Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Delhi Half Marathon

Ok… so this is not likely to interest many people but here it is.

Back in July while I was in Australia some friends of mine were talking about doing the Blackmore's Sydney Half Marathon which was in September. After a bit of discussion I thought I might be able to squeeze another trip to Sydney in and run it with them. So when I got back to Delhi I started training at Siri Fort on their 1km clay running track (I don't know how many hundreds of times I have circled that track).

So the challenge was set and I had to somehow go from a completely sedentary lifestyle to being able to run 21k in 2 months. But unfortunately life got busy and I realised there was no way I was going to be able to get back to Sydney in September to run with my friends. This turned out not to be a problem as one by one my piker friends had pulled out of the 1/2 marathon too. By the time the decision was made not to run I had already worked my way up from barely being able to run 1km up to about 6km. So rather than let all the hard work of running in the Delhi humidity go to waste I decided to focus on the Delhi Half Marathon which was to be run in late November. This turned out to be a good decision. It gave me a bit more time to train and Delhi is dead flat so no need for any hill training… I have no idea where I could have done that in Delhi.

So training was going well and somewhere along the line a 7k run became really easy. I guess this meant I should have picked up the pace but I am too lazy and not at all competitive. I ended up taking a short break from training mid October when I made a quick trip to Australia and I also somehow picked up a mild dose of Dengue… luckily it did not stop me altogether. So gradually I stretched out the ks and about 2 weeks before the event I did my longest run of 17ks…it was not too bad and I figured I could pull out another 4ks on the day.

So on Sunday the 27th of November I hopped out of bed at 5am after a lousy nights sleep, got myself together and headed out the door. The event was starting at the big Commonwealth Games stadium 5 minutes from my house… convenient. So while it was still dark I waited with about 8300 other runners for the race to start at 7:10am.

The race was flagged off and it took about 5minutes before I actually crossed the start line. This probably had something to do with a couple of Bollywood stars flagging the race off and then all the Indian runners wanting to stop and take a photo on their way past.

So I was on my way. Not much to tell about 21ks of running really… bit boring even with a few podcasts for entertainment.
It didn't take long to get into a good rhythm and I was heading along quite comfortably. When I got to the 6k point who should I see coming down the road in the opposite direction at the 16k mark but a bunch of Ethiopians and Kenyans running at a cracking pace… these guys were machines… they made it look so easy. To put it in perspective I was plodding along at 6 minutes per kilometre and they are running at less than 3minutes per kilometre… crazy! We are talking 21km per hour compared to my measly 10.

Every now and then during the race I would have a little mental battle with myself, especially when I was at the furthest point from the start/finish line.
14ks I was doing fine.
17ks getting a bit nervous as I hadn't run further than that before and I hadn't managed to score some Gatorade so my glycogen stores were getting seriously low. By this stage I was saying to myself I am never doing this again. My breathing was fine but my legs were weakening.
At the 19k mark Hunter and Ray were at the cheer zone. They thought I was looking strong but I certainly didn't feel it… my pace had slowed but I was still running.
At the 20k mark I was unsuccessfully trying to convince myself to enjoy the last 6 minutes.
At 500 metres to go I was thinking there was no way I could ever run a full marathon if this is what half way feels like. There was another sign at 300 metres to go and all I could think was that the last 200 metres felt like they took forever. Then before I knew it I was at 100 metres to go and then done. It took me 2 hours and 20 minutes. The longest 2 hours and 20 minutes of my life.
I was too scared to sit down as I was so worried I would not be able to stand up again. So I collected my medal and my snack pack and headed for the gates hoping I might find Ray. It crossed my mind that if I couldn't find him I would have to take the metro home and that reminded me of an episode of How I Met Your Mother where Barney runs the New York Marathon and is on the subway home but he cant get off because he cant stand up…I was so worried that would be me. But I need not have worried Ray was doing a drive by and picked me up.

So here I am 3 days later…my legs are still a little sore but I can't wait to get back to Siri Fort for an easy 7k run. And even though I swore while I was running that I would never do it again and that I had no interest in improving my time I have already been looking for events to enter… I am a sucker for punishment.

One last thing… I am not a runner. I was never good at any running events at school. It does not come easy to me. So if I can go from sedentary to running a half marathon in 4 months anyone can.

It seems Airtel were too scummy to remove the copyright info off my free photo

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Interview on

Recently I received an email from asking if I would like to be interviewed for their Expat Interview page. Thinking it sounded like fun I went through the interview process sent in a few pics and now it is up and published... Have a squiz by clicking on the link below.

Expat Interview

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Would you like me to arrange your marriage?

Today I received a wedding  invitation. It said...

We cordially solicit the honor of thy noble presence
Love it!

So this got me thinking again about arranged marriage. Before coming to India and really taking the time to understand it, I thought arranged marriage was outdated and ridiculous. But now having spoken to a few people who have had arranged marriages I know think the idea has some merit and here is why.

Arranged marriages do not let feelings get in the way of making the life altering decision of who to marry. When arranged thoughtfully marriage usually takes place between the children of two families that know each other or through a person who knows the two people involved, recognises the compatibility and makes the suggestion. It seems that these marriages work and work well. The couple sets out with the same family and religious values then develop a deep respect and then ultimately love for each other.
Of the few couples I have met the prospective bride and groom have had the opportunity to meet for coffee or the like so they have a little understanding of the other person and then get to say yes or no based on that meeting.
At one of the weddings I went to I was told that the groom had asked his father to find him a wife and had left it entirely up to him. When questioned on this he simply said 'I trust my father'
Not all weddings here are arranged. I have been to two weddings that were 'love matches' whispered behind the hand. I don't know why this is so whispered about… everyone at the wedding knows what's going on.

