Mamallapuram #2

i must say that i am a little worried about the explosions around the country
it is a matter of odds
being in the wrong place at the wrong time
and who can predict???
when i can avoid crowds, i will, but that is hard in india
certainly traveling by train or bus is always a vulnerable thing
there has been a phone threat against kerala, where i planned to travel in 2 weeks time
and all of chennai (where i just was) was shut down by a red alert yesterday, as a precaution
terrorism is very real here
but people are busy trying to live
and only the wealthy and the tourists have real time to contemplate and fret

i am glad to hear from people as i have been feeling a bit blue these last couple of days
i am staying in mamallapuram, but i really hate it here
going today to look for digs in real india down the road
i can’t get an indian meal here, and it is overrun with the most obnoxious tourists imaginable
and amazingly they are not americans (whom i thought had cornered the market on ugly)!
yesterday i saw 4 grown men, at least 40 years of age, old enough to know better,
hopping up and down on a beached fishing boat, trying to overturn it end over end
then posing for eachother in “cool” poses
whether they could actually damage the boat or not is immaterial – the disrespect shown for a fisherman’s livelihood was so offensive to me i nearly went over there to tell them to stop
but natural caution and common sense took over and told me to stay out of it

this place is not india

it is some kind of disney theme park

thank god my project starts today

Mamallapuram #1

thinking of staying in mammallapuram and commuting to kovalam (kovalam in tamil nadu, 35 kms south of chennai, where my project is), because kavitha keeps sending me (and now also telling me, as i met her today) all these disclaimers about where they have set me up to sleep at BALM (which is the affiliate of banyan) in kovalam – disclaimers like: “it’s really basic, just so we’ve warned you” and “we haven’t quite gotten the bed squared away yet…” and “we are charging you a nominal fee of 125 R” (that’s about 3 dollars – that’s not a good sign). however, i may hate mammallapuram, as it is a real tourist trap and i am mortified at the behavior of the tourists. it may be an hour commute each way on a very hot bus…but i could stay in a room right on the ocean, overlooking the fishing boats…dunno yet, will try out the place for the weekend. right now i can’t get even a small plate of indian food here, as all they have is bogus tourist food. there is fish though, but only 2 hours of electricity a day to refrigerate it, which does not inspire the greatest confidence, but it looked awfully tempting on the plates going by!
looking forward to working on this library project. all play and no work makes this camper quite restless.

Hyderabad #3

Some cultural snippets:

On traffic:
For any of you who have ever spent time in a large Asian city, you know how congested and polluted they are. I hereby nominate Hyderabad for first prize in traffic congestion (my comparison cities are New Delhi, Bombay, Agra, Port-au-prince). Imagine Boston at its very worst rush hour. that is what the NON-RUSH hour times are like. now imagine four rush hours each day (yes, morning, noon, school release, and evening) where the congestion doubles and you cannot breathe from the pollution. that is Hyderabad!

On crossing the street:
Truly the most dangerous endeavor here is crossing a street. no streetlights, no crosswalks, and no right of way of the pedestrian. the pedestrian is forced to wander out in the traffic and dodge and weave until arriving on the other side. I do not have the stomach for this, so the solution I’ve developed is to look for a competent looking Indian human who is preparing to cross. I rush over and sidle right up next to him or her and stick like a burdock until safely across.

In the news lately:
The big flap in the Indian papers just now is that there was a huge confidence/no confidence vote in parliament on monday, the left leaning towards no confidence, spurred on by the looming Indo-American nuclear deal. The right won handily with a vote of confidence, so the pm is victorious amidst howls of rage all around about foul and corruption. many mp’s were bribed to vote against the whip, and a number of these were caught and thrown out of their party. the indians I have spoken with said politics like this are very common, so this is business as usual here, but indians are disgusted with the corruption.

On pan:
I tried pan – ladies’ pan is sweet – I wanted to like it, truly I did, but the jolt of rose perfume was so unexpected it caught me by surprise, and you have to bundle the whole leaf around the whole wad and stuff it all in your mouth at once, and really, all opinions to the contrary notwithstanding, I don’t really have a big enough mouth to accomplish this!

