Diwali is one of the most beloved festivals in India.

The neighbors just fired a cannon.  Or, at least, that’s what it sounds like.  I nearly jumped out of my chair. Boom! there goes another one.

It is Diwali, or more traditionally, “Deepavali”. “While [it] is popularly known as the ‘festival of lights’, a more appropriate significance is ‘the new year of luck and wealth’.” “The festival marks the victory of good over evil, and uplifting of spiritual darkness.” [Wikipedia]  It marks the end of the harvest season, and for many businesses, the start of a new fiscal year. Read on!

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A haircut

A haircut and an experience.

I had my last haircut just before we left NH, and it was getting desperately shaggy.   Fortunately, IISc has many services available on campus.  Most or all are independent vendors, who set up shop in rented nooks here and there.  Travel agents, banks, tailors, beauty salons, photocopies, vegies, milk, bread, you name it. So, I tried the men’s salon at the little marketplace near our apartment.  I was nervous that either a) it would be unsanitary or b) they would not understand my request and I’d get a bad haircut.

Arish, who appears to be the owner, speaks good English, though his partner (who cut my hair) does not.  Arish translated and explained what I wanted.  The other man snipped away with what seemed to be 100-year-old scissors, while Arish chatted and worked on another customer.  He asked where I was from, how long I was staying, how old I am, and why I have a scar on the back of my neck.  In general, I find Indians to be much more willing to ask such questions than Americans, who avoid such “personal” questions.

Anyway, the result was a very good haircut.  When that was done, he pulled out his straight razor – those things always make me nervous – and shaved the back of my neck.  Finally, he dusted me off with a gentle brush and talcum powder.  The price? 20 rupees! (40 cents, at today’s rate.)  On the other hand, they used the same dirty scissors and comb as for the previous guy, so as a precaution I washed my hair when I got back home.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

Diwali at CIS

School performance day.

Mara and the 4th grade
Mara and her classmates performing during Diwali festival at CIS.

Our kids go to the Canadian International School in Bangalore [location], and the whole school put on a show on the Friday before Diwali weekend.  Mara and the 4th grade, Andy and the 2nd grade, John and the 6th grade. 

Andy and the 2nd grade
Andy and his classmates finish their performance of “Rama and Sita” for Diwali, at CIS.
John and the 6th grade
John and his classmates performing during Diwali festival at CIS.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

Chennai, IIT-M, and MIT

We took the train and spent a long weekend in Chennai, formerly Madras, on the east coast of India.

 I wanted to visit IIT Madras [location], one of the original five Indian Institutes of Technology. Madras, recently renamed Chennai, is a large city of 6-7 million people on the east coast of India.

Pam boards the train in Chennai.

We decided to try the famous Indian railway system, one of the largest (39,000 miles)  and busiest (18m passengers daily) railway systems in the world.  I booked our tickets online, a fairly easy process once you learn something about the different classes of service.  The only snag was that, 6 days in advance, we were waitlisted for our outbound tickets.  The process is remarkably efficient, bumping us ever closer to actual tickets as previously confirmed passengers cancel their reservation.  In the final two hours on Friday night, we squeaked in and finally had confirmed seats for Saturday morning.  The 6.5-hour train ride was comfortable, though not luxurious, in the air-conditioned reserved-seating coach.  Every few minutes one of the train’s kitchen workers passed by, selling great-smeling dosas, samosas, chips, tea, coffee, bottled water.

Chennai itself is, like Bangalore, a bustling and traffic-congested city.  Although we were lucky to have arrived on a “cool” week (with temps in the high 80s), it was thicky humid and thus very sweaty and sticky. 

There are few sights of interest to the tourist, we discovered, so we headed south along the new East Coast Road to a resort property called Taj Fisherman’s Cove [location].  Wow, what a treat!  We talked our way past the concierge and the kids spent the day swimming in the pool or playing on the beach, and we ate the most fantastic meal we’ve yet had, Tamil-style seafood recipes, in a shady cafe right on the beach. 

