headermask image

roaming the world and enjoying the scenery...

category archive listing Category Archives: India

Thanksgiving under siege

Today is the day that we are celebrating Thanksgiving in Mumbai. Before the events of the last two days, our schedule was such that the kids had a half day on Thursday and we were all off on Friday. Obviously many plans for the holiday have been scrapped (such as the full-blown Thanksgiving dinner – at $70 a plate – that was to take place at the Taj hotel). Teachers had several smaller events set up, including an all-apartment potluck here in Kiara that still took place, but pretty much anything that involves leaving one’s home has been called off.

Today’s news has been such a combination of pronouncements that are at odds with each other that there is no real way to know what is going on. We’ve heard alternately that first one, then the other hotel is cleared, and then see reports of new gunfights and explosions. As I write this in the early evening, we really don’t know the status of events, except that things are not cleared up.

One of the more ‘in your face’ reminders of what is going on are intermittent security warnings we receive via email from the US consulate. As the terrorist situation is still ongoing, what sometimes seem to be over-the-top paranoid pronouncements appear a little more grounded in reality. Excerpts from the alerts:

TERROR ATTACKS IN MUMBAI

Terrorists attacked two hotels, a railway station, restaurant, hospital, and other locations in Mumbai frequented by Westerners on November 26.  Over 100 persons are believed to have been killed, and hundreds injured.  Gunfire continues between terrorists and police at several locations in Mumbai.  Some of the casualties are foreigners, and Americans appear to have been among those specifically targeted.

Due to the fluid situation in Mumbai, Americans are urged to defer travel to Mumbai for at least the next 48-72 hours.  Those currently in Mumbai are asked to take shelter at their current location and contact family and friends. 

U.S. citizens should exercise caution and take prudent security measures, including maintaining a high level of vigilance, avoiding crowds and demonstrations, keeping a low profile, varying times and routes for all travel, and ensuring travel documents are current.

Americans are advised to monitor local news reports and consider the level of security present when visiting public places, including religious sites, or hotels, restaurants, entertainment and recreation venues.  If unattended packages are spotted, American citizens should immediately exit the area and report the packages to authorities.

We had a quiet morning, chatting a bit online and reading all the notes that family and friends have sent us. The outpouring of concern has been humbling, and on this day of thanks we are again reminded of just how blessed we are. While we are nervous about what’s going on, about the best that can be said is that we’re not scared. The kids are handling things well – happy to have an extra day off from school.

Our Thanksgiving celebration was doubly special, in that we were able to celebrate old and new friends with joy as well as somberly look at how recent events will continue to impact us for some time to come. We certainly ate well with flavors from all over the world: treats ranging from roasted chicken to candied yams to hot ‘n spicy burritos to fried bananas and cheese to ice cream on fig biscuits. Even though the ongoing situation did come up quite often, it was also fun to simply sit around and chat about things as silly as the multicolored poops that are currently descending from our fish (truly, that was a topic of conversation. Think I could just make something like that up?).

I just hope that news from the community is all pleasant when this is wrapped up: there are so many kids and families at our school who work at or are affiliated with the hotels affected, and word still is not back on everyone’s safety. In fact, the parents of one of the students I teach went out to dinner at the Oberoi hotel on Wednesday night and have not been heard from since.

Hug your families and count your blessings. Happy Thanksgiving from India.

We are ok

Good morning – it is early here, and we just got the proverbial 3am call from one of the school principals about today’s attacks in Mumbai. We are fine, the events took place downtown – far away from us. School is cancelled tomorrow (today); at this point all we know is what we can read in the news – thank goodness for the internet!

We’ll post more info when we know it…

Mangrove mania

As part of our school mission, ASB is in the process of developing relationships with various non-governmental agencies (NGOs) in Mumbai. There are certainly many areas where we have the opportunity to “enhance the lives of others” in this sprawling city, and in the middle school we’ve targeted three sectors for the different grade levels: 6th grade focuses on animal welfare, 7th grade on the environment, and 8th grade on education.

This past Friday was our first full day of working with the various groups, and both Dave and Alea had the chance to go ‘into the field’ to get some hands on experience. Alea’s group went to an animal shelter affiliated with the one we visited in Udaipur at the end of October (sigh – those pages are still not created or posted. Patience, patience) where they got a crash course in some of the issues and treatment options for city animals at risk. (Rumor has it that she also fell in love with a beautiful black kitten, which Susan will not let her bring home.)

