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! :)

Friday, October 5, 2007

Matters of the Heart

I saw someone’s heart today, and not in the metaphorical sense. This past week I’ve been going to a hospital in Malad (W), a 20 minute rickshaw trip from home, where I’ve been shadowing a cardiologist Dr. Venkat Goyal who is a friend of Samir Mama’s. The hospital he works in is very impressive, the largest I’ve seen so far and the most high-tech, which makes sense since it’s a cardiac center. The main ICU has about 20 beds and a central station where the doctors can monitor every patient’s ECG, oxygen saturation, and blood pressure.

This past week I have gotten to see several angiograms, where the doctor inserts a catheter into the radial artery and threads it within the lumen of the arteries through the arm and across the chest until it reaches the aorta. Then while taking X-rays he injects a liquid that allows him to see the flow of blood through the coronary arteries that feed the heart. It’s pretty amazing to watch the doctor thread the catheter to the heart since he cannot see the vessel the wire is moving through, a bit like driving without being able to see the road.

If the angiogram shows major blockages in the coronary arteries, then the doctor can perform an angioplasty to remove the blockage. To do this, he uses the catheter as a guide to correctly place a balloon at the site of the blockage, and then inflates the balloon to make a whole through the plaque. To keep the vessel open, the doctors puts a stent over the balloon. The stent is a small cylinder of metal mesh that is often coated with a drug that keeps plaque from building up again. The whole procedure takes about 20-30 minutes and the patient can go home after a couple of hours.

When I arrived at the hospital today I was told that a bypass operation was in progress, so I quickly changed into scrubs and hurried into the OT. The doctors had already opened the chest and begun to graft the small sections of arteries taken from the thigh into the heart’s vascular system. It’s a bit of a surreal sight to actually see someone’s heart beating inside of their chest. It’s also not very common for bypass surgeries to be done on beating hearts, they usually put the patient on a heart-lung machine during the surgery so the doctors can work on a still heart. It makes it easier for the doctors to operate, but the damage the heart-lung machine can do to the patient’s blood can mean a longer recovery process. Operating with a beating heart requires much more skill and confidence on the doctors’ part, since much more can go wrong. But thankful everything went well today and after the three bypasses were completed, and the site checked for other bleeds, the doctors stitched up the patient, using stainless steel wire to suture the ribcage close.

As exciting as it was to watch the operation, I don’t know if I would have the confidence to literally hold someone’s heart in my hands as the doctors did while they grated the bypasses. Hats off to all the cardiac surgeons who do that on a regular basis, they’re an amazing group of people.

Monday, September 24, 2007

India Wins Twenty20 World Cup!!!

Living here in India, it’s impossible to escape the cricket craze. The streets are empty, shops close down, and students abandon their studies all to watch their Men In Blue bat and bowl their way to victory.

I admit I had only a faint idea of what cricket was about when the World Cup in South Africa started a couple of weeks ago. But in the absence of other sports to watch, I became intrigued, and then enthralled by the game. Granted the T20 is a faster version of the game, designed for modern-day short attention spans, but the momentum swings, explosive plays, and nail-biting moments are all still there.

For those who haven’t had the chance to watch much cricket, here are the basics: In the center of the cricket field is the dirt pitch, 66 feet long, with a wicket at each end. A wicket is 3 upright stumps (sticks) embedded perpendicular to the ground like |||. The batting team has a batsman at each wicket, and the other team has 10 fielders positioned around the field and 1 bowler. The bowler’s job is to bowl the ball from one end of the pitch to the other and try to hit the wicket.

The batmen have to defend their wicket, using their bats to strike the ball a bit like the batter in baseball. To score runs, the batsmen must run between the wickets, each time they run to the other wicket they score 1 run. Or they can hit the ball so hard that is goes beyond the field’s boundaries, with 4 runs for the ball rolling over the boundary and 6 runs for the ball going over through the air. The batsmen can get out when the bowler hits their wicket, a fielder catches a pop-fly, or a fielder runs them out by hitting a wicket before he reaches the wicket.