Don't get me wrong not all arranged marriages end in happily ever after. At my previous apartment our downstairs neighbors were an older couple and their son and his wife of less than a year. I met the young wife a couple of times. She seemed nice and I got the impression she may have been a little opinionated and headstrong… though I could be wrong. So one day our front door was open, as was theirs, and we heard an enormous row. They knew we would have heard it…awkward. If only I understood Hindi. Anyway, after that day we never saw the new bride again and there was a big dirty rectangular mark on the wall where their wedding photo used to hang.

Interestingly the divorce rate in India is very low. Only 1.1% I wonder if this is due to arranged marriages based on similar values or because marriage is in fact a commitment for life.

I am not to sure about the arranged marriages that are organised via matrimonial adds in newspapers and the like. They do seem to place importance on matching class and religion but I don't think you can really have as much insight into whether a good match can be made without a matchmaker who knows both the parties involved. I must admit I do quite enjoy reading the matrimonial section of the paper. Such an eyeopener. Here is a selection from different periods over the past hundred years… how values have changed-

1930's- Seeking handsome, healthy, virgin girl.Western fashioned, highly educated need not approach.

1960's- Seeking family with connections and a  groom in government service.

1980's- Seeking fair, tall, homely, and convent educated girl (speaks english)

Today- Delhi based reputed Gupta Medico family seeks alliance for their beautiful, fair, smart, slim daughter 23/5’5 MBA (U.S.), pursuing CPA from US, and working in respected bank in US. Looking for tall, handsome, below 28, well placed professional. Preferably qualified Medico. Match from Status family only“.

Of course there are the ones that are downright hilarious as well… sorry I mean no disrespect but I have to share…

hello.... My name Arthi..... I am a good characterized woman. I want to run my life happily. I expect the good minded and clean habits boy to marry me soon.... who may be in the same caste . If anyone want to Marie to me u can visit to my home

Hello, To Viewers My Name is Shekhar , I am single i don't have female, I am not a good education but i working all field in Bangalore.. if u like me u welcome to my heart...when ever u want to meet pls visit my resident or send u letter.. Thanks yours Regards Shekhar

I want very simple girl. from Brahmin educated family from orissa state she is also know about RAMAYAN, GEETA BHAGABATA, and other homework (Homework?)

Wants a woman who knows me better and can adjust with me forever. she may never create any difficulties in my life or her life by which the entire life can run smoothly. thank you

She should be good looking and should have a service. she Should have one brother and one sister. she should be educated.

I am a happy-go-lucky kind of person. Enjoys every moments of life. I love to make friendship. Because friendship is a first step of love. I am looking for my dream girl who will love me more than i. Because i love myself a lot. If u think that is u then why to late come on ........hold my hand forever !!!

I am simple boy. I have lot of problem in my life because of my luck now i am looking one gal she care me and love me lot lot

I want a girl with no drinks if she wants she can wear jeans in house but while stepping out of house she should give respect to our cast


Whatever she may be but she should feel that she is going to be someone bride and she must think of the future life if she is too like this she would be called the woman of the lamp. (What the?)

My name is muhamad and i am unmarried. please you marriage me please please please please please please please

I want one girl who love me or my mother. she love me heartily or she have frank she's skin color 'normal' not a black or not a whitey. I Think the main think is heart if your heart is beautiful then you are beautiful. but iam not a handsome guy or not a good looking. but my Mom say that Iam a good guy. My father already expired . THE CHOICE IS YOUR. bye bye.

My color is black, but my heart is white. I like social service

I'm looking out for who lives in Bombay, girl simple who trust me lot should be roman catholic, LOVE ME ONLY.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"I am sick." "I have Chickungunya" "No, I didn't make that up"

Well, we managed two and a half years without being afflicted with any mosquito born viruses. Unfortunately this year our luck ran out with two cases of Chickungunya and a mild dose of Dengue.

The first one in our family to bite the dust was Hunter. She woke early one Friday morning with a raging temperature, a strange rash all over her body and joint pain. Despite feeling so unwell she was determined to go to school for 'International Day' So I kept her home for the morning and we would go to school just for the International Day performance.
At around midday we head downstairs; Hunter looking very unwell. I sit her on the wall outside out house and look for a cycle rickshaw to take us the two kilometres to school. Then she vomits all over the driveway and says she feels much better now. So I run upstairs to get a face washer and clean her up… yes she still wants to go despite regurgitating an apple and some red drink all over the driveway. After dispersing the pile of red vomit with a bucket of water I flag down a rickshaw and we hop in. A few hundred metres into the journey she leans out the side and vomits again… that's it we are going home.
So I get her back home and onto the lounge. Now she says she is feeling heaps better and if we leave now we can still make it… her temperature is nearly 104 (40c) but she is determined. So we head back downstairs, she sits on the wall why I try to flag down another rickshaw. A second later she calls out and says she is not feeling so good and doesn't thinks she can go. So we head back in the gate towards the house. As I turn from latching the gate I see Hunter face down sprawled over a couple of pot plants… she has fainted (In hindsight it looked quite funny. I am tempted to ask her for a re-enactment so I can get a photo). So I go to her aid and she comes to asking 'where am I? I don't remember coming in the gate." I prop her up on the bottom step and survey the damage: bruised cheek, huge bleeding graze on her thigh, cut on her neck and a broken earring. I think it's time to head to the hospital.
Ray was on his way home at the time so we waited on the steps. He carried Hunter to the car and we head to Max Hospital in Saket.
Let me just say this hospital is fancy-shmancy. Great service, super organised and efficient. I would say it is as good as any private hospital in Australia. So we make the rounds with our dedicated personal orderly… emergency, observations, paediatrician, blood test and then home. The paediatrician offered to admit Hunter for a night due to the fainting spell but really it wasn't necessary. The whole adventure cost around $70… bargain.

Later that afternoon we called the paediatrician to get the blood test results… It was not Dengue, probably another viral fever such as Chickungunya. This is good news as Dengue, though very similar to Chickungunya, is a little more complicated due to the platelet issue and the potential to develop a haemorrhaghic disease causing internal bleeding and potentially (though not often) death.

