Monday, June 27, 2011

Going dark and getting confused!!

Last night Adam's 5th grade teacher, from Graystone in San Jose, popped in to our house in Bangalore for a visit. Adam really enjoyed seeing her - 5th grade was one of the highlights of his elementary school experience.

Today, Monday, we met up with friends from San Jose who are visiting family in Bangalore. It was wonderful to see Veda, Pranav and Pavana and catch up on all the Almaden going ons!! Altho' it made me realize we have been away quite a while as Pranav especially is looking much more grown up.

Tomorrow we fly to Paris for a few days, then through the chunnel to the UK where we meet up with the Jumps, who are renting our house in California, who will also be visiting family in the UK. We are meeting up for the day in Cadbury World.

All aspects of our expat life are overlapping - the world is shrinking, its wonderful that living in India we are not loosing our friends and connections elsewhere - but the "where am I?", "what am I doing?" gets a bit confusing!!

But its also bye-bye blog for a couple of week and hello real espresso, croissants and CHEESE, not to mention vin rouge followed by the good old motherland, family, old friends from school days, college days.........and hopefully, dare I say it, not too much rain!!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Four weddings battery in the camera!!

Yes, I've now been to 4 weddings in the last seven months here in India. Last night Simon and I went to the reception (before the wedding) of a brother of one of his colleagues. I left my camera battery on charge at home - so pics are from our i-phones - not the best!!

This reception was hosted in a party hall in the distant suburbs of northern Bangalore.  Tracking down an address in Bangalore is not as straight forward as plugging the details into your sat. nav. or GPS. Every area has 1st, 2nd, 3rd.... Main and 1st, 2nd, 3rd....  Cross, which are not always in chronological order. As the city has grown the old villages/areas have slowly overlapped and intertwined. Essentially one slowly homes in on the venue. First one drives towards the area/village. Then one has to identify prescribed "landmarks" (bus stops, temples, malls etc) - these are normally located by asking other drivers, pedestrians, shop keepers etc. The trick seems to be determining who actually really knows where said landmark is and who is just getting a bit of  exercise waving their arms about in a random fashion. Once you have found said landmarks you know you are close and yes the brightly illuminated wedding hall is visible. As this is an auspicious time of year, weddings abound, so a quick check we are at the right one and in we go!!

Manju, Simon's colleague, had been involved in the preparations for the wedding for weeks. He comes from a very traditional Indian family, the extended family live together and therefore are all closely involved in the preparations. I'm not sure how many people were invited as the reception is quite an informal event as regards timings - you can drop in and drop out! I think everyone in the village (the outskirts of Bangalore seems to be a collection of villages) was invited. Update from Simon, about 3,000 were invited! A carpenter at Infosys, replacing a door knob on Simon's office door the following day, was proud to tell Simon he had seen him at the wedding!

The bride and groom had only met two months previously, this being an arranged marriage, and poor things still seemed a tad ill at ease with each other under the endless flash and glare of the cameras. They both looked great - the bride in traditional red and gold and I imagine feeling weighed down by all her glittering jewelry.

The format of the reception - which differs throughout the country, apparently can even be slightly tweaked from village to village -  got under way as people gradually arrived and were seated. The women and kids all in their finery - the color of the saris and the abundant jewelry was breathtaking. The guys however definitely lower the tone!! - pair of pants and a short sleeved shirt seemed to suffice. The bride and groom then walk down the aisle to the flower decked stage where two thrones await. At that moment everyone leaps out of their seats and there is a sort of polite stampede to form a line to greet the happy couple. It took a while for me to work out that once your particular family group has wished the couple, handed over gifts, been photographed, the next stop is dinner. So was the mini stampede to wish the couple well or head to dinner? Apparently in the village chatter the next day, the quality and quantity of the food can be a deciding factor in assessing the "success" of the wedding! I imagine this wedding passed with flying colors as everyone seemed to be enjoying the spread with great gusto!

As with everything in India there is an interesting juxtaposition of the old and the new. The photo/TV screen technology was the latest - as pics were taken they were instantly uploaded onto the 2 LCD screens - not just straight up but with all sorts of backgrounds and artistic effects.  This combined with the traditional Indian dress and the traditional foods and eating customs. The food is served on a banana leaf - hows that for going green!

