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roaming the world and enjoying the scenery...

category archive listing Category Archives: India

Schoolpix through the years

We’ve had a tradition of taking a “first day of school” and “last day of school” picture of the kids through the years, and it has been really fun to watch them grow up. Here are the shots, taken in Serbia, the US, India, and Indonesia over the past 12 years:

 

Alea’s graduation and summer vacation

Alea’s class had a celebration marking the end of 8th grade and middle school. And, right on schedule, the first big rain of the season fell during the evening’s events (as I predicted would happen way back on May 17)!

It was a super evening of fun and tears, made doubly special by the fact that we (and many of our friends) are leaving Mumbai this summer. Thanks to the wonders of electronic communication, we’ll be able to keep in touch, but of course that’s not quite the same as really being there.

This post also marks the beginning of our summer hiatus. We possibly will update a time or two over the summer, but look for the lion’s share of new reporting to come out of Jakarta, Indonesia starting the last week of July. As we said in our goodby email to the ASB staff:

Namaste –
To the ASB community, and all with whom we’ve had the opportunity to work and play.
Shukriya –
A special shout out to all of you who have so positively touched the lives of our children.
Silahkan –
Our doors in Jakarta will always be open, and we hope many of you will pass through them.
Auf wiedersehen –
Until we meet again, please stay in touch.

Last (full) day of school in Mumbai

The sun is setting on another school year, and things are crazy all over. Because this is our “moving” year, we have to make sure all the little details of leaving and going are taken care of, in addition to the normal hecticness of this time of year.

Today is our last full day of school, and as is tradition I talked the kids into a picture. Here they are with the Gandhi picture in the hallway, looking all ready for the world!
Breck and Alea (with Gandhi) on the last day of school, June 2011

If you’re of a mind, it is always fun to check out their school pictures from years past on our webpage as well…

An Eye for Art

Another great benefit of working in a world-class school is access to all sorts of cultural experiences we would have missed elsewhere. We’ve met figures from the global stage, dined with billionaires, and had evenings out on the town with business leaders. Our school has hosted world-class exhibitions and conferences, the students have had international sports stars visit, the theater program is rife with the offspring of Bollywood bigwigs, and the music program performs in fancy venues in Mumbai and internationally.

For me personally, however, the things I appreciate are those that I can touch, see, and keep. And that usually boils down to art – something with which this school is abundantly blessed. In addition to the photographers who roam our halls (have you been checking out this blog? You should be…), we have some fantastic painting artists (I’m sure there is a more correct way to write that, but I don’t know what it is) on staff.

We’ve bought multiple pieces of art from Jenn Baugh, our elementary art teacher, and Susan was given a work of hers as a going away gift. If you’ve ever been to India or read our blog, you’ll understand why she was so taken with it!

 

Horn OK Please

We’ve also purchased 3 pieces from Drishti Vora, another art teacher at the school. Both Susan and I really like the style of work that she does, and several friends have commented on them (and then commissioned pieces for themselves!).

Four Panel Buddha Blue Ganeshes
Red Panels


 
It was thus kind of fun to run across an article on Drishti in this weekend’s paper. Susan snipped it out and stuck it on the back of our Buddha painting, but I was lucky enough to come across a scanned-in version of it. Pretty fun stuff!

 

Drishti's article

Packing out

Movers in black and whiteToday is the true beginning of the end. Susan spent the day at home, overseeing the first part of our moving process. We’d arranged for the house to be cleared out today – and this was the first time she’d ever had to give up some packing autonomy to other people! Of course, I think the real reason she stayed home was to make sure that some of my things ‘somehow or another’ didn’t make it into the shipping container, but I might just be paranoid…

The amusing part about all this is the fact that we’d been told that today was the day, and everything would be out. Last night, however, we received a phone call about our “packing out procedure” which would be on Friday and Saturday. Today, however, this timeline has apparently been extended even further, with the ‘boss man’ saying they could be here through Sunday. Looks like our weekend plans are all set!

Return from Rajasthan

And we’re home again from another week in the hinterland. For our last big vacation in India, we revisited Jodhpur and Udaipur, while introducing ourselves to Jaisamler, the Jain temple at Ranakpur, and the huge fort at Kumbhalgarh.