Dave’s 7th grade class went to visit a patch of mangroves on the eastern side of the city. Mangroves are trees that grow in brackish water, where outflowing rivers and streams meet the sea and get ‘backflooded’ when the tides rise. Providing shelter for many types of sea and land life, protecting coastlines from erosion, and scrubbing a disproportionate amount of carbon dioxide out of the air, these important coastal features are threatened by development. Most of the original groves around Mumbai have been destroyed, and construction by both the fabulously wealthy (who want seaside views and golf courses) and the desperately poor (who want shantytown shelter in any place they can find it) continues to this day.

There are a number of organizations dedicated to working to halt the encroachment of population centers on the mangroves, and our school has partnered with the Mangrove Society of India, which works in Mumbai to explore the issue. With Rishi Aggarwaal as our guide and mentor, we headed to the mangrove sanctuary sponsored by Godrej, a manufacturing company that has set aside a huge swath of land outside their factories.

Lionfish with kids in the backgroundThe kids spent some time learning about the mangroves and their importance, seeing some of the different fish that make their home or spawn there (including the cool-looking but deadly lionfish), and going to a local school that runs a mangrove awareness program. It was quite an experience (despite getting devoured by mosquitoes!) that we look forward to building on when we return later in the year. We’ll probably get more engaged in “doing” things in the mangroves – this trip was more of a getting acquainted with the issues visit.

Of course, ask any of the kids for the highlight of the day, and getting into the mud would be your hands (or feet) down winner! The kids schlopped and schlepped through the thick goo, and anyone who did not have shoes that went over the ankle became a prime candidate for being a shoe-loser. Few things in life are more fun than a school day that includes playing in the mud!!

Another Goa-round

While not as extensively documented as our last visit to the beach state, our new Goa pages are now posted. In honor of the fact that today is an election day, we publish below a shocking photo of just the kind of crazy goings-on for which Goa is famous. As the lady on the right seems to be saying, “What in the world is happening here?!!”

No more horsing around

Aaahh. Back from a splendid week in Udaipur – a great city that seems to have missed out on a lot of ‘buzz’ at our school. We will certainly be talking about it with colleagues from now on, and a future trip could certainly be in the cards.

Despite the travel traumas inflicted by Indian Airlines (note to all – NEVER USE THEM!! We tried giving a second chance following the summer flight debacle, but two rescheduled flights later – rescheduled to different days, not just different times – our patience limit has been met), we had a very soul-rejuvenating and restful break. We spent a night in the city, two on a horse ranch, two at a country house, and one more in the city, and were just pleased as punch with the change in pace from Mumbai. It was quiet (aside from the Diwali fireworks) and low-key (aside from the Diwali lights) and uncrowded (aside from the Diwali tourists, many of whom were European): everything we wanted on a break.

The city itself is beautiful – set on a series of manmade lakes inside a ring of mountains. The locals have no problem reminding all who visit about how Udaipur is the setting for the James Bond movie Octopussy, and the fabulous palaces and royal residences make a great counter point to the pastel-colored houses. There is quite a bustling tourist trade here, but the shops and sellers were never overbearing; the atmosphere was exotic rather than annoying!

We will certainly add pictures and commentary to the webpage in the future (one of the missing pages mentioned in the previous post!), but for now this is just a notice that we are home safe and sound.

As for what we missed this past week – congratulations to the Phillies, Happy Halloween, and don’t forget to vote!!

Dry Day

Ugh. Can you believe it? This is something that we’ve been dealing with since we arrived here, but have not gotten around to writing about – yet.

Talk about an inconvenient bureaucratic holdover, foisting moral decisions on an entire society. The different states in India, for whatever reason, have decided that certain days during the year should be “dry” – with no alcohol sales. The reasons for this decision are lost in obscurity, but the original logic can still be seen in the choices of the types of days set aside:

  • national holidays (alcohol prevents a proper patriotic mindset)
  • selected religious holidays (people should not drink themselves crazy in a religious fervor)
  • important peoples’ birthdays, such as Gandhi (out of respect for them)
  • official days of mourning (so the grievers don’t drink too much)
  • election days (so people don’t vote drunk)
  • vote counting days, 8 days after the elections (so people don’t count drunk)
  • other days as state officials see fit (just to keep us on our toes)

Of course, the big complaint among the masses is that having a dry day doesn’t really mean that people don’t drink, it just means that it is more difficult to buy alcohol on those days. So of course people still get drunk and drive (as the police found to their surprise), all the bootleggers (that’s still a term in use here) have a field day selling marked up booze, and most middle class people simply stock up in advance to get through the day.

