Monday, December 25, 2006


The Kids' Blog and Comments

Allo, Hola and Namasté
So, just a reminder that the kids' have a great blog at and that in my posting "Down and Out in Andal" there are a couple of good controversial comments that are worthy of a much longer conversation.
We all went out looking for a drink and Christmas company on Christmas Eve. We didn't find it, but we had fun. We took a couple of autorickshaws, aka as "tuk-tuks", to a fabulous rooftop hotel restaurant/bar, complete with a green lawn, but alas, there wasn't a soul there, so it was hard for us to get into the spirit .... the relucant manager told us to go to the Taj, a chain of five star hotels in India. We got there only to find that the place was swamped with soldiers and eager looking tagalongs who were fawning over the Minister of Railways, whose name I forget. We made our way to an empty dance floor in the back, where a well intentioned rock and roll band were churning out old western hits. Much to our dismay, we found that that neither Mehdi or I had brought our credit cards, so we had to make do with about 1500 rupees, which is normally a fortune, buit not at the Taj. A beer cost 165 rupees... mind you it was a big domestic Kingfisher beer.
So after a little beer, and lots of snacks which were on the house, Mehdi and I danced, all alone on the dance floor which had these funky square lights.... between the Bollywood moves, bellydancing, blues-y dancing, chacha, salsa, Ricky Martin moves, we just had so much fun.... the staff were really appreciative as they had otherwise had a really slow night. They smiled and waved and egged us on. So did a Japanese couple who appeared to be on their honeymoon, and said my dancing was better than the singing. I invited the railway minister to join us, but I don't think the waiter actually gave him my message. . The waiter also volunteered that perhaps the minister was too fat... too bad for him. It would do him good. At some point, Bashu and Zaman asked if they could perform, and since it was a slow night, they said yes.
We took the tuktuks home, as they had been waiting for us. The streets were deserted, and we crawled into bed, exhausted and happy that we had made ourselves a great Christmas Eve. :-)
Merry Christmas....

Sunday, December 24, 2006


My father

I miss my father. He died in 1995. I would love to talk to him about India, his family and his life here in India and why he left; what he felt after he left, and how he felt when he came back. As a matter of fact, I did travel with him for three weeks in India in 1982. We had a lot of fun together. It was summertime, and really hot. We used to laugh at a lot of things together. He was on a business trip, but as he always did, he took time out to go to Calcutta to visit his mother and his sister, and a host of nephews and nieces.
Baba enjoyed being a Bera Sahib, taking taxis, and drinking scotch in the late evening when the somewhat cooler breeze would come through the verandah doors into the living rooms with high ceilings, slow fans, and perpetual attendance of house servants, at his friend Lal's house in New Delhi. He also enjoyed going to the market and buying vegetables and fruits and bantering with the kaprawallahs about the textile business.

Baba never haggled for very small amounts... he said the sellers and rickshaw drivers worked hard and deserved the money. He did haggle shrewdly with his suppliers for large amounts of hard dollar cash.
Baba left India for good in 1963 and though at times he lamented all things western and threatened to go back to India in his old age, he never did, except to visit. After three weeks of visiting, he couldn't wait to get back home to Canada. Not only because his family was there, but because after three weeks, he couldn't stand it anymore here. He would use the dirty toilets as an excuse, but it was much more than that. He wanted to keep it as simple as possible, and liked it when things were reasonably reliable. He had gotten used to that. Baba was as ready to spend 6 minutes studying an eggplant in a Canadian supermarket, as he was to spend it talking to a man with a cart full of eggplants in Kanpur. But, at the end of the day he wanted to go home to a quiet place, with lesser stress levels.
What I have not blogged about, and will not do in public in detail, is Baba's pain and suffering. Much of it is common to all Indians, much of it is common to all humans in the world. What I can say is that I have a great deal more respect for him now than I did in the past. Baba escaped a very tight stranglehold of a culture, where there was a great deal of love, in the family and in the community, but very little of it was unconditional love. It was nearly all conditional. He had to perform. He had to perform financially, morally, educationally. Oh, he got a lot of perks, all sons in Indian families do, especially the oldest, but he also had to do the dirty work. He was not free to be himself, not even remotely. And that is what he got away from. It wasn't easy. You can take the boy out of India, you can even take the Indian affectations out of the boy, my father was very western in many ways, but what could not be taken out of the boy was the unhealed wounds inflicted on him by a very ancient culture. And this I know, not from conjecture, but from what he told me.
And so, I love my father more than ever. I miss him. Yes, I have been angry with him for things, and that was a natural reaction on my part, and one I wouldn't take back. I had things to be angry about. But now, I would love to drink a couple of beers with him in Varanasi. Not on the ghats, overlooking the holy river, but at the Taj Hotel, with bearers at our bidding, with him bantering with them about anything and everything, including life, love and death.