During that time, India won the cricket world cup, an Indian activist started and ended his hunger strike, and the festival of Gangaur took place. Granted, we didn’t know too much about the hunger strike bit, but we sure had first hand knowledge of the cricket tournament and the festival!

We will – inshallah – get many pictures and travelogue bit added to the webpage, but I’ll just post a few here for the time being. There is a whole album on Facebook which anyone can access, so you can see a few more shots there.

Now it is time to settle in for the home stretch!

Why you should care about cricket

Not my words, but poignant nonetheless. It is a long article by ESPN, summing up perfectly the mania surrounding this sport – and the players – here in India.

As I type this, fireworks are exploding all around, as India defeats Pakistan to advance to the cricket cup finals. Most businesses were closed down for the game, and it is estimated that more than a billion people are watching tonight.

Take a look at what the hype is all about when you have a lot of time to spare.

Earth hour – sorta

Last night was the observation of “Earth Hour,” when people supposedly turned out their lights between 8:30 and 9:30 to symbolically save energy and save the earth. The newspapers today crowed about Mumbai’s success in this endeavor:

For one hour on Saturday, between 8.30 pm and 9.30 pm, the city dimmed its lights to mark the fifth annual Earth Hour. Families switched off their TVs and electrical appliances; in many restaurants diners ate in candlelight; and heritage buildings plunged into darkness to help save 103 mega watts (MW) of power—the highest ever since Mumbai joined the world in observing Earth Hour in 2008.

However, judging from our observations from the rooftop, there wasn’t a whole lot of darkness to be seen. Most of the town blazed away (s0 to speak), pretty oblivious to the eco-observation going on. Even the newspaper headlines were pretty ironic: “Earth Hour: In darkness, Mumbai shines.”

Of course the worst was the picture that was in the print edition of the newspaper today. Really looks like Mumbai is doing its part!!

Mumbai Earth Hour

 

Goin’ Commando

Goin' Commando!Since the terrorist attacks of a few years ago, there has been an increase in the number of Special Forces type police and military around the city. We were behind these two on the way to school one morning, and a colleague of ours took this shot through the bus window (thanks Marc!!). When we passed them up later on the route, we saw that the fronts of their shirts did indeed have “Mumbai Police” stitched on them.

It seemed to be a driving lesson of sorts, as the guy in back seemed to be trying to teach the guy in front how to operate a motorcycle. He almost banged into a couple of vehicles, but they were off on their own way before we saw any serious damage.

Interestingly, there is actually a law in Mumbai requiring motorcycle drivers (but not passengers) to wear a helmet, and there are always scathing editorials about the police not leading by example. I guess going commando really does mean no headgear, in any context!

Bishnoi

A simple word meaning “29,” the Bishnoi are a tribe that lives in Rajasthan, scratching out a living from the desert (and often working as long haul truchdrivers).

We visited a household during our spring break trip last year, and the pictures (and travelogue) are now posted.

Enjoy!

Last Goa pictures for a long time…

So our second set of Goa pictures from the last break are posted. Kind of sad to think that it will probably be years before we ever visit those beaches again (if, in fact, we ever do).

Cool Cash

The Fonzie-inspired one rupee coin - AAAAAYYYY!!!Actually, I guess the name should really be something like “Classy Coins” or “Mumbai Money,” but I like cool cash, and that’s that.

Wasting time in the FRRO the other week, I noticed the ‘thumbs-up’ on the Indian one rupee coin. Susan mocked me for having not seen it before, but then she mocked me even more when I thought it was just indicative of the Fonz endorsing Indian money.

Her perception of the situation was that it was to help the illiterate know how much the coin was worth – the thumb indicating “1” (and if you’ve ever seen the movie Inglourious Basterds and remember the bar scene, you might recognize that starting a count with the thumb – and not the pointer finger – is actually the norm around the world).

While I can understand substituting a picture for words (where there are many illiterate people), I’m not sure I buy the idea that people don’t learn numbers. For some reason, that just doesn’t seem to make as much sense.

This is the V-for-Victory two rupee coin!But I guess I was wrong, because guess what the 2-rupee coin has on it?

How good is your school?

So I’m back from a long weekend in the extreme India city of Varanasi, and instead of concentrating on posting pictures and the travelogue from that fascinating city (and finishing up the still-undone pages from our Jodhpur trip), I’m posting a few funny pictures. I did put some shots up on Facebook, so if you are my friend you can see them here.