In the Twenty20 format, each side bats for 20 overs, with an over equal to 6 balls. The batting team must score as many runs as they can in the 20 overs, or until 10 wickets are taken. Since each side consists of 11 players, and each wicket must have a player, if 10 wickets are taken, the batting side has only one batter remaining, so it cannot continue batting. After the batting team posts a score from their overs, it’s the other teams turn to bat and try to chase down that score. If they can score more runs in their 20 overs, then they win the match.

Hopefully that’s enough rules to understand the basics of the game, or I just confused you further. India reached the World Cup final through a couple of very intense games. First they had to beat undefeated and home team South Africa in order to make it to the semi-final. They not only won that match, but they knocked SA out of the tournament when all SA needed was 126 runs to make it to the other semi-final. Then in the semi-finals India faced defending champions Australia, who are renowned for being great bowlers and fielders, barely letting India score single runs. But the hero of that match was Yuvraj Singh who hit 50 runs off just 16 balls, letting India run up a high target score. Australia had great batsmen, but India’s bowlers did extremely well, taken enough wickets and keeping the Aussies from getting too many boundaries to take India into the final against Pakistan.

Like any good rivalry, India-Pakistan matches are always intense battles with more than just cricket victory at stake. India batted first and the front-line batsmen started well, with Gautam Gambir leading with 75 runs before he was caught-out. But then the Pakistani bowler picked up their game, taking wickets and barely letting India get singles. Rookie Rohit Sharma saved India near the end of its overs, getting 30 runs to set a challenging target score of 157, but one that was within reach of the Pakistani batsmen.

Pakistan’s chase began terribly, with RP Singh taking the first wicket after Pakistan had made just 2 runs. He took another wicket before Pakistan could reach 40 runs, but just as things were looking good for India, Pakistan’s batting started up and soon the balls were flying over the boundaries. India took a few more wickets but they were unable to keep the pressure on Pakistan, until the 7th wicket was taken with Pakistan needing about 60 runs from 30 balls. The match looked to be India’s with Pakistan at the end of their batting order. One of those batsmen needed to step up, and Misbah obliged, smashing 6 after 6 to get Pakistan within one shot of victory.

By the last over, India had taken two more wickets, but Pakistan needed just 5 more runs with 3 balls left with dangerous Misbah still on the field. On the third ball Misbah tried to a tricky shot to lift the ball upward to the near-side boundary for a 6 and the victory, but his ball fell just short and into the waiting hands of Indian fielder Shreesanth. That catch was the 10th wicket, giving India the victory by just 5 runs. It was an absolutely nail-biting finish that exploded in celebration both on the field and here in India. Almost immediately fireworks were going off and horns were blaring, while on the field in South Africa the Indian cricketers were celebrating a most deserved victory.

It took me a while to get into it, but this World Cup has made me into a cricket fan, though I’m going to miss watching it once I go back to the States. Maybe I can convince Dad to get satellite TV… :-D .

Monday, September 10, 2007

Adit and Aditi’s Birthday!

Dhmaal = 20 12-year-old kids in an 8 x 20 foot room during a birthday party.

My cousins, Adit and Aditi, had their 12th birthday party today with all the usual elements, cake, games, balloons, toys, and a few dozen 12 year-olds fueled by chocolates and candies for the 5-hour party.

The group of kids was roughly half boys, Adit’s friends, and half girls, Aditi’s friends, and the differences between the two groups were numerous. Most of Adit’s friends arrived first and almost immediately began their style of WWF wrestling, usually ending with several kids piled on top of one another on the sofas. Meanwhile, the girls were quietly sitting in another room, talking about films, listening to music and doing each others’ hair. After the boys had gone downstairs to play cricket, the girls took over the main room, and with some help from Samir Mama started an impressive pillow fight, showing that girls too can play rowdy.

Mama eventually corralled all the kids together to play some games, one of which I also participated to make the teams even. Mama filled a backpack full of 40 odd objects, and then each team member took turns trying to blindly pick out the object Mama told them to get. The team that can get the most objects wins. Of course, my team won, just beating out Aditi’s team by one object. Heehee.

After I helped Malan Mami serve all of the kids lunch of pav bhaji and pizza, the kids crowded around the cake while Mama lit the candles. I had to resort to using a chair to try to get a picture of the cake, which led to all of kids throwing up their hands trying to block my shot. After cake, Mama brought in two balloons filled with small toys and confetti. One he popped for the girls and the other for the boys, but soon everyone was scrambling around on the floor going for the best toy. And, of course, the confetti got everywhere despite Mami and mine best attempts to vacuum them up. I saw some in the lift shaft just yesterday!