Back in Varanasi

After picking Mehdi up in Kolkata, we are back in Varanasi. It's so good to have him with me to share in the responsibilities. I realise now that it takes a fair amount of energy to balance being a tourist, visit family, write, and connect with the all the wonderful people I would like to connect with.
During our last visit, Deobrat and Pandit Shivnath Mishra, classical sitar artists, were very kind in hosting us in their Academy of Indian Classical Music, which was under construction at the time. During that time I had been doing during daily drawing sessions with their 10 or so tabla students, aged 7-15, and working in a little bit of English lessons, based on Deobrat's suggestions. The process was incredibly popular, and therefore successful. I think it was popular because though they have art lessons in school, it is never with the freedom to draw nonsense, or scribble, or draw what they want. This new freedom resulted in a proliferation of wonderful drawings, from wild tactile experiences to concise drawings of fruit, landscapes, flags and tablas. So when we came back after a week, we were all very happy to see each other.
Mehdi took over, and added to the process by bringing wooden building blocks, intended for his Sri Lanka trip. These were also a big hit. The Mishras were in and out, doing a concert in Delhi and then in Chennai. They had various aggravations with cancelled train tickets and construction delays on their academy, and together we commisserated on what didn't work in India.
The question of what to focus on during this trip to India comes up for me every day, as someone recently commented on my blog. There is so much in India that is beautiful, and so much that is not, such as in any country. I realise I may sound snotty and uppity about the pollution and other unacceptable aspects of India, but I don't mind if I sound like that. The bottom line, for me, is that the health of India is compromised severely, and I do not wish to see India die a slow painful death. I am sure that won't happen, but I am wondering whether the rescue will have happen in the eleventh hour, after much pain and suffering has already happened needlessly. Today on the way to the Main Ghat, to have Bashu's head shaved, I suddenly envisioned how painful it must be for a cow to die on the street, as a plastic bag gets clogged in its intestines. Would anyone notice? Would anyone see the cow's suffering? I had heard these things happen and in Delhi some people do emergency surgery on cows.
On the way back from the ghats... unbelievably, I saw a cow lying in its death throes on a pile of garbage at the very spot that I had envisioned this. I am not given to clairvoyance, so I was startled. The cow's eyes were rolling, its head was thrusting this way and that, and it was covered in thousands of flies, an unusually high number. I did not rescue it. I moved on, and I saw beautiful children playing a hundred meters further on. Both the cow and the children are reality and both existed. But I choose to describe the cow, in its death throes, as the cliche of beautiful Indian children has been done over and over and over again. I will no longer take photos of beautiful children only.