Everyone seems to know when these dates are coming. Everyone, that is, except certain unnamed expats who, although they know about the generalities of the law, are not familiar with the specifics. It really is a bummer to not really know which days are dry and then get caught calling every wine and beer shop in the area to no avail. Luckily they have really cool neighbors who loaned them a few cold Fosters to tide them over through a wet and rainy stay-at-home afternoon!

If anyone knows where or how to get ahold of a calendar listing these dates (by month and number, NOT by the name of the holiday, like Anand Chaudash or Gandhi Jayanthi, which doesn’t help me at all), let me know. In India, as in the Boy Scouts, it is best to Be Prepared!

Elephanta Island and the Gateway of India

I write this on a soaking Sunday afternoon, as we hunker down under the onslaught of the monsoon. The rains should be finishing soon (in fact, they were done last year at this time), but today they are out in force. This evening is the final night in the Ganesh holiday, and I am curious as to how all the water will impact the immersion celebrations. Will the idols start ‘melting’ before they even reach the sea? We’ll have to find out later.

Thank goodness the scene was very different last Sunday. We had perfect weather for our trip to Elephanta Island: blue skies, a nice breeze, a little 10 minute downpour in the middle of the afternoon. I’m glad we didn’t go today!

The caves and associated sights (and events) provided us with a very pleasant day trip. We tried to get some shopping in as well, but came up short in that endeavor, as many places have been closing due to the Ganpati immersions. Oh well – next time! I did get down to Chor bazaar yesterday to pick up some stuff that will be delivered tomorrow, but that will have to wait for another post. For now, enjoy the pictures from Elephanta (and the Gateway of India).

Ganesh street parade

Since this is the time of year when the drums, firecrackers, pyrotechnics, and music all combine to give us a sleep-depriving evening cacophony, it is only fair to acknowledge that the visual feast rivals that of the aural treat.

For many of the 11 days between last Wednesday and next Sunday, worshippers of the Hindu god Ganesh march behind brightly lit and colorfully festooned idols, taking them to the seashore to immerse the statue and bid farewell to him after his yearly visit.

Our house, while not in any way on a main throroughfare for these trips – especially since we are far from downtown (where the really crazy action is) – does get a fair amout of noise from these processions during the course of the holiday. A small side street apparently acts as a shortcut of sorts, and the Ganesh devotees make their way through the very narrow walls at a snail’s pace.

The other evening, after an extended round of fireworks went off (just as we were putting the kids to bed, of course), I decided to grab the camera and head down. When I got to the street, the place was crazy crowded, with the masses swaying back and forth and chanting. I ran into one of my fellow Kiara residents there, and we were soon tapped on the shoulder by another couple who had come out.

The worshippers were very tolerant of us running around taking pictures (as many of them were also), but at the same time they had a very specific purpose for being out that evening and were not going to be distracted from it. We observed and followed the procession for several blocks, and then let it head off down the road, eventually to reach the beach.

More pictures and descriptions of all this activity are on our webpage. It also links over to other pages showing some of the street decorations as well as the Ganesh activities and rituals (including the immersion). Enjoy!

The holidays are here

This week marks the beginning of the big party season in Mumbai. Ramadan begins tomorrow, so all the Muslims are gearing up for a month of daytime fasting and nighttime feasting. There is a large Islamic enclave clustered around a huge mosque somewhat near our house (on our route to school), so it will be pleasant to see the green and white flags festooning all the buildings in that quarter.

The really big draw, however, is the upcoming celebration of the Hindu god Ganesh. The Ganesha Chaturthi is one of Mumbai’s biggest holidays. He is considered in some ways the patron saint of the city, and many people and neighborhoods go out of their way to celebrate him. In a nutshell, he is invited into devotees’ houses to bestow blessings for a set period of time, and then – just as any honored guest eventually leaves – he is ushered out with great fanfare (carrying all the worshippers’ worries and cares) and immersed in water. As the idols were originally made of easily-distintegrateable mud, the entire process also echoed the birth-rebirth cycle.

