Thursday, April 29, 2010

Things to Do in Chandigarh When its 112 Degrees Out

Find a nice comfy spot to take a nap.

Find some shade and get a shave.

Find a job in an air conditioned museum and take a nap.

Hang out.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cruising Kasauli

It has been a bit warm here in Chandigarh, with daily peaks over 110 degrees. So last weekend we decided to head up into the mountains to escape the heat for a bit. We zipped through the skinny winding roads of the Himalayan foothills, with each child clutching a plastic barf bag. Despite many false alerts, we managed to remain vomit-free, a rather rare event for our kids on windy roads. The mountains are beautiful here, though a bit dusty this time of year. We did manage to escape to the much cooler temperature of a mere 102.
One of the treats of the mountains is the ever entertaining monkey drama. In Kasauli there are lots of these cute and fluffy, relatively well mannered gray monkeys.

This plump nugget and Ameen became friends. He enjoyed her chips, and promised to come visit us soon, though he said he prefers to wait until cooler days.

Kasauli is a quaint little town, which once served as a hill station for the Brits. It's primary tourist attraction is called Monkey Point, where legend has it, Lord Hanuman, the Hindu monkey deity, took a rest during his many exploits aiding the hero Rama against his battles with the demon king Ravan. Unfortunately we never made it to Monkey Point. For some reason, Monkey Point sits inside a high security Indian Air Force base. We diligently emptied our pockets of all electronic devices, waited a few hours for the Air Force officers to complete their lunch, pushed and shoved our way through a mob of excited devotees, only to find out that my painstakingly acquired Indian government provided proof of "Indianness" card was not sufficient proof that I was Indian. Upon leaving the premises, I was approached by many folks kindly offering me use of their IDs so we could go inside. After glancing at the handful of uniformed and rifle carrying jawans, we chose to eat lunch instead.

One of the many heritage homes from the days of the British raj.

We saw this lovely bovine shopping for "home making" things.

A devout Ramones fan working as a jalebi maker -- they were extremely tasty, perhaps it was the spirit of Joey Ramone and his sticky sweet voice.

And finally, an amazing sun set on the way back down to Chandigarh.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Akhand Path in Sukharan

We recently went to an Akhand Path in Sukharan, my maternal ancestral village. I wrote a detailed blog post a few years back on the history of Sukharan. If you're interested, you can read it HERE to see the story of how a Punjabi village formed and evolved. Also, don't forget, you can click on any of the images in this post to see a much more clear, higher resolution version of the image.

Random village singing extortionist women who heard about the Akhand Path. They sing and sing and sing and then say things like, "Aray Bibiji, you've come from so far, and heard our songs, please give us some money now. Thats it! More now, come on, we are such good singers. This is such a small amount of money for a person as impressive as you." This is the crew leaving after a successful mission of cash extraction; notice the bag of cash slung over the woman on the left's shoulder.

Ananya suspicious of yet another photo.

My nephews listening to the amazing kirtan in the Gurdwara.

I dig the Bollywood cinemagraphic quality of this shot.

These guddas used to be everywhere in Punjab, but the numbers have plummeted recently, like so many other Punjab classics. Modernization has really started to take root. Back in the day I used to love riding in the back of a gudda.

Fortunately, Facebook and the XBox haven't yet hit in the village, so raising Nishan Sahib at the Gurdwara is still a big deal. We all hung about for a few hours as this gentleman shimmied up the flagpole to wrap and raise a bright new flag of the Khalsa.

More fun with slow shutter speeds at dusk.

Nayan cruising with his new pindh buds, aka, Punjabi homeschooling lessons.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Long Walk to Freedom

A few weeks ago I went through a phase where I was inhaling books far faster than we could find decent book shops. As a result, I decided no more books less than 700 pages. So after a couple weeks, I finally finished the captivating memoirs of Nelson Mandela titled Long Walk to Freedom.

