Friday, May 04, 2007

Last Entry

We knew the day would come when we would post the final entry to our blog. We just could not comprehend on September 10, 2005 when we landed in the dead of night in Chennai that this day would arrive so quickly. Recapping our full experience over these past months in a few paragraphs is beyond our literary reach. We can say without hesitation that we have had a most marvelous adventure.

After a few carefree days of vacation in Paris, we will land in the US on May 11 and resume lives that, prior to our life in India, we considered adventuresome. Yet having trekked about the Indian subcontinent, strolled the streets of Hanoi, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and dusted from our trousers the dirt from Sri Lankan gem mines, we may find our sense of adventure in the familiar surroundings of our Atlanta home requiring some adjustment. We are ready for that challenge.

We will face other challenges upon our return as well. We will move from left hand to right hand traffic flow, centigrade to fahrenheit, from never drinking the tap water to having our fill, bananas purchased from street vendors to bananas sold in wide-aisled, well lit Kroger stores. We’re looking forward to it.

The view from our back balcony overlooking the N.R. Colony will change to a view of full-leafed oak and poplar trees. Rather than having our neighbor’s dog Princess as an occasional visitor, Katie, Leopold and Sammy will be our regular canine companions. Grimmy and Elana, our two tiny fully grown cats, will find comfort with the return of our inviting laps.

Work at Jay’s Bangalore office will continue. New arrivals will continue to fill the ranks of the Bangalore Overseas Women’s Club. Our Indian friends from the apartment who are already home will continue to mingle on Republic Day in the apartment compound. We suspect our absence will hardly be noticed.

What will long linger are our many wonderful memories, many of which we’ve captured in this blog. Some that transcend photos are the retelling of his escape from the tsunami waters by Coconut Raj, the heat felt on our skin in the towns along the Malabar Coast and the quiet nod of appreciation when a few rupees were given to street beggars. These and other memories will remain as we adjust from urban to suburban living, rupees to dollars and begin letting our imaginations formulate our next great adventure.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

Pink Elephant Sale

As we move into our final days of preparation to leave Bangalore, Helen has had to stay laser-focused on another local affair. As the chairperson of the Overseas Women’s Club (OWC) community-sized yard sale fund raiser called the Pink Elephant Sale, her attention has been locked on securing donations, volunteers and coordination with various vendors.

All her hard work and that of the many OWC volunteers paid off when the event was held on Wednesday, 2-May. Nearly 95,000 rupees was raised for the OWC charities. Of the 86 boxes of donated clothing, toys, housewares and shoes, there were seventy empty boxes at the end of day. The remaining goods will be distributed to the OWC charities. Wednesday was truly a win-win day.

The Pink Elephant Sale was held in the large, tree shaded overflow parking lot provided by St. Mark’s Anglican Cathedral. Built by British expats in 1808 and enlarged a century later, the imposing church structure was the back drop for the sale. In a wink to the continuity of history, British expats again mingled on St. Mark’s grounds for the sale. Only this time they were joined by modern 21st expats from Australia, New Zealand, the US and Europe that now also call Bangalore home.

The sale lasted 2 ½ hours. A 30 minute early bird sale was opened to volunteers to select from the 3,000+ donated items. Then the sale was opened to the wider community. People streamed onto the grounds. Volunteers manned tables with goods and more volunteers sat at cashier tables ready to accept the 10, 20 and 30 rupee notes for most goods.

Everything moved seamlessly that day, giving credit to the long hours of behind-the- scenes preparation work. Donated goods were assembled at our apartment and at the home of another OWC member in Whitefield. Goods at our apartment were first stored in our back bedroom then moved to our front balcony. More storage space was provided by the Salarpuria building manager. Our neighbor, Champa Barbut, a Sri Lankan OWC member, had boxes in her apartment as well. Volunteers gathered on two occasions to sort goods and affix price tags. Lots of work!

Without question, the greatest debt of vendor thanks goes to Solutions 4 Delivery. S4D not only donated the boxes and trucks to haul goods from our apartment and out of town Whitefield to St. Mark’s, the crews helped to load, unload and reload the leftover donated goods with the zeal of spirited volunteers. Attempts to provide a tip for their services was kindly rebuffed with, “We are volunteers, too.” Many thanks are offered to Mukal and Deepak and their crew from S4D.

