Monday, August 31, 2009


One of the more unpleasant things about traveling in India is undoubtedly the hawkers. This is an especially irritating scourge because they're most prevalent at the most popular tourist sites, so in order to see the most beautiful, interesting, and historic places in India, one is forced to run a gauntlet of seedy people reciting a constant stream of "Hello" "Your name?" "You from?" "Very good price, look here", etc. Not the best way to leave a good impression. I've even thought of writing to the tourism ministry (department, whatever it is) about how detrimental this is to the foreign tourist business in the country. I've lived here for 8 months, and this weekend was almost all I could take of people trying to sell me picture books, tiny glass Ganeshes, stones, and any other item of marginal value that they can get their hands on.

Fortunately, some of the places are worthwhile enough that one can put up with the nonsense. I hit two of the better-known ones this weekend, and had a surprise thrown in. First was Ajanta, then Ellora, and then the fort of Daulatabad. Ajanta and Ellora are two sets of caves filled with ancient paintings and rock carvings. I expected them to be worthy of their reputation, and they did not disappoint. Contrary to popular opinion, I think I liked Ajanta a bit more, partly because of the more interesting setting around the outside of a bend of a river, but also because there were significantly fewer hucksters trying to sell me things. But the real surprise was the Daulatabad fort, which turned out to be interesting, historic, and prettier than I expected. I had actually never heard of it until Friday, but some people at work recommended that I stop there on the way to or from Ellora. So I did, and I hired a guide (one thing India tourism does well - the official guides are generally quite good), and got two hours of stories and explanation as we went through the trap doors, holes for boiling oil, curving pitch black tunnels, etc. All in all, worth the visit. (A good thing, because I've been wanting to go to those places since the first trip to Bombay five years ago.)

Pictures to come soon.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Air raid?

I woke up early Sunday morning around 4:45AM thinking there must be an air raid or a natural disaster or something terrible happening as a whirring alarm-like noise was echoing outside. I had no idea what it could be. Monday morning, about the same time, I was awakened again.

Monday night, I was invited to an Iftar dinner (breaking the fast in Ramzan, aka Ramadan) hosted by the only Muslim employee in our section. Around 6:45, I heard the siren again -- and turned to a coworker asking what it was. He said it's the sign that the sun has set and the fast may be broken.

Suddenly it all became clear. Sunday was the first day of Ramzan in HYD. Sunday the siren started - and since then, I've also heard it faintly at night at our house, though with the din of other noises it's not as noticeable as at 4:45AM. Now that I know why I'm hearing it, I can roll over and rest another hour and a half before I have to wake up. Thankfully, it doesn't seem to bother William one bit.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sari shopping, five years later

When Pam and I were in Bombay five years ago, one of the major tasks for the week was to go shopping for proper Indian attire for the wedding. I obviously have memories of this, but it's not something I think about in any detail too often. Yesterday, however, in the shuttle on the way back from work, we drove by one of the sari shops that we went to back then. I remember this one in particular because it's where we learned about the Indian style of shopping, in which the customer (in this case, one of the other wedding guests) says a curt "no" to any good that he/she doesn't like. There's no real concern about politeness, but it works - if you do it properly in a decent shop, the shopkeeper will quickly figure out which colors and patterns you're looking for. Anyway, would have been a deja vu moment if I didn't actually remember having been there. But it was pretty weird nonetheless.

The Upper West Side of Bombay

Bombay is a big city. I say that not to state the obvious - actually just the opposite. Bombay is also an Indian city, but it feels in many ways more like a big city with Indian twists than it does like other Indian cities.

I'm here for two weeks (three days gone so far) for work, and I should point out that I'm staying in Bandra, which is apparantly the poshest part of town these days. Still, in a lot of ways it feels less like Banjara Hills, Hyderabad, than it does like the Upper West Side of Manhattan. For example...

Hyderabad's streets, even the nice ones, are packed with motorcycles, scooters, cows, etc. Here it's mostly cars.

People here mostly dress in Western clothing. I should say women, actually, because men throughout the country, as far as I've seen at least, seem to all dress about the same. But there are far fewer saris and salwars on the street here than in Hyderabad.

Upscale boutiques and coffee shops are far more common than in Hyderabad.

