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: