Sunday, April 28, 2013

Pondicherry Part 3 - Mahabalipuram

Mahabalipuram is seriously old and is home to many beautiful temples, carvings and my favorite Krishna's butterball. That my picture of this includes Wills is particularly pertinent for a variety of reasons.

Firstly when we first came to India on vacation in 2008 when Wills was three, he loved the story of Krishna stealing the butter from the Aunties of the village. I must of read it to him sooooo many times. He also loves butter - be it butter naan, butter chicken, butter pop corn and to be honest he was a bit a of butter ball baby!
From the shore temple overlooking the sea:

the elephant carvings, part of the Five Rathas which were thought to be done by students as part of their learning process,

to the more elaborate shrines,

the history is immense. As with all Indian historic sites we have seen you can climb, hide, run, explore all over them. A conundrum whether tis best to preserve these precious sites of bygone ages or to enjoy them first hand. Anyway in Mahabalipuram you can clamber over the monuments but woe betide you if you leave any litter:

Pondicherry part 2 - Auroville - the town of human unity.

Just north of Pondi is the universal town of Auroville. It is based on the ideals of Sri Aurobindo, whose ashram we had previously visited in Pondi.  The project was driven by this character called "The Mother". I never quite worked out who she was and why her picture and words kept cropping up around the ashram and Auroville.

I also didn't quite work out whether I thought the town was an enlightened inspirational idea, a hippy hangout for those running away from real life or a bit of a money spinner (when I'd seen the price of items in their boutiques!)

The town belongs to no-one but to humanity as a whole. To live in Auroville you need to be a willing servitor of the divine consciousness but you must not have a religion. This led to some debate in our family as to what constitutes a religion and whether or not this last sentence is a contradiction in terms. We didn't resolve this one and I think gave up trying!

 Auroville is also a place of unending education, constant progress and a youth that never ages. It wants to be a bridge between the past and the future taking advantage of all discoveries from within and without, boldly springing towards future realizations.

While I admire the concept of all living in unity - the details of a life in Auroville were perhaps a little too out there for me.

The center of the town is the Matrimandir which is supposed to be a symbol of the divines answer to man's inspiration for perfection. Only those in search of their own consciousness can enter.

Well it looked pretty spectacular in a star wars kind of way. Not sure if the boys are trying to figure it all out or just having a rest!

In all an interesting, thought provoking, conversation raising trip!

Pondicherry - part 1, about town

Seems a while since we had our Easter break in Pondy and indeed it is! We took both car and driver as we wanted to stay in one base hotel and do some day trips from there. The drive to Pondy is about 7 hours which as we left early in the morn got us there early afternoon. There are two routes from Bangers to Pondy the shorter very bumpy route and the longer smoother route. We took the longer route - which having spoken to other Bangers folks was the better option as we arrived in good shape just about! After driving round Bangers for so long Purander got a little excited seeing open road and had to almost have his foot removed from the accelerator!

We stayed in the Hotel Atithi. From a efficiency point of view this provided exactly what we wanted. There are lovely beach resorts but these are out of town and then we wouldn't have been able to walk into town and also really quaint little guest houses in the French Quarter but they don't have a pool which we wanted so we could laze in the hot afternoons after a morning of sight seeing. The Atithi met our needs well along with an excellent breakfast buffet. Again a point of interest in our household. Wills direct to the fresh made dosa station having already collected his veda and sambar, Ads searching for eggs and sausage, Simon a mixture but always finding something sweet and me to the croissants and fruit.

Pondy took a while to grow on me. I was expecting more French influence both in terms of quantity and quality. The French quarter is pretty small, but is quaint and there is definitely a little left over French air. Goa, I think, maybe feels more European in places but that I guess can be attributed not only to the historic Portuguese legacy but also to the number Europeans inhabiting and visiting the state.

Pondi is right on the beach and there is a long prom, ideal for people watching. This is one of my favorite pics from our trip.

During the day the prom is pretty quiet but there is always a welcome breeze. At night the street is pedestrianized and the food vendors and other street sellers are out in force. 

Funny to see the street signs in French and Hindi - see road name on left, as compared with the Parisien street sign, on the right - same colors tho! 

The French area does have wide tree line boulevards - very similar to areas of Paris:

And we did see someone sitting sketching tho it wasn't quite Montmartre!

And some of the buildings had a distinctly French influence both in color and style. Though the statue in the foreground is an Indian politician.

The boys did find crepes complete with "beaucoup de chocolat"

On Easter Sunday we were in temples, ashrams but also found a church! The whole trip had a bit of a follow the fedora going on - except in the pool I don't think I have a picture of one or other of the kids without one!

It was so hot at times for Wills his fedora wasn't enough, he ended up with scarf as well!

In the hot afternoons we retreated to the roof top pool - even I took to the waters and it has to be very hot for me to do that! Being roof top there's that strange sandwich of water (pool) buildings and the water (sea). 

The hotel had a really good rooftop grill - amazing chicken and lamb. But also a chance to try out some night time photos with my tripod - this is my best Pondi by night shot:

We found a couple of really yummy restaurants to eat in the french area - with great food and wonderful ambience:

Pondy did grow on me the week we were there. It is a case of been there, done won't be on repeat list of places to revisit but definitely worth a visit. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Down at the Dhobi

Driving back from down town Bangers to our little piece of suburbia, we pass an open space filled with billowing an drying washing. We are not talking a garden here but a couple of football pitches, a cricket ground, a couple of fields....big.

This is a home of one of Bangalore's traditional laundries or dhobi. It appears that not anyone can become a dhobiwalla. It is a position that is passed down from generation to generation and in Bangalore as in all big Indian cities there are some renowned dhobi families who have owned their business for generations.

Purander has obviously long decided some of my antics in India are a tad wierd but I think stopping in the heat of the day to take pictures of people doing their washing will need some beating!!

Essentially laundry is collected from hotels and big business round the city, washed, ironed folded and returned within the day.  It is so hot at the moment in Bangers and monsoon has not struck so I imagine business must be booming as everything must dry as soon as it is hung.

There are rows of huge stone sinks and table on which the items are scrubbed and pounded. This is not light work, although this lady, no spring chicken made it appear so.
 Water was flying and I wanted nothing less than to get in the way of the spray to cool off myself.
Washing of all shapes and colors was strung up wherever there was something to tie a line

 Nimble fingers could peg and unpeg in the blink of an eye!

Amazing how these traditional methods must still be financially efficient and carry on cheek by jowl with the hi tech.

Pink Elephant Sale - third time around!!

Today was my third OWC Pink elephant sale but this one was a little different - it was my baby.

And very like a baby it was at times.....or maybe more like a toddler - unpredictable, didn't follow directions, very dirty, messy and to be honest quite disgusting but at the same time friendly, warm and I did come out of the tantrum years a survivor!

As it takes a village to raise a child so it takes a gang of wonderful volunteers to raise a pink elephant sale.

Now it has left home, well the boxes (yes all 86 from my garage}) do I feel like an empty nester, not at all! Sitting next to a not so wee g & t, ice and a slice I'm quite happy - tho' I do keep having thoughts about how maybe we could do better next year.........

Why this jumble/rummage/yard sale is called a pink elephant sale......... White elephant maybe -that is the term for those things you buy that are perfectly functional but just don't have a place in your life. Your trash is someone else's jewels. But pink elephant is used to describe drunken hallucinations. As the gullible making overly optimistic comments might see pigs fly, hence those who have been on the sauce might see pink elephants. So how we get from white elephants to pink ones I have no idea.

I'm still not quite sure why I stepped up to babysit the pink ele ....I think that will remain an unsolved mystery!

This OWC jumble sale is huge. For weeks 'gently used, clean and sorted' clothes, shoes, household goods, book etc' are dropped off at kind members houses around the city or at our weekly coffee morning. Reread 'gently used, clean and sorted' Some clothes were good quality, folded and yes gently used. However at the other end of the spectrum my little pink ele was used as a trash can, a dumping ground for shoes with holes in them, shirts with stains and holes and dare I say it used underwear and I am not talking little girls socks.

Eighty six box loads of stuff arrived over the last two or so weeks into my garage to be sorted and re- boxed. Purander sorted and sorted. I have to admit at times he looked a triffle bemused by some of the western ladies apparel  - some of which seemed to him to have too many holes and not sufficient material!

Yesterday the boxes from my garage and a couple of other temporary sorting depots were picked up by a moving company and taken to the scene of the sale. Scene of the sale was far too close to Chinnaswamy stadium. Last night as Bengaluru became ben-gayle-ru as da man hit sixes into the stars and broke nearly as many records as his profusion of sixes I could hear the cheers as I and the guys bringing the tables and chairs followed the score on my iphone as we waited to get onto the badminton courts which would be transformed into pink ele 2013.

Leaving the venue with tables up and boxes close to their allocated space whether that be ladies clothes, mens, kids, toys, household etc. I and another amazing volunteer headed home to prepare for an early start.

