedabad, for example, get up super early every morning to cook breakfast and lunch for the whole family (usually including mother and father-in-law) packing lunches in aluminum tiffins, little round stacked cannisters. After work, they must go home and shop and cook again–dinner for family and in-laws. Cooking, especially in a traditionally vegetarian context, involves several dishes–I do not think people typically use pre-prepared food, as they have very little refrigeration. (Hence, the fresh cooking twice a day–morning food will not last till night.)

Clothing must also take a lot of work. People, by and large, especially women, look immaculate. They are clean and super-pressed, all but the very poor and Western tourists who tend to look grubby, rumpled and mis-matched.

The homes and even hotels I have seen have not a speck of dust or grime or even much clutter. Inside floors are spotless. Everyone takes their shoes off to keep them that way.

And then one steps outside.

Let’s take Cochin. How shall I put it? There are limits to what a few wandering goats can eat.

That means that plastics and litter and crud line pathways, and roadways, and the parade ground, and any thing resembling a possibly public or unused space.

In the meantime, there seem to be a lot of people–men mainly–who sit or stand around much of the day. Watching the action. Or inaction. In one empty lot in Ahmedabad, for example, there was a security guard who sat on the dirt and grass and litter and moved his chair to follow the shade all day.

Am I saying that it would be nice if someone decided to pick up some of the trash?

If the hotel owners on this street in Cochin, right next to a large public field called the parade ground, for example, decided not only to keep their interior gardens immaculate but to occasionally pick up the parade ground itself?

Well, yes.

But there’s seems to be just an enormous divide here between inside and outside, between private and public, between what’s mine and what’s everyone’s, with seemingly not terribly much care about everyone’s.

The immense diversity – all the different religions and types of people–probably leads to some difficulty in identifying with “everyone.”

I also wonder whether there is not still some issue arising from latent concerns re purity and pollution. (In other words, that it is far more demeaning to pick up garbage than to walk around on top of it.)

(And it is hot.)

Sure, we have plenty of litter in the West. Just perhaps a lot more embarrassment and discomfort about it. It is the seeming lack of care about the refuse–this intense division between one’s own space and the greater world that feels so troubling, especially in the context of the really greater world.

PS – for any worried, I am feeling somewhat better, if not yet 100%, and very glad to have managed without antibiotics. Christina is a little worse for wear and for dealing with her mom. She is a trooper.

Below are some inside/outside pictures –Inside the gate of the little yard of our little guesthouse, and then some of the garbage burning just outside and the park/parade ground across the way.

I would note that you do sometimes see street cleaners. My sense is that they are very low caste people who are basically born into these jobs. In Ahmedabad, there was a woman sweeping up leaves with her hands. Touching anything on the ground would be deemed very low here.





Withdrawal in Cochin

April 10, 2013


This started as a post about travel in India, but I realize, not being able to post it yesterday, that it is truly about addiction. (Ha.)

Yesterday was both miraculous and miserable. The night before was spent primarily in the miserable stage, unable to sleep because of nausea and worry – my GI tract was still–how shall I put it–fragile–and we were planning a plane trip South (from Ahmedabad to Cochin) which was going to involve a couple of flights and an hour and a half taxi–and even packing seemed impossible. (This was not only because of sickness but because my daughter had gotten presents for about 12 people including ourselves at a shop run and supplied by SEWA, her women’s workers collective, plus we had been given a huge assortment of gifts by various people who have helped her here.) We had gone, in other words, from traveling light to traveling jammed.

As I made myself get up and open the thick, seemingly metal-lined, curtains (designed to keep out heat) onto the bright light of Ahmedabad, breakfast was unthinkable and I succumbed, at the urging of both my near daughter –the one in the next bed–and far daughter–the one on the other side of the internet connection–to stumbling downstairs to the hotel lobby for a can of Coca Cola.

I had not prior to yesterday morning drunk an actual whole Coke for over forty years. (Disclosure – I did have some sips of coke visiting Mexico a few years ago at times when there was no choice by coke or mescal). But a whole coke! Truly it was only a drink I had in my childhood when at most we had very small glasses at the local pizza parlor or sometimes a small frosty bottle from a gas station machine (the kind with the rows of thick round bottle glass windows.)