Here is a custom I have really warmed up to: drinking hot tea when it is 90+ degrees outside. The tea is milky and sweet, and curiously refreshing, even when you are standing outside in the sweltering heat.

On Gandhi:
I am reading a biography of Gandhi (actually not badly written, by Louis Fischer in 1951) and thought this an interesting fact:

Gandhi went to South Africa to practice law and said to his wife ‘I am just coming,’ meaning to return to India in one year’s time. after his year was up, he bought his ticket home and the day before he was supposed to leave he read in the newspaper that the South African government was proposing to take away many rights of indians in s.a. gandhi said to his friends, you have to fight against this, and they said, we’re not as forceful as you are, we need you, so Gandhi stayed 20 years. Wonder what his wife thought…

I have had two Indians in the last two days tell me that I am too polite. Indians see it as a weakness and take advantage of it. come to think of it, so have americans, on many occasions.

In the spirit of self-improvement, I have resolved to start being rude every chance I get. It’s very refreshing – y’all who have my same problem should try it out some time. I barked at a bunch of people today, and it was not only miraculously effective, it really cleared my sinuses. I highly recommend it.

Hyderabad #1

I am staying in charmless but clean digs with lots of stray cats around. I ignored all medical advice and petted one and tried to make friends with the others by buying buttermilk and putting it out for them. the chief feature to recommend this hotel besides the kitties is that the staff is really nice! There is a clean, bustling veg restaurant just a step away. it has dawned on me rather late that the south indians scrupulously use only their right hands to eat, saving the left hand for hygienic activities. Although I have felt myself exempt from this, I realize that eating with both hands would be akin to an african tribal woman walking barebreasted on our streets – perfectly acceptable in her society, and just shocking to our sensibilities, even if we understand the reasons behind it. So I have adjusted, as I do not want to be thought a barbarian.

Although prices have risen since I was here last, things are still very cheap. most times less than a dollar (42 rupees) can get me home in an autorickshaw from wherever I am in the city. A breakfast of idli and coffee runs to 20 rupees (50 cents). idli, you say? yes, I am sad to say that I have been rendered paratha-less by south indian cuisine – they just don’t offer it! those of you who know me well know that stuffed paratha and coffee is my favorite breakfast. I have warmed up to idlis, and also today I met a new breakfast item, vada, which can only be described as a savory doughnut. Never met a doughnut I didn’t like. They also serve dosas as big as your head.

I have decided to go to Chennai and pursue the library cataloging project. Somehow I will feel more productive if I work on something concrete, where I can see a clear before and after picture. I think volunteering in a school or tribal village project would be more effective on a long-term basis – at least three months, say. Just not ready to give up my day job.

Mumbai #1

So I was on the plane getting ready to eat my lunch (dinner? snack? who knows, as the time got really skewed and they put food under our noses at least three times). I took out my hand antibacterial cleanser and it exploded all over my tray and lap. I thought it missed my food so I took a nice bite out of my roll. Nope, got a good mouthful of it. Nasty wretched feelings took over as I spat and rinsed. After eating the untainted parts of my lunch, having nothing better to do, I started wondering – what’s in there anyway? and so casually read the label on the hand cleaner: “if swallowed contact poison center immediately.” This did not give me a warm fuzzy feeling. Let’s see, we’re only one hour into a 15 hour flight, and even if I could call the poison center, I don’t think my Hindi is up to this, so I did what any other sane person would do in this situation: pretended it didn’t happen.
OK, so now I am in Mumbai and my CS hosts (that’s slang for couchsurfing) are brilliant. I went to the train station – I have this down, I thought. “This” being the Byzantine system by which a person acquires a train ticket in India. I confidently approach the Women only window. I want a ticket to Hyderabad, 2 tier AC for two days away. Nope, waitlisted for every one. I know my cue: is there a tourist quota? yes, there is one ticket left and go down to the tourist window number 28 to buy it. I pull out my credit card to pay for it – no no, we don’t take credit cards. But, I protest weakly, the women’s window advertises Visa and Mastercard. Well, the tourist window (just 2 windows down) doesn’t take them, so what kind of currency do you want to pay with ma’am? OK, how about rupees. Yes, we accept rupees, but you must give the receipt that came with them when you exchanged them. They didn’t give me a receipt in New York (I lie). Well, we won’t do it without it. But you could pay in American dollars, and that would be 27 dollars. OK, I say, with a bad feeling, as I study the two twenties I am about to hand her, because I already know what is coming. Exact change ma’am – she is now looking at me with an evil eye. That’s all I have, I tell her. But (now is my moment) I could give you one twenty, and then (I add brilliantly) I could give you some rupees!! The dragon lady finally takes pity on me and prints out a ticket.
 Leaving for Hyderabad on Saturday.