Sunday, December 17, 2006


Down and out in Andal

Mehdi has arrived in Kolkata and it has been wonderful for all of us. We all missed him, in particular his sense of humour and big hugs. We were heading to Kolata from Varanasi, knowing there was a general strike in West Bengal from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. but having no idea that it would mean that the train would stop in its tracks at 6 a.m. and sit there for 13 hours. Even at the last hour, we were told that perhaps it was a 24 hour strike.  This would mean that we would not be there for Mehdi's arrival. It was really frustrating. We were stuck in a small town station, using the same toilet, no water, whose function we could smell on the tracks all day. However, it was a peaceful town, Andal, with the occasional cha seller and Communist Brigade doling out hot food as a good will propaganda gesture for the stuck commuters. We did not complain ... no use.... there were no buses, cars, or any alternatives. One fellow in the next town had tried to open his shop for business, and not only did his shop get closed, he got killed by goons for trying to do so.
We made friends with our fellow travelers and talked about... once again... homeschooling and unschooling. Everyone loves the idea, but always say "but it can't work in India... you need your certificate to get a job".  At any rate, thanks to our good friend Ashish Bejoria, a car was sent to the airport to pick him up at 4 a.m. the next morning. Thank goodness for mobile phones. We did arrive safely around 11 p.m. and took a cab home, through deserted streets. It's amazing how fast you can get through the normally crowded noisy streets of Calcutta, but at night.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Wedding Season

Last night after a delicious Mughlai dinner at the Broadway Hotel in Varanasi, we were enjoying a sweet poem that Bashu was reciting, recently composed.... when we were interrupted by huge bangs outside on the street. It was a wedding party. The groom was hidden in loads of gold and silver coloured metallic outfits, riding a white horse who was equally fantastically bedecked. There were hundreds of people in the procession. Loud Hindi Bollywood music, ecstatic dancing, fireworks, and workers carrying large electric displays, like huge Christmas lights, on their heads, hooked up electrically to several electric generators also being carried on the streets on rolling trollies. It was wild...absolutely wild. Boys and men were dancing with abandon with wild Michael Jackson moves, Bollywood moves, and every known dance move, from gangster rap to Masai warrior dancing was included. Zaman started to video a particularly talented young man, dancing on the sidelines, who made Michael Jackson's Thriller look patsy.
After a while, someone asked me to dance too, and I was surprised as there were no women there, but it seemed harmless enough, and it was late, so I thought why not? So I made a few bellydancing moves to rival the young man's and the crowd went wild. I stopped after 30 seconds, but they begged to join the wedding party, behind the horse and the ornate carriage trailer. I figured it was innocuous enough as there were few lights. At first I said "no" seeing there were no women, but after some persuasion, I joined up briefly. I did a few good moves influenced heavily by the bellydancing that Bahija has taught me....mixed in with some Indian eye and hand movements and you would not believe the surge from the crowd. I instantly had a roar of approval from 100 odd men and boys and they started dancing absolutely wildly. As I twirled around, using my doopata as a veil, I saw a rifle in the crowd, a stern looking Hindu man, and an official bridal party member, and I thought hmmm... perhaps this is not appropriate. I sought quick approval from them to continue, got it and continued for another 30 seconds or so, just long enough to not get into trouble. I had a great time. I danced in the streets of Varanasi. They ran after me to shake my hand as I got on the rickshaws that Kian had arranged in the meantime for our quick getaway. I put my hair back up in a stern looking grey bun, draped my veil modestly around me and off we went into the deserted midnight streeets, back to the hotel.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


Drop me a line

I am aware that a number of you are reading my blog. I have heard from some of you. If I haven't please do drop me a line or post a comment on the blog. It keeps me going. :-))