I was back at the Ladies Club by 7.00am. As the hours ticked by an army of OWC volunteers descended, unpacked and prepared for action. At 10.30 the door opened and the volcano erupted. Push, push, shove, shove, grabbing bargains sifting through piles of colors, styles and sizes. Sheer bedlam - but fun!

What I like about the Pink Elephant is that it is not about “us”. It’s about something bigger. It’s about service. It’s about re-cyling. It’s about teamwork.  It’s about getting down and dirty and doing something for the good.

We banked over 2 lakh from the day’s sales. Money, which goes to our charities. We sold stuff we no longer wanted or needed to those who were excited to have and re-use. After the sale was over our charities were invited to come and take anything they could use for free. The ProVision girls had thought they’d only find enough stuff for their special needs school to fill an auto but ended up having to send back to base for a van. The remaining few boxes of stuff were taken direct to Home of Hope (another of our charities). Nothing wasted.

After arriving in the peaceful early morn to a couple of hundred boxes, neatly lined up and sealed……switching  to seven hours later being in the same place deserted but for a boy sweeping up the last remaining bits of trash and dust, I could only think how blessed we are to have the opportunities we have here in Bangalore to do even a little something for someone other than ourselves. After that little reflection it was time to catch up some fellow volunteers for a well deserved (I think) spot of lunch!! 

Monday, April 22, 2013

They come and they go.....

Ex-pats that is. Its the nature of the beast.

I have recently lost two good buddies - both returning to places where I will hopefully see them again but both departing before their time was up. And a few more of my Bangalore besties are pulling out this summer. I am so lucky to have my long term best friend across the street - and hopefully she is not going anywhere!

It's a little strange in the ex-pat world - friendships are made fast and furious. A bit like speed dating maybe. There's a necessity to cut to the chase. Expats obviously have one thing in common -  we are all away from home turf but that aside we come in many shapes and sizes. There are avid travelers, hands on volunteers, lunchers, shoppers, photographers, writers, tennis players, golfers, cooks - we are a mixed bag. But here we cannot spend years nodding to each other, then eventually muttering 'hows it going' and a few years later nervously suggesting a shared coffee....too late, potential friend may have moved to pastures new - literally.

I found this great expat blog and the author captures this exactly.

However, not many ex-pats in India catch buses - but that's one thing friend C and I had in common, an urge for adventure - Ok its all relative - we didn't exactly scale Everest but we did venture off the beaten. So with C's sudden, unfortunate and very sad departure I am minus a bus buddy! This is C on our last bus ride together - not happy I was taking her pic - far too tourist - not that we don't stand out some in any case!! C does put me to shame as she speaks some Kannada which the locals love including my driver!

This was one of our favorite places to eat and subject of a little misunderstanding. Purander's English is very good but once C and I were in our car and asked Purander to take us to Corner House (said food joint) but Purander drove off in the wrong direction - to 'Connie's House'

 So on our last lunch we returned to Corner House, on our way to Connie's House, and had our favorite behl puri and milk shake - not a well known combination!

On leaving Corner House and taking a short cut, the scenic route, to the bus stop we somehow got off course, off the beaten and my enduring memory of my great friend is us on our last little adventure!!

Will miss you Connie - big time!!

The Last Bastion

I really think that one of questions to ask when determining how settled you are in foreign parts is where do you buy your undies? Yes - your underwear - or in Indian I should be saying inner - wear.

Having been brought up in the UK, I was a real Marks and Sparks gal. Even after years in the US, I would retreat to the safety of the known and on visits to the motherland would scurry into M&S to replace the sagging and bagging. The off white with the pure as the driven. The faded, jaded black with the dark as night etc.

It was only after many years and less trips homewards as the brats were born and the family expanded that I ventured into Victoria Secrets which became my new knicker (oops American now) panties place. Only now have I realized what a significant moment that was in my Americanization.

So now in India, where to go, what to do........The washing machine seems to shorten the lifespan of elastic and stretch at an alarmingly fast rate of knots and as for a flash of an eye it has become a dreary sort of gray.

Its only two months before I pay a visit to the motherland and can enter the wonderful M&S lingerie section of my previous life. Or I could send Ads into Victoria Secret on his upcoming trip to US - JOKING, JOKING!!

But I have discovered an online undie provider, here in India. US/UK labels and sizes. Stocked up my virtual shopping cart and all went wrong.

Need a credit card - debit card will not surface.  We have managed with our debit cards. Actually I think that should say survived - for big purchases like air fares the upper daily limit is too low which means hassle I cant be bothered to write about, or maybe I have previously. After over two years in India, without warning when we'd totally written off the possibility Simon recently received that magic bit of plastic. Why not me, why didn't I get one so I could reinvigorate my little bits and pieces?