A pleasant lunch at the beach on the Bay of Bengal. (Taj Fisherman’s Cove resort)

I walked across the beach to the water, dipping my toes into the Bay of Bengal.  Incredible.  The rip tides here are so fierce that everyone recommends against swimming – the guidebook, the hotel, and acquaintances all warned us about it.  There were red flags along the beach warning against swimming, and indeed the surf looked somehow fierce.  Sure enough, the next morning I read in the newspaper about three swimmers who drowned on a beach near this one.  

A view across the cove at Fisherman’s Cove, outside Chennai.
A fisherman casting the surf along the beach outside Chennai.

I chatted with a local fisherman.  He was casting into the surf, but really he was casting about for passing tourists.  In broken English he explained that he was a fisherman, and that after the tsunami of 2004 there were no fish for months… and that he was poor, and wouldn’t I buy a small trinket.  Sigh.  It is estimated that between 12,405–18,045 people died along the coast of India that day.  Fisherman, out to sea on their simple fishing boats, rode easily over the swell only to return to washed-away homes. 

We spent an enjoyable evening reconnecting with David Grubman ’84, who I knew from my days in the DOC, and his family.  He manages a large group of programmers for A.I.G. in Chennai.

On Monday I visited the Madras Institute of Technology in the morning, and then the Computer Science and Engineering department at IIT-Madras in the afternoon.  Unlike my previous IIT visits, I did not stay on campus, and it was raining, so I have few photos from either campus.  I had wonderful conversations, however, with the faculty and students involved in wireless-networking research.

I visited the Madras Institute of Technology, part of Anna Univ. in Chennai.

If I had a chance to return, I would spend more time in some of the outlying areas: Puducherry (a coastal city to the south) and in Kanchipuram (famous for its silk and for ancient temples).

See my gallery of photos.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

Mysore weekend

Mysore is more than Dasara.

Mysore [location] is perhaps one of the most interesting places to visit within an easy drive of Bangalore, and we took advantage of the kids’ four-day school holiday to make the trip at the tail end of the Dasara festival.  Dasara is the biggest event of the year in Mysore, and I describe the parade in my previous entry.  But the rest of the weekend (see photos) was also fun and interesting. Read on!

Ramesh picks us up for a weekend trip to Mysore.

We hired a car and driver for the weekend, an extremely convenient (and surprisingly economical) way to travel.  Ramesh had decorated the car when he arrived to pick us up, with garlands strung across the front, a banana-leaf stalk on each front corner, a sprinkling of flower petals, and symbols of Shiva painted on the windows. 

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Dasara in Mysore

Dasara is the most important festival in Mysore; we attended the famous parade that includes colorful elephants and dancers.

It was 100˚ in the shade.  Gosh!  After four hours, I was wishing that we were sitting in the shade.  After six hours, when the parade had come and gone, I was nonetheless glad that we staked out good seats early in the day. Read on, and be sure to see the photo gallery.

A group of elephants in the Dasara parade in Mysore.
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Wonder la

We attended a birthday party for Andy’s second-grade classmate at Wonder la, a nearby amusement park.

Andy was invited to a birthday party for one of his second-grade classmates. The party was held at Wonder la, a new amusement park 23km outside Bangalore [location].  The kids had a great time, because park admission gave them access to all the rides.  Pizza, rides, and then cake and presents, on a hot sunny day…  what could be better? See photos.

At the ‘Wonder la’ amusement park, outside Bangalore.

Once you go through the gate, you feel as if you’re in a spotless amusement park that might be anywhere in the west – although with women in saris swimming in the water park, it’s still India.  Teenage Indian boys seemed to enjoy all the rides, even those intended for young kids, highlighting the novelty of such a park.

At one point, the park lost power – such is the infrastructure – and although the power resumed a minute later, we watched as some workers had to push one of the rides up a hill to get it started again.

Andy’s CIS classmates are very international.  The birthday boy is the son of a Finnish father and Portuguese mother, though he was born in Sweden and now lives in India.  Andy’s best friend is from Japan; his father works at Kowasaki.  Others were from all over Europe, and even from the US.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.