20 July 2010

An Ode to the South Indian Breakfast

O, Ye south Indian breakfast;
Thou art the greatest breakfasts in the world!
Thou fillest me with a joyful feeling,
Reaching into every corner of my soul and body,
Igniting me to life each day with the perfect balance of sensation,
With sweet and spice,
With refreshing coolness and exhilarating heat.
Like the culture and religion around you,
You have evolved over a thousand years,
To become a perfection.

Ye startest with Idli, that saucer-shaped pillow of soft, absorbent pleasure,
Made of slightly sour rice flour, steamed into light, airy goodness
Like a cloud; like an empty mind, ready to absorb the day, ready to absorb the spicy and tangy sambar soup, and the cool and and tropical coconut chutney.

And with thy lightfulness, delightfulness,
also comes the Vada.
Oh ye Vada, ye savory doughnut of delight,
Fried gently, lovingly, so that your outside is crisp and your inside is light and cake-like,
Also ready to be combined with the twin condiments of sambar and chutney,

Idly and Vada, sambar and chutney-
Thy formest a heavenly mixture that is eaten with one’s fingers
There is no silverware to intercede; no fork or spoon to separate the sensation.
Fingers are used to mix, and scoop, so that it becomes an experience of all the senses.
Why deprive the fingers, the skin, the sense of touch of the goodness?
This breakfast is made to be relished by all the senses, for there is plenty of bliss to go around.

And then, of course, the masterpiece, the grand and glorious Dosa, the sourdough wonder, fried thin as the border between Man and God, thin as the delicateness of a newborn butterfly, crispy and airy and utterly celestial, so light that it lifts the eater into Heaven itself, into a world of ecstasy.

Finally, the coffee, brewed fresh and strong, premixed with milk and sugar in perfect balance, and served in a cup inside a bowl, so that you can pour it yourself, from cup to bowl and back to cup, mixing it, aerating it, lightening it, cooling it, until it is ready to be savored.




Each day, I am graced with your goodness, O South Indian Breakfast, and with a beginning like that, how can the day fail to unite me with my God, remind me of my Love, and bring out the best in me and all humankind?

Yum.

14 July 2010

Singin' on the Train

It takes about 24 hours to fly from the US to India, if you stop somewhere in Europe, including layovers and all. The 24 hour train trip from Mumbai to Chennai was much easier and much more comfortable than any of those journeys. I usually take the 2-tier or 3-tier air conditioned cars on long train trips here, but this time none of those seats was available, so I took the sleeper class, which is the class most Indian families take. Each little section has 6 seats - 3 long benches on each side, top, middle and bottom, that are long enough to lie on. During the day, though, they fold the middle one down so that it makes a back to the bottom one and forms a little bench for sitting. But I prefer the top berth, so I can lie down and nap whenever I want. The sleeper class turned out to be very fun, much more friendly and social than the AC cars, and I was the only non-Indian in sight.

I shared my car with a family of 5. When they came onto the car, I said hello, and saw that one of the young women had her hands beautifully and intricately decorated with henna, so I asked her if she had just gotten married. She told me she was heading down south to get engaged. She was traveling with her Father, Mother, Auntie and best friend. And now, me.

The groom's family does the engagement party, which is as big and lavish as the wedding, and that's where they were heading. The bride's family does the wedding, which is going to be up in Mumbai, where they are from, and then the happy couple is planning on moving to Simi Valley near Los Angeles.

The train rides are a real joy, everyone is very open and friendly, children play with other passengers, families bring extravagant picnics, and just in case there's not enough food for anyone, every few minutes a porter comes by selling cold drinks, or chips and cookies, or fried snacks, or full meals of biryani (rice mixed with chicken or vegetables) or Indian thalis (meals with white rice, curries, and other goodies). And of course, even more often than that, someone comes by selling chai and coffee. They carry urns filled with hot spiced and sugared milk, fill up a little paper cup, and then add a tea bag or instant coffee. Each cup sells for 5 rupee, or about 11 cents.

The family in my car was great. We chatted a lot, bought each other chai often, and they shared with me some of the food they brought along. I even tried some of my Hindi and a couple of Marathi words on them, and they totally lit up at that. I guess some westerners learn some Hindi, but nobody learns any Marathi. My local shopkeeper Prakash has taught me a few Marathi words, showing me off when other people come to his shop, and beaming like the proud teacher he is. So I tried those words on my new friends on the train, and they loved it. The train left at 8:30 at night, so after dinner and tea and getting to know each other, we all settled in for the night. I had one last cup of garam dudh (hot sweet milk), without tea or coffee this time, and went to sleep.

In the morning, when I took off my eye mask and iPod, the train was a bustle of activity. I watched from my perch on the top berth as people went to the sink to wash up, put away their sheets, returned the middle berths to the bench position, and ate breakfast. I waited until a magical convergence of 2 porters stopped in front of me, one selling coffee and the other selling idly, a steamed rice cake which makes for a lovely light and tasty breakfast. I ate that great train meal for less than a dollar, and then climbed down to join my party.

For the next couple of hours, we sang. The bride, her friend, her mother and auntie were all singing songs from Bollywood movies, occasionally moving their hands or heads in imitation of the dance steps done to the songs. I sat with them, smiling, clapping along, and joining in on choruses when I could figure it out. Then they asked me to sing! (Little did they know what they were getting themselves into.) First, I sang the 2 Hindi songs I know, from an old movie I saw in 1995. I bought the DVD before I came back from that trip, so I learned the songs. They were very impressed I knew even those songs, and joined with me enthusiastically. Then they wanted an English song. Fly me to the Moon is what came out, and when I finished, they applauded, and we went back to Hindi songs, moving on from happy love songs to sad love songs and then back to happy ones.

The day went by quickly, with all of us taking naps during the couple hours when it started to get a little warm in our car, and the next thing I knew, the sun had set, and shortly thereafter we arrived at Chennai-Egmore station; the end of the line.

We exchanged email addresses, so that Heather and I could see Jayshree and her husband-to-be when they move to LA in December, and said our goodbyes. I congratulated the father on his daughter's engagement, and on a lovely family.

Getting off the train, I was in the middle of India's 4th largest city, but it had a peaceful, slow feeling to it. Around the station were many travel shops and hotels, and I wanted to get to Pondicherry as soon as I could, which is a town about 4 hours away by bus, because the next day was Bastille Day, and it's supposed to be a holiday in Pondy. Pondy is a former French enclave, the way that Goa is a former Portuguese enclave, 2 small remaining parts of India that the British left to other European powers when they consolidated their colonial power over the country. Apparently, somehow Pondy remained an independent French colony until 1956, long after Indian independence. But Pondy is also close to the Sri Aurobindo ashram, and most of the hotels close by 10:30, so I had to wait until the morning.

I had looked up bus companies online before I left, and found one tha thad an early morning bus, so I searched for that company. I went to another random travel agency that only had busses at night, and tried to convince me to take one, but I told them the name of the bus company I wanted, and they sent me in the right direction, which I thought was mighty friendly of them. Even the rickshaw drivers who jump all over newly-arrived passengers left me alone once I told them I didn't need any help. In some other places in India, they've been much more persistent. I easily found the right bus company and booked a ticket for the bus leaving 6:00am the next day. I even found a rickshaw driver who agreed to meet me at 5:00 am to take me to the bus stop, which is about 45 minutes outside of town. Then I went to a restaurant on the block and got my first official south India dosa, which was indescribably delicious.

The next step was to find a room. I was only going to be there for a few hours, but I still needed a room. I found a tiny, grungy room at a good price at a bachelor's hotel. Only men allowed. Those 4 hours were more miserable than the 24 on the train. I was attacked by mosquitos, and when I hid in my sleep sack, it became unbearably hot. So from midnight until 4:30 am, i swatted mosquitoes, and killed more than a few, who died leaving bright red spots on the walls and sheets, which I knew was my blood, freshly sucked from me. I hardly slept at all, and was relieved when my alarm went off and I could get up, shower, find my rickshaw driver, and head to the bus stop.

The bus ride was easy, I slept hard and they had to wake me when we arrived in Pondi. I went to a guest house that I chose from my guidebook, checked in, opened the doors to the balcony overlooking the ocean, and crashed on the clean and comfortable bed.

11 July 2010

Once more, with feeling.

It's almost time to come back. But before I do, I'll will take one last Indian road trip. Today I bought a ticket to head down south, 26 hours on the fast train to Chennai. Tamil Nadu is the one state I've always wanted to see, and haven't seen yet (except for a one-night layover in 2004, where I dipped my toes into the Bay of Bengal, but didn't do much else). It's a completely different world than the north. The north of India is a melting pot, due to centuries of invasion by everyone from Alexander the Great to the British. But the south has remained largely untouched (despite British rule), and is still strong in traditional Hinduism, with many ancient temples still standing and actively used. It'll be back to English for me there, for all the Hindi and the few words of Marathi I've learned will be useless. They speak Tamil, and would rather hear English than Hindi.

It wasn't easy getting a ticket. The trains were sold out, but they reserve a certain number of seats for every train that are released first thing in the morning, 2 days before the train leaves, known as the tatkal quota. I went to a travel agent I know, and hired him to get me a tatkal seat. Even still, he was unable to get a berth in the air-conditioned cars, so I ended up in sleeper class. I believe I still get a full padded bench to myself, but there is no AC. It's been cooler since the monsoon has started though, and I don't mind roughing it for this last trip, so we'll see what it's like. I can always try to upgrade on the train itself; that is usually possible, and you pay the porter the difference. It was much cheaper this way anyway; less than US$10 for a 26 hour, 1279 km (795 mile) journey. The AC cars are 3 times as much.

I get to Chennai (formerly Madras), the big city down there, on Tuesday at 10pm or so, too late to head out that night. I'll spend the night at a retiring room in the train station itself, or more probably at one of the guest houses nearby. Early the next morning, I want to leave for Pondicherry, a town I've always wanted to see. It was a French enclave, the one place left to them by the British, and still has a French feel to it apparently. Wednesday is, appropriately enough, Bastille Day, which is celebrated there with parades and other festivities. I'll arrive as early as I can (it's a 4 hour bus trip from Chennai), and spend 5 or so days there, depending on how I like it.

From there I plan to visit Mamalapuram, a friendly traveler's enclave on the beach, with seafood restaurants and palm trees and temples. I'll relax there for another 5 days or so, doing nothing but reading and eating and walking. (I look forward to visiting Krishna's Butter Ball, a large, precariously balanced stone formation. Oh how Krishna loves his butter.)

The other place I plan to see on this little trip is the holy town of Tirupathi, and the nearby temple at Tirumala. It's a famous Hindu pilgrimage site, apparently attracting more religious visitors than Mecca, Jerusalem or Rome, though it gets very few Western tourists. I want to end my year in India with a visit there, to express my love and gratitude for the time I've had here, ending it with a spiritual focus, as a resident, an Indian by nature if not by birth, and not as a tourist, not as an outsider. I will walk with the thousands of pilgrims to spend a few moments with the deity, and give great thanks for this amazing year, before I leave this country, and head back to my real family.

I'll have a few days in Mumbai when I return, and I will, as I have been doing in these weeks since I returned from Hampi, enjoy my beloved city. I've been taking long ambles around town, talking to the people, visiting my favorite restaurants, shopping for mementos (and pretty things for Heather), and enjoying the ambiance. Tonight I walked home from Waterfield Road and Linking Road, after drinking lemon tea at a new bakery there.

The other night, I walked home from Juhu beach. Actually, the linked map was not my route. I walked directly from Point A to Point B, through no man's land. I walked as far on the beach as I could, a beautiful seaside walk along the Arabian sea with joggers and young couples and families, enjoying the respite from the ever-present monsoon rains, until the sea encroached and blocked my path. I turned East, inland, and found myself in the middle of the poorest slum I have seen here. On the google map, it's just empty, and it's true that there were no roads, no cars, no rickshaws. There was only semi-permanent, hastily built homes, with blue tarps as walls and roofs, and thin beams of recovered wood in the corners for structure. The alleys between them were so narrow that you had to turn sideways to pass anyone, with only garbage and mud underfoot. There was no electricity, just the light of fires and wood stoves, and no running water. I was lost. I was looking for a rickshaw but was in the middle of this neighborhood, with nary a vehicle to be found.

In any other country in the world, I might have been scared to be in such a neighborhood. But not in Aamchi Mumbai, my Mumbai, my India. I felt as safe and at home as I do anywhere here. I asked a local man to point me toward a rickshaw, and he told me to follow him for a while. (Though the only word spoken between us was "rickshaw".) He led me deeper into the neighborhood (I am reluctant to call it a slum, though anyone would), and then pointed for me to continue, mysteriously saying "boat". I looked in the direction he was pointing, and it was darker, and muddier, and more desolate. Could that be the right way? But I went with my heart and trusted him, and continued, my feet sinking into the mud as I approached the banks of a small inlet of water. It was very dark by then, and before I realized it, I came to the edge of the water, and a small wooden raft. Across the water, i could see lights and vehicles and the rest of the city. I had to cross the water to get to my rickshaw. There was a boy on the small raft. It was about 10 feet square, and he was about 10 years old. I climbed aboard, and he pushed his big bamboo pole into the bottom of the waterbed, and ferried us across. I thanked him with 2 rupee, and carefully stepped off. I walked in the direction I knew had to be right, and after a couple dark blocks, came to a busy street, filled with rickshaws and vendors selling things on the streets, and small shops. And i recognized it! It was the road I always drive down on my way to Juhu. I knew where I was! It was close enough to my neighborhood, so I walked along the road. I stopped at one vendor selling sheets, I had bought some from him a month or so ago, and he recognized me, beamed a smile at me when he saw me, and started to show me more sheets. I wasn't buying that night, but I smiled back. I finished the walk back, got home, washed my feet, and settled into my apartment. What a night, what a walk through the city, parts I had never seen, until coming to parts I recognized. I do so love it here. But I'm also ready to come back.

04 July 2010

A week in Hampi

The monsoon has been raining down in Mumbai all morning, like millions of overturned buckets. i'm making coffee at home. The last couple of days have seen very light rain, and I was going to head to a nice new bakery that opened up nearby, but not this morning. The rain is an ongoing presence; when it's not actively coming down, it's looming in the clouds, gathering. It's soaking into my clothes and skin, leaking from my ceiling, and sneaking in to my internet cables, disrupting my service. (A technician came by to fix it, cut the wire, whipped it, and drops of water came out. No wonder i heard a sizzling sound from the modem.)

I did escape the rain for a while; I got back a few days ago from a week-long trip to Hampi, in Karnataka state, about 720 km (450 miles) to the southeast. Hampi is the location of a remarkable Hindu empire from the 15th century. The landscape is dotted with giant granite boulders and the shade of banana trees, and many old temples, statues and the ruins of royal buildings. People who visited from other places, like the ancient Persian empire, wrote about it as being the most lavish, comfortable, beautiful empire they had ever seen. Today, it's a UN World Heritage site, so no new building is allowed, and the old ruins are well preserved. You can visit the Queen's Bath, a building with a pool larger than an olympic-sized pool, where the queen would swim; and the elephant stables, where the herd of royal elephants was kept; and the royal palace grounds, where only the foundations remain, but you can still make out the royal seating areas with vast open fields in front, where sporting events and performances took place in front of the king; and many amazing, beautiful temples, with large stone statues of Ganesh or Krishna or Vishnu. Also in Hampi, right in the middle of the town, is a big temple, 30 meters high, and inside lives happy Lakshmi the temple elephant. Lakshmi is 22 years old, very well loved and cared for, and gives blessing to anyone with a coin. You hold out a coin, she grabs it with her trunk, puts it in the collection box, and then bops you gently on the head with her trunk as a blessing. And let me tell you, if you've never been gently bopped on the head by an elephant, it's really fun. Every morning they take her down to the river for a bath, and on most evenings she's featured in a little parade through the streets of the town. Everyone loves Lakshmi, and she graces everyone with her beauty and blessings of good luck. I was lucky to get a blessing from her on my first visit to Hampi in 2004, and extra lucky to get another one this time.

It was a nice, quiet week. I read about 500 pages of Shantaram, the epic novel I'm reading. I might actually finish it now! The pace of life is sooooo slow there, everything is so peaceful and gentle. The children are friendly but not crazy, mostly minding their own business unless you approach their cricket game and express interest in joining, which they immediately invite you to do. The adults are quiet and happy and spend a lot of time just sitting together. It functions as a small village; poor but not slum-destitute. They have their animals and their gardens and live simply but happily. It was nice to get out of the bustle of the city for a while.

I traveled there by bus; it was great to be on the road again. It took about 14 hours going and about 12 hours back. I think we saved a couple hours of traffic in Mumbai on the way back, because we arrived very early in the morning, whereas we left the city in the bustle of the evening. It was a comfortable overnight bus, air-conditioned, with blankets on each seat. Both times I sat next to a large, snoring Indian man, but that's to be expected traveling alone. They both were all over the armrest, and Indian men have no issue about touching strangers in a situation like that (you should see the commuter train, everyone packed in, touching tightly), so i could either rub right up against them on the armrest, or cede my position. I did both, at various times. Mostly I just plugged in my iPod and looked out the window or slept.

On the way out of Hampi at the end of the week, I had my rickshaw driver, Mr. Paul, take me to a couple more temples and palace ruins before heading to the bus. I went to one temple on the top of a hill that was about 600 years old, and was about to head back, when Mr Paul asked me if I saw the view from the other side. I had not, and he told me to go through a little door in the wall on the far side of the temple, and beyond it there were supposed to be spectacular views of the valley. I did, and it was amazing. You could see many of the other temples and ruins, lush greenery, and amazing rock formations. There was also a smaller temple, at the top of a little hillock, a little further up, that looked enticing, so I climbed up the lunar landscape to check it out. As I got close, a voice from within the temple called me closer.

The small temple was inhabited, and he invited me in, so I left my shoes outside, ducked through the doorway, and entered. It was a small space, almost a cave carved out of the stone, with a bedroll in one corner, several books on a shelf, with one large one opened on a table, and a area for prayers in the back, with a couple of statues of Ganesh and Vishnu. Above Vishnu there was a brass container filled with water, dripping onto Vishnu's head and the flowers that were spread around the statue of the god. The gentleman that lived there was bright eyed and soft spoken. His name was Pramanand Shashtri and he lived in that little cave, studying his books and meditating all day long. He was a scholar, having earned a Doctorate in Sanskrit, the language of the ancient religious texts. We talked, and did a little prayer together, and looked at his books for a while. Another Incredible India moment, just before heading out of town. It's one of the things I love about this country; India rewards me for friendliness and curiosity. There is magic around every bend, and behind every bright, sincere smile.

I took the overnight bus back to Mumbai, and when I got back it was raining in the city. I caught a rickshaw back to my apartment feeling calm and peaceful, bringing a little of the spirit of Hampi back with me.

There are lots of photos of Hampi at this link. Here are a few samples, you can click on them to make them larger:

Sunset over the River in Hampi


Vittala Temple


Getting a blessing from Lakshmi in 2004


Sri Pramanand Shashtri



Landscape on the way to the Vittala temple



15th century ruins and temple



Vittala temple (note the stone chariot)



Caught in the rain on the way back from Vittala.
Took shelter for a while, but still got soaked.


Crossing the river in a coracle boat; water had to be bailed out after each trip.
I was waiting to catch it for the return trip.



16 June 2010

Fame

I was walking home today during a break from the monsoonical outbursts, and I took the back alley. I haven't gone that way in a while, because there's a dog back there that doesn't like me, and I don't want to get bitten and have to get rabies shots again, like I did in 1995. But the street dogs have been scarce since the rains began, and this one is usually only there at night, so I braved it.

I like going that way because it's quieter than the main road, and there are lots of people, especially kids, outside playing in those courtyards. I've stopped for many a turn at bowling or batting in one of their street cricket games while walking through that alley.

So as I passed a group of three teenage guys that I had never seen before, we smiled and said hi to each other, as we usually do in this neighborhood.

As I started to pass them, however, they stopped me and gave me a thrill. They told me they knew me from the article I wrote. "Newspaper", "IPL", they said.

"Your name is Richard."

Awesome.

I said, "Wow, I'm famous" and they replied, "Yes, everyone around here knows who you are."

How fun is that??

(Very!)

14 June 2010

Deluge

Wow. They are NOT KIDDING about this monsoon thing.

It rained all last night, and most of the day. I left my apartment around 7 to get some dinner, and when I left, it was coming down, but not unreasonably so. I brought my umbrella and caught a rickshaw towards 16th road.