There's a sense of order to the streets. This is just Bandra, I think, but in this area the streets are mostly laid out in a grid.

People come from so many different places that there's lots of English spoken in Bombay.

That's enough for now. Time to go out for another walk. I have only a vague idea of where I'm going, but I'm sure there will be something interesting.


There's some catchup to do on this blog for me, and I'm afraid some of it will just be missed. But I can at least write something, so I'll start with two weeks ago, when I took a trip (I thought) to Bangalore.

Muru, a fellow ex-Appianite, has returned from the States to his native Bangalore, where he's in the process of trying to start his own IT consulting company. Another ex-Appianite, Phil, who's in his summer break at Chicago GSB, is in India for the summer to lend a hand. This is all the excuse I need to hop on a plane, fly an hour south, and see what would happen in 48 hours.

I honestly had no idea what we were doing there, even whether we'd stay in town or leave for the weekend. I figured I'd let the local decide, and with so little time I correctly assumed that regardless, I wouldn't be bored. At any rate, Muru and Phil looked at what was within reach, what they had already seen, and decided that a place called Coorg would be the best bet. We literally decided what to do less than 12 hours before the trip, and that turned out to be just enough time to book all we needed. My only complaint is that the trip took 7 hours from Bangalore, but we had plenty of time to chat, had some excellent food on the road, and saw some terrific scenery when we got close to Coorg.

To give a bit of background on Coorg, it's actually a region, not a city. The region is what's called a hill station, somewhat like Coonoor, where I went with Pam and William in April. While Coonoor is known for tea, Coorg is better known as a coffee growing area. But the real attractions are the hills and the cool air, and they did not disappoint.

We first stopped for some relatively low-impact whitewater rafting, including an icy jump into the river (whose name I do not know), and then went to the coffee plantation where we were staying to dry off. It was a rather rustic place, with the sheets and towels clean but certainly not luxurious. But it was all we needed, and even the dinner conversation turned out to be enlightening. The other four guests were call center workers from Bangalore, youngish professionals about our age. Mainly it was interesting to hear people really talk about that sort of work when they didn't know (as these four didn't) that I spend my days interviewing people like them for visas. The night took an unpleasant turn only when I put my arm on the table and spotted a hungry leech, maybe an inch long, digging in to the inside of my forearm. A quick pass of Muru's cigarette encouraged it to let go, and I was left without so much as a mark. That's when I decided it was time to go to bed.

A creek/stream goes right through the center of the plantation, and the next morning we took a walk in it, literally. The forest on the sides was a bit thick and leechy for hiking, but the stream itself was cool and crystal clear, and the water was generally a perfect ankle depth. No wildlife was sighted, just some leeches which were quickly removed with help of a bag of salt - they shrivel away from it like slugs - but we really had the feeling that we were hours away from civilization.

That feeling was confirmed the next day, when we returned to Bangalore and were reminded that we were in fact hours, many hours, from the city. I went straight back to the airport. It was a quick trip, but a lot of fun somehow. Thanks to Muru for the last-minute arrangements!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Maybe it's William's choice

Greg and I were talking this afternoon about what to name Floyd, should it turn out to be a boy. A girl's name we agreed on before William was born, and we've decided not to re-open that can of worms: Kathryn Neale Pontius Rankin. But, nothing is jumping out for boy's names.

We both read through a name book, made our separate lists, and compared. Five or six names were in common, which I guess is a good starting point. None, however, really jumped off the page for either of us.

William during this time was putzing around with his blocks, making towers. His appetitite for "alone" play ended, he came over and said "come, mama, come dada, play." As we were going over to play with him (he drops a stuffed animal from upstairs, he comes down stairs, has Greg throw it upstairs, repeat), we asked William what the baby's name should be if he has a brother. Very clearly, he said, "Nathan." Hmm....

Monday, August 17, 2009

Prego update, IV

This has nothing to do with strange experiences in India. Just an update for those of you following along at home :)

Everything is, as hoped, going normally. I got my Rhogam shot with only minor trouble, so preventative measures for me being Rh- and Greg being Rh+ are covered. The next - and likely last - sonogram is scheduled for Labor Day weekend. I'm not sure how appointments will work after 32 weeks gestation. In the US, I'd start going every other week, but my doctor here takes a much more hands off approach if everything is going OK (which it is).