I do seriously think that home cooked food, eaten with your fingers tastes the best. There's something earthy and wholesome about eating with your fingers and apparently it is more sanitary than using utensils, as long as you wash your hands. Apparently not all dish washers get up to temperature and people can get sick as much from the silverware, cups and plates as from the food. Well the food was absolutely delicious - we tried everything, at least once.!!

The hospitality was once again so generous. I always felt sorry for Simon spending long hours at work but now I've met some of his colleagues I'll have to rethink. They were all really friendly and a lot of fun! Apparently they are trying to educate Simon in Indian culture - I think on that one they have a long way to go!

It was a really great evening - and yes I am wearing the same, as for the previous weddings! - really gotta go shop!!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Shimla - So what did we actually do? (Part 3)

So, I am at 8,500 ft on a pony, no riding helmet, holding a camera, next to a snake temple, over looking a golf course - where else in the world could I be but India!!

We took a pony trek to get higher into the mountains and to see the world's highest golf course. There was actually someone playing! The pony guides led a few ponies in tandem and essentially ran up the hills, wthout breaking sweat. The beauty of the mountains and valleys was outstanding - tho the mist meant we couldn't see the distant snow clad mountain tops.

The "Toy Train" runs from Kalka to Shimla and takes 6 hours, going through 103 tunnels and over 800 plus bridges.  We took it for an hour from Shimla to Tara Devi. The train trip is quite an event for a lot of Indians and their families. Some of them were taking more pictures than me, family groupings on the platform, with the portly station master, (attired in white waving a green flag), all dressed in their best. The train duly wound it's way thro beautiful forests, over bridges and thro tunnels. The first tunnels causing much excitement and cheers from our fellow travelers, true Indian exhuberance and joie de vivre! The following sign was on the wall at one of the tiny stations we passed through - such wisdom. 

We got out in the rain and begin our trek up into the hills to the temple of the goddess, Tara. She is a manifestation of Parvati (Shiva's wife). She is supposedly beautiful but a bit "crazy" according to our guide - perpetually self-combusting. We  almost didn't need a guide but could follow the red and gold ribbon tied on the trees by pilgrims on their way, which reached a crescendo on the trees outside the temple.

 We all successfully made it to the top, to 8500 ft. I was really impressed with the kids endurance as they scaled the hilly slopes like mountain goats! The mists were still down so the views were not all they could be but still magnificent, if only in their abundance. The rich trees were white oak, cedar and rhoddedendrum, I never realised that our rhodedendrum bushes are imported cuttings by the British from these trees. I can't imagine what the forests must look like when theses are in bloom.

We also legged it up the long hard climb up to the Jakhoo temple from Shimla church. This was quite a climb. At the bottom was a board giving target speeds to top, for various age groups -  a time for the fit and the not so fit. The tourists huffed  and puffed, while the locals raced to the top in saris, heels and carrying babies.   We got to the top complete with our anti-monkey sticks, as the monkeys are a big nuisance - we also had to take off sunglasses and baseball hats - big monkey targets! 
And what else did we do?, well we shopped, just for souvenirs.
We made friends!!
And just enjoyed the incredible beauty of our surroundings, to return to Bangalore, refueled, recharged.........

Shimla - Fit, healthy and ecologically sound (part 2)

The British used Shimla as a holiday town - an escape from the summer heats in Kolkata. Lots of the architecture of the older buildings is a hangover from the Briitish days. The brick building in the background and the sort of tudor looking building on the right could be in Stratford on Avon!

Shimla is built on 7 hills and with such steep inclines at 8000ft it's not a place for the faint hearted! There are steps winding short cuts through spaces between the buildings - there is an elevator in 2 stages for the less energetic but at a fee. Some parts of the city are pedestrianized and to those areas everything, and I mean everything is carried in.
Food and drink carried in - nothing surprising there, except perhaps the number of crates of bottles!! Again note the Brit influence on the building.
But your bed??, And of course if you have a bed you need a mattress!

Apparently the people of this state have the highest life expectancy in India - due to all the exercise, the clean air and local produce - no fertilizers. Shimla is also the only town we have visited (I was going to write in India - but I think everywhere I have ever been) where saving the planet has been a top priority. Maybe as their lives are so closely aligned with climate systems and local ecosystems (economically dependent on tourism and agriculture) they are more aware of  changes to the planet. This is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been - and feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to visit - but you can feel how the lives of those who live here are dependent on the fragile balance we have with nature. Thier hold on economic survival is tenuous - knock nature off kilter and not only do we damage this  most beautiful part of our planet but we also destroy our fellow man.  

There was very little litter and non in the city itself, lots of trash bins, road sweepers ( even on the way up the hills) and lots of green signs. Its expensive to smoke here, 200 rupees per fag. Plastic bags are also banned - shopping is carried in recyclable bags.

It is hard life, altho' a long one and the faces of the elderly all tell a story - no botox here - but I thought the old folks here were incredibly beautiful to look at. 
Aren't these old ladies wonderful?

This is also a very educated state, despite not being a rich one, with the 2nd highest literacy rate in India. The old Viceroyal palace (big Scottish baronial influence) is now a post doc center and the program is highly competitive to get into. Our guide was fully conversant on US politics and also happy to inject some philosophy into his spiel. I didn't want to know how many languages he was fluent in. The zest for knowledge and interest in the world as a whole here in India is very humbling and puts my general knowledge and school girl french to shame!!

Vacation time - Shimla (part 1)

Our first holiday for a year - and what a year it has been!! I think we are all tired and needing to refuel, regenerate and recharge.

School is out and we are off. Everyone from Indus is off - most back "home " for the summer - even those who no longer really know where it is!! The boys packed their own backpacks - Wills seemed to feel it necessary to bring his U6 AVYSL soccer trophy and a hot wheels car starting platform which had to be investigated thoroughly by security in both Bangalore and Delhi.
We catch the late flight into Delhi, luggage checked through to Shimla but we spend the night in a hotel close to the airport, fall on our beds, and then back to the airport for the 9.45, no 11.30, no 12.00, no 12.30, one and only daily flight into Shimla.

I knew Shimla airport was going to be small but......I was watching the terrain change out of the plane window, more mountainous, buildings more Chinese looking, thinking we were getting close to the ground but yet no sign of an airport when bumpity bump we landed.  Talk about infinity swimming pools, this was an infinity runway!!! Our car, specifically ordered from the hotel, failed to appear, and after numerous phone calls to the hotel, we decided to get a local taxi, so us and our 4 cases squeezed into smallest of vehicles . The luggage filled the boot and the front passenger seat so the four of us were poured into the back seat, Wills on my knee - no seat belts or a/c as we twisted and turned along the hilly road to Shimla.

Turned out the experience was worth it as the taxi was paid for by the hotel and we were upgraded to the best room on the floor, stunning views from the balcony, a bottle of wine (not to be underrated as there is no such thing as 2 buck chuck in India - more like 10 buck chuck!!) And a chocolate cake for the kids!!

To describe Shimla where do I start - well by looking out of the hotel window!
We were In the middle of the endless green mountains. In fact the sheer scale of the beauty of the place was overwhelming.

Any tiny plot of flat land is a premium and the only way to build is up. Most of the buildings are either flat against the rocky hill sides or on the edge of a precipice!

Apparently the buildings are all on strong foundations and don't tumble off the mountainside, but looking at how close these shops are to a sheer drop down made me a little nervous!
This ironing guy found himself a bit of prime real estate, a flatish piece of rock on a retaining wall at the side of the road. 
The buildings went up and up in a sort of ad hoc fashion - when someone needed somewhere to live it looked as if they just build upwards on someone else's property!

We were here for a week, with plenty of time to on!!

Oh and by the way - if when we get back to the US I invite you to see my India pics, unless you are extremely, desperately bored or have horrific insomnia say NO, NO, NO, don't be swayed, turn and run! - there are far too many of them already. I have been through my Shimla pics twice, deleting with abandon, and still have over four hundred!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Cross Cultural Wedded Bliss!

This wedding really warmed my heart and hope for the future of the world!
The beautiful Tanu marries the true Brit Steven, amongst a mixed array of guests. This was wedding activity number 1 (of 5 or 6), the Sangeet - hosted by the aunt and uncle of the bride, who flew in from the US the same morning - it has to be reiterated that these Indian weddings are amongst other things a test of endurance! The happy couple also have an English wedding on the horizon!! Basanthi, the aunt of the bride, is a close friend of Shubha from her San Jose days, who we also know through friends of ours that live next door to Basanthi in San Jose. Adam and one of Basanti's boys, have also met on the soccer pitch in San Jose - small world!

This event is an evening for the two families to mingle, get to know one another and basically get the week off to a good start. Once again the hospitality and generosity I, a pseudo gate-crasher received, was second to none. This is the third wedding I have attended, some part of, in our 6 months in India! All of which have been "extended" invitations - so a huge thanks to my hosts!

This is me (yes - I am wearing the same as at the previous wedding! - time to go shopping!!), the beautiful Shubha in the middle and Basanthi, the gracious host. The whole evening was organized remotely from the US. The lighting, the music, the dancers, the MC, the food (so much variety - I couldn't do it justice!), the portraits, the astrologer  -I've no idea how they did it!

The evening had professional Bollywood dancers who wiggled and shook, gyrated, pranced and preened, beautifully choreographed and perfectly synchronized. And then, a bit less professional but just as enthusiastic, the Brits were put to task and it has to be said they bore up well!
The evening was hosted by a very "all - involving" M.C. who had everyone up and participating in one form or another. In the most part the groom's side were the pale and rosy Brits and the bride's party and hosts, the Indian side. When all were on stage, bride's side on one part of the stage and groom's on the other people kept offering to help me move over to join the right grouping!
The bride and groom were delightful (see above pictured with Shubha, Surya and Pranav), their families so welcoming, I wish them all happiness as they embark on their married life and the families futures are entwined. In fact the M.C. put it so well - all evening she had pitted the 2 families against each other in various competitive activities but at the end announced that there was no winner as the 2 families were now one!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wills leaves kindergarten behind!

Kindergarten graduation, which I have to admit was really cute, even tho' I find the whole concept a bit absurd. But I guess it is a mark of passage into the world of ties and belts! Yes, school uniform next year for Wills!

Now this event started on time and remained on or ahead of schedule - I don't know if I'll ever work out Indian timings!

Trouble with having a tall kid is they are always in the back row - so it's really hard to get good pics, especially when they are wearing their mortar boards!
All the kids looked proud in their purple gowns and the teachers speaking gave suitably tear inducing words of wisdom. The kids did a sort of bollywood dance  - its amazing how some of them are so good at the coy wiggles and semi -flirtatious expressions already.
 Wills' teachers this year, Miss Marie and Miss Shanti have been truly great. Wills started off here sad, shy and scared but has ended the year happy, confident, with lots of friends and looking forward to first grade. Has academics have progressed well, and being the tallest and the strongest in the class he has done really well in all sports (won both swim races at the swim meet last week) which has been great for his confidence.
So it's hats off Wills!

Two "hairy" moments and wild elephants!

So far this week Adam has only been in school for 4 hours (2 hours Math test and 2 hours English test) and has managed two hair related incidents!
I have previously blogged that the hairdresser commented that Ads hair is most unnatural as its seems to grow vertically but I really didn't think it was too bad.

On Monday, while waiting to go in for the Math test, Ads was summoned to see the head of the middle school. He, a trifle nervously, decided to go see the middle school administrator instead (she's further down the food chain), and was told to go and wet his hair down as the spikes were inappropriate. So he hurriedly threw water at his hair and went to his Math test.

Today, while waiting to go into his English test, he and the "other Adam" in his grade were both pulled out of line by the head of middle school. Must be some connection with "Adam" and follicle issues!! Apparently the "other Adam" tries to have a slightly rebellious persona and his hair is a lot more wild and wayward and also longer than "our Adam's". But "our Adam" was told "Man, if you get your hair cut it'll look more smart" - he thought this was hilarious and is adamant he is NOT getting his hair cut in time for the last test, french on Friday.

Meanwhile Simon got an email at work, sent to the whole of the Indian office, which you would not see in the US/UK. Apparently wild elephants have been seen in Mysore and employees are put on notice to be extra vigilant on their way into work!!