A large elephant getting ready to greet the god Ganesh

A large elephant getting ready to greet the god Ganesh

This is easily the most colorfully fantastic of the holidays,as each neighborhood tries to outdo the other in the sheer size and spectacle of their pandal, or temporary temple, and idol that is prayed to, sung at, and eventually set out into the water. I’m sure that Mumbai’s proximity to the sea has a great deal to do with the popularity of the event here, and the city’s reputation for ‘living large’ is certainly well earned at this time. Going downtown just this past week, we caught a glimpse of some ginormous elephants guarding the doors of an elaborate shrine.

We had the chance last year to attend a family celebration last year, and are looking forward to seeing the city all swaddled in lights and elephants again!

(ps: the pictures from our latest trip to FRRO – the first webpage addition of our seond year in India – are now posted!)

Slip sliding away

Things you never consider before living in a place that has monsoons: after 8 months or so with no precipitation, the rains have a curious – though utterly predictable – effect on the roads here. That first little bit of moisture ‘brings up’ all the accumulated engine oil, axle grease, tire bits, and other assorted petroleum-based product debris that has accumulated on the asphalt. This creates a super slick skating rink on the surface over which all vehicles must pass.

There was the tiniest trace of a mist in the air this morning, and it made coming in to school a mess. Luckily our van driver is great and knew what was coming (and paid attention to the people on the side of the road waving at him to slow down), but coming over a hill we saw a dump truck that had slid completely around, a bus that skidded and shuddered from side to side as it was breaking, and several people walking motorcycles with freshly-broken side mirrors on them. Another teacher actually saw a motorcycle take a digger while going around a corner, but we just witnessed the aftermath.

There had hardly been enough precipitation to even qualify as ‘moisture,’ but the effects were certainly noticeable. I wonder what else will be in store as the weather patterns start to change. The news headlines this weekend were that the monsoon has hit Kerala (news story here), and Goa is starting to shut down as the rains approach. It won’t be too long now; the big question is whether it will start to pour here before we leave or not…

Breck meditating on the Kiara roof

Regardless of the rain’s plans, Breck intends on using every ounce of sunlight before we take off. He spent the afternoon soaking in the rays (while soaking in a tub) on the Kiara rooftop. What a fun way to enjoy the weather!

Pictures from Kerala

Kathakali dancer in Fort Kochi, KeralaFinally got the Kerala trip webpages all finished up and posted. The last big trip of the year always seems to get rushed in at the end of everything. With all the stuff going on lately – the end of school and getting ready for summer – they kept getting put off…

But now they’re on – just in time for Susan’s birthday (happy birthday, honey!!).

Honestly, with all the tragedy going on right now in this part of the world – from cyclones in Burma to earthquakes in China to bombs in India – it just feels good to be able to write about a pleasant vacation and include some happy pictures. So enjoy, and take a load off for a few minutes!

A Mumbai poem

We had a Kiara roof coffeehouse evening last Saturday night called CAF-ASB (pronounced Café – S – B). People shared food and showed off their talents in the arts: poetry recitation, singing, music, painting, etc. It was a beautiful evening accented by flickering candles, providing the perfect setting for such an artsy get together.

One of our fellow teachers here, Russell Bell, is a former actor and stand-up comic from the LA area (his blog about life in India is here). He had written a piece of ‘performance poetry’ about Mumbai that he shared with us, and it was so well done that I asked him if I could post it here. While it is much more entertaining “live,” the words and images contained in it still give a good introduction to life here. Of course, if you’ve been to India, some of these will make more sense to you, but in any case, enjoy “Mumbai” by Russell Bell:

Rickshaw
sida
Right jaao
Vos

Mera nam
Kaise ho
Tik hai
Ha

Is it Namaste or Namaskar
Donnavad or Shukria
Did he say yes or did he say no?
(head wobble)

Shilpa Shetty
Shah Ruh Kahn
Amitabh, he’s the Don
Sanjay Dutt, he carried a gun
Aishwarya’s hot!