Now it is time for us to finish our own packing.


Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Gods are Back in Town

Last year about this time, giant bamboo scaffolding rose from the ground at the corner of our street and Airport Road. Colored lights outlining the image of a deity soon appeared. At that time we had no idea that a multi-day festival was about to take place in our colony. This year once we spied stacks of bamboo, we knew the gods were back in town.

This festival appears to be local to our colony. Signage wishing a “Happy Phoo Palaki” revealed no understanding to us. Google, as well as Jay’s office mates, were equally stumped over the meaning of the festival. Not everything enjoyed is understood.

Last year’s witness of the festival gave us a general outline of affairs. The key focus is the gathered idols from the local temples. The idols are heavily decorated with flowers. Pooja (worship) is offered. From early dawn to late darkness recorded devotional music is broadcast from large speakers. During these religious ceremonies, we maintain a respectful distance. When Bollywood tunes are broadcast, we engage.

Last year we mingled with the Bollywood entertained crowd. Our crowd-pleasing antics of a 1-2-3 cha cha netted us an invitation by the organizers to dance on stage to the delight of the colony residents. This year we watched from afar. Our attention was on packing for our departure from India in a few days.

We put aside our packing when the evening’s fireworks had exploding clusters of red, green and white pyrotechnics bursting at near eye level from our bedroom balcony. Resistance was useless. Soon we were mingling on the streets.

A carnival-like atmosphere had invaded the streets. Balloons, plastic toys, bracelets and other trinkets were sold by street vendors. The main event came around midnight when the idols were paraded on their colorfully lit chariots.

A palaki or pallaki is a poled, suspended chair used to carry maharajas or sahibs. We suspect Happy Phu Palaki is related. It is a tradition at Hindu temples to employ a chariot in which the idol is transported. The famed stone chariot of the ancient temple complex of Hampi is a good example of the deep roots of this tradition.

Once the idols were in their chariots, devotees gathered with drums and horns. The drumming is frenetic as is the responsive gyrations of the faithful. You can feel the drum reverberations in the air pressing about your body. It is a spectacle without equal. The drumming, dancing and parading of chariots continued into the night. As the chariots moved down the narrow streets of the colony, attendants raised overhead electrical wires with bare hands (egad!) or bamboo poles to allow the chariots to pass. The electric flow to our apartment that evening was not surprisingly rather spotty. As dawn broke, we could hear the drumming, albeit more subdued, return to our lives. The chariots had finished their evening tour of the colony. Having come full circle the crowds dispersed, the chariots were stowed and the idols returned to their temples. We are sure they will be back next year. Until then, Happy Phu Palaki. We must return to our packing.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Check’s In the Mail

Today we completed the circle of generosity initiated by our church, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta (UUCA), and presented the proceeds from our church’s social justice donation to Sukrupa Community Development in Bangalore. Helen had informed Krupa, the center’s Executive Director, that a donation from UUCA for Sukrupa would be made on April 15. To manage expectations, Helen indicated the donation would be in the range of $2,500 (Rs 100,000). Krupa later shared with us that, given that expectation, she had started some mental math on how the donation would be used.

The monthly rent of Rs 25,000 had not yet been paid… and there was no money in sight that would cover that expense. Meals for the over 200 children cost Rs.100,000 a month. Good progress on that expense. Need to figure out how to cover the shortfall by the end of the month. The other expenses….what to do?

With the ‘comfort’ that the rent would be paid and a good portion of next month’s meal expenses covered, Krupa stood pleased and grateful as Helen handed her an oversize check we had made for the occasion.

After holding the check for a few moments, we motioned to Krupa to actually read the amount on the check. Rather than the anticipated of Rs. 100,000, the check was for Rs. 214,067 (2,14,067…2 lakh, 14 thousand and 67 rupees in Indian-speak). Krupa’s breath was taken away. Complete strangers from the other side of the world had reached out and their anonymous generosity had made a big, big difference to children they will never meet here in Bangalore.

