Thursday, December 17, 2009

Horses, Monkeys and Puppies - Oh My!

We went to Matheran, a small "hill station" outside of Mumbai. It's about a few hours drive and a pretty mountain vacation spot for Mumbaites who need a respite from the heat of the city. To maintain the rustic charm of the town, no cars are permitted. People get around on horseback, hand-pulled rickshaws or plain old walking. Though one has to be alert where one steps due to all the horses! And, by the end of the day, everyone's shoes and clothes are covered in red dust. There is a train that goes up the mountain, but apparently it's quite slow and people can just walk next to it.

The mountains are made of red dirt and rocks. There was one lookout point we dubbed "Mars" because of the large red boulders. I rode on a horse years ago in high school. That's been it. So, getting on a horse now was a bit precarious for me, and walking on the rough roads made it a bit jarring experience. It took me some time to have faith in the horse and the guy leading the horse. And, having to turn off my imagination. There was one part where Annika's horse faltered a bit because he heard a noise. However, she wasn't scared at all and understood her horse was only 2 years old. She forgave him. We got quite comfortable with the horses quickly, especially Annika who wanted to ride it without a lead.

Monkeys are all over the place. We stayed at the Lord's resort, which had separate buildings for the rooms. During the day, windows and doors must be kept locked because monkeys know how to creep into the rooms. They're jumping on the roof in the morning! One morning, we were sitting under the tree having our tea, and a monkey snuck behind us. He made himself comfortable and sat on the table to eat the toast. He snatched some sugar packets and opened them under the tree. (Great, a monkey on a sugar high!). We all sat still because these guys are quite aggressive. The hotel staff is all equipped with slingshots (yes, super technology here!) They sling rocks at the monkeys, and the monkeys run from the sight of them. So the staff will hang around the poolside and tables. The kids loved the slingshots so much, they got their own.

Now the puppy story. My brother-in-law, nephew and I went for a walk in the late evening. We saw a small white puppy on the side and we stopped to pet it. First of all, there are lots of stray dogs everywhere and we usually just stay away from them. But, this puppy looked about 1 month old and was so adorable. We stopped to pet. My six-year-old nephew thought getting permission "to pet him" was the same as permission to "make him a pet". He planned how we should take him home and coddled him like his parents have never seen him do. We stopped at a small store and bought biscuits and borrowed warm milk from the store owner. We called everyone else out and at 11pm, we were standing on the street outside the hotel feeding the puppy biscuits dipped in milk. The kids named him Biscuit and Tiger. Annika pointed out he was shivering and I should give up my shawl. (No.) We convinced the kids to leave him on the side and that's where he belonged. He was gone in the morning. We know that puppy has not received this much love in his entire life and probably will never again.

The next morning the kids wanted to go out and look for a new puppy of the day. However, the hotel owner had a cocker spaniel Rusty, which entertained them. Rusty was helpful in keeping away the monkeys.

I loved the simplicity of the life we experienced for 3 days. It reminded me of going to my father's small town Rajpipla when I was young. You're allowed to get dirty. You're allowed to run around at night. You're allowed to interact with animals and random people. Our overprotective American parental instincts were going haywire!! Also, it's amazing to see these kids fight over slingshots. We're not talking about Wii or Playstation or whatever. Just a wooden slingshot with cheap rubber tied around it.

Oh, by the way, monkeys don't come out at night. Only the bats do.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Absolutely Mumbai

If I had to describe Mumbai in simple terms, it's not the "Maximum City", but the "Extreme City". There's nothing in moderation as it rises from poverty to luxury, from pollution to green consciousness, as well as my own emotional roller coaster. The other night, my husband and I took a cab into downtown area by the Gateway of India. We always do this. It's a touristy spot, but it's fun and always reminds us that we've arrived in this city.

Delight: Seeing all the sidewalk stalls and picking up silk scarves for $1.50 each (easily $25 in US). The earrings and jewelry made my mouth drop.

Disappointment: my husband pulling me away.

Anger: Walking into the Taj Hotel and remembering how one year ago terrorists walked through its halls gunning down people as they wished. "26/11" is still on everyone's minds when you walk through the metal detectors and security.

Awe: Seeing Tulsi Pipe Road wall where people painted and expressed their pride and strength in the city in the Wall Project. It's not just one block of wall - it's a serious wall of length with intricate work. It raises street art and graffiti to the next level of community expression and pride. This is the voice of Mumbai - not anyone else's. By the way, I love the murals all over Philadelphia and it changes the way the city is perceived.

