Sunday, March 16, 2014

J'arrive

Don't call it a comeback.



I'M BAAAAAAACK!!! 

Release the confetti & balloons, and keep it tuned to Radio Siren.












Thursday, July 07, 2011

Fun Facts About Food Poisoning

Did you know...

That food poisoning can be accompanied by not only the usual vomiting, but violently itchy, raised rashes over 75% of your body surface including the scalp?

I found this out the hard way yesterday.  Was it the roadside dosa? The extra cube of ice chucked into the carrot juice at the Besant Nagar (very posh neighborhood) juice stand? 

Whatever it was...I'm still recovering.  Thank you, antihistamine tablets and topical gels.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Poitu vare

Death of a micro-philanthropist
Triplicane, Chennai, Tamil Nadu

It's been a sobering day in Tiruvallikeni (aka Triplicane,Chennai- aka the Trip Hood) as I discovered Robert Purser, author of the now-semi-famous website Street Kids of Madras,who had been AWOL for some years, had died in an accidental fall from a ladder in America.   

At first this seemed impossible ("Mister Robert" was always overly cautious) and I suspected it might even be a ruse to get rid of the street kids' constant demands for money (it's been 10 years now - 10 years of endless "relatives who need surgery," and the usual stories).

But no, I checked with V. Prabhakaran at the bookstore (one of the Good Guys) and he showed me an obituary mailed by Robert's sister in El Dorado, California.  Robert fell from a 15-foot ladder on June 24, 2008 while trimming trees on his property.

I hadn't heard from Robert since about May 2008. A number of Western Indophiles had written me, asking what had become of him.  Since my last visit to Chennai in 2006,  he had continued supporting the kids, even sending Prabhakaran 7000Rs or nearly $180 monthly (according to Prabhakaran) and Nagamma, who lives on the street constantly abused by her ne'er do well husband 1800 (a very respectible sum considering the husband may have earned 2000 a month at work, if he even worked). 

Today, Nagamma was sporting an\open wound over her left brow, and a black eye.  I asked what had happened and she replied, "Fighting."  Prabhakaran says it's her husband who constantly beats her.  Shehas one child, a boy about 1.5 years old now.  

 Robert always said 'if anything happens to me, you have to make sure the kids get my money,' but Prabhu produced a letter from the sister saying there was no provision made.

Though Robert's website became somewhat legendary among Indophiles and backpackers, Robert himself hated India.   He once told me, "I enjoy being with the kids. I have never enjoyed India."  Yet his observations and insights about the country and its street denizens were astute.   His page "Am I Doing Any Good?" should be read by anyone hoping to "change things in India."

In case you're wondering, the kids are all still there - but they are no longer kids. 

Kumar is driving a rickshaw. Prabhu still lives with his grandmother (who must be over 80 now) in Jaiz Complex and works at a printer shoppe.  Beautiful Mumtaz has been married with 2 kids for years, with a husband and proper house (those of you who know Triplicane will know what this means).  Mari likewise has been married with 3 kids.  Jennifer is still, amazingly, unmarried (she was so beautiful and sweet!) and working in Mylapore at a print shoppe as well.  Prabhakaran, the Good Guy who runs the tabloid magazine stall, is still the responsible big brother on his block, keeping the straight and narrow, raising his 8-year-old son and shooing away the glue-sniffing teenagers. 

And Vela still lives on the streets, acting as "native tour guide" for her many Mister Roberts who appear fresh each season in front of the Broadlands Lodge.  Vela was always the most clever of the kids, and has managed to line up a few "sponsors." 

  In short, not much has changed in Triplicane except the "Magarajah" restaurant has been replaced with a pseudo-posh "Hotel Firdouse," which is not nearly as good.

Sad and weird news from India - so what else is new??

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Inconvenience regretted

It's the little things
New Delhi



After one week, I’m nearly re-assimilated to India, returning after an absence of one year and three months (yes, I was counting the months and fractions thereof). 

A newly spiffy Indira Gandhi International airport was unrecognizable - entirely too efficient, clean, aesthetically designed and well-organized.  