But the topic of today’s post is schooling in India. While visiting Varanasi, I noticed that there are several different ‘levels’ of schooling available. Let’s look at them, shall we (and please note that this entire post is firmly tongue in cheek).

At the top of the heap, the "persnolity" developing ApexAcademy

At the very top of the heap is the Apex school, of course. Notice the emphasis on “Persnolity” development; extremely handy to perfect.

At the second tier, the Bright school

The second tier of learning is for the Bright kids – they may not be at the very top of the heap, but they’ve got some things going for them.

Standard Public School

And if you set your sights just a little bit lower, you can attend the Standard Public School. The horizons might be closer, but, you know, it is…standard.

Make your child indifferent

And, down at the bottom, I love this particular school. They are so very proud of their slogan – it is repeated on many signs around town. So now you know where all the slouch-shouldered, sullen Indian kids get their education.

Indifferent children of the world, unite!!

Wouldn’t wearing a helmet be more practical?

Oh God!I understand the power of prayer: it makes people feel that they are taking whatever steps they can to control situations that are beyond their control. But man, not doing anything else really seems to defeat the purpose.

I read these stories about people who would rather ask for divine intervention instead of getting a blood transfusion, or those who think that chanting a mantra over and over again will be more effective than seeking (and following) medical advice, and I just shake my head.

Here in Bombay, we see a ton of people who have a helmet on their motorcycle, because the law demands it. Notice that I didn’t say ‘On their heads,’ because that would be a lie. They carry the helmets around on the handlebars or by their feet, rather than wearing them, just so they have something to show a police officer. I know it is Christmas time and God’s probably feeling pretty generous right about now, but don’t you think He has more important things to worry about then precautions you could be taking?

Anyways, long lecture about this license plate we saw in McLeod Ganj.

Down from the mountain tops

Himalaya FamilyAfter 2 weeks off – 1 for the school’s Week Without Walls trip and 1 for our Diwali holiday – we are back in Mumbai and raring to go. Of course, since it is now report card writing and parent teacher conferencing season, there are no guarantees as to the number of immediate updates, but at least we have access to the internet again!

(and might I throw in that I was pleased to note my fantasy football team eeked out another win, even without my managerial help, to pull their record to 4-2. Go Stutz Slumdawgs!)

For a quick rundown of our family vacation, I’ll just cut and paste an email Susan sent, along with a picture of us in the mighty Himalayas. I’m sure there’ll be more – but you’ve gotta be patient, like a Tibetan monk (of whom we saw plenty)!

We are back safe and sound and busy doing laundry and unpacking.  We had a wonderful time in the mountains.  We had two hard good days of hiking – one up a waterfall and one up to the tree line on the Dhauladhar Range.  We also spent a day with a guide who took us to all the Save Tibet museums and preservation/education centers. So interesting…

We spent another two days with easier walks around the area and local sight-seeing. The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile is in McLeod Ganj, so we learned a lot about the Chinese occupation of Tibet.  I’m sure you remember the fuss about all that during the Olympics.  I guess the Dalai Lama just met with Obama??

We had an earthquake in the mountains!!!  It was at night and our bed shifted a full four inches and settled back – my first one!  We’ll get some pictures and video up soon.  Off and running – Hugs to all.

Ganesh finally gets online

GaneshIt has been a while, but I finally have finished up all 4 Ganesh immersion pages. There is some good stuff here, lots of which didn’t make it into the Facebook spread, so check out the better-late-than-never edition of this holiday.

And yes, I am away this week with Alea on our Week Without Walls trip, but though the wonder of the Internets I could schedule this in advance! How technological are we these days!

Heading downtown

No BullNew pictures on the webpage from our trip downtown last weekend to visit the Prince of Wales museum (I mean, of course, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya as it has been renamed).

We had a blast and saw some sights, but for me one of the most enduring images is the one that greeted us as we made our way towards Mumbai’s newest engineering miracle.

How far along in its journey from being an emergent third world country does a nation have to be to explicitly ban oxen pulled carts from the freeways?

Bandra Fair

Breck and I went to the Bandra Fair last weekend (the yearly event that we visited as a family last year) for a little guy time together. I decided deliberately not to bring a camera, as I find that can become the focus (ha ha) of what I’m doing, and I wanted just to hang out with him.

