Sunday, July 24, 2011

Let's give this video chatting a try....

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Weekend with Sudaben in Nasik

Because of Mom and mine abrupt return from Kerala, I found myself with about a week of free time before the wedding on November 24th. Dad also had returned from Akola and had decided to stay in Mumbai until after the wedding, so we both had free time on our hands. Dad suggested that we spend the weekend with Sudaben in Nasik, which is a town about 4 hours northeast of Mumbai.

Before we left Mumbai Dad and I visited Matunga, a suburb of Mumbai where my Mom grew up and where both my Mom and Dad went to college. We visited a very good friend of Dad’s, Gangadasbhai, who helped arrange Mom and Dad’s marriage. We also visited the Kapol boarding house where my Dad stayed while he went to college. After lunch we took a pre-paid Taxi to Nasik, enjoying the lovely scenery along the way which included several wineyards.

Sudaben met us at the taxi stand and took us home to freshen up before we went to see her Blue Dart office. Blue Dart is a national courier service that was recently bought by DHL, which has made Sudaben’s life much busier. She’s the head manager of the Nasik office, which handles over 100 packages a day. It was very interesting to see how they sort all the packages in the basement of the building, entering the addresses and using a barcode system to track each package.

After returning home for a quick dinner, we caught a show for Om Shanti Om, Shah Rukh Khan’s big Diwali movie. It was ok, one good song and a few nice scenes including a wonderful spoof on Bollywood during an award ceremony, but overall it was too loud and hectic and by the end you get a little tired of watching SRK, since he’s in almost every frame. My favorite part was actually the credits, where the people who helped make the film from got to dress up and walk down the red carpet. Not just the stars mind you, but the assistant directors, make-up artists, camera operators, and even the grips got their time on the screen. And the director Farah Khan arrived last in a beat up rickshaw to find that everyone had left. It was probably all the jokes about Bollywood celebrities that I enjoyed the most in the film.

The next morning we went to Thamkeshwar, a temple about 20 km outwide of Nasik. It located high up on the side of a hill and is the origin of a local river which many locals consider to be holy. There were over 700 steps to climb to reach the shrine, which only me and the driver were able to do, Dad’s knees started to hurt and Sudaben was not wearing the proper shoes for that much climbing. It was quite an exhausting climb, especially since I’ve gotten so out of shape the past few months with so much good food and so little exercise. Still, I made it to the top and the view was wonderful.

We drove back home for lunch and after a short rest headed out again, this time to see ‘Old Nasik,’ the part mostly untouched by the recent economic boom. You won’t find any McDonald’s or malls here, the streets are filled with small family shops and the sidewalks crowded with vegetable vendors. We parked the car and walked down to the ghat, the area near the river that is dotted with various temples.

We went to one area called Panchavati, named after the five banyan trees that grow there. Dad and I visited a temple for Lord Ram, in which visitors entered and exited through staircases so small that we literally had to crawl. I felt a lot like Alice going down the rabbit hole. We stayed until sunset, and then headed back home to catch the end of an India-Pakistan cricket match and have dinner.

Dad and I left for Mumbai the next morning in a shared taxi. All in all it was a nice, relaxing weekend, and gave us a much needed break from the stress of the past few days.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


For the past 5 days most of India has been celebrating Diwali, one of the biggest festivals here in India. In almost every house people are cleaning all the rooms, hanging lights and paper lanterns in the windows, putting diyas on the doorstep, and setting off firecrackers at night. It’s five days of great food and total masti (Gujarati for fun), and this was the first year that I got to celebrate it in India.

This Diwali was extra special because it fell on my Mom’s birthday, November 9th. At midnight, the whole family except the youngest kids came to Kamleshbhai’s house to surprise her with cake and flowers. Dad and I also got her a huge birthday card which everyone signed.

My Mom and Dad arrived around 2 am last Sunday after a hellacious flight that was delayed almost 4 hours, culminating in 2 lost bags that have since been recovered. Sanjay Mama, Falguni Mami, Ami, and Anup came to Kandivali to meet them and have lunch, and then by 5 we were in a taxi on our way to Dadar station to catch a night train to Akola. All the traveling and jet lag have been rough on Mom and Dad, but they’ve mostly recovered by now.