So the next morning another one bites the dust… this time Ray. Same fever, rash and the crippling joint pain.

A few days later Hunter is back to normal except for some lingering joint pain which causes her to hobble around like an old woman. For Ray the joint pain takes a little longer to subside. This is the nature of Chickungunya, the older you are the longer it takes to get over the arthralgia. It can take well over 6 months.

The night before I am due to fly to Australia I develop a bit of a headache behind the eyes. I know what causes this kind of headache… Dengue Fever. The next morning I am up a 4am to get a taxi to the airport. The skin on my back feels strangely sore and sensitive and the headache is still there. I manage to get thought the next 17 hours of travel and layovers while feeling just a bit off. When I get to the in-laws house in Sydney I see the characteristic Dengue rash. Blah.
I am quite fortunate really, I never actually get the fever or the bone breaking pain. In fact 80% of cases of Dengue are asymptomatic.
So I spend my first week in Sydney feeling headachy, sensitive to touch and fatigued. And every morning I wake up with the itchiest hands and feet… so weird. Despite feeling like crap for most of my trip home it was still worth it.

I am just so thankful we all got through it all relatively easily.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Room in Delhi

It is a fairly typical room; four walls, large open doorway, windows. Nothing out of the ordinary. The floor is tiled and dirty; dust, grime stains of all kinds.There were windows on three of the walls. One looking outside and the other two looking into identical rooms on either side. The windows, like the floors, were dirty. Covered in grime and dried splatter from unknown liquids. The walls were plain… no paintings or art, just years of scuff marks and two silent air conditioners hanging above the windows. The room did not contain much, just 6 beds and 6 rusted out side-tables with locker doors hanging from their hinges. The beds were in equally bad repair. Tubular metal frames which were once painted white but now the paint was bubbled and blistered as rust broke through and stained the frames a dirty beige. On one of the beds the tubular steel leg had rusted right through and the bed sat on a funny angle. Each of the beds had a thin vinyl covered mattress in various states of repair; ripped and stained with various forms of human excrement. Some of the beds had sheets, most of which looked as though they had been slept on many times by, I'd imagine, many different people. The beds had no pillows or blankets. Not enough to go around. Three of the beds on one side of the room were occupied. The first by the window by a man surrounded by many visitors. Funnily he did not know how to use his mobile phone. Whenever it rang he had the screen facing out and struggled to hear what the person on the other end was saying.
The middle bed was occupied by an unconscious man who was hooked up to a very battered looking oxygen tank. He had no visitors and no attendant to help him.
The third person in that room was Murari, the person we were there to visit. He is one of the boys from the ashram that we work with and at 16 he has had one of the hardest lives of anyone I have ever known.
As you have probably guessed by now this room is a hospital room. But not a hospital room as you probably know it. The nature of this room considering it's purpose did not surprise me; nothing much in India surprises me anymore. Even the fact that when the hospital meals are delivered to the patients they do not come with a plate or cup does not surprise me. There are no nurses to look after you and no buzzers to press for help. If you do not have a family member to look after you, you might lie in that bed and not have another person look at you for days let alone attend to your basic needs.
When Murari arrived in emergency he was put in a bed with 2 other people. Astounding isn't it? But sadly this is the nature of public hospitals in India. Another sad fact is that it's not likely Murari will receive a diagnosis for whatever this illness is that is turning him into an emaciated sack of bones and is sucking the life out of him. What do you do?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A whole lot of bull

Ray was away speaking at a conference a couple of months ago and while he was there someone told him about the problem excess bulls here in India. Who knew bulls could be such a problem? I have never really considered before and I found the whole thing quite amusing.

As you are probably aware cows are considered holy in India as it is believed to be a symbol of the earth - because it gives so much yet asks nothing in return.

The cow is revered as the source of food and symbol of life and should never be killed. Hindus do not worship the cow, however, and cows do not have especially charmed lives in India. I often see them eating garbage off the street and sifting through garbage at waste depots. In fact the other week I heard of a cow that died being cut open and inside was a multitude of undigested plastic bags that it had consumed while ferreting for food.

Anyway back to the story of cows and bulls…The five gifts of the cow are milk, curds, ghee butter, urine and dung. All of these are all used in hindu worship. The milk  nourishes children as they grow up, and cow dung is a major source of energy for households throughout India. Cow dung is sometimes among the materials used for a tilak- a ritual mark on the forehead. Most Indians do not share the western revulsion at cow excrement, but instead consider it a useful natural product.

So what about the bulls? Well they are not quite as revered as cows but they are still not to be killed (it is illegal to kill cows and bulls in all but two states in India) . The occasional bull is useful as a stud and others as beasts of burden; pulling carts and the like but mostly they are useless. So basically bulls are left to roam the streets. Ray was telling me that the people to whom the male calves are born try to dump them far from where they live but they always find there way home. The sight of homeless bulls is commonplace in Delhi, in fact when I drive Hunter to dance class at a nearby school twice a week there are two bulls that loiter in the traffic and I often have to navigate my way around them. They seem innocuous enough and I have never personally had and problems with cows or bulls even when having to walk past them in a confined area but I have heard that they can charge and trample.
I will end on an amusing note. I was shopping at a market in Old Delhi one day when I saw a cow in a shop. Usually when I see a cow entering a shop I see a shop owner shooing it out. However this particular cow was just hanging about. Then it lifted its tail and I saw a shop owner dive to put some paper on the floor where the poop would land. Not that is did much good as the cow was not likely to have a good diet in that part of town so green goop splattered down its legs and all over the floor. Good times! 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Electricity. Shocking, isn't it?

So yesterday I called the butcher to have some meat delivered… like you do. But as it happened my phone was plugged into the desktop when I made the call. Now our butcher speaks pretty good english so we don't usually have any problems understanding each other, however this time I had huge trouble communicating as my phone kept intermittently zapping my ear… and it hurt… a lot.