We did bring a Flip video camera, though, a device a little larger than a mobile phone, and shot a bit of video. Not too much, but enough to give a taste of the event. Enjoy a quick look at the Bandra Fair!!

Lightning over Mumbai

Lightning over Mumbai 1Our TV is still on the fritz (and our building elevator and internet went out last night) from the continuing electrical storms in the area. We had some neighbors come up to watch the show in our apartment last night, and they talked me into trying to get some pictures.

Now, going up onto the roof of a building in the middle of an electrical storm is probably not a real smart idea, but we waited until things moved off a bit, and then jury-rigged a setup as we stood around in the water (smart) with the camera sitting on top of a metal table (smarter) elevated higher above an air duct (smartest). Setting the camera to take a 6 second picture, I pointed it out and tried my luck.

Lightning over Mumbai 2

Wow! Striking the Arabian Sea right outside our window...

I got quite a few pictures with no lightning at all (of course), and most of the first shots were way out of focus, but I did get a couple of ‘keepers.’ It is pretty interesting how much lighter the first scene is, just because of the number of bolts that hit during the exposure.

The photos have been cropped to be the correct size for a desktop wallpaper, so enjoy if you want. In any case, now you know why we’ve been having all these electrical problems!

Workin’ at the car wash

Mumbai has a bit of a pollution problem, it is true. There are some piles of refuse scattered here and there, people’s trash (and human waste) can be found everywhere, and the great outdoors is often used as a communal garbage pit.

But that’s not to say that folks don’t take pride of ownership. I think most want to keep their motor vehicles clean, and we see evidence of that on our way to school in the morning.

There is one spot where, during the monsoon season, the sewer overflows with regularity. And, every time it does, we pass a lineup of cars and rickshaws parked, their owners scrubbing them down. In the backed up sewer water. Words fail me at this point.

Mumbai car wash

Shah Rukh Khan – who?

Hilarious difference in point -of-view happening right now between the US and India. One of the biggest Bollywood stars was on his way to promote a film in North America, and was detained at the airport in Newark. On that much, everyone can agree, but beyond that, things get a little hazy.

The Philadelphia Enquirer puts it Bollywood Actor questioned while the AP reports that Bollywood star downplays incident at US airport. There it is, no big deal, move along people – nothing more to see here.

Burning a flag for Shah Rukh KhanHowever, things in India are quite a bit uglier. From SRK (as he is known here) feeling the heat of American paranoia to Outrage in India, complete with flag burnings, this story is front page news all over the country. People are calling for protests and boycotts and just generally going crazy over this perceived slight.

While I’m no expert, there are a couple of ideas that jump to mind about this incident. First off, movie stars everywhere pretty much expect people to be at their beck and call. Can you imagine how a border agent is going to react if some guy goes, “You know buddy, I’m a movie star, so just back off.” Added to the fact that almost nobody in America (outside of Indian expats) would recognize a Bollywood movie star, I can just see the “Yeah, right – you’re up for extra checking” conversation taking place right away.

The second (and admittedly more likely) scenario was that he just randomly popped up on the TSA guy’s radar: here is a man coming from the other side of the world, last name of Khan, no baggage (it had been not made an earlier connection): isn’t this the type of situation we pay them to screen? A simple double check, taken care of by the book.

The third and most interesting possibility is that this is all a publicity stunt of sorts. He was taken aside after he told the officials his name; interestingly he has an upcoming movie entitled My Name is Khan. Coincidence – or not?

The best line of the entire incident, however, belonged to SRK when he was told that India should institute reciprocal checks for people coming here from the USA. His response: “If they want, I can frisk Angelina Jolie.”

Slumdog million neighbors

Obviously the movie Slumdog Millionaire has been creating quite a stir, with Oscar buzz and all sorts of awards already in the bag. It has been the center of some controversy here in India as well.

There have been protests centering around its name (people holding signs that cry “I Am Not A Dog”) and angry editorials about how it does nothing more than perpetuate the stereotype of India as a dirty, poor, perpetually-stuck-in-the-third-world country (sometimes called “Poverty Porn”).

Others have railed against the movie being termed an Indian film, as all of the people eligible for and winning awards are members of the British production crew rather than the Indian cast.

