Archive for February, 2008


my week as a tourist.

Last week my friend Laura visited us in Bombay, giving us the awesome opportunity to indulge in every tourist urge. We started the week at Lonavla, a hill station about 90-km from home, and the site of Buddhist caves created about 2,000 years ago. This elephant guards the entrance to the main cave at Karla site. The architecture at Bhaja caves is seen in other cave temples around the country, and the arch is common to the Buddhist chaitya (meditation hall). Within the hall is housed a stupa, a symbolic representation of the enlightened Buddha or the complete perfection of enlightenment. According to legend, stupas originally contained relics of the Buddha’s body. Later in the week, Laura and I visited Elephanta Island, the site of caves created in the 5th century CE devoted to the HIndu god Shiva. While many Hindus attend primarily to one god, classical Hinduism supports the idea of three gods working together as one: Brahma (creator), Vishnu (sustainer), and Shiva (destroyer). This photo shows the three-headed (Trimurthy) Shiva, and throughout the cave are depictions of Shiva in his many forms and sometimes accompanied by his wife Parvati, the embodiment of universal energy or shakti. The caves are absolutely enthralling and magnificent to experience, as the sculptural details make the mythological stories seem real.

The spiritual significance of these majestic entrances is to create a separation between the sacred and the profane worlds, a delineation that is probably even more noticeable today than when the caves were crafted. In order to reach all of these sacred sites, we had to pass the gatekeepers (toll and ticket collectors) and a phalanx of vendors and hustlers selling everything from peanuts and roasted corn to statues of deities to pashima shawls. Numerous guides offered their services for “350 rupees only”, which we declined because Laura read in Lonely Planet that a guide is provided free of charge with the purchase of a deluxe ticket. Women balancing steel pots on their heads asked for photos (10 rupees), and we watched as the local monkeys snatched lunches from squealing picnickers.
One of the highlights of the week for me was undoubtedly our visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra. My fellow ex-pat friend Mary had organized the trip and kindly invited us to come along. When I first visited the Taj last year, I wept at the exquisite beauty of the architecture and decorative elements of the monument. Built as a tomb for Mumtaz, the beloved wife of Shah Jahan, the inner sanctuary houses the tombs of both spouses. Precious stones are inlaid in white marble and Islamic calligraphy adorns the walls and tombs. Words simply cannot begin to capture my sense of awe.




love is.

Love is the look on my husband’s face when he walks through the door after a long day at work.
Love is walking my dog on a cold winter night. And love is not counting how many times I’ve done it.
Love is forgiving, and also understanding there was nothing to forgive in the first place.
Love is freshly-baked brownies, hitting golf balls at the driving range, and reading the same bedtime story night after night. Sometimes love is behind-the-scenes.
Love is.


Prisoner of Aquaguard.

Like so many Indian homes, our kitchen is equipped with a triple filtration water purifying system known as an Aquaguard. This essential appliance physically, chemically, and biologically processes the municipal water supply so that it’s safe for us to drink. Ours has not worked since Thursday. Five promises of “tomorrow” have passed and still no repairman has come. I begin each day hopeful and end it bored, taking pictures of Daffy and Ladybug, my fellow prisoners. I’m convinced that the real reason Indians have such a developed family network is so no single person has to stay home waiting for repairmen or delivery people.


kicking ass.

This week I totally kicked ass- too bad it was my own. On Thursday I took my first fitness class in over six months, and I was shocked to find out how quickly my body had changed. About ten years ago my aunt amused me with stories of sagging bodies and flabby muscles. “Just wait until your knees droop,” she warned. I laughed as I denied my fate. Now I don’t find it funny at all.

In class the instructor shouted to kick higher. HIGHER! Now, I’ve never been able to kick very high. I’ve always had power in my kick but my secret is to stay low and focused, not high and wild. As I struggled to kick the pad he held at shoulder height, my body was suddenly flooded with memories of being confined to bed in childhood as a result of a muscle disorder. For years I visited specialists every three months for x-rays, blood tests, eye exams- anything and everything doctors recommended- with no results. No one knew what was wrong with me, so they did what they could to relieve my pain. I spent hours with my legs in traction, or soaking in a hot bath, or sometimes just crying into my pillow because nothing stopped the pain. I was trapped.  

Suddenly, I snapped back into the present and remembered that it doesn’t happen anymore- I haven’t had any symptoms of this disorder for nearly ten years now. My body isn’t trapped in the pain, I’m not confined to bed. As I type these words, it seems silly to even think these things. I’m tempted to erase this entire post and write about something else. It all just seems so obvious.

But as I stood in that class, tempted to wallow in My Story, I realized that the instructor doesn’t know any of it and surely doesn’t care. “It’s over now. It isn’t happening anymore,” I gently whispered to myself. So I struggled to kick higher, thinking to myself that I am one step closer to being free.

the local train.

Riding the local train alone was one of my goals upon arriving in Bombay. Some of you may think this is not a worthy goal, like maybe I set my sights too low. This is not to say I don’t have a bigger vision (I do) but riding the local train was one of the smaller yet more intimidating challenges of becoming self-sufficient in this city. Even in off-peak hours, these trains can be packed with people shoving and jostling and generally pressing so close together it would definitely be considered inappropriate in any other situation. At rush hour, it’s not uncommon for people to start jumping on and off the train before it comes to a stop at the station.

Once I took the train with Sam, and as he took my hand before we reached our stop he told me to “hold on and don’t let go no matter what.” The crush of commuters pushing in both directions gave me the feeling my arm might end up at Bandra station with Sam but my body would surely be traveling onward.  

So, now I’ve done it. Alone. And it was not nearly as scary as I’d anticipated. I travel mainly in the women’s compartment- when I can find it- and it is much more civilized than the general (men’s) cars. I’ve learned to avoid standing near short and stocky older women, because when it comes to getting where they want to go, they won’t let anyone stand in their way. I like to stand in the center of the car, because the breeze from the open doors feels nice. Sam doesn’t want me to stand too close to the door because he’s afraid I’ll fall out. To tell the truth, I’m afraid too so I always make sure I hold onto the bar and just peek out a little.


traditional tibetan dancers.

Yesterday we headed into town to the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, which takes place in south Bombay. Throughout the upcoming week, we will enjoy dance and music performances, film screenings, and visual arts installations. More people attended this Tibetan dance show than the memorial celebration for Gandhi’s 60th death anniversary on January 30th.

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February 2008
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