By the end of the party the girls were back to listening to music while the boys were playing DragonballZ on Adit’s new PS2, and by 7pm all the guests had left and the twins could finally tear into all the gifts they had been given. Adit received a ton of PS2 games along with a board game and a nice pen, while Aditi received a couple of books, a purse, earrings, and a cute music box.

Monday, September 3, 2007

A Day of Firsts

It’s been just over a month since I arrived in India and I’ve started to adjust to many of the aspects of Mumbai life; sleeping through the traffic in the morning, avoiding drinking tap water, etc. But still, all of the traveling, shopping, and such that I’ve done here I’ve been accompanied by someone who could speak Hindi and who knew what to do. Today I took a bit of a leap of faith and decided to travel by bus and rickshaw alone. Thankfully, it was in an area of Kandivali that I’ve gotten to know very well so both trips turned out fine, though I did get off the bus one stop too earlier, and gave me quite a boost of confidence that I can manage by myself here to a certain extent.

I also got to accompany Dr. Asher, a gynecologist who is a good friend of Samir Mama to his OPD at a 40-bed hospital in Malad. Dr. Asher is a soft-spoken gentlemen whose been practicing for over 20 years. He very patiently explained pretty much everything relevant about his field of practice, from the hormonal cycle that controls the release of the egg from the ovary to how to determine where the heart is by palpating the women’s belly. It was also nice to be able to place some real experiences and memories to the theoretical knowledge I’ve read in my anatomy book, which is what this sort of clinical experience is all about.

My other first started well but ended on a rather somber note. At 8 this morning, I accompanied Samir Mama a maternity home run by a Dr. Medha Vora; she is a very energetic woman who I’ve met a few times since Mama does sonography there every Tuesday. Today Mama went to do an emergency sonography and then he went to his clinic while I stayed to see a Caesarian section. Dr. Vora’s assistant Minakshi explained the steps of the procedure while we waited for the anesthesiologist to finish his work, and then we donned our caps and masks and entered the OT.

Everything went well at first and a 3-kg healthy baby boy was delivered to a thankful mother of three. It was quite amazing to see the baby utter its first cry and the joy on the mother’s face as she thanked Dr. Vora for delivering him. Then as Dr. Vora began suturing the incision she had made in the abdomen, the mother’s pulse and blood pressure began to fall until the pulse could no longer be detected. At first, I pressed myself into a corner of the OT hoping I would not get into any of the nurses way as the rushed to assist Dr. Vora and the anesthesiologist. But with some of the nurses busy with the newborn baby, I was asked to assist in small ways, closing the door, handing Dr. Vora her stethoscope, and the most unnerving part, checking the woman’s wrist for a pulse that wasn’t there.

I guess you could say that I saw a person die today. For several minutes the newly-made mother-of-four’s heart had stopped; cardiac arrest. My first code. After a while it became difficult to watch as the nurses and doctors applied chest compressions, added a new IV, and attempted to use a defibrillator that refused to cooperate. Soon the OT became crowded with nurses and other doctors so I thought it best to slip out at wait in Dr. Vora’s office, lest I get in anyone’s way.

The doctors and nurses were able to resuscitate the mother and move her to the ICU at the maternity home, but she is in a coma and with serious concerns about brain damage. The prognosis does not look good. Thankfully, her newborn son is doing well and is with his family.

As for me, it was definitely an experience I will not soon forget.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Akola and Raksha Bandhan

I spend the past week visiting my Dad’s side of the family in Akola, a small town that is about a 12 hour train journey east of Mumbai. I traveled with Maya kaki, Sujataben, and her daughter Janvi. Sujataben is also triplet with her sister Sunita and her brother Samir, two girls and one boy just like me, Sapana, and Saket. Sudaben, their older sister, often commented that I was like Sujataben, Sapana like Sunitaben, and Saket like Samirbhai. Sunitaben could not able come from Indore, but watching Sujataben, Sudaben, and Samirbhai together reminded me a lot of how me and my siblings act while we’re together.