We received a baby present today (thanks, Doebbler!), and I had to explain to William that he couldn't open it until Floyd was on the outside. He kept lifting up my shirt to pat my belly and say "baby inside now. baby not born." I'm still not convinced that he really understands, but he is a good parrot at repeating my explanations, so perhaps with enough repetition the actual meaning will sink in.

The month of travelling and eating out a lot was not very good for my weight gain, so I'm trying to keep my gain now to 0.5 lbs / week for the rest of the pregnancy. If I can succeed (big if!), then I'll have gained the same amount as I did with William. I'm not too stressed out about it (don't worry, I won't starve myself or hurt Floyd - I still made an ice-milk shake after dinner tonight :) ), but I also don't want to get too big since I'm already feeling unweildy and there are still 11 weeks to go!

I've started to order things online to be shipped here - so keep your fingers crossed the HR department at work actually authorizes the "layette shipment" soon so that it all arrives before the baby does! Thankfully, a shopping frenzy isn't required - but we will be making the switch to cloth diapers (check out BumGenius) due to cost of disposables here, will need a second high chair (William won't be giving his up), and also would like a few other odds and ends (e.g., formula in case pumping can't keep up).

The real debate is if we should get a cradle / bassinet type thing made here. William didn't like his crib until he was much older, and Greg is dead set on Floyd not sleeping in our bed.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Paaa - perrr

This is the call we hear every weekend morning: "paaaa-peeerrr." Curious, we'd go to our kitchen window and look out, but all we'd see is a guy on a bicycle calling, "paaa-peerrr." Finally, after we started ordering a daily delivery of newspaper, Sarwary clued us in.

Apparently, this guy is calling, "paper." And what he does is go house to house collecting mostly newspaper - but also some other kinds of paper - for recycling. William enjoys the "Paper Man" immensely. He hears the call from a few blocks away and runs into the kitchen asking for someone to put him on the counter so he can "see Paper Man."

Here's how it works at our house: once we have a sufficient stack of old newspapers, Sarwary tells the security guards. Then, when the Paper Man comes by on his bicycle, the security guards send him up to our apartment. He brings up an old fashioned scale (think: weight on one plate, another plate for the papers) with a 1kg weight. Negotiations start - each kg is weighed out (Sarwary makes sure he doesn't put too much on and under compensate us). If the remaining paper doesn't come to a kg, they negotiate further - and once Sarwary kept the partial kg of paper for the next visit because she didn't think he was being fair. From what I can tell, cardboard boxes and white paper are also accepted by the Paper Man.

Compensation ranges from 3 - 5 Rs/kg. Between our newspaper and the occasional cardboard box, we probably get about 25 Rs/month. Not a lot (about what we spend on vegetables for one dinner), but newspaper delivery is only about 90 Rs/month, so paper is obviously pretty cheap. And, given the amount of garbage lying around in different parts of the city, I'm happy to see some of my waste be reused!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

This is my cycle

Somtime in the month I was gone, William truely discovered the meaning of "my" and "mine." It was inevitable. Now we have many discussions about who can call what "mine." He doesn't really understand "yours," but then again, he doesn't really understand "you" as opposed to "me," so I suppose that makes sense.

This evening, William spent an hour outside peddling on his trike while Greg was at yoga class - using the peddles was another new-found accomplishment while I was in Calcutta. He didn't want to be in the apartment courtyard, because the elementary school aged girls where there. They like to pick him up, pinch his cheeks, call him "sooo cute," and generally annoy him. So, after about 5 minutes, William said, "See Babu." (Babu means "boy" in Telugu, and that is what everyone calls the complex security guards at the gate.) Peddle out to the gate we went!

All the different security guards on our block seem to know William. Given the red hair and that he goes outside at least three times a day walking Bagwelle, I suppose that's not too surprising. So, as we peddled around, William called out, "Hi Babu! This is my cycle." One of them in particular was having fun with him and said back, "no - my cycle," which of course made William say in a very stern voice, "NO! *MY* cycle!" He'd peddle away, then come back, and then repeat the exchange.

