Chennai Journal
Sunday, August 28, 2005

The picture shown here is typical Rangoli or, as it's called by Tamil speakers, Kolam. Rangoli is a daily ritual of Hindu women, a kind of artistic prayer to begin the day. These drawings are seen in front of houses, temples, and even places of work--the latter perhaps explained by the fact that Rangoli are supposed to entice Lakshimi, the Goddess of prosperity and well-being. At certain times, Rangoli may also bring luck to unmarried women in finding a spouse, and special designs are done for Hindu festivals.

Rangoli designs are usually flowers or symbols---this picture I took in our neighborhood shows a Star of David, but it's highly unlikely that the woman of this house is Jewish (a bit jarring, but you may as easily see a swastika as a decoration here). Rangoli are made with white or dyed, very finely ground rice powder, and the drawing is usually followed by quiet prayers of the morning in special pooja, or prayer, room in the house. Rangoli designs are handed down generation to generation, and new ones or creative variations to the traditional designs also printed in magazines. There are certain regional variations within India--use of colors, for example, or designs that are characteristic of a particular locale. Rangoli may even form the basis of an employee contest, such as we ran at our Business Service Center earlier this year.

This custom is also intricately tied to the Hindu respect for all life. As the day goes by, the Rangoli itself is food for the tiny creatures such as ants that coinhabit our human space. But like everywhere else, modern convenience has come in to offer an alternative to tradition---I've read that the too-busy housewife can now buy "stick on Rangoli" !
Sunday, August 21, 2005
Faces of India

Not much is new this week. The doctor says I have to go on a low salt diet to control blood pressure. That's not as difficult here as in some places like China or Japan, where much of the food calls for soy sauce. But I suspect I should start avoiding the canteen food and bringing my lunch. Already they bring me some fruit and juice in the morning when I arrive, something called Thandu or banana stem juice. It is supposed to be good for kidney function and also to control weight, although nothing I do seems to help in the latter category. I'm able to do some swimming in the Madras Club pool, but only on the weekends. Haven't quite found the energy to get up early enough to use the track there on the weekdays. It opens at 5:30 a.m. but I have to leave for the office by 6:30 a.m.

Now that we have broadband, it's a lot easier to upload pictures, so I thought I would do a few that Marty and I have taken over the past few months. These have all been taken at various places around Madras. I hope you enjoy them.

Monday, August 15, 2005
Independence Day

Today is Independence Day in India, marking the 58th anniversary of independence from the British (Pondicherry did not get returned by the French until 1954). Last night there were fireworks until late at night, and today things are pretty quiet as everyone is on holiday. Ganesh came to look after Dad and I went over to the Madras club for a swim (15 laps) and lunch. Tonight have a visitor coming in for the week from China, so will take him out to dinner.

Today is also the 25th anniversary of my grandfather (my dad's father)'s passing, as well as the day that we always marked as J.D.'s birthday. So in spite of the festivities around town it's also a bit somber for me. I did think it auspicious to read Salman Rushie's Midnight's Children, which I've picked up now and then but never actually finished.

Last week I was asked to speak at the HR study circle of the Madras School of Social Work. Interestingly, HR professionals here are often trained in social work schools, rather than business schools. It was quite the gathering and I was also asked to help light the celebratory candle, kuttu viLakku' with the other dignitaries. Here you can see me doing this.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005
J.D. and Dad

This is the last picture I took of J.D.---appropriately with Dad---sometime in July after we had returned from Singapore. She looks as serene as ever.....Note the ubiquitous glass of milk sitting on the table; Dad does love his milk. Recently, Ganesh has been adding turmeric and ginger to it, and it's completely cleared up a rash that Dad had developed on his arms and forehead.
Monday, August 08, 2005
In Memoriam

J.D.--August 1986 - August 8, 2005

J.D., our beloved 19 year old cat, died this afternoon about 5:00 p.m. India time from natural causes. She had gradually been eating less and was experiencing increasing difficulty negotiating some of her favorite jumps, and her fur had become oily and matted from old age. But otherwise she had seemed in pretty good health, despite kidney disease and a mild heart condition that, until recently, had progressed rather slowly--a few posts ago I wrote about it taking four people to comb her out due to the battle she put up. But on Sunday morning she would not get up from a corner by the window, and was listless and wobbly—walking only a few steps before collapsing on the floor again. By this morning her condition had worsened considerably and her breathing had become labored. Even with the vet’s intervention and doses of electrolytes every two hours, her heart could not take the strain. She died in my arms about an hour after Marty and Sara left for the airport to fly back to the States.

