Archive for May, 2008



This weekend was the tenth anniversary of my graduation from Mount Holyoke College, an event marked by the celebration of our class reunion on campus. During the three days we relived some highlights and lowlights of our undergraduate experience. We wondered aloud at how much we had changed while we marveled at how much we are the same. We offered unofficial prayers of gratitude for having been accepted into this sisterhood of truly exceptional women.

Life at Mount Holyoke was filled with ritual that absorbed us as individuals and transformed us into something larger than ourselves. Every evening we gathered for M&C’s (Milk & Cookies), the nightly snack prepared by the kitchen staff. As first-years we were “disoriented” by the seniors, “elfed” by sophomores, and welcomed by our “big sisters” in the junior class. On Mountain Day the bells chimed to announce that classes were cancelled for the day, and we laced up our hiking boots– or rolled over for some needed sleep. We tried to break into the haunted room in Wilder, a dorm room inhabited by the ghost of former student. We gracefully placed our cloth napkins in our laps before indulging in the monthly “Gracious Dinner”, where the tables were set with candles and real silverware and dorm chefs served “real food” like Thanksgiving turkey dinner or chocolate truffle Valentine’s Day cake. We laughed our way through most of it, sometimes feeling silly for participating in these old-fashioned routines.

Then we gathered for the Laurel Parade on the morning before our graduation. Something happened to me on that day, which I experienced again as an alumna this weekend. Alumnae are organized by class from the oldest loyalty classes to the class celebrating their two-year reunion. This year’s loyalty alumnae graduated in 1933 and were driven in antique cars and the rest of followed behind as we processed through campus to line the final stretch of road that leads to the grave of our founder Mary Lyon. Dressed all in white, alumnae clap and cheer for the final class in the procession, the current graduates who bear a laurel vine on their shoulders.

In this community, women are valued and supported and strengthened through their connections with each other. We mentor each other, counsel each other, provide career and educational support, and even offer temporary housing for each other. It is not uncommon for MHC women to honk their car horns wildly after spotting the college bumper sticker on another car. We welcome each other wherever we find ourselves in the world, whether it’s a rural field in middle America or a crowded coffee shop in Bombay, India.

This weekend I marched and cheered and was welcomed home, just as I welcomed the new class of graduates. And once again I was transformed.


first thing in the morning.

I know I’ve lived all my life in the US; I’ve been in India for only eight months. But this morning I woke up at my parents’ house in New Jersey, and was faced with some strange realities.
1.) I have to iron my own clothes. You will have to forgive me if my clothes appear crumpled. Since moving to India, I have ironed exactly one top. We have an istriwala who comes to the house to collect the day’s ironing and return the clothes from the previous day. Each item costs 2 rupees, so I even send out Sam’s undershirts and hankies.
2.) I took a shower with water intentionally made hot. With 90-degree weather in Bombay, all water that flows from the tap is at least warm, if not hot.
3.) It’s raining. This is the first rainy morning I’ve seen since last autumn. Which makes me glad I remembered (at the last minute) to pack sneakers, because…
4.) I have to wear closed shoes. I only wear sandals or flip-flops in Bombay. Every day.


walking naked into the rain.

Sometimes when the children hug me, I wonder if I’ll catch their lice. But I don’t stop them. I love watching them run to meet me as I walk down the dirt path to the orphanage school. The little ones rush to hold my hand. They chatter away, even though they know I don’t understand most of what they tell me. I do manage to catch the phrase “billi ke bacche” (the cat’s children) and I follow their pointing fingers to a small box behind the shed at the edge of the garden.

The other day a few of us took the children to a neighborhood park to play. They arrived in neat little outfits, hair brushed, and shoes on their feet. My heart just opened up all over again and tenderness for these vulnerable little beings filled my entire body and spirit. I watched as the older boys—9 or 10 years old—pushed the little girls on the swings. Two boys, one with legs bent from polio, walked hand in hand to get snack.