Going to Akola is always fun because with so many young kids running around, you never get bored (though you might end up with a headache). Whether playing computer games with Harshal or watching Vinit and Hetvi be their cute selves, there was always something amusing to do. I also spend a lot of time with Dad visiting the family’s offices and walking around the many different markets in Akola. With Diwali approaching the markets were packed with last-minute shoppers for lights, diyas, sweets, and of course firecrackers. Each of my nephews got their own bag filled with fireworks to shoot off, though they each promised to share some with me. :)

On Diwali I went with Mom, Dad, and Maya kaki to the temple to do darshan (basically prayer). The people at the temple were busy getting everything ready to celebrate the New Year the next day, which included making flower garlands and preparing lots of sweets and snacks. Later that evening the family gathered at Kamleshbhai’s office, which is under the flat where my Dad grew up, to perform puja and set off fireworks.

Setting off the fireworks was definitely the most fun part, especially since the rules here are quite lax compared to the US about the kind of fireworks you can buy and where you can set them off. In front of offices along the whole street people were setting off fountains, bombs, sparklers, and bottle rockets. Some of the rockets I got to set off were the large ones that usually only the licensed groups get to shoot at the large firework shows. Getting to see those large starbursts up close was quite exciting. With everyone setting off fireworks, just walking down the street became a bit hazardous, and even the cars and scooters that went by had to be careful not get caught driving past a meeti bomb as it exploded.

Here's an amazing shot Dad took of my nephew Shantanu enjoying the fireworks:

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Eating Out Gujarati style

The Gujarati festival of Diwali is approaching, and with it the streets of Mumbai are lit up with colorful paper lanturns and electric lights adorning the buildings while the doorsteps are decorated with diyas, or small earthen lamps. Diwali is known as the Festival of Lights, and reminds be quite a bit of how Christmas and the New Year are celebrated back home. This will be the first time I get to celebrate Diwali here in India, and I can't wait!

Since I'll be going to Akola with my parents for Diwali, Mama and Mami decided to treat me to an authentic Gujarati thali dinner before I leave this Sunday, and it was quite an experience. We sat down at the table that was set with large thalis that each contained 4 or 5 smaller bowls, and within moments the waiters began serving how dinner. The menu was fixed, and for the next few minutes each waiter came with serving dish in hand to offer us rotis, vegetable shaaks, curries, daal, khadi, dholka, fruit salad, and chaas.

We all tucked into the feast and our plates were kept full by the very attentive staff. Despite Malan Mami's warning that the waiters will keep serving you until you say no, the food was too good to refuse and I ended up eating far more than I normally do. As my cousin Adit told me, your thali should look messy at the end of the meal, because there is no way you can finish all the food they give you!

Here's an example of a traditional Gujarati thali:

For anybody planning on visiting Mumbai, this is something they have to try, it's wonderful.

Friday, October 26, 2007

An Indian-American in India

It’s always an interesting experience coming to India because despite my appearance it is fairly easy for people here to tell that I am an American. The accent is a big giveaway, especially combined with my limited ability to speak Gujarati and Hindi. And I probably look at everything from the vegetable vendors to the sometimes crazy traffic with an interest and curiosity foreign to the average Mumbaiker.

It also doesn’t help that I stand about half a foot above the average Indian woman, and I often have at least an inch or two on many of the men. I’ve grown fairly accustom to the stares I receive on the street, and whenever I am introduced to someone invariably one of their first comments is on my height. Ba and I must make quite an interesting pair during our walks around Thakur Complex, with me standing over six inches taller than her. She even commented once when I accompanied her to an afternoon garba dressed in a punjabi that several people were giving us (mostly me probably) double-takes as we walked by.

It all reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Barbara Kingsolver’ Animals Dreams, whose main character is a woman about my height. She says that, height isn't something you can have and just let be, like nice teeth or curly hair. People have this idea you have to put it to use, playing basketball, for example, or observing the weather up there. And if you are a girl they feel a particular need to point out your height to you, as if you might not have noticed."

Still, by in large I don’t really mind it; height does have its advantages, like making it easy to look over the nurse’s head in the OT or grabbing a long pass in ultimate frisbee. Then of course there was the waiter at an Indian restaurant in Amsterdam, who upon seeing me stand up wished me good luck in finding a man. Sigh.