By the time I got to the corner of 16th and KFC road, it was pouring. I got out of the rick and made it to the restaurant, which had some covered outdoor seating. It was dry and cool, and I could watch the rain from there, so I stayed and ate. Even it was an amazing meal, by the way, masala baby corn (breaded spicy baby corn appetizer), paneer makhni (cheese cubes in a tomato/butter sauce), buttered naan (doughy bread cooked over an open flame), and a fresh lime soda (lime juice, soda water, and liquid sugar). Very delicious, and only 350 rupee ($7.50).

By the time I had finished, it had been pouring the whole time, and the world was covered in water. The streets were flowing, and it was still pouring from the skies. People were fearlessly slogging through ankle-deep water. I sat for a while and then headed out of the restaurant and into the weather. My first step completely submerged my shoes and bottom couple inches of my pants. My umbrella was useless within moments. It was amazing how quickly I was soaked. I crossed to street to catch a rickshaw home, and that side of the street was even deeper. I stood in the rain trying to hail a rick as they passed by, all full. Finally, one stopped. It was a 12 rupee ride; he offered to take me for 500. I talked him down to 30 (mostly because I know the Hindi word for 30) and got in.

The ride was absurd. Motorcyles and scooters were being walked by their waterlogged drivers. Some streets were okay, some were little torrents, 2 or 3 feet deep. The driver and I were laughing the whole time, and singing a little song we made up, an ode to water. "Pani pani pani, pani, pani", over and over.

We got to my street, and I needed to make a left, but that corner was particularly flooded, and he wanted to stop. Fortunately, just then a couple other rickshaws came rolling by, water up to their axles, but I encouraged him, pointing out the other ricks, telling him he could make it. He gave it a go. The traffic was crawling, and we inched closer to home, still singing our little pani song.

Finally, his poor, long-suffering rickshaw stalled and refused to start again, so we called it quits. It was close enough for me to walk, even in the rain. I helped him push his rickshaw to the side of the rode, gave him 50 for his trouble (still about a dollar), and started walking.

you have to give up any notion of keeping the tops of your feet dry. They were just submerged. My clothes were soaked. I was cold outside for the first time since we were in the Himalaya. I think I prefer my shirts being soaked because of sweat than rain. Still, I could do nothing but sing and laugh. And life went on; the chicken shack was still selling chickens, the wada pav shop was still frying and selling wada pavs. I stopped at a little shop and bought some gems (cadbury's version of m&m's) and made it home. Stopped to talk about the rain with the neighbor kids, went inside my place, peeled off my clothes, and took a hot shower.

As I sit here, it seems that it's stopped outside, but it could start again at any moment. It was fun for a while though.

I'm seriously considering heading out of town for a few days.

27 May 2010

Full moon over Juhu Beach

A woman once said to the great violinist Fritz Kreisler after a recital, "I'd give my life to play as beautifully as you!"
"Madam", Kreisler replied, "I have."



May all beings experience happiness and the causes of happiness, and be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
-- Buddhist prayer


It's a full moon tonight, corresponding with the holiday of Buddha Poornima, the celebration of Buddha's birthday.

I went back to Juhu; the Sea View for dinner, and a gola for dessert. I like it there. It overlooks the beach, and the teeming crowds. Families going to the beach, lovers holding hands, groups of young men or women out together, and the vendors, selling maps or toys or food or chai or henna stamps, or just bringing scales to the beach, and weighing people for 5 rupees each, the scale lighting up in vibrant colors before reporting its results. The moon rose behind us, and joined all of us as we overlooked the sea, the wind cooling us and lifting kites, the sand massaging between our toes.

I've been a little sad lately, a little lonely. I can hear the clock ticking on me, can feel my time here slipping away. I'm certainly ready to get out of this city, even ready to leave the country, come back to the States, see what's next, build a new life. But at the same time, as I feel the time passing, as I can measure my time left here in weeks, even days, I am fighting it, I am holding on.

Each person we lose, everything that comes and goes, all the things and people and interactions and experiences that honor the stage of our lives for a moment, or a day, or a decade, and then walk off the stage, never to reappear, each loss is like a little death. and while we try to let the stream of time flow by us with grace, with acceptance, every instinct we have tells us to hold on, tightly, forever, hold on and never let go.

I'm absorbing everything. Every time i go to one of the stores on my street that I frequent, to speak a little Hindi and buy milk, or chocolate, or breakfast, each conversation is treasured and i'm savoring it all. Each time Sachin shaves me; each time Prakash teaches me another word of Marathi as I buy drinking water from him; each trip to the beach; each bite of food; each visit with a neighbor- I am trying to draw it all in, absorb it deeply. I looked over Juhu beach at the Arabian sea tonight, and let it burn itself into my brain. Someday, very soon, that image will be a memory. One I will always be grateful for. I've loved this dream-come-true, loved it more when I wasn't alone here, but I've loved every precious moment, I just hope I haven't sacrificed too much for it. Because whatever poverty I face, whatever starting over I face, whatever hard work awaits me, still, I wouldn't have traded this for anything, but i hope i haven't lost too much in making this dream come true, and i hope i'm not losing too much in making the next dream come true. And I hope and trust that the people that are waiting for me know this, will forgive me my self-indulgence, and will greet me when I return with open arms and open hearts, and I will try to let go, to appreciate what I've had, and, as I've always done, to run towards what's next.


Juhu Beach, Mumbai



the people, the sea



dessert




my gola stand



mine was blue and yellow tonight

04 May 2010

My first live cricket match - full version

I wrote this after attending the semi-finals of the Indian Premier League, which was my first live cricket match.
An edited version was published in today's Hindustan Times, HTCafe section, page 23.


As an American, I grew up knowing nothing about cricket. Despite being a former British colony, it’s not a sport we play, or watch, at all. But after traveling to India as a tourist and volunteering at an NGO in Mumbai, I have come to understand why the game is so beloved here, and in so much of the world. 
I live in an apartment in Danda, in west Khar, which still feels like the small fishing village it once was, in the middle of the grand and glorious metropolis of Mumbai. My neighbors are all welcoming and friendly, and often offer me tea, inquire as to whether I’ve had sufficient food for the day, and invite me into their homes to watch cricket on television. And although I was starting from scratch, I’ve learned much about the game. I became familiar with players like Sachin and Sehwag and Dhoni, and some of the many, often obscure rules. Of course there are many things that still baffle me. Dot balls? Googly? Popping crease? But I started really enjoying the game, and even I sometimes play with the local children in my neighborhood with their plastic bats and balls. But I had never seen a major cricket game in person, and I knew I would have to sometime before leaving this fine country that I love so much.
So when the IPL took place this Spring, with its exciting 20-20 format, I quickly became a huge fan of my local team, the Mumbai Indians. And when I realized that the semi-finals were going to be played in Navi Mumbai, I knew I had my chance to attend my first ever live cricket match.
Tickets went on sale just a couple days before the game. I heard that they were being sold at a few places throughout the city, so I went to an auto parts store in Bandra to look for them. Of course, by the time I arrived, they were fully sold out. I received a couple curious smiles when I jumped up and down in my frustration at not being able to buy tickets. Who is this crazy foreigner who so wants to attend the semi-finals?
So I looked online, and found someone selling tickets. We talked on the phone and arranged the purchase on the day of the match.
My friend and I decided to take the train to Nerul and catch a rickshaw from there to the stadium. Although somewhat crowded, the train was surely the best way to travel there, and we arrived quickly. Although I have been all around India, from Kashmir to Kerala, I haven’t been out of Mumbai in a couple months, and was struck with how peaceful and green everything became as soon as we crossed the canal into Navi Mumbai. 
As we got closer, more and more people around us were heading to the game. We could feel the excitement growing. When we got out at Nerul station, the rickshaws were there ferrying people to the stadium, and my friend and I jumped in one with a third passenger, and got as close as we could, until the point where the police were stopping the vehicles. 