Well Simon has a tax identity here, manifested in a PAN card which doubles as Indian photo id. Me, I don't qualify. The only Indian pic id I seem to be able to qualify for is a driving license - sounds like another adventure - but I think I will get to M&S first!

And the last bastion........maybe it will be a credit card!!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Leadership Summit - for the not so little

Leadership summits span the entire school even down to the preschool. Again the logistics get lost in a certain amount of chaos and communication with parents is a tad late but the show itself was pretty good.

The kids managed to remain calm as the power did the usual Indian dance.....flicker, flicker, on, off, flicker and the sound came and went. The only criticism I have is that the speeches did not all sound as if written by the minds of an eight year old but came with a lot of heavy editing by minds more mature.

Wills was in the choir and got a front row slot. Normally being tall he is a back row boy but this time as he can hold a tune got a microphone position - much better to photograph. It looks like the back couple of rows have forgotten the words as no one is singing but not the case, just the front row sang the verses.

As with Ad's summit - seeing all the kids in their formals sort of makes the morning hassles and agro worthwhile. Though easy to say that now it has been deemed too hot (and boy it is hot!) for formals until hopefully the end of this school year!

The theme of this summit was equality which was conceptually a good one for the younger kids - simple to understand but a huge lesson. This is a country with so much economic inequality which is in your face day in, day out. Its such an opportunity for them to drill down below what they see from their car/bus windows and actually be check by jowl with kids they usually wouldn't mix with and see differences are only an accident of birth. They having been doing a variety of events with IICS - Indus International Community School -which is a school on the campus for local village kids. The IICS students came with them on their day at camp and they have also done some art projects together.

Even though only a couple of speeches were presented on the day, all the kids had to prepare one. In his speech Wills came up with a few instances where the IICS students had taught him stuff - they were good with animals at farm at the camp. Also, when he had been scared to do something at the camp they had encouraged him. He concluded IICs students and Indus students were in essence the same. Simple lessons but oh so important.

Leadership Summit for the big.....

The last few months at Indus seem to have been dominated by Leadership. It probably feels this way as MYP (Adam) and PYP (Wills) did their leadership summits one after the other. Anyway Ads' was first which was some time ago....which yes means my blogging is somewhat behind....not because my blogging interest has waned but I've been busy and as I catch up with my blog over the next week should become apparent.

As usual with Indus events, the build up seems somewhat chaotic, haphazard and then erupts in full panic. Communication with parents is late and lacking. But the event itself, the 8th grade leadership summit blew me away!

It was professional, confident, thoughtful and sincere. Several of the kids gave their I-led speeches. These kids were miked up, expressive, clear and concise and heartfelt. They drew on their own experiences to make their point and best of all had an action plan. Their chosen topics "Stop the eruption of corruption", "Children should be learning not earning"....

Ads was on the panel. Six eighth graders and a moderator. Topic Daniel Pink's book "A Whole New Mind" (which is actually an interesting read) which is about the move from an informational to a conceptual age as computer technology takes over a lot of the provision, analysis etc. of information. The topic for the panel: how eduction should adapt to this perceived shift. Some questions prepared in advance, but also discussion and questions from the floor. It was really impressive to see the kids (including Ads) think on their feet and formulate sensible, comprehensive and lucid ideas.

So many mornings I curse the Indus formal uniform but I have to admit on days like these - it looks really smart, pulls everyone together and offers no distraction from what the kids are actually saying.

I have a book, a sort of drop in/drop out book "Speeches which changed the world" which includes speeches from the Sermon on the Mount and Martin Luther to Bob Geldof's short, bleep, bleep, bleep Live Aid one-liner. General Ray's speech was up there. I'm not normally a fan of General Ray's but his speech today left Ads pumped and me....taking notes.....I never do that! A speech that was directed mainly to the kids, on the cusp of adulthood......"are you preparing yourselves for life" The difference between being creative and innovative. The myth that leaders are born, you are born with potential but only with effort will you become extraordinary. The importance of reading - it your vocabulary is shrinking so is your thinking. If you don't read, you cant reflect. If you don't reflect you won't act. 
The myth that todays kids lack imagination and perspective. Examples of what the black and white vision of kids, the simplicity of kids and their eternal optimism can achieve. TED 2013 - the 15 year old who came up with a cheap efficient detector of pancreatic cancer, the 18 year old with a cheap efficient way to recycle nuclear waste and 17 year old a bacteria to effectively eat plastic. 

 Congrats to Indus, 8th graders and teachers and espacially Ads and his buds, blazered up!!