While they were in
Akola, Sujatabhen, Sudabhen, and I went out shopping at several shops in Akola, looking at saris, toys, pants and shirts. They also helped me get a few kurtis, which are in fashion right now in India, especially with college students. What is uniquely nice about small towns is that Samirbhai and Kamleshbhai are good friends with a lot of shop owners. At one shop we went to for my kurtis, the owner let us take a couple home to try out at our leisure, and if I liked them Samirbhai would settle the bill with him later. Very cool.

I was also able to celebrate Raksha Bandhan in Akola for the first time, which is a ceremony where the sisters honor their brothers and tie rachis, string bracelets, to their wrists. In return the brothers promise to protects their sisters and give them some money. Every year I’ve celebrated with the family in the US and tied a rakhi to Saket, but it’s necessarily a small ceremony since most of our family is still in India. So this time it was quite a treat for me because I got to tie rakhis to many of my cousin brothers for the first time, as well as celebrate with the rest of the family in Akola and Kamgam. There were at least 30-40 people all crowded in the house, and all the brothers lined up on the couch to receive rakhis from their sisters and cousin-sisters. For me, it was often fun just to watch the crowd of people talking and laughing, jokes and stories flying about in a mix of Gujurati and Hindi, and sometimes with a dash of English for my sake.

We ended up celebrating Raksha Bandhan twice, once at Suresh kaka’s house on the 26th mostly for Heenabhen and her son Jeet since they had to return to Mumbai that evening. Then the family came together again on the 28th at Maya kaki’s house to complete the celebration. Both times lunch was catered from outside with Marathi food that I found quite spicy. We also took this family gathering as an opportunity to celebrate Harshel’s, Kamleshbhai and Sonalbabi’s son, birthday day which was on the 24th. It was especially fun to see Harshel smear cake in Sujataben’s face with Samirbhai’s encouragement.

On the 29th, Kamleshbhai, Sonalbabi, her brother Sunilbhai, Harshel, Shantanu (Samirbhai and Vishakababi’s son) and I all drove to Shegau (sp?), a town about one hour from Akola that has a temple dedicated to a revered saint. A few years ago, a trust in the saint’s name built a beautiful park, probably one of the largest and cleanest one’s in India. I wish I had pictures, but in the rush to leave I forgot my camera. The landscaping there is wonderful, flower-lined footpaths that circle a lake, at the center of which is a meditation garden and a raised temple that offers an amazing view of the whole park. During one picturesque moment while Kamleshbhai and I were in the meditation garden, there was a sunset in the west and a rainbow to the east. It was definitely one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to in India.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Busy, busy, busy

It’s been a while since I last posted, but it’s been tough finding time by myself to write. My day starts by going with Samir Mama to his clinic from 8:30 until about 4:30-5, then after a short break to read the Times of India, I go upstairs to spend some time with Ba and Dada. Ba and I often go downstairs to walk around the Thakur Complex area, stopping by to look at the shops or visiting nearby relatives. If it’s raining, always a possibility during monsoon season, we stay inside playing cards or watching TV. Then around 8:30 we go downstairs to get Dada’s dinner, followed by our dinner around 9-9:30. Then by 11 we’re all heading to bed, so the only time I get to myself is about an hour in the afternoon and about an hour in the evening.

Still, everything has been a lot of fun. This past Sunday we went to Santa Cruz, a borough of Mumbai, to do some shopping, getting a Nintendo DS for Aditi as well as some other games, and Mami and I were looking for some punjabis. Shopping for clothing is always quite an experience here, so different from most shops in the US. In the store we sit down at a table and several store clerks begin to bring us punjabis for us to chose from. After selecting 10-12 I started trying them on and showing them for Mama, Mami, and Aditi’s approval or disapproval; Adit just read his Harry Potter book. After about half an hour, I had settled on two Punjabis; then it was Mami’s turn. Mama had a lot of fun asking her to keep on trying different outfits, much to Adit and Aditi’s increasing dismay. Finally she settled on 4 punjabis, which, including my 2, will be delivered to our home tomorrow with alterations done. Plus while Mami was looking at some saris they served us coffee, talk about service!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dr. Gandhi’s Diagnostic Clinic

I’ve been going with Samir Mama to his clinic for a week now, during which I must have seen him perform over 100 sonographies on a wide variety of patients. All of the patients are referred to Mama’s clinic by other doctors who want sonographies or X-rays done in order to make a clinical diagnosis, so Mama doesn’t spend much time talking to the patients about the results of the exam, he writes up a report for the patient to take to their regular doctor. This means that each patient exam doesn’t take too long, which is good because he sees a lot of patients. Yesterday alone, he performed over 30 sonographies, while a technician in the next room took over 20 X-rays.