We got out and started to walk. All the way, people were selling shirts and caps, and painting people’s faces in the team colors of blue and gold, and the national colors of saffron, white and green. We walked around to gate 5, past long lines of people waiting to get inside. Fortunately, when we got to our gate, there was no line. We went in, and the atmosphere was positively electric. We headed into the stadium, and as we saw the pitch, our view opened up into a great, green, round field, surrounded by stands that were about to hold 50,000 screaming fans. We took our seats in the 10th row of the lower section, and immediately met everyone around us. In general, I find people here to be very friendly, and this crowd was especially so. I pulled my cell phone out to take some photos, and both the students in front of me and the family behind me asked me to take their photos, gave me their email IDs, and asked me to send them the photos later, which of course I did. We chatted with all our neighbors, waved our blue and gold flags around, and enjoyed some drinks and snacks. Everyone was happy to see foreigners there, engaging in the spirit of the game. Watching the game together, as a little community in our section, made the experience even more special.

The game started, and the home team won the toss and elected to bat first. It was amazing how in love with Sachin everyone was. We chanted his name, and screamed like mad every time he batted or appeared on the big screen. When he exited the game early, we were devastated, but we knew the rest of the team could pull us through. And pull through they did, with Tiwari and Rayudu playing a great partnership, and Kieron Pollard of the West Indies bowling and batting brilliantly. The Indians produced many runs in the last few overs, bringing our score to 184 runs, a formidable score indeed.
I walked around during the interval, drank a few cups of cold coffee and iced tea, wandered among the crowd, enjoying all the people and the unique occasion. Even the locals knew we were at a special game.
As the game went on, the sides switched, and while the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) played well, the inevitability of our victory became more and more apparent, and our excitement grew. And when there were only a few balls left, and it was impossible for RBC to catch up, the crowd went even more wild than before.
It was a long journey back, with all 50000 people heading home together, but no one seemed to mind. We caught the last few trains of the night and had to switch trains a couple times, but we travelled with a few others who had been at the game. Everyone seemed thrilled that we Americans had taken the effort to attend, had dressed up in the team colors, and were celebrating with our adopted city.
I know that for many Indians, coming to the West is a dream they work hard at making a reality. For me, the opposite is true. Living in India is a dream come true, and I am enjoying every crazy, beautiful moment.

29 April 2010

More fun at the Infiniti Mall

OK, I may have been a bit premature about the Karaoke guy yesterday. Today I went back to the good ole Infiniti Mall after work, to get a little dinner, and the evening circus extravaganzic activities were in full swing. The Karaoke guy had moved to the stage set up on the ground floor, and there was some kind of contest going on, and they were indeed charging 100 rupees to register. There were supposed to be prizes for winners, but they were a little vague about that, something about coupons. I still didn't want to pay to sing, tempted though I was, because of the stage set up, but I thought I'd have a little fun, so I said to the guys "You want me to pay you ? YOU should pay ME to sing! When SRK does a movie, does he have to pay to be in the movie, or does he get paid to do it? When Sachin plays cricket, does he have to pay to play, or do they pay him to play cricket? So I shouldn't have to pay to sing, you should be paying me to sing!". They all took it in the playful way in which I intended it, and we all laughed about it.

Anyway, it just goes to show that misunderstandings can happen frequently here, even if I'm speaking a little Hindi or Marathi and they're speaking a little English. In the vast majority of cases, no one is really trying to cheat anyone.

Then I went to the display where they were giving samples of a skin lotion for women, which had some skin-whitening properties. I think this one was just cosmetic, a white cream that didn't totally disappear, not lemon juice or anything harsher, but still. I've written about this trend before, and tried to tell the woman working there that Indian woman are beautiful, why should they want to lighten their skin, but she wasn't really interested in getting into a philosophical discussion about it. But she blushed a little when I called all Indian women beautiful, and we laughed a bit too.

Then I got some pav bhaji for dinner and headed home for the night.

28 April 2010

The 100 rupee day

For some reason, people kept trying to overcharge me today. First was the Karaoke guy at lunch. On my lunch break, I went across the street to the Infiniti mall for some pav bhaji (dosas are starting to get jealous because I really love pav bhaji these days). The mall is having some kind of circus extravaganza, including a karaoke machine that you can sign up for. It figures out how well you're doing (like the wii karaoke game) and if you get a good enough score, it's free; otherwise it costs 10 rupee. I know this because last week I sang a James Taylor song and got 99 out of 100, so didn't have to pay.

Today I sang Hooked on a Feeling (ooga chucka, ooga chucka). They didn't want me to do it because there was something else going on, so they kept turning the volume down, but I insisted and they relented, and I sang away, gathering a bit of a crowd, of course. It was really fun, and I finished with an 85 or something. So then, the karaoke guy comes over to me and tells me that there's a 100 rupee charge! Ha! Who does he think he's dealing with? I told him I happen to know that it's free if you get a good enough score, and even if you don't, it's 10 rupee per song. 10! I handed him a 10 and he smiled sheepishly.

Then, after work, I was riding in a rickshaw home, and the rickshaw broke down. So I got out, paid what was owed so far, and flagged down another one. Now in most of India, rickshaws have meters but they are never used. You haggle a price before you get in. But in Mumbai, they actually use the meter, always. So I told the driver where I was going, to Carter Road in Bandra to visit my friend Ramu and his street dosa stand. (pav bhaji for lunch, dosas for dinner, yum!!) And the rick driver says it'll cost 100 rupees. Again, with the 100 rupees!! So I said, nahin-ji (no, sir), meter, meter. He repeated his demand for 100, so I started getting out, and then he said OK, meter, meter. Darn tootin', meter meter. We arrived at Ramu's dosa stand and the cost of the ride was 38 rupee. puh-lease!

(okay don't do the conversion to dollars or I'll look ridiculous. It's the principle! And when I can eat for less than 100 rupee a day (2 dosas from Ramu cost 45 rupes), it's a lot in local terms.)

Nice try, guys. What, do I look like I'm not from here or something?
:-)


Oh, as I'm ordering my first dosa, a very well-built guy comes up next to me and orders a plain dosa. He was young and obviously worked out a lot. For a plain dosa, Ramu usually slathers it with butter, and when he did, the guy complained and said he wanted it without butter. I told him, oh, but it's so much better with butter, and he said that he knows, but he has to maintain. I told him it looks like he's doing just fine and he laughed. Then I said I wish i was maintaining as well as he was, and then noted that the butter may have something to do with my lack of, er, maintenance. We laughed together.
Later, he ordered a 2nd plain dosa, and I ordered a plain dosa for my 2nd dosa of the night (the first being a masala dosa, filled with potatoes and spices), and I made sure butter was going on my plain dosa. So there were 2 on the grill, one all brown and buttery, and one without butter, and I turned to him and said "see if you can guess which one is mine and which one is yours". hahahahaha. a good time was had by all.
I don't care if I have a bit of a belly. Those plain butter dosas are crispy and YUMMY!!!!