On the other hand, I was, about thirty years ago, seriously addicted to diet sodas –Tab principally. It was a cola drink made by Coke with a strong dollop of fake lemon intended to overcome the taste of the saccharine. I drank liters a day at a point, but oddly was forced to give it up when I came to India the first time- – in 1982-83. They didn’t have fake sugar here then — and once I got that particular monkey off my back, I never let it back on.

But I was reeling and now even my husband on Skype was telling me to view it as medicine, and truly, i couldn’t imagine even a sick morning without caffeine (tea out of the question), so I gulped it down. Each sip felt great until its cloying end when my teeth could actually taste how sweet it was. Which meant that guzzling was the only option.

At any rate, the Coke enabled me to get moving and, between burps, shove stuff into the backpacks and suitcase (to be fair, my daughter was working too) but when I went down to the desk both to pay and engage in an endless discussion about what time to get the cab–for some reason, language really failed here–I found myself leaning heavily on the counter and wishing to settle down in a puddle of bowel and despair on the hotel’s probably cool tile floor. I apologized for seeming snappish, mentioning that I did not feel well, and the young very cute, and seemingly genuinely concerned clerk offered to get me some lemon juice in water. To my credit, I did not scream at him that this was not a problem that would be solved by lemon juice and that I absolutely did not want water.

Then when upstairs and got on skype again to see what i could do about changing our flights till the next day.

I called as if from the States but got an operator from a country who seemed to be from a country where she had received impeccable training in politeness, but not in Coke-fueled American-style desperation, meaning that she could not seem to understand why I would not wish to change a set of flights that was going to last a little over four hours for a set of flights that would last fifteen and a half. (Long waiting periods between multiple connections.)

Resolve suddenly stiffed both will and gut. Here’s where the miraculous part begins. Let’s just go, I told my daughter.

And so we did. Yes, with lapses – leaving a tip for room cleaners, but not managing to think of one for the very sweet girl who made us and any bags go through a metal detector every time we had entered our hotel–India is very big on the idea of security at the fancier hotels–making people and luggage repeatedly go through metal detectors but never in fact doing anything when they set them off.

Having also to go through airport security twice – there is a separate check for each flight even in the case of connecting flights. There were also, I must point out, three lines for men and only one for women and children, so that the men’s lines were about maximum 7-10 men long, but the women’s had to be several times reconfigured to avoid blocking the entire space. Separate lines are used because only women conduct the scanning and pat downs of women, and men the scanning and pat downs of men.

But we got here. Safe. Eruption free. And now, oddly, the true desperation kicked in.

My daughter had suggested that we stay in a well-reviewed but fairly budget hotel. I had had my eye on a hotel recommended by a friend which had a small but supposedly beautiful swimming pool, yoga classes, and very good bread, but whose price had gone up hugely since my friend stayed there.

We decided to try the budget option.

Well, it was very clean but also very spare, with, it turned out, no wifi.

Our room, which we got with A/C, due to the fact that it is very muggy here in Kerala and also rather mosquitoey, also had no true window. (Two narrow panels by the door, which because we are on the ground floor were covered with curtains and barred.)

A very intense overhead fan, which combined with the A/C, set my teeth chattering. (I think that may also have been due to fever.)

And that feeling that it really would be great to just vomit.

My daughter was also not feeling 100 percent, as they say.

Especially since I began worrying again about our family member in Afghanistan and went on a brief crying jag.

She was willing to move she kept saying. She’d move right now, if I want, she added, popping pepto. What about some Cipro? she suggested.

She is a trooper.

I did not take the Cipro but did calm down. We went out for a brief walk.

It was dark but one of those busy Internet cafe, juice, all kinds of batiky-Indian print clothing, Kashmiri shawls, backpackery sort of streets that could be anywhere from Kathmandu to Bali. Not un-nice, but a little aggressive when you are past backpackery age. We bought some soda water. Spending the big bucks for Perrier because the Indian ones all were bottled to be about half-full.

Honestly, the hotel was super clean. Spare but nicely appointed, and I soon realized that what is fundamentally bothering me is the lack of wifi. (Well, the lack of window.) But it was night now and the wifi would be my night window. My connection with MY world, and a bit of a shield, I guess, from this one.