Having read this morning's paper, I need to update this blog. Apparently the wild elephants were a real threat, one guy gorged to death, couple of cows down, not to mention vehicles damaged and another two folks in the hospital. One sometimes underestimates the powers of nature, so beautiful and majestic from a jeep on safari but so wild and viscous out of their natural setting.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Indian wedding - eating, shopping, dancing - can I stand the pace?

The other weekend I met my dear friend from San Jose, Anu, in Hydrebad for her niece's wedding. The generosity and warmth of her family were second to none and I had a wonderful time. The stamina and enthusiasm of the wedding party had me struggling to keep up for just one day of festivities, whereas for them this was already day 3 or 4 of the wedding activities, on top, for most of them, of a 20 plus hour flight from the US and associated jet lag!

In true indian style the arrangements were a little uncertain until the last moment - but all, as usual, worked out in the end! My day got off to a rather alarming (or not!!) start as having been tossing and turning all night worrying in case my alarm didn't behave as instructed, I did fall asleep and for some reason (user error Simon suggests!!) it actually didn't go off. Off to the airport and onto the plane with a new book - the hour long flight did not seem long enough.

Then met by a driver and taken to a guest house where Anu and the Delhi contingent were staying - all 30 of them. I met all Anu's delightful relatives - but I'm not sure I ever sorted out the cousins, in-laws, nephews. nieces, uncles and aunts. The laughter was flowing as we ate a late breakfast and everyone was so generous in their hospitality to this relative stranger descending upon their family occasion, only previously known by Anu and her mom!

After breakfast we headed to the temple so the bride (the gorgeous Ankita) and groom (the charming Shri) could be blessed by the priest. The temple was a wonderful marble building which had been basking in the baking hot Hydrebad sun all morning - it was now nearly noon. We took off our shoes - and now comes the character building part of the trip - had to climb up the glistening and gleaming bare marble steps to the top. Not quite walking on hot coals but as near as ever hope to get. The happy couple were blessed and we enjoyed the view over the city before we "hot footed" it back down to a relieved reunion with our shoes.

Hydrebad is famous for its biryanis and thus the next stop was a mouth watering biriani lunch. By now the party had swelled to include some of the grooms family, more friends and extended family. The goodwill and laughter overflowed and I felt incredibly welcome - this is a weekend I will always treasure.
The formality of the dress and some of the traditions is a wonderful compliment to the exuberance and sheer joy of all involved. The bride got to visit with all her relatives, looking glorious but also totally relaxed. See the beautiful bride with 2 of her aunts (Anu to the left)
Lunch over, it was now about 3.00 pm and I was envisioning a return to the guest house, a nice cup of chai and getting ready for the reception (scheduled for 7.00pm). However, I had overlooked the fact that Hydrabad is the pearl capital of india - so it was time to shop!!
And shop we did!! We took over the pearl shop, tried and tested, ummed and ahwed. From the simple strings, the mutltiple threads to the most elaborate sets, the contemporary to the traditional and back again.  From the pure white, through the subtle pastels to the brilliant primaries - they were there. Once one of our party had negotiated a flat 25% discount the shopping began in earnest. As it was now 5.00pm, an hour back to the guest house, time to sari-up, load all 30 spruced up folks onto the bus and drive to the reception.....I was getting a little concerned - but no-one else seemed distracted from the matter, or pearl, in hand.  

Eventually we returned to the guest house and of course had to have a cup of chai before the day took on a different hue - gone were the teeshirts and capris, the denim and cotton and its their place the most beautiful lush silks! Don't Anu, her sister and Mom look divine!
I tried on a lessor level to dress -up. I 'm not yet ready to go for the full sari - don't think I could carry it off!
I couldn't comment on the wonderful dress of the guests without showing you a picture of one of Anu's nephews - doesn't he look great in his full white Indian suit.
We then rolled up at the reception hall at about 9.00pm (scheduled kick off 7.00pm) and as you can see were one of the first to arrive - I have to learn to translate from time per invitation to expected time of arrival - there must be a formula!
The reception was amazing, once again the hospitality and joie de vivre overflowed. The bride and groom took position on the stage and greeted everyone - their huge smiles never looking less than 100% sincere. 
They were serenaded by unaccompanied relatives - who could actually sing, unabashed young guys singing love songs to the bride and groom - beautiful The groom's family, apparently thought their forte was in dance not song and danced with gusto for the happy couple:
Once again exuberance and sheer joy! Then everyone danced from the oldest to the youngest we strutted our stuff to the bollywood tunes. The brides and grooms family mingled,  the language of dance being universal. 
Even this little girl had the energy to boogie on into the wee hours. 
On arrival we had been offered plates of finger food which I decided was the food for the evening. But at some point after the midnight hour had long struck, dinner was announced!
At maybe 3.00am we were back on the bus headed for the guest house, where I tumbled into bed. The young ones stayed up all night playing charades but after a day of eating, shopping and dancing - you got to be kidding!
It was the most wonderful weekend and the hospitality and generosity of Anu's family is something I will always cherish!