Electric shocks are a regular occurrence for me here in India. Last night I was thinking it over and I would say I get a good zap at least once a month. In fact two weeks ago I had a doozy… I was ironing name tags onto Sam's clothes for school when my hand brushed the edge of the metal pate of the iron. It was not the heat that stunned me, it was the surge of electricity running through my fingers and up my arm which jolted all my arm muscles leaving an ache for quite sometime.

Now as a kid I was never one to be curious about what it would be like to touch an electric fence. But now I am pretty sure I know what it would feel like. My worst electric shock occurred while we were living at the ashram. I was all set for my shower but when I turned the taps on no water came out. So I thought someone must have turned off the tap that lets the water into the hot water geyser. So I went to turn that tap and when my hand latched onto the knob it was shocked so hard that I could not let go I had to step away to pull my hand free of the tap… not good. In fact the whole hot water geyser thing freaks me out a bit. A friend told me  that once while she was having a shower she felt like little pins were stabbing her all over. The water was electrified. In fact people have been know to die from this.

We have a Mac desktop computer with an aluminum casing. Now the number of times we have all coped a shock from this thing cannot be counted. So after a couple of weeks of being zapped I did some googling… apparently a common problem. The solution is to wear rubber soled shoes or keep your feet off the ground. And as I recently learned do not wear wet flip-flops.
So why do Mac computers electrocute us here in India and not in Australia? Well if you go outside your house to the fuse box you should see a metal rod hammered into the ground with some wiring attached. This is what earths your house and prevents you from being electrocuted when you use your toaster. Here in India, more often than not, they don't bother earthing houses thus we humans become the earth connection and receive electric shocks.

Ray has just asked me about my current blog topic and said I should add that he has been on the phone and yelled in peoples ears when he gets zapped… this is true, I have witnessed it… good times :)

I was reading an article in the paper a couple of months ago that had some statistics about accidental deaths in India. Car accidents are by far the leading cause (13 people die every hour on Indian roads), but electrocution was surprisingly high too. It came in third after road deaths and then murder. I tried to find that article today so I could refer to it in this post… no luck, but there were hundreds more.

Here are a few of the headlines from the past few months...
  • 7-yr-old gets electric shock at Vashi mall
  • Restaurant staff electrocuted
  • Villager dies of electric shock, road blocked
  • One succumbs to electric shock at theatre
  • Electric shock kills domestic help
  • Boy suffers electric shock at school
  • Senior Pak diplomat dies of electric shock
  • One electrocuted, several electric shocks at school function
  • 9-yr-old dies of electric shock while sleeping
  • Man electrocuted while hanging clothes to dry

So basically no activity here is safe… not even sleeping.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Driving in Delhi ~Ray Vs Louise~ Why I win

Ray and I often argue over which of us is the better driver here in Delhi. I specify here in Delhi as it is totally different to driving in the cities of Australia.

I could simply sum up the argument by saying- "Side-swiped truck, nudged motorbikes, bent rickshaw wheels, knocked pedestrians with side-mirrors and a broken cow leg".

And me?…. nothing.

Don't get me wrong, Ray is a good driver and he has the valid argument that he spends more hours driving than I do thus potential for more incidents. But this is not the only argument. The real fact of the matter is we have two very different driving styles. I am an offensive driver (and I don't mean rude) and Ray is a defensive driver. Defensive driving works fine in Australia and is probably the preferred method when 99% of the time people stay in their lanes, check their blind-spot and use their indicators. But this is not the best strategy here. In Delhi you have to drive offensively. You have to expect that everyone is going to change lanes without indicating, cut you off and step into traffic without looking both ways.
In Delhi driving is like playing chess you have to anticipate everyones next  move, not just your own. You need to know when to leave space to pull out from behind a car that randomly stops and when to close the gaps so people don't push their way in.

When it comes down to it driving in Delhi is a hassle and I would much rather be a passenger and let grandpa Ray side swipe other vehicles than have to drive myself. I should also take a moment to mention I can't stand it when when Ray is my passenger… he is the worst back seat driver ever. I pity Sam and his future driving lessons. Several times when I have been the one driving I have just about stopped the car and kicked him out. His commentary has become a little worse lately after an incident where he witnessed a body fly over the car in front of him and land on the road. I understand that this would make you (and me) more careful. The only thing is now when I am driving I am sure he thinks every pedestrian is going to jump right out in front of me and that I experiences a moment of temporary blindness. Ah well...

So when you come to visit let me know and I will come and pick you up from the airport ;)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mussoorie- The highs and lows

We left Delhi at 6am on a Sunday morning to drive the 6+ hours to Himalayan Torchbearers to drop the kids at camp and then on to a one week break in Mussoorie.

Day 1

The Lows
Screaming profanities at another driver who tried to cut in front of us at a toll gate. I won.

Side swiping a truck after being sandwiched between said truck and motorbike. No need to stop and exchange details. Nice ding in rear passenger door coupled with some deep gouges in the paint work.

Running out of petrol on arriving in Mussoorie… not too much of a low as we happened to be driving downhill the time and managed to cruise the 2 kilometres straight into the petrol station.

The Highs
Spotting a billboard for a water fun park called 'Drizzling Land'  Still makes me giggle.

Passing a newly built housing community called 'Wonder Estate' Made me wonder who the hell would want to live there.

Watching an amazing electrical storm and hail from our hotel room overlooking the Doon Valley

Day 2

The Lows
Being interrogated at breakfast by a roomful of Indians (30ish), wanting to know where I was from how long I had been in India and where in Delhi I lived. It's a wonder they didn't ask my bra size.

Taking a wander down mall road with half the population of Delhi and seeing market stalls that sell all the crap that is sold in the boring markets of Delhi.