Even more astonishing was the gleaming Airport Metro, India’s own Train to the Plane.  For 80 rupees (less than $2 USD), I entered the shining, near-empty marble enclave (soon to sport a 24-hour shopping mall) and was whisked toward central Delhi in a fashion rivaling a Tokyo bullet train. 


What struck me upon emerging overground was not the overwhelming panorama of India in all its chaotic majesty.  It was the incidentals I’d forgotten that, for the past seven years, were a part of per diem. 

-The burning garbage smell
-The “no change” thing. Change, of course, comes from within.
-The smell of the toxic cleaning fluid, equal parts Pine Sol and ammonia, that everything clean is soaked in.  The fumes of this cleaning fluid rise up, choking your gullet
-The little location notes on your mobile phone. Wherever you roam, a thoughtful note pops up onscreen with names like "Lodi Gardens" or "Ernakulam Junction."
-The mothball thing. Where did Indians get the idea that mothballs, which are pure poison (that's why they drive moths away), are some kind of disinfectant and should be used not only to store even cotton sheets but to deodorize and clean bathrooms? Invariably there's a handful of mothballs installed in the shower drain, radiating toxic fumes.
-The thin red streams of betel juice projecting from the cycle-rickshaw puller’s mouth
-The panel of light switches – at least five for each room, only 2 of which really seem to do anything or connect to an appliance
-Tan polyester pants, often paired with a tan or chocolate-milk-coloured polyester long-sleeved shirt, in 95 degree F weather. Like the mothballs, I've always wondered about the origin of this style. The pants are belted and rather tight-fitting. It seems the worst possible outfit for a tropical climate, and the colour or lack of makes it seems a strange echo of an khaki police uniform.
-The sliding latches on the backside of every door
-"Jain sambar available."  "Jain food" means made with no onions (or eggs, and probably a number of other things).  I appreciate the way India accomodates so many religious minorities. 
-The omnipotence of Shahrukh's face. 
-The breath freshener at the end of even the most humble meal - an anise seed, often coated in sugar.  This taste, combined with air conditioning, will always remind me of my first winter in Madras.

Here’s another example of Delhi’s many efforts to clean up. 

There are now some No Hawking Zones. But an inordinate number of yummy street food vendors seem to have been removed, including my favourite kathi-wallah Khan ChaCha In Khan Market.  Khan ChaCha is now upstairs and upscale, above its previous funky street-stall location. Translation: Nowhere near as much fun.  But the Delhi High Court didn’t want people standing out in the lane, munching on their paneer rumali rolls in the open air as they had done for years.  
In Nehru Place, I even saw a signboard pointing the way toward “vendors under stay of Delhi High Court,” meaning, I suppose, they’d been forced to move.  

A lot (not all) of the teeming profusion of street life that makes India fun seems to have  been removed from New Delhi.  Haven’t spent time in Old Delhi this trip.

Perhaps most amazingly of all, the Metro is finished. Finished! As in, all lines leading to all far-flung branches of Delhi, including Qutb Minar and Noida, are now accessible for the nominal Metro charges. The first car of every train is reserved “Kaival Mahila” (for women only).  

 It’s not always respected, but in the evenings women police board the car and vehemently shoo away all  but the oldest menfolk (or, I’ve noticed, some men who are obviously travelling with their wives.  Don’t ask me how I know they are married, you just know. Probably from their total lack of interest in one another).




Sunday, March 06, 2011

Kumaris Three

Three muses
Kolhachakk, Bihar

The three sisters live in a Bihar village - Kolhachakk, about an hour outside of Patna.

Each one is named with a variation of the word "kumari" (maiden or virgin princess) - "Shonakumari," "Ratnakumari," "Vidyakumari."

In a region where older ladies (by that, I mean old enough to be married and wear a sari, which is about sixteen) are obliged to cover their mouths and shy away from the camera, these young ladies looked boldly into my lens with confident smiles.

They live in a traditional joint household, several oblong wings surrounding a central courtyard. Three generations (25 people) dwell under that corrugated tin roof. The Kumaris are lucky - they have their own family well nearby and don't have to go far for water.

The festive buntings in the background are left over from Saraswati Puja (Vasant Panchami), a winter time holiday honouring the goddess of learning.

I have fantasies of returning to dusty Kolhachakk and bringing them copies of this photo.