The majority of patients are either pregnant women coming in for check-ups or patients’ complaining of some sort of stomach pain. I find the pregnant women to be the most fascinating patients, it never gets boring to see the tiny fetus’s heart beating, or to watch it move its hands or feet. The whole idea of what sonography can do is amazing, the ability to look inside a person without any incisions or surgery. It’s almost like a magic wand that can open a window into the body. I’ve gotten pretty good and understanding some of the images, like recognizing the kidneys, the liver, gallbladder, and other organs. Mama has also seen some interesting obstetric cases, such as a fetus with anencephaly, or the lack of a brain beyond a primitive brain stem, and another fetus an interuterine-femur deficit, or the failure for the femur to develop. Both were sad cases, but what made them even more tragic was that the mothers-to-be were unaware of their babies’ condition because they had never gotten routine check-ups earlier in their pregnancy.

After I return from visiting family in Akola, I’ll start shadowing a gynecologist, Dr. Mahesh Asher whose clinic is across the street from Mama’s clinic. There I’ll get to see some deliveries and C-sections, as well as observe Dr. Asher meet with his patients to discuss their pregnancies. I’ve already gotten to meet Dr. Asher a couple of times, since Mama goes to his clinic on Wednesdays to do sonographies. He seems like a very nice man, and he and Mama have been good friends and colleagues for over a decade.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Chak de SRK!

I’ve already gotten to see couple movies in Indian theaters, one Hindi film Chak de India and the other one was Rush Hour 3 which I saw with Ami and her friends yesterday. At Adit’s insistence, we’ll be going to see Transformers this Friday, which promises to be a special effects extravaganza with only a dash of plot, as any American summer movie should be.

Chak de India is Shah Ruhk Kahn’s (SRK) latest film, and definitely one of the best Hindi films I’ve seen, probably because it was so unlike typical Hindi films. There was no love triangle or heroine, no song and dance numbers, no cliché romantic storylines, and no too much over-the-top acting. SRK plays a cricketer Kahbir Kahn on Team India who misses the penalty that causes India to lose the World Cup to Pakistan. As a Muslim, Khan is later branded a traitor who intentionally threw the game, forcing him to leave his home in disgrace. Several years later, he remerges to coach India’s National Field Hockey team and exorcise his past demons. The girls on the team are a wonderful spectrum of the diversity of India’s states, and the film nicely developed each girl’s distinct personality, from the rural girls who don’t know English to the prima donnas dressed in the latest fashions. The film did a great job of highlighting issues such as regional differences and gender discrimination, and the script and young actors did effectively made such important topics realistic and believable. SRK also did a wonderful job as usual, losing some of his humorous antics to convey a very realistic and powerful performance, while looking as cute as always. He is my favorite Hindi actor, although since I only know four that may not be saying much. Still, he is undoubtedly one of the best actors in Bollywood, he even has his own statue at Madam Tusseud’s in London.

Indian theaters are also quite an experience. There are usually only 4 screens per theater, so each one is huge with two or three levels. They also have different classes of seats with the cheaper ones like regular-style theater seats, while the ones we had were like armchairs. By far the best movie seats I’ve ever sat in. It’s still funny though, that the theater has intermissions even during English films. It leads to awkward breaks like stopping just as the heroes are captured in Rush Hour. I also learned that you are not supposed to take your trash out with you, like in American theaters. I must have been the only one to do so, and then had to wait until we got outside before I found a trash can.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

I could get used to this…

Living in America I’ve learned to do a lot of things myself, laundry, folding cloths, cooking, cleaning the dishes, etc. One thing I always have a bit of trouble adjusting to when visiting India is that every household has servants to do most of the daily chores in the house. Here at Samir Mama’s house, a cook comes in 6 days a week to make full roti-dhar-bath-shak for lunch and dinner, and on her day off we go out to eat. Also, a maid comes twice each day to clean all the rooms as well as doing the laundry, which includes placing everyone’s clean clothes in their closets. While its extremely nice not to have to worry about stuff like that, it still feels weird not to do the dishes after dinner.