Street HomesPopular response in India itself has been rather tepid, with the common explanation running along the lines of “We live here and know what things are like. We go to movies to escape all of that for a few hours with some silly love, conflict, songs, and dances. Why would we spend our time revisiting that which we see every day? That’s not how we want to spend our hard-earned rupees.”

But all that hullabaloo is not what I’m writing about – nor is it the fact that here in Mumbai we are actually neighbors to millions of people like those portrayed in the movie: rich, destitute, and everywhere in between. No, this entry is about an actual cast member of the Slumdog Millionaire family: Opera Singer #2 in fact.

There is a scene where the stars of the film are running around during an opera in Agra, stealing from the audience members. What I’ve gleaned from the internet is that the opera itself is a recording from “Orphée et Eurydice” by Gluck called “J’ai perdu mon Eurydice” and sung by the Swedish tenor, Nicolai Gedda. The interesting part is that the person lip-syncing it in the movie is actually our across-the-hall neighbor: Tom Lehmkuhl!

Tom LehmkuhlHe and his wife lived in Delhi for 4 years and just moved to Mumbai this summer. They have the cutest little baby that Breck loves to entertain, and they often bring her with them to the Kiara rooftop to enjoy the sunset and a cold beverage or two. The parents are both employed at the school, where Tom is the choir teacher (of course).

Apparently he was approached to be in the film in Delhi, but the director wanted to use a specific recording of the music and just wanted someone – who really knew how to sing – to be a stand-in for the voice. The music department of an international school seemed a pretty obvious place to start, so Tom got the job, is in the film, and now has his own little place on IMDb.

Pretty cool, huh? I think now that I know he’s such a big movie star, I’m going to make sure to bum even more beers off of him!

(Credit has to be given where credit is due. Yesterday I noticed that our neighbor Elizabeth was writing an entry for her blog about Tom, so I told her right then and there that I was going to copy her idea. And I did).

STDs

One of the things I love about India is that STDs are very easy to get, and they only cost 2 rupees. At 50 rupees to the dollar, that is about 4 cents.

STDs

Of course, STD here means something very different that an STD in the States – Subscriber Trunk Dialing – they are public telephones scattered all over the country in little kiosks or shacks.

But still – kind of funny to see when we’re walking down the road!

Udaipur and Hawaii

Two great tastes that taste great together, right?

Actually, they have nothing to do with each other, but both are bouncing around in my brain tonight.

Udaipur is bouncing around for a “good” reason, as I’ve finally finished our trip pages. We visited the city during our Diwali break at the end of October/beginning of November, and what with all sorts of craziness going on here I just have not been able to get the pages done. But – done they are – all eleven of them! I kind of skimped on cool shots from the last day, but Susan already thinks I have enough ‘pictures of India’ anyways, so I guess that’s no big deal.

Hawaii is bouncing around for a “silly” reason. All day long I have been unable to get the Christmas song Mele Kalikimaka out of my head. And all day long it has been echoing through my skull with the word “Hawaii” replaced by “Mumbai.” I finally asked one of the school drivers how to say “Merry Christmas” in Hindi (he didn’t know it in Marathi), and now, to exorcise this demon, I present the verse of the song (hum along in your best Bing Crosby voice):

Shuber Nadal is the thing to say,
On a bright Mumbaiian Christmas Day,
That’s the Hindi greeting that we send to you
From the land where rickshaws sway.
Here we know that Christmas will be hot and bright,
The sun to shine by day and all the fireworks at night,
Shuber Nadal is Mumbai’s way
To say “Merry Christmas to you.”

Please let the madness end!!

It is all over

But at the same time, things are just beginning. It was confirmed last night that two school parents were killed in the attacks downtown. They have three children in our school, one in Breck’s grade and another whom I’ve taught for both years that we’ve been here. We have an all-staff meeting tomorrow to discuss what structures are going to be put in place to help us help them, but the tears have already started flowing here.

We appreciate that we are truly blessed in that our immediate families and the students themselves are all safe; there are many people in Mumbai and around the world who are mourning their losses. At the same time, the deaths of two people who were so energetic, full of life, and all around pleasant people to be with – and who leave behind 3 parentless children – because of the innocuous decision to go out for dinner one night strikes at one’s heart and gut. There is an empty spot in our community, and it hurts.