Eating a funky tasting piece of chicken in the soup I had for lunch

The Highs
Discovering a cool lil antique shop which sold Indian antiques as well as stuff from the British- The British used to occupy Mussoorie in the summer when they ran the country. On a side note when the British occupied Mussoorie they had the hide to erect a sign that said 'Indians and Dogs not allowed:

Dinner with friends at a really cool cafe called the Clocktower Cafe

Day 3

The Lows
Waking up at some hideous hour with explosive watery Diarrhoea. The likely culprit the funky tasting piece of chicken in previous days soup.

Waking at 7:30am and having to run to the toilet approximately every 15 minutes for several hours

At 11am started to dry reach without success. Felt like death warmed up.

The Highs
I am not sure if this is a highlight but I am now completely comfortable in existing without toilet paper. The high pressure butt hose in the bathroom got a workout.

Bucket showers- Sitting on a lil stool with a bucket of warm water and scooping jugfuls of warm water over me. I am a convert.

Eating litchis, mangoes and peaches when I felt I would be able to hang onto it.

Day 4

The Lows
Burning the clutch on a seriously steep hill start in our crap car

Driving behind Delhi drivers who don't know how to hill start or drive safely on winding mountain roads

The Highs
Visiting Woodstock School

Enjoying good food at Chaar Dukan and taking in the amazing views from Landour

Day 5

The Highs
Picking up the kids from camp

The Low
Driving back to Delhi on bad roads and hideous traffic…. At least I got to see 'Drizzling Land' again.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Being Indian - Part 2 - Power

I have continued reading and making notes from the book Being Indian by Pavan Varma. The chapters are very long and wordy and take a while to digest. Here are some points that stood out to me from Chapter 2 which is titled Power...

The pursuit of power is an important undertaking for Indians. They respect the powerful and will cooperate and collude with those they perceive as powerful for personal gain.

The caste system began as a functional way of categorising people but overtime it has completely degenerated into an inflexible tyranny.

Projection of power and status are related.

Corruption is not only about material gain but also hierarchy and status.

Without power moral worth is not affirmed and corruption is a form of exercising power.

Indians have individually developed finely tuned skills to locate a persons exact status in society. To meet someone without knowing of their status is like entering a pool without knowing it's depth.

Indians ask increasingly intrusive questions to determine status. Then a person will know where they stand and how to act so that the accepted lines of deference, distance and familiarity are not crossed.

How well a person speaks english indicates social background. This leads to people who do not speak english well choosing to speak it often leading to the spread of poor english. Personally I have seen a lot of this especially when someone who has not mastered english as a second language then goes on to teach it to others leading to poor pronunciation and sentence structures. However I have the utmost respect for anyone who has the persistence to master more than one language.

If a person knows or is related to someone important they must reveal it asap. I do not think this is unique to Indians, though in western cultures it is perhaps not a 'must' but is generally made known.

Indians have a radar like sensitivity to other peoples importance or lack of. A skill that I am developing but I don't place it on importance rather just understanding how they fit in with other Indians and how they will be treated.

There is always an acceptable reason for foul play or corruption and deception is acceptable when the enemy is stronger. The end justifies the means.

India has no developed indigenous ethical system. There is no uncontested definitions of right and wrong; the only concern is the end result.

The power of position is more important than the strength of convictions. Private beliefs are not expected to come in the way of personal benefit.

Hinduism has an air of moral superiority yet hindus feel it is no contradiction to their immoral actions. Any action that is considered wrong in one text is lauded in another.

Flattery must not be subtle, it must be obvious and excessive. Also, indians are known for their bizarre exhibitions of loyalty.

The bedrock of relationships between master and slave is distrust and envy- the primary enduring emotion of Indians.

Altruism without a self-serving ulterior motive is deeply suspect.

A rising star receives much adulation but a fallen hero is condemned.

Esteem is related to status and is easily detected by other Indians.

How did corruption become so rampant in a country which prides itself on its moral heritage? It is because unethical conduct is not considered wrong in an absolute sense. There is never any remorse or guilt for playing dirty but rather self congratulations. Even if caught being corrupt an Indian will never admit guilt.

It is all about the end result; ethics and legality mean nothing on the journey.

Politicians are attracted to the rewards of democratic process not democratic idea.

It is not the pervasive poverty or illiteracy that allows politicians to get away with corruption. The people, no matter what their position in society, value effectiveness over principles.

Indians look up to powerful leaders even if they do not agree with their actions. It is just because they exude power.

Among other aspects democracy has survived in India not because India is democratic but because democracy is an effective tool in the pursuit of power.

Before signing off I just want to reiterate that the observations and generalisations  are not my own but rather those of an Indian National. Also these are generalisations; there are always exceptions to the rule, and I know plenty of people that are!

Friday, May 20, 2011

To the orange haired men of India,

What are you thinking? I know you think dying your greying hair orange might be the height of fashion but you are sorely mistaken. You look like Bozo the clown.
I don't know who tricked you into thinking this looks good...

but they are not your friend and if they happen to be your hairdresser they should be shot before they do any more damage to the sensitive eyes of the public.

Let your hair go grey…. or at the very least dye it your natural colour. I am telling you, you would have much better luck with the ladies being a sliver fox than a crazy clown. Let the following be your inspiration… 

                                                          George Clooney

                                                               Eric Dane

                                                           Pierce Brosnan

                                                               Not this…
                                                        Ronald McDonald

Thursday, May 19, 2011


On Sunday afternoon we went to Bipul and Dolly's wedding.

Bipul and Dolly are both ashram staff and it was so great to know them from when they first met up until now that they are married.
The wedding was not your typical Indian wedding as it was not Hindu but rather Christian. It was interesting to see how this differed from a Hindu wedding in that they got married in a Methodist Church and the bride wore a western style wedding dress and she had bridesmaids and bouquets etc. I think it was a bit of a shame that it was not a little more Indian traditional. Although the bride looked beautiful, I think she would have looked even more so in a traditional sari… perhaps a crossing of east meets west.
Here are a couple of other observations I made on the day.