And here’s where the addiction comes in. I have a beautiful beloved fantastic wonderful dear iPhone and it works even when there is no wifi, sort of, but even the cell reception wasn’t great, but it got email, and seemed to take a photo, and would I thought take a blog post. But when I typed it up on the WordPress App, feeling some of that craved whatever-it-is seep into my veins – slowly, just a squinted drip at a time, I thought, I could then be happy and cheerful.

But then the whole post was lost because it didn’t load right, and despair set in again.

I put on extra clothes to stop the shivering.

Things picked up around 1:00 AM when I realized there were office emails I could answer. And when people actually answered me back. You know, about contracts.

And I called my husband and he said I had to stop worrying so much.

And honestly, this morning felt almost okay. But when the very nice hotel man said that he did not have a room with a window (we’re not talking view, just window), we moved, and instead of going to the expensive place, saw another budget one touted by the guidebook as we went by in the auto rickshaw and have ended up here. The Delight Homestay, which has a lovely garden, and two windows in the A/C room! And wifi if I go sit outside and walk around looking for it.

The veins are pumping. The shakes have slowed.


PS – I am so sorry that I’ve not been able to return visits. I really appreciate your kind comments and visits and will make an effort to reciprocate.

PPS – Fort Cochin is in northern Kerala, and Kerala is in the southwest tip of India. I will write more in the next day or so. The people are very pleasant and courteous. Their features tend to be somewhat different from North Indians–they curly haired and have softer, more rounded features – to the degree you can say such a thing. It is about 30% Christian/20% Muslim, and I think the balance are Hindu (and maybe some Jains.) They speak Malayalam as the native language, but because this isolates them even within India –it is not, like Hindu, an Aryan language but has a whole different root system and alphabet–they tend to learn English as a second language, and use it quite well.

PPPS–there seem to be serious power issues in Cochin which means that although our hotel allegedly has internet and I’ve once been able to find a week signal, it is very intermittent. As a result, we have now gone to a very lovely Internet cafe which is, guess where, right next to our original hotel!

I am, however, supremely glad for the windows.

Below are pictures of boys playing field hockey and cricket in the large Parade Ground outside our new hotel.

Finally, I am sorry all the tenses get so messed up in these posts – interms of past/present. Reflects the way they are written and mymind state. Thaks for your patience.




Internal Rebell(y)ian in Ahmedabad

April 9, 2013


Sickness sits in wait in my stomach, all day within striking distance. Meaning I feel pretty yucky but have managed to walk around, more or less.

One searches for the culprit. (Although hopefully from a lying down position.) In this case, I think it was the habit of having filtered water at certain apartments and good restaurants that led me to have a big gulp of a cold glass that may not have fit that description i.e. was not filtered.

But then again it could also have been about ten other things, boiling (unfortunately not) to one main problem – overconfidence.

I feel a bit idiotic. In the “old” India, because I traveled alone, I was pretty good about the rules. Bottled water was not readily then so I had a small vial of iodine crystals that I carried with my passport case around my neck. Every day, I would mix a little water in its glass, shake it till it turned brown (almost immediately), and pour the stuff into my big green canteen. (Once the water inside tasted like skinned knee, you were pretty sure it was safe.)

Now, we go through six plastic bottles a day, and then, in our zeal to avoid plastic rely on the benefits of certain filtration systems used by good restaurants and certain homes we visit. (My daughter swears that the filtration systems are fine. For some reason – mainly that she is not also sick – I believe her.)

Still, I should have distinguished between filter systems and non-filter systems. (I guess.) (Or maybe I should have not eaten the mung bean salad, the raw tomatoes, the mint leaves, the ras malai, or shared lunch with about ten other people, all trying out each other’s tiffins.

Even in the old days, in the heat, it was hard to always stay strong. Then, my big risk (also go-to item) was a fresh cucumber. Indian vendors at that time loved to have their merchandise decoratively displayed so a sundial of pale pre-peeled, pre-fly-studded cucumbers would sit on an array of deep green banana leaves. These tended to glisten as every once in a while the guy would take his hand (right one) and flick water on them from a big can of murky fluid.