Where do you walk when the sidewalk’s full?
Which goes first, bus or bull?
I stepped in something, that’s not cool

Mmmm Mumbai

Haj Ali, dhobi Ghat,
Juhu beach, god it’s hot
The big brick buildings seen at Fort
Were put there by the Raj

Chor Bazaar, Harry’s Place
Colaba Hawkers in your face
The British built India Gate
But a Parsi built the Taj

Chapatti
Roti
Murg masala
nan

Lassi
pani
durawalla
chai

Durga had ten arms,
Krishna loved his curd,
Ganesh’s Dad cut off his head,
At least that’s what I heard

Horn please, honk okay
You can almost taste the air today?
If traffic stops, just drive on the other side.

Where can I go to walk my goat?
Will I ever be able to wear my coat?
Something crunchy just went down my throat

Mmmm Mumbai

Cricket,
Wicket,
Sixer,
Over,
Run

I saw another three-legged dog lying in the sun.

The city, it’s chaotic,
A collection of colors and sounds,
It’s a concert of Life
That can be heard from all around
The instruments, the people,
Are divided by language, caste, and faith,
But the music, it’s all written
In one city – one place

Mumbai

Morning clouds in Mumbai

Clouds over the Arabian SeaThe sun has been coming up earlier and earlier these days, as we move out of winter (or what passed as winter here) into summer. This morning, however, it actually seemed darker than it had in days past. Looking out the window, we figured out what it was – there were CLOUDS in the sky!!

Now, this might not seem like such a big deal, but there have basically been none since last September or October. Of course, I’m not counting clouds of vehicle exhaust, or clouds of smoke from burning garbage, or clouds of industrial pollution, or clouds of ravens feasting on refuse – I’m talking about fluffy white possibly-precipitation-loaded atmospheric phenomena. They mean the monsoons are on the way. While I’m not necessarily a huge fan of constant downpour and flooding streets, the rains are welcomed in the part of the world as a rejuvenating shot in the arm and much needed dust-settler.

And since we’ll be out of India for much of the rain time, I guess that makes the prospect easier to take. So stir up the cirrostratus and let the cumulus accumulate!

Onions in the ears and watermelons on the head

We are in a foreign land filled with mystery and wonder. There is much to learn here.

Take for example the fact that, according to our landlady, people who are working in the fields in the hot weather will put onions in their ears and wrap them into place, along with an extra piece on the top of the head, to help guard against heatstroke. Well who knew?? She went on to explain that, should this fail in preventing someone from fainting in the fields, the close-at-hand onions were ready to be used as a resuscitation device simply by squeezing a few drops into the passed out person’s nostrils. Double duty.

(Interestingly, when I asked my students about this, they had never heard of such a thing, but they did confirm that what Susan heard as “shock” for the name of the summer season was basically correct. It turns out that in Konkani, a language spoken in Goa, the phrase for hot weather is actually shaa ckho. Bypassing the obvious “shock and awe,” I call it “shock and achoo” myself).

But, on the bus ride in to school, I asked a teacher who is married to an Indian about this, and she said “Oh that’s nothing – the Parsis who moved to India from Iran used to wear hollowed-out watermelons on their heads to keep cool when working in the fields. Their community was quite famous for doing this; but of course their are no Parsis working as field hands any more, they own all the land now!”

When you think about people who have to wear onions wrapped in their turbans or watermelon rinds on their heads as the only way for them to survive in the heat as they go about their daily work, it makes our lives seem oh-so-easy!!

Back from Kerala, to a horn-free Mumbai (almost)

The family in KeralaWe have returned from the sunny south of India, after 10 days of backwater boat rides and the four s’s – sun, sand, salt, and seafood!!

Our trip was a great success; 3 nights in Fort Cochin, a ride through the famed backwaters and an overnight in Alleppey, 8 hours on a ferry down the inland coast to (our one ratty hotel in) Kollum, 2 nights in bamboo huts at Varkala beach, and the final 3 nights at a place with a pool(!) in Kovalam with a flight out of Thiruvananthapuram (luckily also known by its old name of just Trivandrum!). Whew!

Of course, these names mean nothing now, but we just wanted y’all to know that we are back safe and sound. We’ll obviously be posting stories and pictures on the webpage and linking there from here.