We travelled to the church by metro as our car was being used to transport the bridal party. Our car was covered in little red rosebuds which has been sticky-taped over pretty much the whole car. There was also some very wilted bouquets taped to the front. You can kind of see what it looked like in the pic below. We now have our car back and it is covered in dirty sticky-tape residue.

On the metro we were stared at the whole way - as usual. In fact a woman in a full face covered burka even lifted her veil so she could peer at Hunter.

We arrived at the church at 4:30 for a 4pm wedding. We were sill half an hour too early. At 5pm the minister, looking frustrated, said over the microphone "bring the girl we are late already"

It was a 42 degree day without air-conditioning. Thankfully the heat does not bother me too much except for when I am trying to sleep.

Indian videographers do not know the meaning of being discreet. These guys were seriously obstructing the view. They were walking down the isle literally a metre ahead of the bride causing the bridal party to be all bunched up.

The bride did a fabulous job of playing the role of a terrified girl sad to be leaving her family. Even though it was clear she was happy. The groom looked petrified.

Guests would walk up onto the stage and take photos anytime they felt like it.

After they were married the bride's veil was removed by her husband but they did not kiss.

After the ceremony, outside the church a 10 shot firecracker was lit in way too close proximity to the bridal party, the church and the guests. Hunter had a burning ember land in her eye. No damage done.

I brought a book with me to read during the commute and all the waiting around. Unfortunately it was a pirated book and when I got to the crucial part, about 30 pages from the end, I discovered pages were missing and many were out of order…grr

The wedding cake toper was a cutesy caucasian couple in wedding garb.

At the reception some kids went up to Sam and asked him very discretely if he ate meat and later said he looked liked Justin Bieber.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Being Indian

After a particularly frustrating week here in India I felt like taking out a full page add in the Hindustan Times simply saying

                                     “Say what you mean and do what you say”

I have never felt frustration like I did that week. In the back office of the post office I had seen my friend Ashwinee pick up a chair and while waving it over her head she screamed at a postal worker to get the postmaster. Later in the week I found myself yelling at a roomful of tailors and then ripping their iron out of the wall and smashing it on the floor in frustration. These are just two of the many frustrations that I had experienced that week.

You would think after two years here I would understand the culture well enough that I know how to deal with these situations without behaving like a crazed lunatic, but clearly I don’t. I think the clash comes because the Australian and Indian cultures are quite opposite. Australia is a relatively young country, which means we have very little in the way of deep cultural norms and traditions; we are comparatively cultureless. India however is one of the longest inhabited lands on the earth; in fact it is claimed that Varanasi is the oldest city on earth. This long history means that this country has a lot of deeply rooted traditions, values and for want of a better word behaviours.
So the line was drawn in the sand. I either leave now or I get to know and understand this country and its culture better. I guess I chose the latter because I am now wading through a very enlightening book called Being Indian by Pavan K Varma.
As I am reading the book I am taking notes so that at the end of the particularly long chapters I have a summary of the key points. I thought that people who are interested in Indian culture, but do not necessarily want to wade through such a wordy and detailed commentary, might find my notes informative and perhaps useful.

I am not going to add my notes from the complete book here as this would mean a protracted blog and could be too much to digest in one sitting. So I plan to add an entry on each chapter week by week. So, for this week I will cover some background information on the Indian Culture and how they perceive themselves.

Disclaimer- Some of these observations and generalisations are quite controversial, so I want to make it clear that they are not my own but rather those of an Indian National. So please don’t feel the need to have a go at me if something I have noted upsets you. Also, these are generalisations; there are always exceptions to the rule.

Image Vs Reality

Indian leadership and educated Indians have projected an embellished image of India and Indians that they know to be untrue and have encouraged foreign observers to accept it. This is so much so that they have become convinced in their own mind that this projected image is true. They have projected an image of what they think India ‘ought’ to be rather than what it ‘is’. This is not unique to India a lot of societies perceive themselves incorrectly.
The projected Indian image is not entirely based on fiction. Every myth is based on a kernel of truth. The Indian myth creates unity yet it also deceives the nation.

Hierarchy is immensely important- Bending to those above and being dismissive to those below.

Indians pursue profit and hanker for material goods. They esteem the wealthy.

Spiritualism- the motivation is for divine support for power and money (even when gained in a dishonest way).

Indians are largely indifferent to whatever is not of direct benefit to them. This means that they have no problem tolerating inequality, filth and human suffering.

Indians are naturally amoral in outlook; any action is justified. Corruption has thrived because it is not considered wrong as long as it yields the desired result.

There is a limit to the amount of change the culture (inherited ethical habit) can go through due to it being so long and ingrained. It may be slightly diluted or modified but never changed.

Indians have an amazing ability to retain hope even in the most abject situations. This is due to the resilience they have formed from continued exposure to adversity. An amazing will to survive.

Although much of the listed traits are uncomplimentary they have actually helped India develop many of its positive attributes.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Another month slips by...

I just sat down to right this blog and at the same moment the power went out for the second time today. Now I have just noticed that the ceiling fans are not slowing; I assume this means we have blown a fuse and I need an electrician. I have been trying (not very hard) to get an electrician to come to our home for about three months now. I guess now I will have to try a little harder otherwise everything in the fridge will go off. Actually, it seems our fridge is not coping too well with the heat. I went to get the milk out this morning and found it had turned into yogurt… not smelly sour milk, but yogurt. I think it must be about 20 odd degrees in the fridge and about 40 in the kitchen itself. Anything I really need to keep cold goes in the freezer.
Sometimes I feel like I am forever chasing my tail… there is always something that needs to be done or needing repair. Just when I feel like things are in a semblance of normal something will pop up.

Wow it went fast. Ray's parents were here for the best part of it and I think overall they thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Lola had a few ups and downs as she came to terms with the way things work (or don't work) here.