17 April 2010

Mumbai by Motorbike

I paid rent today; my day is the 12th, I moved in on September 12th of last year, so I pay rent on the 12th. Actually it's a couple days later, but this is the first time my landlord and I could get together. When Heather was here, we went out with him and his wife, and since then we've been trying to go out again, and tonight we did.

He picked me up at the Cafe Coffee Day down the street, which is being renovated, but is still open even though the outside is a big construction mess. So I got an iced tea and waited, and my landlord, Viqar, showed up on his motorcycle. The first time I rode it, when I first got here, I must admit was a little scary, but I've been on the back of his bike a couple times since then and by now I'm pretty comfortable, just leaning against the back rest, hands in my lap.

First we went all the way down to central Mumbai, past the Haji Ali, a beautiful mosque built out in the ocean, to get some pav bhaji. Pav bhaji is a popular restaurant and street food here, it's kind of like refried beans, made of potatoes and lentils and tomatoes and other vegetables and spices all mushed together, served with buttered rolls. We went to a place called Sardar, where it was supposedly first made, and even if it wasn't the first, it seems to be the best. It was a very crowded restaurant, and everyone there was eating the same dish. It was the first time I tried it, I was kind of waiting to try it with him, he told me he would take me to the best place for it. And it was fantastic! So deliciously yummy. Some places apparently use water to make the mush, but this place uses only butter; butter in the bhaji, butter on the bread, it was great.

After that, we hopped back on his bike and went on a little tour of the city, starting with the red light district. I didn't really know Mumbai had one, but it was a little grungy street, filled with working women, in rooms together with the front doors open, or out on the street in groups of 3 and 4. They looked to be in pretty good shape, clean, pretty, not particularly unhappy, but the scene was quite seedy. Still, it was fun to see, and I got a couple of nice smiles. We pulled over for a second when his bike stalled, and immediately some man came over, waiting for us to ask for what we wanted. He just wagged his head when Viqar started his bike and took off.

We drove through some more alleys, including through Chor Bazaar, a market place where you can get anything. Chor means thief, thieves' bazaar, and apparently it got its name from a story about Queen Victoria. Once when she visited India, some items went missing from her ship's stateroom, and when she went to that bazaar, she found people selling her stuff there. Anyway it's more of a daytime marketplace, so there was not much going on at the time.

All along the way, we were talking on the motorcycle, We discussed everything from religion to sex, and although sometimes some ridiculous things come out of his mouth (he trash talks the Hindu religion, being some combination of Muslim and Christian himself, and he seems to be of the Bill Clinton school of thought about what qualifies as sex), he's always entertaining and sincere.

Oh we did have one kind of scary moment. We were riding along, and there was a local commuter bus next to us. All of a sudden, the bus driver, who was probably drunk, veered to the left. Viqar was fine, he's a very good driver and extra careful when I'm on the bike with him. We pulled over to the left and stopped. But I looked back and someone was on the ground, rolled over a couple times, and then got up, filthy from the street. He looked okay but it was way too close. At the next light, Viqar pullled in front of the bus and yelled at the driver who yelled back. Apparently the driver was telling him to climb onto the bus so they could fight about it. If the driver came down, he would be fired, but he could retaliate if anyone gets on the bus and starts something, so he was egging Viqar on. Viqar is generally quite sweet and peaceful (earlier that night he helped push another motorcycle who had run out of gas to the gas station, when he saw the owner pushing it along), so after a few acerbic words we moved on.

We rode back home along the scenic route, seeing the coast and the new Worli Sea Link bridge (though we couldn't ride over it, no 2-wheelers allowed), We made it back home after almost 3 hours of riding around. Which was not easy on the body, it felt like the camel ride. All in all, it was a great night riding around Mumbai by motorcycle.

11 April 2010

Proof of the Spiritual World

(I have written on these matters before, but I'm corresponding with someone about it, and I though I would publish this letter I have just written.)

The subject is Dimensionality vs Multiple Universes.

By dimensions, we mean the physical dimensions of space. 2d, 3d, etc.

you can think of them as degrees of freedom, or the amount of information you need to locate something.

for example, a flat sheet is 2d. like a map, you need only 2 pieces of information to locate something on a map, latitude and longitude. left-right and forward-back.

3d is space. you need a third: up-down. that's the real world we live in. 3d movies add depth to the otherwise flat movie screen.

to get from 2d to 3d, you draw lines at right angles to both 2d dimensions. we can see that to do that, you take a flat picture, and move up. those up lines are at right angles to both left-right and forward-back dimensions of a flat picture.

4d gets interesting. we live in 3d, so we cannot really know it, we can only imagine it by metaphor. if you take a cube, and draw a line at right angles to all 3 dimensions, that would be the 4th. we can't do it, we can't even really imagine it.

but just like a 3d cube can cast a 2d shadow, the 4th dimension casts a shadow on our 3d world, and that shadow is time (that's part of relativity).

we live moment to moment, but our 4d selves is the self made up of adding all the moments of our life together. see each moment added together as one thing, and that's the 4d version of yourself.

5d adds another level of choice. take your lifetime, the 4d version of you. then imagine all the possible ways your life could have turned out. add them all together into an even larger, more inclusive version of you, and that's your 5d self.

that's when multiple universes get introduced. each possible 4d self is a different universe in a way. but they are not real, they are possible. only the real life you are having is actual.

people who like the theory of multiple universes think that each possible 4d self is actualized, but in human life, we take the set of possibilities and extract one actuality from it. only 1 life is real. the others are potential.

that's how quantum physics gets involved. it describes, in multi-dimensional terms, the set of all possible outcomes. but humans don't experience all possible outcomes, just one. one actuality is extracted from the set of all possibilities.

i think it's wrong to thing that all possibilities are actualized, but some people go there because it['s one way to explain the weirdness of quantum physics. because quantum physics just describes the possibilities, and says nothing about how or why one actuality is extracted from the set of possibilities. but that doesn't mean they all exist, it just means we don't understand how the one that exists comes into being.

to me, it proves that there's more to human life than the physical world, more than what science can explain.


to put it more succinctly, quantum physics is a complete description of the physical world, but it is not a complete description of human experience, therefore, there is more to human experience than the physical world.

31 March 2010

Musings on Passover

Monday night was the first night of passover, and in India, this year it corresponded to a full moon festival for Hanuman, the monkey god. I have just returned, and am busy cleaning my apartment, which has been gathering dust for 2 months (yes, all the windows were closed, but still, somehow, the outside enters). I've also been going to all my favorite restaurants that i've missed the past 2 months. And although I was volunteering for American Jewish World Service when last I was here, I was thinking that passover would come and go for me.

