Friday, February 14, 2014




We recently spent a few days in Pondicherry [Flickr Link}, first work, then relaxing, and I’m happy to report it lives up to its hype as a chill, serene location for absorbing the French vibe. It was once the capital of “French India”, and as such you see remnants in the form of signage, street names, architecture in the French Quarter, and, drum roll please, its restaurants and pastry shops.  It’s on the coast so there’s that beauty as well, along with a long boardwalk cum promenade.  All in all, it provided us a welcome respite from the horn-honking rush of thousands of people we typically get from an Indian city.Pondicherry is also known as the home of the Sri Aurobindo Society, a philanthropic group based on the teachings and work of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother that have as a guiding belief a system they termed “Integral Yoga”.  We visited Auroville, an ashram built on a unique spiritual concept revolving around offering work as a divine offering.  No rituals, no obligatory meditation, no practices of a certain religion.  [I especially liked the un-religion aspect that includes anyone, even non-believers.] The activities of the ashram include development of art, culture, and spiritually, besides agriculture and cottage industries. In the center of Auroville is the Matrimandir, a huge geodesic dome where people can sign up to go meditate on their own.  There was some kind of 24-hour check/waiting period that made it impossible for us to get inside, but perhaps the next time.  It was a peaceful place with lots of gardens and plans for lots more.  They seemed like a harmless lot but I really was impressed when I visited a village that the Aurobindo Society is assisting via education.  I visited some classes sponsored by the American Embassy for teenagers, and the setting was a beautiful open space that had been cleared of the massive overgrowth.  The buildings were simple but clean, well-painted, and the children were the same, but no paint.  They were incredibly peaceful and calm for a group


of teenagers, but I believe that’s just because my orientation is the rowdy American variety.
Aurobindo considered an integral education as one of the best means of moulding future humanity. That gets no argument from me, and I drove away from the teaching area, I saw the destitute spaces that served as housing for these students, and I was even more impressed by their cleanliness, their alertness, and their good cheer.  The Aurobindo Society is doing good work, and I was humbled and gratified to be part of it for a short afternoon.

Two additional items for your enjoyment: 

Yuk of the Week:  If you haven’t read Frank Bruni’s Op Ed piece titled Panic in the Locker Room” you owe it to yourself.  It's a hoot, and along with the merriment are some gentle truths.

Also, a final chorus for a favorite American patriot who died last week.  I have used the songs and recordings of Pete Seeger for some 3 or 4 decades in my work, and I never tire of hearing him or the songs, nor did the students, young and older.  He wrote my favorite American ballad, "This Land Is You Land".  Take a few minutes to enjoy some of his best recorded moments at this website:  Don't miss the Obama inauguration video with Bruce Springsteen and his grandson.  It is EPIC, and he looks so damn cute in that plaid shirt and stocking cap!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Let the Race Begin!

 It’s the beginning of the race for national elections which will be held sometime this spring, and so far, it’s a colorful affair.  In the press the party leaders are starting to sling the mud, but it’s difficult for an outsider to follow the initial and slang ridden headlines.  Perhaps the most colorful items to date are the over-saturated hoardings (billboards), flags, and posters that began appearing with a vengeance this week. I’m currently working in Chennai, the 4th largest city in India, and my commute is one hour each way on a major thoroughfare, so I got an eyeful on Monday.  This fellow (no idea who he is) face was plastered on about 800 or 900 hoardings along the road.  They were huge, in-your-face photos, and the best part was the various poses he struck as I drove down the highway.  In one he is channeling a Bollywood star, shaking his fist or finger at us in another, and looking pious and magnanimous in a white kurta in another.  Some were dramatic enough to make me think he got roped into one of those mall photo-parlours.
The sunglasses are a not-so-subtle reference to SRK, India's most
adored Bollywood Star.
The next morning I read on the front page of the local paper the government was instituting a new law to try to get rid of the poster plastering method of political discussion.  Officials vowed to tear down any signs not stamped with official approval.  That morning on the way to work I saw an incredible display of the Congress Party’s colors with about 4,000 perhaps 5,000 Flags displayed in the meridian opposite Mr. Charisma’s photos from the previous day. I wasn’t thinking fast enough so I didn’t get a picture.  I made a mental note to get one the next day.
Wednesday I was ready with my camera, only to find both sets of hoardings/flags, etc gone, just gone.  How do these people do all this work in the dark, I want to know, and when do they sleep?  In their place was ANOTHER set of pictures of this fellow, who had really funny photos as well, one that looked it was taken for a promo for a Comedy Central program about soldiers and their shorts, and others with everything but a halo above his head.  The funniest ones were hard to snap, but I'm going to keep trying.  It's harder than you think to take a picture in a moving car, with 5 lanes of traffic to weave through.