Another interesting part of being an Indian-America here, are the questions I’m asked about America, like whether high school is really like what they see on US TV shows. But those are the easy questions. More often I’m asked, especially by the doctors I’ve observed, about the average salaries of different professions, what the most popular majors of university students are, what the sub-prime meltdown in the US was all about (thank you Mom for explaining that to me or I would have had no clue!), or how many patients do doctors there see in a day. I answer them as well as I can, but I’m often left feeling rather ignorant of my own country.

Granted I’ve probably pestered Samir Mama, Malan Mami, and others in a similar way, asking lots of questions about the festivals I’ve seen here, how many patients come to their clinics, how much are the maids usually paid, and even how late the banks stay open. Mama often laughs at the questions I ask, but it helps make things seem a little less foreign if I understand them a bit. Still, I don’t think I’ll ever quite understand why people here do not keep separate bathtub in the bathroom, getting my feet whenever I brush my teeth gets quite tiresome!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The head bone is connected to the neck bone…

This past two weeks I’ve been going to Sarodev Orthopedic Surgical Hospital run by the Dr. Haresh Ratanpal, a very good friend of Samir Mama. Dr. Ratanpal is a quite friendly and intelligent gentleman who is a fount of information, orthopedic or otherwise. It has been great fun to talk with him not just about his experiences in his 15 years of practice, but also the human aspect of practicing medicine. He also maintains a very friendly relationship with his patients, one reason being that his patients will often remember his instructions better if they are given as a joke rather than an order.

Dr. Ratanpal was one of the first orthopedic surgeons in India to become qualified to do laparoscopic spine surgery after training in the US with some of pioneers in the field. He also came to the US for training in joint replacement surgeries, which he continues to perform at his hospital in Kandivali. During his OPD, as Dr. Ratanpal is examining his patients, he also explains to me what symptoms he looks for in his clinical exams and how he comes to a diagnosis about his patient’s condition. I’ve learned quite a bit, like how to differentiate the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis from osteoarthritis, or how to determine if the back pain is neurogenic, muscular, or skeletal in nature.

The most common symptoms his patients present with are back and neck pains, also known as PC syndrome because they are usually office workers who have to sit in front of a computer for several hours every day. The treatments are often quite simple, first relieve the pain with pain relievers and muscle relaxants, and then prevent future pain through physiotherapy and posture adjustment.

I also got to see Dr. Ratanpal perform a couple of internal fixation operations. One was on a mother who received a compound fracture of her tibia when a delivery boy hit her with his bike as she got down from a rickshaw. Using screws and a surgical steel plate Dr. Ratanpal properly realigned the bone with no complications, which was great for the mother since her daughter was getting engaged that weekend.

The other operation was much more difficult, with the patient being an 86 year-old woman with a fracture in the neck of the femur that also extended down to the shaft of the bone. She had further complications of anemia and diabetes, and the hip fracture had left her completely immobilized. If the fracture was not repaired then she would never be able to get out of bed. The operation began well, but as Dr. Ratanpal began to screw in the plate, the brittle bone began to chip badly. Eventually he and the doctor assisting him were able to get a good fixation, but it will still be at least two months before she’ll be able to get out of bed.

Orthopedic operations are a quite an experience compared to the other surgeries I’ve seen, with the OT often resembling a mechanic’s workshop. My anatomy professor once told me that orthopedic surgeons operate with a tool belt, and he is quite right. In addition to the scalpels, forceps, and clamps used by all surgeons, Dr. Ratanpal’s bench had a variety of screwdrivers, pliers, wire cutters, and of course a drill. If you only looked at the doctors’ hands and not at the patient on the table, you could almost believe it was a machine they were repairing and not a human being.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


We celebrated Dassera today, which is a festival during Navratri where machines and equipment used in the workplace as well as children’s school books are decorated with flowers and pujas are performed to ask for blessings of these objects.

We had an early start this Sunday, performing pujas at both clinics and at home. I've posted pictures on my facebook account, but for my Mom who's dying to see me wear a sari, here are a few pictures:

There ya go mom, enjoy! :)