I organised for Sam to take them on a day trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal; personally I could not face it again. So I briefed Sam with all the knowledge I had gleaned over four visits, including the history as well as the dos and dont's of Agra and I think he did a fine job as acting tour guide.

The only other trip we went on while the relo's were here was the annual expat whitewater rafting weekend in Rishikesh. About 90, mostly foreigners, who know of this trip through an assortment of networks, book out the Silver Sands camp on the banks of the Ganga for a weekend of hanging out and whitewater rafting. It was so great to have some family with us to share the experience with.
The Friday morning of the first day we all met at New Delhi station and caught the train 4-5 hours northish to Haridwar. From there we hoped on a bus which takes us to our camp. It seems that this year we had a bus driver with a death-wish. Most of the road to the camp is steep and winding and our bus driver was insane. He was overtaking on bends and giving us a close look at the precipice leading to the river below. It really was a bit much so Ray went and told the driver to take it easy. He was fine after that.
The camp was as  good as last year; great tents, comfy beds, amazing food and a couple of days of rafting the river. Where in Australia can you get all that for $100? The river was just as cold as I remembered it to be and I was not impressed when  I was dragged out of my raft into the icy water. I think the river was a little tamer than last year which is just how I like it. I definitely enjoyed the trip more than last year. I think I was more relaxed. Last year the rafting weekend was just a couple of days before I was due to fly to Australia and I think that was all I was looking forward to.

The rest of April was fun. Just hanging out with the family enjoying good food either out and about or cooked for us by Hans at home. Hans put our dish-washing lady out of a job for the month; she was so worried she had been replaced.
I should mention we have discovered what I think is the best value five star breakfast buffet in Delhi…. The Oberoi.  Rs550 ($12) including taxes.

So now we are on our own again and I am back to eating just to keep hunger at bay. I have totally lost the joy of eating. In fact the other night before bed I was hungry so I thought I would have a quick milo milkshake before bed. I smelt the milk as I got it out of the fridge to make sure it was ok, then mixed in the milo and drank. As soon as I got the first taste of the milk I realised it was sour. Rather than tip it down the sink I held my breath and drank it anyway. I just could not be bothered thinking any further about food and I did not want to go to bed hungry.

I am going to keep this blog relatively short as I have another one about ready to publish and  I don't want to lose peoples attention with boring longwinded lists of events. My next blog will be about Indian culture and why I am now specifically taking the time to learn more about it. It has been a real eyeopener.

Until then


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Back in the Groove

After a fairly hectic first three months back in Delhi things have finally slowed down and we are back into a fairly normal daily routine. I think I needed things to slow a bit, I was going a bit crazy there for a while; as evidenced by my iron smashing drama…more about that later.

February was reasonable uneventful. Much of the month was spent getting back into the school routine and trying to come up with new and different things to cook that did not taste Indian and didn't cost a fortune to make (not as easy as it sounds).
The other thing that occupied a surprisingly large amount of time was coming up with a ten day itinerary of travel for my sister and her husband who were visiting us for the second time in early March. The problem was I could not book any of the train travel while in Australia and by the time I got back to Delhi there were limited options available. After much stress and countless trips to the rail booking office in my neighbourhood (which I refer to as' hell on earth') the itinerary including travel and accommodation was sorted. If anyone wants a ten-day itinerary around North India taking in as much as possible I am your guide.
Retrospectively I may have pushed it a little bit too much, it was a hectic schedule, but thoroughly enjoyable.