In other news of the world, today was ‘no horn day‘ here in Mumbai, and it seemed to have a mixed result. We took 2 separate rickshaws home from the airport (since we’d bought so much stuff!!), and when we got in the apartment, Susan commented that she and Alea thought the ride was much quieter than usual. Breck and I replied that we had counted all the honks on the way home, and had totaled up 98 – which is admittedly fewer than expected. So success or failure? Who knows.

I'm number 1!I do know one success, however, that is set in stone: regardless of who wins the NCAA tournament today, I have – for the first time ever in my life – won my basketball pool. By one point!

Easter in India, 2008

Indian Easter EggsObviously a bit different than in years past!

While some things are pretty consistent from year to year (like my NCAA brackets falling apart before the end of the second round), our holiday patterns are wonderfully varied. This year we got to experience a true mashup of cultures, as a big Hindu celebration coincided with the Easter festivities.

Check out what was going on yesterday in the previous post (Holy Holi, Batman!) and then zip on over to the webpage to see other pictures from the weekend. We were just all over the place (and with Susan being a bit under the weather as well).

After all this, time to sigh in relief. One more week  – a crazy week nonetheless with a big Festival of Nations celebration at the school – and then we are off to Kerala!!

World Water Day

World Water DayTomorrow, March 22, is World Water Day, something that we have never seen or heard of before. In India, water is a very big issue for several reasons. There are millions and millions of people in this country who don’t have access to water, rural water projects are increasingly having trouble distributing water for industry, agriculture, and environmental projects (witness what has happened in Bharatpur), and the situation with global warming and the impact on water supplies is only expected to worsen. Unfortunately, there seem to be very few steps that can be taken at this point to head off further ‘drying’ here.

How to Convert Urine into Drinking WaterThe newspaper had a full page display titled “How to Convert Urine into Drinking Water,” complete with simple step by step instructions and pictures. I think it was meant as an object lesson in which direction things are going rather than as truly practical advice, but I could be wrong. In any case, a kind of disgusting way to bring a very real problem home. I guess you could say it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Ewww…

It’s official – Mumbai is big, crowded, and dirty!

Well, I’m certainly glad someone got around to quantifying this. I was worried about just how we’d stack up against other places around the world. I’d already known that Mumbai was big – ranked 1st, 4th, 4th, or 5th in the world depending on your population definition – but not that we held claim to further honors in the pantheon of megacities.

Woman picking garbage with a dog in MumbaiForbes magazine (which utilized a Mercer 2007 Quality of Life Report), recently ranked Mumbai as the 7th dirtiest city in the world. Compared with New York City (friggin’ New York City?!!) which sits at a baseline 100, Bombay’s cleanliness index is at 38.2. Adding to (or causing?) the problem is the fact that Mumbai is the most densely populated city in the world.

Other Indian cities are listed as well, but Mumbai “wins” overall. This is really no surprise at all, as we see the junk in the air that we breathe and on the ground where we walk and in the water all around us.

It is sort of gratifying (in a really sick, backhanded way) to have an ‘authority’ say, “No, you’re not being oversensitive. It really IS that dirty where you live.” What a relief, huh?

NOTE – after originally posting this, I came across a Reader’s Digest article that confirms that Mumbai is also the least courteous city in the world. We ARE #1!!

Loose ends for the weekend

I’ve added a few pages to the website, but never got around to listing them here, so if you are among our readership (which I think is now somewhere between 3 and 5 people per week), here are some of the random new pictures and all you can visit this weekend:

Anyways, hope that is enough to keep you busy over the weekend. I know it has been a chore from this end (labor of love, yeah, yeah, yeah).

Some pictures today…

Breck talking with Minnesota’s First LadyFirst of all, here is Breck, asking a question of Minnesota’s First Lady. The governor made a trip to India a while back, and while he didn’t make it to our school, his wife did, and Breck got to ask her a question! According to our director, “he was very articulate.” Way to go, Breck!!

Now for some from our Christmas trip. These are the first pages, put together over the weekend. None of the page navigation is in, so you’ll have to keep coming “back” here to get to the next one, but at least it is a start. Enjoy!!

Happy Birthday, India (aka Breck’s Day of Star Wars)

breck.JPGToday is Republic Day, the biggest (secular) holiday of the year. Everything is shut down, and the country sits back to watch a huge parade held in Delhi. We had been in the city when preparations were under way in January, but we had to content ourselves with seeing bits and pieces of it on TV today.