Modi in his "just one of the people" poses
Just lacks a halo
Thursday I thought I’d seen it all, but MODI, the BJP party’s candidate for prime minister, is coming to town on Saturday, and some people want to make sure he knows Chennai welcomes him.  Now we have another 5 or 6 hundred hoardings of Modi, and he’s got some good shots, too.  Witness a few of the "normal" ones.  As long as I get to see  these humorous photos, this election could be a lot more fun than the boring saturation we see in the U.S.  Somehow, I just can’t see Obama brandishing a sword overhead in a turban like Modi did, or shaking a fist in a photo, but who knows what the next election will bring.  I could definitely see the Tea Party producing some nutty photos, but they have an unfair advantage, given their subjects.
BTW, I'm on the way to work on a Friday, and there are a minimum of 10 NEW poses/outfits/hoardings of Modi.  He looks good in pink, but he got some bad advice on a long wide-striped kurta.

Indian Press Busting Their Buttons: Hometown Boy Does Country Proud

It’s all over the Indian news today…The new head of Microsoft isn’t just a nice guy, nor Bill Gates’ hand-picked successor, or anything else, he is INDIAN-BORN, Hyderabad-raised NRI Satya Nadella.  There are, of course, the requisite human interest stories, about his time in school [the story about how he was a great admirer of pastries does show his great wisdom], a story about his “batch mates” (classmates) planning a celebration in Las Vegas to honor him [very unclear as to whether he will actually attend said celebration], and even an AMUL BUTTER ad featuring him at the helm of Microsoft [The creative team of AMUL has made topical cartoons featuring their “Amul Butter Girl” for about 50 years, I believe, and they are always cute and have nothing to do with eating their butter.]   Former batch mates have some amusing quotes, including one guy who thought he was bested by Nadella because Nadella chose math and physics and he chose commerce.  Probably not the only reason, right?  Others remember he was good at math (No, not really???) and good at mimicking American accents (HEH!), and finally, one grandiose statement that every student of Manipal University (his alma mater) would cherish this forever. All right then!

I am relieved the Indian press has something positive and new to spin about NRIs and America after the non-ending Indian diplomat/oppressor of her ‘domestic help’ who falsified Visa records and was strip searched in NYC.  So, thanks Mr. Nadella, for that diversion at least.

He has lots of good sound bytes as well that the Indian public will eat up, like “I think playing cricket taught me more about working in teams and leadership that has stayed with me throughout my career.” Not be a stickler for grammar or anything, but that is an incomplete comparison….What exactly is he comparing cricket TO??? A small detail, to be sure.   He seems like a very decent human being, and we can always use more of those in the public eye.

So it’s a love fest here, it’s all good.  I wondered if anyone would write an Op Ed piece about the continuing brain drain from India to the U.S., but who wants to rain on  the parade? Not me, enjoy your moment, India.  I’m not sure it is so helpful to have another very wealthy business-focused NRI to hold as a hero, but the country has a very hot love affair with money right now, and specifically on the earning of it.  As an American, I certainly recognize the tell-tale signs, and wish it good luck with that adoration.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Kathakali Performance

A week ago, I saw a Kathakali performance at the palace next door.  There was a 6-day festival of dance and music and theatre.  We were only in town for the last two, but they were incredible.  Kathakali, which means 'story-dance' is an art form indigenous to the state of Kerala, and one for which it is famous.  It is a feast for the senses, with clanging cymbals and drums accompanying the gestures, eye movements, and multiple facial expressions of the Kathakali master/dancer.  Check out this website for a more detailed description:

If you've seen Japan's Kabuki theatre, this will ring a bell, or many elements of Chinese opera.
The story I saw was a gory one about one POOTHANA, a demoness who killed babies by suckling them with breasts smeared with poison.  Great idea for a plot, isn't it?  Anyway she meets her match when the god Krishna in the form of the baby, who sucks out her life blood.  In the end, the demoness dies, so everyone, almost, is happy in the end.  Have a look at a few of the photos I took during the play, which will show you the incredible talent of the artist, and show you a little of splendor of Kathakali.