During the last few months, we’ve cut and colored, sculpted with play dough, told stories, danced, and sang. The children greet me week after week with open arms and shouts of “Hello, Auntie”. They live and love totally in the present moment. I went to the orphanage to give, and ended up receiving instead.


duniya hila denge.

Cricket is to the rest of the world what baseball is to the US, though part of me already hears the argument that the two sports should not be mentioned in the same sentence. For my American family and friends, you’ll have to indulge me this morning. For everyone else, I ask for your patience as I may have to explain a few things along the way.

Last night I attended my first live cricket match and I am still humming the Indians’ team song. Well, just the refrain,which translates to “let’s rock the world” according to the posters. Hrithik Roshan, a major Bollywood actor, performs in the video which they played at the beginning of the match. Cheerleaders dance to the refrain after each wicket is taken when the Indians are fielding or after they score big runs when batting. The crowd goes wild; they’re on their feet dancing, clapping, and waving their arms in the air.
(check out the video here )

I’ve enjoyed a fair amount of televised cricket, especially during the current Indian Premier League tournament. The games are short– only 20 overs for each team– which is perfect for my American attention span. The Indians bowled first last night, and it was a completely different experience seeing it in person. I almost jumped out of my skin when the first batsman was bowled out. Seeing those little white bales go flying was exhilarating! (translation: Behind the batsman are three wooden stumps with two small cylindrical bits perched on top. The bowler threw the ball and it directly hit the stumps, sending the bales flying, which means the batsman is out).

Part of what interests me about the game is the drama behind the scenes. I love hearing stories about the players or of fantastic victories. Sam grew up with cricket so he knows all sorts of interesting facts and stories about the game. Last night he told me about a match in Kenya which a batsman scored over 250 runs from a single ball.


The American Women’s Club of Bombay in association with Atma Mumbai cordially invite you to their May Ball, Saturday 3rd May 2008, to be held at Regal Room Trident, Nariman Point, Mumbai Dress Code: Black Tie

Sparkly clothes, high heels, and safety pins holding my outfit together; hair held in place with gel; on the phone with the taxi driver who is now one hour late; riding to the Ball with our friends after canceling the taxi; traffic, of course; open bar; dance and music performances; buffet dinner; raffle prizes; dancing; laughing; taking photos of each other; talking only to the people at our table; Goan wedding band singing songs from the 1980’s; two servings of triple-chocolate mousse; coffee at 1am; does anyone else think this feels like prom?

Last night’s event was a benefit for Atma Mumbai, a local NGO (non-governmental organization) that partners with organizations that provide services to impoverished people in the city. Please check out their web site to learn more about their mission and success in helping others develop successful programs.


the journey.

In Bombay nothing seems to be where I expect to find it. The pursuit of any destination requires a great investment of mental and physical determination. Looking for a given address where no street names exist (or no one knows them) and buildings are identified by name (not number) can feel like a real test of resources. I have discarded my parents’ advice not to talk to strangers, because strangers are my best allies in navigating this city. Sometimes I just can’t find what I’m looking for, no matter how many people I ask for directions or how many times I walk up and down the street. I end up feeling frustrated, confused and completely defeated.

This afternoon I am heading to a salon in Bandra to get my nails done for tomorrow night’s black-tie event (check back on Sunday for details!). Rather than attempt to find the salon by myself, I am meeting two of my friends at a familiar spot and we’ll try to find the place together. At least if we get lost, we have company. In thinking about this strategy, I realized how much simpler my life could be if I regularly adopted this approach while navigating my inner landscape as well as my outer environment. I tend to deny offers for help or companionship, insisting that I don’t need help. “I can do it myself” has been my unofficial life motto. I’m beginning to learn that while self-sufficiency can be a great asset, it can also be an obstacle to true intimacy with others. So this afternoon is a step in a new direction, hopefully one that will lead me toward learning to be vulnerable.