As it turned out, I went to 2 seders, and it was one of the more meaningful Passovers I've experienced.

I do like Passover, as I like many of the calendar-based Jewish holidays. It's an opportunity, at certain times of the year, to do some introspection and self-examination. It's a chance to check in, each year, think about the past year, and set intentions for the coming year. Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur in the fall are a time to think about sin and redemption. The Hebrew word for sin means "to miss the mark", as in an arrow. During the high holidays, we can look at the ways in which we've missed the mark, not lived up to our expectations of ourselves, and set the intention to come a little closer next time. It's not about punishment; it's about self-improvement; always trying to be a better person. While this is a daily activity, the fall holidays gives me a chance to put some focus on that endeavor.

Passover, on the other hand, is all about freedom.

Of course, we tell the story of the Jewish exodus from slavery in ancient Egypt, which may or may not be true, (some say it was written during the Jewish exile in Babylonia, to give hope to the people that they would return to Israel someday. (we were exiled once before, and we returned, so it will happen again.) The reason that this idea appeals to me is that it changes our notion of how the ancient Jews entered the promised land. Instead of a people coming in from the outside and conquering the people living there, another narrative emerges.

In ancient Israel, there were many peoples, with many gods. But in any society, there are outliers, misfits, square pegs for the round holes (do I sound like an Apple commercial?). Individuals were coming up with new ideas that didn't fit the mainstream. Ideas like taking care of the poor, living ethically, working for peace, the importance of education etc, began to emerge in individuals. These people were not appreciated by the others; eventually they left and gathered together. They became a group of people brought together by the similarities of their ideas, by a new way of thinking. These people became the Israelites. They started the first conscious community, gathering together in a common purpose, for freedom and equality and truth and knowledge.

I realize that this theory of the origins of the Israelites is, well, un-orthodox, but all of the bible (and much of life) is symbolism to me, and I appreciate the symbolism of a home grown conscious community far more than stories of a war-like people conquering a land. Of course, those war like stories are great if you are a people in exile, as the Jews were later in Babylonia. They are inspirational and helped people feel that they could and would fight back. But when it comes to how origin stories can be meaningful to our lives today, I much prefer the idea of the community of misfits.

But I digress.

As we tell the story of the Passover, the exodus from slavery into freedom, we are inspired to think of notions of freedom and slavery as they affect us today. What freedoms do i enjoy, and how can I be more grateful and appreciative of them? How can I not waste the opportunities they provide? In what ways do I enslave myself, through a lack of self-confidence, through mindless habits, through negative reactive patterns which cause me to robotically react to situations instead of authentically responding to them. How can I become more authentic, live in the moment, and act through love and not fear? And in what ways do my actions enslave others, either personally or politically? These are all questions I like to ponder during the Passover season.

As the great Jewish/Hindu mystic Ram Dass has said, the goal is not to get high. the goal is to get free.

to be continued...

28 March 2010

I'm back!

After 2 months in exile, I have made it back to Mumbai. I miss my traveling companion but I'm so happy to be back. There are some crazy stories to tell, but they will remain untold for now. For now, know only that I have returned, back to the land I love.

06 February 2010

Football and Furthur

I saw bob weir and phil lesh play music tonight, went with my cousin, in downtown miami. it was a relatively small place, oudoors, and all around was a great view of miami's skyline, which i barely recognized. the music wasn't bad, i must admit. the guitarist did Jerry better than most of them, and the sound was good for an outdoor show. it's a good lineup this time and the music came together more than the last time i saw them.
it's still not the same though. never will be.
coming back from the show, we passed by the Intercontinental, which is where the New Orleans Saints are staying for the Super Bowl. We went into the lobby for a while, until they kicked us out. Then when we were outside, we saw Reggie Bush entering the hotel through a side door, without going through the lobby. We wished him luck and he thanked us. Cool.

05 February 2010

Back in the USA

it's a little weird being here.
it's nice to see everyone but i'm looking forward to going back to my apartment in mumbai soon.

28 January 2010

I almost shoplifted today

Los Angeles. Glendale Galleria.
(I am in LA for a little while to get an employment visa to go back to India and work at a job that I got as an Editor at a media company in Mumbai.)

I went to the Apple store at the mall today, because my computer has some issues. When I got there, it wouldn't start up at all. I could see it when I connected it to another computer, but it wouldn't start up on its own. I've got a few months left on a 3 year warranty, so they'll take care of it for me, but first I need to back up some files, including my photos from India, because when I give it to AppleCare, they will most likely erase the hard drive. I backed everything up before I left, but not anything I added in India, which are mostly photos and some work files. I'm hopeful that I'll be able to connect it to my Mom's computer in Florida, copy some files over, and then send it off to be fixed. Then, when it comes back, I can restore it from backup, and copy the photos and other files from my Mom's computer back onto it.
On my way out of the mall, I stopped for some pizza. Carrying my computer and the pizza, I made my way back to the door from which I entered, where the car was parked. Just before leaving the mall, there was a little mall kiosk that sold drinks and chips. The mini-kart. I saw they had Vitamin Water, which I've really missed in India, so I stopped for one. I took it out of their refrigerated case, and walked to the corner of the kiosk with the cash register. There was no one in sight. I looked around, and saw someone sitting nearby, on the ledge of the escalator, almost on the floor, with his head and arms resting on his lap. He looked like he was asleep. I figured he was the one working at the kiosk, and hesitated for a moment.
I have shoplifted a few times in the past, many years ago. The last time was probably 10 or 12 years ago. Only small things, and generally only when the store was making no effort to help me or let me check out. Once in college I had little money, and was buying soup at the grocery store, and didn't want to buy a whole loaf of bread, so I opened a loaf and put a couple pieces of bread in my pocket, and paid for the soup. A couple candy bars here and there. A couple items where I was going to pay, but the store clerk was nowhere to be found, so I just walked out. I justified it to myself in a few ways. I only stole from giant corporations who were, in my mind, sticking it to the average consumer in the first place. Never from small mom & pop stores, never from individuals. And only when they really didn't seem to want to take my money. I thought of it as redistribution of wealth, and harmless. I didn't think of myself as immoral, but perhaps amoral, or differently moraled, making up my own rules according to what I thought was right. I know none of these justifications is worth anything, and that I was fooling myself, but that is the confessional truth.
Today, i was disturbed because of my computer dying, and I'm feeling serious sticker shock as to how expensive everything is here in the US, compared to India. And i really didn't want to wake the guy up in order to pay. I had an impulse to just walk away, and I did so. I hadn't done that in a long time, but it was an instinctual impulse. I could get the drink i wanted and not pay $2.50 for it, and not wake up the poor sleeping clerk. If they really wanted my money, they'd be watching the store. And money is such an issue right now, short term and long term, every 2 dollars really does make a difference. Plus, there is a bit of a thrill to walking away like that. I walked right out of the mall, got in my car, and drove away. Nothing happened, no one saw, I had gotten away with it.
When I exited the parking structure and emerged into the bright light of daytime, I started thinking. What kind of person do I want to be? It's one thing to shoplift occasionally when one is younger, but do I really want to be doing this anymore? Don't I believe in Karma? Don't I have an advanced sense of guilt, perhaps due to my Jewish roots? (While Catholic guilt comes from the fear of disappointing God, and not wanting to sin, Jewish guilt comes from not wanting to disappoint your mother.) Who am I? Who do I want to be? Just because I can get away with something, do I want to? Don't I want to respect Vitamin Water, which I love, and the people that own the kiosk, and the clerk, even though he was asleep? and myself?
I made a choice. This is not for me anymore. I want to live consciously, honestly, and with integrity. I don't want to shoplift, even if I can get away with it.
I turned around and headed back for the mall.
I put the Vitamin Water in a shopping bag and hoped he would still be asleep. When I got in the mall, he was up at at his post, but I was able to walk around the kiosk, past the refrigerated case where he couldn't see me. I opened and shut the case, and pulled the bottle from my bag, then walked around the corner of the kiosk again, this time to see the clerk sitting there.
And of course, of course, as if to validate my choice, a choice which should have been obvious but took me a while to arrive at, as if God or the Universe was saying "yes Bhakti, you acted like a grown up, it's ridiculous that you did what you did but we're proud of you for coming back, for rectifying the situation, we're glad you came to the right decision even though it took some time, yes we forgive you", the clerk was from India. And not only was he from India, but after some chatting, we discovered that he was from Mumbai, from a suburb called Andheri, which is where my office is for the editing job I will be doing when I return. He knew the neighborhood that I lived in, and I knew the area that he was from. We chatted about the city, the crowded commuter trains, and I practiced my Hindi a little. He was very nice, very sweet, shook my hand when I left, said it was nice to meet me, and we said Namaste to each other. I see you. I see God within you. I paid for the drink and headed back to the car.
Let this be a turning point for me. I want to live consciously, with integrity. I want to respect all people, all life, and especially myself. I'm not a kid anymore. It's up to me to decide how I want to live, who I want to be. I will create my own Karma and live my own life. May I always remember to live consciously, in every moment, with every decision.
And thank you, dear readers, for not judging me too harshly.
May all beings obtain happiness and the causes of happiness. May they be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.