Mandela's life was so different than the rough image I had outlined in my head. For one, his life is far more exciting and inspiring than his speeches. Also, prior to reading his book, I associated Mandela with Gandhi or MLK, especially with respect to the latter two's idealism and strict adherence to the principal of non-violence. While it is true that he leveraged non-violent techniques, it is also true that Mandela was an effective strategist, and pragmatist; he later became a major proponent in the ANC for waging a violent campaign, ultimately founding, funding, and leading the ANC's guerilla arm called Umkhonto we Sizwe. Speaking in his own defense in the trial which saw him locked up for life, Nelson Mandela says:

We of the ANC have always stood for a non-racial democracy, and we shrank from any action which might drive the races further apart than they already were. But the hard facts were that fifty years of non-violence had brought the African people nothing but more repressive legislation, and fewer and fewer rights. It may not be easy for this court to understand, but it is a fact that for a long time the people had been talking of violence -- of the day when they would fight the white man and win back their country, and we, the leaders of the ANC, had nevertheless always prevailed upon them to avoid violence and to use peaceful methods. [...] it could not be denied that our policy to achieve a non-racial state by non-violence had achieved nothing, and that our followers were beginning to lose confidence in this policy and were developing disturbing ideas of terrorism. [...]

Umkhonto was formed in November 1961. [...] Experience convinced us that rebellion would offer the government limitless opportunities for the indiscriminate slaughter of our people. But it was precisely because the soil of South Africa is already drenched with the blood of innocent Africans that we felt it our duty to make preparations as a long-term undertaking to use force in order to defend ourselves against force.

The photos in this post are from our recent trip to Robben Island, where Mandela and other anti-apartheid political prisoners were locked up.

This is the limestone quarry where Mandela smashed rocks for much of his life:

And his prison cell:

My wife, Ameen, is shown chatting with our guide, who was a prisoner sentenced to life in prison who served 13 years. He was caught after a botched power station bombing attempt. I asked him how it felt to live on the island guiding tourists through the prison he spent so much of his life in. He said it felt great to tell the freedom story of South Africa every day.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

1st Day of School

After months of homeschooling, we have finally surrendered our children's learning to someone else. The kids started school today at The Millenium School in Mohali. After multiple frustrating months of trying to arrange for the kids admission remotely, and despite all the warnings we got from folks, it was remarkably simple to find a great school and get them admitted on arrival. The hardest part was actually paying for the school (and our flat).

Its quite awkward doing business in cash; I felt like a gangster running around town with bags of money, sitting across from someone and repeatedly counting out bills one by one for many minutes. Most folks here have boxes full of fruit colored cash lying around for such transactions, but we were left with repeated trips to the ATM, and an onslaught of phone calls from vigilant bank officials back in the states.

The school itself is quite impressive: swanky new buildings, oodles of computers, projection systems, cute uniforms, and heavy piles of books. The school is taught in English, which wasn't our first choice, but too many folks were freaking out about the kids being kidnapped or getting lice from the "low class" Punjabi schools. Nonetheless, the kids have a class for Punjabi, Hindi, English, Math, "Computer Training" and some other subjects like Environmental Science.

On admission, Nayan took a challenging examination. Its a good thing we home schooled him in math and brought him up to Indian standards, the Seattle School system is spectacularly slow, and North Beach uses an overly repetitive curriculum called Saxon. We switched him onto the Singapore math curriculum, augmented with my own impromptu few months of computer programming (using a cute visual programming language called Scratch), where he wrote automated math exam programs. The excitement of taking exams of his own creation kept Nayan excited and motivated.

The school itself is quite impressive. A bus swings by in the mornings, picks the kids up, and hauls them off. For the young ones, there are Ayas, or nannies, on the bus. Ameen hopped on the bus for Ananya's first day to witness multiple shreaking 2 year olds (yes they start school here that young) who were quickly scooped up into the warm, loving arms of the Ayas, and eventually cooed into smiling submission. Once at school, the teachers greet the buses, slurp the kids off and pop them into class. Unlike virtually everything in India, the schools are remarkably organized and efficient.

After the kids left, my wife and I realized that this is the first day in 8 and half years that we've been alone together. To celebrate, we're heading to The Taj for breakfast.
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