Pride: Speaking of art, we went into Jehangir Art gallery and strolled through Art Plaza. We love the Indian artists and we always pick up a few pieces. The Indian art market has been on the rise. Not only are the new artists getting recognized, but digging out the old artists from 1920's at Phillips Antiques. My husband priced the two 6" wooden sculptures of pink raging beasts that would guard a doorway at a mere 1.2 million rupees. We just don't have the space for it, you know.

Gut-wrenching pain: walking past a child sitting on the sidewalk with her arm extended, too weak to raise her head. How many children will go to sleep hungry tonight and wake up hungry - no one knows. We dropped a coin in her hand and we walked in silence.

Homesickness: Going into Cafe Mondegar. My husband was surprised I wanted to go there for coffee since it's a fairly dark pub/cafe. However, I heard the Black Eyed Peas and felt terribly homesick. We had a really good espresso and latte while listening to Def Leppard.

Knowing You're Not at Home: (Don't know what the opposite of homesick is): Looking out the window at Cafe Mondegar and seeing 5-6 motorcycles lined up for McDelivery for McDonalds. Yes, for those times when you need your Maharaja Mac or McVeggie in 30 minutes or less. I can't tell you enough about how much I love the delivery services in this country. You want ice cream or bottle of gin, you just make a phone call and someone brings it over.

Frustration: We needed to take an air conditioned bus back home. Sounds simple? We walked at least 20-30 min in circles trying to find the bus stop, calling family, asking strangers, policemen, and bus people. You just have to "know" these things. Fortunately, we finally found the stop and as we were walking towards it, the bus came. We ran for it!

Life Threatening Perilious Adventures: Also known as "crossing the street". (New post to come on that!!)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

India Diaries 2009

Live from Mumbai!
Last time we were in India in 2007, I maintained a log of our trip and experiences (see "India" on my links on the right). We're here this month and again, I'm waking up at 4:30 am with nothing to do, and the urge to write.

The last trip was memorable because it was my daughter's first trip to India. Everything was new and unexpected. Now, we're going 2 years later and she's 8 now. This trip is about rediscovery. She's looking for those things she remembers from someone's beaded curtain to the bathroom where she floated boats with her grandfather.

I'm happy that we found an art studio nearby that offers arts and crafts for children. Since we'll be here for a few weeks, we'll have Annika take some workshops. We asked specifically for a class with girls her age so she'll have a chance to make friends.

For me, India is always about people. I wrote about this before where as someone who grew up with feet firmly planted in the US, I always felt that for me, India was a good place to visit, not live. I'm here now and still pretty sure I could not live in Mumbai. I'm not a city person at all. I need my rolling hills of Pennsylvania and the ability to drive to Target needed.

However, the other night I landed my brother-in-law gave me a hug and said "Welcome home!" That's a powerful statement for me. I'm daughter of immigrants and grew up with dual identities. I've long since reconciled who I am, so I don't want to go into the cliches that pepper Indian-American literature. However, I distinctly remember the moment when I decided I was American, and knew I wasn't an Indian. Yet I always describe myself as Indian-American because I'm not one or the other. It's gratifying to have to an "official" welcome such as this.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Follow up on Recent Blogs

Kumon You're Killing Me: We're done. I told them we were going away in Dec and we'll come back in January. I was relieved the owner didn't try to convince me to take homework with us on vacation; she simply asked me to call her.

The benefits of not doing Kumon:
- we get back 30 to 45 minutes every evening

- restore peace and tranquility in our family

- chance to explore more creative methods of learning basic math skills. There are some great websites and I've found some fun workbooks.

- know that any other math workbook that I put in front of my daughter's nose will be welcomed because she's faced the worst.

The benefit of doing Kumon:
- she is a quicker with doing math calculations in her head. However, it's the result of consistent practice.

Separating Fantasy from Reality: So, we had the talk. She asked me while we were at the mall. I told her there was no Santa Claus.
"Oh, so it's you?"


"OHhhhh.. so I can tell YOU what I want for Christmas and don't have to wait?"


"OHHHhhh..Great! I want a DS!! a Wii!! Wait.. did you eat the cookies too?"


"Now..there's no Easter Bunny?"


"What about the leprachauns? Did you put the sprinkles?" (When she was in pre-K, she wrote a welcome note to the leprauchan for St Patrick's Day and the teacher put sprinkles on it. So, I really didn't put the sprinkles.)

Now she believes there is no Santa Claus or Bunny, but leprachauns are real.

I also told her not to tell little friends of ours, and let them believe. There's a bit of relief.