March flew by; Julie and Michael arrived during the first week. The morning after the night they flew in we were up at 6am and on a train to Amritsar. This was  an easy six hour journey that was made more enjoyable by the amazing chocolate-chip breakfast muffins Hunter had made the night before and then less enjoyable when I realised in the taxi on the way to the hotel that my Oakleys had fallen out of my backpack on the train and were lost forever…grrr
We checked into our regular hotel (can you call it your 'regular' on your second visit) and had a delicious vegetarian lunch before heading out to the Waggah Border so that Julie and Michael could enjoy the Monty Pythonesque border closing ceremony. Refer to 'A collection of life & lentil anecdotes from the past six months' for a detailed description.
The rest of our time in Amritsar was much the same as our last visit… dinner at Crystal's; a night-time stroll around the temple; breakfast at the Golden Temple dining hall followed by dish washing; a wander around the city and the train home. This time we did not make the stupid decision to drive but rather took a leisurely train journey back to Delhi.
The next morning I was up at the crack of dawn again, but this time it was to drive Julie and Michael to the airport. They were off to Calcutta and Darjeeling. We had already visited both places and as much as I wouldn't mind seeing Darjeeling again (Calcutta not so much) we just could not organise an economical way to fit it in as I had to leave the train bookings so late.
Julie and Michael had a great couple of days away, but I think they thought I was trying to kill them when I booked them a luxury attic room in the Darjeeling hotel. Climbing four flights of stairs at that altitude is hard work!
After their jaunt I picked them up from  Delhi airport and once again it was go, go go. A quick lunch, a bit of necessary shopping, then we were off to catch the night train to Varanasi.
I was really looking forward to this for a number of reasons; firstly because we were traveling first class on the train (first time) and secondly because this time we were staying at an ambient hotel on the river rather than out in the sticks like we did last time (Ray is never going to hear then end of that).
First class was all I had hoped and more. Bigger beds, locking door, cleaner bathrooms and even a little bathroom indicator in the cabin that showed whether the bathroom was occupied. I did not sleep fabulously, but I did enjoy the soothing rocking motion of the train during the night.
We arrived at Mughal Sarai -  a station a little out of Varanasi itself - a little later than we were scheduled. This was due to some riots causing delays, cancellations and diversions. Frankly we were very lucky. A friend of ours who left from Delhi to Varanasi the morning before us got in long after us!?!
I hate to say it but the thing that strikes you first and foremost about Varanasi is the stench of urine and other human excrement. Delhi has its fair share of open sewer drains and stinky public urinals but this takes it too a whole other level.
We stayed at A Palace on the River during our time in Varanasi. I feel it was a bit overpriced; you are paying for location and a very flashy garland made from hundreds of roses on arrival. The restaurant was ok but painfully slow.
My recommendation for Varanasi would be Sita Guest House; not very flash but great location and a good price… all you need really.
I don't know what it is about Varanasi and the Ganga but it is really a sight to behold. The old city sitting on one side of the sacred river and barren flood planes on the other. In the evening hundreds of people take a sunset boat ride and release hundreds of floating candles onto the river. It is a spectacular sight.
The next morning after being woken by the incessant bell ringing of some guy doing his morning puja we had breakfast and then headed out for a tour of Varanasi.
My friend Jay recommended her friend Jai from Varanasi Walks and I have to say this was the highlight of our time in Varanasi. Jai is from the USA but has lived in Varanasi for 15 odd years and has studied the city and the culture. I know it seems odd that we would have an American guide us though an Indian city but it strangely makes sense and this is why. His english is easy to understand… sometimes it is a real struggle understanding Indian guides. Also, he gets that we do not have an understanding of the Indian culture or the the Hindu religion so he is able to convey the culture and religion in  a way that makes it easier to comprehend as well as comparing and contrasting cultures and religions. I cannot recommend Jai and Varanasi Walks highly enough… make sure you ask for Jai though.
The rest of our time in Varanasi was spent exploring the river, shopping and catching up with friends who had recently moved to Varanasi. Although I did not go on the mandatory sunrise or sunset boat ride I did manage to utilise the boat service to fulfill a transport need. One afternoon I had walked from our hotel half-an-hour down river to Assi Ghat (stairway) to catch up with my friend Jay who also happened to be visiting Varanasi. To put it in perspective this is not a leisurely stroll along a river bank, but rather it is half-an-hour of climbing up and down stairs  in the blazing sun. After a cold drink at the Open Hand Cafe rather than walking back up the ghats in the searing heat to the hotel we decided to take a boat. Best decision ever! It is such a leisurely way to travel and disgustingly cheap for the effort of the poor guy rowing the boat. So, I had my mandatory Varanasi boat ride.
After 3 days in Varanasi we flew back to Delhi. This flight deserves mentioning…
We were flying Spicejet. I used to find this airline endearing as each of their planes is named after a culinary spice. I have flown on Mustard, Fenugreek and Coriander :)
The flight out of Varanasi was delayed as the plane was late arriving from its previous leg. Rather than leaving before the Air India flight to Delhi we ended up leaving after… literally moments after. You have never seen a plane turn around so quick. We were rushed out of the terminal onto the tarmac surprisingly soon after the plane had landed. We were then herded onto the plane, thrown our complementary water and watched what seemed like an abridged version of in-flight emergency procedures. Next thing I knew we were speeding towards a bend and drifted onto the runway. The pace only quickened from there. It did not feel as though we were in the air for long before we commenced our decent. We must have overtaken the Air India flight at some-point. The landing in Delhi was fast and furious as was the taxi to the terminal until we came to a screeching halt. So we left Varanasi late and arrived early!!! I don't know if this constitutes timely service or recklessness. It felt like the latter.
We kept Julie and Michael on the go right until the bitter end. In fact there was some mad final packing and a bit of a rush to the airport. They were going to need their week in Penang to recover :)

We had a week of normalcy before our next lot of family arrived. This time it was Oma and Opa. They were staying with us for nearly five weeks. Thankfully there was no mad schedule to keep to but rather it was a month of largely hanging out in Delhi.

Well I feel like the skin on my wrists in blistering from resting my wrists on  the edge of my mac while typing. So I think I will leave it at that for today and fill you in on our rafting trip and all out other news including the iron smashing incident another day.

Until then, namaste.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Back to my second home.

I had such a great time back in Australia over the summer that it was so hard to leave. I didn't realise how much I had missed it and we left Sydney just as the beach conditions were perfect… the clearest, warmest water with perfect rolling waves. I deliberately imprinted lots of visual and aural memories. It was the little things like the underwater sound of a wave rolling over you; the patterns the waves leave in these shallows at low tide and how that feels underfoot. I don't think I will ever take these small things for granted again. These were the things I thought of  to distract myself during the take-offs and landings on my flights back to Delhi (did I mention I hate flying).

The first stop on our way home was Melbourne, as our international flights were with Air Asia which don't depart Sydney (grrr). We had a great couple of days in Melbourne with the fam, just hanging about and gorging myself on foods that are scarcely available in Delhi… particularly sushi. I  just managed to cross the 60kg barrier during my last days in Australia.

Early February we flew out of Melbourne airport on an Air Asia flight bound for KL. It was our first Air Asia experience and I must say I was impressed. We managed to play our cards right and quickly snap up the only 2 empty rows on the entire plane. So all three of us managed to sleep most of the way to KL. A big thank-you to my experienced Air Asia traveler sister Julie, who bought us compressed shrink wrapped pillows which we gratefully popped open as soon as we boarded.

I was not up for exploring KL during our 8 hour transit so the kids and I pretty much spent the whole day in Starbucks making the most of free wifi and playing Greed.

I wish I could say that the flight into Delhi was as good as the one to KL, I admit exhaustion played a big factor in my moodiness. I was hoping to sleep much of the way but as it was a packed afternoon flight with no entertainment .The plane was so noisy with people chatting and wandering about. By the time we touched down in Delhi I was very grouchy and frustrated…. I did not want to be back here and I was not amused when about 20 people got out of their seats literally the second the plane hit the runway…. what did they think was going to happen…the doors would open midway down the runway and they could hop off  the moving plane much like they hop off moving buses in Delhi? The stewards went into panic mode yelling at everyone to sit down.

We managed to get through customs and collect out baggage in record time and I must say I was very pleased to get home and see my pillow that night.