We were given the gift of actually seeing those children. As part of our visit, the Sukrupa children put on skits they had developed regarding pollution in India. “Do not wash your cow in the river where you draw your drinking water.” “Wash your hands before eating.” “Don’t pass urine on the street.” Tacit and simple lessons one may understand from the vantage point of the mature urban environs of Canberra, Hong Kong, New York and London. We, however, were watching the birth of a new generation of Indian citizens. The future will not be a repeat of the past.

We spent several hours chatting with the Sukrupa staff. Our first stop was the Fashion Center. We took photos of the tailors working at their sewing machines. The embroidery staff was equally keen to have a photo taken, as was the kitchen staff. We will make prints of the photos and gift them to each hard working individual.

We leave India with a hope that we have had some positive impact, however minuscule, on the lives of a tiny number of children. We were present at the creation, so to speak, of a generation that will demand more of themselves and others around them. If such a hope comes true, our adventure in India would be a greater treasure than we could have imagined.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Off to the Presses

As we continue activities related to our imminent departure from Bangalore and return to our home in the US, we have prepared our blog to be printed in book form. The process required hours of patience to transfer our blog text and pictures to a Word document. Then hours were spent re-formatting and updating with a few corrections. Our blog book is now ready for the printer.

From work done for the Overseas Women’s Club, Helen selected Grafiprinters on Residency Road. The printer is housed in an old section of the former British Cantonment in an original bungalow that has fallen into disrepair.The printer told us that they have been renting space in this location for many years. He recounted a common story heard amid today’s soaring real estate values in this section of Bangalore. Ownership of the building is disputed by family members. At first, seven relatives were vying for control and the eventual proceeds from the sale of the land on which the building sits. Another 30 relatives have joined the fray. Our printer was not too concerned about receiving a notice to vacate the premises any time soon.

We named our blog book BeingInBangalore: A blog of our India Experience Sep 2005 to May 2007. With the cost of printing and binding running about $50 per book, we opted for 11 copies. We will keep a copy and then distribute the others to family and friends as gifts. We anticipate an expression of warm appreciation, perhaps a hug, a thumbing of the pages and then have our gifted opus relegated to a book shelf. That’s okay.

In this world of Google Instant Messaging, cryptic cell phone text communication… “where r u”…and ubiquitous e-mail messages, we are a society of perishable thoughts. Hardly anyone writes anything down on paper anymore.

Imagine our collective loss of prose if, John Adams, second president of the United States, and Abigail Smith Adams, his wife, had used their Yahoo e-mail accounts instead of quill pens in their exchange of 1,100 letters. Lost forever in a “You’ve Got Mail” pop up window would be a December, 1773 yearning from Abigail to her husband, “Alass! How many snow banks divide thee and me and my warmest wishes to see thee will not melt one of them.”

Our modest thoughts from our blog with its 141 entries, 206 pages, 975 photos and 66,940 words will soon find a home other than the ethereal world of the world wide web. Via the xerographic magic of electro-statically charged colored plastic inks, our work will be transferred to high gloss white paper. Maybe they're not the magic of the parchment- preserved words of John and Abigail. Yet, these are our 21st century thoughts. A lone surviving copy of our blog book just might find a reader in distant times grateful that someone put their experiences and thoughts to paper.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Preparing to Leave

In ten days we will be boarding our flight back home to the US. For almost two years we have called Bangalore home. Now it is time to start closing down our apartment, tidying up accounts and saying good bye to friends.

The biggest activity to close out is Helen’s volunteer work on the Overseas Women’s Club fund raiser called the Pink Elephant Sale. The Pink Elephant is a community-sized yard sale where articles donated by OWC members such as clothing, books, CDs, toys, house wares and all the other trappings of expat life are put on sale for all of Bangalore to purchase. This yearly event, the second largest OWC fund raiser, involves Helen gathering volunteers and donations. We have boxes of donations in our small apartment that have been sorted and priced. Finally, Helen needs to organize the activities on the day of the sale, 2 May, at St. Mark’s Cathedral. Needless to say, Helen has been focused on fulfilling her commitment. Time, nonetheless, for our departure marches forward.