Friday, December 08, 2006


Ma Ganga

It is difficult to find time to write when you are on the road, unless you make it a strict regime. I find myself wanting to say lots, explore lots of my half baked ideas, and end up thinking them and then moving on, but sometimes managing to say a little in emails to friends.
I am behind in my blog by about a month. I want to tell you about my good experiences in Kalakankar, Delhi, and now in Varanasi. And I will.
In the meantime, we are in Varanasi since December 1st, taking in this small dusty town on the banks of the river Ganges. I am looking for the magic that it promises, which indeed I did see when I last came in 1983. It's hard for me to see it. I have seen loads of army troops, stationed to keep the Hindus and Moslems from fighting over a spot that both feel are holy to them. The ubiquitous urine, garbage, plastic, cows, dogs, beggars, more holy men, red pan juice, is hard to ignore. The Ganges, also known as a pesticide soup by environmentalists, is supposed to clean itself up miraculously from whatever you put into it. And indeed, tests were done many years ago that indicated that it did contain a very efficient bacteria that seemed to digest biological waste very efficiently. However, that did not include the toxic waste of hundreds of large factories upstream who dump everything into the river....
"From the plains to the sea, pharmaceutical companies, electronics plants, textile and paper industries, tanneries, fertilizer manufacturers and oil refineries discharge effluent into the river"
The huge increase in population has tested its miraculous abilities sorely. It's always been known as Ma Ganga. So I ask myself, how much can mother take? As a mother, I can clean up, and I did, constantly it seemed, after my little kids. But somewhere in their growing years, I taught them to clean up themselves. In a household where the kids grow up, and bring in friends, is it reasonable and respectful to expect Mother to clean it all up? How indeed do we treat a mother? If indeed a mother is a person who is expected to work till she drops dead unquestioningly, then it makes sense to treat Ma Ganga like a bottomless garbage bin.
I see her as a mother who needs a very big break, a chance to recuperate, and some respect. She is beautiful either way, but the devotional love has more meaning when the relationship is based on respect, and not just an unseeing adulation.

Friday, December 01, 2006


Sarah Ebell 1960-2006

Our adopted sister and aunt to our kids, Sarah Ebell, died on Monday, November 27th, accidentally. It's really hard to be in India, when all my community back home is hurting and grieving. They are arranging her memorial, and I wish I were there. But it is too costly and impractical, and I know that Sarah would understand why I am not going back to Canada ahead of time.
Sarah took me for granted, and I took her for granted. She was always there when needed, disappearing sometimes for a few days, at most a week, and then reappearing unannounced for a cup of coffee. That was our ritual. She would drop by on her way to or from a landscaping job, and I would stop what I was doing to make a cup of something. She liked my coffee, fresh ground and brewed, and we would chat and gossip, discussing anything from the price of computers to human relations and her school courses. The kids didn't bat an eyelid when they woke up to find her in the kitchen, not finding it any more necessary to say good morning to her than to me. Sarah stayed for dinner and though she didn't like doing dishes, she was always ready to build a fence or deck. She was ready to lend Kian a hand with his catapult building and happy to discuss the latest Harry Potter book with Bashu.  When Sarah was stuck, she called us, and when we were stuck, we called her.
Once when Zaman was eight or so, and Sarah had tucked him into bed, I went in to say goodnight. Zaman said to me "Ma, you know, I don't want to hurt your feelings, but.... " and I said please go ahead and tell me, he continued "well, Sarah is like a mother, I feel as if she is like a mother". He didn't want me to see her as competition, but he wanted to express that she had that feeling about her, for him. Sarah didn't mother him per se, in a clichéd way, but simply had been there for him for so long, so often, that it just felt like a mother.
Sarah was like a sister. I don't mean that in a sort of mushy way. In fact, like any biological sister, she annoyed me. And I annoyed her. We let each other know. And like sisters, it didn't stop us from getting together all over again. When I was down and out about something she obliged by listening to me. And vice versa.
I am going to miss the little annoying things that were part of my landscape at home. Her shoes, like my children's, would be left at the door and invariably I tripped over them. Sarah had a funny habit of not closing the door when she left. Winter of summer, I would find that door open, letting out the heat or letting in the mosquitoes. I would close it and consider Sarah incorrigible. I won't hear "hello, hello" through the house anymore, from the doorway as Sarah lets herself in. I always thought Sarah would be there. I always thought that we would grow old together and pick on each other, and fuss over the kids, oohing and ahhing over their achievements, and get together for yet one more family dinner, one more big laugh, with a glass of red wine, more laughs and general commentaries about the absurdness of life, complete with its terrible pain and relentless beauty. I always thought we would get to the bottom of the mystery of the meaning of life, together, cackling and crying, all at the same time.
And maybe we did.

My travel blog will be
Anita Roy

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