It was like something straight out of the old school Soviet Union displays of military prowess: naval marching bands, goose-stepping army formations, and the latest/greatest tanks and missiles rumbling past bleachers full of (bored) leaders. The snap salutes and all-too-serious facial expressions on the paraders were straight out of the Cold War playbook, as were the newspaper editorials about how it is even more important to show the world how powerful the Indian State has become.

The only real difference was that the USSR – to the best of my knowledge – didn’t have parade participants riding on decorated camels, unlike the Rajasthan border control corps were (followed by people picking up the camel poop scattered across the street).

Ultimately, however, we all know the true reason for the hoopla: India was really out celebrating Breck’s birthday! (This year he was unfortunate enough to have it on a Saturday, but next year it is on Monday and we will even have a day off from school for him!!)

While people were dancing in the streets of Delhi, we were putting the final touches on our house done up in a scheme we call the Force Finest. We had a Star Wars table cloth (courtesy of YiaYia), a crossed lightsaber cake, a “pin the lightsaber on Darth Vader” game, the computer showing pictures from all both trilogies, and music from the movies playing all day long.

Things got off to a great start when Breck opened his first present – a huge Lego AT-AT (that is a Star Wars vehicle, in case there was any doubt). Much of the morning was spent starting to assemble it. Dad and Breck took a time out in the middle of the day to go to the school for a weekend soccer league, and we got to play speeder chase in our rickshaws (dad had planned on driving, but since our driver quit over Christmas, and we don’t really use our car at all, the battery has gone dead) to and from the school.

When we finally got around to actually having the boys over that Breck invited (2 from our same building), they played the Vader game, tested Dad’s force power by blindfolding him and attacking him with lightsabers, stuffed themselves with pizza and cake, opened up Lego sets and minifigure Star Wars dioramas, and closed out the evening to “The Return of the Jedi,” the favorite of the younger set because of those (infernal) Ewoks.

What a day, and what an evening. And tonight, there are going to be fireworks. It sure doesn’t get much better than that! Happy Birthday, Breck (and happy republic day, India)!

UPDATE – Check out all the action at Breck’s Birthday Party!!

Goa head

Sunset over Goa…and look at the Goa pages. They should now be pretty complete with our travelogue of the visit. After another silly week at school, those hours on the beach just keep looking better and better. Oh well, when the going gets tough, I just throw on one of the Goa shirts I bought and pretend I’m back there!

On a completely different note, I am sad to report that, since the previous post about spams on the blog was written, I have had to add 7 new drugs to the no-write list. The most recent was glucophage, which I know puts a big dent in peoples’ topics for conversation. (But Viagra is still OK to bring up, as Uncle Rob checked earlier)

Goa home

The Stutz Family in GoaAfter a full week of sun, sand, and sweet relaxation, we are back in Bombay. As mom unpacks to the snap-crackle-pop of post-Diwali firecrackers going off all around the apartment, the rest of us sigh in contentment.

There will certainly be more info posted on the goings on of this previous week, but I suppose a one-sentence synopsis is in order. To begin, however, a disclaimer – I have ever been a big fan of the sit-on-the-beach-and-do-nothing vacation.

Even with that caveat, I have no hesitation in stating for the record that this was probably the most smooth running, relaxing, fun, and mental-health-restoring holiday that we have ever taken.

The location was superb, the hotel was great (not ritzy, but exactly what we wanted), the pace relaxed, and the prices right. What a great time we had doing absolutely nothing (of course that’s not true, but unlike other trips to areas where there was a lot to see and do, this one was dedicated to the hedonistic pleasures of just relaxing, swimming, eating, drinking, and spending time as a family).

Susan wrote up a letter outlining our week; it is posted here at what will (eventually) become the webpage about the trip.

Goa way

We’re wrapping up the end of the week and looking forward to our Goa vacation. Everyone is very ready for a break: the kids are pooped after all the craziness around school, Susan is coming down with a nasty cold, and Dave is just plain ready to relax. One of the nice things about a holiday like this is that we are abandoning all electronic devices except the camera. No phones, no computer, no internet – just the beach and an old Portuguese fishing village. So don’t expect any updates for a week or so; and then we’ll have plenty to share after our return!

Week without Walls update

As promised earlier, and just in time for our weekend off, the WWW pages are now posted. Enjoy!