It all happened so quickly that I am still in a state of shock, but I am grateful that the end came swiftly for her and she was able to keep up her quality of life almost to the last. As J.D. has gotten older I have known this day would come, but she remained in good health so long that somehow I had convinced myself that she would be with us for several more years, especially after she did so well on the long trip from Detroit to Chennai. Dad is heartbroken. Since Dad came to live with us more than two years ago, J.D. has been his constant and faithful companion—spending hours on his lap as he watched his favorite television shows, and always making a beeline for his chair first even when one of the rest of us was eager to share a lap with her. Here as in Michigan, it was usual to find her either asleep on his lap or on the chair next to him.

The staff was wonderful and compassionate and found a place where we could bury her quickly but with dignity. For that I will always be grateful, and a part of me must always remain in Madras with the memory of her final resting place. J.D. brought so much pleasure and companionship to our entire family that I know that in her next life she will be the queen of a much larger dynasty than ours.

Sunday, August 07, 2005
Sara's Visit

Sara finally arrived last Friday night. She has especially enjoyed reuniting with my dad and the cats, and has done some shopping and sightseeing in Chennai. We had a tailor come and make some traditional Indian outfits for her.

Yesterday we drove again to Auroville and Pondicherry and last weekend we went to Fisherman’s Cove and Mamallapuram. During our stay in Fisherman’s cove we went “deep sea fishing”.

Probably you are imagining a small yacht stocked with beer and munchies, with a nice hold downstairs where you can get away from the sun, and gleaming fiberglass fishing poles with fancy reels. Instead, this was an authentic Indian fishing experience---lines on a wooden wrapper (just south of my knee in the picture), and a communal village fishing boat---identical to the ones given by Ford and other companies to the tsunami-ravaged villages that had lost their livelihood. Most of the fish are caught with nets at night. But during the daytime, the nets can’t be used because the fish can see them---so the fishermen are left to use lines and bait. We didn’t do too badly with this method—in an hour and a half, we caught about 20 small fish, including some nice snappers.

Monday, August 01, 2005
A Water Filled Week
Sorry I'm a bit late with the posting this week. Probably most of you have read or heard about the deluge in Mumbai. On the night Sara was due to arrive there, Mumbai had the worst rain ever recorded in India, almost 100 cm (about 3 feet). Sara's plane was diverted to Dubai, where she spent three nights. British Airways agreed to transfer her ticket to the next flight out to Chennai, on Thai Airways, which she took on Friday. She arrived safely late Friday night. Kudos to British Airways, who despite the chaos was remarkably customer friendly----even calling us in Chennai to keep us posted on Sara's whereabouts.

The Mumbai situation affected us in more ways than one. We had three members of our operating committee, and two other employees, traveling in Mumbai in addition to our local sales staff there. Two of the operating committee members and a local employee were all caught in the storm--the others got to their hotel before the situation became unmanageable. The three who were travelling together were stranded on a bridge on Tuesday night, enroute to the hotel. No traffic was moving and the water was pouring down. Finally, they all got out of the car and started walking to the hotel---11 kilometers away. It took them 3 1/2 hours through water that was sometimes chest high. The danger, in addition to the contaminated water, was open drains and manholes that could have easily sucked them away. Upon arrival we had them seen by a doctor and all are on antibiotics. However, not everyone was so lucky---many people perished under similar circumstances. Our local office staff is also all safe. Meanwhile, in Mumbai, the rains and misery continue.

After Sara arrived we spent the night here and then on Saturday went to Fisherman's Cove, a resort south of Chennai, for an overnight stay. On Sunday we travelled a bit further south to Mamallapuram, a famous seaside temple. There we met an ubiquitous site---the parrot fortuneteller. The parrot comes out of the cage, ruffles through a deck of cards, and picks one for the fortuneteller. It will not surprise you to know that I'm going to be rich (sorry you can't see the camera around my neck or my nice watch) and live until 90.

On the way back we stopped for lunch at Temple Bay, another local resort. We went to their outdoor restaurant, The Wharf--which scored high on food quality, service quality, and ambience and is the best place we've been here. In addition to excellent food, they actually timed all the meals to arrive together---a little known skill here. And the view of the sea was magnificent. We will go back.

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