Then the security guard started trying to get William to say it in Telugu ("Idi naa cycle" or "Ii cycle naaku"). William didn't really pick it up, but the guard kept on trying for a good 30 minutes until Greg came home ("That is MY car") and we went upstairs for dinner.

I've found it interesting how the dynamics of the apartment complex become like a mini village. All the guards look after the kids, all the kids play in the courtyard and just run into each other's houses, all the parents know what the other parents are up to. The only way to have a secret, I think, would be to not hire any help and to not talk to anyone ever.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

India prego chronicles - part III (?)

I might be on part IV or V, it's hard to keep track. In any case, here's the latest and greatest on the developing insider...

1. Travelling was no good for weight gain - I ate out too much and probably also ate too much when out! I ended up gaining 4Kg this month (only 2Kg recommended per month), in spite of having Delhi belly and lingering effects for some time. So, my punishment is that I have to get my blood pressure taken each week (I did some research - I think this is an easier way of checking for some complications rather than doing extra blood work or urine screening). If this next month I stick to 2kg and continue to have consistently low blood pressure, then I'll be off the hook.

When pregnant with William, I was walking all the time, swiming for 30 minutes 3 or 4 times a week, and doing yoga. Hence, I had to focus more on gaining weight - and I really enjoyed eating extra avocado on a BLT or (sometimes and!) a scoop of ice cream each night. Sadly, my current sendentary desk job does not appear to permit such indulgences for this second pregnancy.

2. I now feel like a display when out and about. Pregnant Indian women wear saris or loose salwar kameez, both of which do a pretty good job at hiding pregnant bellies. And, from what I gather in conversation, those that are of a certain class (i.e., upper, where we fit in this stratified society) certainly don't work (especially the last trimester) and never go anywhere alone. Thus, according to local custom, I'm certifiably crazy.

My US prego clothes show an obvious belly, and I have no qualms about going anywhere. I don't have any problems putting in a full day at work. Basically, except for a protruding mid-section which is just starting to make me waddle a bit and occasionally makes me have to angle through a tight space, I am living my regular life. Sarwary was quite upset when I told her I tried driving this morning! Pregnant women should never drive! Horrors!

Between all these things, I end up drawing quite a lot of attention - but can't help and wonder (hope?) that perhaps I'll change someone's conception about what a pregnant woman can and can't do.

3. We found out the cost difference between the "regular" and the "super deluxe" delivery options at the maternity hospital. The "regular" delivery option means: labor in a ward, separated by curtains from other women, followed by delivery in a different place, and then two nights in a double- or triple-room. Price? Rs. 10,000 (i.e., $200).

The "deluxe" option has a privatae LDR room (ie, stay in the same room from arrival until after the baby is born), and a private room for the next two days. The "super deluxe" package has the same LDR room as the deluxe option, but includes a post-partum suite, with a second room that has a table, four chairs, and a second bed. Price for the super deluxe? Rs. 65,000 ($1,300). We didn't ask the deluxe price, because at that price-level, we can just go for the super-deluxe and have extra room for William to play when he visits.

Back home!

I'm back in HYD for good, now - no more travelling until a certain insider becomes an outsider.

Saturday morning I spent about an hour with Sarwary catching up on everything house- and William-related that happened while I was gone, which she said Greg handled pretty well but it seemed there were a few things she saved to tell me. Most was pretty mundane (a new sink leak, a new plug adapter needed for the iron, etc), but one story stood out.

William suffered from a bit of indigestion, but was still happy and eating and drinking, so no one was too worried - except, perhaps, his little bum from the frequent diaper changes. Over the phone, the doctor said as long as his appetite was fine, there was no need to bring him in; all we had to do was wait it out. Sarwary, apparently, did not think this was appropriate, so the next day, she brought in some red chillies and salt. What for? To circle round his head and throw a little salt over his shoulder to ward off the evil spirits. Of course the next day William had no runny poops, and his next BM two days later (and every day since) was normal.

I looked skeptically at Sarwary when she told me this, but she just looked at me and said, "Madam, Western people not understanding. You are in India so we have to do it India way." She reassured me she would never feed William anything without asking, so I figure a little chili pepper superstition can't hurt anything. I'm just waiting to see if she's going to tie anything to the side of Floyd's crib!