17 January 2010

Still More Photos from Thailand


giant reclining Buddha



corn vendor preparing snack for heather




statue outside temple



shiva lingham


gargoyle outside temple

 
russian child buried by her brother

 
fried insect vendor
 
now why would a fish need a massage?
 
giant reclining Buddha

15 January 2010

More Photos from Thailand




fish sticks



sign outside restrooms





towing tuk tuk



sunset at the Hard Rock Pattaya

Photos from Thailand


sunset over Jomtien



Ronald and me



Heather and friend



giant standing Buddha



lucky Buddha



entrepreneur

Location:Jomtien beach at Pattaya & Bangkok

08 January 2010

the beach, and a change of plans

when i first came to india, i came on a multiple entry visa, which means that i was supposed to be able to stay for 6 months at a time, leave for a day or a week, and come right back.

since then, someone from the US was found to have gone to india a few times to scope out sights for the 26/11/2008 terror attacks in mumbai, and the indian government changed its rules regarding tourist visas.

saturday is heather's birthday, and we planned a trip to the beaches of thailand for her birthday, and so i could do a "visa run". my 6 months runs out on january 12th.

so there's a new plan. heather and i are both going back to the good ol' US of A on january 20th. back there i will get an employment visa, because i found a job here as an editor. i'll get a legitimate employment visa, and come back in a month or two. in the meantime i can visit people back in the US, including my family in florida.

but for now, it's off to jomtien beach in pattaya, thailand, for a week of fun in the sun!

04 January 2010

Apple Tablet Predictions

disclaimer: this post is not about india. moreover, it concerns a certain upcoming technological trend and product which may not be of interest to all readers.


this month, on tuesday, january 26th to be precise, Apple is expected to announce the next revolutionary product in the tradition of the iPhone or iPod: a tablet computer that will change the world and an industry the way the iPhone and iPod have. i want to publish some thoughts and predictions before the announcement.
it looks like it will be called the iSlate, be about 10 inches long (looking like an oversized iPod touch), and have a touch screen (with no physical keyboard), a front facing camera, an SD card slot, wifi connectivity, and possibly 3g data connectivity as well. it will not have an optical drive (dvd player). it will be all touch screen, and a touch keyboard will appear on the screen when needed. (there are even rumors that the screen will change and grow bumps for the keyboard for tactile feedback, apple has a patent for that, but i doubt it will appear on the first generation device.)
it will have a new OS, somewhere between the iPhone OS and mac OSX, with new multi-touch features. the interface will be amazing, revolutionary, like nothing we've seen in any other device. you will use only your fingers to write, draw, drag, resize, and everything else.
the iSlate will function as a basic computer, allowing for word processing and photo display, as an internet device for surfing the web, downloading and streaming audio and video, and video conferences. but the killer app, the real reason it will be revolutionary, is that it will be an eReader.
everyone is familiar with eReaders these days, from the amazon kindle to the barnes and noble nook. it's a device that lets you read books or newspapers on a portable device by downloading them from the internet.
when the iSlate comes out, it will make the kindle look like the other mp3 players looked when the iPod came out. cheap, ugly and junky.
and the iSlate will revolutionize the publishing industry the way that the iPod revolutionized the music industry and the iPhone revolutionized the smartphone industry. in fact, it will just about save the newspaper industry.
you will be able to buy subscriptions to newspapers and magazines, have them automatically downloaded to your iSlate, and read them when you want. unlike the current eReaders, it will be in full color. these tablet editions of periodicals will contain the full text of the print editions, in a very easy to read format, with full color, interactive moving videos and charts. you can read the periodicals in any order, or in the same order as the print edition. pictures will spring to life as videos. diagrams and charts will be animated and interactive. and because the screen will be so bright and beautiful, they'll be able to use the same font size as in the printed edition.
and this time, apple has been proactive. they have been secretly working with publishers for a couple years, so that content will be available immediately. they saw what happened to the music industry with the iPhone, and they don't want to be left behind this time, so they are already working on content. here is an example from sports illustrated. as you can see, it's just like the magazine, only more so.
the idea of a portable electronic newspaper has been science fiction until now, but the iSlate will make it real, in a most beautiful way. people will once again read newspapers, and magazines will take on a new life. and the publishing industry will be forever changed.
you heard it here first, folks!

02 January 2010

Happy New Year!!!

it's been quite an eventful december. we took a trip to the beautiful beaches of goa, where we stayed with a couple we met in the mountains of dharamsala. i got a job being a subtitle editor. i had my first gig with my band in india, singing and playing drums. we stayed at a hotel on the beach here in mumbai, courtesy of one of my band's guitar players, who manages the hotel and gave us a room for new year's eve. we saw the year change on the beach, amongst the people, dancing under an eclipsed blue moon. and now, we're making plans for 2010.
there's more detail to follow, but for now, farewell 2009 and greetings 2010. may all beings experience happiness and the causes of happiness, and be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.