India in progress


Hallo all – leaving for India for 5 weeks on Tuesday – early train to NYC, visit with cuz in Brooklyn, get a ride to JFK, night flight directly to Mumbai on air India – will my arms get tired from flapping? I’ve heard stories…
Trying to decide among three service projects:
1) a  K-5 school for dalits in Jaisalmer – students ages 4 -12; not sure what I could do there, but the weather is good now (the desert) and I could support teachers in the classroom around math/English, or offer music classes (which they don’t have in their curriculum), and maybe sit in on their Hindi classes so I can learn some (just now I only know acha OK and cello LET’S GO). Their curriculum is simply “math’s” English history Hindi. They don’t have a library. I think the kids probably speak a tribal language as their first language, so maybe the Hindi classes will be easy enough for me to get going! I’ve been to Jaisalmer, and it is great! If you don’t know, or don’t feel like googling, the dalits are the untouchables, the lowest caste, with no opportunity for education.
2) a tribal village project in Yercaud, a hill station in Tamil Nadu where one aspect is creating a community reading room/library. I am still waiting to hear back some details on this. Monsoon, but cooler.

3) BALM, an affiliate of Banyan, is running a project in Chennai for homeless, mentally ill women – they have a small library which needs cataloging. The weather will be monsoon.

Also have the opportunity to go stay in Patty’s Himalayan retreat in Almora – far away and no Patty boo hoo. but tremendously beautiful countryside; challenging to get to, and challenging to live from day to day.  monsoon. but maybe cooler…

Finally, does it make more sense to send group emails like this, or post on my blog (which might be too public, dunno, and I’ll have to start using capitals…)

You can sign up to be signaled by an RSS feed reader when a new blog entry comes (or maybe by now you are thinking how did I get on this list anyway???)

Feel free to weigh in on any and all dilemmas…



Week #9, Thing #23

I did it and I’m glad I’m done it. Developed a handful of new vices (oops, I meant skills) and have a lot to ponder for the future. Have a lot of technical skills to learn now, and will implement at least two new things I learned into my curriculum this year.

Week #9, Thing #21

Do people propose doing a podcast because it is less complicated than creating a video? Every podcast I’ve heard so far would be improved by video footage. I heard one little boy describing how to draw his own face in generally anatomically correct proportions. This just seems silly to me, except for the stuff which is only music.

 As someone who hates to be read to (the words come too slowly), I fail to see the value of Composting – Making Soil Improver from Rubbish. This exists somewhere as a written document. However, I can see a great use here for blind people, aural learners, and anyone with a lot of driving time on his/her hands who wants to learn stuff while commuting. It’s just not for me! Anyway, how is a blind person supposed to identify the link on his/her computer? There must be a technology invented for this already….

Week #9, Thing #20

I now get it. Blogs allow everyone to publish their writing. And Youtube allows everyone to be a filmmaker.

After amusing myself with a lot of trash, I searched “Burma” and got Jim Carrey advocating and then watched a response video to his speech. The upside is that both were compelling and short. The downside is that there is no way of checking for accuracy without doing a lot of extra research. The response video had a big typo in the opening credits, although the content of the video was great. I will use Youtube with discretion. Well, that’s not news!!