It was even stranger when we went out to eat at Cascade tonight, a nice restaurant near Mama’s house that had a quite international menu. When our food arrived, the waiter went around the table serving everyone helpings of every dish, which included nachos, Chinese-style paneer and veggies, and a noodle dish. When I started to help myself to second helpings of the Chinese dish, a waiter almost immediately darted over to serve me himself. I know that all of this is the result of the large pool of cheap unskilled labor available here, but still a bit disconcerting to see it in action. Nevertheless, finding my clothes cleaned and folded in my closet every morning and not having to do the dishes are definitely some things I could get used to.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Learning Gujurati

Because my parents spoke Gujurati, their native language, at home, I can understand pretty much everything someone says in Gujurati, unless they’re using unusual vocabulary. But since I didn’t get much chance to speak it outside of home, I never got to practice it enough to be able to speak it easily and somewhat naturally. My ability to speak it always improved after a visit to India, but usually only temporarily since I was young and only stayed for a couple of months.

This time, I’m going to be here for 4 months, and at the rate I’m going, I should be fairly fluent by the end of my trip. I visit my Ba, grandmother, everyday, and since she speaks very little English, I’m forced to speak mostly in Gujurati. At first I surprised myself with how much I could speak when forced to, things I learned before but never actually had to use. I still need to work on the little things, like the masculine/feminine endings, tense endings, and a lot of vocabulary, but the learning curve is going to be pretty high here.

And my mom was so thrilled that now when I call home, I can only speak in Gujurati with her, which means the only time I usually speak English now is with Mama and Mami. I’ve even started thinking and dreaming in Gujurati, which I think is a good sign, as long as my dreams don’t start to look like Hindi films.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Mumbai Traffic

Even though I’ve visited the city several times, Mumbai traffic always surprises and fascinates me. For those who’ve never seen it, imagine a relatively busy 2-lane street with sidewalks somewhere in the US, then replace a third of the cars with trucks and another third with rickshaws, three-wheeled taxis, and bicyclists. Next for the drivers, remove any concept of right-of-way, separate lanes, or ‘safe distance’ between vehicles, requiring them to honk their horns constantly to avoid getting hit. Then take out the sidewalks so the pedestrians are in the street with the cars, and remove the median as well. That should give you some idea of what Mumbai traffic is like, I’ll try to post some pictures soon. I rather liked my uncle’s description of Mumbai driving, “you’ll be fine driving here as long as you don’t follow the rules.”

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Kandivali, Mumbai, India

Following in the tradition of several friends and my siblings, I thought I would start keeping a blog of my 4-month stay in India. This is my first one, so bear with me while I’m working out the kinks, and I’m always interested in any suggestions for posting topics.

I left JFK about 11:30pm yesterday and after a 14 hour non-stop flight I landed in Mumbai around 11pm. The airplane was by far the nicest one I’ve flown in, a brand-new 767 with decent legroom and 10 inch TV screens in economy class with dozens of movies in English and Hindi. But by far the part was the fact that the flight was half-empty, leaving the two seats next to me free. This non-stop route only started August 1st so not many people knew about it, but I would highly recommend it. It gets a tad boring if you’re traveling by yourself, I ended up watching 5 movies, but it’s worth it to avoid annoying layovers in Paris or London.

I was picked up by my uncle Dr. Samir Gandhi who lives in Kandivali, a suburb of Mumbai. His daughter Aditi came with him and she’s was extremely excited to see me. My uncle told me that she’d been counting down the days to my arrival for weeks. We reached their flat close to midnight where my aunt Malan Mami was waiting us, Adit, my other cousin, had already gone to sleep.

It feels a bit strange to be coming to India by myself, since I’ve always come with my family. But since I’ll be staying with family here, it’s not like I’ll be on my own in this huge city, which would be a rather daunting prospect.