Home to Bangalore for a nap - dream on. A quick turn around, then into town to see Chris Gayle do his stuff, wave our flags, and catapult RCB to the top of the IPL league. Go Bangalore! However this was a quick lived flush of success as in the play offs RCB weakly fizzled out.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Lost blog, "adaptation", and can't escape the paparazzi!

Having written a long blog about my wonderful weekend with my friend Anu in Hydrebad, with pictures galore, it disappeared. Somewhere, out there in cyberspace there is a huge assortment of nearly finished typed works of art and some very unpleasant nerdy dwarfs giggling hilariously as they extract yet, another almost completed masterpiece from some innocent writers computer! So while I steal myself to revisit the wedding in Hybrebad again, a short blog on a couple of bizarre occurrences.

Adam is in the middle, or he'd tell you, over half way through, his finals and today was science. As part of the biology section of the syllabus they studied adaption - how over time animals "adapt" to better survive in their habitats. Reading the newspaper this morning I came upon an article concerning an "adaptation" in the evolution of the Indian lady. One of the first things you notice while driving along the streets of Bangalore, once you have got over the surprise of the "cow sleeping in the middle of the road" and the "how many people can you possibly fit on a motorbike" is the number of men facing away from the side of the road, peacefully peeing. This activity can be done solo or in linear formation, in the undergrowth, the gutter or essentially wherever there is room to plant both feet about 18 inches apart. If you see a parked bike/cart/auto rick etc. the odds are that not too far away there will be a guy, his back facing you, not a care in the world sprinkling away. It appears that this maybe one activity where men can actually multi-task - as it can be performed one handed or even no handed - enabling the operator to smoke or even drink (this perpetuation of the cycle - makes me think this is from a male perspective, an enjoyable break in their day). A quick leap off one's bike to mark one's territory, enjoy the view, have a fag, shoot the breeze etc. The history is apparently, that, when India was predominantly fields men and women could go about their natural business in the fields, amongst the crops.

As described, the urbanization of vast parts of the country has not surpresed the male urge to go, but what is a girl to do? The construction of toilets has not kept pace with urbanization (but then most builders are male!!) so this is where "adaptation" comes in. This is not April Fools day I promise! A scientist has explored the effect of the lack of toilets on the Indian lady and apparently has observed some changes in the biological make up of indian females - enabling that which would, in the male world be deposited road side, to be reabsorbed and otherwise (I didn't really understand the scientific bits) broken down by the body. Thus enabling the Indian lady to go freely about her business in Bangalore, unfettered by the lack of fascilities We live and learn!!

Cell phones are a life line here - how to call your driver when you are out and are ready to drive home! But maybe I use mine too much. A funny thing happened to me on my way home from the gym....... Walking back from my work out, I called Shubha on my cell about something totally unrelated. I had thought she was at home as I'd just got an email from her. I wondered why, when apparently sitting in her house, she seemed a little breathless but maybe she'd run up the stairs to grab the phone. Didn't think any more of it and continued walking and talking until I was nearly at the corner to turn towards our houses, still chatting away and who do I nearly bump into? - you got it Shubha talking to me via cell phone!! Made me chuckle but also consider my overuse (?)  of my cell phone!

And of course, from the Bangalore Times - one is always aware of who is IN and who is out in Bangalore!! Of course its only the socially elite who make it onto the broadsheets! We were actually (by an invite of Shubha's) attending the opening of an art exhibition.