Our departure heralds the completion of Jay’s work. The new development center facility has been opened in Bangalore. All the software development work, over 150,000 hours of effort for a large client, has been delivered. Mission accomplished.

Two unexpected business trips back to the US recently has allowed us to thin our belongings in India. We are down to a few sets of clothes and necessities. While in India, we have held to our marriage vow commitment of “no new stuff.” We are at a point in life where our experiences and relationships far exceed the value of “stuff”. Despite many, many temptations to acquire exotic accoutrements, we leave with but a few native treasures.

Notification to vacate our apartment has been given; arrangements for final payment of electric, gas, newspaper and so on have been made. We still need to close our Citibank account and hope that a repeat of the four weeks of hassle to open it is not repeated. The end of that saga is still to be realized.

Helen has cleverly sold our large purchases (king sized mattress, sheets, pillows, bedspread, coffee pot and bean grinder) to our next door neighbor. Due to plug configurations, our electrical appliances will be gifted. The printer-scanner-copier combination along with our wireless router will be given to Krupa for her use at the community center. Our wireless phone used with our Vonage VOIP adapter goes to our driver, Harish. Helen is actively helping Harish find another expat employer. He has been steady, dependable and helpful and has always protected us. We are glad to be his agent.

Our flight home is arranged. We fly home through Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. Due to the sprawling configuration of that airport, we typically give ourselves a few hours layover to ensure we catch our connecting flight to Atlanta. Since this is our final flight home, we opted for a six day vs. a three hour layover. Paris will be our halfway house as we transition from chapattis to croissants before returning home to bagels and English muffins.

One of our OWC friends, Pamela Bertram, is arranging a gathering of selected friends for a farewell dinner at the Blue Ginger restaurant the day before we depart. We have participated in several of these dinners in the past; it’s hard to believe that this time we will be the honored guests.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Our Gifts to Others

We had a recent reaffirmation of the depth of generosity that some people can extend to strangers. Our church, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta (UUCA), has a commitment to give away the Sunday plate donation to worthy charities. Over US$50,000 has been given way this year. The Social Justice Committee selects organizations from nominations presented by church members. Helen’s nomination of Sukrupa Community Center in Bangalore was accepted for Sunday, 15 April.

Sukrupa is a non-government organization (NGO) founded in 2000 with a vision to provide an environment where slum children can learn academic, social and physical skills as well as being provided food in a safe, nurturing and caring environment. School-aged children come for breakfast and after school shelter and help with their homework. Preschoolers are cared for all day. A total of 230 children are served at Sukrupa. Very few of their parents pay anything for this care. Sukrupa depends on the donations of individuals and groups.

Despite labor laws to the contrary, child labor and exploitation is very real in India. Every third household has a working child. Girls deemed by tradition as lesser beings are the most exploited. Those once categorized in the caste system as untouchables are now called dalits. Their fate remains unchanged. Whether disadvantaged by age, gender or caste, Sukrupa extends a hand and gives hope that tomorrow can be better than today.

Helen is a Sukrupa volunteer. She has seen first hand how far young children who have no home training must stretch themselves to learn simple things like the names of shapes, numbers and letters and how to use a toilet and wash their hands. Small steps forward daily are meeting the challenges.

Our delight could not have been greater when we learned that the scheduled plate donation for Sunday, 15 April was for Sukrupa. Jay was in the US on a business trip and was provided an opportunity to share with the congregation Sukrupa’s story. It was candidating week for a potential new minister. The sermon was high voltage. Every seat was filled.

On Wednesday, Jay stopped by the church to pick up the donation proceeds. We had hoped for $3,000, maybe $4,000, given the circumstances of this past Sunday’s events. The check given to Jay was for $5,250.50 (215,270 rupees).

This is enough to pay for four qualified pre-school teachers for a year. Meals can be served. Repairs can be made to the building. The vision to change the future of young children who struggle against the strong bonds of tradition can be achieved. Thank you to the UUCA community, who helped shape the future for these young strangers.