But I’d be so thirsty, and hungry–skinned knee gets tiresome–so I’d have to go through a series of fairly elaborate hand gestures and gutteral ne’s to clarify that (i) I wanted one of the unpeeled ones, even though (ii) the vendor should then peel it for me, and (iii) I’d buy the whole one; and (iv) he should not either dip his knife in the large can of dark water or (v) wipe the blade, mid-peel, on the gunny sack of cloth he kept by the tin. By the time I (vi) got him not to cut the thing into quarters and (vii) eschewed the spicy salt he sprinkled on each slice – salt – I am not someone that likes salt much, and frankly I was also a bit suspicious of his salt container which seemed to have a fair amount of other stuff in it (as well as on it) – he would think I was completely nuts. (Which, because I was Western, was to be expected.)

Anyway, I know it was not a cucumber this time. They are not, apparently, in season.

(Above is my daughter eating from a tiffin prepared for her on a regular basis for lunch. I do not suspect the tiffin.)

(Bad news – we have a dinner tonight with a family that I am very excited to spend time with, I mean, that I would otherwise be very excited to spend time with.)

(Good news – my daughter has found some fizzy water!)

Gloom (of Sorts) in Ahmedabad

April 8, 2013




India making me terribly sad just at this moment.

It is not just the poverty and crowding –yes, it is the poverty and crowding, but it is also the prosperity (of sorts) and the crowding.

We cross busy streets a couple of times today. Each time feels almost a miracle.

In the headlong rush of vehicles – little cars, motorbikes motorbikes motorbikes, auto rickshaws auto rickshaws–one has to hold one’s breath and dash. (There are not truly streetlights.)

The older India (of thirty years ago) certainly had many problems. But the newer India seems somehow almost harder, at least for the poor, with a congestion of people augmented by a congestion of motors –

Yes, I know. Who am I, from the wasteful West, from the land of the car, to complain?

We have plenty of miles of strip, uncrossable roadways in the U.S., car car car car car car. Unliveable, unbearable, shoulder spaces.

Of course, here there are people actively living in the shoulder spaces, curled up at careful angles asleep, or sitting squatting awake. Those are the very poor. But there are also those that just seem to come out for air, a bit of coolness, and sit on a parkbench, with traffic traffic traffic whizzing by.

It feels barely liveable in the heat of the day with traffic honking from every direction. But people obviously get inured to it. It feels like it would even be quite difficult for those in the midst of the traffic, but those on motorbikes look inperturbable, plowing headlong–well not headlong – they are dodging around each other nonstop–ahead. Men frequently wear headscarves to cover their mouths, while women wear scarfs to cover virtually all their skin – mouth nose eyes forehead hair. Many women even wear long beige-pink gloves over their arms, and toe socks with their sandals. Auto rickshaw drivers seem to frequently drive barefoot, their chappels – sandals–to one side of the gas pedal or clutch.

One must take care on the wider sidewalks – they are not, it turns out, actual sidewalks (though there’s little other space to walk) but further lanes for cars and motorbikes.. I think the idea is that they can drive there if they want to stop at a store or building along the way, but many of the motorbikes seem like they just want to slip by the throng. (And honk at you.)

In short, older more peaceful ways of life seem swept away as the new jams in, honking all the way. “Outside” becomes a onslaught.

And it can’t help but make one sad, worried. That the new prosperity does not seem to conceive of breathable air or space or quiet as any kind of natural right (or even goal), and those who are left behind by the rush seem to be left increasingly far behind.

I don’t know that we are particularly better about this in the West. We also trade liveability–quality air, space, quiet – for stuff. Lots and lots and lots of it.

But if the rest of the world follows us, or worse, follows us in terms of a desire for private stuff while also accepting far lower standards for public air, water, quiet, space, the world seems to be in for a very difficult time.

(The good news, the reason i am truly much more cheerful since starting this post, is that we also have been involved with the most wonderful generous caring, Earth-and-human-sensitve people. . Not only at SEWA, but with another charity that focuses on children at risk, called the Swapath Trust. )

(And even people not associated with a charity – even people on motorbikes – have been tremendously kind. After we asked a fruit vendor where we might buy vegetables, we were followed – and then led – by an old man on a very slow putting motorbike, who sent by the fruit merchant, took us on the circuitous route to the veggies. The vegetable merchant–but not the old guy who led us there–is seen below.)


Holding On In Ahmedabad

April 7, 2013